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Source: Originally, I was going to use a picture of a 2018 Ford E350 box truck, but then I decided that was dumb. Plus, the black and white graphics look cleaner and load faster.

This may not be my first post of 2018 (or even my second, for that matter), but hey, better late than never.

Happy 2018!

I've said before that I'm not a big fan of New Years' resolutions. That's still true. But I am a fan of taking the time to evaluate how my life is going, and course-correcting as necessary. I try to do it every few months, but the start of a year is as good a time as any to take a good hard look in the mirror, so let's do it.

Metrics for Success

I feel like it'd be cheating to just say, "yeah, I think things are going well", and call it a day year. I think it's important to figure out what it means for things to be good, and that's going to be different for everyone. For me, things are good when some combination of the following things (in no particular order) are true:

  • I'm learning new things
  • I'm lifting heavier objects
  • I'm closer to financial independence
  • I'm getting my beauty sleep
  • My friends and family are doing good, by their own metrics

With some criteria in mind, let's break it down and see if things are, indeed, good.

Learning New Things

2017 was a good year for learning new things. I learned how to snowboard (badly), do stand-up comedy (poorly), and dance like Beyoncé (abysmally). And no, I will not post videos of me doing any of those things, but here are some pictures (except for the Beyoncé dance class, because I don't need that kind of blackmail material out on the open internet):

Not pictured: (left) me involuntarily headbutting the mountain, and (right) a stone-faced audience cringing in silent, abject horror as I laugh hysterically at my own bad jokes.

I'm a big fan of doing things ever-so-slightly outside my comfort zone, because I think that's where the real learning and growing happens. And that's pretty much how I ended up in comedy and dance classes, by taking double-dog dares from my friends.

Outside of half-assing new skills, I spent some time full-assing a few existing skills. I bought a Kindle and read more books than in past years, and learned about different areas of computing, like how to correctly use Docker, properly deploy stuff on Google Cloud Platform, write games in Unity, and build modern single-page applications (which I mentioned recently). I'm hoping they'll prove useful in future endeavors.

Lifting Heavier Objects

In my list above, I said that things are good when I'm lifting heavier objects, but I probably should have phrased it as "I'm lifting heavier objects, and my feet take me farther, faster", but that's a lot of words and it didn't fit the pattern I was going for.

If you search the blog for the word "cardio", pretty much all of the references are talking about how bad I am at it. Growing up, my doctor said I had "sports-induced asthma", which is fancy doctorspeak for saying I was "exceptionally unathletic". I'm happy to report I do real cardio now…for various values of "real". I ran my first 5k in November, at an 8:25 pace. Yes, I did spend a few minutes at the finish line dry heaving, but we can definitely gloss over that detail.

I don't have any pictures, because the company who did the marathon photos wanted like $20 for a digital download, which is downright thievery. Like, I understand you need to maintain the site and set up the cameras and win contracts, but why on earth would I shell out $20 for a high-resolution print of myself on the verge of tossing my cookies?

As for heavy objects, my ability to pick them up and put them down actually declined in 2017. Like, January Brandon would beat December Brandon in a whole gamut of strength-related activities, and probably a fight, if for some reason it came down to that. I cut meat out of my diet early last year, and even though I was being careful with my macronutrients, I still lost somewhere between 15%-20% of my overall strength while my body adjusted (I used to subsist almost exclusively on chicken, for better or worse). I also did a lot of travelling in the first half of the year, which means I wasn't as consistent with my routine. I've gotten most of my strength back, and I'm also a few pounds lighter, so my Wilks Coefficient has probably improved, but there's still plenty of work to be done if I ever want to hit my combined lift (squat, bench, deadlift) goal of 1,000 pounds.

Closer To Financial Independence

One would think that this should be the easiest goal to quantify, since it's inherently numerical. The problem is that I've always struggled to find a good dollar amount for my target "nest egg", the amount of money where I'd feel comfortable quitting my job (if I wanted to). The generic target people throw around is a million dollars, because it's a nice round number, and if you're using a 4% safe withdrawal rate (discussion), $40k a year is perfectly livable in many parts of the country that aren't San Francisco.

And sure, we can use $1 million for a rough estimate, but at some point I have to answer some real questions to figure out if that's right or not. Questions like, "do I want kids?" and "how does a significant other fit into my life?" have a huge impact on how much money I should set aside, and how large of a safety margin I need. In the past, I've given a non-answer about keeping my finances flexible and doors open, but that's really just a nicely-phrased cop-out. The older I get, the less useful that answer becomes, which is something I learned the hard way unfortunately. I'm sure I'll address it all in a future post, but for now, we'll use $1 million as our target.

When I moved out to California in May 2015, I had $0. And when I say $0, I mean $0. Like, "strategically skipping meals" broke. It was definitely a rough week or two before I had started work and received my first paycheck.

Thankfully, that's all in the past. At the beginning of 2017, I had ~$125,000 invested. At the beginning of 2018 (i.e. two weeks ago), I had ~$314,000 invested. To clarify, this is the balance of my Vanguard accounts, so it includes my 401k, Roth IRA, and brokerage account. It doesn't include checking accounts, my HSA, any assets (not that I have any), or the change in my cupholder.

As far as financial independence goes, those numbers are heading in the right direction. I saved 50% more in 2017 than in the year and a half before. Granted, those savings are on the back of a very bullish market, which I don't expect to last forever. It'd be unwise of me to try and extrapolate the next few years based on the strong growth of the previous few years. Still, it's not unreasonable to think I could reach our example target in five more years without any crazy cost-cutting on my part.*

A graph of my total invested balance over the past twelve months, courtesy of Vanguard.

My biggest expense this year will likely be travel. I don't really travel for work anymore, since I changed jobs. I'm hoping I can pull together a few personal trips this year, and visit some of the places I've been reading about.

Getting My Beauty Sleep

I'm a big proponent of sleeping, and sleeping well at that. It's been a while since I've talked about tracking my sleep quality, but I've still been recording data for the past few years through the same Android app.

Originally, I wanted to write about how my sleep quality has changed over time. I figured out how to export the data (all ~47,000 data points!), but it's been a massive struggle to parse it into an analyzable format, and then to properly visualize it. Because this post is already almost a month late, I'm going to give up trying to process the data for now.

In short: I have no idea how well I slept in 2017, but I'll do a follow-up post once I figure out how to sift through the data.

Friends and Family

Even if everything in my life was moving along swimmingly, it would be a pretty hollow success if my family and friends weren't doing so hot.

Recently, one of my friends was mistaken for someone else at a bar and legitimately attacked by a very belligerent, very drunk woman. He's fine though, and I'm sure it will be a hilarious story at some point in the future, probably after the gash in his face heals up. Freak bar attacks aside, everyone in my life is doing pretty swell, which makes me happy. Don't really think I need to elaborate on this one.

Looking Forward

I don't want this post to be a self-congratulatory shrine to how awesome I think I am. Reading it over though, that's kind of what it's devolved to. Sure, I'm proud of what I accomplished in 2017, but there's still a lot of room for improvement.

For starters, I got physically weaker, I dropped the ball on some personal relationships, and (in more ways than one) I wasn't as focused as I want to be. I think it's because I've gotten too used to my routine. It makes sense: I've found a good, consistent routine and I like it. The problem is that I get comfortable with it, which takes the edge off the sense of purpose and urgency that usually motivate me. It's hard to sustain that energy when you're doing the same thing over and over.

And that takes a tangible toll. I've noticed I'm less enthusiastic about my workouts, I'll drag my feet and miss sets or even entire days. My passive attention to personal relationships hasn't been enough to keep them healthy, and I've noticed I oscillated idly between projects, making little progress on any of them. Ironically, it looks a lot like the problem I thought the truck would save me from, because I thought the truck was too obnoxious to get comfortable with.

To explain it another way, it feels kind of like that Adam Sandler movie Click. For those who (wisely) stay away from Adam Sandler films, the gist is that a dude gets a magical remote, and one of the things it allows him to do is fast-forward through "uninteresting" parts of his life. While he's able to eventually fast-forward to his goal, he spends most of his life on auto-pilot and everything kind of falls apart as a result.

I said that 2017 was about investing, and it was. I invested in myself and the truck, and it's paid off: I'm closer to my financial goals and not massively stressed out when it rains.

So what's 2018 about then? I'd say finding focus and being present. I've got the routine down and the investments are paying dividends, but I need to get off auto-pilot. I need stay mindful of why I do what I do. I need to be more in the moment. I need to take a more active role in the things I do every day.

But I don't know how to do those things yet. Maybe the solution is to take more deep breaths and dedicate some time each day to just existing. Maybe I'll have to introduce some dynamism into the routine to keep me motivated. I'm not sure. But I know that the work I put in now sets the course for the rest of my life. And if that's not motivation enough, I don't know what is.

Here's to 2018, and to achieving anything you set out to do, whether it takes a day or fifty years.

*One could argue that living in a truck is a "crazy cost-cutting" measure, but at this point it's a pretty foundational part of how I live, and it doesn't feel like a sacrifice. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Source: As always, truck from Clker, City from 123RF, more fireworks from Clipart Kid, and road from Clipart Panda. Composition haphazardly done by me.

New Year, New Me Same Truck-Dwelling Degenerate

Excuse the contrarianism for a second here, but I'm not a fan of New Year's Resolutions. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing people take the initiative, work hard, and reach their goals. My qualm is that, if you want to change something about your life, just do it. Don't wait until we reach an arbitrary point in our orbit around the Sun to better yourself. After all, January 1st is a day just like any other, nothing makes it any more conducive to success.

Complaining aside, that's not to say I don't have plans for myself in the New Year, I definitely do. They're just the same plans I've been working with and tweaking for the past year and a half. If someone in a hypothetical and unnecessarily violent world put a gun to my head and asked me to sum up, in a single word, what my plans are, I'd probably say: "Investing".


"Investing in what?" you may ask. I've already talked about how I've been investing in index funds like VTI and VXUS through my 401k, Roth IRA, HSA, and brokerage accounts, and nothing has changed there. That's all still on auto-pilot, silently siphoned out of my paycheck and quietly compounding interest. And it's still working really well for me, and has already netted me >$10,000 in dividends and appreciation.*

My investments through Vanguard, a year and a half in.

But with my student loans paid off and a freshly-minted promotion, I should start looking to diversify my assets outside of stocks, especially as I start to build up a more sizable nest egg . So we'll start with some more of the financial investing I'm considering, but that's far from the only way one can invest.


Okay, so the stock situation is solid and doesn't need any intervention, at least until I near retirement and start investing more heavily in bonds, per Bob's advice. But still, it wouldn't be particularly savvy to keep >95% of my wealth tied to the performance of two funds, regardless of how diversified each may be. So, I've been looking at my options, and there are a few promising avenues. for consideration

Real Estate

Brandon, how the hell are you going to invest in real estate when you live in a truck?

It's true, one of the reasons I live in a truck is because housing is ridiculously expensive out here, and buying a home (or rental property) would require me making deals with some unsavory, otherworldly creatures. That said, I can invest in REITs. REITs, or Real Estate Investment Trusts, are traded like stocks, but are primarily invested in real estate and mortgages and other things that track the value of the real estate market. So I might not being able to buy a home, but REITs are a less messy way for a beginner to get into the real estate market. At the very least, I need to do more research on their risks, returns, and tax properties before I actually put my money where my mouth a house is.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-Peer Lending is another type of investing where, you guessed it, money is lent between peers. Sites like PeerStreet and Patch of Land allow you to choose from a catalog of (usually real estate-related) loans to invest in, and as the loan gets paid off, you get a proportional chunk of the interest. You can vary the "quality" (read: riskiness) of the loans you're willing to fund in exchange for potentially higher returns and correspondingly higher default rates. These sites quote yearly returns of 6-12% on your investment, which is definitely enough to warrant a more thorough look.

It sounds good for sure, but there are naturally a few things worth considering. For one, loans are far less liquid than stocks are, it's not as easy to sell your stake in a loan. You can sell your share on a secondary loan market, but that's not nearly as simple as selling a stock. The other wrench in the mix: depending on the peer-to-peer site, most loans are only available to accredited investors, which requires (among other things) having a net worth of one million dollars. As nice as that would be, I'm clearly not there yet. As with REITs above, I need to do more research to determine the viability of investing with these sites.

The Truck

It's no secret that I plan on dumping the truck at some point. Hopefully not anytime soon though; it's not particularly well-suited for being sold in it's current state. If you think about it, there're two groups of people that'd be interested in it: people who need moving trucks, and people who want to live in vans. The problem is that it'd be weird to use as a moving truck, because it has weird amenities, like a coat rack, insulation, a bike rack, and a sky light. And unless you have a routine very similar to mine, the truck doesn't really provide enough utility to make it a full-time residence. So the market for people who would buy my truck as is…well, it's likely just me. And I think it goes without saying I'm not in the market at the moment. I'll save the details for their own post, but I have a bunch of plans for making the truck more palatable for all of those lurking potential stealth campers out there.


Investing in yourself is arguably the most important investment you can make. After all, you only have one fleshy meat body and sponge brain to pilot around your consciousness. We're all pretty much stuck with the results of whatever investments we make in ourselves.

With that in mind, I'd like to read a bunch of books that I've started but have yet to finish, mainly because I have the attention span of a guppy.** I'd also like to finish a bunch of half-written blog posts that have been collecting virtual dust on my server, along with a fancy-shmancy unfinished site-redesign.

On the fleshy-meat-side-of-things, I've been tweaking my workout routine, and I'd really like to break 1,000 combined pounds on my bench, squat, and deadlift, ideally without becoming potato-shaped. On the cardiovascular-side of things, a friend of mine recently mentioned doing the AIDS/LifeCycle 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which sounds like great motivation for whipping my cardio into shape.

Why Investing is the Cat's Pajamas

The nice thing about investing is that the results generally compound on themselves. It's pretty easy to see this with monetary investments, where compound interest and re-invested dividends are real, tangible values. But it rings just as true with investments in yourself as well, just in less-visible ways. For example, regular exercise keeps your resting heart rate low, which means your heart doesn't have to work nearly as hard for the rest of your life. This has great perks, like decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. And if Not Dying™ isn't a good enough reason to invest in something, I don't know what is.

*Naturally, the gains and losses are wholly irrelevant until I start taking distributions and realizing it as income, which likely won't happen for another ten years. Still, it's fun to look at it every so often, even with no intention of doing anything with it.

**For the curious, the books are: The Martian, The Hitchhiker's Guide series, Walden, The Achievement Factory, The Millionaire Next Door, and Search Inside Yourself.

Source: A graph of my estimated one-rep max for each week over the past 10 months.

It's been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened since then. I've hit my one-year truckiversary, surpassed $15,000 in monopoly money savings, and paid off the remainder of my student loans. Expect posts for these things in the coming weeks. As for my absence: I've been dedicating the majority of my free time to building an app for a small nonprofit to help Syrian refugees apply for scholarships. I like to think it's a worthy enough cause to excuse my tardiness and general inability to produce new blog content. Oh, and my laptop unceremoniously died on me. With that out of the way, onwards to the (lean) meat of the post.

I don't know at what point in history we thought it would be cool to start picking up heavy objects for fun. I'd imagine it'd have been pretty recently, it's not like you could stroll into a Chipotle 2,000 years ago after a sweaty, Beyoncé-fueled workout* and replenish all those burnt calories with a double chicken and guac burrito bowl. We live in a brave new world.

Regardless of when lifting and exercise for the sake of exercise became a thing, we're fortunate enough to enjoy the privilege today. I frequently allude to how I take part in the fun: via a modified version of Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program. That seems like a good starting point for this post, so let's do that.

The Basics

The 5/3/1 is a pretty standard strength-training routine, recommended to me by my good friend (and source of inspiration) Pat K., who wasn't too far off from setting a state record at a recent powerlifting tournament. I'll be channeling his knowledge and advice for pretty much the entirety of this post.

Anyway, the most important thing to know about the 5/3/1 is the concept of a training max (henceforth referred to as TM), which is a baseline amount of weight you'll use for each exercise. To calculate your TM for an exercise, take 90% of your one-rep max. If you don't know what your one-rep max is, use the formula:

weight × (1 + reps / 30).

As an example, if I bench-pressed 195 pounds for 7 repetitions, my estimated one-rep max would be:

195 × (1 + 7/30) = 240.5 pounds

and my TM would be:

240.5 × 90% ≈ 215 pounds

To start a 5/3/1 routine, you calculate your TM for overhead press, parallel squat, bench press, and deadlift, and then the workout is as follows:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Warm up Warm up Warm up Warm up
Set 1 65% x 5 70% x 3 75% x 5 40% x 5
Set 2 75% x 5 80% x 3 85% x 3 50% x 5
Set 3 85% x 5+ 90% x 3+ 95% x 1+ 60% x 5

A plus sign (+) after a number means "at least this many reps, but ideally you should continue the set until you reach fatigue". In turn, "fatigue" means "the point where your body has failed you and you're a sopping pile of ATP-depleted, lactic acid-filled muscle tissue on the gym floor." Week 4 is called a deload week, and is for recovery, basically a vacation for your muscles. I skip this most cycles, I've only actually ever felt the need to deload once or twice after particularly heavy weeks.

The Warm ups mentioned above are three sets you should do before each day's routine. Those sets are 40% x 5, 50% x 5, and 60% x 3 respectively, and help your muscles get ready for handling the heavier weight you're about to subject them to. They're super important unless you enjoy being irreparably injured.

The Routine

The table above constitutes the core lifts of the 5/3/1 workout. The other main component of a 5/3/1 is the assistance work, which consists of all the supplementary exercises you do after you've done the core work, to add more exercise volume and build complementary muscles. My whole routine (leaving off the warm-up sets for brevity) looks something like:

Monday - Military Press

  • Military Press - Standard 5/3/1
  • Rear Delt Raise 15 lbs × Failure
  • Cable Upright Row 30 lbs × Failure
    Pat's suggestion was dumbbell upright rows with 25 lb weights, but my wrists don't appreciate that.
  • Bench 60% × 8 × 5 sets
  • Pullups Body Weight × 8 × 5 sets
    I do body weight pullups because I don't have a weight vest/belt available to me. Try to keep a constant rest time between sets, and go until failure on the final set.
  • DB Row 6 to 12 reps × 5 sets
    Start with an amount of weight where failure occurs in 6 to 12 reps, and decrease weight with each set, trying to keep yourself in the 6 to 12 rep range. I start with 75 pounds and work my way down in 5 pound intervals from there.

Tuesday - Parallel Squat

Start each squat day with the following:

  • Cardio 10 minutes
    If you're like me and legitimately useless at jogging, this usually means 10 minutes of walking. Take longer strides, to start loosening up your legs.
  • Foam Roll Legs and lower back
    If you've never foam rolled before, it's really relaxing. It's also a great way to limber up before/recover after a workout.
  • Dynamic Stretches
    Pat recommends DeFranco's Agile 8
  • Squat 45 lbs × 8 reps
    A standard Olympic barbell weighs ~45 lbs.

Week 1

  • Squat 65% × 5
  • Squat 75% × 5
  • Squat 85% × 5 × 5 sets
    Go to failure on the last set

Week 2

  • Squat 70% × 3
  • Squat 90% × 3
  • Squat 95% × 3
  • Squat 100% × 3
  • Squat 105% × 3
    Keep adding 5% until you can't do three full reps

Week 3

  • Squat 75% × 5
  • Squat 85% × 3
  • Squat 95% × Failure
  • Squat 85% × Failure
  • Squat 75% × Failure

End each squat day with the following:

  • Glute Ham Raises Body Weight × 8-12
  • Core work and lower back extensions
    I like to do oblique twists ("Wood Choppers"), bicycle kicks, and stability ball roll-ins, but feel free to pick your own proverbial poisons.
  • More Foam Rolling
    Still legs and lower back
  • Static Stretches
    I also like to use an inversion table at the end of my squat days, but I haven't seen those at other gyms.

Thursday - Bench Press

Week 1

  • Bench 65% × 5
  • Bench 75% × 5
  • Bench 85% × 5+
  • Bench 75% × Failure
    This is a dropset, meaning you don't take a rest between the 85% set and this one.

Week 2

  • Bench 70% × 5
  • Bench 80% × 5
  • Bench 90% × 5+
  • Bench 80% × Failure
    This is not a dropset, rest after the previous set.

End bench days on Week 1 and Week 2 with the following:

  • Press 60% × 8 × 4 sets
    Try to minimize rests here, and time them so that you ideally reach failure on the final set.
  • Rear Delt Raise 15 lbs × Failure
  • Weighted Dips Body Weight × Failure
  • Cable Upright Row 30 lbs × Failure

Week 3

Start and end your workout with the following warm ups:

  • External Rotation 10 lbs × 10 reps
  • Internal Rotation 10 lbs × 10 reps

And the rest of the day's routine is:

  • Bench 160 lbs x 3 x 10 sets
    Keep the rests between 60-90 seconds. Add 5 lbs to the 160 lb base every cycle until you can't do the full 10 sets with 60-90 second rest times.

Friday - Deadlift

  • Deadlift- Standard 5/3/1
  • Squat 50% × 8 × 5 sets
  • DB Row Failure in 4-8 reps × 2 sets
  • DB Row Failure in 4-10 reps × 2 sets
  • DB Row Failure in 6-12 reps × 2 sets
    Decrease weight with each set of rows.
  • Pullups Body Weight × Fatigue × 4 sets
    Pat suggests switching up the grip for each set and trying narrow/wide/overhand/underhand pullups.

Going Big

Since the beginning of this vehicular voyage, I've always considered it a benefit how I'm forced to be consistent in my routine. But up until recently, I didn't really have anything tangible to show for it. I mentioned I was going for a combined lift (bench, squat, deadlift) of 850 pounds, and a few weeks ago, I decided I was ready to put the rubber to the proverbial road and go for it. So I took a week off from my normal routine and replaced each day with an attempt to see how much weight I could safely lift with proper form. For that week, I ate more, slept more, stretched more, and generally did things that would put me in tip-top lifting shape. In the end, I managed the following:

Bench - 225 pounds
Squat - 295 pounds
Deadlift - 365 pounds

...for a total of 885 pounds, pleasantly past my target. It's a shame though, because much like our base 10 number system makes $10,000 appealing, it also makes 300 pounds appealing, which I was just shy of with my squat weight. Though at 5' 10" and 170 pounds, I'm happy with those numbers. Happy is different than content though, and naturally, my next goal is 900, then maybe eventually 1,000 pounds. The graph at the top is promising too, with its general upward trajectory (the fluctuations are likely because of the structure of the cycles, diet, and my sometimes non-optimal sleep schedule.)

But Why?

But Brandon, getting out of bed early in the morning and picking things up sounds awful, why would you do that to yourself?

Even if we ignore the benefits of morning exercise, the positive effects of exercise on the brain, and the link between exercise and happiness, there are still a couple of functional reasons. Firstly, there's just less going on at 5:30 in the morning, meaning that I'm way less likely to scare the ever-loving Hell out of some poor passerby when I throw open the back gate and crawl out of my tomb in the twilight. Even though I've learned to not care about people seeing me go about my truckly affairs, I'd prefer to not cause any heart-attacks.

Another big thing is that to me, progress is happiness. I plan on dedicating a whole post to it in the future, so in brief: I'm at my happiest when I'm improving at something, and with exercise it's easy to see and quantify that you're legitimately changing for the better.

The last reason I do it is simple: where else would I shower? I, like most people, prefer to go into work not looking like I just rolled out of the back of a truck. The gym has showers, and that's where I get my daily dose of post-workout de-truckification.

You could totally skip the workout and just use the shower though, duh.

I mean technically, yeah, but it just doesn't work like that on a personal level. I can't just traipse past a room full of equipment and motivated, fit human beings on my way to the showers. No, that right there is more than enough guilt and motivation (mostly guilt) to make that 2 hour pit stop in the weight room.

*Seriously though, Lemonade is a jam.

Source: I call it: Truck Time™. Lovingly stitched together from Clker and Concept Draw.

I know, I know, I don't write as often as I used to. I have an excuse or two for this week though, I swear. Between helping a friend move, drinking some Puzzled Pints, volunteering with Destination Imagination, trying out (and struggling with) yoga and swing dancing (not at the same time), celebrating the Chinese New Year, and biking 50 miles to watch the Super Bowl with friends, I've been a reasonably busy bus bum. I also have a ton of half-finished posts that are just waiting for me to get my act together and polish them off, so stay tuned.

Anyway, people seemed curious as to how my daily routine plays out, so here is a play-by-play of what my (surprisingly normal) work week looks like.

My Weekday

5:00 - 6:00 am Wake up. I use an alarm clock app called Sleep as Android, which I talked a little bit about in this post. The gist of it is this: I place my phone on the bed next to me, and it takes accelerometer measurements while I sleep. Based on these measurements and some combination of magic and science, it can try its darnedest and guess if I'm in light sleep, as opposed to deep sleep or REM sleep. If it's between five and six in the morning, and it catches me in light sleep, the alarm will go off. If I sleep soundly til six, it'll wake me up then. Considering sleep cycles are anywhere between 70 and 120 minutes, it's likely that I'll be in light sleep somewhere in the hour. In my experience, the alarm normally senses my wakefulness around 5:30, at which point I get up feeling pretty grog-freeif that's a real expression. I blink a few times and stretch out before rallying myself onto my feet and stumbling around in the dark. Eventually I find my best (read: only) pair of athletic shoes, normally by tripping over them. I work my way over to the back gate and hit the lights, then remove the vice grips I use to keep the door locked. I toss my already-packed gym bag over my shoulder, and (quietly) open up the back gate to head over to the gym.

6:00 - 7:30 am Exercise. I've mentioned before that I'm doing three-week cycles of a modified 5/3/1 routine. This means that Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday are press, squat, bench, and deadlift days, respectively. Wednesday is a toss up, but it usually involves me sleeping in, forcing myself to do cardio, or targeting core and underutilized muscles (calves, trapezius, lower back, etc). Normally, I set aside the last 10-20 minutes for stretching, foam rolling, and the inversion table. At some point in the near future, I'll have a week exclusively for working on personal records and one-rep maxes; my goal is to have a combined bench, squat, and deadlift of 850 pounds. I'll follow up my attempts with a post.

7:30 - 8:00 am Making myself pretty. By the time I'm done with my workout, I'm normally a hot, sweaty, angry*, solemn mess, which doesn't translate well into maintaining positive relationships with coworkers. Sounds like something that could be (and is) perfectly solved by a hot shower. My morning prettification looks something like: shower, brush teeth, throw on the carefully folded clothes from my gym bag, send a few "you got this" looks to myself in the mirror, and head over to my office.

8:00 - 8:30 am Breakfast. Normally I'll grab the undisputed most important meal of the day with a coworker or two. I do my best to refrain from talking about truck stuff unless someone explicitly brings it up. Even though the cat is oh-so out of the proverbial bag at this point, I recognize that most of my life outside of work is still weird as hell to reasonable people. Even if they can understand why I do it, there's no reason to constantly remind them that I make highly questionable decisions — it's really just self-preservation for when performance reviews roll around. As for the food that I spend a continuous half an hour shoveling into my face, I spring for some combination of scrambled eggs, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and a bran muffin. Boring yes, but not unpleasant, and it's way better than dying of any number of maintenance-related ailments before I have a chance to travel the world.

8:30 am - 4:30(ish) pm Work and more food. My actual day job consists me arguing with computers and being aggressively indecisive about which mode I want my sit/stand desk in, which I'm sure annoys my coworkers. I take breaks for lunch and occasionally to have a cup of tea on the roof if it's particularly nice out, because it's important to stop once in a while and recognize all the wonderful things we have in our lives. I make a conscious effort to make sure I'm not working too much, and head out when my work has reached a logical break point.

4:30 - 8:30(ish) pm Everything else. After work, I'll usually have some event planned for myself, like checking my mailbox, grabbing dinner with friends, or any of the things I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I like to have things figured out in advance, because I'm sure as hell not sitting in a small metal box for four hours on top of the eight I already sleep there. If I haven't planned anything, I'll grab my bike and find a quiet place to work on this blog or any of my other pet projects.

8:30 - 9:30(ish) pm Bed time. I share a bed time with toddlers and the obscenely old. I'm a morning person, and I have been for the past four or five years. It works particularly well with truck life, because it means I'm normally not accidentally scaring the hell out of poor, unsuspecting passers-by when I crawl out of my truck-dungeon. The obvious downside is that when I want to go out on the weekends, I find myself nodding off at the bar, passively grunting to feign engagement in a conversation like the zombified, half-conscious shell of a human being I am by 10 pm. Anyhow, when it's time to hit the hay, I'll grab my gym bag from my desk, wash up in a (preferably single-occupant) restroom, and head over to my truck. My nightly truck-routine consists of me tossing the old gym clothes into my laundry bag, loading in new clothes for the next day, calculating and filling in the weights for tomorrow's workout in my log, and measuring out protein powder like a discount Walter White. Once everything is in order, the vice grips go back on the back gate, I plug my phone into my battery pack and open up my alarm app, and curl up under the warmth of my cozy blankets and heat-reflective mattress pad. I've actually ditched all the gear from this post, as my blankets are far more than warm enough.

9:30 pm - 5:30(ish) am Sleep like a small child. Unless I'm sleeping in an unfamiliar place, I normally pass out pretty quickly and sleep soundly through the night.

Analyzing the Routine

What would be the point of having a routine if I wasn't content with it? Sure, it's nice to have structure and regimentation in your daily life, it undoubtedly makes things go more smoothly. In the end though, it's all utterly useless if you aren't enjoying it. To me, finding comfort and complacency in a monotonous rut sounds like the most efficient way to watch your life pass you by. Luckily, I don't feel that's my case, and overall, I'm pretty happy with my routine. Waking up early minimizes the likelihood that I'll somehow annoy someone with my truck activities, and my nearly non-existent commute means I spend more of my time doing things I actually care about, like this blog and hanging out with friends (as opposed to simultaneously killing the environment and my ability to enjoy life). Not having a shower or place to safely store food means I'm forced to be consistent with my diet and exercise. I normally come back every month or two and make sure my life is still aligned with my goals, and make changes as necessary. From where I'm standing (err, sitting) right now, life is good and exactly where I need it to be.

*Hey, workouts are a great way to channel all your negativity into something productive, maybe even cathartic.

Source: This weird stock photo brought to you by Google Image Search and Right Question.

This Q&A is a total potpourri of everything I've gotten in the past month (or three), but I've done my best to group them together.

Relationships and…Personal Matters

Do you have a girlfriend? What does she think of your lifestyle?

I don't have a girlfriend at the moment, so her opinions are nonexistent. If I were to have a girlfriend, I'd like to think that she'd be (at the very least) accepting of my choices. I'm pretty contented with the way my life is right now though, which is to say that I'm not in the market for a relationship at the moment. I don't want to say that I'll never have a serious relationship while living in the truck, because I have no idea how long I'll be doing this. But I definitely understand how ridiculous everything about my life looks From Outside The Box™, from the perspective of a reasonable person who has their affairs in order.

If you do get laid in the box, will you disclose this information on your blog (leaving out names and identifying details of course)?

Absolutely not, and I say that with the utmost confidence. I've chosen a lifestyle that dramatically reduces my chances of getting laid, I hardly think I'd be improving them if potential suitors thought I was going to recount my box truck (s)exploits for the Internet's perusal and entertainment. I'm also just not the kiss and tell type, as part of my Try Not To Be A Douchebag™ credo. On top of all these things, that's like a whole 'nother level of illegal. Like, we're talking sex-offender-registry-illegal, and for obvious reasons I have no intention of opening up that bag of worms and then proceeding to brag about it in a place accessible to the entirety of the Internet-connected planet.

Bike/Exercise Stuff

Are you going to the San Jose bike party tonight (11-20-15)?

I did actually read this on November 20th (you can tell I'm pretty awful at answering questions in a timely fashion), but tragically I already had plans at that point. But thanks for letting me know those exist, I'll definitely make it to one eventually, especially now that I'm upping the ante with my bike trips.

Have you considered one of those eBike conversion kits that turn a regular bicycle into an eBike?

I (very briefly) considered it, then decided otherwise. As I mentioned at the end of this post, an electric bike is actually worse for rides over 25 miles (which I've been doing a bunch of) because of the whole range thing. Plus, the logistics of how/when/where I charge the bike are pretty nebulous on weekends because I can't exactly plug it into the truck, and it takes 5+ hours to fully charge. Also, if I want my cardio to eventually not holistically suck, a normal bike that forces me to do actual work will whip me into shape much quicker than a glorified moped.

How's the new bicycle?

The new bicycle is doing wonderfully, thank you for asking! I've taken it on several rides that left my legs in a state of matter somewhere between solid and liquid, and it's holding up nicely (unlike my legs). I replaced the left crank arm and picked up some lights, but that was really all the TLC it needed to be in tip-top road-ready shape.

How's the gym going?

The gym is going well. I've been doing a modified version of Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program, and I've finished 11 3-to-4 week cycles of that since starting work. The good thing is that almost every cycle still has new personal records, but I'm starting to see plateaus in press and bench. Eventually I'll do a detailed fitness post.

The Current State of Affairs

So your employer has told you you have to leave their parking lot. What solution did you come up with? | What's your current sitch? You left us hanging when you got the boot. | Where do you live now? Still in your truck? | Are you going to tell us how is going there? Do you like your neighbors, how has your commute and daily life changed?

A lot of people seem curious as to how I'm managing my effective eviction. If I've learned literally anything from it, it's that I need to keep my obnoxiously large mouth slightly less agape. So as an exercise in restraint, I won't be talking much about my current living situation. I will say, however, that I'm still a vehicular vagrant, and all of the reasons I do what I do are still valid. My day-to-day life is virtually unchanged.

Everything Else

How do you prevent the doors from being locked while you are inside the truck?

I don't. If someone really wanted, they could come up and tie or otherwise lock the hitch down to the frame of the truck, and I'd be pretty screwed. I'm sure if I called one of my friends (I get fine cell reception), they'd come over with a knife or scissors or the Jaws of Life or something and save my life. Honestly, I couldn't even be mad because I've been wildly negligent in preventing it from happening, despite knowing the risk. I'd find it pretty funny (and learn my lesson), just because of how ridiculous the whole situation would be. It's pretty rare that someone gets locked in their home. It'd be worth it for the story, if nothing else.

Do you play video games?

Nope. I own a non-gaming laptop and a phone, neither of which are conducive to gaming. The last game I got really into was LittleBigPlanet, and I haven't played that in four or five years.

Would you consider installing a Tesla Powerwall in the truck?

Is that you Elon? In the past, I've talked about potentially getting some sort of electricity source, like a Duracell Powerpack. The idea is that I'd charge it up with a (roof-mounted?) solar panel, and then I could use it to power…something? I really don't have anything that would benefit from a constant AC power supply, everything electronic I own is battery-powered, by design. So if I don't need that, I definitely don't need a Tesla Powerwall, which, doing some quick math, stores ~40x energy and takes up ~8x the space.* Plus I think I'd also need an actual earth ground, like, a wire from the Powerwall that just leads straight into the ground, though I'm not entirely certain about this. In a home, that's not really an issue (1. Dig hole. 2. Insert wire.), but it sounds like a weird and potentially dangerous thing to try with the truck.

*And that's not including the inverter I'd undoubtedly have to install too.

Have you read Thoreau's Walden? What about The Martian?

I'm in the process of reading both. Okay fine, you caught me, I'm actually listening to an audiobook for The Martian. Thanks to everyone who suggested I read them, Walden in particular is giving me a lot to mull over, so expect a future post on all of the ways that Walden is timeless and relevant to a truck guy.

Source: The creepy face-blur makes its return for the truck-people meetup at Containertopia.

TrainspottingDefinitely not the word I'm looking for, but it sounds cool

I noted early on that I wasn't the only sketchy-looking vehicle on campus. And the longer I've been doing this, the keener my eye has gotten to the subtle, but telltale signs of "unconventional" or otherwise "alternative" living situations: windows tinted a little too deeply, parking just slightly farther away from a building than everyone else, a few scattered blankets on the back seat. It was nothing more than conjecture and supposition until I made contact with another truck-person. Even then though, there were seven or eight cars I was seeing all the time, and they certainly kept me wondering.

Beyond campus, I was seeing the same signs everywhere: lines of RVs in loosely-regulated parking areas, disconnected trailers in run-down driveways, condensation on car windows long after it should have burned off, etc. I couldn't tell if they were as common as I perceived, or if my situation had made me unusually sensitive to it. It reminded me of a story recounted by a high school teacher, whereby he fell in love with a girl who drove a green VW bug, and thereafter started seeing those cars everywhere. He called it the "Green Punch Buggy Effect™," though it's likely more commonly called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

Joining the Cult

At first it was merely a hunch, yes, but once I started shouting my automobile affinities from the rooftops, it wasn't long before truck tenants, clunker colonists, sedan citizens, buggy boarders, hatchback inhabitants, and pickup people of all types started to come out of the proverbial woodwork. I quickly found myself in the CC field of an email thread with the title ATTN: Vehicle Dwellers Meetup, along with no less than fifteen other like-minded individuals. Most of the thread participants were doing some tech- or startup-related work, though I was impressed with just how diverse the group was, and how sane and reasonable everyone seemed. At this point, I really shouldn't be surprised that reasonable people are coming to this dwelling decision, assuming they're going to be crazy is more of a vestigial knee-jerk reaction on my part from before I dove headfirst into all of this (see here for my initial, incorrect preconceptions). With the voluntarily homeless corralled into a digital conclave, we started planning where we could talk about the various intricacies of our day-to-day lives (much like I do here) and show off our setups. Fittingly enough, it was decided that this shindig would take place at Containertopia, a secret and magical place in Oakland filled with shipping containers in various stages of being converted into homes.

Meeting My Contemporaries

The meetup took place on a crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, and as such I opted to bike to the Oakland meeting place.

Woah woah woah, Brandon, why would you bike up there when the whole point of going was to show off your truck house thing?

Well there's a few reasons actually. Firstly, I'm not under the illusion that my "setup" is anything more than a bed and a dresser shoved into the back of a decrepit moving van, which I (correctly) assumed would be downright embarrassing in the face of the craftier solutions of others. Plus, I've mentioned that driving the truck is a death sentence, so I opted to showcase the entirety of my lavish, expansive living space by taking a few photos instead of spontaneously combusting on the 880 during an attempted drive. Summarily, the signs seemed to say, or otherwise suggest, that cycling was surely sensical. In a textbook display of character weakness, I dramatically overestimated my own ability to do sustained cardio and ended up arriving at the agreed upon meeting place an hour or so later than planned. A few calls and texts later, I was led through a wrought iron gate and into what can only appropriately be described as a Mecca for tiny houses of all shapes and sizes.

The idea behind Containertopia is a fairly simple one: You buy a shipping container for between $1,000-$2,000 and have it delivered to the place, which is basically a large open warehouse with communal facilities (electricity, water, etc). From there, you pay a (comparatively reasonable) rent, usually temporarily as you hammer, nail, weld, rip apart, and otherwise modify your shipping container to your specifications and desires with the intention of doing something with it.

The place itself felt like a post-apocalyptic construction site…but I mean that in the most endearing of ways. There was always the distant whirring of heavy machinery as people worked on realizing their dreams, and the cold concrete floors were littered with all imaginable components and contraptions. We were given tours of a few of the containers, which ranged from barren to decked out with windows, carpeting, insulation, and all of the modern amenities you'd expect from a high-class shipping container house. As for the more mobile participants, their housing solutions ranged from standard RVs all the way down to Priuses (Prii?) outfitted with magnetically-secured insulation. We hung around for a few hours talking about the various trends in tiny housing, living in the Bay Area, and our own ideas, inspirations, and future aspirations, then we grabbed a lovely dinner and parted ways.

All in all, the experience was enlightening. Aside from the fact that I'd never before biked anything even remotely close to 50 miles, it's always interesting to talk with other people from a bunch of backgrounds who've all converged on similar solutions, executed in dramatically different ways. And between this new group of non-stationary settlers, and another group of tech-truckers I've become acquainted with at my own place of employment, I have a new-found network of truck friends, which is something I never thought I'd find myself saying.

Source: My new used, person-powered transportation machine

I'd like to start with a eulogy.

We're gathered here today to mourn the loss of a close friend. His duration in our lives was swift and fleeting, almost ephemeral. His presence was electric, his absence left a hole in my heart, not to mention a deficit in my transportation abilities. Yes, I'm talking about the passing of our beloved friend, my corporate Specialized Turbo.

Before I say anything else, let me just acknowledge that this was entirely my fault. Okay, so remember that awesome electric bike I got through a company pilot program? It turns out that a big stipulation of the program is that the main usage of the bike has to be commuting. Naturally, living on campus, my "commute" doesn't quite qualify, and so I, with a heavy heart, had to return the bike. In my defense, I was "commuting" to my mailbox (~10 miles away) 3-4 times a week, but that's still not quite in the spirit of the program.

What Now?

I was just starting to explore the immense mobility the bike provided me. It liberated me from two equally-unpleasant travelling options: spend all my time walking or drive my clunky, inefficient house (it's barely a car, as far as I'm concerned) around. I had bought a really nice helmet for use with the electric bike, which I'd hate to see sitting around the truck, going to waste. I knew I couldn't go back to my old life Before Cycling (BC for short). I also knew I wasn't going to spend $3,000+ on a fancy, brand new electric bicycle. My current priorities dictate that I split that money between my remaining student loans and my fancy new investment portfolio (to be detailed in a future post). So I started looking around for gently-worn, non-electric road bikes.

The Haggle Battle

I was raised Jewish, though I haven't regularly attended services in nearly a decade. It follows that, if you believe in stereotypes, I should theoretically be good at haggling. But experience has shown that I'm just not good at it. In fact, I'd go as far as saying I'm flat out bad at it, somehow forking over more cash than if I had said nothing at all.

But Brandon, what does your inconsistent, lackadaisical approach to Judaism have to do with bicycles?

Well impatient reader, allow me to explain. On this past Monday evening, I sauntered into a quaint used bike shop in Palo Alto, and casually laid down my demand.

"I'm looking for a used road bike", I said, "Nothing fancy, just to get around town. My budget is $300." Notice that I didn't say "about $300" or "around $300". This is important because 1) I'm usually a huge, subconscious advocate for that type of imprecise language and 2) it sets the groundwork for what took place next.

The bike shop salesperson grabs two bikes for me to try out outside. The first one is a "vintage" bike, which is just bike-speak for "really old". I get on it and it starts to spasmodically shift gears without any input from me. Assuming demonic possession, I bring that bike inside and grab the next one. This one doesn't appear to need an exorcism, but I'm not particularly wowed either. It's a bit rusty, and I feel like I'm putting in a disproportionate amount of effort for the snails' pace that I'm moving at. Those bikes were $250 and $300 respectively. I go back inside, and the salesperson says to me, "Here, try this one out, I think you might like it." It feels like that scene in Harry Potter where he's picking out his first wand and he finds the perfect match in the pair wand to Voldemort's. I get on and it just feels right. Taking it out for a spin, it's smooth and the gears shift nicely. This is the one, I know it. I bring it back inside, the smile on my face lets the salesperson know I've found my bike.

"This one", he says, "is $400."

My heart sinks a bit: though my $300 limit was arbitrary, he doesn't know that, and I intend to stick with it. I let out a sigh, "that's really unfortunate. I like the bike, but $300 is my limit here."

He furrows his brow a bit, "I can probably do $350".

At this point, I realize that my first successful haggle is underway, and I stand firm, "Sorry man, I set aside $300 to get a bike, I really can't go over that." Sure it's not entirely truthful, but $300 is my target.

"It's only a year old and was hardly used. If it were brand new, this bike would cost…", he pauses for a second to look it up, "over $500. The best I can do is $320." It's pretty close to what I wanted and he seems serious, I should take it. It's a great bike and my past day's research says this is a good deal. But I keep pushing.

"That's too bad, I was hoping to take this bike home today. Do you have any other bikes in my price range I could look at?"

He cracks. "You know what, I'll give it to ya for $300".

I take him up on the offer immediately, and I buy a $50 lock too, because I feel bad for subjecting him to my games and appreciate his flexibility. I also genuinely needed a lock. He throws in a kickstand, and attaches the bike lock for me as well. The total, with tax, comes to ~$390. Not bad, not bad at all.

I load it into the back of the truck, and secure it to the bike rack I had built for the electric bike. Because this bike is so much lighter (20 pounds versus 50 pounds), it feels much more stable.

Quality Time with the Bike

Hagglefest 2015 was last Monday, so I've had almost a week to get familiar with my new fat-powered race car. I didn't do much riding until yesterday, mostly just short trips into town, which the bike complied with handily, without question. Yesterday however, I did something crazy.

The Big Ride

My cardio is generally awful, as I've mentioned before. Jogging a mile requires an act of divine intervention, and I've never cycled more than ~20 miles at once. Even when I did, those 20 mile trips were on the electric bike which, on "full power" mode (the default setting), does most of the work for me. But I'd really been enjoying the bike so far, and I was itching to take it on a real ride. It just so happened that there was a truck-people meetup happening in Oakland on Saturday (which will definitely get its own post). So I resolved to bike to Oakland, a ~50 mile, four hour odyssey from where my box-truck home is parked. I had no idea what I was getting into.

This post is already getting pretty long, so I'll skip most of the tiny, inconsequential details that I love to ramble on about (like how I still had two hours to go when I thought I was "almost there"). The gist is that the ride was punishing, but beautiful. I rode across long swaths of the Bay Trail, crossed over the Dumbarton Bridge, and saw plenty of gorgeous, sprawling land and seascapes. It was well-worth the chapped lips, sweat-soaked clothing, and sore, bruised butt bones (which I now know are called ischial tuberosities). Plus, it's gratifying to know that I biked a distance that's likely distinguishable from space. I still can't feel my legs, but that'll probably get better (right?). I'll definitely do similar rides in the future, once my body forgives me.

One last note that I thought was interesting: If I had still had the electric bike, it's very likely I wouldn't have biked the distance. The battery range is only 25-30 miles, so 60% of the way through my trip, the bike would have died and I'd be left with a 50 pound bike and 20+ miles to go. Not ideal. I would have had to either drive (environmental homicide/generally awful) or Caltrain/BART (lame and inconvenient). So I'm actually getting more use out of a less-fancy bicycle. Life is all about your willingness to make lemonade.

Source: My sexy new ride, picture from ShopAdvisor

I like to think I'm pretty environmentally friendly. I try to minimize my waste, take quick showers, and not run unnecessary appliances, like heating and cooling systems. I'm definitely not a super earthy-crunchy-Hippie-type, but I'm at least vaguely cognizant of the atrocities I commit against Mother Nature. My main sin against the planet, aside from just being American, is the fact that I run errands in an 11,500 pound tank that gets 8 MPG on a good day. That's bad for at least four different reasons, in no particular order:

  1. I weigh ~170 pounds, it's wildly inefficient for me to haul six tons of metal with me to a cafe.
  2. As it turns out, the truck doesn't just fold up and fit in my pocket once I get somewhere. I have to park the stupid thing, and I've noted before how that isn't always easy.
  3. It's also my home. And really, it makes a better home than mode of transportation. Plus, I invariably forget to secure something, and the next time in the box becomes a game of "find and pick up all the stuff that was violently thrown around while you were driving". The joy.
  4. It costs money. I like having money, it's better than not having money because I spent it on 100 million year old plants (read: gasoline) to please my truck-beast.

So, you can imagine my elation when I found out that my company was piloting an electric bicycle program. Looking at the list of Bad ThingsTM above, here's how an electric bike would make my life better:

  1. It weighs like 50 pounds, which is ~99.6% less than the truck. Much more efficient for moving me places.
  2. Parking a bicycle is infinitely easier than a 20-something foot long truck.
  3. Bicycles are made for taking people places. Moving trucks are meant for taking things places. I'm glad to no longer be forcing a square peg into a round hole.
  4. It's free! It's mine to use as long as I stay with my current employer. I can charge it up at work, and it gets 25+ miles on a single charge. That's enough for a trip to my mailbox and a few local errands.

So naturally, I signed up for the program, did the training, and picked up my shiny new toy. The bike is a Specialized Turbo. It's a pedalec, which means that it only helps me move along, it doesn't do all the work like a motorcycle would. It has a torque-sensor, so it puts in effort proportional to my own. This is all great, because frankly my cardio sucks, and I can't be bothered to actively work on it. But when you incorporate it into my daily routine, and also let me do it at almost 30 MPH (I got a motorcycle license just so I could get the faster version), I'm much more inclined to play along. I've only had it for four days, but I've already racked up 50 miles on it. I bought a bike rack for the truck so I can take it places with me, but I haven't installed that yet. I'll save that for a separate "Home Improvement" post.

I'm still working out little details, like where I want to mount the rack in the truck (not that there are a ton of choices), and how to get it in and out of the truck smoothly (it's 50 pounds and awkward to maneuver), but overall it's been a total boon to my routine.


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