“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -Barack Obama

At this point, you’ve read Part I of The Code, and were interested enough to read Part II. You may be on your way to creating your own code, or you are unsure of how to continue and need some inspiration or examples. As a disclaimer, there is going to be a limit to how personal I get here. This blog is not about my personal life, it is merely about the style by which I live. Also, you will learn that I am not a pro at this. I am still learning, tweaking, and improving. The creation of this Code was a way to see what a better me might look like, and to strive to live up to that image, always.. To that end, I am a work in progress. I did not write this code to arrogantly display how well I live. I have no shame in disclosing that I fail in the execution of my own code, a lot. That’s precisely why I wrote it, to improve. Though this Code has allowed me to grow substantially, I have work that remains, and I hope it’s never done.

1. Live to Code

Iteration is the magical process by which we get to try again and again, having learned from our mistakes. We can say “if I knew then what I know now…”, and with iteration, we DO know! When we improve upon something we’ve already improved upon previously, growth becomes exponential.

Now that my Code has been created, I simply execute it. There is no real trick there. I just live it, then I live it again. If I see an area of The Code that needs a tweak I make a change. If I see an area of myself that needs improvement, I do the work, and if necessary, add it to the code so I can be sure that work is being tended to regularly.

I use the phrase “Live to Code” as a mantra. When I find my mindself saying; ”I can do that tomorrow”, I respond with, “Live to Code.” It’s easy to justify putting something off, especially if I’ve been working hard and I’m tired. I deserve a break. When I repeat the mantra, it elevates the urgency of the matter. It’s no longer a simple, justifiable procrastination. It is now me breaking my oath. Being disappointed in myself is a far greater punishment than a pile of delayed chores as a result of laziness.

2. The Temple

As far as “keeping things picked up”, I’d like to say I’ve got this one figured out. However, my mom will read this and beg to differ. I do struggle with tidiness, but not anywhere near as bad as I did. Like I said, I’m a work in progress. Living in a camper has required my improvement here. I have a way to go yet, but this Code is changing “picking up” from a chore, into a simple, mundane part of daily life that requires less and less thought or effort. Minimalism helps me solve this problem before it even starts. It’s harder to engage in the game of clutter if you have fewer players.

Before I give any item a home in the camper, it has to pass some tests. Do I need it? Really? No, really? If I’m honest, the answer is sometimes no. I just “want” it. I have to carefully ponder each purchase. Even if I already own it, does it need to live inisde the camper? Luckily, I have some storage options that make items less accessible, but still available.

Items that come into the camper have to “audition”. They have 30 days to prove their worth. If they don’t prove to be as useful or necessary as anticipated during this probationary period, they go away. If I feel they haven’t had a real chance to shine, I can extend the probation for another 30 days. I believe in patience and a fair shot, so under rare circumstances, I can extend the period once more (especially if the delay is my own fault). If I don’t find a real use for something in 90 days, I don’t need it enough to keep it around.

Finally, I try to make sure the things in my life serve more than one purpose. If it serves only one, it better be a damn important one.

3. Be A Good Citizen

If I have any one shining quality that I exhibit without much thought or effort, it’s being kind. I almost can’t write about how I participate in this aspect of The Code, because it is simply my nature. I don’t actively execute any skill or process. I simply engage in the philosophy of right action. I try to determine what the next right thing is, I weigh the consequences of my actions on myself and others, and I act as appropriate. I always concern myself with the feelings of those around me, even strangers.

In fact, I have often been described as “too nice”, or “nice to a fault”. I have a co-dependent nature. I am a people pleaser. I often make sacrifices to please others, when I really should take a stand and communicate my own needs. But being a man of few needs, that actually causes very few and very rare problems.

4. Work, Work, Work

I used to transfer my clean clothes out of the dryer and into my hamper. Then I lived out of the hamper. Dirty clothes went on the floor, on account of the hamper being full of clean clothes. When the hamper was empty, it was laundry day. The dirty clothes on the floor went into the now empty hamper for transport to the washer. Today, I fold my clothes as they come out of the dryer. That might seem inconsequential to you, but to me it means that every atom of my being has been affected by this Code. I was the undisputed champion of half done things.

Today, I don’t start the task until there is some sort of plan, and that plan has to include finishing. If the finish is not the end (i.e. there is more work to do on that task another day) I need to decide which tools/materials get put away, and which stay out for a quick start next time. I also HAVE to have a Plan B, ALWAYS. Plan A is not complete, without Plan B. My best plans can and will get derailed by situations out of my control. If I have a plan B, I just shift gears and move on. If I don’t, I get frustrated by the unforeseen issue, I feel lost in my day, and I lose all motivation. Plan B need not be elaborate. Often, plan B is simply the next task on the list, or the first task of the next project.

5. Self Care

To avoid getting too personal, I’m not going to get into a lot of detail here. For me, I have a hard time slowing down. The “what’s next” attitude leads to productivity, but next is exhaustion, then overload, then turning off and tuning out. I try build down time into my plans. When I do this, down time is not being lazy and giving up, it’s just another chore on the list. As I go through the day, I have that down time to look forward to. If I have followed my Code, then the day will have gone as good as possible. It may not have been a great day, but if I honestly tried my best, then that is OK with me. I can wind down happy.

A LOT of my self care plan revolves around my dietary choices. It would take too much space to get into the details here, so I will merely summarize. I eat no meat. I eat very little dairy. It has been a year since I made that choice. I had to severely change my snacking choices. Snacking is a very sneaky game that catches you off guard. I try to avoid processed foods and GMOs. I try to buy organic, but I’m not a stickler about it.

I no longer buy “food”, so much as “ingredients”. I can get a range and abundance of vegetables for cheap, but that means that I HAVE TO COOK. With no microwave, and only “ingredients”, I’m forced to spend time in the kitchen. Of course in my tiny camper, the whole place is basically the kitchen (my counter space is literally 5 inches x 24 inches). With practice and a plan, it takes VERY LITTLE time to do this. The cost; I watch ONE less episode of some show I’m streaming. The benefit; priceless. People who complain about the time it takes to cook should reevaluate that. At first, it does take time, until you develop your menu and process. Healthy eating is not expensive if you’re willing to spend time cooking. My diet is my health care plan, so it is far more valuable than almost anything else I might do with that time. Plus, my simplified groceries save me a lot of money. I also like to grow my own food, but you already knew that.

I don’t exercise. Some of my endeavors are a bit physical, and in the summer I hike, that’s about it. I do some Tai Chi, and I’m gearing up for some Yoga, but those are very low impact. Still, my diet and limited activity has already shed 40 pounds, with hiking season yet to come.

Diet and exercise are often the bane of a person’s existence, but I have tried to flip the script and find something that works for me, avoiding much of the sensational and junk science. It’s no longer a chore, or a necessary torture to eat healthy. It has taken me a long time to find the food that really works for me, but with patience and curiosity, I got it pinned down. It still shifts often, but not drastically. It would have been a quicker process if I had previously taken better notes (see number 7).

6. Be Curious and Playful

I love to mess around with stuff. I love to make things. I love to hack or tweak pre-made things to better serve my needs. I love to learn new things. When I understand it just a little, I like to throw in bizarre variables, just to see the results. I like to try things even before I really know what I’m doing. I’m going to learn more from a premature and failed attempt then I would spending that same amount of time reading about it. I EXPECT to fail. I EMBRACE it. I sometimes fail ON PURPOSE. With failure built into my process, I am not afraid of it. Without that fear, I am free to cash in on the reward that risk often brings. 

I was always very shy. I still am, except in situations where I have been around people long enough to become comfortable. It makes an active social life difficult for me, but The Code has helped there as well. Some months ago, I had a talk with a friend. He had his knee replaced, and he healed very quickly. He credited having quit smoking with aiding his recovery. I asked him how long it had been since he quit. In my mind, it had been about 6 months. He replied, “A year and a half.” To me, that meant the last 6 months of my life had actually been a year and a half. It was passing by, and quickly. “Enough is enough,” I said. Avoiding details I’ll say that there is this “social thing” that I NEVER do, but the next day, I took a risk and did it. It basically failed. But that’s OK. I was proud to have done it. It was The Code in action. I was curious and playful, I embraced the failure, and I moved to the next thing to the best of my ability.

7. Keep a List

I absolutely have to write things down to remember them. It’s strange, because I have a great memory. I have some sort of semi-eidetic or photographic memory. When I take a test, I can often see, somewhat clearly, text or charts from a book. It’s very flawed and unreliable, but it got me a 4.0 in college without a lot of effort. Despite that, if you tell me to get three things at the store, I might remember one of them if I remember to go to the store at all. My brain spins too erratically to retain that type of information. 

Despite my “geek” blood, I’m not a big fan of productivity apps. I have wasted more time playing with apps than I can to recount. They are often very feature rich and complex, which means there is a learning curve. Those apps are amazing if you need those features. I don’t. I like to keep it simple, and that’s often a struggle. I work too organically to be a slave to software. I DO use apps, I just don’t rely on them for everything. I use an app called Trello for a big picture view of my life, and my day to day affairs play out in analog on small pieces of scrap paper.

What’s important is that I log all of the data my life generates. Data is the poetry of a process. Logging it means I can repeat that process (and success) rather than start from square one over and over. I have a notebook for all of the data I gather (except for data from my garden or thermostat, which is digitally created and automatically logged via software). The book is called The Camper Empirical. It’s sectioned off for different data. Categories include; propane purchases, recipes, spending on food/gas/etc…, dietary thoughts and experiments, etc… It’s important to keep this data collected, not scattered.

8. Accountability

We all play the victim sometimes. We like people to come rescue us. It’s comforting. But it gets us nowhere. It solves nothing. And it gets old. Fast. People around us will stop coming to our aid when it’s the only card we have to play. I truly believe that we play a role in EVERYTHING that happens to us. Even if we played no role in creating a scenario, we control how we react, or if we even react at all. Regardless of fault, I am ALWAYS accountable for my response. The world judges us on our actions, not our thoughts or intentions. Our thoughts will gain us no ground if our actions are not congruent. On a daily basis, I look at my actions and the role I played in the days events. If I performed poorly, I try to do better, and apologize to someone if need be. If I can honestly say I tried my best, than the day really could not have gone any better. I just have to recognize that “my best” is not a constant. It’s a variable.  Life is an algebra problem. The solution is found by balancing the equation. If the variable of my performance throws the balance off, I can try to balance it out somewhere else or try better the next day. The trick is to actually try. I can always say “I’ll do better tomorrow”, but if I never actually try, I’m just using it as a scapegoat to get away with another bad day.

9. Spirituality

I was taught to keep the details of my spirituality to myself. If I divulge the details, especially to the uninitiated, it arouses their skepticism. I hold the belief that we are all connected, so any skepticism you feel about my beliefs, I feel as well. But I can still walk you through what my path has looked like over the years.

At 19, on the streets of Boston, I met a “missionary” of sorts. This gentleman was traveling the country on bicycle, spreading a message of religion. I was curious how such a journey was funded, and he said that the Lord provided for him. I didn’t believe any of that. Of course, what he meant was that the Lord put people in his path that fed him and gave him places to stay. Still, I didn’t buy it. All of this is irrelevant, except that it got me thinking about what I believed or didn’t believe. I spent a lot of time in the Boston Public Library, with a table full of books on everything from Atheism to Eastern philosophies. I knew pretty quickly that I was not an atheist, but the Christian ideology didn’t speak to me either. I stumbled upon a translation of the Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching. It described an outlook on life that I already had, so I went with it. I can’t say I began “practicing” Taoism then, but I enjoyed it’s teachings and aspired to live up to it’s ideals. A few years later, I saw fit to get the Chinese characters “Wu” and “Wei” tattooed on me (Wu Wei being the primary Taoist philosophy of “inaction” or “without action” or “right action” or “effortless action”). It would be many years until I truly engaged with Taosim in any serious way, when I found myself newly sober and thirsting for a connection. I quickly found that Taoism left something to be desired for me. I learned a lot from Buddhist thought, it was very practical and digestible. But Buddhism proved to be only a stepping stone to the Hindu teachings that provide the majority of my spiritual life today. The Hindu teachings are in keeping with almost any religion you can imagine, it has a very universal quality. I used to get worked up over a lot of things. Hinduism teaches me to slow down, and just be. It teaches me to laugh at myself, even when everything seems to be going wrong. Especially when everything is going wrong. It keeps me open to lessons at every turn.

This thing we call “self” is like a box containing a collection of life experiences. We are but spiritual beings experiencing the world through that self, and realizing this, we get to choose what experiences we collect in that box.   

10. Persistence

Iteration, iteration, iteration. Do it again, then do it better, then do it better still. There is a phrase “fake it ‘till you make it”. If you do something enough times, you WILL get results. Even if you don’t mean it at first. Even if you’re full of shit. Even if you don’t believe it. I cannot truly engage in the process of life without being changed by it. So long as I engage in a process that is positive, so will the change be. I just keep doing it.

All 10 pieces of The Code play together. If I use the other 9 parts of the code, the persistence pays off right away, all the time. I make a plan, I write it down, I work toward goals and keep notes on my process and the results. I take playful but calculated risks. I take care of myself and my space as best I can. I try to adhere to my spiritual principles in the process. I remain accountable and teachable. I do this over and over.

Notice the bookends here. Step One is to “Live to Code”, a repeated commitment to the ideals you have set forth. Step Ten is “Persistence”, a repeated commitment to the ideals you have set forth with a slant toward always improving. The Code begins and ends with iteration.

Further reading:

Adam Savage: 10 Ground Rules for Success: WatchRead

Essential: Essays by The Minimalists – Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus

The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz

Zen to Done – Leo Babuata


“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”  – Pablo Picasso

We have a choice. We can accept the life that’s handed to us, consuming whatever is most cleverly thrown in our face. Or, we can “make” our own life (get used to the phrase “make your life”, I’ll be using it a lot). That can mean simply making more informed and educated choices, and becoming aware of the impact of those choices (on ourselves, the community, the world). It can also mean literally learning how to make the things we need, or hacking the things we buy to better suit us. Either option takes time and effort. The goal of The Code really has nothing to do with that effort on it’s own. It has to do with everything else that supports those efforts. Living to Code solves so many of my basic life needs, that I have time to thoroughly engage in things I truly love (which, for me, happens to include making stuff).

Here in Part II, I will explain the details of the basic framework I posted in Part I. You may find that you have a different philosophy to some of these ideas. You may find that some of these ideas don’t really apply to you. You may even flat out disagree with it all. You can tweak this anyway you see fit. My only hope it that you find this inspiring for “making your life.”

1. Live to Code

“It is what it is, but it will become what you make it.”  – Abraham Lincoln

Perhaps it seems strange that the first step in Living to Code, is to Live to Code. As you get started, you won’t yet have a code to live by, but this is an iterative process. First you create your code, then you live it, over and over, ad infinitum. A code is nothing if you don’t live it. Without action, thoughts are useless. Imagine if heroes like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. thought about civil rights, but never acted on them? This step is about action, and continually reminding you to take it. Saying the phrase “live to code” reminds me of how important my code is to the bigger picture, and the commitment I’ve made to living by it. I often use this when I’m facing something I don’t want to do. I simply say “live to code”, and realize that I need to do whatever it is in order to stay on track.

2. The Temple

“The best things in life aren’t things”.  – Art Buchwald

The spaces we occupy ought to be sacred to us. They are our temples. Keeping them picked up (as subjective as “picked up” can be), tending to chores, organizing our belongings, and keeping up with repairs/maintenance are essential here. If we neglect these things, they grow into bigger problems that overwhelm us, and shut us down. I like to think of my space as an analogy for my mind. Physical mimicking mental. When it’s cluttered, my mind is cluttered. When there is order, so it is with my mind. This part of the code has implications regarding our “things”. All humans seem to have a need to fill a void. Modern society promotes the idea that buying “stuff” will do the trick, and despite constant disappointment, we try this approach over and over. The things we fill our space with should be as sacred as the space itself. Do we really need it? Does it enhance our lives? This isn’t necessarily about becoming a minimalist, though I highly approve of such endeavors. If you love something, keep it. If you think you’ll love it, buy it. But, if you decide you don’t love it, stop hanging on to it “just in case”. It is often noted that “the body is a temple,” and we’ll be discussing matters of body and mind later in The Code.

3. Be a Good Citizen

“Arriving late was a way of saying that your own time was more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you.”  -Karen Kay Fowler

We are not islands, sitting alone in an expansive and empty sea. We are a part of a world with which we interact constantly. How we behave not only affects how the world sees us, but how we feel about ourselves as well. Do good, feel good. Do bad, feel bad (unless you’re a narcissist who can be an asshole and not feel bad about it. Good luck with that). Be respectful of others in all manner of interactions. Try to be on time (whether for work, appointments or other engagements). Treat others with respect, even if they don’t deserve it. Disrespect breeds disrespect, so just take the high road, always. Being a good citizen has a way of attracting like minded folks, while the detritus floats away. The weeds die and flowers bloom.

We’re all just people, so forget about differences in status or lifestyle and treat people as equals. If you feel like you’re “above” someone, that’s ego, and you should probably work on your humility.  But even if you suffer from an inflated ego, you need not let it effect how you treat other people. We never know what’s going on in the lives of the people we cross paths with throughout the day. Just be kind. To everyone. Always. Just because someone doesn’t have something to offer us now, doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. They will rememberer how you treated them, good or bad.

Communication often plays a big role here, especially if you live with roommates or loved ones. Communicate honestly and clearly regarding your thoughts, intentions, expectations, or boundaries. No matter how reasonable or obvious your expectations may seem to you, if you don’t communicate them, the only expectation you can have is to be disappointed.

4. Work, Work, Work

“A little at a time, until less becomes more, and more becomes less on the other side.”  – Johnnie Dent Jr.

This is not just about getting and staying busy, it’s about how well we do it. It comes into play before, during, and after everything we do. Before starting any task, we should have a clear plan. This ensures we remember everything the task entails, so we can move from one step to the next with little thought. We make the most efficient plan we can, and even have backup plans for when things don’t go as expected (which is always). During the process, we stick to the plan, and work diligently to complete it efficiently. We strive for 100% completion, unless something out of our control blocks our progress. Our backup plans will hopefully have contingencies for this.

Try not to over plan the tasks. I call that “choking the plan”. Choking the plan is when you plan every small detail, without leaving any breathing room. The plan will always change. Over planning means you’ve wasted your time creating a plan that is unrealistic, and when it changes, you have to waste more time tweaking your meticulous plan. You spend most of your time on detailed planning, and little time on execution. Just have a clear idea of what’s first, what’s next, and what each step entails.

While simply getting started is important (and often difficult), it’s equally important to know when to end. Sometimes, once we get started, motivation takes over, and it’s easy to get to a point where we start to overthink or overdo a task.  We can become obsessed and it becomes difficult to stop. When we work beyond our usefulness, our work begins to suffer. It’s best to move on the next thing. Try to have a plan for a natural stopping point. And remember, just because we’ve “completed” a task, does not necessarily mean we’re done. We still might have some clean-up to do (i.e. doing dishes after cooking, putting away items used in our task, putting away laundry, etc…). We’re not really “done” until these “finishing steps” are done as well.

5. Self Care

“There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”  -Aldous Huxley

This is a big one, and it’s one area where codes will differ drastically from person to person. It includes such items as your diet, your physical fitness or lack thereof, hygiene protocols, posture, emotional needs, etc… This is a good place to point out that the concept of Living to Code is not about the solutions, it’s about sticking to solutions once you find them. When you have a plan, the code is supposed to encourage you to keep at it. Self care is far too subjective for me to posit any particular approach for you. In my mind, there is no space (or temple) more sacred than our mind/body/soul. The best advice I can give here is to be patient as you devise the best plan for yourself. If the plan seems to not be working as expected, make some changes/corrections/additions and keep trying. But, be honest with yourself before making any changes. How hard have you really tried? Is the failure the fault of a bad plan, or poor execution? Is the progress just very slow? Also, I recommend the scientific approach of changing only one thing at a time. If you change multiple variables at a time, you’re never really certain which change caused the success, and which change was unnecessary.  Make a small change, and be patient. Then, make a different change if needed. Finally, remember that just because we call it “self” care does not mean you’re alone. Most everyone is trying to be “better” in one way or another. Surround yourself with positive, like minded people on a similar path to decrease the likelihood of losing your motivation.

6. Be Curious and Playful

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”  -Helen Keller

On the surface, this is just about having fun with life. Isn’t that the point? But underneath, there are more profound implications. This is the spot in The Code where creativity lives. Being creative is simultaneously the most satisfying and terrifying feeling available. Creating is joy. But the idea of our creation being seen and judged is gut wrenching. It doesn’t matter if you’re creatively challenged or if you’re an artist. All people feel this way about their work at some point. Don’t be afraid of it, be curious about it. Being curious about life opens us up to experiences we would never have otherwise. Being curious teaches us that it’s OK to be a little uncomfortable, and with practice, it can even be a bit fun (in a strange pseudo-masochistic sorta way). Learning to be uncomfortable is a courageous endeavor with enormous benefits. (Some examples: Go take a class. Say “yes” when you’re first instinct is to say “no”. Do something creative and then show it to someone!).

7. Write It Down

“The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.”  -Adam Savage/Alex Jason (on Mythbusters);

Keeping track of everything going on is a daunting task, but if we can find ways to efficiently notate our lives, the rewards are unfathomable. This is another area where everyone’s code will differ greatly. In its most basic form, this can be simply a piece of scrap paper that has your days plan on it. That list begins as a document of your immediate future. As that future sequentially morphs into the past, the list becomes a record of what you’ve accomplished. Seeing a list of your crossed off items can provide a comforting satisfaction. I highly recommend you expand your notes beyond simple to-do lists. If you take notes on your actions and their results, the results become repeatable. Imagine you’re messing around in the kitchen with a teaspoon of this and a tablespoon of that. Sometimes the results are worthy only of the trash. Other times, “edible” is about as gourmet as it gets. But sometimes you surprise yourself, only to realize that you don’t remember how much of anything you used. Finding an efficient and convenient place to take and keep notes is a great way to send your productivity skyrocketing. For most modern folks, this involves the use of apps for their to-do lists, grocery lists, reminders, etc… Many people use a combination of analog and digital approaches. Be mindful to not over do it with the lists. Be realistic. It has been said (and studied) that people with less on their to do list actually get more done.

This idea also encompasses journals and diaries. Any writing that helps prepare you for the future, process the past, or make sense of the present, can have an incalculable value in your life and progress. Journaling, even just a few minutes a day, is possibly the most important factor in any change we want to make. I would even argue that it is more important than the goal itself, at first. Even if you fail in everything else, just write about it. Writing about our failures is the best way to learn from them. It forces us to face them, process them, understand them. It is not possible to write about failure everyday without it eventually steering us toward success (even if our success is only because we’re sick of writing about failure).

8. Accountability

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy”  -His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. If we can do this honestly, our failures themselves are our punishment, because we strive to do better. But, if we aren’t honest with ourselves, then we often refuse to hold ourselves accountable. Instead, we make excuses, blame others, and play the victim. In this case there is no personal consequence for failure, because the failure is never ours. What remains is anger and self pity. If you’re the type that embraces accountability, then The Code simply requires that you maintain that. If you are more likely to play victim, you’ll have some work to do here. That work is outside the scope of this post, but will likely be examined as I continue to write about The Code. The simplest action you can take immediately, is to start always (and honestly) asking yourself what role you played in any given scenario. If you have a hard time figuring out who the asshole is, it’s probably you. Don’t sweat it. Own it. Apologize. The end game of The Code is to be a better person. Better to ourselves, and better to others. That process necessarily requires change that is often uncomfortable. The change begins with taking an honest look at ourselves which is equally uncomfortable. We are rewarded with the opportunity to grow immeasurably if we muster the courage to navigate such discomfort.

9. Spirituality

“Spirituality does not come from religion, it comes from our soul.” -Anthony Douglas Williams

If there is any part of this framework I expect may get completely left out of someone else’s version, this is it. I urge you to think twice. The most common reason for people to struggle with spirituality, is because they struggle with religion. Spirituality is NOT religion, I cannot stress that enough. This is another area of The Code that will be EXTREMELY personal, so I wouldn’t dream of even hinting at what you need. If you already have spirituality, run with it. If you dislike spiritual thought, I urge you to a least think about becoming willing to open your mind to the concept. If you are open to it but uncertain, there are countless ways to get started. I am not a Buddhist per se, but I find that Buddhist thought is often presented in a very practical manner. It has a structure and universal quality that is applicable to anyone, regardless of lifestyle or religious affiliations. There are many books of Buddhist origin that are written for the non-Buddhist (you needn’t become one). Something as ubiquitous as the Wikipedia page on Buddhism can get you started. To delve deeper, almost any book by Thich Nhat Hanh (such as No Mud, No Lotus) should serve you well.

10. Persistence

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

– FB Silverwood

That’s all there is to say about that. There is nothing I can write here that will sum up persistence any better than that quote. Press on.

In Conclusion

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. ”  – Dr. Seuss

I suppose I can summarize The Code as “a definition of our values”. Since I think our values are merely an expression of ourselves, Living to Code is simply being ourselves. Of course, knowing The Code is just the beginning. Next, you have to create yours. Once created, that’s just the beginning. Next, you have to live it. Once you’re living it, that just the beginning… Are you sensing the theme here?

“The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race.  “– unknown

Part III is now live!


Over the next few days, I want to present something that I have been working on for a while, and subsequently practicing with great results. I call it Living to Code, and it has had a profound enough effect on my life that I’ve decided to share it with you. Of course, everybody lives differently. I don’t expect (or want) everyone to live like I do. That’s why I’ve sterilized MY code into a framework that you can use to create YOUR code. Living to Code is less about deciding how to live, and more about the motivation to accomplish and maintain those decisions. This introduction will serve to present the idea of The Code. Part II will define the framework of The Code, and Part III will present MY code as an example of this in action.

Get fed up, change EVERYTHING at once, burn out, repeat…

In our daily lives, we set and give up on many goals. Some go away as quickly as they are dreamt up. In moments of great motivation, we set very complicated, rigid, and all encompassing guidelines designed to make drastic changes in how we live. Here’s a common scenario; We decide we are not “healthy” enough. All at once we cut ALL bad food from our diet, we start eating ALL healthy things that we don’t even like, and we make a plan to workout incessantly. We’ve decided that we are suffering, so we make a big plan for big change. The enormity of that change will inadvertently cause us to suffer even more, because it’s “torture”, as though it were punishment for “letting ourselves go”.  Owing to this “torturous” plan, it’s usually something we put off to a tomorrow that never comes. The small changes seem too inconsequential to have any real, lasting, positive effect, and the big changes are so overwhelming as to render us feeling incapable of achieving them. We torture ourselves at both ends of the spectrum.

Living to Code is an idea that has the potential to challenge these notions. There is no change too small to be worthless, and BIG change is nothing more than a series of smaller changes. It’s only when we look at all of the little changes as one huge effort that we get overwhelmed. To paraphrase some old adages; the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and all long journeys begin with a single step. Even after that first single step, subsequent steps are simply one at a time. If we break our goals into manageable pieces, they cease to overwhelm us. It does not matter how small we make the pieces. As long as they are manageable, we will see success, which breeds more success. We have to stop thinking of progress from a “Point A to Point B” mentality. We too often make “point B” a faraway and final goal, and calling it “A to B” makes it seem like it is to be accomplished in a single step. What if we called it “A to Z”? Set Z as the lofty goal, and realize there are 25 smaller steps in between. It’s a purely mental game, but isn’t everything?

Sometimes we get lucky. We set a goal, we put a plan in action, and we begin to see results. These results drive us to keep working for even more results. But often, either or both of two things happens; 1. We experience setbacks. In these moments, all of our progress seems for nought. We feel defeated, we get derailed, and we give up. Or 2. Our progress plateaus, so our efforts seem to have a reduced reward. While the initial changes had a marked effect on our lives and attitudes, the later change seems to come slowly or not at all. We can go for a while with what seems like zero results. We begin to question our approach and our motivation for change in the first place. Eventually, we decide that we have failed, or that it’s just pointless to try, so why bother.

What is Living to Code?

To be clear, Living to Code is NOT a system of achieving goals. It is a way of designing how we want to live, and a means to keep living that way. If we do it with diligence, attaining goals is the natural result. The Code is a set of guidelines that dictate how we navigate our lives. It is a code that we create for ourselves. What I have come up with is merely a framework to use as a starting point. I will walk you through the framework, and use my own Code as an example, but your Code may be drastically different. This is not me telling you how you should live, this is you telling yourself how you want to live, or perhaps how you need to live. I hope you take these ideas and run with them, and I really hope you share your Code and your results so that others can do the same.

Where did Living to Code come from?

Huge inspiration and some of The Codes basic ideas come from the Tom Sachs’ short film, “10 Bullets”. Tom Sachs is an artist, and working in his studio requires a certain level of work ethic that is laid out in this short film. The film is part of series called “Working to Code”. The film discusses 10 bullet points that, if explicitly adhered to, are conducive to a highly functional work environment. I was moved by the simple, yet full featured approach. I wanted to apply a similar philosophy to my own life, but his code is designed for a group of people sharing a workspace. For the arena of a personal life, it had to be torn down and rebuilt, while retaining the spirit and a few core tenets of it’s predecessor. I highly encourage you to watch the film (and others in the series) to understand the genesis of this idea.

So, how about this Code already?

Here is the basic framework for The Code. To reiterate; though your code will certainly be different from mine, your whole framework might be as well. These are merely suggestions. I took the ideas that are working for me, and boiled them down to their essence here. I will share my personal code in Part III as an example. Below is a very basic outline to hopefully whet your appetite. I will expand on these in Part II (which is available now):

1. Live to Code – The act of consistently living by the code you set forth.

2. The Temple – Controlling and taking care of the spaces you occupy.

3. Be a Good Citizen – Work/social ethics.

4. Work, Work, Work – Get busy, stay busy, don’t leave tasks half done.

5. Self Care – Diet, exercise, hygiene, mental health, etc…

6. Be Curious and Playful – What is living without fun?

7. Keep a List –  Productivity tools.

8. Accountability – Take responsibility, and stop playing the victim.

9. Spirituality – The big (bigger/biggest) picture.

10. Persistence – Don’t give up.

The RoboGarden or, “Do Android Cukes Dream of Electric Salads?”

Garden Brain
This is Carver, the brain.

I’ve been so busy DOING this project that keeping updates here has eluded me. I had previously written about the Food Computer concept being deployed by the MIT Media Labs Open Agriculture Initiative. I was keeping an eye on the progress over there, intending to build one of their systems. I decided to temporarily “do my own thing” for a couple of reasons. For starters, their system is in development, and jumping in now requires a level of knowledge that escapes me. I’m just not up to speed on the level of software development required to use their approach right now. Second, I have decided that building my own setup based on a traditional hydroponic system has more value and efficiency for me at this juncture. I eventually hope to have a system that is 100% compliant with the MIT approach, so I can contribute to the data gathering, educational, and community based initiatives they are so gallantly spearheading.

So, why go your own route? 

As I mentioned, my software development abilities drift far behind my hardware abilities. I am a bit lost looking upon the sea of code that MIT has out there. I have already put a number of the pieces together in preparation, but I knew my own approach would be a less frustrating way to actually get results. Reason number two is cost. By some estimates, the food computers can quickly run between $2,000 and $3,000 (depending on who you talk to and what materials you source). I have a currently running system that has cost me $1000 to date, and is just about to produce food. A third reason is the systems footprint. My system has about 4 times the grow area of a standard food computer (in fact, my system is almost better described as a “food server” in some regards). This means I can grow an actual useable crop. The standard food computer is a great opportunity to experiment, but the actual output would be pretty low as far as trying to feed myself. And thats my fourth reason, feeding myself. I have a lofty goal that someday I will grow 100% of my own food, so this is a step toward that goal (especially in the winter). I don’t eat meat, so veggies are the only thing I need to produce. Those of you that follow this blog will say “Hey, didn’t you write about eating the squirrels that plagued your camper?“, and you’d be right! Well, that was then, this is now, get over it (smiley face). Of course, going my own way has some disadvantages.

What are these disadvantages of which you speak?

Well, many of the problems have yet to surface, I’m sure. I’m on my first crop, so I have no idea what the final results will be. Will I get fruit at all? Will it taste like cat food? Who knows. A big problem is that my system is just one large system with one climate, one light cycle, and one nutrient spread. I have to be cautious what array of seeds I plant. If they require different nutrients or lighting,  or have vastly different timing of growth stages, or different tolerances of heat, humidity and pH, it just won’t work. My idea of a constantly rotating crop (eating one crop while starting a new one) is likely to be impossible. I may have to do one crop, can/freeze/preserve it, and move to the next. Perhaps I will reserve its use to crops that cannot grow in my difficult climate, and stick to soil for others. It’s a lot of question marks that will only be answered with time and results.

The most important disadvantage is that my system limits the data and knowledge I can contribute back to the MIT project, which is open source. Wanting to support their open source initiative is my motivation to push myself to build a proper food computer ASAP.

Blynk App
Remote monitor and control courtesy of the Blynk App

Cool story, just tell us about your setup already.

So it’s built with the Particle’s Photon microcontroller. It uses a temperature/humidity sensor (an AM2315), and a simple LDR to sense light levels. There is a propane furnace keeping it warm in our sub-zero temperatures. The brain (pictured above) uses a bank of relays to control two dual gang outlet boxes. The left 4 outlets are individually switchable, while the right are switched in pairs. This controls all of the pumps and lights and fans.

My code tells everything when to turn on and off. It can be overridden and manually controlled using an app called Blynk that talks to the system remotely and also allows me to monitor from afar. It texts me when the temperature drops low, alerting me to change the propane tank. That’s all setup using IFTTT.

In terms of hydroponic style, it’s a flood and drain system. The pump runs long enough to fill my tray, which then drains back to the holding tank. This keeps the roots wet and oxygenated. The water has a nutrient solution balanced for the needs of the plants. The water is oxygenated with a pump, much like a fish tank is. The pH is controlled via application of acids/bases depending on careful readings from a meter. I’m using a Hannah 98129 Combo meter that tests pH, Conductivity (EC), and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). My grow light is an 8 tube, 40,000 lumen, T5 fluorescent unit by Agrobrite.

Operation Transplant

I started seeds on 1/20/17. By 1/31/17, I had seedlings ready to transplant. The seeds were started in rockwool cubes. The seedlings (cube and all) were then transplanted into net pots filled with an inert clay substrate. Every hour, the tray floods and drains. The light initially stayed on for 18 hours a day. Today, that changed to 12 hours a day. This is interpreted by the plants as the days getting shorter. It’s their cue to start flowering and producing fruit.

growth progress
Salad O’clock?

When my cucumbers began to reach out vines, I set dowels out to catch them, but today I switched that to a net trellis. I also switched my nutrients to a flower/bloom friendly variety. As you can see by the picture, I have come a long way from seedlings.

As always, anyone who would like to build something like this is welcome to my code, which I will probably place on GitHub at some point. Just email me from the contact page. I’ll write more when I start seeing fruit.

Nerdfarmers unite!


My First Garden

Nothing to see here.

The idea of growing a garden had crossed my mind on and off for a quite few years. It was always something I would “get around to” someday. It was always, “maybe next year”. This year, I finally took the plunge. I didn’t get started until late in the season. It was almost the end of July when I finally got my seeds in the ground. I figured I would just get what I could out of it. Even with total failure, at least the hard work of prepping the land would be done for next year.

My late start ended up being a bit of a blessing. We got an impressive amount of rain early in the summer, and a lot of my friends lost their early plants as a result of drowning in puddles or being washed away. I picked a spot near the camper, but far enough away to avoid the shade of some tall spruce trees. My crop selection was as follows; corn, carrots, beans, romaine lettuce, basil, and cucumber. I decided it was too late to attempt tomatoes or peppers.

I thought about just tilling the grass into the soil, but decided I would have a cleaner, less weed riddled plot if I removed the sod. This was a back breaking process. You may notice a tractor in the background of the pictures, but this is not my tractor. It belongs to my aunt next door, and I certainly could have used it, but I guess I wanted the whole “frontier living” experience. At one point, my dad drove by on the tractor while I was lifting sod. “You know we have a tractor?”, he asked, as though it had slipped my mind. “Well, I have a shovel.” I answered. I felt like I might never get all that sod out, and I had to stop for a week when my back had had more than enough. I let him try to help with the tractor, but the attempt to lift the sod with the forks was making more of a mess than helping. This is not a farm tractor, and they own no farming attachments. So, back to lifting it out one square at a time.

Tilled and waiting for seeds.

Eventually, I was ready to move on, and my neighbor, Dale, came over with his tiller. I fixed his recoil in exchange for use of the machine. I had let the sod chunks dry out so I could shake the usable soil from them before carting them away to compost. I even sifted out an impressive rocks, crawling on my hands and knees with a screen. I figured this was worth doing right, as failure meant waiting until next year to try again. The planting was a fast and simple process, though the carrot seeds were so tiny and difficult to handle that I worried they were planted too dense.

And then there was food.

Next was the waiting game. I have worked on my patience a lot, and this was proof that the work has paid off. But once I started to see life, it took off quickly. It was an impressive display of earths majesty to watch this unfold. The amount of growth from one day to the next was impressive. On days that I pulled out weeds and churned the earth a bit, the growth was just astonishing!

It wasn’t long before I was enjoying lettuce, with cucumbers shortly thereafter. The basil took quite a while to show up, and it was a small leaf variety that was difficult to work with in cooking. Eventually, the carrots were getting to an edible size, and I was impressed that the overcrowding wasn’t more of a problem. I’m sure they would have done better spaced out more, but I had a high percentage of good size carrots that grew deep into the soil. The beans were struggling, with no signs of flowering, and the few corn seed that took were having trouble standing in the winds I was getting. I’m pretty sure crows go to some of the corn seeds.

I did some pest control. We had a family of ground hogs next door, and raccoons are common. I set out a large live trap, eventually catching both groundhog parents and the child. All of them were driven away and reunited elsewhere. I got one raccoon as well.

I learned a lesson about beans. There are pole beans, and bush beans, and I did not know there was a difference. I figured the pole was a personal choice, allowing you to grow vertically and therefore tighter, much like a trellis for cucumbers. I eventually came to this realization, and installed poles. At the end of the season, the beans had climbed the poles and started to produce beans, but it was a bit too late.

What’s up, Doc?

So the beans were a wash, the basil was not a good variety for my purpose, the corn didn’t have enough time to grow, and only half of my cucumbers took. But, the cucumbers that took were EXCELLENT! The lettuce was a huge success, I was eating lettuce for weeks, even after a few frosts.

16lbs in total.

The true triumph was the carrots! I was picking a few here and there as they were ready. I brought quite a few into work to share with coworkers. Finally, at the end of the season, I pulled the rest up. The last harvest was 16 pounds worth. I canned 8 pounds. I would have done more, but I ran out of mason jars, as did the grocery store. The remaining 8 pounds I ate and shared. They lasted for weeks in the the fridge. And now I have jars of carrots that could last me for most of the winter, though I plan on giving many out for Christmas.

My own grocery store.

Now that there’s about 3 feet of snow on the ground, I’m shifting my attention to a new endeavor – an indoor hydroponic operation, that will eventually include a food computer. What is a food computer? Well, you’ll have to keep coming back here to find out…

SXSL – Mr. Dubs Goes to the White House

white_houseIf you’ll allow me to brag for a moment, I’ll tell you about my trip to the White House. During the first week of October 2016, I had the honor of spending a few days in and around the historic establishment. Now, I’m no journalist, and I prefer to keep this blogs focus on my lifestyle not my life. The details of my day to day personal life will rarely grace these pages. But, the impact of this experience has helped shape my future, and I need to share this in order to tell you what comes next. And so I present my White House adventure…

The occasion was a festival called South By South Lawn (SXSL). Most people have likely heard of the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival, which is a longstanding hotbed of great music and films. But, it also features panel discussions on some of the most important topics for the culture of today, and of tomorrow. After President Obama’s visit to SXSW in 2016, the White House team decided to capture that spirit on the South Lawn.

I’ll refrain from “reporting” on the event, you can read about it straight from the White House website. There is also a great photo spread on the White House Medium channel. (shameless plug: I’m in the last picture, preparing close out the day by watching the premier of Before the Flood).

signThe day began with a bang, as I got to help the one and only Adam Savage (MythBusters, set up a SXSL sign he had helped create with a team of Makers from Baltimore. You can watch his build video here! And, here is a time lapse video the White House crew made of us setting it up.

adam_selfieIn my previous life, I had the pleasure of meeting an incredible number of famous folks, but none more gracious than Adam. Our conversation covered topics from difficulties in making 100% whole wheat bread to similarities between tempering steel and conching chocolate.

The event was graced with a number of exhibitors, many of whom were involved in food based initiatives. These were of particular interest to me, as I had just harvested my first successful garden (more on that later), and was keen on growing as close to 100% of my own food as possible.

Among the attendees was Green Bronx Machine and Kitchen Garden Laboratory. In a world where a staggering number of children don’t know where food comes from, these two initiatives are teaching students about food and nutrition, even in an urban agriculture setting. Together, they were preparing incredible food picked straight from tower gardens.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves had an incredible selection of stoves on display. Solar stoves, solar ovens, alternative fuel options, and stoves that can charge electronic devices while they cook. In less fortunate parts of the world, many are forced to cook with wood indoors, causing millions of deaths from smoke inhalation. These stoves offer safe and efficient options for the 3rd and 1st world alike.

pfc_1But perhaps the most inspiring part of the day was my visit to the tent of the Food + Future CoLab, a joint venture between IDEO, Target, and the MIT Media Lab. I met Caleb Harper, who introduced me to his Food Computer. Caleb runs MIT’s Open Agriculture Initiative out of the Media Lab.

You can expect dedicated writing about the food computer, but here is the gist. It is essentially controlled climate growing. This is not new in and of itself. Greenhouses and hydroponic growers have long since employed such techniques. You can even buy commercial machines much like Caleb’s food computer right now, but you will spend thousands to grow very little food, and be subject to proprietary technology in a “black box”.


In traditional MIT spirit, the food computer is open source, so there is a much bigger community picture at play here. The computer uses a “climate recipe” to control all of the variables. If you devise a successful climate recipe, you can share it with the community. Likewise, you can search the database to see what recipes are available, and download one that suits your needs. Plant a seed, press play, wait for food. All of this community effort will enhance the hardware design, software design, and climate recipe database. The result is a system that gets easier and cheaper to build and operate, and most importantly can be scaled up. There are already Food Servers (shipping container sized food computers) and plans for warehouse sized Food Data Centers. These systems can be deployed in cities to provide a local food source, or in areas/climates where food is scarce. I’ll be writing more details about this as I engage in this initiative myself.
pressSo my trip yielded some much needed inspiration and direction, and my tour of the underbelly of the White House machine was unprecedented. I’m not sure if the experience is a testament to how cool I am, or how cool my friends are, but I’m quite certain it’s the latter.

Keeping Warm, Part One: My Thermostat



See Version 3.2 HERE

See Version 2.0 HERE


Now that the northern Maine temperatures have finally crept above 40°F on a regular basis, I decided it’s time to talk about how I managed to stay warm this past winter. I’d like to start things off with my thermostat. There is a lot to say here, so i will devote the whole post to it. Other cold beating techniques will be discussed in part II.

Why Build a Thermostat?

“You know, you can buy a digital thermostat at Lowes for $17?” I got some version of that response from almost everyone I spoke to about my idea of building my own. The thermostat that came with my camper was working just fine. I didn’t need to build one, I wanted to build one. I take great pleasure in making things that solve a problem, and my DIY thermostat had the potential to solve a number of problems.

The first problem it solved was saving me $17. Everyone was right, I could just by a thermostat. At the time, Lowes had a basic digital Honeywell thermostat for $17. At the same time, I was broke, and $17 buys an epic amount of ramen. My geek stash had all of the bits and pieces I would need already, so there was no expense incurred in this project. The cost of propane was a big concern for me. I decided I needed to maintain a minimum of 40°F. Warm enough to ensure my water didn’t freeze, but cold enough to conserve on propane. My analog thermostat only went as low as 50°F, and “OFF” was so close to 50°F that I could never be sure if it was on 50°F of off completely.

Some higher tech solutions were deployed for extra geek cred. I knew I would forget to turn the temperature down before I left for work sometimes, so I used an infrared motion sensor to tell whether I was home or not. I wanted to gather data regarding how long, and how often my furnace ran. It would give me a gauge on how many hours of run time I could get out of a tank of propane. I used a data logger to write data to an SD card for later science.

How it Works

I’m going to try my best to keep it as layman as possible for the electronically uninitiated, but I will include some gritty details later to appease the electron junkies in the pack. This whole system is run by a microcontroller. Think of it like the processor (CPU) in your computer or whatever device you’re using to read this right now. All of the code that makes up the software you use is just a series of instructions that is read and executed by the CPU. So, I write some code, load it onto the controller chip, and it runs the program over and over. In this circuit, there is a temperature and humidity sensor. The controller constantly asks the sensor what the temperature is. I set my desired temperature by using two buttons to bring it up or down. When the temperature reported by the sensor is lower than the temperature I set, the code turns the furnace on. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea. The controller also uses the infrared sensor to check for motion. If it sees no motion for an hour, it goes into a 40°F standby mode. Any time the furnace turns on, that event is logged to the SD card, including the time. When the furnace turns off, that event and time is logged as well. The times are subtracted from one another to determine how many minutes the furnace ran. That time is added to a cumulative run time.

The Geek Stuff

Here is some jargon. Feel free to skip this paragraph. This was programmed using the Arduino environment, but in a standalone arrangement (the controller runs on its own, without the support of the programmer). I’m using an older Sensiron temp/humidity sensor, and Adafruit’s Datalogging Shield. All of the pertinent info is written out to a Parallax 2×16 LCD. The furnace turns on with a contact closure, which is achieved by energizing a 5V relay. There is a mix of both i2C and SPI serial communications. The Sensiron chip uses i2C, the data logger uses BOTH protocols (i2C for the onboard RTC chip, and SPI for the SD read/write operation). I’m happy to share my code with anyone interested, but I’m not sure how compatible it is with more modern temp sensors.

thermologThe Numbers

I lucked out, because we had a very mild winter. The lowest temperature I saw was -16°F  (our wind chills brought us down to -30°F once in a while, but not often). I only spent $300 on propane all winter, and I was expecting much more. Each 20lb propane tank gave me over 30 hours of burn time depending on how much I was cooking (the stove uses the same propane). The spreadsheet on the left is a screen grab of the CSV file as it is written to the SD card. By keeping the temp at 40°F while sleeping or when I was gone, I saved a buttload of money. It took an exceptional amount of additional propane just to try to maintain 50°F overnight. Sleeping at 40°F was quite pleasant. A good sleeping bag is the only prerequisite. Getting ready for work in the morning is NOT quite so pleasant at 40°F, but I wasn’t expecting this to be easy.


What I really love about this process is the troubleshooting aspect of problem solving, and what I learn as I navigate it. Reality never behaves the way our ideas do on paper, and the act of wrapping our brains around those surprises teaches us a lot about the world. Sometimes, something seemingly so simple is actually far more complex. Sometimes, very complex things have very simple answers. I assumed that my code could say “when the temperature hits 60°F, turn the furnace off.” But in reality, the temperature fluctuates a lot as the room seeks equilibrium. The furnace would turn on and off several times while this happened, and it was hard on the electrical system. I had to write code that held the furnace on through a “buffer” period to let the room stabilize, and that minor change took more thought to engineer than the whole system did.

When we finally hit a warm spell, my furnace died! The timing couldn’t have been any better. It would have been an outright calamity even a week before. I had just made $80 helping my Mom out, and the part I need to fix the furnace happens to cost $80. Oh, how kind the universe can be when I don’t get in the way. In part two, we’ll talk about clothing, and the dynamic nature of human comfort.

UPDATE: I’ve added some features! See Version 2.0 HERE

Water Always Wins

From a small space colony on Mars, the 10th incarnation or Dr. Who once proclaimed that “Water always wins”. Similar words have been spoken by many, and how true they are. Usually this phrase is in reference to the forceful nature of water. Be it the quick and powerful decimation of a tsunami, or the slow and persistent relentlessness of a river carving a canyon. For the homeowner, it refers to the nagging inevitability that ALL roofs eventually need repair. Water will always find the tiniest of flaws and proceed to reek havoc. I’ve certainly had to repair a significant amount of water damage from the moment I purchased my camper, and I continue to find small leaks as time goes on (In fact, I woke up to a water leak on my head during a recent warm spell). But the phrase has taken on a new and more subtle meaning for me, in regards to two factors; moisture and temperature.

The sink is barely large enough to hold one medium sized pot, let alone clean multiple dishes.

The first ‘tragedy’ involved my water system. Being that the whole system is contained under the kitchen counter, the temperatures get a little colder down there. I knew this would be the case, and I left a couple of air gaps to allow some warmer air in, but it was apparently not enough. The bottom of the cabinet is essentially the top of the wheel well. I did not realize how poorly insulated this wheel well was. As it turns out, it’s not really insulated at all. A couple of days after Christmas, I arrived home to find the water was not flowing. I used a heat gun to thaw the pipes, but it was too late. The expanding water must have caused a small leak. This caused the pump to turn on and pump out all the water remaining in the tank. Once the water was gone, the pump just ran and ran until it burned itself out. The good news is that the tank was all but empty, meaning there wasn’t really any spill to deal with. But my pump was dead, and so was my wallet, so I’m back to living out of a water bucket.

This is just one example that proves the complexities of the simple life (a whole post is coming soon on that). In reality, there is no simpler water system than a “good ol’ bucket o’ water”, but it makes using the water more complex. Doing dishes becomes a clunky and messy chore sans faucet – and a tiny sink does little to alleviate the matter.

Frost caused by moisture in the air and collecting on the thermal bridge of a metal door frame.

My other surprising issue was moisture related. I went into this endeavor with an awareness for the potential of moisture issues. I’ve spent enough nights in campers and tents to know just how much moisture results from human breath alone, even from one person. I hadn’t really noticed any moisture issue in this camper. The thermostat I built includes a humidity sensor, and it reports quite low levels of moisture. The only time I see moisture on the walls is if I cook with lots of water, which is rare. The one issue that is consistent is frost around my door. The frame is metal, and acts as a thermal bridge to the outside. When moisture condenses on it, it freezes, but this is not really a problem. It merely shows that there is, in fact, moisture in the air.

Adding a layer of fiberglass to the bed over the cab helps keep the cold seams from collecting moisture in the form of frost.

One day, I had to shift my bedding around. My bed is made up in layers with a Reflectix insulation layer, a camping pad, a foam pad, and a ‘tempurpedic’ pad. While rearranging the layers, I noticed that it was wet underneath. It turns out that the moisture from my overnight breathing was collecting up there (the bed area is elevated over the cab of the vehicle) and it would condense in the corners where it was colder. This would collect as frost when it was cold, and eventually melt, creating small puddles of collected water. A few spots had even begun to develop black mold, which can be a huge health risk. I pulled it all apart to dry up, and slept on the “couch” for a while. I bleached away the black mold, added a layer of fiberglass insulation, and sealed everything with weather tape. I’m back sleeping up there. It is much improved, but cold nights can still result in mild frost, so I have to monitor it often. Luckily, it’s been a mild winter here in northern Maine. My coldest measurement so far has been 16 degrees below 0 (about -30 with wind chill) and that was brief. Usually, we see spells of 20 below for a week or more at at time.

I’ve learned that this vehicle seems to do quite well down to around 20 degrees. Beyond that, things become more of a struggle. I have to say that of all the challenges I expected, frost wasn’t really on my radar. All in all, the cold is manageable, but this structure is far from practical or efficient to be feasible in this extreme of an environment. Next winter will have to involve a new plan, because Jack Frost is an asshole.



Squirrel – It’s What’s for Dinner

IMG_0763My audience is going to get divided here. Some of you are outdoorsy, meat eating country folk. Some of you are vegan. Some of you fall somewhere in between. For my non-meat eating constituents, please read on (if you haven’t stopped already), there’s a bigger story here about an accidental experiment, and the lessons it taught me.

For the record, I am not a fan of killing animals (I ate a vegan diet for an extended period, but got away from it for a plethora of reasons that are beyond this post). I have absolutely no issue with folks who hunt (legally), it’s just not for me. I do currently eat meat, however, and I find that a tad hypocritical. It bothers me to think that I don’t want to kill an animal myself, but I have no issue eating one if all of the dirty work has been done for me. The fact is that we are removed from our food sources in modern society. We usually don’t buy packaged hamburger and think, “this used to be a cow”. Many don’t have the stomach to even think of the slaughter/butcher process, let alone perform it. But we have the stomach to eat it, because we can at least pretend to be blissfully unaware of where it really came from.

When I got my camper parked in its winter home, I was graced with a booming red squirrel population. They ran all around, bouncing on my roof, squeaking incessantly at each other. I was pretty sure they were going to pose a problem. I wondered if they would calm down after mating season and leave me alone. Then I heard the chewing. I was aware of the IMG_0764damage squirrels could do. Over the years, they had destroyed a number of items I had stored in a small barn. But this camper is my home. They could easily get inside and nest, or destroy my electrical system, and otherwise drive me right out.

I tried a product called Repels-All. It seemed to have no effect. It smelled awful – it repelled ME more then the rodents. I knew I could possibly live trap them and relocate them. I’m not sure if my city ordinance would allow it, but I couldn’t afford those traps anyway. Plus, I worried about taking them away from their nest, and all of the food they had gathered all season. Would they just die a slow starvation death? Research told me that rat style snap traps were no use because squirrels were too smart, but they were they best resource available to me. I got the beefy plastic trap made by Tom Cat, and set it on my roof with peanut butter bait.

I began to work on a storm window, and a mere 5 minutes after the trap was set, I heard a “snap”. It took me a second to realize what the sound was. He flopped around a few times, and I started feeling bad that these traps weren’t strong enough to kill, and I’d have to put him out of his misery. But he died almost immediately. I was feeling pretty bad about it, even though I felt justified. But now what? What am I supposed to do with a dead squirrel? I decided I’dIMG_0770 feel better if I honored the animal by not wasting it. I have never ‘processed’ and animal before, so I asked the internet. I skinned and gutted it, then boiled the meat for a while before breading and frying it. I was amazed at how good it was. What does it taste like? It simply tasted like the spices I breaded it with. Red squirrels are small, and even though this one was big for his species, there wasn’t really enough meat for the effort it took.

The next day, I opened my cabinet to get my laundry, and I was floored. It turns out, a squirrel HAD gotten in. I had recently worked a 24 hour shift, and in that time he was busy. There was a large mound of torn up paper, about 2 cuIMG_0771ps worth of seeds in my laundry bag and a few articles of clothing had been chewed to destruction. I suddenly wasn’t feeling so bad. My inner scientist took over and reminded me that I am a Darwinist. I get that the squirrels are just trying to survive, but so am I. In total, I caught 4 squirrels. I did not eat the other 3, because I have a fox nearby. I left the carcasses out which proved to be a good deterrent for future squirrels and after a day or two, Fantastic Mr. Fox comes around for a snack.

I am planning on returning to a meat free diet very soon, but for those who choose to eat meat – I highly recommend that you take part in the killing and processing of your food at least once. There is no better way to confront the fact that a living thing has given it’s life to feed you, and to see just how much work goes into turning an animal into a meal. It really puts it all in perspective.


CAMPER or TINY HOUSE, a Ballet of Semantics

Do I live in a tiny home? This is a question I’ve asked myself often. In technical terms, I live in a Class C motorhome. In conversation I say, “I live in a camper,” but I feel very much a part of the “tiny house culture”. It is my ‘home’, and it is ‘tiny’, but it is also a ‘camper’. It all depends on the perspective. Are you describing the structure, or the mindset?

There are many different terms to describe the various pint sized domiciles available to those seeking an alternative space to call home. Some of these terms are technical or categorical, serving to differentiate between various styles. Some of them are simply subjective, and will differ from one person to another based on their perception. There are philosophical notions at play. When I speak the terms ‘tiny house’ and ‘camper’, they each evoke a separate image in my mind. Yet at the same time, both terms can evoke a common idea.

There are ‘motorhomes’ also called recreational vehicles or ‘RVs’. The characteristic here is that it is self propelled via it’s own motor – you can drive it. These are further broken down into classes. Class A is the behemoth, bus sized affair, that is usually nicer than many peoples homes. Class B is the smallest, and its basically a glorified van with some RV amenities installed. Many people will buy a common van and do a conversion, adding these amenities as they see fit. Folks living in these are typically known as “van dwellers”. Finally, a Class C is in between. Think of an ambulance. The front is a van, but the back is a larger box structure containing the living quarters, and the rear axel is a ‘dually’ (2 tires on each side). Then we have the ‘travel trailer’ which is the type that is towed behind a vehicle either via a hitch or a fifth wheel. All of the above are ’campers’, in my opinion. You’re free to disagree with me, but any rigid structure on wheels designed for the act of camping is, in my mind, a camper. Of course, most who own a camper would not call themselves tiny home owners. They just go camping in it. But once one decides to live in said camper, the very thought changes the nature of the space. It’s all how you look at it, kind of like the observer effect in quantum physics.

When I think of a ‘tiny house’, I can’t help but think of the standard residential style construction commonly called a ’stick built’ home. Stick built homes typically feature 2×4 frames, drywall interiors, a metal or shingle roof, and some type of exterior siding. My problem is that I get stuck on the word ‘house’, regardless of its size, and assume this type of construction. Many tiny homes DO fit this formula, like the fantastic and popular ones available from Tumbleweed, but many of them do not. As an interesting side note, Tumbleweed has taken to calling their trailer based structures “Tiny House RVs”, which I think may be a recent change.

The truth is, in my opinion, that the phrase ’tiny house’ is and should be divorced from any particular type of construction. It is really more of a state of mind that denounces the idea of an unnecessarily large home or an unnecessarily complex life. It applies to any compact living space, whether is a stick-built structure, a camper, a yurt, a boat, or just about anything else you can think of.

You can even live a ‘tiny house’ life in a giant house! If your looking to live in a tiny house some day, you can begin by ‘living smaller’ now. I will detail the process I used (and continue to use) in a separate post, but here are a couple of tips to get you started:

1. If your home has many rooms, try closing them off one at a time. Close the door, and consider it off limits, or use it only for storage of rarely used items. Get comfortable with having less and less space.

2. Pare down your belongings. It can be REALLY hard to say goodbye to ‘stuff’. If you come across things you never or rarely use, but think you can’t part with, try boxing them up and putting them in storage. Maybe just in a closet, or in a storage unit or one of the rooms you closed off. Put a dated sticky note on the item or box. If you truly need it, you’ll be taking it out soon enough. Revisit the box in several months to a year. You’ll likely feel better about getting rid the boxes contents when the dates prove how little you actually use those things.

3. Look at the items you use and think of how many different purposes they serve. Do they perform only one task, or several? Is there an item available that can perform several duties? Try replacing 2 items with one that performs both tasks.

I am frequently surprised by items it thought I didn’t need, but find out I do – and also by items I thought couldn’t live without that are now a thing of my past.