Monday, March 30, 2015

Retire Early - Introduction

My brother's family has a joke. When things become a financial struggle, he shrugs and says that he'll end up "living in a van down by the river." I think the idea is that life would be quiet and peaceful and far from the daily struggles we all endure, but it's what he could afford.

The question, of course, is what kind of van?

I think this is what he has in mind:

I really like this one (photo links to site).

His lovely bride probably thinks of something else, more like this.

(photo links to site)

He might be able to afford one now, at least in his quiet dreams while sitting in the tree house in his fabulous back yard (he owns an amazing house with acres of trees).

When he was young, though, this is what he would have been able to afford:

I think he might have owned this one.

He manages his money pretty well. I don't think a beat-up van is in his future.

Is it in yours?

It is critical for you to manage your money well or you could end up living in a van down by the river. Even when you first start your working life, you should be considering your future retirement - and perhaps making it a reality much sooner than most people.

It is possible to retire early, even in the USA. (Would Congress please start working together to resolve this health-care issue? I mean, Costa Rica has excellent national health care, for goodness sake!)

Some people do it with the cautious approach of a panther stalking prey, like Joe Udo. He worked for years as an engineer and decided to quit and stay at home with his son. His wife still works, but they are looking at options there, also. His excellent blog can be found at Retire by 40.

Some people are, as they put it, more badass. Mr. MoneyMustache in his blog talks about cutting costs to the bare bone so he can be retired.

I just spent almost forty years in the working world and retired in January. I'm only fifty-seven, so I'm a little young, but if I knew then what I know now - I might have retired two decades ago.

Without any planning, I'd still be working just to end up living in a van down by the river.

Can you afford to retire? Perhaps not yet, but start early with the planning and do the research that fits your lifestyle and you can retire earlier than sixty-five. You can start to do the things in life that you always wanted to do, while you are still relatively young and healthy.

It helps to visualize what it is you want to be doing. You want to be a writer? (Me, too.) An artist? A flamenco guitar player? If you don't know what you want, you'll reach the end of the road without reaching a destination.

Visualization is only part of the task. You also have to make a plan. That's where the experiences of others can be infinitely valuable, allowing you to achieve freedom from the mundane and break out of the pack. You can achieve your dreams

I'll start posting blog posts full of tips to retire early, to accomplish a life where you can live your good dreams. I'll post those Retire-Early posts on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.

I'll still post personal blog posts as the muse inspires me. Those range from entertaining to downright absurd. I'll preach and I'll give in to my soapbox diatribes. Perhaps I'll just tell stories, or wax melancholy. Tomorrow will be melancholy.

So feel free to follow my blog. Come back and join me for those tips and bits of aged wisdom (that actually worked for me - and what didn't).

Take advantage of my experiences and shorten your journey to a more fulfilled life.

For those of you who want to be a published writer, you can also sign up for my Author's newsletter, where I keep my readers abreast of my writing and give them insider tips on how to get their own work published. I also have an Author's blog, still in infancy.

See you soon!

Today my brother said "I'm looking at living on a house boat... Instead of living in a van down by the river, I will live in a house on a River."

I'm pretty sure he's thinking this:

He's a tough guy, though. He might be able to make a go of it with something simpler...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

To My Eldest Son

At 18 years old you are a man, with the responsibilities of a man. You'd think I might have some wisdom for you as you reach this age. You'd be right. Here's the short version.

There is no substitute for truth and honesty. Without truth there is only illusion.

You cannot control your life. You can and should control your actions in life. Do so with wisdom and compassion.

Be tolerant of the faults of others, for we each are faulty. Never be tolerant of wrongdoing. As Edmund Burke said "All this is required for evil to triumph is for men of good will to do nothing." Evil cannot and should not be tolerated.

Always be truthful. Always be kind. Never quit.

God does not promise you happiness - but He requires obedience. Be disobedient at your peril.

Micah 6:8 - "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Friday, March 13, 2015

Holes in Minecraft

People often ask me what I do with my time now that I retired.

I dig holes. Deep holes, to the center of my Minecraft world. Yeah, I still play Minecraft. Most people build things - but I feel like my building skills just don't match the ones I see on sites like Minecraft Maps. But I can dig holes.

When the weather got bad a few weeks ago, I woke up with an idea for a hole in Minecraft. Not just any hole. I have big holes in the ground already that go down to the bottom of the world. One is about forty by forty. It isn't decorative, except for all the stairs I have to traverse the spaces. I covered it with glass. It's cool.

I thought this time I'd make a simple upside down Ziggurat. How cool would that be? I'd start with a nice little 2x2 hole to the center of the world and go up and out, one rising step at a time. I traveled from my main city to a Snowy climate spot and decided it was a good spot to build.

Sadly, I didn't think about the mountains
If you've ever played Minecraft, you know how easy it is to dig a simple 2x2 hole to the bottom of the world. then I scalloped up, one step at a time, in all four directions.
There's the hole, facing two corners and three sides, partially begun.
I worked on it while I watched TV, only occasionally getting torched by streams of flowing lava. I had to turn off the monsters, so I put the game on Peaceful. I wish I had a picture of the mini-zombie riding the chicken though. He was fast.

Eventually I had a couple sides dug up enough that I could get to the top. Of course, as with any Minecraft digging project, I ended up with a lot of materials and needed a place to store them. I made a few houses on each side to hold the chests of stone and dirt.

I had two other buildings with chests, too
Here's where it became tedious. For a while I was determined that I would do all the mining legitimately. I had some TNT, but the blast size is too small to be useful and I needed monsters to get more materials for TNT. I thought about writing code to add a laser drill or something, but I'm not good enough at Java yet, and learning to do that would take a while (though be significantly more productive).

I ended up using stone tools, since my iron ran out quickly. I calculated it would take me another two months to completely dig this hole in the ground by hand. The top layer, for instance is 136 x 136 blocks. That's 18,496 blocks. Even if only 90 percent of them need to be removed, and each block took three seconds, that's still almost 14 hours just for the top layer. Sure, each layer is less blocks, but the total quick calculation showed it would still take me over three hundred hours. Sure, I'm watching TV and there is a certain Zen that goes with digging a hole like this, but that's a long time. Not to mention I need time to make more tools, store what I dig up, deal with the snow...

Command lines! Of course there must be a command that would help me remove blocks! About ten minutes or research and I find I can use the Fill command. Usually you'd use it to place blocks, but in this case I could Fill with blocks of air, essentially removing huge chunks of blocks at a time.

If you press F3 in Minecraft you get a whole lot of system information, including the coordinates for the block you are standing on. 
Coordinates are the XYZ numbers on the right

Technically the command is used from one set of XYZ to another. However, you can use the tilde (~) to as the current location and use relative numbers.

Set your game so you can use the command line cheats. Press {ESC}, Open to LAN and set Allow Cheats to Yes (upper right).
so for instance if I execute the command "/fill ~ ~ ~ ~-10 ~-10 ~-10 minecraft:air" I get the following results from the above screen (looking at the hole I just created).
Ouch. Cut an entire section of stairs out!

So you need to find a neutral spot to practice with the commands. You sure don't want to ruin what you already created. Of course, you could just put most of it back with something like "/fill ~ ~ ~ ~10 ~10 ~10 minecraft:stone" to put stone back in the same place. Do NOT forget the tildes: they make the numbers relative instead of fixed. I decided to slice layers off from the opposite corner, one thin slice at a time, but removing the top layers. I used something similar to "/fill ~ ~ ~ ~10 ~25 ~10 minecraft:air" and made sure to stand in the correct place to do it.

I still inadvertently made some slices into the stairs I already carefully crafted and used the command to put stone back in place. Once you start using the command lines, it is a bit tedious to carve blocks out with a stone pick.

I had about one-sixteenth of the upper layer completed before I started using the command line. Still, the final hole took me another few hours to finish.

Looks nice at night, with snow falling.

I put a tower of lava into the center, dropping down from about forty blocks above the land surface. I added the corner channels of lava as the culmination of the project. The little dome in the distance is a sort of snow-globe building, with a frozen pond and animated snowman within. I had to do something with the snow I gathered!

Pretty, huh?

This was certainly the biggest and most complicated hole I ever dug in Minecraft. For some idea of how big, here's an overhead view (using UnMiNeD). Look how much of the snow biome the hole encompasses.

This isn't what I'm really doing in my retired life. It's just one little task among many. It was pretty cool though. Minecraft is still a nice Zen task when I'm not feeling well.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Defining wealth

Joe Udo on his blog site Retire by 40 listed three paths to financial freedom. I think he nails them, by the way. Earn more, spend less, and do something amazing to generate passive income (like invent something or write some best-selling books).

For twenty-five years I didn't pay much attention to retirement. I wish I had started earlier, like Joe.

Divorce wiped me out - twice. So starting over wasn't a big deal to me. I was used to it. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I guess I was insane for decades.  I didn't start saving for retirement until I married Darling, but she put me back on a path to sanity, I suppose. She's frugal and so am I, so we managed to put a lot of money away over a very short time. God blessed us, as we say, but that's because we put Him first.

You can look at it any way you want

I made good money. Check. We lived frugally. Check. Do something amazing.  Hmmm.

That really sums it up, but what is financial freedom? Joe says that for him it is having enough passive income to maintain a comfortable style of living. I agree with that definition, but it isn't the same with everyone.

I remember a discussion with a coworker a few decades ago that was particularly annoying. I defined wealth using Joe's definition:  enough passive income to pay all my bills and be comfortable. I worded it like "my money has to make enough money to sustain me." My coworker disagreed. He didn't offer a better definition; he just said it was "a lot of money" and he gave me this crappy grin. Finally I walked away, annoyed with the grin. He went back to surfing the internet or whatever he did at work.

I finally figured it out. He was really defining wealthy as the ability to buy anything you want, whenever you want.

Okay, that's really wealthy. Except the toys that rich people want don't even cross my mind (unless I think about it). A new jet? A trip to space? A new yacht? A month in Monte Carlo, gambling at the casinos (which really means spending at the casinos)? I get it. That's wealthy. I can't help you there.

But to retire you need much less than that. How much? That's the question we'll address over the next few blog posts, and then we'll finish it up with a series on how to manage your money. More specifically, I'll tell you how I managed my money, because nobody cares about your money as much as you do. You can decide if my advice is meaningful to you.

I've talked about finances before in this blog. If you really want a one-sentence summary of how to successfully manage your money you can read one of my favorite posts: The One Rule.

See you in the next post.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hijacked by Yahoo's search engine

I don't know about you, but the most frustrating thing about computers is the internet. Back in the days before internet (I was there) computers were relatively secure. When a computer virus infected your machine it was because someone inserted a disk that had a virus on it. Those were more common that you might think. Shared game disks were notorious.

All you need to do today is access the wrong web site or install something without paying attention. I searched and found a disk cleaner the other day. As I installed it, I wasn't paying attention and I agreed to have Yahoo install as my search engine.


Every time I opened Firefox, the Yahoo search popped up. I just don't like when my computer starts doing things I don't want. First it's a search engine, then the computer takes over the world!

Even though it wasn't a virus, it was persistent. I was frustrated enough to delete Firefox and reinstall it. Firefox saves settings, though, so that didn't work. I was thinking of rebuilding the OS on my machine - admittedly the most radical solution available to me

If Yahoo ever hijacked your browser, you know exactly what I mean.

Fortunately, I slept on the problem and the next morning an internet search found a solution that worked for me. Internet - the problem and the solution all wrapped into tangled web.

Stelian Pilici put together a comprehensive and easy walk-through at his site.

Here is the summary, directly from his page:
STEP 1: Uninstall Yahoo Toolbar and malicious program from Windows
This didn't work for me. I couldn't find the uninstall option for the Yahoo toolbar. On to the second step!

STEP 2: Remove Yahoo Toolbar and virus from Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome
This involved doing a reset on the browsers. He explains in great detail how to do so.

STEP 3: Remove Yahoo Toolbar and browser hijacker from your computer with AdwCleaner
He gives the link to the cleaner and it worked like a charm.

STEP 4: Remove Yahoo Toolbar and virus with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
I already own Malwarebytes for each of my machines and run it regularly. By itself, though, it didn't take care of the problem. I still needed the first three steps.

STEP 5: Double-check for the Yahoo Toolbar and infection with HitmanPro
I almost skipped this step, but HitmanPro did find a number of other things to fix. I was surprised.

So kudos to Stelian Pilici for a good solution to a nasty problem, and for a useful website overall. Go visit his page if you're having the same Yahoo problem!
As an aside, did you know that the word "yahoo" first appeared in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, where it refers to a race of brutal creatures who look like men? That almost seems fitting...

I can hardly believe that this is the first of March. I get my new office furniture tomorrow. I'll post pictures when it's all set up as part of my Retirement series

Finally, visit my new Author web site for Vincent Bernhardt! Sign up for my newsletter! My newsletter subscribers will receive the first drafts of ongoing projects, as well as thoughts on my writing process.

And be cautious of pop-up ads for removing viruses from your machine - even if the ad pops up on this site!