Life of Paisa: The Cost of Living in Medellín, Colombia

Shortly after arriving in Medellín, I got The Fear. I barricaded myself in my tiny, claustrophobic Airbnb, binge-watching Narcos and compulsively reading up on the lurid crimes that still plague the former murder capital of the world. Every backfiring engine was a gunshot. Every taxi driver was scheming to deliver me into the hands of the paramilitaries lurking in the jungle. At the calisthenics park, I carefully guarded my water bottle, in case someone slipped in the scopolamine drops that would turn me into a zombie.

My salvation came, as it often does, through a basic grasp of statistics…

the art and science of mental time-travel: cover image

Time Travel for Pleasure and Profit

Our meatsack bodies slavishly plod along at the precise rate of one second per second. But our minds are unbounded by the constraints of time or space, free to wander the past at will, and poke into the distant corners of the future.

The ability to create vast, hyper-detailed simulations of the past and future is the closest thing we have to a superpower, because it lets us do the following…

2019 spending report: the year of becoming a fancy bitch

2019 Spending Breakdown: The Year of Becoming a Fancy Bitch

Well, time to hand in my frugality card. In 2019, my expenses jumped 38 per cent!

…or perhaps not just yet. I spent most of the year in the Americas, including three of the most expensive cities in the world, which was a shock to the system after so much time in Asia.

It’s only fair to separate this out. After doing some very technical analysis, I calculate that my lifestyle has inflated by 1.25x this year.

Not quite as bad, but still a big leap. This was the year of becoming a Fancy Bitch. Honestly… I’m kind of into it.

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2019

Last year I finally cracked my goal to read 100 books. After completing the challenge, I decided that I wasn’t going to get too hung up on the number this year.

Sure enough, I dialled it back: I only got through 56 books in 2019, which feels a little disappointing.

But having looked through my list, I realised that this was still a great year for quake reading. As always, it was agonising trying to choose between a worthy field, but I’ve winnowed it down to my top 10.

These are the books that blew my mind, made me howl, or filled my notebook to overflowing. In no particular order:

good enough cover running up stairs

Getting to ‘Good Enough’

It’s always jarring and mildly insulting to hear that extremely famous and successful people are unhappy with their position in life. You ingrate! How dare you be miserable! Stop appropriating my culture!

The reason I feel betrayed by superstars like Tim Ferriss who talk openly about struggling with feelings of inadequacy is not so much actual class resentment, but the assault upon my own convictions that once I achieve [$NEXTBIGTHING] I will be content with my own position in life…

An Interview with Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton thinks you’re a hellish proposition.

It’s nothing personal, mind. Basic sanity is simply beyond our reach. Everyone has an appalling amount wrong with them. The only people we can think of as profoundly admirable are those we don’t yet know very well.

I’m eager to establish my muttonhead bona fides as soon as possible, so I botch six separate attempts to secure the Skype connection to London. De Botton waits patiently, gently offering suggestions as if to a rather dim child.

That ought to do the trick. Now we have a clear line, from one hellish human to another…

Better to Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven

‘Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven’ is the fervently-held belief of many freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads I’ve met over the last few years. They’ve all walked away from overbearing bosses, steady paychecks, and nine-to-five office hours to build their own dominions.

There are no rules in hell! You can set your own hours and fire annoying clients and be your own boss and blow off work to go drinking at 11 in the morning. But liberty always comes at a price…

the optionality approach to getting lucky: dead ends, treasure chests, and bottomless pits

The Optionality Approach to Getting Lucky

We’ve established that there is no such thing as cosmic justice: it rains on the just and the unjust alike. But over the course of a lifetime, we at least vaguely shuffle in the direction of getting what we deserve. The goal of this post is to get us from ‘vague shuffling’ to ‘slightly-more-purposeful ambling’.

If you want to get lucky, the usual advice is that you have to be prepared, and then wait for opportunities. This is not very helpful.

Instead of wandering aimlessly and hoping for the best, we can use a simple framework to figure out which opportunities are worth pursuing.

This is the filter I run over pretty much every decision these days. It’s called the optionality approach…

how to make your own luck dartboard cover image

How to Make Your Own Luck

There’s no such thing as cosmic justice. Plenty of good people suffer in various horrible ways; plenty of bad people die rich and happy and surrounded by loved ones. This is not part of some grand plan. It doesn’t ‘mean’ anything. It’s just the arbitrary shuffling of atoms bouncing around a universe-sized billiards table.

There are three common ways of responding to this situation. Unfortunately, two of them are kind of messed up…

eating the same food every day

Same Salad, Different Day

Probably you’ve read articles about how Obama wears the same suit every day, or Mark Zuckerberg has seventeen identical grey t-shirts in his wardrobe. The idea is to deliberately eliminate inconsequential daily choices and free up mental bandwidth for more important decisions; like ordering extrajudicial killings or strip-mining billions of people’s private information to sell to advertisers.

I say this lifehack is is much more useful and wide-reaching than streamlining your wardrobe: you can automate the important things, too.

If you wear the same outfit over and over, nothing bad happens. Maybe you don’t get invited to Fashion Week. But what if you eat the same food every day?

stockmarket charts: how safe are index funds, anyway?

Beware of Geeks Bearing Formulas

The history of finance is a history of brains dashed on the pavement. The fact that many people tend to be ‘irrationally’ wary of the markets starts to take on a new significance: the suspicious folk-wisdom has often been correct, while the ‘experts’ have consistently been dangerously wrong.

Hence Warren Buffett’s warning: beware of geeks bearing formulas…

office hours cover hammock

Office Hours

When I quit my job to go traveling in 2016, I had a vague romantic notion of freelancing on the road. See ya later, corporate drones! No more sterile office cubicles for this guy! Instead, I’d tap away on my laptop while I sipped mimosas at the beach, or dash out genius missives from a hammock in the middle of the jungle.

As it turns out, hammocks are not ergonomically designed workspaces, direct sunlight on a laptop screen causes a hellish glare, and sand and electronics don’t play nicely together.

A Fistful of Dong: The Cost of Living in Da Nang, Vietnam

This is the first time I’ve felt a little guilty about writing one of these posts. The beach town of Da Nang is an underappreciated gem. It’s the smallest of the big five cities in Vietnam, and much less well-known than Hanoi or Saigon.

But it’s been vaunted as an up-and-coming hub for digital nomads in recent years, so the cat’s out of the bag already. If it starts getting overrun with bitcoin enthusiasts and wellness coaches, I swear it’s not my fault…