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We quit our jobs to build a cabin (outsideonline.com)
462 points by anarbadalov 86 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 384 comments

I purchased land in the North Cascades area (Methow Valley, about 3 hours Northeast of Index where these guys built) in 2007 with the intention of building a weekend home myself. I prepped the property myself and ran the main power. It was a junk show and I quickly learned that the best approach was to continue writing software and pay pros to do the job. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My wife and I moved into the home full time in 2011 and have lived in the valley ever since.

When I engage in a DIY project, there is a 90% chance that my only accomplishment is gaining respect for professionals. Which is not to say it's a wasteful endeavor.

Also, shoutout to the Methow! The North Cascades is such a beautiful area in general.

Ditto. Lately I opt for a cheaper way of gaining respect: watching YouTube videos. Once you realise that something takes 30 minutes despite all video editing, you suddenly don't mind paying $1000 for a professionally done job.

I like this approach a lot too, mostly because I hate paying an expert without first knowing enough to know that I'm not getting scammed.

And on the plus side, I've found out how easy it is to fix taps and replace door handles and all the simple stuff!

Yeah it sounds like a nice romantic dream, but mother nature is cold and uncaring.

Maybe the article overstated their woes, but it sounds like they were very under prepared. And winging the technical parts. Like software the easy part is the build. The harder part is research and planning.

I have notions of retiring someday and run a wood shop. But I'm working on learning the basics and doing small projects.

Yeah, there's a lot there to learn, too.

My plan to build a custom shelf unit for our kitchen went over-time and over-budget (in the small). Reason: once it was made it became apparent that it lacked strength against skewing deformations, which would not happen ‘laterally’ given where it was sitting but would happen ‘dorsoventrally.’ (Apologies for the anatomical language—it could wiggle side-to-side along its width and who cares because there are walls on either side, but if it wiggles back and forth away from the wall behind it then maybe things start falling off of it or maybe it just collapses some day.)

This sort of problem is of course solved with crossbeams, but like then I had to buy a bunch of wood that was the right width, calculate an approximate length and miter angle for four pieces, of course I did not have the tools to make pocket holes properly (woodworking co-ops closed, thanks COVID) so I just did it roughly (you predrill the screw hole backwards from the flush surface back to the side of the lumber, then you use that hole to guide drilling the pocket) and of course I screwed up one of these four by drilling the pocket too deep because I didn’t have a drill press (thanks again COVID) and so I start low-teching that by just masking-taping the drill bit out to the appropriate depth so that I don't go over. Finally a pair of crossbeams goes in and... it's not symmetric. I think “eh you only see those edge-on so who cares” and install the other beams but the lack of symmetry in installation actually really matters because it means that the crossbeams are pushing the posts off-level, which means the shelves are off-level. Whoops. So this “it is finally ready!” moment turns into a “no it’s not!”

Then, a clever idea: pre-join the cross-beams together at the center of the X (they were not joined initially) before installing them, so they have to be symmetrical. Slight problem: the predrilled holes from attempt #1 in the side beams are now still pulling the crossbars in weird ways and attempting to mess with the level of the shelves. Solution is to just unfasten the X and swap which beam is proximal and which one is distal, then I can pre-drill the holes again, but I'd better just get the thing wood-glued in place first, even without appropriate clamps, so that I am 100% sure it is not going to take the shelves off level when I put those screws in. Finally everything works.

Irrationally undeterred from this success, I am now building a California King bed frame. It is almost exactly 50% complete—there is a facade which is stained but not finished and the center consists of two free-standing “pallets” (not actual pallets, but they look similar) which get bolted together, one pallet is finished and the other is not.

Delays so far have mostly been due to other life circumstances coming up, too much to do on weekends and hot weather baking my garage into unsafe temperatures... but there have already been a few overruns. I realized for example that at the outer corners of the bed frame my screws were going to be taking a heck of a lot of torque (the middle should have two posts side-by-side when the two pallets get bolted together, they can be a little lighter-weight) and revised my design to use some metal corner-ties. But those had a different geometry and so the 2x4s on the sides needed to be cut even shorter. Then I realized that I had calculated this ad-hoc cut assuming that it needed to be shorter by a 2x4's width on both sides but I had forgotten that I wasn't doing the same corner ties for the middle posts of the bed that get bolted together, so I bought a new 2x4 and while I was there I bought some tie plates to try to strengthen those middle posts a little more anyways. So we've only overrun the initial cost by 4 tie corners and 4 tie plates and one 2x4 which is not so bad, but still.

I do not recommend doing your own woodworking in order to save on cost, it costs a lot of time. I do recommend it if you feel like carpentry connects you to Jesus or if you have a really specific idea about what you want in a space and nobody anywhere seems to be offering that exact thing.

I am amazed at the amount of knowledge you have acquired by doing it yourself! That's also my main motivation for building my own stuff (+ it's really fun when you take your time).

I built a small balcony garden off a few pine planks. Many mistakes were made along the way, some were corrected (how do you cut in straight lines with a jigsaw ? Use a maconnery ruler and a few clips), some were compensated by the overall overbuild. It took me a few months but I always expected it to take more time and money than buying it from Amazon. One nice thing is that it matches perfectly the width of the balcony! With this small success and many more, I will - maybe - have enough knowledge to build my own cabin in 40 years.

Hey that sounds awesome! Don't know what a maconnery ruler is, but I feel your pain about straight cuts with a jigsaw. Lots of clamping on a chunk of spare wood as a "guide" and even when you do that, if you try to push the saw through the wood like it always warps on the free end, so you have to just be patient and do thick boards slowly -- which means that you need another chunk of spare wood for the saw to sit on as you are starting out the cut. (Or only cut through thin wood so that you never notice the warp.) I think you could make a case that the most versatile and powerful tool any woodworker has at her disposal is her clamps.

> It was a junk show and I quickly learned that the best approach was to continue writing software and pay pros to do the job.

I feel personally attacked. Really though, I wonder how many things are on my 'Someday Maybe' list, that really I should just make more money to accomplish and/or find a youtube subscription that satisfies the urge to tinker on a particular topic.

Beware of falling into the trap of replacing everything on your "Someday maybe" list with Youtube subscriptions. Did that for a while, don't have much to show for 2017. Watching someone make/do cool stuff and put it on the Internet satisfies similar dopamine reward functions as actually doing it yourself, with a lot less effort. Except you didn't actually do it, you watched someone else do it. Same with actually making a "Someday maybe" list, writing down the goal feels like it's something you're accomplishing even though it's not actually started yet.

When you look back on your summer/year, what will you have accomplished? What skills will you have developed?

If you don't really value a process/skill, but just want the material result (i.e. a cabin), pay a pro for it. If you just have an itch that needs to be scratched, watch someone else do it on Youtube. If you want it to be a part of who you are, pruning your list by moving items to the former two strategies should leave you enough time to develop it yourself.

As someone rapidly approaching "old", this is the exact mode of thinking I now occupy much of the time. It's awful to think of how many summers I've passed working on code or, worse, powerpoints and documents, in a 71F office.

I know quite a few very senior people who are proper old, and when I mentioned this to one of them, his response was, "at this point I'm glad to be alive, and no one glad to be alive has time for that stuff." This was just before he retired.

> find a youtube subscription that satisfies the urge to tinker on a particular topic.

I think my life got measurably better when I pivoted from "I want to do this myself" towards "It's just as satisfying to watch someone else do this".

Downhill extreme mountain biking is really cool. And fun to watch. And expensive. And requires much more physical fitness than I've got. And dangerous (esp. given my physical fitness :). )

I think my life got measurably better when I pivoted from "I want to do this myself" towards "It's just as satisfying to watch someone else do this".

So true! Works for a lot of things. It's why I stopped playing dota.

Stopping dota was the single most important decision of my life. It is an incredible game, that consumes an incredible amount of mind-space even when you're not playing it.

Dota - the worst 'awesome thing' that can happen to your life.

Maybe the reason I was able to get to 775 MMR was because it occupied 0 of my mind-space when I wasn't playing it :)

Ha ha! I bet you spend less time warching than you would spend playing so that is another big win(for me at least).

You just opened Dota Players Anonymous, it seems :-))

Ok, now I'm _really_ feeling targeted here.

I felt this way about dirt and enduro motorcycling. Went back to regular street riding after a few seasons of enduro. Despite being the slowest guy in the forest, I’d still low-speed crash a couple of times per day and end up replacing small parts on my bike which can really add up. Not to mention the level of physical endurance required to efficiently deal with rocks and bumps and hills. I watch enduro riders on YouTube instead.

It did make me a way better street rider though!

Also glad to have read this article. Was thinking (more like daydreaming) of building a Korean Hanok one day but it seems unrealistic without a lot of professional help.

It's like watching porn and having sex. Slightly downhill mountain biking is much nicer than watching the extreme stuff.

You underestimate your bodies strength. There are people of 98 years that do a full triathlon, so there is no excuse for you not to able to do that. You can do anything when you put your 10k hours in, but not on the first try.

If mountain biking is your dream buy a Trek with electric motor in it. They can give you extra lift till you accelerate to 75 km/hour with a dongle of $120. Instant pro biking experience without much practicing.

You are too young to accept any physical limitations of your body. Navy Seals talk about that being tired is just an emotion like feeling happy. Its all about your mindset.

You really shouldn't be saying "you could do it if you really tried" to people when you don't know their situation. Maybe they have a bad knee. Maybe they have a chronic illness. Maybe they don't have the money to spend. It's not a personal failing to be unable to do something, and it's toxic to take that attitude.

"Don't encourage anyone because they might not be able to do it" is the shittiest and most toxic attitude I've ever heard.

Interpreting my comment as "don't encourage anyone" is an extremely uncharitable take. Support their endeavors, celebrate successes, be empathetic of failure. Don't tell them "no excuse for you not to able to do that."

"You could do it if you really tried" is not the same as "no excuse for you not to able to do that".

It's a sad state of affairs if the exchange needs to be "please share your situation with me so I can know if it's appropriate to offer words of encouragement" before offering words of encouragement.

Thanks. I could only upvote you twice! It's so crazy to limit speech to not excluding any edge case. 95% are capable of doing anything they want and the other 5% will never want to be judged on physical constraints.

Lets take an example of the most brilliant people of our time while also extremely handicapt Steven Hawkins.

What would he care he was excluded in a statement like this?

> Navy Seals talk about that being tired is just an emotion like feeling happy. Its all about your mindset.

But it isn't really. Even taking that statement at face value you're still talking about people who are selected for their physical skills and then spend much of their prime training and preparing physically like their lives depended on it. Because it does. But they suck at many other things and they do have an excuse to not be able to do them.

One person cannot "specialize" in too many things and downhill extreme mountain biking is not a thing to do half-assed without risking your well-being. Getting the skill and the physical strength to do it is both time consuming but more importantly very risky.

For those curious about tweaking your ebike, I found this: https://www.electricbiketuning.com/

I doubt you’ll hit 75kph with a 36V Motor though. My 52V mid drive would get me to around 40–50kph on a good day, flat terrain, no wind, and pedaling hard. I put it back to 25kph max because riding so fast on a bicycle was too dangerous in my opinion... cars don’t expect you to come so fast, and I was getting too dangerously confident. I was also worried about the consequences should I get in a crash and the bike is investigated to see whether it was legal.

For those interested in diy, the tsdz2 mid drive is a pretty good motor that has a torque sensor and that you can add to most bicycles. There is also an open source alternative firmware for it that’s pretty good. See https://github.com/OpenSource-EBike-firmware/TSDZ2_wiki/wiki

I agree with the fitness argument, but the safety argument is a legitimate one. I live in a mountain town with a big mountain biking community, almost everyone who pushes themselves in that sport will be dealing with injuries at one point. It can be as benign as a torn ACL or a broken clavicle, but I'm also friends with a guy who broke his pelvis (he completely healed and is a great athlete, I've seen him do a 360 on telemarks last winter) and worked with a guy who's currently in a neckbrace after breaking 2 vertebra. Those last two people are both lucky they didn't die.

You don't need to be a great mountain biker to go dangerously fast, it's very easy to become overconfident, and the downhill nature means that you might also fall from certain heights on top of already carrying speed, and not necessarily on soft dirt, maybe onto rocks or into a tree. It's a gnarly sport.

The commentator you were talking to should at least go on some mellow bike rides or something.

> Navy Seals talk about that being tired is just an emotion like feeling happy.

BUD/S has like a 25% pass rate, of people who are even allowed to try.

Not saying that a navy seal can't just decide to not be tired anymore, but for the rest of us mere mortals....

They also have access to unlimited amounts of pure prescription amphetamine.

It helps.

No critique. When you have to operate under circumstances like that and your life and your fellow soldiers lives are at stake it makes sense.

Has inherent problems though.


> unlimited amounts of pure prescription amphetamine.

... in the field. Same with pilots -- they issue speed to dudes flying bombers long distances.

But they're not taking speed during selection and training. That's just you, and figuring out if you can hack it is the point.

If you have the opportunity (and can find contractors willing to work with you), picking out parts of a project to DIY is a good way to build skills, and save $$s.

We're building a shop. I've contracted most of the build out, but found that I could save $20,000+ by DIY'ing the radiant heat portion myself. Took about a days worth of planning and research, another to lay down the pipe before the floor was poured, and another to hook everything up.

Honestly, the cost-differential was enough to make me think that I should start a company that installs radiant heating. I can't think of many other professions where I could clear $20,000 for 3-days of work.

I'm planning to DIY the solar-install on the same shop here in a couple of months, we'll see if that's as much of success story.

I recently installed a 6.8 kW system on my house. The final cost was $1.60/watt for "premium" Panasonic panels and Enphase microinverters, which was significantly lower than all the quotes I got. Tesla is now competitive watt for watt, but they achieve their prices with string inverters and/or panels from manufacturers that may not be around for the duration of their warranties.

Another benefit of going solo on my solar project was learning that I could legally install panels on a part of my roof that everyone else thought I couldn't use because of old setback rules. I was able to fit eight additional panels on my roof after discussing the issue with the city inspector.

Most of my prep time was spent writing my permit application. If you want to use mine as a reference or template, file an issue on my github repo for the project [1] and I'll upload it later. I'd also be happy to chat about the gear I chose, where I bought it, and share a list of materials.

[1] https://github.com/hamikm/solar-report (side note: I wrote this to help analyze my surprisingly complex electrical bill because custom date ranges were buggy in the Enphase app at the time)

Thanks! Yes - I've heard the permit application can be a hassle, so I was planning on going with one of the companies that offers solar permitting as a service for a few-hundred $$s. E.g.: http://www.geminisolardesign.com/

It’s funny how when you’re young you it’s hard to learn about these types of things.

My wife went to school with a guy who didn’t like college. He took a summer job on a road crew, learned how to use an excavator and got hooked. Dropped out, saved up, and bought a used dump truck, which basically made him.

Started out hauling stuff and then got into water/sewer work and excavation.

He’s up to about 20 trucks a decade later, and pays the bills with the sewer work. He leveraged the assets he had (trucks, diggers) and won demolition contracts — they make money on demolition. Like $75-200k for an emergency demolition if they can get there in 90m.

Have a buddy who got a Finance Degree. Was hired into a large financial/invest firm in a great position and salary. 1 -2 years and couldn't take it, quit to go drywall with his two older brothers.

When he quit his job the parents wept. He was the first kid to go/finish University in the family.

It went from 3 guys hanging board to a 40-50 million construction company in 2 decades.

What's the company?

Small Canadian custom home builder in Ontario.

Sounds similar to Andrew Camarata's path [1]. His intersection with HN is he studied computer science, then decided he wanted to work outdoors instead (he grew up helping his dad and picked up a lot of fabrication and repair skills doing that, and he's really good at troubleshooting so he is probably no slouch at coding, either), so he started a property maintenance business.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/c/AndrewCamarata/about

Being flexible is key.

Some jobs benefit so much from equipment and skill that it won't ever make sense to DIY. Some jobs are just a bunch of labor that you could do, and probably do better because you care to do it right.

DIY solar seems like a ROI for a DIY project. Just stay safe on that roof!


Yeah - I live in a state with essentially zero incentives, so to make Solar pay for itself I have to rely on net-metering plus the 26% federal tax rebate.

If I went with a commercially installed system, I'd be looking at a 15-20 year payback. If I can DIY, I should be looking at a 6-10 year payback.

Framing. Once you understand the code and have done it a few times, this is another one where -- assuming you have access to a low cost, reliable labor pool -- you can also clear $20-30k in a weekend [in California].

Do people really watch YouTube or something and feel like the accomplished whatever is shown in the video? I am asking with full earnestness as I've always viewed such r/ArtisanVideos type videos as pure entertainment.

I think it might be more accurate to say that some people have more trouble distinguishing mild curiosity from "I should do that thing."

And I don't mean that in a demeaning way at all. If anything, such folks have found a middle path in life. At opposite extremes, you have folks who actually have to go do all those things versus those who can squelch their own interest in nearly anything by merely thinking about it for a few moments...

I think you are being funny :), but just wanted to chime in and say I think what he is saying is that he didn't enjoy it, so he would rather do something he likes and pay someone to do what he does not :).

That's definitely true, but I also realized that the quality of construction would never be close to the level it could be if I used a contractor. I'm a stickler for quality so it would have driven me crazy. I did somewhat enjoy the electrical work and have done some more of that on our house. If I can partially retire any time soon I'd love to apprentice with a master electrician and do some work on my own. There has been a huge building boom in our valley the last couple of years and most of the contractors and trades are booked out to 2022 for big jobs.

You might not need to wait that long. I know union electricians in NCW making quite a bit more than most software engineers i know. Some are clearing 6 figures their second year.

I find the opposite. If you want something done right you have to do it yourself. I try to only pay for labor when it's low/medium skill labor paired with a capital investment I don't want to make (e.g. getting new tires on my car and an alignment) or when I'm paying for a member of a professional club for their reputation and club membership (e.g. a lawyer or realtor)

Building a solid structure is a high skill job! Not as complex as building an application but definitely comparable.

I think some people fail to understand how hard it is to be a good contractor. Just like software engineering it requires a lot of education and a lot of experience.

You won't get it right your first few tries no matter how smart you are. Just like no software developer ever got things right when they were first learning to code.

Getting my house remodeled I realized that the contractors do probably 50x as much math as I do on a daily basis, and I'm the one with a math degree. Go figure.

You did trig fights ?

ps: school should make kids build more stuff, you get real use case for a lot of mathematical thinking out of cute stuff hands on.

I agree, but 1) that's expensive, and 2) more shop class means more kids accidentally nailing their hands to things.

Source: my brother nailed his hand to something in middle school. He's got a Ph.D now, for the record.

Building one structure is a series of low skill tasks.

Building many structures (or any given sub-specialty, e.g. plumbing) on a predetermined schedule and budget and making money doing it without charging so much money that you get undercut out of business is what requires skill.

For N=1 you rarely have to be a pro to do it right.

? If you're doing that much reduction in your estimation, couldn't the same be said for software?

The labor itself might be low skill, but the experience required to do the job well and to create a lasting structure takes an enormous amount of time. "should I use ceder, spruce, pine or Aztek for the exterior door casings? Should my subsill be 7 degrees or 14? Should I use felt paper or tyvek for my weather barrier, which type of tape should I use for each type?"

> If you're doing that much reduction in your estimation, couldn't the same be said for software?

And this is why companies hire a hundred fresh grads for every gray hair. 99x/100 they don't need super high quality work output.

In all trades there's a hesitation to look at something and say "screw it, it doesn't really matter, just do what's cheap" unless you're being told to and software isn't immune from that (in software "told do" seems to come mostly in the form of time pressure whereas in the trades it's what the number job is paying). Sure it's nice to do "good" high quality work but a lot of the time it really isn't necessary or it's strictly wrong because whatever it is you're building needs to be built to a price point. It's only when you push things to the limit do all the little marginal details (the stuff the experienced pros get right) start mattering. That tends to accidentally happen more (at least in my estimation) in software than the trades because labor is so expensive and code is so easily portable.

Also, janky setups and quick-n-dirty fixes abound in all trades. You just only see them in trades you know about.

Not really sure why you are being downvoted. My own experience aligns with what you are describing. For most residential work a homeowner can do a solid job as long as you are handy and willing to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with building codes and the appropriate techniques. Being a professional means being able to estimate accurately, meet those estimates, manage multiple jobs, etc.

If timeline isn't the most critical factor a homeowner can do an excellent job. Often even better than the professionals because you will be willing to spend extra time and attention to get everything perfect.

And yet there is me, having to go to Home Depot 3 times for a simple job, and still managing to mess it up.

not sure if you've ever watched a crew work but one of the reasons for the cheap labor junior guy is to run to home depot.

>> but one of the reasons for the cheap labor junior guy is to run to home depot.

And then get the wrong stuff, which the contractor will make do anyway if there's even the remote possibly it will work. and so on. After a while and some $$$ wasted you will get a feel for what's reasonable and what's bogus.

You speak pretty definitively on the topic. I'm guessing you have some experience with construction that's worth sharing? Would love to hear a positive story of how it turned out!

I spent a few years doing under the table construction and also picked up the skills to work on mechanical things around the same time. Then I went to college, got a career and spent some money picking up the skills required to work in metal. Electrical and plumbing (not just for water) are things you kind of have to pick up along the way. I'm no means a professional at any of these skills because I don't get 40hr of practice a week. Nor am I unique. A lot of successful people from blue collar backgrounds wind up with similar skills. Even though I have software money now I couldn't afford to pay people to build the things I can build myself.

I agree with throwaway0a5e:

I became a homeowner as a never-interested DIY with EE/CS degrees. We had an unfinished basement that we paid the builder to finish only the electrical, plumbing, and framing. I'd always heard drywall'ing was easy so I left that for me to do.

At the time I knew nothing about lighting, fixtures, eletrical work, etc. Ended up agreeing to J-boxes for basement lights rather than cans, and a few other money-saving things (for the electrician).

Before doing the drywall myself, I ended up rerunning all the basement lights, running tons of outlets, installed an electrical subpanel in my garage, new plumbing lines, etc. All inspected and approved on my own permits.

I maybe watched ~200 hours on youtube (easy to do at 2x speed) and read a lot of electrical and plumbing code. But when I was done it was "done right" and not done to "save money".

I ended up saving a ton of money on the electrical and plumbing, easily in the thousands, and only saved $700 on the drywall labor. Moral of the story, don't hang your own drywall by yourself. Pay for it if you can't get a couple friends to help.

Electrical and plumbing are relatively easy compared to anything that requires accurate measuring and cutting.

The latter can really kill a project if you can't get it right consistently, preferably first time.

That's where the skill comes in - not just the physical labour, but the experience needed to make allowances for material tolerances and other possible gotchas.

Professionals (should) have that knack, amateurs rarely will.

Is that from experience?

Generally all contractors say "the next guys will take care of that". For example, when framing you don't really care if the studs are really straight or if the walls are square. The "next guy" will take care of that.

True enough, when I was drywalling I had the builder come back to take care of some bowed studs that should never have been used.

I've also volunteered at Habitat for Humanity and can confirm that very little "accurate measuring and cutting" was occurring. They'd quickly measure some things, shout out numbers, and then use a circular saw to rough cut it out. But that was it - they didn't refine it after that and went about their merry way.

I have to believe that the accuracy of a foundation is more important but I think it's a fool's dream. They get "close" and they're checked out before the "next guy" has to fix it.

Maybe I am just bad at it but I can't get anything done DIY to fit properly. It's always off by like 1-2mm which means holes don't align, there's a gap in the baseboard, etc. I have to throw the entire part away and then pay someone to do it properly.

Unless a 3d printer or CNC machine is responsible for the accuracy you better count me out.

Ah, I did pay someone to do the millwork and trim work. You need a very accurate miter saw and a lot of experience to make perfect niters. I’m getting there but I still get off by a 1/16tb” to a 1/32nd” often.

The finish work is the final last guy. The guy that did our trim would randomly yell out swear words every 20 minutes. His life is hard. And he was expensive.

A couple of jobs a contractor I used for a long time (before he, sadly, retired) involved some drywall. He got drywall specialists to do it. He said they were far faster and cheaper than him doing it himself.

I do have a guest bedroom in my house where I once had some time during a holiday shutdown when my job situation was a bit perilous. I had some crumbling plaster so I put some drywall up. It's... functional.

Painting is one thing I do myself. I do it enough I got reasonably good at it and--for touchup--I can reasonably take shortcuts that someone I was paying couldn't.

For N=1 failure can be catastrophic.

I find that most contractors are incentivized to maximize throughput and thus do a just-good-enough job so that the average person doesn't notice. Once you learn some common skills like electrical, drywall, tile, etc, you will never stop finding defects in everyone's homes.

I've saved myself hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years by doing my own work, but now I can only see defects everywhere because that's what I've trained myself to look for.

That’s definitely a killer. Staying at an Airbnb right now where all I can see is poor workmanship.

There are a million jobs I still need to get to, but at least I know that once they’re done I’ll be happy with the result. Having only just started down the home diy route, there’s a load to learn and I still make a lot of mistakes, but I’m improving, and it’s satisfying to know that next time I’ll get it right, faster and cheaper than before.

Including in your own work I'm sure.

For renovations I try to do as much work as possible, eg tile removal/replacement, backer board removal/replacement....let the plumber come in to a clean and prepped worksite for a valve sweat....he’s in and out ASAP, I’ve saved budget from just throwing money at a GP contractor to do everything, and I get to do the non-expert stuff myself.

But I think that the schmo vs pro divide is real when you get to electrical, plumbing etc. HE’S the pro, and I’m the Schmo. As my favorite interviewer says.

>But I think that the schmo vs pro divide is real when you get to electrical, plumbing etc. HE’S the pro, and I’m the Schmo.

IMHO, this is backwards. Electrical work is twisting wires and screwing them down. Plumbing is gluing or clamping stuff together (unless you're sweating copper). The actual mechanics of doing it takes little skill and pros aren't going to be that much better/faster than you. The real difference is the amount of knowledge the pro has of codes and how things need to be. However, the concepts for residential are pretty straight forward though and relatively easy to learn. You can pick them up starting with simple stuff.

Compare that to something like drywall. Your drywall finish work is going to suck compared to a pro and they're going to do it way faster than you could.

When I hired a plumber the things he did were basically impossible for me. He didn't sweat copper. The first thing he did was heat up the old pipe so that he could screw it out and replace it and by old pipe I mean the plumbing inside the wall, the pipe you'd screw your angle valve onto. I'm not going to play around with fire and screw things up for good. This was actually a freebie and wasn't strictly necessary. Second he connected the toilet which was moved by around 15cm to the right and he used crimped copper, selected parts out of a box with every possible piece you could need and it aligned perfectly. If I had to do that then it would take me multiple attempts and thrown out parts involving multiple trips to the store. I'd also be stuck with tools I'd never need again. Instead the plumber finished the work in around an hour.

I agree with you, but for me it’s a risk and liability thing. It’s also a function of what I have had the experience doing...I can actually hang/tape/mud drywall semi decently, DEFINITELY not as fast or as good as a pro. Same with tiling, flooring etc , most cosmetic things. But I’ve never had the opportunity to learn much about plumbing or electrical. And those could have huge consequences if not done properly.

I agree with you but drywall and other finish stuff is low stakes. Anything that could cause damage to the house or <clutches pearls> hurt somebody is high stakes by comparison. Or at least that's how a lot of people think about it.

That said I'm a cheapskate and do my own finish work even though I hate making things look nice.

There are lots of pros out there who don't know what they are doing. That is true in all fields. Still, I'm certain that there is someone for hire that can outperform an amateur. Even if the final product is good in either case, there are other considerations like time investment (hours and calendar), and opportunity costs.

> There are lots of pros out there who don't know what they are doing.

Often these pros are also the ones that are easiest to find because the ones that know what they are doing are in high enough demand that they go mainly off word of mouth and friend-of-a-friend type business.

We bought a house three years ago that was built in 2006. The number of things I've found that were done just blatantly wrong has soured my opinion of general contract labor quite considerably.

I hired someone to fix some water damage by a door about three months after we moved in. The next spring when it rained we had a literal waterfall coming in from the top of the door frame.

Never again.

I've since torn that entire wall down to the studs, cleaned everything up, put it back together correctly, and rebuilt the attached deck.

I don't know how much that would have cost to get fixed by a professional (supposing I could have found one that actually knew what they were doing), but I'm guessing it was easily $10-$20k of work if labor was factored in.

>Still, I'm certain that there is someone for hire that can outperform an amateur.

Differentiating and correctly selecting the true pro out of a lineup of estimates is a skill in and of itself. For most construction tasks, I'm better at the task itself than I am at finding someone who can do it better than I can.

I'd like to see you draw. The capital investment is almost zero. You just need a pencil and some paper. You can get both for $2. Meanwhile you can just go on fiver and hire someone to draw something for you for around $30 (number pulled out of thin air) at a level of quality that would take you hundreds of hours of training.

High skill labor usually involves lots of expensive one time costs. I don't see how there is an opportunity to save money.

The problem I have with "professionals" in Seattle area is that you pay a lot, and then you have to either have them come back every day to fix all the little things, or just give up and fix them yourself. It is emotionally draining that it's so costly and yet still done in a half-assed way. I may have been unlucky with the contractors, but on the other hand, it's not in their incentive to spend more time on something if they can get away with doing the job less meticulously...

> it's not in their incentive to spend more time on something if they can get away with doing the job less meticulously...

This is every job ever. Wait until you see the quality of code that runs big backend systems...

I think that would be true if I were to pay them by the hour. Fortunately, I'm not (at least not in the case of the remodel I'm going through now), but it means it's on me to make sure everything is the way it should be. I guess it's still a way for them to gamble - if I find a problem, they'll come back and fix it, but if I don't, that's some saved time for them. I'm ok to play this game, but it's not making me believe in "pros will do it right".

A good, reliable, trustworthy general contractor is is a true treasure. They'll either be able to do it themselves, or refer you to someone they trust, and trust is the most important part of this.

The corollary: When you find a good contractor, pay them well.

In 2007 how did you go about Finding land to buy? Today, would you know of options that are better than just seeing what is available on Zillow and the like? Maybe there are drastic differences in the various online services and some are much better to use than others

I wonder what I'm not finding because it isn't listed on Zillow

If it is a rural area, drive around or use google maps to find empty land you are interested in, then look it up on the county tax site. If it hasn't changed hands in the last 20-30 years, call the owner.

People who've owned empty, vacant land for decades tend to have either inherited it or are long term real estate investors. Frequently they will have tried to sell it in the past and not gotten enough interest.

Obviously, doesn't work everywhere. Higher demand areas are going to be completely different.

But it worked for us when we decided to move to the boonies.

I knew the general area I wanted to buy in and worked with a local real estate agent.

> pay pros to do the job

On one hand is taking pride in doing something yourself.

On the other hand is paying the expert to do it.

I know my limitations. In-bounds, I'll do it. Out-of-bounds, I pay the expert. I've learned my lessons and I have no regrets.

I say this from a family known for "inherited" stubbornness, cheapness, and generational Great Depression learning.

I love the Methow Valley. Have you ever been to the Methow Valley Chamber Music festival? It's run by a former EE named Howard Johnson, who wrote the book on High Speed Digital Design.

I used to do everything myself. Then I got a job far from family. I can no longer call a dozen family members with different skills to help on any project. I do things alone, which means it takes more than 12 times longer. Plus I miss the excuse to get together with the family often when called to help someone else out.

I still do things myself, but I'm more and more looking to just hire the bigger things done. I know how to do it, and probably would do it better. But I don't have the time.

I think this slightly misses the point. You should still do it yourself if you enjoy the process of learning new skills and challenging yourself to build something new from scratch.

I would bet that most people that try to build a cabin do it more as a passion (with bad calculation on timing and cost estimates) than as a way to save money.

Don't know where you are in the Methow but my parents lived there for many years near Winthrop. The neighbor at their first place was building a do-it-yourself cabin with massive logs. He was killed in an accident when one of them rolled over him.

There's bad outcomes and then really bad.

The house we had built was in Mazama but we live between Winthrop and Mazama now. A couple of years before we bought our property a man in the community was killed when the snowload collapsed the roof of the rickety shop he was working in at his home.

Best of luck up there. I "found" the Methow on a bicycle trip from Seattle round the Cascade Loop out 2, over to the Okanogan, and back to Seattle on 20. I rode up the stretch of 20 to Mazama near mid-summer's day. It was cool, and horses were gamboling through green meadows on either side of the road. There was still snow on Gardner and the peaks along the Cascade Crest in the distance. Bikes are kind of slow, so there was time to drink the scenery in fully.

The Methow is a hard place to visit because you'll need to leave again.

What I learned is that it's okay to just do the things you enjoy. I personally like building the structure. Anything dealing with the ground (digging, grading, etc) and cement are generally much easier to have pros do it as they have the equipment and manpower.

Aside from loving the writing style, I'm glad I read this article and this comment. I was half-heartedly planning to do something like this myself. Despite having zero construction or engineering experience.

I'm stumped how stuck one (I) can feel when building something for the first time. The meaning of know-how became seriously deeper after trying electronics. Needn't be fancy but you have to know, gut feeling, that you know.. know that it's not difficult to think about it.

While most coments seem to agree that it is a futile endeavor, my experience was and is the contrary. I learned that the meme 'let the professionals do their job' actually is an excuse for being lazy and unlearn even basic hand craft skills up to the point of being totally incapable to get along on your own.

I admire a meaningful and quick fix more than a professionalistscwork, adhering to piles of regulations for no appearing reason but let many others profit from my money.

I also understand that amateur is from latin and actually means to love what you are doing.

So get out of your comfort chair, put the gaming controler aside and re-learn some basic skills. With every project it becomes more and more rewarding.

> I admire a meaningful and quick fix more than a professionalistscwork, adhering to piles of regulations for no appearing reason but let many others profit from my money.

I have little experience with handiwork but I'm imagining if an amateur developer said this in regards to building a maintainable and scalable application (as I imagine a house to be) from scratch, and scoffing at tedious time-wasters like writing tests and hiring QAs.

As an experienced developer I know the tradeoffs of cutting corners and various quick fixes and so can apply them judiciously, but I know if I ended up working on or taking over that codebase, I'd most likely end up having to tear out a lot of that developer's work and redo it, or else have a headache trying to build and improve around it.

Professional tools make construction a lot easier. I always rent tools and someone that knows how to use them.

It does not surprise me that these guys are writers. This reads very much like a project intended to produce a content product as much as a cabin. It's romantic and they have plenty of meticulously framed videos and photos. Maybe they did some youtube videos with dramatic moments -- maybe even the moment they open the piece with -- anger, violence, frustration boiling over. But now they are taking woodworking courses. I'm sure we'll see plenty of content about their experience.

YouTube has upped its recommendations for this kind of stuff in the last few months. Everything is van life, off-grid, travel, tiny home building, etc. It's really curious and I'm not sure what to think about it. Everything is about being a creator and getting an audience for your YouTube, Substack, Patreon, etc. I'm pretty conflicted over this.

YouTube's recommendations may be more a reflection of your watch history than a shift in content or a change in the algorithm. I have not seen any van life, off-grid, or tiny home videos on YouTube.

I carefully curate my youtube viewing by using lots of incognito windows to view things I don't want showing up in my recommendations. All it takes is one errant click to throw the whole thing off. Oh why did I not incognito that terrible comedian?

You can remove videos from your watch history: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/95725?co=GENIE.Pla...

I presume this also removes them as a factor in your recommendations.

> I presume this also removes them as a factor in your recommendations.

You presume too much!


That is helpful to know. I too have run into the errant click problem in YouTube. Drives me nuts.

I've noticed that watching literally part of one video will cause youtube to recommend a lot more of that category of content.

For one recent example, there was an article about Elon Musk and his girlfriend who releases music as Grimes. I clicked play on one of the embedded music videos and watched about half of it. Ever since then youtube has recommended tons of Grimes videos to me.

I've also noticed that videos my wife or kids watch get recommended to me sometimes.

This is probably true.

See "Mozilla project exposes YouTube's recommendation 'bubbles'" https://www.engadget.com/mozilla-youtube-bubble-200045382.ht... (and many others, I'm sure)

Just open an incognito and count the van-life videos. Zero. It's all popular lowest-common denominator videos until you start clicking and teaching Youtube about your preferences.

My work and home gmail accounts get completely different videos because of how I use them. At work it's all background music and albums and at home it's more fun stuff.

yes, but now it is finding much better content especially those from up and coming channels relevant to you

There's nothing left to worship, so you're seeing a confluence of 2 forms of modern worship: a return to nature / primitive living (where we can imagine away the distractions of modern living), and worship of the self / fame, where we create these myths of ourselves and tell that story / get a bunch of people to be interested. I suspect neither one is very fulfilling, but I understand the impulse (especially the first one).

One need only cite Emerson and Thoreau to see this has in fact been going on for quite some time.

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, by the seashore, in the mountains; and you too are wont to desire such things very much. But this is a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in your power whenever you choose to retire within yourself.” Marcus Aurelius, ~1800 years ago

Well my youtube recommendations have certainly gone that way too, but I think it is a reflection of my growing hatred for IT as an industry and my desire to leave it behind forever.

If I may add something: I became dissatisfied with "IT as an industry" in the sense that, despite where I was working (a tiny shop, with tiny projects, flyover state, nothing is ever going to go viral or hit big), some people were apparently prepping for FAANG careers and generally trying to turn things into some Agile megashop with dozens of layers of technology, on and on, for some rinky-dink projects. I liked doing the rinky-dink projects but all of the overhead of play-acting like we needed to scale like Cloudflare was wearying.

I took up with some TechShop stuff -- before it folded -- and enjoyed my work on laser engravers, and the CNC machines, and the lathes, and whatnot. My educational background and IT experience were certainly a help, and I thought, "Dang, it sure is nice to construct a physical object at the end of the day instead of an arrangement of magnetic fields that will simply be blown away when some high muckety-muck notices whatever fad has changed."

I jumped ship for something adjacent where I use my IT skill constantly. Programming wasn't in the job description, but my ability to program brings a certain level of power. All of my decades of IT experience is very helpful here and I still feel like I am doing something with an actual concrete output and utility.

So, I sympathize with the urge to pull the ripcord on some kind of jetpack and blast far away into the sky, but there are plenty of places that are not what HackerNews thinks of when they think IT that need all of your skills. Perhaps I like being a medium-sized fish in a smaller pond, it could be that, but it does feel fairly nice.

Can you tell me a little more about this? I'm enjoying my current job as a coder, but I'm also feeling a hankering for something like what you describe. Feeling like I'm producing something a little more tangible would be nice.

I work performing a lot of GIS (geospatial information systems) work for emergency services. Sometimes, I produce maps. Sometimes, someone wants to know where they ought to locate a five million dollar building for maximum results.

My computing interests lie in automating tasks previously performed by humans, ETL, and analysis. I was doing web stuff back in the 1990s and went through so very many CRUD apps, but this is where my interests lie. What this means in my current job is that I find time-consuming tasks done by my predecessor and say, "Let's make this faster." Or I can look for subtle errors.

Just as an example, because I am routing emergency services to houses and workplaces, I have a network of streets to deal with. Imagine them as a graph, where most of the data is attached to the edge rather than the node. Now, people have drawn these streets in using tools like ArcMap, but there can be problems. How many different kinds of mistakes might exist in connecting roads together? Try to enumerate the cases.

I have found ten thus far. Each case is something that, if a human eyeballs it up close, they could say "oh yes," but it is not readily apparent. And so I have written code for a number of these cases that takes my human domain expertise of what is wrong with something and translates it into something even a rock (silicon) can understand. And the end result of finding these little mistakes is very real: help gets to someone just a few seconds faster.

I interface with organizations that are not other IT organizations: property records, postal records, phone records, and so on. Sometimes this means wrangling proposed plats from developers. It's all real stuff, and it's all done in service of helping people who have immediate needs.

It's very different from being in a room full of people who have little stickers on their Macs making Agile noises about whatever random shifts have occurred in the "client??" (and doesn't that word encompass a multitude of sins)'s latest wishlist.

Great post, thanks for writing this up. I'm relatively new to the industry and have already been feeling annoyance/fatigue at the IT/agile "culture" (experienced at a failing startup and now at a large corporation) My fiancé and I are hoping to move out of the city before long, and I hope to find something as interesting and unique as what you're doing. Feeling inspired and hopeful that I can find a job that uses programming/technology but isn't a "tech job."

I got my startup failure story out of the way in 2000, so I am lucky there. But yes, Agile has some fatigue for some who are tired of the faddishness. Some people find it invigorating, and more power to them.

My guess is that tons of these kinds of jobs are out there because the real world still exists and the people in it are often using computers, but perhaps not as "centrally" to their jobs. However, people like you and I can provide options to them that they did not have before, and sometimes may not have even envisioned. Just as a case in point, this new place was setting up some machines and had a few tedious configuration problems, so I used batch files and a few more things to save them time and add reproducible results. They were shocked but this was stuff for me where I had to dust off things I had forgotten a decade prior.

In my previous job, I found areas of satisfaction as I noticed above, and they were all tied to people (not users), to physical objects (rather than instatiations of some class), and so on. I noticed how much churn there was, how often things would have to be redone not because anything realistic demanded it, but because of style, or some kind of platform migration, or something else End-of-Lifed, and so on. Indeed, constant platform migration made me realize that nomads are not known for their lasting works of architecture.

Can I ask one more question: how did you make the move? And did you have a quantitative education? I know everyone's path is different, but I'm curious how you found your current role once you decided to get out of IT proper.

My education, as such, was pretty hit or miss. I got a BSc in the hard sciences, but had enough electives open due to other circumstances that I went a little wild, did more comp sci and math than were strictly required, tried some science classes unrelated to my degree for giggles.

I was part of that big "brain drain" where someone says, "Hey, you are good with computers, right?" and off I went. I had figured out that the sciences would be long and without a lot of payoff, so I did not look back too hard.

I suppose I got a reputation as someone who gets a far-off look when an interesting problem is described and was asked to apply to my current job because of it, despite it being a different sector and problem set.

GIS is something I have limited experience with (I'm a hobbyist pilot), but find very interesting. How did you enter the industry?

This was a really beautiful and helpful answer, thank you.

I feel the same way. If i am going to continue in this business it's going to be "very freelance", "very on my own terms" whatever that means.

I am in my thirties, and a career shift seems more and more inevitable. I seem to have swallowed several blackpills about various industrial complexes and see no bright future of the internet/tech in general, rather the opposite.

What's your age and what is you plan? I am actively looking for some kind of path at the moment for ex-tech people..

If anyone has any input i am all ears!

I'm 36, and I have less of a plan than a daydream of financial suicide at this point. I just want to finish fixing up my house, sell it, and live in a van or something with my dog, some bikes, and maybe some low power computing kit for rainy days (maybe build that desktop operating environment that doesn't suck that I've dreamed of building for years now).

I have no plan for making money, and I doubt I have enough stored wealth to last more than a decade. Health care in the US being what it is, probably not even that long. These are so far the only reasons I haven't already done it.

I've had one specific dream for 4 years and although I did nothing to get closer to it I've never forgotten it. I used to do some lazy things that fooled me into believing I have made progress. Instead I decided to just get the necessary skills now. I've spent 2 years "reading up" on electronics. I've learned more in the past two weeks than in those two years.

Of course just having the right skills isn't the same as achieving the dream. I still have to put in "the work" after I paid the entry fee.

Go into government and use your expertise to ensure vendors aren’t misleading the government about capabilities, that contracts have the right technical provisions to benefit the people, orgs aren’t employing nefarious technologies, ensuring they are using good methodology to track data, etc. IMO just being a person who can bring up the concerns makes a huge difference and eventually you’ll be able to move into a more policy focused realm.

I've worked in public sector, they don't care. The same people who make decisions based on golf-course handshakes and frat membership in private sector also do it in public sector, only there's extra political pressures to deal with too.

You should go work in a different industry as a part-time job before you give up your job in IT.

I don't know that they're doing this to create content - it seems more like they're creating content out of what they're doing in an effort to fund what they want to do anyway, and maybe get some social status as well, since they're draining their bank accounts anyway.

username checks out :-)

seriously though, i’m glad they were able to tie their profession in by sharing their story, i really enjoyed it. if i were to embark on this kind of thing i’d probably end up writing some software to help with the effort.

Seems so as well but I have to admit, it's an awful lot of effort just to gain a source of content. Realistically, it's more likely that these are just creative people who followed the trend (which they freely note in the piece) and decided to go off-grid in a way.

I've also noticed a lot more ads those types of programs. I'm wondering if the bad economy has made adds on youtube more affordable and get rich quick programs more attractive.

My family owns multiple cabins, mostly built by family members with the occasional framing and finishing work by friends of the family and/or a local contractor. The one my father owns was framed and roofed by contractors, but the closing, finishing, deck and float construction, and 30 years of repairs and renovations were done by himself and us kids. It sits on a steep hill, so putting a 60x20ft deck on 15ft stilts was no little effort for him with only the help of a bunch of actual children.

The major caveat: prior to my generation, the entire family was involved at some level in construction; from owning and operating to general labour.

It's _not_ a simple task, and the level of skill and intelligence required is something I think is often misunderstood or wholly overlooked by my peers in the tech industry. There's a kind of snobbish belief expressed by _some_ that because they can grok a complex software system they should be able to build a house; but that's a bit like believing that because you are able to write you should be able to easily be a sculptor. There may be shared core concepts, like the story being told and the ideas being conveyed, but the skills and knowledge involved and shared are few.

Agreed. My father is a carpenter and I helped him build our family cabin when I was a pre-teen. We did mostly all of the building except putting up the trusses and finishing the roof. My dad was smart enough to farm out that work.

Now I write software and I work with a lot of people who dream of going off in the woods and building a cabin, as though it's the same as building software. I have to remind them that "there is no undo". "Measure twice, cut once" is a phrase for a reason. You can't refactor your cabin half way through building. Surprisingly many of them never even considered these things, let alone the tricks or techniques needed to do a good job.

I think a lot of white collar workers see what blue collar workers do as perhaps difficult physically, but not mentally. But that couldn't be further from the truth. And this is especially true when you're trying to piece together an entire cabin by yourself.

>I think a lot of white collar workers see what blue collar workers do as perhaps difficult physically, but not mentally. But that couldn't be further from the truth. And this is especially true when you're trying to piece together an entire cabin by yourself.

Agree completely. I have a project car and have a particular buddy who's a great mechanic. His understanding of the various systems on a wide range of cars is quite deep, and he was incredibly helpful when I got stuck with things. If it was just the physical effort, i would've been finished with the project years before I did, but the mental challenge of figuring out how one system worked and how that system needed to properly integrate with all the other system was far beyond what I thought it was.

As a counterpoint, my buddy didn't get why I might be tired at the end of a long day of work. He didn't seem to get the connection that the high level of mental effort that software development could be physically tiring as well.

There's a lot that white collar workers and blue collar workers can learn from each other, but you don't have to build a whole cabin or a project car or a whole application in order to see what things are like when the shoe is on the other foot.

> My dad was smart enough to farm out that work.

What I find curious is that this viewpoint, while widely shared in trades, is not a universally shared value in tech. Many in our industry will prefer to write something themselves, or rewrite an existing project, rather than farm that work out to an expert or adapt to what they already have.

Particularly in my segment, video games: it's all well and good to write a game engine for fun, but _so many_ indie studios spend enormous amounts of their time, effort and cash on developing new engines afresh.

I can only imagine what the housing industry would be like if sub-contracting weren't as popular as it is.

> I think a lot of white collar workers see what blue collar workers do as perhaps difficult physically, but not mentally.

Aye, this is what I was alluding to as snobbish.

It is hard to look at something and realize that even though you can you shouldn't. I'm a programmer, I can write the engine. Several years later I have an engine. We have many new languages all the time for similar reasons, someone thinks they can write one (generally better) and forgets about all the effort it really takes and maybe they should do something else.

On the flipside, a lot of software rework can be closer to the decision of whether to brush your own teeth, flush your own toilet, or make your own fried egg. It takes wisdom, experience, and a presumption about many other unspecified factors to determine whether these are really better to outsource or solve in-house...

Do it for fun but don't fool yourself into believing you can do it better unless you want the game engine to be your product. Of course there are some special mechanics that require a novel engine but those are usually quite rare.

> You can't refactor your cabin half way through building.

Actually you can. And with the similar ramifications to the project budget and timeline.

I built a desk and was amazed at how quickly a simple piece of wood on metal legs became. What kind of wood? There are a billion types. Ended up with baltic birch from a specialty lumberyard. What size? A little bigger than old desk; not too hard. Ok, which piece of wood do I get at the lumberyard? It comes in standard sizes. Oh, I'd have to buy two huge sheets, so I would have a ton left over. Let me adjust the dimensions again so that I'll only need one sheet. They can cut it there, but it's a rough cut with tear out on the edges. I need to recut it at home with a circular saw. Now which circ saw do I buy? What blade do I need to make it a fine cut? How do I do this in a studio apartment? Then sanding the wood and finishing it (I can't have too much VOC because I have cats and myself in a small apartment), each of those stages requiring research and many small steps, with other tools to buy (orbital sander, multiple pads, dust mask etc.). It took way longer than expected, the tools cost a lot, but I ended up saving maybe a few hundred bucks from buying a similar desk considering only the cost of materials.

How did you do all that in a studio Appartement? In particular how did you deal with the dust and space requirements while this is a work on progress and you also have to love, cook, sleep there?

1. I have a lofted bed which frees up like 100 sq ft. This is vital for storage/other space.

2. I sanded outside on my small balcony and wipe the dust with a rag. Cutting the wood was tricky. I put the cats in the bathroom, wore a mask and did it while running my HEPA filter at full speed. Then I vacuumed any dust on the floor with the Roomba. I cut the wood by placing it on a couple sheets of foam insulation, with the blade depth set so that it would not contact the floor.

After cutting, I moved the HEPA filter around my apartment a bit until the air quality sensor went from red (bad air) to blue (good air), and opened the windows. I know this isn't perfect, but I haven't had any coughing fits thus far.

3. I used an oil based finish (OSMO) that is low VOC, pet, food, and human (children) safe. It's not gloopy or wet once applied, just slightly damp. Cats jumped on it a bunch before it had fully cured without any apparent ill effects, on the cats or the desk.

Definitely an "if will, there's a way" kind of endeavor. The desk is perfect for me though. Just the right size, height, and appearance. Trying to build a stool with the scrap wood leftover, but the wood is quite hard to cut with a jigsaw and pretty heavy.

I'd suggest buying a cheap wet/dry vacuum. They take up quite a bit of space for an apartment, but anytime you create a mess they can clean it up without issues (previously I had a battery powered stick vacuum and it would regularly get clogged up with sawdust and lose power). It's paid for itself easily, as I've had two small water leaks that if I wouldn't have cleaned up properly in time (I only have so many cloths) would have damaged furniture.

You probably had fun, learned something and will use the tools again.

I built a desk ~10 years ago. I had fun, learned a lot, and haven't used most of the tools since then.

I think part of what I learned is that it's worth it for me to pay a professional.

After building 7 more tables they might actually ROI on the circ saw and orbital sander and consumable supplies. Then they just have to start working down the capital costs of the table saw, router, miter saw, and clamps.

I was one of those people. In high school I inwardly scoffed at people working in "construction," without really any understanding of what it involved. More recently I've taken a huge interest in it; last fall I built a 20'x30' deck with 7' stilts on one end [0]. It was probably the most challenging project I've done in my life, and the most rewarding.

And this is peanuts in the construction industry, this kind of stuff is built every day all over the world. Nowadays when I walk around I'm constantly in awe of everything that people have constructed. I can't even fathom constructing a skyscraper in NYC.

I would say though that people with an engineering mindset should be able to find some success in building things. You just have the respect the process and the skills and accumulated knowledge involved, it's gonna take a few years and a bunch of projects and mistakes before you get a sense of what you're doing.

[0] https://i.ibb.co/0hmYDHz/IMG-7102.jpg

This is one of the best and most insightful comments I've seen anywhere. As someone who has crossed a few domains with overlap in my life (so some limited knowledge of how ignorant I am in all of them) this would be a top candidate for most valuable life lessons, intellectual humility.

I agree with you that some of this comes from snobbery and ignorance, but I think it's also motivated by a naive form of human curiosity. There's a line in East of Eden about one of the main characters (Samuel Hamilton) that talks about how he abhorred the sprawl of knowledge and increasing specialization of the human race. That trend has of course led to an immense improvement in the quality of life of our species, but I think it is a really disconcerting and slightly sad feeling as a curious person to realize there are huge realms of knowledge and skill that I will never live long enough to explore and enjoy.

At least it's inaccessible because it has simply grown so vast, rather than inaccessible due to repressive social policy.

That's not sad. What's sad is when that specialization becomes worthless and you can't afford to specialize again.

I do think I could build a house. First one might not be great, but like software or any skill iteration matters. The patience to spend years learning to build something and doing it badly several times is probably the factor that prevents people from just building a house for themselves. It takes years to grok a complex software system, this is not transferable to grokking a house. It takes similar years to grok a modern home for sure.

Iterating on software is nearly free. Iterating on home construction is not. Permits, materials, the cost of land, etc etc.

That's one reason you see more planning, training, apprenticeships, and established guidance in construction than in software. Iteration isn't a great technique.

You don’t build a house first. You muddle through building a chicken coop from crappy plans from the Internet. Then you build a run on the coop and figure out how slightly more orthodox framing is done.

After a bear gets into your bird feeder, you build an enclosure for the outside trash cans and the chicken feed. It takes well under half the time and you cut the rafters right the first time. All the while, you marvel at how little overlap there is between furniture making (your day job), and carpentry.

Then you start thinking about more fully featured structures. Hypothetically speaking.

Can confirm. I’m just about done on my combined chicken run and coop myself. I’ve learnt a tonne. First time I’ve built anything structural from scratch.

Last year we purchased a property that needed a lot of work to make it liveable. It took 2 months and all my energy but I got pretty good at everything from replacing rotten flooring to doing my own plumbing. It’s amazing how many tricks you need to learn to become efficient though. That and the tools. Without a good base set of tools you’re a bit trapped (and you’ll always wish you had more). One thing that surprised me was that anytime I had tradespeople there they had nothing to offer on other trades. The sparks (electricians) would say “oh I don’t know anything about plumbing” for example. I’d have thought you’d just pick it up along the way, but apparently not.

Having done some basic remodeling work, and being almost done with my chicken coop, I think you nailed this perfectly.

The same can be said about fixing vehicles. I am humbled by the body of knowledge needed, especially when things go wrong.

If you really want to be humbled, go watch an automatic transmission rebuild on YT. It's like they're casting spells with their hands.

> The first thing he did was host a long-weekend work party to fix it up. I flew up from my home in Oakland, California. With a group of friends, we tore out exposed nails, cladded interior walls, built a deck and an outhouse, and hung shingles. At night, covered in sawdust and grime, we drank too much and huddled around a propane stove to keep warm, eventually falling asleep and breathing in noxious fumes all night until we staggered awake in the morning. >>>It was awful—and one of the best weekends I’d had in recent memory.<<<

There's a word for this: Type II Fun. Type I Fun is when you're having fun and you know you're having fun while you're doing it. Type II Fun is when you're absolutely fucking miserable the whole time, but afterwards you and any of your friends that were with you say it was the best time ever.

Lots of outdoor activities that are supposed to be Type I Fun end up being Type II Fun. Lots of activities that aren't supposed to be fun at all end up being Type II Fun. (basic training is a common example) I've heard Dwarf Fortress is Type II Fun, but I could never get into it.

This whole process of building the cabin sounds like a class example of Type II Fun to me.

I agree but I wouldn't even call it fun per se. I like to camp. The camping trips I remember most are the ones that rained the whole time or had some other disaster happen. All the other trips were fun and great and relaxing but they all blend together eventually. It is the shit shows you still talk about 20 years later. This is so important to the human condition to try, to learn, to expand, to explore, to grow, to empathize, to commiserate, to laugh

Amen ... I've started building a shed (10x10) 1.5 months ago with 0 woodworking experience.

It's the most fun I've had in a decade .. my joints are swollen, I've got bruises and scrapes on my hands and feet, skin on my hand is actually rough.

I work from home nine-to-five, software. I can't wait to finish work to actually go outside and work on the shed.

I've actually considered quitting my job and doing this full time .. but it won't pay nearly enough as I'm making in software and my financial commitments won't let me.

Ultra running is definitely Type II fun. It’s not that enjoyable at the time but somehow in that suffering you find pleasure afterwards

The worse it feels, the better if feels when you stop.

Type II fun is just fine, as long as it doesn't veer into type III fun.

I want details.

I'll propose that type III fun is when you're having fun while you're doing it but afterward you're absolutely miserable as a result, such as after a night of hard drinking, or a weekend of nonstop sleepless gaming.

Actually, there's already a definition for type III fun: it's not fun and you'll never think it was fun.

The fun type system comes from the climbing world. Climbing offwidths is commonly cited as a type of type III fun. This is a classic example:


My brother always says "It's either good, or a good story." I guess Type II Fun is the good story. I imagine this guy's friends and probably he himself will consider this Type II with time!

I don't know, but my guess would be Type III Fun is where you are having fun while you're doing it, but afterwards you realize it was miserable and would never do it again.

600Km / day on a motorbike through Africa is definitely Type II fun. Love the expression!

This is a mountaineering / rock climbing expression that is slowly finding its way into popular recreation lexicon, by way of Instagram/vanlife culture. Sort of like "just send it"

I knew a real estate agent who specialized in cabins and mountain properties.

He had a constant inventory of what he called "Divorce Cabins". They were half-finished DIY cabin builds or renovations that turned out to be way more stress and work than the couples expected. This tended to lead to divorce, which lead to a forced sale of the property.

Experienced contractors would pick them up at a discount, finish the work with their crews, and sell them off.

These things are doable if you have infinite time and money to spend on renting the right equipment and hiring help for jobs that require experience and/or multiple people. However, it's virtually impossible for someone to do on weekends alone.

And yet there are people who have built cabins in Alaska with nothing but some metal and a lot of ingenuity and muscle.

I think that if you have to build a cabin that conforms to certain building guidelines, bank standards, codes, mainstream retail expectations.... then for sure you are going to encounter expenses and risk.

But I really hate this notion of "just pay someone to do it correctly", because this proposition also has a ton of risk and expense associated with it as well. Not every contractor who takes a job is Bob the Builder.

For me, if I was serious about building a home for myself so that it's customized to my taste and an extremely good value, I would throw all of the rules out of the window and build it exactly like the real cabins out there in Alaska and Siberia whose style has been perfected over hundreds of years.

I can clearly see both sides by now. I've built a high sleeper in my old apartment from scratch (which is kind of an understatement as it was effectively half a floor on top of a whole room including real stairs as a concession to my then-pregnant wife).

After 3 months of advance planning, I finally realized the gravity of my mistake when the delivery truck lifted half a ton of wood onto the sidewalk and drove away. For me, it was just enough of a project to seriously endanger our relationship and get me to my mental and physical limits, but hell, it turned out great.

There's really something to physical work and woodworking in particular that is haptic and makes you proud inside which you don't get at all in software engineering.

Would I do it again? Absolutely not, that was nuts. But I'm still glad I did and I enjoy doing some woodworking from time to time (like that bottle rocket launch pad for my daughter lately).

In the end I'm also pretty glad I'm in a job without breaking my back before I'm 60.

The software is only in our heads. It's mind blowing, but you can't see and feel it. I also love to build physical stuff - last month I built a bed into my car, now I can go anywhere and sleep there - what an awesome thing it is, and my girlfriend loves it too. She appreciates software as well (being a genetic biologist/data analyst/programmer), but the bed, a comparably simpler thing, is what we talk all the time about. The second thing - when was the last time you built a piece of software that helps you do fun stuff? I didn't do that for years, maybe never - all software I build is for "serious work stuff". To be honest, I don't know what program could I make that would bring me joy comparable to the car-bed.

Probably the thing you crave is the intersection of robotics and software, or at least firmware for devices that transform objects in the real world.

For example, there probably is some work that the software world can do to transform how humans currently go about cooking food. A wifi crock pot is a step in the right direction, but what about a wifi controlled airfryer, or a system of machines that is coordinated to do food processing in more human-ways?

Hardware and software alone by themselves are unable to solve this problem without working together: a knife and a pneumatic arm can't achieve anything without human/AI/preprogrammed input, and a human cannot possibly take themselves out of the cooking equation without some physical device, i.e with just an app and a database.

> And yet there are people who have built cabins in Alaska with nothing but some metal and a lot of ingenuity and muscle.

You're forgetting time. Not sure if you've seen "Dick Proenneke in Alone in the Wilderness" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG3fUIoXQ5A).

It's a great watch, and a good example of what I think you're referring to overall...that said it looked like an extremely hard way to build and from personal experience helping my sister build their holiday home, also not an approach I would recommend to anyone that doesn't have a very strong conviction and/or passion to see a self build through.

It's extremely hard. Proenneke was a talented craftsman who had spent his whole life working as a mechanic and carpenter. He wasn't an office-bound DIY enthusiast.

Another great series is Advoko: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRSUxRUZb0I

Absolutely. In Alaska time is a resource that widely available but other resources are harder to find. I wonder how far is the next hardware store.

I was going to post this, glad I scrolled down. My kids love watching that too.

>But I really hate this notion of "just pay someone to do it correctly", because this proposition also has a ton of risk and expense associated with it as well.

For almost any task you'd consider hiring a professional, there is less risk and less cost, which is why professional exist. They are the best option for a wide range of cost/risk tradeoffs.

>Not every contractor who takes a job is Bob the Builder

But the majority are a lot better than the average person thinking they can build. Experience is a useful thing, in software dev and in building.

As a softeare dev who used to work in the contracting space, I cannot tell you how many stories I have of licensed, insured, regulated tradesmen going to jobsites and the outcome being burned down houses, flooded houses, oil spills, trees falling onto houses, and just monetary and physical damages galore.

If you have the time and desire to do things carefully, truly, then you will do things carefully. You'll find that tradesmen have plenty of expertise and money-- the only thing they don't have is time, and it really shows.

>I cannot tell you how many stories

This is not the metric. It's a self selected post hoc measurement, subject to mental bias.

The proper way is to measure all pros that do a task, then the ratio that did badly, then do the same thing for amateurs, and do so carefully (preferably somehow double blind) to remove cognitive bias. Then compare ratios.

When such things are done, I find almost every time notice my (and likely your) anecdotal claims vanish. I suspect this is such a case.

A good example is a friend owns a business that handles two cases of building things: doing it themselves first time, and fixing screwups done by amateurs. Literally (I've seen the books because I was surprised when he told me this) 75% of their revenue is repairing things people screwed up by not hiring pros, and then it costs much more. (It's related to wetland construction issues).

Then don't construct in a wetland? 90% of building involves avoiding risk, not developing Herculean skills to overcome risks.

It would be like if I lived in Thailand and then complained that I got electrocuted trying to set up a really complicated AC system. If you aren't willing to put in the time to do that kind of electrical work safely, then ask yourself why you really want to live in an area where that type of work is a pressing requirement.

I don't subscribe to your philosophy that all contractors are superheroes that are immune to messing things up. I'm not paying $125 an hour for a guy who lives in a tin shack to come and tell me how much of a pro he is just to disappear the moment I discover some deficiency in his work.

>Then don't construct in a wetland?

Failure through believing your skills are above what they are is not unique to wetland.

>I don't subscribe to your philosophy that all contractors are superheroes

I've never stated anything close to that. Since you've moved on to strawmen, there's no sense discussing further, since you apparently left this discussion some time back.

I'm on the fence. With youtube, you can find so many things tricks and suggestions, things that professionals don't even know.

With my current home, I've brought in contractors half a dozen times. Half of those were terrible, terrible experiences. The other half saved me vast amounts of time. However, even with the solid contractors, for them it is a balance of time and money leading to some cut corners that, as the home owner, I would never cut on. But time, time is the thing I don't have enough of, else I would figure out most things.

>time is the thing I don't have enough of, else I would figure out most things.

Sure, if your time has no value, then you can learn to be professional at everything. And for many tasks the amount you'd have to pay to learn to do it far exceeds the cost of hiring someone, since they amortize their training time and tool cost over multiple clients.

Since time is finite, that's why it often pays in both time and money to hire someone.

> With youtube, you can...

Youtube and the like have led a significant number of people to assume they have skills they don't, and the effect is large enough there's subfields in econ and psych that study this effect. For example [1]

[1] https://review.chicagobooth.edu/behavioral-science/2018/arti...

Totally agree with this, I replied similarly to the same OP. If a job is extremely complex and dangerous, but I have all the time in the world, I will find an extremely time-inefficient but safe way of doing it.

Contractors usually will cut a corner to save money and time, for example they may not tighten everything back up as well as it should be when operating on a furnace, only for you to encounter the smoke/leak next year when the machine vibration finally kicks those bolts loose.

What it comes down to in my way of thinking about it is that for me, it's easier to do the research around finding a great, on-the-level contractor than it is to do the research around doing it DIY.

This is exactly why I decided against purchasing a cottage (thats what we call it up here in Canada).

I realized I would be spending at least 4 hours in traffic every weekend to double my house work.

Instead why not just put all that time in making my home in the city as habitable as possible?

Maybe some day but it would have to be a permanent and only residence.

Fun little side-note but Cabins are called cabins in Western (BC & Alberta for sure, and I believe Sask as well) Canada. It's only Eastern Canada that calls them cottages.

They're commonly called camps in Northern Ontario.

If he is still in the business, he is probably making a killing right now as people are swarming like rats off a ship to rural areas.

I have my condo in a mountain town with fiber. HOA dues and tourists are issues; I'd love property I was willing to invest in and reasonably accessible time-wise but Nevada is expensive when it comes to real trees and I'm done investing in CA. Been here awhile before the exodus.

Reading this, I am reminded of an observation made by the Unabomber in his infamous manifesto. He pointed out that the industrialized, corporate life was making us miserable and depressed. What people really want and need to be happy is to struggle with real problems they care about, and then overcome them through hard work. That is the only way to satisfaction and happiness. He was a smart guy, it's too bad he went apeshit and killed a bunch of people.

>He was a smart guy, it's too bad he went apeshit and killed a bunch of people.

He killed three people, one of which was arguably unintentional. Further, he has continued writing[1] and appears perfectly lucid, even into his 70's. You may disagrees with his ends and means (I do), but I find it curious that out of the hundreds of political revolutionaries who used terror and murder over the centuries, Kaczynski is viewed especially through the framing of insanity.

[1] https://fitchmadison.com/product/anti-tech-revolution-2020/

He is viewed as insane because the goddamned Manson family had a more coherent plan than him and their idea was to start an "inevitable" race war with a frame up by murdering people. If they pulled off framing successfully indefinitely it could have theoretically worked, stupidly unlikely as it would be. Cycles of revenge and misattributiation of individual actions to some collective other are real things.

How precisely will letter bombs to universities and airports in one country lead to the collapse of global industrial society? The "best case" rationally would be an end to all physical package mail as an unacceptable hazard. Even if somehow achieved how the hell will that stop the inevitable reindustrialization as hunter-gatherers seek a greater edge over nature and rivals? They would eventually reach the top again and curse that goddamned idiot ancestor for the millenia of needless suffering.

Not to mention the ideas of "freedom" are laughably naive and historically illiterate. He is just yet another small rigid mind who demands that the world become something simple enough to understand instead of trying to understand all of its complexities.

His plan was that by threatening people into publishing his manifesto and drawing attention with the bombings he would sway people over to his cause (the fallacy here being that if only people were exposed to his ideas, they would agree with them). Of course he was deluded in that sense but it’s a pretty common theme among extreme ideologues.

I don’t think his ideas are as laughably naive as you think. He was an accomplished mathematician who was disgusted with the societal rat race and thought many aspects of technology were making life worse, and I actually tend to agree with that. But he was also a nut job who killed innocent people

He achieved nothing and also hasn't killed enough people. That's pretty much the difference. He's not a revolutionary, just a murderer.

He achieved precisely what he set out to do: have his ideas published and widely read. He wanted to be heard. His ideas have continued to be discussed and considered by those interested in anarchism, specifically anarcho-primitivists.

So as long as you achieved something, your trail of blood can be as long as you like?

In the eyes of history, that does tend to be the case, unfortunately.

Think of all the former or current colonial and imperial powers, and their leaders. They have lots of blood on their hands, but most of them are viewed far less critically than they should be.

It would be good to change that, but it's an uphill slope, not least because you need to tackle current and recent world leaders as well.

It's likely a paraphrase of the Jean Rostand quote: "Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a God."

It's in the same category as the ancient "history is written by the victors."

So either cynical or realistic (depending on your perspective).

political revolutionaries

For other people to consider you a political revolutionary it helps to have a political ideology. And more than one adherent to it.

He tried to bring down an airplane with 78 souls on board and his maimed many people in over a dozen bombings -- that goes way beyond 'unintentional'. Dude was a psychopath. Just because his shitty paranoia about marxists and feminists would fit right in on OANN or whatever doesn't mean he's "lucid" or that those thoughts have any merit.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienation when reading the thing about people not related to their work anymore, I heard Marx.

I imagine in his mathematical, logical head, he figured the publicity and thus spread of his personal philosophy would do more good then the harm of killing a few people.

Historically, people don’t weep over And usually don’t consider the suffering of others while enjoying the fruits of labor of people who sweated blood and died in the process of building something (spiritually or physically) great.

I feel dirty thinking like this, yet I’m fascinated by imagining what it’s like to walk in another persons shoes

As it goes: in Paradise Lost, Lucifer is the most interesting character. Those willing to do evil are fascinating.

Eh, I guess. Having to worry about not having food on the table because half of your crop failed may quickly remind one how nice that boring job was.

I used to have dreams like this. I attempted to chase these ideas every few years. I quit a very good job once and moved halfway around the world in an attempt to fulfill one of these dreams.

At some point I got married and eventually had kids after which these kinds of romanticized ad-hoc adventures became impractical. Sometimes I wish I'd been more focused when I was young. I feel like I probably wasted a lot of time pursuing ideas that had a high risk of not being sustainable for the long-term.

I find myself giving younger people advice that I would have balked at at their age. They don't listen to me of course, just like I didn't listen to more experienced adults when I was in their place. No one wants to be told, "Don't follow your dreams. Weigh the risks and the potential return on investment first". I guess part of being young is taking those risks and learning from your failures. And sometimes, chasing an impractical dream pays off. Sometimes they pay off big.

But now days when I get the wanderlust or some feeling of discontentment and find myself wondering, "there must be more to life than this?", I just try changing something small in my routine, like, "you know what? I think I'm going to start taking walks during lunch every day.", or, "I think I'll study this new language for an hour every night after the kids go to bed.", or, "I think I'll build a garden enclosure in the backyard". I often find that by changing something small in my routine, I can break out of the monotony and feel some sense of accomplishment I hadn't noticed was missing.

But even then, there is still some voice in the back of my mind that says, "someday, when the kids are old enough and out of the house, I think I'll take one last big risk and embark on some kind of unlikely adventure."

So your dreams didn’t pan out, but for others it has. There’s always value in shooting for more in life. You only live once

I found this poetically beautiful, for some reason : )

This reminds me of a similar article I once read: "I opened a charming neighborhood coffee shop. Then it destroyed my life."


Those stories always get me.

Anyone who has worked in food service in any way knows that it's brutal. Liking a thing, coffee, coffee shops, or anything ... very much does not mean you'd like making it / running something making that thing.

Personally I like video games ... I code web boring apps... for reasons.

I've heard the same about craft brewing. Personal microbrewing is fun: you can use whatever small scale apparatus you've hacked up and recipes are whatever whimsy strikes you. Actually trying to scale up and sell to people means legit industrial tools, annoying consistency and reproducibility, and spending 90%+ of your day cleaning everything like a maniac.

Those stories seem to be about half of the restaurants on Gordon Ramsey's show. I know there's a lot of embellishment and added drama on the American version, but the crux of half the restaurants are "we thought it would be a good investment" or "we always dreamed of owning a restaurant" and almost none of them have experience.

Also worth noting that most of the restaurants on the show closed [0]:

> More than 60% of restaurants featured on the show "Kitchen Nightmares" are now closed, according to Grub Street New York, which did the math. Approximately 30% of those kitchens closed within one year of their episode's air date.

[0] https://www.businessinsider.com/many-restaurants-on-kitchen-...

Yeah if the fundamentals as far as experience and such are bad to start .... you've got little chance to survive in the world of food service where the difference between success / fail is already razor thin.

Same. Video game development is some of the hardest, most thankless, woefully unstable software job there is. It's not worth it.

The grass is always greener on the other side. And sometimes you get to see both sides and you can tell that they're both brown and dry!

I live in a big house out in the country on top of a hill. Pretty much everyone who walks in the front door for the first time and looks out the living room window exclaims about the view.

What they don't see that we're so exposed that the wind can come howling out of the North so loudly that you can't sleep.

My wife is a horse trainer. People, women mostly, are envious of the lifestyle: being out in Nature, working with horses in the fresh air. No one asks about her broken bones and the titanium pins holding her ankles and wrists together. Doesn't occur to them that whether it's 100F and humid as hell or -25F and the wind's been screaming nonstop for days that you still have to trudge out there and feed and water them.

It used to bug me. Now I barely notice. I just smile and say, "yeah, we like living out here."

Yup, I love tabletop gaming so I wrote a tabletop game. It ruined tabletop for me for a good couple of years.

> I code web boring apps.

Form validation though, after 20 years ... urgh

Similar: “What happened when I bought a hotel by mistake”


Take away quote: “But the high summer honeymoon soon give way to an autumnal realization that the list of skills required to really make the business work was topped by secretarial and bookkeeping efficiency, home improvement handiness and a nose for where to source the cheapest toilet paper.“

I love the Bourdain quote at the end: “The most dangerous species of owner … is the one who gets into the business for love.” Interesting piece, too, and not at all surprising. Even before Covid, i always questioned how any independent coffee shop could survive.

Hmm, I've spent the past few weeks considering starting a coffee truck thing. Better bookmark this.

I think that would be less bad than trying to start a normal cafe. Part of the business case for food trucks is that the capital expenses are so much lower than buying and configuring a fixed space - the trucks themselves are more or less mass-produced, and servicing/cleaning can be taken care of by an specialist contractor.

Now wouldn't be the time to do it, though, most of the coffee business is commuters and office workers on break, which... yeah.

(I write operations software for food-service businesses, so I'm fairly familiar with the market dynamics.)

Yeah, it seems like the people in that article didn't even do the most basic napkin calculations.

My estimate is: you could start a towed coffee trailer for 10-12K, about 8K of that on the trailer, the rest on some basic equipment and decoration.

Rent the espresso machine & grinder for 150 / month (including maintenance & repair) instead of buying for 8K. Food & drinks wholesale: croissants are 0.2, donuts 0.5, fancy Italian water 0.6 and they sell for at least 3x as much

As the article says, even the most deluxe coffee is cheap. I calculated a cost of 1.09EUR for a latte, including 10g of coffee, 300ml of fair trade milk, a bio degradable cup + lid + sleeve and takes 3 min to prepare.

The hard part is learning to operate a professional espresso machine and dealing with the local laws about food trucks.

But yeah, best not during a pandemic.

I would argue that you're underestimating labor costs - your baristas still need to be paid even in between customers, when there's no latte-making to do. At my work, labor costing is something we don't even try to model, because it's much more complicated than food costing.

Food cost at 30-35% of sale price, as it sounds like your latte cost indicates, is pretty much in the sweet spot for food service; it's also nice in that most of the ingredients for coffee keep well enough to minimize food waste. Pastries are more of a challenge to do efficiently.

Wouldn't now be a great time? Drive to different neighborhoods kind of like an ice cream man for adults (you could also have ice cream). Many, many planned developments aren't within walking distance of a coffee shop and a few bucks for some normality might fly. I've always thought the idea had legs, you can offer hot cocoa in the winter and setup a mobile fire pit for smores.

The key to such a business surviving is volume - there are lots of fixed costs and very narrow margins, so you need to be getting lots of people per operating hour. Driving around to various residential areas will just never get you nearly as many people as a busy street or an office district will, and the driving time itself will also kill your efficiency. (Generally, lunch and coffee places near offices do well, because office density is a LOT higher than residential density.)

This is part of why food in less-dense areas dominated by big chains - when all your customers need to drive half an hour or more to get to you and food culture isn't driven as much by novelty-seeking, it's hard to get a following before your runway runs out. Big chains are very experienced/cost-efficient, and have the capital to last if things start slow.

I would think that a mobile hospitality business is much much easier to spin up and down depending on demand. If you have a physical shopfront, you're likely committing to a multi-year lease. You're chained to that for some time. With a vehicle, assuming you have somewhere to park it, you can take a break for months, or sell it in a location that has more demand or run it purely for remote events.

If you don't need to account for narrow streets in a big city, and congested parking, then short buses are often a steal in the US. Plus lots of room. That said, there is a coffee van owner who lives near me and they can easily park the vehicle in their double driveway.

I had the same thought -- I wonder if there's a name for this genre?

I usually just roll my eyes at stuff like this, despite being dangerously close to the stereotype (however, most of my family is working class, so I actually worked with my hands before becoming a developer), but this line made me angry:

> Sometimes, during those months of toil, our anger burned so intensely that we thought the boards we threw into the woods might never land.

To paraphrase Gandalf, next time throw yourself into the woods and save us all a deal of trouble.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but Wherever you go, there you are. Few people get the Eat, Pray, Love ending. Usually you come back finding that you shouldn’t have had to leave in the first place. If you feel like chucking it in, live an austere life and save up first. That lowers your cost of living, and focuses you. If you can’t take that, then you won’t handle the next phase. If you can handle that, you may find you don’t even need to go. Evaluate before following through on the rest of your plan out of some sense of completionism.

I took two long journeys in my life, one for 11 months and another for 5:



I lived out of two bags the first time and a car the second. I learned a lot about myself and the world. I had a good amount saved up, but I've met people who've done similar trips and haven't. I got the idea from a guy I met in a hostel who saved up $10k in a year from his job waiting tables, and traveled for a year off of it. My best friend lived in Germany for years off of <500 euro a month teaching English.

It's not an easy life for sure. Eventually that server went back to work at his restaurant, my friend teaching English returned to Ohio and I got a job in software engineering. I still wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Did that for a while in my early 20s. Spent a few months in Asia with just a 35L backpack of clothes on my back and the odd book. This was before wifi and smartphones. Happiest time of my life.

I did something similar after wifi and smartphones, and I don't think either made it any worse.

I hope that true, but how would you know?

Why did that make you angry? Presumably it's private land and they have a vested interest in cleaning it up (especially before sale). Isn't it just talking about the highs and lows of a major challenge?

> Three weeks later, we found a quarter-acre of raw land near Pat’s tiny off-grid in the Cascades. It was a sloping meadow of ferns a short walk from the Skykomish River, festooned with mature Douglas fir, big leaf maple, and cedar.

A quarter acre isn't big enough to throw for distance. But the fact that he describes the land as a fern meadow (sic) pretty much sinks it. He was tossing onto the neighbor's land.

You could be right about them cleaning up, but the overlap between "throws tantrums" and "good forest steward" is far from perfect. I bet there's still bits of wood out there, next to broken plants.

I think you have to account for the fact that this is a creative writer and they exaggerated from the headline onwards (everything went wrong, etc). There's every chance he threw one piece of wood. His description and photos show that what he could describe as "woods" are right beside the house.


Yikes, please don't do this here. If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and sticking to the rules when posting here, we'd be grateful.

A more positive form a comment like this could take is to explain what relevant information the article included past the break. Then we'd all learn something, or at least those of us who didn't read the whole article would.

Pay me, and I'll work for you.

you sound fun...

I think they misjudged the timescale and the complexity added by slope. Good outcome though so clearly wasn't too badly misjudged.

Youtube channel Wild Wonderful Offgrid [1] built a much bigger absolutely gorgous house...but on flat terrain and over two years.

The other thing I've noticed is that many successful projects have pretty permanent "temporary" accomodation on site that take the pressure off needing to complete it asap.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/c/WildWonderfulOffGrid/videos?view=0...

That's a good point. Buy an old RV for a year, place in it onsite, and live in it as necessary until the structure is inhabitable, and then sell the RV, hopefully at not too big a loss. It can be a towed RV even, whatever those are called.

A tried and true pattern I've seen is "build the barn, live in the barn, build the house".

And then sometimes the house is also sheet-metal-clad and looks pretty barn-like—it's just better sealed and insulated and has a few more windows :-)

Even building the barn takes awhile! I built a 8x12' shed working mostly on weekends 7 years ago and that alone took a couple months. Good thing it was in my backyard and I thus already had a house to live in.

Also, I suspect that if you're building a smaller cabin-type house in the woods, you don't also want a barn. Maaaybe a shed.

My dream house would have some interior unfinished space that opens to the outside for use as a shed/workshop. Basically think of a large unfinished mudroom with storage for tools, a lawnmower, shelving, a workbench, and maybe some larger stationary power tools like a band saw and drill press.

They are called travel trailers. If you buy used, you’ll have much better luck getting a similar price out of it. Only caveat is that they aren’t made to be lived in full time in most cases, so they’ll have more issues than a regular house might.

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