It doesn’t have to be big to start, it just has to be a start.

I met with my accountant yesterday, and he gave me some valuable insight into the financial aspects of my quest to remove myself from the office.

Another week is ending, and I still don’t have a signed contract with my new Evil Masters. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m sure glad I stuck to my guns and didn’t serve my two weeks’ a month ago like I wanted to. I made that mistake once before…

When I lived in Calgary, Alberta, I was working my dream job for a few months – I had been drafted from the customer service center of a large ISP straight into the R&D department! This was unbelievable luck, and I was on cloud nine, but unfortunately it was not meant to be – the manager of the department was notorious for challenging the status quo. This was actually a really good character trait for an R&D department, but it drove the CEO and the General Manager of the company batshit crazy, and eventually something snapped. Disciplinary action was taken; my manager was made the manager of customer service for two weeks, and the four R&D guys were scattered to the wind to work in other departments for those two weeks.

My new department was connection support – you know, the guys that answer the phone and talk you through your problems getting onto the internet. The guys that know long modem initialization strings by heart, and all the different versions of Winsock. The guys that work four days on, four days off, in twelve-hour chunks, clinging to their humanity.

As an additional kick in the teeth, the best four of the eight-man tech support team had recently quit, citing poor working conditions and pay, and had taken jobs at the other ISP in town for better hours and pay. There was a standing offer at this other ISP of a job for any of us, should we choose to jump ship, but I wanted to get back into R&D more than anything, so I stuck it out. Four techs became six, with myself and another of the R&D guys joining the team.

It wasn’t actually that bad – though the insidious part of the four-days-on, four-days-off working schedule is that sometimes your weekend is Monday through Thursday. There’s not much to do on a Monday night in Calgary, so you end up drinking in seedy bars with people of questionable reputation, and eventually that takes a toll. Soon the schedule included work nights, and my exemplary punctuality began to suffer – I overslept on several occasions, and started to become surly with customers.

Any tech insider will tell you that the average lifespan of a technical support phone worker is eighteen months – after this period, it’s likely that someone will get an earful when they call in with a simple problem, not realizing that they’re the forty-fifth person that day with the same stupid goddamned one-click solution, you moronic sonofabitch idiot luser motherfREAD THE GODDAMNED MANUAL @#RT(GEW!@#@$! AAAAAAAAAAGH!!! .

One day I came in late, and was met with a bad scene – apparently out of four techs scheduled “on” that day, only one had shown up on time, and the General Manager was pissed. She and I got in a little argument over it, with the culmination being her yelling back “You can’t even handle a simple tech support job, you’re never going back to R&D!”. That was enough for me, and I handed her my resignation letter thirty minutes later.

A friend of mine was working in the Network Operations Center over at the other ISP, and thought my resigning was great. He said, quote, “DUDE! Awesome! Send me your resume right away. You’ll be in tier one tech for a day, tier two for a day, tier three for… about a week, tier for for a week or two, and then we’ll promote you right into the NOC with me, it’ll be rad!”. That sounded pretty good to me. I sent over the resume.

I got called in for the interview immediately, and went the next day. They made me do an interview quiz, with a lot of winking and nudging, and said to expect interview number two in a few days. Lo and behold, interview two, three days later. Interview two was very similar, with a lot of “sorry to have to do this, we all know you’re hired, it’s just red tape…” apologies and smiles. After interview two, they said to expect interview three in a few days, with that interview being the meeting of the team and the serving of the official job offer.

Well, I waited.

…and waited.

After a week and a half, I pinged my friend, who said “Dude, I have no idea what’s going on, you’ve been greenlighted and they should be making an offer!”. So I waited.

After two and a half weeks, I started getting nervous – I didn’t have any money left (who has savings at age twenty-three?) and rent was coming up. Still no word.

Finally, at almost a month, word came down – the ISP had had a hiring freeze issued by their head office, and they were not to hire any new people for at least three months! This was a serious problem – we were already a collective of five people living in a two-bedroom apartment, just trying to make ends meet. It got pretty bad there for a while – to the point that to this day I make regular donations to the Food Bank. Eventually I found a new job, and took it at pay that was faaaaar below market rate, just happy to have a paycheque again.

I don’t regret any of that time – I made a few friends that I’ve held on to for the decade since, and learned a lot of tough lessons. The biggest one, however, was NEVER quit your job until you have the next one lined up and the papers signed!


I had a meeting with my accountant. We spoke at length about the move from being a regular salaried employee to being a contractor working from “home”. He told me that to be able to write off a home office, it would have to be a portion of my house used exclusively for working, and specifically for meeting clients. We’ll see, I think I can handle that.

The biggest take-away I got from the meeting, however, was that as a contractor I should have any funds from the new Evil Masters deposited into a separate chequeing account, and then pay myself (and any work-related expenses) out of that account. That way should the government choose to audit my income, they can pull the account transactions and will have a clear record of all income, where it came from and where it went. It would not be anywhere near as easy if the paycheques went into my regular chequeing account…

Revenue Canada: “So, uh, where’d this $100 come from?”

Me: “My Mom. Birthday cheque.”

RC: “You’re a contractor, this is your work bank account, we want to see the receipts for that…”

The accountant also said that it’d be important to get the bank to send over physical copies of all cheques written or deposited into the account. This will make it much easier come tax time.

Another thing that he said that I thought was interesting:

“Every time you start thinking about hours and billing and materials and such, forget about computers completely and pretend you’re a plumber. Everything you bring to the table is worth money on that invoice.”

Nice. Keeping that one.

I was really hoping for some outside-the-box magic bullets regarding taxation, but I wasn’t able to come up with any. He did make it clearer to me that I’m not so much starting a new job, but rather I’m starting to work for myself – and that helped me to make a big mental jump. If I’m working for myself, contracting to the new Evil Masters, I can also gather other contracts, both short and longer term, and begin to build up my own business as opposed to working to build someone else’s empire.

It doesn’t have to be big to start, it just has to be a start.

Anyhow, the new Evil Masters are still in negotiations with their client, from whom the money to pay for my services will flow. Apparently this client is a real ball-buster when it comes to service agreements, so they have to be verycareful with the wording of the contracts… and each change has a two-day turnaround with the lawyers. I haven’t given on them yet, and I haven’t served my notice – though I’m still watching Craigslist for other opportunities.


A girl I’ve been seeing is an avid rock climber and has been taking me along climbing lately, several times to the indoor climbing gym and once to Squamish for an amazing day of outdoor climbing. It’s something that I always knew I would enjoy, but I hadn’t ever really had a good excuse to go.

There’s a subset of climbing called “bouldering” that I got to try out for the first time this past Monday, and I learned two things about it:

  1. it’s awesome, and
  2. it hurts!

Indoor rock climbing, if you haven’t been, is a lot of fun. The gym is a three-or-four story building with the floors removed, with simulated rock walls studded with colourful handholds in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Ropes dangle from the top of the wall, and each climb involves two people; one person climbs the wall, while the other handles the rope from the ground, protecting the climber from falling and offering encouragement.

The holds on the wall are each marked with coloured tape to indicate routes, which are rated in difficulty by the experts who run the gym. You choose your route and then climb the wall using only the holds that are marked with the same colour of tape. Simple, right?

Anyway – the first couple of times I ever went climbing I went to the Stronghold in Calgary, a beautiful old brick building that had been gutted and fitted with rock walls. Down in the basement, near the washrooms, was a low-ceilinged room with huge pads covering every square inch of the floor, and the ceiling was a slow sinewave of imitation stone covered with grips. A few male climbers lazed on the mats while one made his way slowly across the ceiling. I distinctly remember having exactly three impressions:

  1. wow, it’s hot down here,
  2. who’d want to climb across the ceiling like that?, and
  3. man those guys are ripped!

Flash forward a few years, and tonnes has changed – for one, I’ve got forty pounds of muscle on Old Drew. For two, I don’t have a pack-a-day cigarette habit, and for three, I’m hanging out with hot girls who are my unquestionable superiors on the rock walls. Still, the initial impressions stuck, and up until Monday of this week I still hadn’t ever bothered trying the bouldering game.

Monday I went climbing, and pushed myself pretty hard, climbing my first 5.10d before being shut down by a 5.11a (just smile and nod). It’s a helluva workout, and my arms were like lead by the time I was done – I could barely grip strongly enough to pick up my backpack! I should have been tipped off right then not to push myself any further, but since I was climbing with a couple of very experienced girls I guess I felt I had to try. On one hand I’m certainly glad that I did, but on the other hand – or forearm anyway – I probably could have taken it a little easier.

After we were each defeated by a wall, one of the girls suggested we boulder for a little while. Wow that’s fun – just like climbing, but more technical and with more arm workout, and without the hassle of ropes and harnesses! The technique is exactly the same – follow the coloured tape – but the wall is almost entirely overhang. I did a few routes, but then my arms basically gave out.

I will definitely go bouldering again. Climbing in the gym is quite expensive, at $18/pop, but when stacked against going for a burger and a couple of pints the choice is pretty clear. As I left the gym though, my forearms began to throb, and my right elbow had a soreness to it that I didn’t recognize – something deep inside the joint, like I’d hyperextended it or something, though I don’t remember doing anything like that.

Tuesday I was fine for most of the day, but the bikeride home from work (North Vancouver to East Van, via the Lions’ Gate Bridge and through the downtown core) really hurt my elbow. It felt as though I’d torn a tendon or something in my elbow, and both my forearms felt swollen and painful. I worried that perhaps it had something to do with my positioning on my bike, and still worry that climbing rocks and riding my track bike might not be compatible sports.

Tonight I will try the same ride again, and cross my fingers that I will not hurt when I get home. I believe in the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” adage, but that really only applies when you give yourself adequate time to heal between killing attempts!

Burning Man 2008?

I first went to Burning Man in 2002, with my ex-fiancée. It was a fantastic time, great adventure with great memories – we returned fulfilled, but didn’t really see a need to go back. Inside though, I told myself that if I ever found myself single again, I would return to the desert.

Last year I found myself single again, and went back – it was a completely different event, but worth every second.

Lots of people talk about making the epic journey to the desert, but not nearly as many actually make it down – well, at least not so many from Canada, seeing as it’s an eighteen-hour drive. One trick that I’ve employed both times now which seems to work pretty well is to purchase a ticket, even if you’re not sure you’re going to actually go. I know, it seems so simple, but it works – just having a physical reminder of your plan makes it much easier to save the money and buy the gear.

Last year I was in a bit of a strange space – my entire world pretty much collapsed. In the span of a few months, my job of six years went away due to a corporate buyout, my relationship of eight years went away, and I thought I’d have to sell my house. Fortunately I got a large severance package from the buyout, and was able to take a few months to get my head on straight again. Burning Man was a huge reset switch for me, and made me rethink a lot of my personal comfort boundaries; specifically boundaries regarding time and scheduling, imparting to me a new desire to rid myself of scheduling whenever possible, so as to allow myself to jump on plans that sound like adventure whenever they present themselves.

The biggest example of that desire would probably be in the form of a beautiful young girl named Suzy, with whom I had a whirlwind romance that lasted months after the end of the festival. We met on Friday afternoon and danced through the weekend; on Sunday morning, returning to the campsite to get some rest, we discovered my campmates packing up to leave ten hours before our scheduled departing time. We decided that we hadn’t quite had enough time together, and she suggested that I could get a ride to Los Angeles with her and her friends and that she’d drive me back to Vancouver in a few days. A road trip on the California highway with a beautiful girl in a brand new Mini Cooper sounded like a lot of fun – but having been awake for days on end there was a good chance that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I discussed it with my campmates, and to my surprise they agreed that it sounded like a fine adventure. So, with my backpack and a few days’ worth of clothes, we waved our goodbyes to the Vancouver caravan as it pulled away, and wandered over to meet up with the other ride “home”.

Unfortunately, upon meeting the other ride we found that they didn’t actually plan to leave that day, and would instead be leaving two days later! This threw a bit of a wrench in the plans, given that I had just sent all my camping equipment, water and food home in the Winnebago. We stuck around for a few hours, but after a week in the desert we were both dying to get out of there. So, in the spirit of adventure, we sent her equipment home with her friends, biked to the front gates, and began hitchhiking!

Fortune was with us, and I doubt we hitchhiked for more than two minutes before being picked up by a single driver in a Lexus SUV. He gave us beer and fresh steaks, and dropped us off in Reno at a fleabag hotel. In the morning, we wandered to a café, rented a fast car over the internet, and then picked it up and drove to Lake Tahoe where we had the swim we’d been planning for days. Then we drove through the night to Los Angeles – and a day later, I found myself attending a Cultural Anthropology class at the University of Santa Monica.

That experience cinched it for me – great adventure is out there to be had, though it won’t find me hiding in my basement. I need to put myself in the way; the river may well carry me somewhere cool, but not without throwing myself into the current first.

I haven’t figured out any plans yet, though I know that most if not all of the friends who went last year will not be going again this year. I do know of a few folks who are going down from Vancouver, and while they’re not close friends, they’re friendly acquaintances that I’d like to know better. I know that last year I spent a good portion of my time at the burn at a daytime dance club called “The Deep End”, and that if I make my way back there again I’d like to volunteer to bartend or help with their soundsystem.

This could be good, or this could be bad – a part of me is very excited about the idea of going down completely alone, and the adventure that that could represent. Another part of me thinks that’s crazy, and wonders how the hell I’ll get seven days worth of food, water and camping supplies into the desert on my back.

…but I’ve bought a ticket.

Laptop Musings

As part of the new work contract, I negotiated a new laptop. The wording in the contract is “…will purchase a new laptop (Macbook Pro or Macbook Air) for the use of Employee…).

Therein lies the question… Pro or Air?

Life’s questions should always be so rough. 🙂

I’m currently working on a 2.2GHz Macbook Pro, purchased for me by my current/former Evil Masters, as negotiated at my hiring. I didn’t negotiate hard enough though (which is partially because I was rushing to get a job as quickly as possible to finalize a mortgage application), and as a result the terms are much less favorable: I get the laptop, but I have to stay a year before I can buy it out, and even then the buyout is something ridiculous like $1500, which drops to $500 at a year and a half and $0 at two years. What can I say, I was a bit desperate for a job, and the laptop was just a perk.

As I see it, my options are to either keep the current laptop, paying the buyout cost of $1500, or to purchase a shiny new Macbook Air.

There are pros and cons to each laptop:

Current Macbook Pro:

Pro – battle-tested and proven
Pro – has my stickers on it already
Pro – 120G hard drive, faster CPU
Pro – firewire port
Pro – replaceable battery
Con – bigger and heavier
Con – screen has the nasty finger-oil marks
Con – isn’t a new Macbook Air

Macbook Air:

Pro – sexy and light
Pro – brand new screen
Pro – smells like a new laptop
Con – lose my stickers
Con – no firewire
Con – no optical drive
Con – smaller 80G harddrive, smaller CPU

For my needs, smaller and lighter is quite a value – I intend to throw it in a backpack every day and bike somewhere to work. The smaller drive is easily mitigated with fast external drives, which I already own; archival backups of all important data etc is trivial in OSX. Plus, the sheer “sexy” of the thing pleases me greatly.

On the other hand, I already have and use a MOTU 828mkII firewire audio interface – actually, based on that link, I see that they no longer manufacture the mkII in a firewire version, and that there’s actually a mkIII version now. Regardless, if I have any inclination to use my new laptop for audio-related projects I should really consider the firewire port – or maybe try to trade my 828mkII for a USB2.0 model.

There is a third option – to leave this Macbook Pro with the company and purchase a brand new Macbook Pro. That would take care of a few of the cons for sure, and is probably my best bet, all told. Still, it’s not a Macbook Air. For some reason this all feels like trying to decide between dating the super-hot, fun to hang out with and crazy in the sack blonde sweetie vs. the smart, elegant and beautiful brunette… the intelligent choice is obvious, but should I follow my head or my heart? When I listen to my head I usually accept short-term boredom but always win out in the end, but following my heart is invariably more fun.

I’ll have to decide this soon, probably within the next week.

Restatement of Goals

David Allen’s excellent book “Getting Things Done” has a chapter on defining goals prior to doing any actual work. While that would seem to be common sense, keeping that simple bit of wisdom in mind has already saved me from more than a few cases of working my ass off without having a clear finish line in my mind.

So, this post is to define for myself a few short and long term goals.

This list is by no means complete, and perhaps I’ll edit it as the year progresses, but we’ll see.

Ongoing goals, with no set duration:

  • to enjoy every day and live without fear, shame or regret,
  • to neither seek approval nor fear disapproval,
  • to be active every day and continue to improve my physical self,
  • to work efficiently and productively, smarter not harder,
  • to continue to reduce my footprint towards becoming nomadic,
  • to have the maximum flexibility in my free time, and
  • to recognize adventure when it presents itself.

Short term goals, ie this year:

  • to subtract the “home” from the “home office”,
  • to find a balance between productivity and sociability,
  • to automate all financial responsibilities, bills, etc,
  • to sail to Desolation Sound,
  • to build and perform a new live-pa set,
  • to learn to do handstand pushups without the support of a wall,
  • to bike around the Fundy Trail in New Brunswick,
  • to get my busker’s license and busk on Granville Island,
  • to learn to play my mandolin better,
  • to learn to cook better and cheaper,
  • to minimize my stuff and rent out my apartment, and
  • to backpack around Southeast Asia for six months or so.

Long term goals:

  • to build a business that provides income with minimal input,
  • to own a sailboat, and perhaps live aboard it for a while,
  • to learn to fly and eventually own an ultralight airplane,
  • to buy property in the Gulf Islands and build a home on it, and
  • to eventually settle in that home and raise a family.