Mission: A New Plan

I had a surreal moment this morning while walking to get breakfast at work.  As I was walking through the parking lot, a sudden wave of awareness came over me when I realized that I was truly 40 years old for almost a month now.  The majority of my life I have never “felt” my age and always felt younger than I actually was.  For some unknown reason this morning, that feeling stopped.  I started to think about the fact that approximately 50% of my life was now in the past, I had only 25-ish years to continue saving for a retirement I don’t think I’ll be ready for, and I will be at or near 50 when my daughter graduates from high school.

Growing up, I’ve always had what others referred to as a “baby face” and I think that has contributed to my self-image being perceived younger than it actually was.  My voice didn’t significantly change tone until almost out of my teens; a fact that didn’t help me with cruel people in high school.  Having recently caught up to some old acquaintances from high school, it was clear that they had all aged (some gracefully, other not so) and were well into their lives.  On the surface they had things together and appeared to be on plan.  I myself have a had a few speed bumps, but nothing too severe as to derail me from my life goals.

This new thought pattern, starting today, is drastically different from anything I’ve experienced in the past and its unsettling.  Unsettling in the realization that I no longer have the luxury of saying “I still have xx years to get to that.”  Procrastination in this case is the evil elephant in the room that had patiently waited in the shadows until I finally saw he was lurking.  I never really had an official plan (or as my Father would put it, critical path) for my life and have gone with my instinct and gut feeling all these years.  The strategy paid off in the end as I’m in a good job, have a good life (sort-of), and am generally happy with what I see.  That current strategy is showing its age though, and now is no longer relevant or appropriate going forward.  I need a new plan.

P.S. – This is my 100th post 🙂

Going Off the Grid

OfftheGrid
Sort of feels like jumping off the dock into the deep abyss

Watching a webinar recently on the Internet of Things (IoT), I had the idea to think through the idea of completely disconnecting off the grid and stopping your online electronic trail. I’ll admit that this is an extreme measure that most people would not attempt as it seems impossible. Many of life’s conveniences require a connected presence that in 2016, the majority of people wouldn’t even entertain to try. What follows is what my own mind has determined is required to truly get off the grid. This is in order of the systems and devices I interact with on a daily and/or weekly basis. I’ve rated each with a personal difficulty level, 1 being low and 10 being almost impossible.

Alarm System

Each morning and evening (and when I leave during the day) I turn on/off my alarm system. This is a connected device through the cellular network back to the monitoring station. There is also a monitor outside the utility room that detects heat and smoke, also real time monitored. At any given time, the alarm system is listening to the devices configured within it.

In order to be off the grid, I would need to remove this system from my home completely and essentially go without an alarm system. I have yet to see an alarm system, that is marginally adequate, that works without real time 24/7 monitoring. A bad actor could potentially trigger a fire alarm while I’m not home and impersonate a first responder to remove jewelry, money, etc. from my home. Far fetched, but I’m more of a “it can happen” then a “it could happen” kind of guy.

Difficulty = 3

Vehicle

I drive to and from work every day. To save myself from having to carry money, I have installed an EZPass system that scans a transponder in my car and remotely charges my account. The data collected from this device: on-ramp date/time, off-ramp date/time, real time traffic polling. With that data, you can determine my average speed from on/off and potentially send a ticket for speeding. The real time traffic polling also can collect any information stored on the transponder, if any. I don’t know what is stored, but the number of the device tracks back to my name/address/etc. as well as any credit cards or payment methods in my account.

I would need to start paying my tolls in cash again to remove the electronic trail, but they can still see how fast I was going from on/off, harder to tie it back to my vehicle directly though unless they’re taking pictures of car license plates in the cash lines in addition to the EZPass lines. I could pay cash, not a huge change, just less convenient.

Difficulty = 4

Work

Let’s face it, most people don’t work for physical cash. In order to make a living, you’ll need to get paid by a company that has access to all your vital information such as SSN, Name, Address, etc. There are also multiple mechanisms taking your money from you each time you get paid that require additional people to have and know your information from Healthcare, government, local authorities, etc.

To properly get off the grid, you would need to essentially stop getting paid via electronic means by any company that didn’t pay in physical cash. Quickly thinking about it, most jobs that pay physical cash are typically illegal or undesirable to support living modestly. My company would laugh at me if I wanted to be paid in cash, and even if I asked for a physical check (to cash to physical money), I would have to pay an additional fee to them for this service. Bottom line, off the grid means making means with physical cash, nothing electronic. Getting paid in cash for most jobs is illegal by the way.

Difficulty = 8

Television

It’s a fact of life, if you want to watch anything other than local channels, you need network television. That involves a connected device with an internal address that is tied to your house. Each device is unique as its essentially an embedded computer. I’ve never, in the last 15 years having cable, seen this unit get updated or tell me that it’s been updated. A cable network is static to an extent as well and the IP address given can linger for days, weeks, or months depending on how often it gets reset. In my case, its been at least a year since a forced reset not counting power outages.

I would need to remove not only the cable, but the cable Internet as well to be truly off the grid. My online presence would go away essentially as any ability to go online would put me back on the grid. I personally would find this such a drastic change and shock that I could probably never do this for real.

Difficulty = 9

Computers

There are computers in everything. Cars, phones, houses, cameras, etc. Not thinking too hard, almost everything that requires electrical current has a computer in it. Even a toaster has a computer in it to properly regulate the heat and when to pop the bread up. Take anything apart made in the last 5 years and chances are there is some silicon content inside.

Getting away from computers is nearly impossible unless you move into the woods, build a cabin, and live off the land the rest of your life. Even then, if you’re out in the open, you can still most likely be photographed by overhead satellites. So, you’ll need to live underground with no visible trace that you’re living underground to be truly away from computers. I’m really starting to worry about where we are going as a species when the motto is “because we can” instead of “we can, but we won’t”. Does a toaster really need a computer? Does a light bulb really need to be connected to the Internet? Do we need a refrigerator telling us we need milk? Sometimes I miss the days where we just looked in the refrigerator and saw the milk low and said to ourselves “We need milk.”

Difficulty = 10

Brick and Mortar

Going off the grid would certainly require that you start shopping at actual stores rather than online. Everything you need will need to come from a store. I imagine that doing this isn’t that hard of a transition as this is what we did when the Internet did not exist. You can get everything at a store that you get online for the most part with “ship to store” services.

The problem lies with the fact that you’ll need to start carrying lots of cash instead of using a credit card. Each time you swipe the card, its a tracking opportunity for whomever is watching that sort of thing. Some ship to store services are online only as well, making those items off limits to someone shopping in person and paying cash.

Difficulty = 7

Online

Your laptop/computer is almost certainly connected to the Internet. Your mobile smartphone is connected to the Internet. All the modules (WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS) all talk to the network which is connected to the Internet. You just can’t easily get away from the Internet and if you do, its to a remote location that generally has few people around. The online connected type of life has been one of the most pervasive and aggressive changes we as humans have ever faced in our existence. It’s a human experiment being run by people who have no idea what they’re doing that affect everyone that is connected.

You could live offline, it’s possible. Before the AOL and CompuServe days, people did it all the time. Watch an old move like Bullit or French Connection and you’ll see how people did it back then. The trouble with this is that everything is now so dependent on being connected that its impossible to get anything done without a lot of effort if you are, in fact, disconnected. Read any of the other topics here and you’ll see they all have one thing in common: they’re connected in some way to the Internet.

Difficulty = 8

Healthcare

Probably the most pervasive item on the list that would also be the most difficult to disconnect from. If you want health services, your information WILL be used somewhere during the process. Whether it’s your SSN, or full name, address, etc. You could potentially live without healthcare by going a homeopathic route or just flat out refusing medical care. We’re not the healthiest nation in the world making going without healthcare a tough sell for almost anyone. The potential for healthcare against your will (e.g. – you’re passed out) is also a real possibility, but you won’t ever have to give your name/address/etc if you don’t want to.

Here’s the rub, this is one of the most targeted industries behind banks by bad actors. You need healthcare to live longer than people did 100 years ago, the reasons why are plentiful and not the purpose of this experiment. We just can’t get by without healthcare due to the fact it’s almost forced on us to get it either through work, personally, or privately. It would be a tremendous disadvantage to do so.

Difficulty = 9

Conclusion

After taking a few days to put this together, I’m left with questions related to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  How long before someone decides to implant a mobile phone into our hand like in the Total Recall reboot?  How long before we replace missing limbs and organs with mechanical devices like in the RoboCop reboot?  Do we really need all this technology to make our lives easier?  Or are we just lazy?

Home Inspections……

We finally got the list of items that our buyers want fixed in my current home.  It wasn’t a very long list and our inspection report was actually only about 15 pages.  From what I was told, that is a very short report for a home that is over 15 years old.  The issues raised were already known and I knew I would need to fix them.  The buyers, first time home buyers, have consistently attempted to request our washer/dryer.  I get the reasoning, but they are 4 months old, we’re still paying for them, and to be honest the list of items we need to fix don’t even come close to what we paid for them.  No dice buyers, they’re coming with us to our new place.

The inspection report for our new home, by contrast, is 48 pages and is a poster child of what no properly maintaining your home quickly becomes.  The list of requests, that we’re making mandatory to fix, is quite long and includes some really jinky stuff.  One of the most troubling is the fact that the exhaust venting for the heater and water heater (both gas) is literally touching the stud wall and paper covered insulation.  The clearance for a single wall galvanized steel exhaust pipe is 6″ minimum.  It literally is a fire waiting to happen.  The wood was even a toasted brown telling me its been like that for a while.  We’re awaiting the radon test, which will be positive, before sending over our long list of fixes in order to purchase the house.

The experience has been a source of stress, but I’m more open minded knowing that a lot of the repairs required are part of regular maintenance with exception of a few of the safety hazards present.  Overall the house is a good buy and worth the offer we put in on it, provided they agree to the fixes we’re asking for.  If they don’t accept or offer to fix anything, we’re buying the house “as-is” and have a clause in our agreement to walk away.  I would rather they back away instead so that they have to surrender the penalty fee and we can get our home inspection reimbursed.  I had no idea starting this process that I’d be almost $2k in the hole for expenses we had no idea needed to be paid.

I’m looking forward to the settlement when all of this is over, rather, switches from buying stress to new home ownership stress.  Money will be a topic of conversation for the foreseeable future.

Money, teeth, and playing hookie

It’s been an interesting weekend.  Not exactly the kind of weekend that you would like to rewind and play again, but interesting none the less.  The wife and I have been looking at appliances for the new house for a few days and decided to head over to Best Buy (the anti-christ of bait and switch) and see what kind of packages they had.  We had no intention of buying anything, however the wife presented with a package deal that was drastically reduced, the opportunity to say “we saved xxxx” was too great to ignore.  At the end of the day, I had to increase my limit on the Best Buy card to pay for it all, a requirement to get the additional % discount that made the deal workable.  We walked out of the store with my thoughts focused on “we purchased appliances for a house we don’t even own yet”.  I sure hope they can take a cancellation if anything happens between now and then.

The daughter and I decided to head out for lunch yesterday because we hadn’t for a while.  It was her choice to pick and of course, McDonalds it was.  Thankfully they serve breakfast all day now, so its tolerable and I’m not praying to the porcelain God to make it all stop a few hours after eating said McDonalds.  As I was eating the second breakfast burrito, my tongue was scraping on something stuck in my tooth in the back.  Well, it was something stuck, it was the familiar edge of a broken tooth, back molar to be exact, that was now not a whole tooth but a 3/4 tooth.  Upside, it wasn’t painful so the break below the gumline hadn’t made its way to the nerve.  Downside, I now had to decide if I wanted it pulled or capped, neither of which I have money for at this point (see previous paragraph).

On top of all this happening this weekend, my wife informed me LAST NIGHT that we had the home inspection on our new place at 9am and it would take about three hours.  She “asked” in a tone that said “be there” for the inspection as she needed to head out for work before the end of the inspection.  So now, after taking off the week of our move and eating up all my paid time off, I now had to fake being sick so that I could be there to the end of the inspection.  My job pays all the bills and keep the house going and my wife’s job is her play money and is part time.  I’m not trying to lessen her contribution to the household, however there needs to be some priorities when the income that sustains the house is being sacrificed for a part-time job.   I’ve got a strong work ethic and I had lying to get out of work.  The only positive out of this is that the lie I used was to get my cracked tooth fixed, so technically its a half lie, but that doesn’t make any of it any better.

I’m skeptical at this point that this move is going to be a smooth one.  I can easily see lots of issues that will cause some frustration in the very near future.  The fact that my mother-in-law just had her knee replaced is making the non-medicated wife even more on edge than usual and its been a struggle to get anything other than attitude and tone from her.  Even the simplest things have become hard in my opinion.  Only time will tell if this is the right choice or not.  Everything is tolerable as long as my office (room in the basement) is not utilized for anything other than my office.  I need a cave to hide and recoup every once in a while.