Sunday, November 13, 2022

On to the next Project... and its a Doozey!


Here I am ... Still hanging around in Vancouver working for a silicon chip mega-corp... pining for other things but apparently too afraid to pull the pin and just go.

Yep, I still feel dependent on the income, but I give myself a bit of a break on that front because thats exactly how we are all supposed to feel in order to keep us all being productive members of the economy for as long as possible. So Im being a good little worker I guess.

And at least its being a fairly lucrative enslavement to the man...  compared to times past anyway. Im currently being paid more than ever before and the company is also doing very well for its self with very high demand for its range of products resulting in consecutive quarters of record revenue and profits... And the company has been sharing some of those profits with their employees more than they have ever done before in the form of some bonusses. So things are better than they have ever been on that front.

But that doesnt stop me from realizing that money isnt the same as time and at some point, as I get older and have less and less remaining time available, I will decide that my time is more valuable than the money they are offering. And that point is in the near future Im sure.

At this stage, the initial disengagement from work will be July next year when Im taking a few months off as a "sabbatical" and I may or may not do some more work for mega-corp after that at my discretion rather than theirs.

And in the mean-time I've been planning a moto trip to Western Europ next year and started making contacts to buy a moto over in Ireland. And on the home front, Ive been kitting out my Tenere 700 ready for another long ride in the Americas when I get back to that... But therein lies a problem, because Ive basically completed that build over the past summer and Ive little left to do on the bike other than ride it ... which I did do all summer around Vancouver, and it was indeed enjoyable, though not like a big trip. The bike is all set-up with panniers and protection and large fuel-tanks (500Km range at least), and steering damper and improved suspension etc... Just gotta go ride it now.

So Im in need of a new project while I wait for next summers planned big trip and am still stuck in Vancouver working for the man. (Looking for "The Next Big Thing" for me to work on). And like lots of people I go exploring for ideas on Youtube and have come up with "a good one!". 

And I did this about a year ago actually but didnt act on it any sooner because I didnt have a solid plan wrt work and travels, and I also had just bought the Tenere as a project at that point, but mostly because the base unit that I would need for this other project was unavailable. Its not that it was too expensive or an impossible dream, its just that these things are very uncommon over here in Canada and none were available for sale... But a couple of months ago one showed up on the local second-hand web site and I enquired and started working through negotiations etc.  And this past weekend I closed the deal and Im now the owner of a 2008 Mitsubishi Fuso FG 4x4 truck!

It looks pretty mundane now but its going to be the base of an Expedition vehicle that Im going to "build".

These things are quite common in Australia for overlanding, but as I said they are pretty rare over here in North America and in fact Mitsubishi is pulling completely out of the NA market this year so buying used is the only way to go now anyway. The reason they are pulling out is that they just cant compete with the domestic truck market (things like the Ford F550, and Ram 5500 etc). But that competition is a different beast and does not do what I want. The main drawback of those vehicles is that while they are 4x4 and have big diesel V8 engines etc, they are very long. The little truck Ive just bought is very short because of the "cab-over-engine" format and that makes them great for tight and rough terrain.

Anyway, I now have a 5 tone 4x4 Turbo diesel, and it cost me more than any other vehicle I have ever owned... more in fact than anything Ive bought other than my house! At present it has an aluminium tipper box and a couple of large winches and snow-chains and a bunch of sundry items that Ill be selling off as I convert to a 4-season expedition camper.

Why am I doing this?  Because I have learned that I like going on long slow "walkabouts" and that as I get older, solo moto-touring is really quite hard on the body and more than a little inconvenient and uncomfortable for a lot of the time. This "expedition truck" thing seems to me to be a lot more comfortable and similarly able to go to the places I want to... tho it costs significantly more to do it this way (but it also accommodates 2 people pretty well too for when I want company on my travels.)

But this project will be nowhere near as quick to complete as the motorbike (which is a good thing and largely why I chose it) and will also cost a whole lot more too (that is a bad thing, but Im hoping to mitigate that by the potential resale value).

 There is a lot of stuff to design and build for this...

 1) Wheel and suspension conversion.

2) Camper body design and shell installation.

3) Camper interior fitout.

4) Solar/Battery/Power design/fitout.

5) Water/plumbing design/fitout

6) Heating and Airconditioning fitout

All in all I expect the full build to cost about $130,000 to $160,000   ... Thats a huge amount of money but it would cost probably twice that to try to buy one or haver someone else make it for me to the same spec. And it will not be a single build effort either, where I cant use it at all till its fully done... Im planning to build it in stages and use it in the meantime while I figure out the next build stage. Ultimately, I want it to be a full 4-season camper (That means from fully arctic conditions to full desert to full jungle etc) and I want the truck and camper body to be able to fit in a 40' container for international shipping (way better than shipping as supercargo).

So, Ive now committed to the project and done the first big spend. More spending will ensue and Ill post updates as I progress. First upgrades should be the wheels and suspension, and then the most expensive other single item which will be the camper body... but first I have to carefully figure out what the interior layout will be (much thinking and sketching).

Thats my update for this installment.


Monday, May 23, 2022

Situational Update

 Well, I may have messed up a bit... or maybe not?...

Last post I was describing the situation with my employer and their lack of responsiveness to a "rapidly changing compensation environment" for their engineering employees.

That situation has continued with little change Im afraid... a steady decline in the number of engineers employed there due initially to significantly higher salaries elsewhere, and now due also to a pervasive lack of belief in the company any more.

And in my last post I was also describing what I thought my own personal options were as a result of it all. Over the following several months, as I said, things have progressed along the same lines and Ive been feeling more and more internal pressure to take some sort of action... I did reach out to a couple of people I knew at other companies to see what was happening there, and I did in fact try interviewing with one of those companies, but it didnt seem like a good fit, so both sides decided to pass and move on... though I admit that if they had been more interested, it would have swayed my opinion to be more interested in turn... nothing to do with the actual inherent opportunity in a rational sense, just an emotional response... Im so "plastic" :/ 

But still my internal increasing pressure... So I decided it was time for an ultimatum to my existing employer ... It had become clear (not least through an in person visit and staff meeting at our Vancouver office of the CEO from way down in Arizona) that the company executive, while starting to make some compensation adjustments, were just not going to do enough to retain our experienced engineers. I decided that since I had been working with them for the past 20 years, Id be at least polite enough to give them the opportunity to retain me if they wanted... but I was not going to let them decide what that was worth, rather, Id tell them what I needed in order to stay.

So, I told my direct manager specifically what I needed to see within a month, or Id just leave and go ride my motorbike somewhere for the summer.  Ive known this guy for the full 20 years Ive been at the company and he is a great engineer and someone who I get along pretty well with as a manager... so it was uncomfortable for me to "hold his feet to the fire", but I felt it had to be done. And once done, I have to say that I immediately felt that "internal pressure" dissipate (because I had taken decisive action), but I also felt that I didnt really have a strong opinion about what I wanted the outcome to be of the three possible paths.

Now it was certainly not clear to me if my manager would want to keep me around that badly, or that he would have sufficient clout to get what I was asking for... I guessed Id find out within a few weeks. And in the intervening weeks I was planning my next actions...

If they simply denied my request, then Id have to leave (no point giving ultimatums unless you are willing to carry out the threat), and then Id either want to go ride the motorbike or I could look for a new job in earnest... And I did start feeling about for job openings again its true, but my main plan was another moto journey... Europe...

But Europe now is not the same as it was 6 months ago is it!... What with Russia invading Ukraine. And my original plan was of course to ride all the way through Europe and Russia from one coast to the other and back again... Well, I guess thats not going to be happening any time soon!... Bummer.

But it is getting late in the year to set that up and get it done before the weather gets bad... Seriously, I think Id need to start in March or April at the latest in order to fly over to Europe and buy a motorbike and get it set up correctly and then to ride from coast to coast and back... So that plan is off for now. So, the alternate plan would be to just ride around Western Europe for a few months, which is still definitely feasible though of course, Id be avoiding Ukraine and having to adjust plans as I go in case the situation changed suddenly.

Anyway, Id been pondering my options and starting to look into flights and motorbikes and visa requirements, as well as possible alternate employers and remote working options etc for a couple of weeks when my manager asked to have a chat (as I had of course been expecting at some point).

... And it turns out that I had read the situation about right... 

The company acceded to my "demands" and they have definitively met my compensation request as well as having a clear understanding that Im taking 6 months off next year starting in April to do my motorbike travel thing... The details of that are yet to be defined, but in short, if they want me back after my 6 month break, Ill do a couple more years of working with them before I really wrap things up, and if not, then Ill wrap things up early.

And with this result I have a couple of conclusions... One is that Im neither disappointed nor elated at the outcome... It seems I truly did not mind which path my life took at this point. Another is that my long stated goal of "wanting other people to leave the company first so that it increases the pressure on the company to the point that I dont have to leave to get appropriate compensation from them" seems to have worked just as stated... Though it did come with considerably more internal stressing and fretting than anticipated.

But now Im in a new situation that I had determinedly decided not to think through till now... And that is that I have now agreed to stay committed with my current employer while most of the other employees are still "in the wind" and are both steadily departing and certainly not feeling committed... I guess I will do the best I can to make them as happy with their current circumstances as possible to try to keep them with the company... its what I signed on to do.

And its going to be difficult for a few more months at least; although the company has been steadily increasing compensation over the past 3-4 months already... just not at the level that it needs to be... though its no where near as far from the "market rate" as it used to be.  But I have to say that having been in the industry for a few decades and seen the cycles first-hand, I feel there is a downturn coming within about a year or so... and it feels like a big one! We will have to see how things actually turn out of course, but if there is a downturn then I expect external job opportunities to seriously reduce and there would likely be a lot of industry lay-offs as well, which might mean those people who just changed employer for more $$$ are rather vulnerable... I guess I hope Im wrong, but time will tell.

And the final thought Ive been pondering here is that I had to push them really hard to get what I felt was right from them... There is no way they would have done it without my ultimatum... In a fair and just world it would have happened more or less by its self after a few months of the attrition we had been seeing, but it took 18 months and still they would not adjust things as far as I felt they needed too... But the world is not fair... and if you want something enough then you really have to push for it and be willing to take the consequences of failure as well if things dont work out how you want them to. How do I feel about it now that Ive got what I wanted but other employees have not (and likely wont unless they give their own ultimatums)... I guess Im mostly OK with it... I would certainly rather that the world was fairer, but given the Western Capitalist model that runs this part of the world, this result is exactly in line with how things work here. So yeah, its the way things are and I dont have the power to change them, but knowing the rules, I am able to play by them as well as the next guy.

Now lets see if I made "good choices" as we roll into the future :)

Cheers till next time.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Status Report

 Whats happening with work, Covid, Moto project and my plans?

Progressing slowly on all fronts Id say...

1) The moto project.

Ive ridden it enough to complete the engine break-in now, but the weather here in Vancouver is now into winter mode with lots of rain and cold temperatures and darkness in the mornings and evenings, so Im about done with riding for the season. But I have done a bunch more modifications on the bike (not done yet though)

First I added an auxiliary fuel tank which gets me another 100Km of range or so... bringing total range on a single fill to about 450Km... which is plenty good enough... The extra tank fits in quite neatly on the rear side at the back of the bike, and it automatically fills into the main tank via the breather line... (no fuel taps needed and no "forgetting to switch over/back issues)

BTW, the bike gets about 21Km/l on either highway or city which is pretty decent; You might expect better highway mileage but with a very blunt profile and big luggage boxes on the side, its pretty non-aerodynamic so at highway speed it loses the efficiency a streamlined bike would have.

Then Ive added all the electrical options I wanted with relays and fuses and busbars etc.... It took a while to wire it all in how I wanted but its done now... I added heated grips, GPS mount and Tire pressure sensor system... It makes the control panel a bit of a "space-ship" with readouts and controls for different things everywhere, but like I said, none of it is critical but all of it adds significantly for comfort/safety on long long trips; and if any of it does break-down then I can keep riding without it, no problem.

And Ive added a windscreen extender as well for now till I can get a larger plexiglass touring windscreen to stop the turbulent air buffeting of my head when highway riding.

And Ive done some sculpting of foam to make both the main and pillion seats far more comfortable... Its all temporary at the moment while I sort out the subtleties and get the fit right. Once Ive finalized it I will get it upholstered professionally so that its wear and weather proofed... The mod's do make it much better for long rides but worse for off-rad technical riding, so Im making it all removable so if I want to take it off, I can.
And I lowered the suspension by 40mm or so... which is easy enough to do with a couple of pieces of steel bar and a drill to lengthen the rear suspension links... But the trick is if you lower the suspension then you have to shorten the side and center stands too, and that requires cutting and welding... But its done now and I like it much better for maneuvering.
Still more to do but getting much closer to ready to tour with :)

So thats the bike updates; What about Covid and work?

Well, covid is an ongoing "fly in the ointment" as they say. The Delta variant is far more contagious, though about the same lethality. Most of the urban population in British Columbia are well vaccinated now but the rural populations and some specific cultural groups decided they didnt like being told what to do by the government and so decided they w/could tough it out (or whatever), so now those communities are keeling over in droves and the hospitals in those areas are all massively overwhelmed and so we are all still in lockdowns imposed by the government because about 15% of the population dont want to get vaccinated... very frustrating!

BTW, my view on the whole vaccine thing was never that it would make us all immune to infection... My view was always that we would all eventually get exposed to the virus, and that the vaccine was merely to control the impact on the health-care system... and these "hold-out groups" are simply prolonging the phase where our health systems cant handle the flood of victims and lots of people (thousands in this province as time goes on) are dying unnecessarily because of it... Covid will I think become endemic and much lower threat in the long term.

Im really saddened by how this issue became so political... Vaccination status is so massively correlated with which way a person votes here in North America (and in truth most western countries it seems) its pathetic, and its so incredibly hypocritical too in my opinion.
I dont like to have to take the vaccine either (I am at low risk myself and also dont have anyone in my circle of contacts who is at higher risk either)... but I got the vaccine because it was the socially responsible thing to do... 
I hate having to wear shoes instead of thongs/flipflops in a bar when its hot weather, and I hate having to wear a helmet when I ride a bicycle, and I hate having to stop at a stop sign when there is no other traffic too, but if I break those rules then I am doing it by choice and I will pay the fine if I get caught doing it... And those rules are there for the protection of the community regardless of if I think they are necessary for me or not. Its part of being a community member. There is no freedom in a community without responsibility to the community also... And if you believe in Democracy as a process then that means you have to agree to abide by the rules that are set by the majority when its your turn to be the minority... I think thats the real problem... people are not actually in favor of Democracy when they find they are the minority and it has impacts that directly effect them... Clearly they have scant regard for what happens if they live in a non-Democracy (and that is a very scary though I must say!)

... All in all, its a perfect example of "humans"... and its a perfect example of why Im such a grumpy person and so "judgy" of others...but Im like this because Im grieving! 
Anger and sadness are parts of the popularized "grieving process" (stages 5/6 I think). And Im grieving for us!... Its just that I have too high expectations for us humans... I was taught (by my upbringing in society) that we are intelligent beings; and I see all the amazing things we can do and understand and make because of our rational minds... But in my upbringing, they neglected to emphasize that we are also incredibly able to completely disregard the blatantly obvious facts, and to decide "not to be rational" and just be emotional, and make the most basic of stupid choices... And so Im grieving for us and for the false vision of us that I got during my upbringing... Its a very long slow journey for me... I feel I am still along way short of the "acceptance" stage :) 
Addendum here...Truth be told, the fact that we humans are emotional more than rational has been blatantly obvious throughout my upbringing, so I really have no excuse for my "false vision" other than my own willful disregard of that obvious fact throughout my upbringing... self inflicted denial of facts... I guess Im just another "human"!

So, covid rages on and society rages with it and all in all it looks like it will be a while before things resolve and before Ill be able to go off on any long moto ride... Though I have to say that the impediment to me taking a long ride is about the least significant factor in the whole covid debacle, even for me :)

And what about work?
More fun twists and turns there too :)
As Ive explained of my own situation there recently, Im strongly leaning toward "leaving" very soon... and thats because the company I work for, in my opinion, has been behaving very badly toward its employees, and shows no signs of changing that behavior, and Im sick of it so Im gonna stop helping them do what they do...
Well, it turns out that Im really not the only one, and the "karma train" is now arriving in the station so to speak. Over the past six months or so things have really changed at work, though not in a good way; at least not yet anyway...
The chain of events looks roughly like this to me:
The company has been being very greedy and selfish (though they dont see it that way at all of course) and the Engineer employees have been getting less and less satisfied over the past 4 years or so (Since the old smaller company got acquired by a much larger multinational) as rewards for work have gone down or stayed flat, company profits have gone steeply upward, and cost of living in Vancouver have also gone steeply upward (mostly cost of housing). Then Covid came to town and everyone went into "keep your head down" mode and was more or less grateful to have a paying job while many others lost theirs... But covid also taught us all that the whole office work thing was not as critical as had been thought and in many ways we could all be pretty damn effective while working from home too.   And now that covid is starting to come under control and there is light at the end of the tunnel (though we are still in it for a while longer), people are "popping their heads up" again and looking around at options... and new options there are indeed!

It seems that there are now a bunch of new players in the "employer" game in the Vancouver area for electrical Engineers of many sorts... And ironically its because of Covid... It turns out that because we can all now work from home, companies see that they dont have to have employees located near their offices... so there are many remote employers now bidding for Engineers in the Vancouver market place... What used to be a small pond with just a few big fish employers, has suddenly become a big pond with many other even bigger fish... and those fish are hungry.
So, there are several more employers without offices who are aggressively hiring... and Vancouver is now effectively in the same time zone and hiring range of "Silicon Valley" companies from California.
And so in the past six months, I estimate that over 50% of the senior experienced design Engineers at my company have left for much bigger salaries.

This sort of thing (disruptive events) happens in HiTech companies every 10 years or so and companies either adapt and survive/thrive, or they fail to adapt and die... The company I currently work for appears to be unable to adapt this time... Which is ironic since it (when I say it I really mean the company senior executive I guess) has a self-image of being really good at adapting quickly and anticipating the market trends... and that's true as far as their products and manufacturing go, but as far as their human resources go they are clearly a dinosaur... and we all know what happens to dinosaurs.
And its now happening fast and hard... To the point where the company has seen the largest voluntary exodus of intellectual talent/resources it has ever seen... And still the company executive cant manage to grip the situation and adjust... I think its because they are in "preservation" mode and not realizing that their competition (the other companies that are hiring their people) are in "startup" mode. My company is asking how do we keep our Engineers and what counter offers to key people do we need to make... But the other companies are thinking, we need 30 Engineers in 3 months, how do we get them... The result is that by the time a person goes to their manager and says "I quit", they are long past the point of even listening to a counter offer... they crossed that line weeks if not months before and now its way too late... and the employees have the last 4 years of grumpiness with the new "megaCorp" overlords to justify their leaving too.

But there is also a flip side to this story that the older senior Engineers see too... and that is that with the 10 year cycler of disruption comes the inevitable downcycles as well as the upcycles like this one... and sure as eggs is eggs one of those is coming too!  Those new competitor companies are quick to hire at the moment but they may well also be quick to fire in a downcycle. So these new jobs could be short term, and my company is saying to its self... These huge salaries being offered are not sustainable... soon enough they will stop and come back to our level... But it doesnt matter, because in the meantime, my company will have lost all its skills and its development projects will fail because of it, and so their revenues will tank in a couple of years... Who cares if the other companies also fail... you killed your engineering teams by not adapting now... Its like the common trope that companies dont fail because they are not long-term profitable; they fail because of their short-term cash flow problems... Its just human resources instead of cash that is flowing at the moment.

So where does that all leave me?  Well for better or worse, my job (Silicon Validation) does in fact mostly require an office and a lab to test the hardware, so there are not currently lots of new job opportunities for me at the moment... But if other companies are starting lots of new design projects then soon they will be in serious need of lots of Validation work and thus Validation Engineers... They may or may not open offices in Vancouver and set-up labs, but certainly some of them will, so soon I expect there to be lots more options... 
But do I want them or do I just want to retire?      I dont know.

At the moment I am sitting squarely on the fence of a three way junction... 
1) Stay at the company I am at and expect that they will have had to adjust their compensation quite a bit (and the compensation adjustment would be the reason to make it worthwhile staying with a company that now recognizes employee value.
2) Get a new job and start a "shinny new project/adventure" that pays even better... This actually is a really quite exciting idea... Its scary leaving the comfort zone of the old company and processes etc but the "shiny new" aspect revives the idea of continued working for more years in a role that can be quite rewarding and fulfilling, and that could overcome those fears... and the definitely larger compensation certainly helps too :)
3) Proceed with the full-on retirement plan... Though I have to say, having thought about this for a few months Im coming to the conclusion that a "traditional" retirement simply would not work for me... or not yet anyway... Im gonna need to "engage" with something significant in some way for some more years yet... though I really would like to take a break for a few months and go for a ride :)

I dont know which way I will go yet, but its certainly interesting times :)
That'll have to do for now... lets see what happens after a few more months?

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Building a New Machine

It finally went ahead and bought a brand new motorbike... right from a dealer!... Which is something that Ive never done before.

Ive only ever bought used vehicles in the past, and this was my first new vehicle purchase experience ever.

The bike is a Yamaha Tenere 700 and its the epitome of the Adventure Tourer genre... A quick list of the features that make it so "perfect for what I want to do (and have done in the past) is as follows:

Mid size engine capacity  - 400 -750cc is my requirement, and this one is 700cc, so its at top end for size and the penalty will be weight and it'll be a pig for off-road, but the advantage will be good highway speed and comfort... In truth I would really like something at the other end of the scale for traveling in Europe where the distances are much smaller, or if I was focusing on mostly off-road riding... But this is good for North America :)

Medium weight - as light as possible is best but my limit is 200Kg and this one is on the limit.

21" front wheel for good off-road control (especially in sand) - many other bikes are only 19".

High ground-clearance and off-road suspension. - Yep and Yep.. Actually a little higher than I need so ill probably lower it a bit to aid maneuvering with feet down..

Good fuel range - preferably 400Km or more - this one is actually only 350 or so - biggest limitation but there are some after-market fixes I can add..

Fuel Injected and water cooled engine - For bomb-proof reliability and startability in all conditions... Carbs are great, but get them wet or leave them unused in salty air for a few days and starting can be a real beast... Fuel injection is without doubt the way to go.

Very reliable engine - Yep, the engine design is known reliable from a couple other Yamaha bikes. 

And as Ive said, Im getting ready to leave my employer and do some traveling soon so I decided to get the "bike of my dreams" and start setting it up ahead of time... So I went in and put $1000 down and then had to wait 3 months before the bike came in from Japan... Its not that it was custom built or anything, its just that these bikes are very new to North America and they are very popular and I just couldnt get one sooner... Total cost with all taxes and duties etc was CAD $15000 ... which is a LOT of money for a motorbike as far as Im concerned, but compared to lots of other new motorbikes, its about mid-range.

Anyway, the point of getting it now while Im still at a full time job and cant actually go off touring on it is to get it all set up and ready, rather than doing it in a hurry once I have started taking a longer break between jobs or retired.

And of course, no bike is set-up and ready to go straight off the shop floor, and especially not for Adv-Touring like I do. So Ive been spending quite a bit more money and "adjusting things'...And so far Im about half way through the mod's list I want to get done (and about $1000 extra spent).

Here are before and after pics... Minimal visual difference from the casual glance but believe me its much better prepared for a big trip now than before.

Bike as purchased.

Bike as modified so far.
Things Ive done:
Well first I put a black vinyl coating on the grey tank sections cos I just didnt like the three colour look of the stock bike... Not that Im a huge fan of black motorbikes but it was the quickest and cheapest solution to get something I liked.
Added heavy duty Belly-Pan... Cos they get absolutely hammered when you get into the rough off-road.
Added full front end crash bars... Again, they get hammered in the rough... Its not a matter of if you drop the bike, its a matter of how often and how hard :)
Added "Bark-Busters" to protect the hand controls when the bike gets dropped.
Added rear Side-Racks... To attach 2x large aluminium travel panniers - for all my stuff to go in while I travel.
Added center stand - for ease of tire changes and general maintenance while touring.
Added Windscreen lifter... Cos Im tall and the stock screen is too low which leaves my head in strong and turbulent airflow... not good when you spend all day every day riding like I do when touring.

And the list of things I still need to add:
Rear Panniers - I actually have these but they are sitting over the boarder in the USA waiting for me to come get them when Covid subsides here and they open the boarder.
Rear Rack and Top-Case... For me to put more stuff in
Extended range fuel tank... So I can get an extra 5l of fuel in there to get the range that I want between fueling up.
Handle-Bar risers... to raise the bars 30mm and bring them back 20mm... It doesnt sound like much but having the controls in the right place so you can sit comfortably with a straight back is again incredibly important for long trips.
GPS mount... For obvious reasons.
Heated grips and aux-plug - for cold weather riding... cos you get all sorts of weather when touring, and often all in a single day.
Tire Pressure sensors... I have not used these cos they didnt exist for motorbikes last time I toured but they are very good for letting you know in advance (even by just a few seconds) that you have a flat... better than losing control at highway speeds :)
Voltage monitor... warning for when the battery is getting low... which generally means that the battery is on the way out.
Radiator bug guard... actually more of an issue than you might think... once you get bug bits stuck in the rad its really hard to wash them out and it can really effect radiator efficiency when you are ploughing through deep sand in really hot conditions.
Tubeless tire kit (to convert the existing tubed rims to use tubeless tires).
Spare drive-sprockets, chain, fuel and air filters, brake-pads , and a clutch cable.
Lowering-Links and shorter side-stand... I want good ground clearance but I also need good foot contact with the ground... I think optimal height for my needs is about 40mm lower than stock so I need to adjust the suspension links... and that will mean I need to shorten the side and center stands as well... Its a pain to do these mods but when you are trying to balance a 300Kg bike/luggage combination in rough steep terrain, every bit extra leverage you can get with your feet helps.
Custom seat padding... I need to make the seat far more comfortable than stock... Again, when you ride all day every day you really what a comfortable seat.
So, still a fair bit to do and I have to run the engine in as well... Total of 250Km on the bike so far... I need another 1000 before its fully run-in :)

So, thats my new moto project Im working on.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

I feel a Sea-Change coming

 I can feel a change coming soon...

Nothing important for the world at all,  just for me.

Im feeling less and less inclined to stay working for my employer much longer... and in fact working for anyone for that matter is a real option too. Im feeling strongly inclined to "retire" ( well work a whole lot less or at something I enjoy much more anyway)... within two to five years.

Now of course there are some pleasant things that come with "retirement" - like not having to do something that I dont particularly enjoy (although I dont actually hate it either... its just I dont like working mostly for someone else's benefit), but there are two distinct challenges with that idea.

The first is of course, "do I have the financial security to make that decision", and the second is "what do I do with myself after I decide to make that decision... And these are both very difficult questions for me to answer.

The financial security question is I think very tricky to answer for anyone... I think if I had children then it would likely be simpler at this stage  in that I certainly wouldnt have enough savings etc at this point to consider retiring... so Id just have to keep working, and that would be fine cos life would toddle along like most people raising a family with the kids lives basically driving my own choices... But of course I dont have that blessing/burden... and there is just me in the calculation which means its somewhat earlier in my life that I get to consider the option of retirement. But its still hellishly tricky to decide what to do... There are so many unknowns in the future and my lifespan and the things that could happen between now and when I die are so divers that its difficult to "plan" for.... 

How much wealth is enough?

How long will I live?

What will happen with my health?

What will happen with the global and local economies and how will retirement investments and property values change over the next 40 or so years?... 

The answer to all these questions is "I really dont know!"

Base guess though is that Ill likely live for another 30-40 years, and I think the rule-of-thumb is that you need about a million dollars invested outside of your home to be "comfortable in retirement" (whatever comfortable means?)... And I certainly dont have that much money, so how can I be considering retiring?... The answer is, as Ive mentioned before, that I plan to downsize my house and use some of its equity to live on in my later years.

So I of course have a spreadsheet that I made that projects all sorts of income and taxes and expenses and investment and property growth etc... and its absolutely full of "wild-ass guesses" at every single calculation. So, its a big worry and the trade off is that every year longer I spend sitting here doing my current job is another year that my body deteriorates and further limits the sorts of physical things I can do. But every such year I stay working also adds financial assets for about 2 years of time that I can live in retirement. But if I retire now, then its very unlikely that I would be able to find another similar job in the future if I decided I wanted to go back to work later for a few more years... Employers dont really want to hire new employees who are over 55yo because they know they will be retiring soon and they will just have to train someone else up into the role again in the near future... Its a conundrum indeed.

But, at the end of the day I think I just have to say, my financial planning is reasonably conservative and that even though I will be wrong on many of my calculation estimates by some amount, on the average Ill be about right... And based on that, I think I have about enough assets to be OK in anything but a complete catastrophe of a personal future... And that is the basis of my current outlook... I think I have accumulated enough at this point.

And when I combine that with the view that the company I work for is flat-out making big profits for its self but at the same time is cutting back on sharing that wealth with its employees and has shown zero inclination to reverse that trend, then , well, Im inclined to stop helping them do that...

So that brings me to the second challenge, which I often express in my Blog here... I fundamentally dont know what to do with myself, and that makes retiring a real challenge... cos my usual behavior of stating expensive projects to keep myself amused when I get bored is likely to be a very bad idea going forward into retirement... Fixed fund base to work with and no external sources of income as I get older.

So, whats my plan?... Well I have several things to pursue but fundamentally Im willing to take the risk that Ill figure it out as I go along.... But I have a starting point at least.

First thing is to keep doing what Im doing now while the whole Covid virus thing blows over... probably another year. Then I plan to gear up and prep for what will likely be my last big Moto-tour.

Which is through Eurasia (since I feel I have at least had a look at the Americas and Africa, and I really enjoyed all of them, Id like to do the same for Eurasia). Im not sure of all the details but Im thinking of doing a reverse circuit - which means ship a bike to Vladivostok on East coast Russia then ride west through Russia, Mongolia and probably some of the 'stans, then into northern Europe and Scandinavia in late summer, then South through Western Europe and along the North coast of the Mediterranean then through the Balkans and Greece and Turkey then maybe Iran and on to India if possible and then probably ship the bike back to Canada from there... Probably a 9 month trip or so... lots of planning to be done and Carne' and visas etc... But that only occupies about 18 months of a 30-40 yr retirement.!

I figure I get the hard physical stuff out of the way first then consider further options.

There is also another big "walkabout" Id like to do in Australia by 4WD which is probably another 2 years of effort to plan and prepare and then do. And I would be happy doing another run through of North America in a van (which would be slower but much more comfortable than on motorbike), which would be another year or so... So Ive probably got about a decade of journeying interspaced with sessions at home and maybe doing some contract work to replenish funds.

After that Im expecting Ill slow down a bit more but Im considering trying to live for longer sessions in foreign lands like Mexico or Greece or Thailand... Lots of western retirees do it as their "lifestyle" in retirement and while Im not sure I could just do nothing and just sit around, Id quite like to design and build a house somewhere in a warm climate and there is no chance of being able to afford to do it here in Vancouver... So, while Im traveling around Ill be looking out for places that I may want to live for a year or two... I figure I can spend a chunk of money if I can be reasonably sure of being able to get 75% of it back when I sell... Not easy to be sure of that in foreign lands but I think I can at least spend some time looking into it.

Its of course all rather speculative at this point, but Im feeling like suppressing the uncertainty and money worries and embracing the unknown again and giving myself the chance to "encounter new opportunities" and trust that Ill find my way as I have done in the past.

So, I think Im on a count-down to leaving my current job at this stage, and the more I think about it the more enthusiastic Im becoming... which is a good sign I think   :)

Lets see how my thinking progresses in the next 6 months or so.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Well, That was a Fun One

 Im talking about 2020 in general of course...

Yep its been an odd and tiring year for everyone Im sure... Time for an annual update from me.

Early on in February I did manage to go take a week long break laying about in the sun on a Mexican beach... I went to the Caribbean side in the Cancun area which I had not visited on any of my motorbike travels in previous years... It was nice enough as far as" a week at an all inclusive resort" goes but I have no need to rush back and revisit the area or live there in retirement... But retrospectively Im glad I got to go do it before all travel anywhere on the planet got completely locked down. And it was nice and snowy in Vancouver when I left and nice and Sunny in Mexico when I arrived :) 

On that front, I think its quite a good thing for us all to see just how entitled and decadent we have all become over the last couple of decades. 

In my early adult life it was unusual for people to travel internationally to recreational climates and locals for annual vacations and they were certainly expensive and adventurous trips when they did happen... cut off from regular communications and funded with travelers cheques and $US cash... But recently every new-grad school kid does it with their friends to pretty much anywhere in the world, and we all constantly natter with each other on twitter and facebook and instaspam and money flits across the net with e-transfers and trip-advisor and airbnb bookings etc.

And Oh how we all howled like the world was ending when it all got shut down, and oh how all the pampered little people screamed for their individual freedom when governments tried to restrict personal freedoms for perceived social good.  Heaven help us all and our vaunted free democracies if there was ever a more significant or more directed actual threat... Any enemy who wanted to destroy us could easily do it because we clearly have no social cohesion and no semblance of personal responsibility toward others in our societies... Its all for one and one for self... Looks to me like we are all badly in need of exposure to a real threat with more direct and deeply felt consequences... 

Im saying we probably need serious group experience (war/revolution) of some sort to bring the facts home to us all so that the line we all draw somewhere between Us and Them gets positioned further away from our individual interests and more to our societal interests... Im not sure if thats positive or negative thinking though :)

What else did I do?

Well there were a few projects... Finished off a couple tables tops that I had worked on before.

Also finished off the little White motorbike I hade been building for a couple of years.

And I sold one car (It was getting too close to end-of-life) and two motorbikes (not using them and not working on them) over the year... But I bought a new car to replace the old one as my daily driver and bought one new motorbike to tinker with and modify... Its now done too so Ill likely sell it next year.
So Im one at less vehicle than I had last year and next year Ill get rid of another one... Im on a slow "vehicle reduction" plan for myself at the moment :)

And of course there has been all sorts of social turmoil and with Covid being in every conversation all the time for most of the year... 

For my part, Ive had it pretty easy. My work has been constant and mostly unaffected by it all... The company I work for did better than most in that its part of the whole internet infrastructure economy and that got a significant boost this year. Ive been going to work at the office throughout the pandemic. Most of the team I work with went through a few months of mostly working from home, but I stayed in at the office to be the one to adjust things in the lab for the rest of the team whenever they needed it. So its been same same for me for the most part.

It has been a disappointment to not be able to play sport or have dinners with friends nearly as much this year but on the whole Im not nearly as socially dependent as most people I know so Ive "suffered" far less than most I think. 

On the financial front its been an average year... I actually spent quite a bit less than in a normal year due to no travelling (either domestically or internationally) and less socializing, but I also took a significant financial hit from my tenant ( I rent out my house basement suite to help pay the mortgage) being stuck in Russia for 6 months! She went home to visit family in March and got stuck there for half a year, so I chose to reduce rent to a token level for that duration cos she had no source of income and no options to deal with her stuff while she was stuck over there... It has cost me quite a few thousands of dollars to absorb the hit but I think its cost her more, and Im one of the lucky ones so I think I can take on some of the struggle for others without complaining too much... So kind of a break-even year for me... I also note with disgust that all the large banks here in Canada posted pretty muck record profits this year while the Canadian Government and lots of the Canadian people posted record debt!

On the home front, not much going on with my little house... All I did this year was install a green-roof on the storage container I installed in the back yard last year... That was easy enough though it did involve me lugging about 2 tonnes of sand and rocks manually up a ladder onto its roof ... I needed the exercise anyway :)  The substrate is now in place on the container roof but it will take a couple of seasons for it to "naturalize" and the grasses to establish... The goal was a alpine lake shore or river bank effect.
On the down-sizing plan I mentioned last year, not much has happened. But I think I have figured out a way to do the "bridging finance" that I wanted to... So going into next year I will be actively changing around my debt management with my bank as my current mortgage comes due. And then Ill then be actively looking for a house in the specific area Im interested in... I hope to buy a new place and then probably immediately sell my current place... lets see what actually happens :)

Thats about all for this update.
Hoping everyone has a better year in 2021 than we had for 2020.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Something of a goal for the near term.

How goes my life at work?

So, Only a few posts ago I described my thinking on the subject of why I was signing back on to full time employment as an engineering team manager again…

And since then, it seems that two and a half years has passed… wow that went quickly… or did it take forever???... I cant tell

Clearly one side-effect of the job has been that I almost completely stopped posting to my blog… but then again, my blog only really seems to serve me significantly when Im “off doing stuff” and have lots of new stimulus to think about and that isn’t really what happens when we work in steady 9-5 type jobs...

Anyway, here is a status report:

Right, well I just reread my post “The Contractor Who Came In From The Cold” and I have to say that my assessment of what would happen and what it would be like were exactly 100% “dead on the money”…

Which is as usual disappointing but not surprising.

The company management behavior at the project level is exactly the same as before and is in my opinion highly dysfunctional and shows no inclination to change at all… and that is of course because exactly the same people are in charge as were there before and they have exactly the same attitudes as they did before… and as Ive said before, people just don’t change (and that includes myself).

And so, schedules are an eternal joke and the challenge of trying to do a good job managing in that environment is indeed a crappy one… And I was also exactly right in my assessment of my own behaviors in that environment… which is that try as I might to maintain an independent view-point and not get affected by the foolishness of others … well that’s just not possible… I get affected and I get angry and frustrated and well, it’s the same as it ever was.

And so, in short, Im not enjoying it at all.

Its also been 5 years since I went on my last long moto-tour and had a good long break to get the frustrations of work life out of my system (Ive been so spoiled in the past J)

Interestingly, I don’t have particularly strong urges to go off on another long moto-tour at the moment, though there are some rides Id like to do (not least through/around Europe)… but I certainly do have strong urges to not be doing my current job.

The trouble is of course that it still makes far more financial sense to keep doing what Im doing for a few more years… The mathematics is pretty straightforward really and it goes like this:

Ive done pretty well through my homes equity with the Vancouver property boom over the past decade or so (same thing has happened in many places around the world)… but, all that equity is tied up in the land and is not cash… Couple with that the fact that I still actually have a sizeable chunk of debt in the form of the mortgage… which I have lagged on paying off (with my multiple long expensive moto trips) somewhat because of the significant increase in equity… I still owe the bank enough to mean that I wont be paying the mortgage off for about another decade… which is the crux of my current “challenge” J

Because I really really don’t want to be doing my current job for another 10 years!... And therein lies the problem…
Technically, I am reasonably well off and could probably manage to retire… But my “wealth” is largely tied up in equity and is not “liquid”… While Im working, I can use the equity by taking out loans against the house and I can take my long breaks, but while I have debt, I have to work at a high paying job on a regular basis to pay back the interest on the debt… Otherwise the compound interest of the debt quickly grows and overwhelms the value of the equity (about 20 years away by my calculations)… and I then end up living out my later years in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere… Not what I had in  mind!

The only way for me to be able to stop working is to not have debt, and preferably have “investments” that actually grow instead of decline at the bank. But the only way to do that is to sell my house!     Not so hard you say… just sell it…

Hmm well, that has a bunch of its own problems, not least of which is where do I live then… Ive traveled about quite a bit and Ive found that being an expat living my retirement in cheap foreign lands isn’t all its cracked up to be (at least for me as I understand myself)…
And anyway, I don’t really want to completely uproot myself and move somewhere significantly cheaper… I actually want to stay in the area that Im currently in … It is where all my friends are and it is where I can get the contracting work that I do want to be able to do as a “staged” retirement plan (I know I would not be happy outright retiring right now so I may as well earn some money working part time in roughly the same job I have)… So going to live on the cheap somewhere else is not really what I have in mind.

But, I do have a plan…

I have a crappy little house on a sizeable block of land in a city where real estate is very valuable… But the value of the place is in the land and not the house… That said, Im happy enough in my crappy little house, and so what I want to do is “down-size” my block of land…
Which is technically not allowed (cant subdivide my block), so what I will need to do is sell my current house and buy a different one… I should be able to do that and use the earnings from the sale of the larger land block to have zero debt on the new smaller block… And then Im a free agent and can go back to contracting and take some longer breaks again… Im sure Id be a pretty happy camper in that mode.

Right, so there is a solid high-level plan and Im 100% "on-board"... Yes I want to do that.

The problem now becomes how to achieve the transition… and that is made much more difficult than it probably needs to be by guess who… Yep Me!

The problem is I am very particular about several things in my proposed new “crappy little house on a smaller block”… I know within a couple of streets and a few dozen houses of where I want that to be (based on my assorted needs … which are more or less the specifications of my current crappy little house)… And there are no houses for sale that meet my needs at the moment.

That is not really a problem though because Im quite happy to wait up to 3 years or so to do the change. And its pretty certain that in that time frame the right thing will come up.

The problem though is that this means that I cant really sell my current house till after I buy the new one… And I cant guarantee that I could immediately sell my house once I want to.

And that means my problem becomes "bridging" finance…
Its pretty hard to go to the bank and say “Hey, can you please loan me a huge sum of money so I can buy a second house”!...
Sure I have the equity to cover the loan in my existing house, but the bank cares more about my ability to pay the interest with income… And as a single professional I admit I am well paid compared to many people, but sadly I just don’t earn enough to make the payments on such a large loan for a second house in this real estate market...
… Oh such first world problems I have J

The arrogance of me!...  Im being picky and greedy and its blocking me getting what I want… Yep, that sounds exactly like most of us humans J

So, there is my current challenge … trying to get comfortably free of mortgage debt so I can stage myself into retirement and give up the stress of having to work full time for a crappy corporation. But at least my direction is a bit clearer… I have a specific goal and a specific time line that is “within sight”… 2-3 years is very “immediate” compared to 7-10 years away which in my emotional mind just becomes “forever” away.

It actually feels good to have the core of a plan J
So now all I gotta do is figure out how to achieve it.