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Emacs Chat: Iannis Zannos – Emacs and SuperCollider

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

Emacs! Music! Iannis Zannos shares how Emacs can be used for all sorts of awesomeness with Org Mode and SuperCollider.

Check this event page for details and comments =)

Transcript available here!

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Emacs Basics: Customizing Emacs

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, emacs-basics, podcast

Hello, I’m Sacha Chua, and this is an Emacs Basics video on customizing Emacs. Emacs is incredibly flexible. You can tweak it to do much more than you might expect from a text editor. This week, we’re going to focus on learning how to tweak Emacs with M-x customize and by editing ~/.emacs.d/init.el.

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You can change tons of options through the built-in customization interface. Explore the options by typing M-x customize. Remember, that’s Alt-x if you’re using a PC keyboard and Option-x if you’re on a Mac. So for me, that’s Alt-x customize <Enter>. In the future, I’ll just refer to this as the Meta key, so remember which key is equivalent to Meta on your keyboard. (Review – Emacs Basics: Call commands by name with M-x)

After you run M-x customize, you’ll see different groups of options. Click on the links to explore a group.

For example, people often want to change the backup directory setting. This is the setting that controls where the backup files (the files ending in ~) are created. You’ve probably noticed that they clutter your current directory by default. To change this setting, select the Files > Backup group. Look for the entry that says Backup Directory Alist. Click on the arrow, or move your point to the arrow and press <Enter>. Click on INS, or move your point to INS and press <Enter>. Fill it in as follows:

  • Regexp matching filename: .
  • Backup directory name: ~/.emacs.d/backups

Click on State and choose Save for future sessions. This will save your changes to ~/.emacs.d/init.el. When you’re done, type q to close the screen.

You can also jump straight to customizing a specific variable. For example, if you want to change the way Emacs handles case-sensitive search, you can use M-x customize-variable to set the case-fold-search variable. By default, case fold search is on, which means that searching for a lower-case “hello” will match an upper-case “HELLO” as well. If you would like to change this so that lowercase only matches lowercase and uppercase matches only uppercase, you can toggle this variable. I like leaving case fold search on because it’s more convenient for me. If you make lots of changes, you can use the Apply and Save button to save all the changes on your current screen.

Not sure what to customize? You can learn about options by browsing through M-x customize or reading the manual (Help > Read the Emacs Manual or M-x info-emacs-manual). You can also search for keywords using M-x customize-apropos.


The Customize interface lets you change lots of options, but not everything can be changed through Customize. That’s where your Emacs configuration file comes in. This used to be a file called ~/.emacs in your home directory, and you’ll still come across lots of pages that refer to a .emacs file (or “dot emacs”). The new standard is to put configuration code in your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file, which you can create if it does not yet exist.

What goes into your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file? If you open it now, you’ll probably find the settings you saved using M-x customize. You can also call functions, set variables, and even override the way Emacs works. As you learn more about Emacs, you’ll probably find Emacs Lisp snippets on web pages and in manuals. For example, the Org manual includes the following lines:

(global-set-key "\C-cl" 'org-store-link)
(global-set-key "\C-cc" 'org-capture)
(global-set-key "\C-ca" 'org-agenda)
(global-set-key "\C-cb" 'org-iswitchb)

This code sets C-c l (that’s Control-c l) to run org-store-link, C-c c to run org-capture, C-c a to run org-agenda, and C-c b to run org-iswitchb. You can add those to the end of your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file. They’ll be loaded the next time you start Emacs. If you want to reload your ~/.emacs.d/init.el without restarting, use M-x eval-buffer.

Emacs Lisp may look strange. Don’t worry, you can get the hang of it even if you don’t think of yourself as a programmer. You can start by copying interesting snippets from other people’s configuration files. Start with small chunks instead of large ones, so you can test if things work the way you want them to. If you need help, StackOverflow and other Q&A resources may be useful.

As you experiment with configuring Emacs, you may run into mistakes or errors. You can find out whether it’s a problem with Emacs or with your configuration by loading Emacs with emacs -Q, which skips your configuration. If Emacs works fine with your configuration, check your ~/.emacs.d/init.el to see which code messed things up. You can comment out regions by selecting them and using M-x comment-region. That way, they won’t be evaluated when you start Emacs. You can uncomment them with M-x uncomment-region.

Emacs gets even awesomer when you tailor it to the way you want to work. Enjoy customizing it!

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Frugal Fire 003: Dealing with Pushback

Posted: - Modified: | Frugal FIRE, podcast

Getting your family and friends on board; frugal versus cheap!

Also visit the Q&A page!


Frugal Fire 003 - Dealing with Pushback

Join the community on Google+:

For more information about the Frugal Fire show (including how to subscribe to the podcast), check out the Frugal FIRE page.

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Emacs Basics: Call commands by name with M-x (with tips for better completion using ido or helm)

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, emacs-basics, podcast

Emacs has way too many keyboard shortcuts to memorize. Fortunately, you can call commands by name by typing M-x and the name of the command. M- stands for the Meta key. If your keyboard does not have a Meta key (and most don’t, these days), use Alt or Option. For example, on a PC keyboard, you can type Alt-x. Alternatively, you can replace Meta with ESC. M-x then becomes ESC x.

If you know the name of the command to execute, you can type it after M-x, and then press RET (the Return key, which is the same as the Enter key). For example, M-x find-file opens a file. M-x save-buffer saves the current file. You can use TAB to complete words. Use <up> and <down> to go through your command history.

What if you don’t know the name of the command to execute? You can use M-x apropos-command to search for the command using keywords. If you know the keyboard shortcut or you can find the command on a menu, you can also use M-x describe-key and then do the keyboard shortcut or select it from the menu.

If a command you execute has a keyboard shortcut, it will flash briefly at the bottom of your screen. For example:

You can run the command `find-file' with C-x C-f

Using TAB for completion can be a little slow. Here are two ways to make that and a whole lot of other things faster: ido and helm. To explore these approaches, you will need to add the MELPA package repository to your configuration. To set that up, add the following to the beginning of your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file.

(add-to-list 'package-archives '("melpa" . "") t)

Then use M-x eval-buffer to load the changes into your current Emacs, and use M-x package-refresh-contents to reload the list of packages.

Helm mode

This is what completion with Helm looks like:


Figure 2: Helm

Use M-x package-install to install the helm package. Then you can try it out with M-x helm-mode . After you start Helm mode, try M-x again. You can type in multiple words to search for a command, and you can use <up> and <down> to go through completions. Use M-p and M-n to go through your command history.

If you like it, here’s some code that you can add to your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file to load it automatically next time, and to tweak it for more convenience.

(require 'helm-config) 
(helm-mode 1)

Use M-x eval-buffer to load your changes.

If you change your mind and want to disable helm-mode, you can toggle it off with M-x helm-mode .

If you like how that works, you may want to (global-set-key (kbd "M-x") 'helm-M-x). If you do, you’ll be able to see keybindings when you call commands with M-x. Note that if you want to use a prefix argument (ex: C-u), you will need to do that after calling M-x instead of before.

Ido, ido-hacks, smex, ido-vertical-mode, and flx-ido

Ido is like Helm, but it takes a different approach. Here’s what this combination will get you:

2014-03-17 12_40_40-MELPA.png

Figure 1: ido, smex, ido-vertical-mode, and flx-ido

If you want to give this a try, remove or comment out (helm-mode 1) from your ~/.emacs.d/init.el (if you added it), and disable helm-mode if you still have it active from the previous section.

To set Ido up, use M-x package-install to install ido, smex, ido-vertical-mode, ido-hacks, and flx-ido.

After the packages are installed, add the following code to your ~/.emacs.d/init.el .

(ido-mode 1)
(require 'ido-hacks nil t)
(if (commandp 'ido-vertical-mode) 
      (ido-vertical-mode 1)
      (setq ido-vertical-define-keys 'C-n-C-p-up-down-left-right)))
(if (commandp 'smex)
    (global-set-key (kbd "M-x") 'smex))
(if (commandp 'flx-ido-mode)
    (flx-ido-mode 1))

Use M-x eval-buffer to load your changes, then try M-x again. You should now have much better completion. You’ll be able to call commands by typing in part of their names. Use <up> and <down> to go through the completion options, and use <left> and <right> to go through your history.

Try it for a week. If you like it, keep it. If you don’t like it, try the Helm approach.

Other tips

When you learn keyboard shortcuts, try to remember the names of the commands as well. You can do that with C-h k (describe-key). For example, M-x calls the command execute-extended-command. That way, even if you forget the keyboard shortcut, you can call the command by name.

If you forget the name of the command and you don’t know the keyboard shortcut for it, you can look for it in the menus or in the help file. You can open the help file with C-h i (info). You can also use M-x apropos-command to search through the commands that you can call with M-x.

Make your own cheat sheet with frequently-used keyboard shortcuts and commands to help you learn more about Emacs. Good luck!

Emacs Basics: M-x

Emacs Basics: M-x

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Emacs Basics: Using the mouse

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, emacs-basics, podcast

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I’m Sacha Chua and this is an Emacs Basics episode on using the mouse. The best way to use Emacs is to master the keyboard shortcuts, but when you’re starting out, don’t worry about them yet. You might find yourself using the mouse a whole lot more than you used to, but over time, you will learn more and more keyboard shortcuts as you get used to Emacs. So let’s say that you’re just starting out. What are some of the things that you can do right away to get the hang of using Emacs?

The Emacs tutorial is a great place to start. You can get to that by clicking on the Emacs tutorial link on the splash screen. If you’ve done the tutorial before, it will offer to let you resume at that point. If you don’t have the splash screen handy, you can also get to the tutorial from Help > Emacs tutorial. Go through this and you’ll learn a lot of the common keyboard shortcuts that will come in handy.

The toolbar and the menu will also give you quick access to a lot of common commands. If you’d like to create a new file or open an existing file, you can click on the New file icon located in the top left. You can specify the file, and if the file doesn’t exist yet, it will create it. To save the file, click on the Save icon. If you’d like to close a file, just click on the X mark. You can open the file again using the toolbar icon.

To copy and paste, use your mouse to select a region of text, then copy or cut it. Then you can paste it wherever you want. You could also search for text. Click on that search button and start typing what you’re looking for. It will highlight the search results. Press Ctrl+s to search for the next instance. Press Enter to stop searching.

The menus also offer a lot of other commands. For example, you can insert a file. You can save the current buffer with another file name. You can split your windows so you can see more than one file at the same time. If you’d like to close a window and go back to having one file across your entire screen, you just have to use File > Remove other windows. To switch between the files you have open, use the Buffers menu. Explore the menus for other options.

One of the interesting things in Emacs is that you can copy or cut multiple things and then paste them without having to keep copying or cutting each time. For example, if I copy this, then Paste will paste that. But you could also access the things that you copied or cut previously. Just click on Edit > Paste from kill menu, then select the item you want to paste.

There are lots of other tools that are available in Emacs. The availability of these tools may depend on what else you’ve installed. Again, for more information, check out the Emacs tutorial or read the Emacs manual.

Have fun!


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Replay: Meloney Hall interviewed me about sketchnoting

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, podcast, sketchnotes

Meloney Hall interviewed me about sketchnoting. I managed to listen, talk, and sketch while doing this. Boggle! Although talking interferes a little with writing words, so my notes become more graphical. Hmm, maybe that’s a way for me to experiment with more graphical notes… =)


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2014-03-12 Visual note-taking - Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking - Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview

See the event page for more details

Meloney Hall: Hello and welcome to tonight’s broadcast with Sacha Chua. We are going to talk to her about how she uses sketch notes. I’ve been looking forward to this program for a while. Sacha is so ready to show us how she does these sketch notes, and all kinds of applications. Let me first introduce Sacha Chua. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada. Sacha, if you could let know a little bit more about yourself.

Sacha Chua: For sure. In terms of sketch noting, I mainly do the kinds of things that I’m figuring out or trying to learn. I also enjoy drawing technical topics, like guides for learning Emacs and other things that I’m learning more about.

In terms of all the rest of the stuff… I’m a geek. I love programming. I have a blog that I’ve maintained since 2001. It’s been a while! I like that. I like always learning things and sharing them.

Meloney: I know you are a fellow Helpouts provider. Both of us, we have some listings as Google Helpouts providers. I first discovered you as that. When you were holding Helpout Hangouts, I was fascinated with that tool that you are using. I’m so glad that you agreed to show more of the world what you do.

Sacha: Of course. My pleasure. The show that you are referring to is theHelpersHelpOut show for other Google Helpout providers. The note-taking was just a great way for me to take notes as people shared their insights and shared their tips. I’d take notes. In that way, other people who didn’t listen to the podcast can easily pick up those tips and apply them to their own Helpouts.

Meloney: It’s fantastic. As I said–and as I mentioned in the event write-up–I used to draw and take notes as a youngster until my peers told me to stop doing that. What did they know? Now we have the ability to doodle and draw while we’re taking notes through digital note-taking. We’re ready to see this great thing that you do. We’re all in for a treat.

Sacha: Okay. All right. Where do you want to start?

Meloney: Well, I know you said that you can talk and do this at the same time. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you discovered sketchnotes and why you preferred this over other software packages that you used?

Sacha: I first started sketching things in 2008, really. I wasn’t the kind of person who always sketched, who always doodled. No. I was the sort of person who prefers reading, prefers typing, reads a lot of books, works with the computer a lot.

As you can see from my sketches today, I really just draw stick figures. But these stick figures turn out to be surprisingly useful. When I was a consultant in IBM, I found myself getting tired of giving the same old presentations with bullet points on them. So I started drawing my presentations instead.

One of the presentations that I made was something called theGenYGuidetoWeb 2.0 atWork.” This turned out to be surprisingly popular. It has had thousands and thousands of views, or tens of thousands, I think.

“Gen Y Guide to Web 2.0 at Work” was one of the things that showed me that people actually really like hand-drawn images. It saved me a lot of time because I didn’t have to go look for stock photos, which look fake anyway. I didn’t have to do a lot of design. I could just draw the storyboard for my presentation, and that turned into my actual presentation.

So I drew all these presentations and I was going to all these conferences. I figured since I was at these conferences, I might as well draw my notes of other people’s presentations as well.

It turns out that sketch noting is a thing. Other people do it. There’s a lot of inspiration out there. If you go to places likeSketchnoteArmy, you can find all sets of examples from other people who are doing this as well. It turns out that simple stick figures… The fact that you don’t have to be able to draw a Mona Lisa, you don’t have to be able to draw a realistic portrait, or even a fancy architectural house… You can draw just a triangle, a square, a door and a window, and everyone will recognize that as a house. Even simple drawings like that get people to imagine things, get people to understand things. When you combine that with a little bit of an explanation, they like that. People find it a lot friendlier and more encouraging.

I started off by drawing my presentations. I moved to taking notes of other presentations. Now that I’ve got the space to think, and learn, and explore some more, I’ve been focusing on drawing my own thoughts, going back full circle to that. Sketchnotes have been a really great way to do that.

Meloney: Is there a large learning curve to learn sketchnotes?

Sacha: You don’t have to be a Fine Arts graduate in order to do this. You can start with where you are. You can start with handwriting for example. Don’t review your notes because your chicken scratches are really hard to read afterwards? You can start by simply writing things down in print instead of cursive. Slowing down, writing just the important words so that you can write clearly and slowly. That way, afterwards, you can read your notes again–and other people might be able to read them too. You can start with that.

Then you can go on to say, “Okay, then how do I dress this up a little bit more? How do I make it easier to see the important parts?” For example, you might double-write some letters in order to make them darker, or you might add a box around certain elements in order to emphasize them. Then if you want to get extra fancy, just a little bit of work makes it look like you’ve done something amazing, when really you just start from small steps.

Meloney: Did you start out with sketchnotes? Or did you explore other programs before you settle it on sketchnotes?

Sacha: There are lots of different things that you can do if you want to represent what you’re thinking about more visually. For example, mind maps are a popular technique. You’ll find lots of computer programs as well as paper-based ideas for doing this. The basic idea is that instead of taking your notes in a linear way, going from the top of the page to the bottom, one row after the other, you can mind map. You put your idea in the center and then you put the other ideas around, taking up more the page and then branching off into sub-ideas as necessary. I do a lot of this mind mapping. I like using the program Freeplane, which is free and open source, and cross-platform, and all sorts of other good things. That gives me a lot of flexibility. If I want to work with an idea that has many levels, I want to outline it, I want to maybe focus on one part of it or the other, that’s really handy.

Then in terms of drawing on the computer itself, instead of just having something as structured as a mind map, I’ve tried a lot of different programs. I’ve tried a lot of different hardware too. In the beginning, I started off with a tablet that you could plug into your computer. Actually even before that, I had a Nintendo DS which is a gaming device. It’s one of those kids’ gaming devices. I drew on that because it had a stylus, and I copied those files to my computer. That was great. I was like, “This is working out well.”

My step up from there was actually a big step up, because I got the Cintiq which I’m actually drawing one right now. I have a Cintiq 12WX. It’s a tablet you can draw on that has a screen as well, so you can see what you’re drawing. It plugs into your computer. That’s kind of handy. I said, “This is great but it’s really not portable.”

Eventually I got myself a Lenovo X61 tablet. This is a tablet PC. It’s a full computer that I could program on. I can do all sorts of things with. I found it was a lot of fun because you can turn that into a tablet that has a keyboard underneath it (but you can’t access the keyboard when it’s folded over). You can draw on it. I liked it so much that I upgraded to the Lenovo X220, which I’m using today. That’s my evolution in terms of hardware.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of sketches on paper too. I rip those pages out and I scan them in a Fujitsu ScanSnap which lets me then get all those sketches quickly into my computer. I’ve scanned a lot of notebooks already.

Then in terms of software, I started off with just drawing things using Microsoft OneNote, which is super awesome. You should check that out as well. I’ve run into some bugs that made it unreliable and not as easy to work with. Eventually I found AutoDesk Sketchbook Pro, which is what I use now. I really like it because it’s got this lovely interface that’s very friendly for a stylus, and that’s what I’ve settled on using.

Meloney: I want to remind our viewers that you are live doing this. To prove it, I will say, “Hey, Sacha, draw a Christmas tree.”

Sacha: My Christmas trees are always just these triangles. Maybe you would like Christmas lights and ornaments.

Meloney: I just wanted to show the viewers that it is really a very responsive application that you’re using. When we talk about the learning curve, would this be something that would be very quick to learn, a college student can learn this right away and start implementing it in note-taking in classes?

Sacha: Well, considering people in high school and earlier are using it… college does not seem to be a requirement.

The interface is super simple. If you’ve got a tablet that you can draw, it’s certainly much easier. I like using this with a full computer like the X61 or X220 because I can draw on the screen, and it has enough horsepower.

But in case you’re working with an iPad, for example, there are apps like this too. People are making amazing sketchnotes with things like Paper, or Brushes, or lots of other apps that I don’t know about because I don’t use an iPad.

The tools are super easy to use. A technique which you can start off with is just writing words. Maybe drawing a couple of boxes. We’ll let you in on a little secret. The trick is when you’re taking notes… Most of the time, people just take notes linearly. They go from one row to the other. If you leave yourself space, you can go back in there, and you can draw afterwards. You can do this with whatever you’re using. You do this on paper, you’re fine. You do this on the computer, you’re fine. And those are just little ways that you can make your notes a bit more visual.

Meloney: If you are in a business situation or a conference and there are several people talking, how would you use these sketchnotes to imply that there are several people talking.

Sacha: Sometimes I take notes on panels. One of the things you can do is, if you don’t really care who said what, you can always just write everything down. The other thing you can do is, say, you can have a three-person panel, and then you write down what they say underneath them or above them. If you want to do it like this, you can always have your talk clouds over here, or you might have A, B and C. Then you just say A said this, B said this, C said this and was not happy about it. You can play around with it. There’s really no fixed way to do it.

If you want to say that somebody said something, you can go ahead and write their name. For example one time I took notes on a nine-person panel or something. I simply made a note of where they were in terms of seating. I had a legend that allowed me to look them up. For example, “Joe” whatever, then when I was taking notes from them, I didn’t even have to remember who said what. I just had to remember where they were sitting. 3 said whatever and 9 said whatever. Different ways you can keep track of who said something.

Meloney: That is really interesting. Then this is also editable? You can go back and edit your sketch notes, is that right?

Sacha: That’s one of the benefits of working with a computer. If I want to move this a little bit closer, because now I think I’m going to want space for doing things, or if I want to erase stuff, I can do that on a computer or a tablet..

On paper, you can always use more paper. You can always take out another page and start drawing if you need more space, or you can clean it up afterwards.

Meloney: Then, do you have a colour palette over there and do you usually add colour afterward, or can you do it during your sketchnoting?

Sacha: My sketchnotes tend to be very simple. I’d probably have one colour for emphasis, or highlighting, or whatever. If I’m trying to keep up with a lot quickly, then I hardly use any colour at all.

But the nice thing about this is that you can always add colour afterwards. For example I like using a highlighter – a virtual one of course – so you just quickly add colour underneath the layer. If I add it on the same layer, it wipes it out, but if I add it in layer underneath it, then it looks like I’m highlighting it, and I don’t have any problems with ink smearing or things like that.

Meloney: Then you can email your finished notes to others? Does it create it as a JPEG or what format?

Sacha: I like saving things as PNG. Usually things get saved at maybe 3 MB. You can optimize them to 1 MB or whatever. They’re very easy to email. But what I like doing particularly is, I like posting these things on the web. I share them on Flickr instead or I put them on my website, too. That way, it’s not just the person who I email it to… Other people can learn from the sketch as well. It also means that if I want to refer to a sketch in the future, I can simply send somebody a link.

Meloney: Can sketchnotes be collaborative where you can combine your sketch notes with someone else’s? Say you both attended the same conference and you wanted to combine collaboratively?

Sacha: Absolutely. In fact I’ve actually done a couple of conferences where there were other sketchnoters who were doing it, too. I’ve read books and summarized them and other people sketchnote those as well. If you want to keep them as separate images or combine them into one image, that’s straightforward–just basically images. You can also make a new image twice the size and put both of them in it. A lot of interesting things happen when you’re working on different images at the same time.

The collaborative tools we have aren’t quite there yet, I think, in terms of two people working on the same sketch. But what I’ve seen people do – and this works out really well in person – is you can take a large piece of paper, and you can have two people drawing on it with markers. The term for this is graphic recording. You’ll find plenty of great examples of this where people are working with large sheets of paper, and then you can have one or two people working on that, for sure.

Meloney: Now as your image grows, you’re going to scroll up, either down or to the side, do you have to watch how large your project becomes?

Sacha: It’s like on paper, I could always use another sheet. Sure, sometimes if I really wanted to end up with one image, I might move things around, I might re-size things. I can take this entire thing, for example, and then I can say, “All right, let’s make everything smaller.” But really, for the most part, it’s there, it is what it is. If I need more space, I can always hide the layer and then add a new one.

Meloney: That is super handy. What would be the youngest age a person could use sketchnotes reasonably comfortable.

Sacha: I think as long as we don’t teach them out of it, right? People draw earlier than they write.

Meloney: That’s right.

Sacha: If you see your kids drawing stick figures and trying to tell stories, then stay with that. I’ve heard from people who are working with their kids, they’re trying to explain to their kids what the kids are learning in school. That’s one way to do it. You can start even before school. You can have people say, “I want to tell a story.” And they’re making their own comics, or they’re drawing things and they’re labeling them. Really, I don’t think there’s an age limit to this.

Meloney: What do you think future is going to be for this type of digital note-taking will be?

Sacha: I’d like to see more people give themselves permission to do it. I really don’t think there’s any sort of technical limitation. Of course, technology can always advance, but it’s really more like people realizing that, “Yes, this is totally all right.”

There are some research-backed benefits to doodling your notes. It can be surprisingly useful in terms of both learning from other people’s notes and making your own – giving yourself permission to say, “You know what? I might not be the best artist but I can write, I can draw a little bit.” And that’s useful.

I’d like to see more people give it a shot shot. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Just play around with maybe how you write words or how you emphasize different concepts, and then go from there.

Meloney: When I think back, when I was a kid, I used to do that before peer pressure took me away from it. I can retain more because with this system that you’re doing, you are using more of your senses.

Sacha: And visual thinking is on the rise. People are very interested in info-graphics these days because they address more of your senses. They gave you that visual feeling right away. Instead of reading everything, you can get the gist of an idea very quickly. Yes, I think the trend is moving towards that.

Meloney: And you could use sketchnotes for any environment – for school, business, just for your own personal gratification.

Sacha: Yes, for sure.

Meloney: Well, what has been the most interesting thing that you’ve utilized sketchnotes for in your life?

Sacha: I do a lot of thinking, now, with sketchnotes. I start with a question or a thought, and I explore that. Sometimes, especially when you’re thinking, you don’t really know exactly where you’re going to end up. But the nice thing about sketchnotes is that you have that record of the things that you’ve considered along the way.

For example, I’ve been thinking a lot about the goals that I have and how those goals relate into each other. Because I can map them out, I can say, “Okay, this goal leads to those goals and that goal leads to these other goals. Actually, that goal helps that goal as well.” And so forth. Then you can think, “What are the things that I do that go towards those goals? Are there more effective ways to do that?”

I’ve been using sketch notes as a way to think. That, actually, is really, really useful.

Meloney: I just had a very adventurous thought. For a person going into business, it would be really interesting if you composed your business plan for your bank loan in sketch note form.

Sacha: Well, business model canvasses are a thing. Business Model Canvas, the ideas in Business Model Generation and other books like Lean Startup and so forth. It’s the idea that you should be able to explain the core of your business on one sheet of paper. You can doodle this if you want to, use PostIt notes, or whatever. But yes, being able to summarize that and say, “Hey, this is what the business is about,” versus having this 97-page business plan that nobody actually reads.

Meloney: That’s for sure. I wrote a marketing plan and it was 47 pages long. Somebody said, “I cannot read 47 pages.” It’s like that way, you’re capable of it but really for the [inaudible 0:23:16].

Sacha: You’re asking people to do a lot when you’re giving them a big document like that. You’re asking them to keep all of the structure and all these important ideas in their head. But if you can come up with a summary of it – a visual summary especially – then you can show them that structure. Even if they have to go into the document for more detail, they can use that sketch as a way to remind their brain of the big picture. It really is. It’s the big picture that you have.

Meloney: When I look at your sketchnote screen, you have quite a bit there. Could you, if you wanted to expand on one idea, could you isolate one of those layers and expand it on another page?

Sacha: Yes. I can just start a new page if I wanted to. Like so! And the old stuff is still there. I can even come back if I want to.

Meloney: Yes, but are you able to copy-paste a certain section of that?

Sacha: Yes.

Meloney: That’s really neat, too.

Sacha: Because it’s a computer. It’s just a digital image. Okay, you want this expanding thing. I’m going to take that, I’m going to copy it and I’m going to drop it in somewhere else. That’s one of the nice things with working with a digital system for drawing.

Meloney: If you’re into saving paper, this is it. This is really it. When I think of our aging society, I think as more people… With our seniors, if their cognitive understanding begins to weaken, sketchnotes will be a very good way to explain the doctor’s prescription, or a therapy that they’re going through, because it can really simplifies. I can see it in the medical arena as well.

Sacha: Absolutely. I like the fact that it gives you the quick way to check the steps or to get that overview instead of having a lot of text. You might say in case, “First step, do this. Second step, do whatever.” And you still have the details, but you have the icons to help people make that connection.

Meloney: Yes. Reminds me of Ikea putting it on their instructions. Except with Ikea, you don’t have any text because it’s all over the world, and that way they don’t have to translate it into different languages. They just have icons that are very easy to understand. That’s how I see the sketch notes.

Your stick figure person is a universal figure. The Christmas tree is a universal figure, an icon. We see icons all over the place in our advertisements, our restroom signs, our food signs, I think it’s great that we have now pretty much an established universal language known as these little icons.

Sacha: It is a great way of getting past the language barriers. That’s one of the reasons why I like looking at the sketchnotes from other people in other countries. You might not understand Russian or whatever else they’re writing in, but you can get a sense of the flow of it. If you really are interested, you can always dig into the topic a little bit and learn more.

Of course, abstract concepts… For example, I use a laptop a lot to represent things like technology. You have the image and the word. You just have a little bit of the language barrier there, and the combination allows you to be more expressive, too. But I like thinking that it does make it a little bit easier to understand and to connect with.

Meloney: Yes. I could easily see. If you are going on a business trip and you’re on a plane, and you’re sitting beside someone, and both of you did not speak the same language, but you still wanted to communicate… If you had sketch notes, you could communicate that way and then you could email that conversation’s sketchnotes to the person who are sitting right beside you. It would be a lasting conversation.

What is the most fantastic thing that sketch note offers? What’s the big wow of sketchnotes in your opinion?

Sacha: I really like the way that they make things less intimidating. For example, Emacs is a pretty technical topic. It’s a text editor that happens to be extensible and can do all sorts of crazy stuff. It has been around for decades. But people find it intimidating to learn.

If I start making sketch notes about how you learn it, how you break it down to smaller things that you can learn, and what are some ways that you can understand it – it becomes friendlier and easier for people to try out.

I like the fact that you can take something like Physics… If you look for Minute Physics, someone is doing an excellent job of animating these. Again, very simple drawings, very simple animations. You got a way to explain things. It cuts out people’s fear or their intimidation. I really like that part of it.

Meloney: If someone was wanting to start with sketchnotes, what would be the skills that they would need?

Sacha: Self-acceptance. The basic skills are: writing, which you probably are fine with–and you can always improve your handwriting so that you can actually read it afterwards… But really, the hard work here is not in writing everything neatly. Basic writing is fine.

There’s listening, especially if you’re doing this when you’re listening to a presentation. You’re sketching your notes of it. You’re not capturing everything. You want to capture the important concepts. You don’t have to write everything down. Listening plays a really big role in that.

Drawing… It’s completely optional because you can draw pretty good sketch notesjust by writing stuff. You can play around with making some letters bolder, or some letters bigger, or playing around with how some letters look. For example a flag might actually look like a flag. You can play around with how your letters look, even without actually doing any real “drawing.”

Drawing is not actually on that list. Listening is probably the core skill if you’re doing this based on other people’s content. Writing is really just the basics. Can you write in a way that you can read it afterwards?

Meloney: Do you have to plan ahead of time to make sure that you… Well, if you’re listening, you need to be able to summarize, get rid of it and just keep the core idea. But before you begin at sketchnote projects, say, you’re attending a conference, do you have to prepare your mind, like maybe lay the sheet out in columns or quadrants? or do you just encourage free form?

Sacha: I tend to be mostly free form because even if you plan ahead, you have no idea where the person is going to go. Even if you’ve got an outline, or the presentation slides, or whatever else, they can go on interesting tangents.

I don’t think that you need to spend a lot of time thinking about columns. I tend to like having a small grid in my background, just so that I can get a sense of sizes if I’m all zoomed in. I tend to work in roughly a column-row fashion. I start at the top, I go down a little bit. Then I go to the next column over and then I do the next one and so forth. But that’s just the way that I like doing things.

Another popular layout–some call it the “popcorn” layout–where you’re just putting things randomly around the page, and then after a while, you can connect them if you want to. You can show the flow between ideas. Or you can just leave it as randomly scattered over the page and that’s fine.

You don’t have to plan ahead. It does help if you give yourself a little bit of space. For example, if you’ve got your notes on something, don’t immediately follow it with your notes in the next thing. Give yourself a little bit of space. Then that allows you to emphasize something if that’s important, or draw the connectors to things that are related to it.

That’s how you can fake planning ahead.

Meloney: Because if you’re able to edit it, it doesn’t matter how detailed or general you are.

Sacha: Absolutely.

Meloney: Could you take a note on a piece of paper, then scan it into a sketch note background and then draw on top of it because it’s layer-based?

Sacha: Yes.

Meloney: Oh, you can?

Sacha: I actually do a lot of that. I take my paper notes and then I’m like, “No, I want to clean this up a little bit.” Or, “I want to add colour to it.” Because you could do that as well in your computer. You can do all sorts of stuff with it. You can say, “Okay, I’m going to add colour.” “I’m going to erase things.” “I’m going to move things around. I’m going to completely replace these bits.”

Yes, you can scan things in and then play around with it afterwards. I often add colour afterwards because colour on paper is not always the best thing. You have a pen, and then if you try to highlight it, it smears. So I tend to do my highlighting and the colouring on the computer. It’s super easy to do that.

Meloney: How did you discover sketch notes in the first place? Did you see it in action? Did you read about it? Hear about it? How did you discover it?

Sacha: That’s one of those things where a lot of people come to it on their own. It’s something that they’ve always done. Me, it wasn’t something I’ve always done, but I gave up on trying to find stock photos from presentations, which is why I started sketching them. Afterwards, I realized people really like this sort of stuff.

For me, it was like, “I’m doing these presentations. Stick figures seem to work. Let’s see what else I can use stick figures for.” People really liked my notes of other people’s presentations. Now I’m in the audience, I’m taking notes of other people’s presentations and look, there’s this entire blog of other people who are doing this sort of stuff. Checking out Sketchnote Army, and books, and Flickr groups, and all of that… This is a thing apparently.

Once you’ve realized that A, yes, it’s totally all right; B, there are lots of other people doing it and; C, you can explore and experiment on your own… then it becomes a whole lot more fun to try things out.

Meloney: Then that would be why you’re very useful as a Google Helpouts provider, because they can talk to you about how they can use their ketch notes, because there’s a lot of people using sketchnotes.

Sacha: Yes. For example, today I talked to somebody who’s working on building his visual vocabulary. He was curious about how I organized my visual library.

The idea here is you’re drawing a lot of things again and again. Maybe you want to think about how you draw certain things. You want to collect examples of how other people draw that. For example, technologies and abstract concepts. I often draw it as a laptop, but I use the laptop for drawing all sorts of other things too. I use a laptop for drawing “writing” because I do a lot of writing on my laptop.

If I think, “Okay, for technology, what are some other ways to explain it?” I might think in terms of chips, I might think in terms of desktop computers. You’re building this visual vocabulary. Sometimes people talk to me over Google Helpouts for tips on building their visual vocabulary. Sometimes people talk to me… “All right, this looks really interesting. How do I get started with that? How do I go from ABC to maybe ABC with a bit more space around it, and then starting to draw more visual elements? How do I go from boring meeting notes to notes with little check boxes in the left sides?” Really simple stuff that you can start with – arrows, stars and so forth to add a bit more of that visual structure.

Meloney: Are there sketchnote communities that you guys share ideas back and forth and best practices?

Sacha: For sure. Sketchnote Army is a great blog that has a lot of people sharing their sketch notes, sharing their first sketch notes especially. It’s always nice to see how other people who are learning about this are getting started with it.

There are other places. If you look for visual thinkers, on LinkedIn there’s a group called I Sketchnote, there’s a Visual Thinking Hub [on Google+], there’s all sorts of other places where you can find visual thinkers.

Meloney: What is the investment if they’re starting with sketchnotes, what should they prepare their wallet for?

Sacha: If you already have a tablet, then there’s no sense in getting another device. You can always start there. If you already have an iPad or an Android tablet and you want to do digital stuff, that’s a perfectly good place to start. If you want to get started with even cheaper stuff, maybe you don’t have a tablet yet, but you could always start with pieces of paper, and a camera. But really, you could use the camera in your phone. If you have a smartphone already, then you can use that. You take pictures of that and you share it on the Internet. That’s sketchnoting.

There are free [or low cost] programs to edit things. For example, the GIMP is one of those free image manipulation tools. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro itself which I really like using and which makes sense if you’ve got a tablet PC or a tablet that you can plug into your computer. You can find cheap tablets that don’t have screens on them if you want to. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is about $60 I think. This is not expensive, and there are free alternatives such as paper.

Meloney: With the Sketchbook Pro, is that a one-time cost with all the bells and whistles?

Sacha: Yes. It’s awesome. I think I bought an upgrade a couple of years ago, or a year or so ago. But it’s a piece of software that you buy and you don’t have to subscribe to. If you want to play around with working on your computer, then a tablet–maybe the Wacom Bamboo for example– is probably an inexpensive way to get started with it. Now there are all sorts of other options as well. This one, it’s a surface that you can write on that plugs into your computer. You don’t see what you’re drawing, but you can watch it on the monitor and see how things are changing.

Then of course if you’re in the market for a new computer, like everything else there’s no limit in how much you can spend on this. You can get something like the Surface Pro 2 which is a Microsoft one, or you can get a Lenovo [like the one] that I like using. I’m on a X220. Nhey have all sorts of other computers in that line now, if you’re looking for something with a pen on it so you can draw. Again, there are all these different systems now that allows you to do that.

Meloney: You can do Windows or Mac?

Sacha: I like using Windows. I know somebody else who uses Linux on an X220. If you have a Mac, then you’re mostly limited to either using the iPad, or something like the Wacom Bamboo, or the Cintiq which is that screen and tablet thing that I mentioned earlier. That one’s kind of pricey though. Macs generally don’t come in this tablet form where you have a pen and you can draw on it. Maybe someday they will.

Meloney: How long have sketchnotes been around?

Sacha: It turns out that graphic recording which is a version of this is done on large sheets of paper, but the same basic idea of words, images, and everything has been around for decades really. There are conferences and stuff like that. This is not something that’s a new invention for conferences. (This probably gets harder when you’re talking at the same time…)

[Also, people have drawn in their notebooks and on cave walls since forever!]

The term “sketchnotes”… I think that was popularized by Mike Rohde who made this excellent book Sketchnote Handbook, which you should check out if you’re getting started. But people have called it all sorts of other things. They’ve called it doodling, and this is probably something you’ve heard.

You know what it’s like. You’ve been doing this stuff from when you were a kid. It’s been around forever. It’s nice to see that with the Internet, because we now have all these ways to scan, or take pictures of our stuff, and share them online, that people are connecting with each other and saying, “Hey, here is what I’ve been working on.” “Here is what I took notes on.” I guess that’s why the reason why the community is growing so much now.

Meloney: Are there limitations to the sketchnotes?

Sacha: Different limitations depending on what you’re comparing it against. One of the things that I like computer-based mind maps for is that you can easily hide or show different parts of it. For example if you have a really detailed mind map, then you can hide this part or you can show it depending on whether you’re interested in seeing that detail. You don’t quite have that with sketchnotes yet. What you see is what you see and what you get. It becomes another tool in your toolkit in terms of this compared to text, or transcripts.

A sketch note is a lot easier for people to share on Twitter, or to briefly look at and get the basic idea from. But it’s not quite as searchable. If you want to make something the kind of thing that you can find later on, you want to make sure that you have the title and text somewhere, maybe it has some keywords to make it more findable – and then for the things that are just too important, maybe you do have transcripts that people can go in there and see what was actually said.

People are summarizing this on the fly. It won’t capture as much as the full video or the transcript. But I think the sketch notes, because they’re so easy to understand and share, do offer a ton of value for that.

Meloney: It also seems that you could repurpose those. For instance the project that you’re doing today live, you could manipulate that in number of ways to create a blog out of it, a video out of it, you could add text to it to make it more searchable. So you’re repurposing it over and over as many times as you want?

Sacha: Yes, absolutely. Especially if you’re working on the computer, it’s very easy to capture this while you’re drawing and turn that into a quick animation, which I think we might actually be able to pull off because they’re on YouTube. We can just say, “We can speed it up a little bit.” And then you have this fancy quick drawing animation.

This is the kind of thing that you can turn to all sorts of purposes. You can use this for example as a summary. It says, “These were the key points that we discussed. If you want to learn more, look at the video.” Or “go to this webpage,” or “read this document,” or “dig into this 97-page file.” It’s an additional tool for your toolkit, as I said.

Meloney: It is. What is your most favorite part of sketchnotes? What do you absolutely adore about it and you couldn’t live without feature-wise?

Sacha: I try to have very few things that I can’t live without.

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, the thing that I really like about this particular piece of software is that I can work with it really easily with just the pen, or the pen and the keyboard. For example, zooming in and out is very easy to control with just the pen. I can draw things and it’s very fairly straightforward. I can flip my pen and it erases things. Design interface makes a difference.

Then in terms of sketchnoting as a whole. I really like the way that I can talk about something and I can say, “If you want to learn more, here is a link to the sketch note,” or to the set in Flickr, or a blog post where I have explained things. The sketch becomes something then that I can build on in future conversations, or blog posts, or sketches.

Meloney: When you’re doing the things with your stylus, the pen, you’re doing those with the pen and you’re not doing keyboard shortcuts when you’re zooming in and out?

Sacha: If I’m doing this with a pen, I can just click on that toolbar over there and zoom in and that’s really just me dragging. It’s kind of like the way you pinch-zoom on a tablet to zoom in. It’s not quite that sophisticated because I just have one pen to work with, but it is really easy to work with anyway.

Meloney: Wow! I just have all these questions, and it probably represents a lot of questions that viewers have. What would be your pie in the sky for using sketch notes? What would be your dream sketchnote project that you would love to use this for?

Sacha: Well, I’m currently using it to understand and learn things better. Understand, learn share. Actually the way that I think of it is like… it’s learn, share, and scale up.

I guess this is the master project that I keep working on. I use sketchnotes in the learning part so that I can understand things more clearly and so I can map things out. That way I don’t get overwhelmed. I can say, “Okay, I’m going to learn about this thing first, then I’m going to learn about that thing later.” And I’ll get to that thing eventually. I use it to share when I’m learning, too. That’s another useful thing.

Then in terms of scaling up, this is about being able to help people learn or explore things even when I’m sleeping or even when I’m focused on something else. I think sketchnotes do a great job with that as well.

Meloney: I think it would be fun if you had a super project where you could travel to different parts of the country and helping maybe a visual blog of where you’re visiting and the people you’re talking to, and getting their live expressions to see if they are understanding what you’re doing. That would be super.

Sacha: Fortunately, there are actually lots of sketchnoters, and graphic recorders, and other people like that. So I don’t have to do any traveling myself. I actually don’t like to travel that much. I like being home since: three cats, husband, etc, etc.

But there are a lot of other people who like drawing things. What I also like telling people is, “Don’t wait until you find someone for a sketchnote, or a graphic recorder, and illustrator.” This is not something that only other people can do. This is something that you can do yourself, to understand things better, to try things out, to share what you want to say to other people. You don’t have to do anything super fancy. You can get started with pen and paper if you want. You can get started with writing if you want to.

Just play around a little bit, keep playing around, take a look of what you’re doing, and see what you like about it, and see what you want to improve, and gradually you’ll get there.

Meloney: If you wanted to get more detail with your sketches, are there different weighted lines? Like right now your lines are about the same size. Could you have finer lines and thicker lines?

Sacha: Absolutely. We can do anything on a computer.

I tend to not flip around lines as much when I’m recording somebody else’s presentation, and certainly when you’re trying to talk and draw at the same time. It becomes a little harder to think. So, I use colour instead afterwards to emphasize things. But you can certainly do that. The other thing I like about Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is it makes it really easy to adjust your pen size.

For example, that’s a really big pen. I might do that for colouring. I can drag this little circle at the top left corner to change my pen size to something smaller and so forth.

You have an infinite variety of pens and an infinite variety of colours, which is one of the things that I like using computers for. You can just, like, “I want to draw in red.” Or, “I want to draw in shocking pink or blue” and so forth, and you have all of that in a computer.

Meloney: That is just really something. What are you going to do with this fantastic project from today? If I looked at this and I didn’t know what you were talking about, we’d just be all over the map.

Sacha: It will be all over the map. So maybe it’s something people will watch in the process of listening to the video.

But actually when I’m looking at this, and because we’ve been in this conversation together, I can remember parts of it. I can remember the time that we talked about Ikea, and I can remember this tip that I keep telling people about leaving space, or the response to your question about planning. It becomes something that I can easily use to launch a thousand blog posts or whatever I want to do with it afterwards.

Meloney: You are so correct because when I saw you zoom out and I saw the big thing, I was looking at different parts that brings to mind. We did talk about the “Popcorn” method, and the column. I’m convinced.

Sacha: One of the things that I find useful, even in regular conversations… I might not have my computer handy, but I’ll have a sheet of paper and do that there.

When you’re doing this, it helps you listen better, and it allows you to go back then and ask questions about interesting topics, or follow up on topics that you want to explore further. You’re listening to that, and you’re drawing, and you’re remembering, and then you can share based on what you remember.

Meloney: Is it a hard transition to when you’re first starting out and you’re trying to listen, to summarize, and then do the drawing part, that you have to stop yourself from daydreaming?

Sacha: Doodling actually helps you avoid daydreaming, or at least that’s been my experience so far. If you’re daydreaming, it happens. It probably means you’ve got other things on your mind or the thing is not as important. Research actually said that people doing even a mindless doodling-type task that was completely unrelated to what they were listening to still manage to remember things better than people who didn’t do any doodling. It’s kind of funny how that works. It does help even if it’s not related.

And if it is related, if you’re writing things that are directly related to the thing that you’re listening to or what you’re trying to learn, then the benefits are even bigger because you’re learning, and you’re drawing, and you can use those notes to jump back in when your train of thought derails.

Meloney: This would be a great thing to use if you were in college and you have study groups. Just as you are taking notes, you can have one note-taker, getting the input from everyone, and then you just share the notes altogether. There are just so many applications that I can see, so many uses.

Sacha: Yes. You might actually read other people’s notes instead of just glossing over them.

Meloney: That’s right and your Grade Point Average might even go up.

Sacha: Yes, for sure.

Meloney: Imagine you could actually remember your chemistry tables much better.

Sacha: Do you want to see me actually drawing things? Michael is curious about what I’m using in my hand to do the drawing. What I can do is, I can switch out of screen sharing, and then you can actually watch me draw through video.

Meloney: Yes please, absolutely.

Sacha: That’s the device. Here you go.

Meloney: And you are on a 10-inch tablet?

Sacha: This is a 12-inch tablet. This one is Cintiq 12WX, and that’s how I work. Sometimes I’ll draw on the computer as well. So, this is the computer that I’ve got on the other side. It won’t actually work here but that’s the basic idea. You have a pen, you have a screen and stuff happens.

Meloney: That is really amazing. The hour has gone by really super fast and we have about four minutes left.

If people want to contact you, Sacha, and learn more about sketchnotes, or how you start it, or how they can get in touch with some clubs, or groups, communities, how would they do that? is my website. If you find that hard to spell, you can always go

Meloney: That’s a great website name, isn’t it?

Sacha: It’s longer but it’s easier to is the same website really. If you’re like, “Yes, I can spell Sacha” you can always go which is the same thing. I’m onTwitter so people can always ask me questions over there too. Questions for both in Google Helpouts, you can ask me stuff over there. That’, or you can go and you’ll get there, too.

Meloney: How many people do you feel that over your span of teaching or helping that you’ve helped? A hundred people?

Sacha: I don’t know but I think the last time I checked, even after Google changed the way that the reviews are done… Each five star review comes from one person even if they have taken several of your Helpouts. I think I’ve got 40+ five star reviews in that note-taking Helpout. That’s really cool. That’s 40 people who are experimenting with other ways to take notes, and to doodle, and to draw, and have fun.

Meloney: That’s just the tabulation from Google Helpouts. You’re helping people way before them.

Sacha: Yes. The nice thing about the blog is it goes back to that learning, sharing, and scaling thing. I love the fact that people’s questions help me learn even more. For example, in our interview, we covered a lot of things that maybe we want to turn into blog posts and other conversations. I certainly hope that you get to start drawing things again and then I can learn from you. That’s part of my evil plan: get people to the point where they’ve caught up with whatever I’ve learned and then I can learn from whatever that they’re learning next.

Meloney: I miss it. If I would just maintain keeping the notes, doing the notes with the doodles, I probably would have a better Grade Point Average myself.

Sacha: That’s okay. It’s a sort of thing that I wished I discovered when I was still in school too. It turns out that I’m not an auditory learner. I do not like listening to lectures. I end up falling asleep in lectures instead. Sketchnotes turned out to be a good survival mechanism for not falling asleep as much. I wish I had known that in university. My average might have been better.

You know what they say. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. Second best time, today.

Meloney: That’s right. I hope that all educators today will encourage their students while they’re doodling in class. It’s okay. That’s how they’re going to learn. So may all educators let their students doodle.

Sacha: For sure.

Meloney: I really want to thank you Sacha for being this special, special guest on this really cool Hangout. I was really looking forward to it for a long, long time.

Sacha: My pleasure.

Meloney: What we’ll do is afterward, if there are questions in the comment section, we can answer those. The easiest way to do that, if you have a question specifically for Sacha, then just put +Sacha Chua and then that will notify her that you’re asking your question or for myself specifically in there.

But we can carry on the conversation for a couple of days. You can also share the replay of this Hangout any time you want. It’s posted on YouTube already, live, and it’s recorded.

Sacha, any closing words and then we will say, “Good night.”

Sacha: Just start doing it, I guess. It’s not intimidating. You don’t have to have a fine arts degree. You can start with just handwriting, and boxes, and arrows. You can cheat. Leave yourself space and play around. Ttry things out.

Meloney: I think you make it so user-friendly. I think you’re going to have a lot more conversion to this idea.

Thank you very much, Sacha and we will see you on Helpouts. I’ll see you on one of your other Hangout. You have a regular Hangout On Air, is that a Thursday show?

Sacha: It’s moving around a fair bit. Basically just check my Google+ stream, add me to your circles, and you can see whatever comes up.

Meloney: Yes. I will catch you and I hope that others do too. Thank you so much, Sacha and let us all sketchnote from this point forward.

Sacha: For sure. All right then, see you around.

Meloney: All right, bye bye.

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Frugal Fire 002: Justin McCurry (RootOfGood)

Posted: - Modified: | Frugal FIRE, podcast
Update 2014-03-24: Transcript now available!

In this episode, we interviewed Justin McCurry (RootOfGood) about retiring at 33. He’s been learning how to relax and enjoy life as a stay-at-home dad, and has mostly gotten the hang of it six months in. =) You can download the MP3 from

2014-03-13 Frugal Fire 002 - Justin - Root of Good

2014-03-13 Frugal Fire 002 – Justin – Root of Good

Other resources we mentioned:

Join the community on Google+: For more information about the Frugal Fire show (including how to subscribe to the podcast), check out the Frugal FIRE page. Jordan Read: All right. Welcome everybody to the first official full-length episode of Frugal FIRE. Technically Frugal FIRE #2, because we like numbers. We’ve got a pretty awesome show in store for you tonight. Here is my co-host Sacha. Sacha Chua: Hello, I’m Sacha Chua! Jordan: We also have Justin from RootofGood. You’ve probably heard of him on the forums. He’s pretty active over there and his blog is awesome. Justin? Justin McCurry: Hey, guys, how is it going? Jordan: All right. We’ve got a couple of things that we’re going to take care of. First of all, some administrative things just to let you guys know exactly what it is that we’re doing here, what’s going on and what we’re planning on talking about for the show this evening. First off, as you may have heard in the primer, the goals of the show are primarily to offer suggestions, challenge your assumptions, offer support to anyone who needs it, have fun time and some motivation. This is for everybody who is attempting to catch FIRE. Once again, that’s Financial Independent, Retiring Early like Mr. Justin here. This is a show about frugality, following the Mustachian ways from Mr. Money Mustache. First off, welcome again to the show. I’m Jordan, 28-years-old currently working towards FIRE. My co-host, Sacha. Sacha: Hi. I’m Sacha Chua, I’m 30 and I’m on a five-year experiment with semi-retirement. Jordan: And Justin, who has beat us all to the punch. Justin, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself? Justin: Sure. I’m Justin McCurry. You can find me at I retired at 33 about six months ago. While I was working, I worked as an engineer. My wife, she’s been working in banking for quite a while, about the same amount of time as me. I guess it’s been an interesting six months so far. I have three children: a one-year-old, a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old. They take up a good bit of my day, but not all of it. I have enough free time to get almost everything I want to do get done. That’s my life in a nutshell. I’m here in Raleigh, North Carolina. The sun is finally coming out and the days are getting longer. It was spring yesterday, now it is winter today, and it will be spring again this weekend. I’m looking forward to getting outside and enjoying the weather some more. Jordan: Awesome. Cool, thanks. We’re going to touch in base with Justin here in just a minute, ask him how he reached his goals and any advice that he has for those of us who haven’t quite done that yet. However, we are going to go over a couple of things real quick just to give you guys an outline of what the show is going to be about. There are a few different things on the Mr. Money Mustache site as well as some stuff that was going on in the forums. A, there was the big thing with Kiss Trust which I imagine a lot of you heard about. Getting a bunch of early retired people angry at you – not a good way to market your product. That’s pretty much it. We’ll touch a little bit on that, but that’s not really our goal. One of the other posts he mentioned, it was something along the lines of things that aren’t really all that bad or something like that, which goes in with a couple of forum posts called, “Life is awesome.” I’ll talk a little bit about negative visualization and some other things that I have learned while researching Stoicism, which was referred to me of course by Mr. Money Mustache. We’re also going to mention the financial independence laboratory from the Mad Fientist. Bunch of little tools and stuff, ways to put in things. Similar to FIRECalc. If you haven’t heard of that, it’s another nice way of envisioning what your future is going to go. How much do you actually need for retirement, especially if you separate out your money from your happiness. Also do a little bit of a quick book review on the “Chasing Daylight” book which was a book about a gentleman who found out that he only has a little bit of time to live and managed to document that entire thing – his journey from finding out what he did and moving on from there. We’re going to ahead and start with a couple of questions for Justin. A little bit more in-depth. Justin, when did you start the whole frugal lifestyle? When did you decide that you wanted to retire early? Justin: I’ve always been frugal all of my life, really. I didn’t know it was called FIRE. I didn’t know it was called Financial Independence or Retire Early. I just started realizing… Even back in high school, I put together a little play budget. Before I was thinking about going to college, had a job, I was making $800 a month or whatever it was back then – minimum wage. Not a lot of money but for a kid that hasn’t had much money, that’s a lot of money. I was like, “Wow! Me and my friends can get an apartment, and split the bills, the water bill, and gas bill, and electricity bill.” I don’t know if food is like $100 a month or whatever. Who knows? We can just share a car. I was like, “Wow! It doesn’t take that much to get by in life.” So I thought about not going to college. Luckily I had gone to college, but even back then, the concepts were there. Finished college, got a job, and then the money was coming in fast enough and we weren’t spending it all. I just starting socking it the way, dropping it all. Maxed up the 41K first year I could. I even had IRAs back with part-time jobs during college. It really didn’t start out as a goal to retire early, necessarily, but just saving a lot. I think I found the early retirement – I think it’s EarlyRetirement, the early retirement forums. I started reading up there and learning about – there are people that have done this before. There is the 4% rule, and there’s figuring out how much you make, and figuring out what you’re going to be spending in retirement, and after that, just a simple mathematical formula or equation of saving up enough until you have 25 times your expenses in retirement, and then you’re financially independent. Probably somewhere a year or two after I started working full-time after college, that idea of early retirement crystallized in my head, that I had a spreadsheet, I could figure it out. Jordan: Awesome. Cool. You’ve essentially been frugal your entire life, similar to Sacha. You haven’t made the same dumb mistakes that I have and stuff. After you retire, a lot of times people have questions like, “I couldn’t retire. I love my work. What am I going to do with all of that time honestly? How am I going to handle this? Right now I decompress for an hour. I don’t know that I could fill up my time.” Now I know you said you have kids and that takes a pretty good chunk of time out of your day. Besides that, what kind of personal goals do you have? What kind of tasks do you do to fill your days? Do you find that that’s actually an issue? Is it something that people need to start thinking about before they catch FIRE, before they start on this path? Or is this something that you’ve done and it naturally kind of fills things up as you go? Justin: I’ve never had enough time to do everything that I wanted to do. When I was working, you have an hour or two each night after work, maybe after you have dinner and before bed. You’re just so worn out mentally from work that you’re not able to just sit back and relax. There’s the weekend when you’re working, but the weekends are so filled up with catching up from the week, catching up on what you’ve been wanting to do, catching up on chores, running errands. You always hit Sunday night, you’re like, “Man! There’s so much I wanted to do but I didn’t get it all done. I didn’t get half of it done.” Now I don’t have Sunday nights anymore. I just have all this relatively free time. There’s kids stuff in there, but for the most part I just do a lot more of what I wanted to do when I was working. I would end up with all kinds of stuff. I read books. In a typical day I might read a book for an hour. I might get on the Internet and mess around for an hour, or two, or three. I’ll play some online games with some friends that might take 30 minutes or an hour. I’ll cook dinner, cook lunch, do a little bit of work around the house, do some yard work. When it’s spring time, I’ll do some yard work. In the winter, there’s not really anything to be done outside. I’ve been doing some online learning. There’s a course I’ve been working on. There’s the Duolingo French language learning. I’ve been learning quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll spend a couple of hours–three or four hours sometimes–writing a blog article, doing research for it. It’s really just a very mixed bag of what I’m doing. And then there’s the social part. There’s the relaxing part. Go out for lunch with some old friends, take my one-year-old out on a play date with a friend of ours, or go to the park just hang out, bum around. I guess there’s not anything big, major milestones I’m trying to hit right now today. Just enjoying life each day. Jordan: Awesome. That really is what this is all about. Money buys you freedom, it doesn’t buy your stuff. It can, but if you waste all your time on stuff, you’ll never be free – never be free of that employer, never be free of that jerk boss, never be free of those stupid office functions, etc. I’m glad you mentioned the social things. We actually started this Google+ community called Mustachians. Sacha, in a minute here will get it up on the board for us so you guys can stop by, join in, and everything. One of the big things that I guess the goal of this or the reason that I created this was because people have – they really like to meet up with other people and have in real life hangouts. That’s one of the things that we try to create. You can see the link right there, I know you’ve had experience, Justin, with Mustachian meetups. Can you tell us what that was like? Where was it? When was it? What was it like meeting a bunch of other people who are either on this path, that are already retired, or whatever. Can you just describe that a bit? Justin: Going into it, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I think we had the first on in October of 2013 here in Raleigh. I was meeting five unknown strangers from the Internet. Got a little bit of apprehension. We were meeting in a public place out in the open. I had my wife there for backup. I was relatively comfortable. I knew the area. It was cool. But once we got there, we were actually a few minutes late, and they were all there hanging out already. It was just five or six ordinary people. I think they all live in Durham. I live in Raleigh. We’re 20-30 miles apart but I can see us hanging out like we knew each other, grew up together, or went to college together. A lot of science/engineering people there, very smart people, fun to chit-chat with. About half of us were stock market index fund investors, maybe one or two guys were real estate, mutual income guys. Some diversity there. We just shot the breeze about travel, goals, plans where we’re at – jobs, credit card hacking. It’s fun to hang out and be among company that knows the acronyms, knows the lingo and gets it so you don’t have to try to dance around the issue of “Is it even possible?” or “That’s totally crazy.” I don’t really talk about financial independence with my friends that much in general, just because it’s not necessarily something that they are very, very laser-focused on. Sacha: How do you manage that? You’ve mentioned in our pre-interview that you just see a lot of other stay-at-home dads, or stay-at-home parents, and this is something that people understand fairly well. But this early retirement idea on the other hand is something that a lot of people are uncomfortable with. They don’t think it’s possible. It might not be something you talk about with friends, but how do you deal with it when you’re socializing with other people? When they ask the “So, what do you do?” sort of question? Justin: It’s interesting. I’ve seen very different takes on how you present it and I kind of just don’t make it a big deal. I think I’ve mentioned to one or two people, “I’m retired.” I don’t know, maybe I look a little bit older than 33, maybe I look 40 or something, so they’re just kind of like, “Oh, maybe he’s a dot-com millionaire or maybe he’s just BS-ing.” I joke around a lot too, so it’s easy to mistake what I’m saying as just a joke. For a lot of people I don’t even bring it up. If they say, “Oh, that’s nice. You have lots of free time.” Then I can just say, “I’m just not really busy right now” or, “I’m in between jobs” which is sort of true. There’s a job on one side of this break, not on the other side hopefully. I did do one freelance job so I can say honestly that I do a little freelancing on the side. I haven’t done anything for months. It’s maybe a little bit misleading. Overall I haven’t really seen any backlash from it. I know some people are just extremely scared to ever mention that they’re retired early. I have never been called on it or asked to explain it. I’m only six months into it though. Jordan: Got you. That does brings me up to another question. I know that we talked about this a little bit in the pre-interview and everything, and I know that when I catch FIRE, I’m going to have this issue. I love my [inaudible 0:16:41], I love my job, I love doing what I do. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a software engineer, I write code, I make magic happen everyday. I imagine I’m going to take some freelance jobs, or some contracts, or something like that. How do you balance that with being able to step back and be, “I don’t necessarily have to do this.” How do you separate work from being retired? Justin: I don’t really know. It hasn’t really been an issue with me so far. I have this relationship with a company where they said, “Maybe once per month you can write a blog article for us.” The pay was just very good for what the market is out there for freelance writing. I said, “Okay, cool. Sounds interesting.” It’s for a good company that I know and that I like the product. I’ll give it a shot and we’ll see where it goes from there. That’s really presented as maybe do once a month for three months. I think it was probably 8-12 hours total for that first job. I haven’t been knocking on his door saying, “Hey, can I please have more work?” If he called me today, or tomorrow, or emailed me, I probably would do one. If it interferes with your life, you don’t have to do it. I think I sent you guys the job offer for some contract work doing some podcasting and kind of stuff for something. I was looking at it, I was like, “I can probably figure this out and BS my way in this job, make some hundred bucks or $500 a month.” Whatever it was. But then I was like, “Then I have to learn it, I have to figure it out, and then manage it, and then it may blow up or double the amount of work.” That’s one of those things where I was like, “That’s too involved.” I just don’t want to do it. If something comes up that’s interesting and then it also happens to pay well, I do it. But I just didn’t want to commit to too much. It was a little bit stressful when I was doing that freelance article because I did have to make some corrections at nine o’clock at night – which I don’t mind, being flexible. It took time away from what I wanted to do. That’s something I would keep in mind in the future. If it does interfere with what I want to do and I don’t need the money, then the right thing for me to say, “Hey, thanks, but I’ve had enough.” Jordan: Haven’t you had to do that before or is it just that you’ve kind of set yourself up to where you look at the options more often than you really want where you don’t need to turn it down? Justin: Pretty much. It’s has just been that one thing I’ve done so far. I’ll do more for the company probably. I’m sure people who make freelance writing or blogging a career, they’re probably a lot more active and following up, doing the right things for businessfollowing up, reaching out, making contacts and say, “Hey, here is an idea. I can write about this. I can write about that.” “Hey, do you have anything for me this week?” Making those contacts once a week, twice a week. I still talk to the guy fairly often but it’s not really about doing more work. I think it’s just the difference of are you out there piling the pavement trying to get more work? If you’re doing that, that’s the business. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. The good thing is I can do as little or as much as I want. I just don’t have to because of the money situation. Jordan: Awesome. Sacha, I know that you had some experience with that. Did you want to discuss that now or maybe during the panel section? Sacha: Actually what I’m particularly curious about is not so much the chasing after work but something I read in your sixth month update where you were just trying to get used to being able to relax. Is that what I’m correctly reading from your blog post? Where in terms of relaxing, you have to learn how to give yourself permission to just read a book during a weekday, or go for a nice long walk when other people are still working. Tell us a little bit more about learning how to do that. Justin: Yes. It sounds weird, learning how to relax or learning how to do nothing. I guess since I was in middle school, or high school, or whatever, I’ve just been busy all the time with school, or with work, or with both, or other activities, and kids. It’s hard to realize that it’s okay just to sit down and do nothing for three hours. Like lying in the hammock for three hours. Just watch the birds fly around, watch the woodpeckers peck a way and see if you can see how many squirrels you can count. Nothing productive. Read a book, whatever, listen to music. I think it was last month, I was able to finally just kind of relax and say, “This is it. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do anymore. I don’t have to always be productive.” I just felt like I had to be busy the first few months and I’ve heard it takes six months to two years to kind of unwind and get into this new groove of early retirement. I think I sort of reached that point now. It’s hard to explain. Just accepting the fact that it’s okay to not always be productive. Sacha: Yes. I remember struggling with that myself in the first couple of years. It’s just like, “Wait, I should be doing something.” Otherwise, what else will we have to show for the day? But you’re learning a lot. You’re learning French, you’re learning all sorts of things, you’re teaching your kids stuff, too. I think you’re actually doing plenty when you say you’re doing nothing. Justin: Yes. That’s part of it. I feel like I have to have like objective measures of performance. Like I had to fill out an annual performance review or something. I don’t. It’s up to me, I’m responsible for me now. That sort of getting comfortable with that. There is no external party other than your own family and taking care of them like I should with finances, the books, balance and everything. But it’s okay to have some “me” time, or play with the kids, go outside and play, play a board game with the kids, spend three hours cooking something elaborate even though you can be using the time to do something else – writing a new freelance article for some money. Jordan: Cool. What is different? This is something that I know Mr. Money Mustache really recommends and I totally get the point of it. Kids for me aren’t necessarily in the cards. But what does it like being a retired stay-at-home dad versus like a regular stay-at-home dad? How would you describe the differences there and how do you deal with that stuff? Justin: I’m not really sure. I don’t really know qualitatively how it’s different other than we have plenty of money. I know a lot of single income families struggle with that in terms of – you have plenty of money to put on the table but you may not have enough money to do whatever you want to do. I think we’re at that point where my wife is actually still working for another year, year and-a-half maybe. But that’s just gravy. It’s just icing on the cake. Her salary has been sitting in the cash account, it’s been building up and I haven’t really figured out what to do with it. We almost have – I don’t know, it’s probably getting close to a half a year or a year’s worth of expenses now just in cash. It is weird because I’m here by myself all day so I am like a stay-at-home dad. I’ve used that description before. I’m comfortable with it, I don’t feel like I have to have an early retirement card at my back pocket. I think I’ve mentioned the “Retirement police” article from Mr. Money Mustache a couple of times with my blog because when I read that, it resonated so much because who cares? It’s just a label. Whether you’re early retired or a stay-at-home with – I got withdrawal rates at 3% or so. Are we financially independent? Yes. Can my wife quit tomorrow? Yes, she might if she has a bad day, that may be it. Not a big deal. Her company is very flexible right now and offering in some pretty good stuff to keep her around for a little while. I guess I can’t really say there’s any difference between stay-at-home dad and early retired stay-at-home dad other than the financial independence aspect of it. Jordan: Awesome. Sacha, did you have any other questions before we jump into the panel section of this? Sacha: For sure. We’ll come up with other questions as we go through the conversation. So, go ahead. Jordan: All right, awesome. One thing that I did want to point out and Sacha is the expert on this. You can actually see it at her blog. What you’re seeing on the screen right now and her stuff pops up is – what is it called? Visual note-taking? Sacha: It’s just a way for us to remember what we’ve been talking about and it’s something that’s easy to share with people afterwards, too. Jordan: And she’s got a really good blog post about how to go about doing this, if you guys were curious what that was. It wasn’t just her with some type of doodling. That’s awesome. There were a couple of things that were mentioned that some of our newer viewers or people new to the FIRE thing may not be familiar with. We’ll just go ahead and start with you Justin. Can you explain to people what you mean or what is the withdrawal rate? What does that mean exactly? Justin: There is a study. It’s called the “Trinity study.” I forget who the authors of the study were but they basically studied how much can you withdraw from your investment portfolio so that it will never ran out of money. They looked at a 30-year period and they said, “You can withdraw around 4% of your portfolio each year and adjust it upwards for inflation every year, and you will not run out of money 95% of the time.” Five percent of the time you ran out of money and I don’t know what you do. I guess you go back to work. Jordan: Take a freelance job. Justin: Exactly. That’s it. The key parts of that are it’s only 30 years. So if you’re retiring in your 30’s, that would only get you to your 60’s. Now, Social Security kicks in in your 60’s and you’re maybe totally fine anyway. I look at 4% and I said, “Well, there’s a little bit of risk there for me.” We just spend what we want to spend, and it ends up being about 3%. It may be more as the kids get older in their teen years. It may come closer to 4%. The portfolio may make another [inaudible] and will be closer to 4%. But the one thing that we plan on doing is adjusting our withdrawals when the portfolio fluctuates in value. We’re not going to just blindly keep spending 3% or 4% of our portfolio every year if the portfolio falls in half like it did in 2008 and then in 2009. We’ll probably cut out discretionary spending. I might try to pick up some more freelance work, pound the pavement and try to bring in some money from that a lot harder. That’s something that you’re looking at. I think 4% is a good easy rule, it’s a good sound bite. “Hey, you can spend 4% of your portfolio every year.” It’s an easy rule-of-thumb and you can really model it exactly for what you plan on spending and you can play with Social Security when you’re planning on getting it or other pensions. A lot of people still have pensions especially in the government employment sector. You can model that, there’s and there’s another one called or Those two are pretty similar but use that same Trinity study methodology and data. They’re good to play with because you can figure out: do you want 4% inflation adjusted every year and that security of knowing you’ll never have to cut your spending ever? For me it seems unrealistic to think that you’re going to spend the same amount whether you have double your portfolio value in 10 years or if you have half your portfolio values in 10 years. I think naturally you’re going to feel stressed of spending less money. If your portfolio gets cut in half, you’re going to spend less money; if you’re twice as wealthy as you are when you first retire, you’re probably going to spend more money. Sacha: Tell me a little bit about surviving that stressful period when you saw your portfolio go down quite a lot in 2008. How do you keep on going? Justin: It really was not that big of a deal. I don’t know how much we lost in total but it was almost $300,000. It was a lot of money at the time. Multiples of our annual income. But we were spending a very small fraction of our total income – probably about 40% of our income, we were spending and we were saving the rest. We knew at the time if one of us lost the job, it really would not matter at all in terms of day-to-day living. It would just mean we’re saving less money. That’s part of the reason why we knew the investments were there for five or six decades. We don’t need the money tomorrow, we don’t need it next month, or next year, or even 10 years from now. It’s long term. If you can separate the psychology of losing money today that you need today from having the values fluctuate for something that’s there for the long term, that will keep you sane and lets you stay in the market when you need to be in there and prevents you from sailing out at the bottom. I know people I’ve worked with and people online who were just freaking out and panicking as the market kept dropping and a lot of people sold and they did not get back in – and still aren’t in, a lot of them – and they just went off investing in the market. Long term, I don’t see where the wealth creations didn’t come from and investment portfolio without some good allocation to equities. Unless you just have tons of money and you don’t need more than 1% or 2% per year to spend for your portfolio. Jordan: Got you. Okay. What’s the phrase that we use around there when the market drops? “Everything is on sale!” Justin: Yes. It’s a buying opportunity. Jordan: Absolutely correct. Pulling out at that point is too late, you hang on. Justin: Yes. Jordan: Cool. One of the things I did want to discuss here in general is about – we’re going to just change gears just a little bit – negative visualization. It’s about the Stoic philosophy or part of the Stoic philosophy from the ancient Greek Romans. Marcus Aurelius was one of the last famous Stoics. However, Mustachianism has been linked relatively well to Stoicism minus some things that aren’t necessarily the same. But it’s essentially the philosophy of life. One of the things that I’ve found that was extremely helpful with that is – well, Mustachianism is all about separating out, it’s getting the most out of life without tying that to money. Yes an all-inclusive vacation would be really fun and it cost a whole bunch of money. Yes, camping is also very fun and cost a lot less money. The Mustachian, the way of life essentially is all about finding those things that get the maximum happiness for the least amount of money. You’re not depriving yourself of anything, you’re just finding alternate ways of looking at life and everything like that. One thing that I wanted to share was – and it tied in really well with “Why we’re not really all-doomed” blog post from Mr. Money Mustache – that is just understanding exactly it is what you have and how awesome it is. I started a thread called, “Life is awesome – here is why.” And I just kind of wanted to share this with our viewers because I think everybody should try it. It does change things. You may or may not have heard about hedonic adaptation. It was a result of a study that was done that followed two people, newly injured paraplegic and a lotto winner. These people’s lives change a lot very quickly right around the time of the study. Obviously the paraplegic was a little bit down and obviously the lotto winner was a little bit up. But what they found is that after about six months max – some of them happen sooner, other times it has happened, I’ll touch later – but they adapt and their level of happiness is about the same that it was before that. That is just the human mind, the human brain has a tendency to get used to things. It’s not necessarily a bad thing with survival instincts. Something has been around for a while, chances are it’s not probably going to eat you. In any way there’s not too much brain power running about that log near you that just appeared. Unless it turns out to be an alligator. However, the issue with that is the [inaudible 0:36:58] consumer driven keeping up with the Joneses of society. That hedonic adaptation essentially indicates that we need to go out every couple of months and get new stuff to make us happy. Negative visualization is a practice in which a couple of times a day, a couple of times a week, however you often want to do it, you imagine what life would be like without something that you currently have. “My life is awesome” thread started off with, “Close your eyes. Look at something around you. Close your eyes, imagine it’s not there. What would life be like? Now, open your eyes, it’s there. Life is awesome.” What it’s all about is just understanding that these things don’t necessarily make you happy. The truest point of stoicism or mustachianism really, that was just a fun little play on it that I started because I think it would be a fun little adventure for people to partake in. However, it’s all about just understanding that stuff isn’t what makes you happy. Freedom, adventures, memories, that’s what makes you happy. Justin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about if you have adjusted or if you’ve always been that way. What kind of things you do that kind of challenge that assumption and you realized, “Oh my goodness! I get so much joy out of doing this instead of this.” Justin: Yes. I guess to kind of continue on that thought process of appreciating what you have, or understanding what you have and why is it useful or valuable. I took a class back in college. I forgot what it was called but I think technology, and science, and ethics, and engineering, and something rather but one of the subjects or topics of discussion was instrumental value versus intrinsic value. I don’t know if you’ve heard those two computing concepts but just basically, you got to think that things are instrumentally-valuable. Do things bring you value because of the way that you can use them or what they bring about? Or are some things intrinsically-valuable? Are they valuable in it of themselves? Instrumental with the means to the end and intrinsic is the end itself valuable. I just look at so many physical things, possessions, and by and large, they’re instrumentally valuable. I like to read books. Books are interesting and they’re fun, but they’re instrumentally valuable. They have no value unless you read them or enjoy them. The same thing with vacation house, or a boat, or a nice car. Almost everything that we enjoy is instrumentally valuable because of how we use it or what we do with it. I keep that in mind. I haven’t really done that explicitly, those negative visualization exercises of, “It was gone! Yes I would miss it, that would suck. Oh there it is, great! I’m happy now.” I do think about things like that and like, “Wow, this smartphone is amazing.” Ten years ago, this didn’t exist. This is like a computer. I can put it in my pocket and it has six or eight-hour battery life and it is connected all the time. Mine happens to be free with FreedomPop. I bought it for $50 off of eBay. A couple of hours of my former hourly rate of earnings for this amazing device and it’s a camera. I can take pictures with it. I can take pictures of my kids and share it with other people, record video. This is amazing piece of technology. But it’s instrumentally valuable. It lets me communicate, it lets me read on the go, communicate on the go. I’m always focused on how does this thing help me or what benefit does it bring to me? “Is a $500 phone 10 times better than a $50 phone?” I usually end up saying, “Not really.” It may be a little bit thinner, maybe a little bit brighter, or have more pixels for inch but I don’t really care. I just want to be able to read my email or send an email whenever I want to, and use the GPS if I want to figure out how to go somewhere, or if I’m meeting a friend, give him a phone call or send him an email and let him know. Those are the sort of things, just like the smallest things like a phone is pretty amazing and part of it is – my daughter was she was sick at home, wasn’t able to go to school over the week. So we were going over some of these recent inventions. She’ll mention something and then not realize that there was a previous technology before that but didn’t exist when I was a kid. I was going over the Internet. The first time I used it was in high school. You guys are probably couple of years younger than me so you may remember you’re in middle school using the Internet. But for her, everything is connected, everything is wired up, it works, technology is so cheap, and often times free, and you don’t have Windows 3.1. We have Windows 8.1, or Mac, or whatever OS it is now, or iPhone, or Android. We have a diverse choice of operating system, we have diverse choice of environment and by in large they talk to each other. They communicate, you can do what we’re doing right now, sit down and chit-chat on the Internet, on a few hundred-dollar laptop, and you’re halfway across the country and then Sacha’s way up north from here in a different country. I’m just marveled at all these different amazing technologies and advances that we have even in the last 10 or 20 years. I guess it makes it easier to not have everything because we’re never going to have everything. We already have everything, really. We already have so much stuff compared to our former selves 20 years ago, or our parents, or people in other countries. It doesn’t cost that much to have a pretty rich life and enjoy things that are relatively inexpensive, or almost free, or sometimes free. Jordan: Got you. I actually realized that you and Sacha are probably the worst people to ask about this. You guys have been frugal your entire life. “What do you mean struggle with this? Are you high?” What about you, Sacha? I would like to ask you. How do you separate yourself from keeping up with the jounces or how do you separate yourself from wanting more, and more, and more, and just being satisfied and even stoked about what you have? Sacha: Amusingly enough, part of it I guess was growing up in a family that was doing a lot of advertising photography. Watching my dad shoot pictures of french fries, or clothes, or cars, or whatever, and seeing the kinds of things that people did to encourage people to want things – that made me realize, you can think about these thinks critically and you can say, “How does this help me? No, it actually doesn’t help me very much. I’d rather spend my time, and money, and interest, and attention in other things.” That helped me a lot. I’m just realizing I don’t have to accept the messages that I hear from other people and actually, I really enjoy simple stuff. For example, travel is such a big thing in the early retirement community people, dreaming about being able to retire in order to travel – I actually really like being at home. It’s thinking about what it is that you’re accepting to your life and realizing that you can’t buy happiness. You don’t go looking for it outside yourself. You just organize your life to being able to enjoy it. Jordan: Got you. Justin: Sacha, you mentioned that you enjoy being at home. I’m kind of the same way. I don’t know if that is an indicator for frugality or going to be successful in early retirement or what. We certainly done staycations before where we’re just like, “Let’s just hang out and do stuff around the house. Let’s go see the museum here in town we’ve never been to before. It’s free and it’s four miles away.” And we’ve spent 20 years never going to this awesome museum. We’ve done that before. It’s weird. I know what you mean. There are certain people that plan on doing these huge massive trips. I’m kind of guilty of it as well. Sacha and I were discussing before the show. I was getting tips on things to do in Toronto and how to get around. But that is one thing we do, plan on doing some longer travel – not just the weekends away, or a week, or rushing from site, to site, to site to see things. But I think if you ever want to try out early retirement, just take a week or two off and do a staycation and see how bored you get. Because if you get bored in a week or two, you might as well just keep working forever so you have something to do. Sacha: No. We don’t want to discourage people right away. It took you six months to figure out how to relax. It will take people more than a week. Justin: I’m still waiting to be bored. I don’t know. I’m waiting for that time where I’m just like tooling my thumbs and realizing that there’s nothing else for me to do out there. I’ve surfed the entire Internet and I’ve watched everything on TV, and I’ve read every book out there and I’ve learned every language. This realistically is never going to happen because knowledge and content is being created faster than I can absorb it. But I think maybe a week or two off, or maybe even a sabbatical, or like you’re doing five years off, at some point, if you get bored easily in a weekend, or in a week, I don’t know – I think that might be a good trial run to at least figure out is it something that you enjoy, or do you have to have something just busy work, just something to do? I’m not saying busy work, it could be like Jordan loves to program and write software, write code, but do you have to do that 40 hours a week or more? How can you keep busy? How engaged can you be and can you find something to keep your mind engaged and keep your interest? Sacha: Actually I want to pick up a point from that because I think a lot of people struggle with figuring out the answer to the, “What am I going to do?” question. People are used to getting direction from other people, they’re used to having projects to work on, objectives to work towards. Sometimes people have burned through their initial backlog of tasks, all the chores they’ve been meaning to do around the house, or all the little projects that they thought they wanted to do. Now that you have practically unlimited time, you’re retired early, you’ve got some time to explore your other interests, you might still find that you struggle to come up with projects – actually you seem to be doing fine with that part – but there’s still projects that you make slow progress on, or these little projects that you might get around to but not yet. People, if they try staycation for a week or two, it takes time to learn how to decide, “What am I going to do today? What do I want to do? How do I want to organize so that I do the stuff that I care about, I get other stuff done as well?” It’s a skill. Or is that just something I struggle with and you don’t? Justin: I thought about it and thought about what’s the best way to make the best use possible of my time and there’s this dynamic between, “It’s okay to do nothing.” And then there’s the competing interest of, “Yes, but I don’t want to be nothing forever. I don’t want to wake up in two years and realize that I’ve just spent two years doing nothing.” That’s why I struggle with it because I want to do something kind of productive and not just waste my time because this is the rest of my life. This is it. I saw somebody have a blog post about a very fixed rigid schedule like, “Monday, I’m going to get up and I’m going to workout from 7am to 8am and then come back at 8:15am to 9:15am, I’m going to clean the house. 9:15am to 10:15am, I’m going to sit down and read a book. Then 10:15am to 11:15am, I’m going to prepare lunch. At 11:30am I’m going to have lunch. I have free time from 1pm to 3pm.” Then that’s repeated the whole week and there’s four hours of unstructured free time in the whole week. I thought about that and I was like, “That seems pretty cool. No, I don’t think so.” I don’t know, I guess I’m comfortable enough where I don’t want a fixed schedule like that. I could see the appeal if you’re just sitting around doing nothing and you feel like you’re just unproductive and you’re not going to enjoy your time. I could see the benefit of that to remind you consciously like, “Oh, it’s 11am, it’s time to go out for my tennis lessons right now.” Or, “I’m going to go around walk around neighborhood. It’s 1pm and I’m going to go out for an hour long walk, maybe see some neighbors.” I could see the benefit of a rigid structured schedule but I guess I have a little bit of that with the kids, and walking to and from school with them, and taking care of the one-year-old. I do have that kind of built-in to my schedule already. As part of it, for me I know my life will be different in three and-a-half years or so where this kid is in school all day and then I have just from 9am until 3pm, I have this six-hour blog like, “What do I do all day?” I could almost drive from here to the beach for a couple of hours. I would never do that because I’ll not drive four hours to spend two hours at the beach. But I could go downtown and bum around four or five hours. I may do that. I may do that with the kiddo once it gets warmer. Anyway, the schedule was an interesting thing I saw and that could help some people if they need that rigidity of a schedule or structure in their day. It’s almost like summer camp in a way, where you have programmed activities and you know what you’re doing Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or whatever. So far I feel pretty good. I had a little bit like there are certain things at the community center and the library that I do with the one-year-old on Tuesdays for example. I know I’m doing that but otherwise, my Monday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday are pretty free. Sacha: Yes. The way I handle it is I come up with list of these things that I do want to work on, the productive part of the “do something.” Then I treat it like a buffet. Whenever I feel like working on one of those projects, I go ahead and do that. The difference there is that this experiment, the semi retirement or early retirement means that I get to choose what I want to work on, or what I just want to spend a couple of hours reading a book, or watching movies or whatever else, going for a long walk. The choices are incredibly enjoyable. Justin: If I ever get this feeling of like, “Wow! What should I do now?” Then I have a list of things that I want to do, that I have to work on. I’ll just go look at it and say, “All right, which one will I pick today?” Like a buffet, “Which one do I want now? Okay, I’ll choose this one. I haven’t done my taxes yet. I have to do taxes.” That’s going to be eight hours maybe of putting everything together, checking the numbers, filling out forms, putting stamps on the envelope.” That’s something if I’m ever bored. I have eight hours that I have to do between now and April 15. There’s no excuse for me to be bored unless I finish that thing that I have to do some time in the next month. There are so many things in life that you just have to get done. We’re trying to get passports for our kid right now and dealing with the incredible bureaucracy of getting a passport through the postal service done here is mind-boggling, that it’s so hard. Yet we pay them for the privilege of not being able to talk to them, waiting in line, them not showing up – anyway, it’s nice that we have the time to be able to pursue this and get it. But at the same time, I still feel like it’s a waste of time when I’m not able to just get something done quickly. Sacha: But so, retirement leaves you no excuses. You will get it done and at least you’ll get the power through all of the things that you need to do and the things that you want to do. Okay, we’ve got about three minutes before we start the open hangout. If you were to share a tip with somebody who is just starting out this journey for example, what type of action that you would encourage them to take in order to get them moving towards frugal FIRE? Justin: I guess maybe two things. Just figure out what you’re spending first and then maybe figure out if you can cut anything from it. Because there are two ingredients to being able to FIRE at a very young age. That’s keeping your expenses low and then saving lots of money. Obviously knowing what you’re spending is one of them. The other one is just start saving money. Even if it’s just putting it into a money market account until you figure out how to invest or where to put it. I know where to put it because I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I’ve read a lot of books on it. But whether it’s a 41K, or an IRA, or just putting in a money market account, it’s better to save it now when you have it instead of spending it. Then get educated on where should you put the money to be as optimal as possible. That way, once you do figured out, “Hey, you have this pot of money. You can actually go ahead and invest it.” That’s probably the two biggest tips. Know what you’re spending and go ahead and start saving now. Jordan: All right, cool. I can actually take that. One of the things that we’re planning on doing on the show is a challenge for our watchers, listeners, readers, whatever it is that you are doing with this video. Here is your challenge for the week. This will go for those of you who have got FIRE, those have just heard about this or they still think that catching FIRE is not a good thing. Here is your challenge: by two weeks from today, I would like you to have something set up, whether it’s Mint, Personal Capital, GNUcash, anything like that where you track your spending. I want you to take that, track it for the next two weeks. Figure out what your savings rate is and increase it by two percentage points. I’ll teach you guys on how I did with that because I’m going to do the same thing, and yes, thank you all for coming. Justin, thank you for being our first guest ever. Man, you are awesome, I appreciate it. Justin: Thank you. Jordan: Sacha, once again the awesome notes, thank you so much for doing that. Justin, if you want to plug your stuff real quick. Justin: Yes. Stop on by the blog, check out what we got going on. Under “links” at the top or “categories”, there’s a link for all posts if you want to see everything since the beginning of time. I think Mr. Money Mustache has a very similar layout. Check that out. There’s a bunch of stuff on there about our budget, how we save on taxes, how we’re doing on each month financially with spending and saving, [inaudible 1:00:01] retirement. There’s a new post every once in a while, check it out, subscribe, I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter. Check it out, Jordan: Awesome, thanks. Sacha? Sacha: And if you want to join the community, go check us out at Jordan: All right. I’m Jordan from, mostly on G+ though. I’m not very good at blogging because I do have a job still. I’m not there yet. Sacha? Sacha: I’m at Also, you can find it at if you find my name hard to spell. We’ll see you soon. Catch us in two weeks, I guess, with our next guest! Jordan: Thank you guys. Justin: Thank you.

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