Stickk to your commitments this year

If you’re serious about keeping new years resolutions this year, I highly recommend stickk.com. The system is both ingenious and simple. You make a commitment contract. You describe what you’re committing to do, how often, and here’s the magic, how much you’ll pay if you fail to reach your commitment. Then you pick a referee (a person to tell stickk if you’re keeping up your commitment) and give them your credit card info.

If you follow through on your commitment, the service is free. But, if you fail, they’ll charge your card and give the money to either charity or a person of your choosing.

Simple, and most of all, effective, highly effective. A friend used the system last year to great effect, and I’m acting as the referee to another friend this year. It’s a highly effective system, If you’re serious about making change happen, take out a commitment contract on yourself this year.

Financial report 2011

My total personal spending in 2011 was £6’981.51. I made the following charitable contributions:

Matched donations

Of that total, £5’172.14 was either money due to me or my own personal cash, £1’799.01 was donations by others in order to match my donations.

When I made the pledge I was about to get £10k of investment. I was in the UK for the first time in 3 years and I was finding it very hard to reconcile the wealth, excess and waste of the first world with the developing world where I had been living. I was about to be flush, was trying to make sense of the world around me, and the pledge seemed like a sensible way to do that.

Then reality set in. The investment never came, I pissed about for a good six months before generating any income. It was a tough year. I was feeling serious financial pressure from the pledge. In November an opportunity arose. Mark Shuttleworth was offering to match Movember donations. The year was drawing to a close, I was well behind with my donations, and here was a chance to half the cost of donating.

I gave over £1’000 on 24 November. Not because I thought Movember was a great charity to support, but because I was feeling the serious financial strain of giving half my money to charity. I was barely generating enough cash flow to stay afloat, and at the same time facing a huge charity bill. I caved and took a soft option.

That sparked a lot of thinking about matched donations. Is it reasonable to count the whole amount towards my giving total? After reconciling it back and forth, yes, I think it is. To be clearer then, my commitment is not so much to give to charity, but to generate charitable contributions. I was directly responsible for generating those donations, even if they weren’t with  my own money. If money were no object, I’d ignore the matched donations just because I could, but I think it’s “fair” (whatever that means) to count them.

Giving to Movember was still a cop out. I gave to ease the financial pressure, not because I wanted to support the cause. I’m trying to learn from the experience.

Response

People’s responses have been interesting. The negative response far outnumber the positive. Stop and think about that for a second. Somebody says they’re going to give money away, and people criticise, condemn, and complain. Sad.

From here on, if you have something constructive to say, please do share it. If you want to bitch, whine or moan, keep it to yourself, I’m not interested. You all know who you are.

Spread

I aimed to split my giving into 3 parts. One part give a man a fish, one part teach a man to fish, one part part first world philosophical nonsense I think is important. The first two thirds were to focus on the world’s poorest people, those who genuinely are in need. I reckon 39% of my chosen organisations were in the third category. That number was mostly skewed by my donation to Movember. It soaked up all of the third part and more.

I hope to keep better within my aims in future giving.

Going forward

While writing this post, for the first time, I’m considering that I might not continue the pledge fully in 2012. It was a demanding commitment last year. I simple assumed I’d continue on the same basis, but maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll find a different way. I’m going to take a week or two to think about it and then make a decision.

I believe that people dying through lack of food is simply unacceptable and we each have an obligation to take action. Over the next few weeks I’ll consider how I want to honour that responsibility in 2012.

Opportunity International UK

From my research, Opportunity UK International is an organisation worth of support. For any UK citizens reading this, the government is matching all donations to the Opportunity 2011 Christmas Appeal until 21 February 2012. If you’re considering a charitable donation, I recommend supporting their work. Your donation will go twice as far if you support this campaign now. You can read more and donate online here. Think about it.

Happy new year. Do something worthwhile in 2012.

FreeCycling

I’ve piled all the stuff I’m hoping to freecycle in one corner of the living room. I’m planning an open house on Saturday to try and shift it all…

Everything in these photos must go including the three quarter height fridge, lamps, hoover (broken), dartboard, guide books, toaster, toastie maker, aluminium pot, bowls, candle holder, coffee tables, mirror, cutlery racks, picture with frame, bed linen, blankets, and more associated gubbins.

Retirement fail

It’s time to face facts. My first attempt at retirement has failed. It’s been just over 2 years since I withdrew from the workforce and I’m almost broke. In that time, my total income has been £1’700. Clearly, I’m not financially self sufficient. I have not created the revenue streams that I set out to.

Realistically, I spent the last 2 years farting around. I had some great times, met some great people, I have some incredible stories. But cash flow I do not have.

It’s time to get back on the horse. Time to get back in the saddle. Time to recognise that I must once again return to the pursuit of wealth.

Let me also be clear, this does not mean I will return to exchanging labour for reward. I will not. I will focus on building businesses, not working for money. In that sense, I have absolutely made progress. But the important word here is focus, I need to pull my proverbial finger out and get to it.

The first step is to find a physical space in which to work. Working from home isn’t working. I need a desk in an office somewhere. I’ve put out a few feelers. I’d welcome any suggestions.

I began this journey into retirement with lofty ideals and high ambitions. The last two years have been decidedly retired. Late, lazy evenings, later mornings, and a generally relaxed demeanour. I had hoped to sustain myself financially within that relaxed state, but in that ambition, I have failed.

Now I must rouse myself from the drowsy slumber of retirement and return to the sharp, focused, energised passion of commercial enterprise. Hopefully, with a few well placed choices, I will return to the lackadaisical lifestyle soon. Until then, back to the grindstone.

Beyond meat and dairy

I’m currently reading Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. Last night I read the chapter on vegetarianism. As I understand it, the story goes like this. Almost all farmed animals suffer (there are virtually no exceptions). Choosing to purchase and eat the flesh of dead animals and products made from their milk is direct and practical support of farming. This, in turn, equals direct support of animal suffering. Therefore, choosing not to eat meat and dairy is the only sensible action possible. Boycott the suffering of animals.

I’ve held the view that animals have the right to be free for some time. I’ve also, for 6 or 7 years, been reducing my dairy intake. Today, I have taken the next logical step. I am no longer willing to consume meat or dairy products. In exceptional circumstances, if I can be certain the animal lived free and suffered minimally during slaughter, I will eat meat. I am ethically comfortable with the consumption of other species.

But for all practical purposes, I will no longer eat meat or dairy. Goodbye pizza, goodbye hamburgers, fish and chips, etc.

One notable exception to complete veganism is eggs. I will continue to eat eggs, so long as I can be sure they come from hens that live mostly free lives outdoors, are well treated, and appear to be generally happy and comfortable. I believe I can find eggs that meet these requirements from the farmer’s market, and I will take steps to do so.

In order to mark this occasion, and to remind me of my new commitment, I purchased a Remington HC-5550, and for the first time in nearly 18 months, cut my hair. This is what all that hair looks like on the bathroom floor.

Finally, this is what I look like, post hair cutting.

Will you join me? Will you give up meat and dairy? If you choose to eat meat and dairy, please be under no illusions, you are directly and personally responsible for the needless suffering of animals. Animals will feel pain, fear and stress for the purpose of your dietary preference. That’s the choice you make every time you buy meat or put the dead flesh of an animal into your mouth.

I look forward to expanding my culinary horizons and the discovery of fabulous new plant based foods. Exciting times. 🙂

The Yes Men Fix the World

We just watched the incredible P2P version of The Yes Men Fix the World. It’s an amazing film, I thoroughly recommend it. You can get the torrent on the link above. The film is released under a Creative Commons license.

The film inspired me to donate some cash. I gave $10 each to The Yes Men, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The Bhopal Medical Appeal.

Book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I have just finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The book is a smooth blend of narrative and education. Divided into three parts, each section tells the story of a different meal. Firstly the stereotypical fast food McDonald’s, representative of the monoculture, corn based, industrial food chain. Secondly a meal made from organic or sustainable produce including a look at the industrial organic industry. The final part tells of the author’s journey to hunt wild pig, forage wild mushrooms, attempt to mine natural salt, and grow or harvest fruits and vegetables.

Personally, the book has engaged inside me an awareness, an activism, a sense of reverence, around food. It has also reminded me of my own passion for writing. I fondly imagine the life of the writer, free from daily constraints to pursue the matter of her thoughts.

I highly recommend your read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is at times abstruse and prolix, that is: complicated and wordy! However, the little hardship in reading is easily made up for by the content. Indeed, I find myself penning this note in a more loquacious style than usual, partly inspired by Nollan’s writing.

As for the matter of food, I shall talk more about that in later posts. For now, I will simply say: food matters, read this book.

Announcing my retirement

I am going to retire on 1 July 2009. In a little over 2 months, less than 2 months after my 27th birthday, I will retire.

retire v.intr.

  1. To withdraw, as for rest or seclusion.
  2. To go to bed.
  3. To withdraw from one’s occupation, business, or office; stop working.
  4. To fall back or retreat, as from battle.
  5. To move back or away; recede.

I’m calling it retirement symbolically. I’m putting an end to the work that has been my livelihood for my adult life thus far. The time has come for a change. Time to do something new, in a new way. Time for a new chapter.

Why? My work is just that, work. I exchange time for money. It’s productive, it affords me a lifestyle I enjoy, but it’s just work. I feel that it’s time to change the way I work firstly, and secondly the type of work I do. In order to make that change, I’m choosing to give up my existing work completely. I want to have a clean break, to be free to engage in my new chapter as I choose.

What will I do? I’m not completely sure yet. I’ll start by writing. I will carve out a space in which I will serve my readers. If my service is useful, the financial matters will take care of themselves. That will be my aim, to serve for 12 hours a week. If I can do it well, I’ll be able to sustain myself financially. I’m confident I can offer something of value to readers.

I believe that what a person holds to be possible, what they think they can do, governs what life offers them. I believe I can generate value to society contributing 12 hours per week. I will leave my “profession” behind and take up this challenge.

This photo appeared 1st and 9th searching for the terms “new” and “freedom” with the “most interesting” option set.

Introducing Chris Guillebeau

I read Seth Godin’s blog. Seth wrote this about Chris Guillebeau’s newest manifesto called 279 Days to Overnight Success (pdf).

I have just finished reading the manifesto. I’m inspired. I agree with probably 30% to 50% of the content, but that’s not the point. The very existence of the manifesto is what inspires me. It’s time to make a change in my life. Thank you Seth and thank you Chris.

I’m not decided yet, but I think I’m going to retire as a programmer. I have a contract that finishes at the end of June. Right now, I’m thinking that I will no longer accept any money in exchange for computer / programming related work after 30 June 2009. I need to burn my boats if I’m going to move forward.

[ Burning the boats refers to the story that in 1519 Hernando Cortes led a small army to conquer a foreign land. He burned their boats after arriving to make it clear to his men, there is no retreat, conquer or die. ]

I think I may embark on a new project and call it the 12 hour experiment. More information to follow soon.

Talk of marriage

As some people have noticed, I might be getting married. Lots of people are asking questions, so I’ll try to answer some of them here.

Who’s the girl?

Sam. We met on Isla Mujeres on Christmas day. Yes, that was only 13 days ago. She’s Vietnamese Chinese by parentage, Canadian by citizenship, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Why get married?

Sam suggested it. I think we’re fairly compatible, we have similar beliefs. I think she’d make a good mother. It may not be romantic, but I think it’s practical. I’d prefer to get married because I think we’re compatible than because I’m infatuated and caught up in romance.

Why now?

Sam lives in Brooklyn, I live in Guadalajara. Her flight back is the 17th of Jan. I’m willing to get married impulsively because I think it might work. I don’t think a long distance relationship would work. So I figure it’s all or nothing.

I believe marriage is a commitment to work hard to maintain a healthy relationship. I’m happy to make that commitment to Sam and see where it goes.

I think getting married is a self fulfilling prophecy. The marriage is the commitment. Making the commitment is what makes the relationship work. So I’m willing to make that commitment and see what happens. None of us can predict the future, but I’m getting into this with my eyes open.

Progress report

We rented a car in San Ignacio and drove to Belmopan, the capital of Belize. We got the marriage licence form from the Ministry of the Attorney General. We completed and signed the form in front of a Justice of the Peace. Sam had some pre-marital nerves.

Now we have the paperwork, we could submit it in the morning and be married in the afternoon. I’m not sure how it’ll play out.

Smoke free 2009

I don’t really smoke. I’ll have the odd cigarette when others are smoking. Or if I’m tearing it up (as in the last week), I’ll smoke a ton. But I don’t smoke in the morning, I rarely actually buy cigarettes, and I very rarely find myself longing for a cigarette.

Thus, actually stopping completely has been very difficult. I don’t have a smoking “problem”, so each cigarette doesn’t seem like a big deal. Well, the time has come, I have decided to make a serious go of giving up cigarettes altogether. I’m shooting for a smoke free 2009.

I stopped drinking in a day, cold turkey. There’s much less social pressure to smoke, so here’s hoping I can kick this annoying habit for good.

Wish me luck. 🙂

I’m applying, are you?

I have written my application for Seth Godin’s alternative MBA program. Are you going to apply? This is a game changing opportunity, I’d warmly encourage you to consider it. The deadline is the 14th of December, so there’s still a little time (at the time of writing!).

I’d like to ask for your help. There is a section at the top of my application called Friends and Family. I’d love your input there. If you think I’d be right for the program, or not. Please be radically honest, say exactly what you think. I will leave all comments un-edited (I may delete obvious spam).

I’ve emailed my nearest and dearest, I hope some of them will be able to help.

Seriously, think about applying for this program. Where will you be in 6 months time? Significantly forward from here? If not, this could be a wonderful opportunity. The higher the calibre of people on the program the better. 🙂

Smile: debt pimps

I called my bank today to dispute a transaction. After dealing with that, the representative asked me how many times I log onto the smile web site per week. Then he said that I had been pre-approved for a loan of up to £14’000. I told him in no uncertain terms that consumer credit is like crack cocaine and I had no intentions of returning to my previous crack addict ways.

Smile and the Co-operative are billed as the “ethical bank”. They have an annual ethics survey which I recently completed. It asks questions about what type of businesses they should invest in, and what they should avoid investing in. Arms dealers, polluters, child labourer exploiters and so on are not eligible for funding by the coop bank.

Yet the survey made no mention of ethical practice with their consumers, their customers, their members in fact. I’m disappointed by the relatively “hard sell” tactics I experienced from Smile today. I expected better from an ethical bank.

The “most relevant” CC licensed picture on flickr.com for the search smile:

Reached my first saving target

A couple of months ago I set a saving target. I wanted to have $10’000 in the bank when I left Australia. Despite the rising dollar (my money is actually in pounds, although I think in dollars), just over 2 weeks behind schedule, I have reached my target.

If I lost all income tomorrow, I could live comfortably for 6 months. Probably a lot longer if I stay in South America. But even in Sydney, I could live comfortably for 6 months.

I’ve come a long way since I left the UK 3 years ago with around £25’000 of personal debt.

Financial security is a wonderful feeling. I now know that I can choose the work I want to. I can act with confidence in all my working relationships. I can refuse to compromise my integrity for a buck. I can do all that because I don’t need to worry about where next week’s paycheck is coming from.

My next step is financial freedom, living on passive income. It will be some time before I reach that target, but it’s a very significant milestone to be financially secure.

Happy days.

Look at all the things you can do with one dollar bills! Thanks flickr.

A non MBA with Seth Godin

Wow. I just woke up and read this. Awesome. I’m physically excited. My first thought is, apply, do it right now, immediately, without hesitation. Ok, reality check:

  • I have 6 months of expenses saved, I can afford it.
  • I could still spend 3 hours / day working on my own stuff.
  • How would I get a visa to remain in the US for 6 months?
  • I’d need to apply and be accepted!

It would be a huge commitment. I dreamed up a new project last night. One new customer per day. If I can find one customer per day for StraightPress, in 6 months, I’ll have a sustainable business. I was thinking to launch on 1 January, try to get a few other people on board.

There’s something about Seth’s focus that really connects with me. I’ve always been hesitant to fully engage with purely commercial projects. I’ve never felt quite … comfortable about it. Somehow like just making money was a little corrupt. I think I’ve managed to solve that within StraightPress by making our service available, for free, to non profits, charities, NGOs, and others.

Application deadline is 14 December. That’s 2 weeks. I have some time to consider. Anyone care to comment? Should I go for it? Either way I’m about to email the top 10 people I think would benefit from it. Now who are they? 🙂

Cannabis shopping spree

I bought more Cannabis sativa last week that one could smoke in a lifetime! Don’t worry mum, not in dried leaf form, in the form of braintree hemp clothing. I’ve now replaced 67% of my trouser portfolio with purchases from the hemp store.

The final tally came to less than $130 AUD. I got a pair of smart(ish) pants, two great t-shirts, a red/black striped polo shirt, three pairs of socks and a free hemp oil facewash. Yay. As promised, here’s the long awaited picture of me wearing almost entirely hemp. Even my shoes are hemp!

Seth Godin’s Tribes for free

According to this page you can click this link and get Seth Godin’s Tribes ebook for free. I’ve already purchased a copy which should be delivered by Amazon, so I’m a member of triiibes. However, that is being physically shipped to my address in the UK, and I’m currently in Sydney (well, Melbourne today, but Sydney mostly). I think I’m actually getting two copies as we were given a copy for pre-ordering and joining triiibes.

Thus, I feel quite relaxed about downloading an audio copy for free.

I should forewarn you, if you select United Kingdom as your country of residence, you will be immediately and without request redirected to the .co.uk version of the site. Thereupon you will no longer be able to find the book for free. I lied, claiming to be a resident of USA.

Audible includes Windows / Mac only DRM software bullshit. I was able to download the file using these instructions. Yay for freedom. 🙂 But I’m unable to play the file on my machine. Nay for freedom. 🙁

Choosing a charity

I’m listening to Robert Kiyosaki’s Choose to be Rich series. I was given it by a friend, so contact me personally if you don’t want to pay the $220 price tag. I’ve only just learned it costs $220 this very minute, as I looked up that link. Interesting. I wonder if I would pay $220 for it. I’ll know when I’m done I guess. 🙂

Part of the program that struck me was the three piggy bank idea. Kiyosaki advocates getting three piggy banks. He says every morning, get up and put something in each bank. Start with a dollar per bank per day. Start with any amount you want, but do it every day.

The three piggy banks are for saving, investment, and tithing. He explains the tithing concept as philanthropy. It’s the idea of being generous, giving money away. Supporting good causes.

I’ve long talked about the idea of supporting charity. I always said I’d do so “when I had enough money”. Well now I earn more than I spend. It’s that simple. Now I have enough money. I’ve taken the decision that I’m going to start making recurring, automatic donations to charity.

Which raises the powerful question, which charities?

I’m concerned about the environment. Human rights, particularly freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement (between countries, etc). We all have a soft spot for children. I’d like to help those in most desperate need. I don’t believe anyone needs to starve in our world today. I think basic medical care is a human right.

I’m very interested in organisational theory, so I want to support a charity that’s efficient. I believe that on-street fundraising (people asking you to sign direct debits) is fundamentally wrong. I believe it is an over commercialisation of charity. I believe charity is about doing good, about philanthropy, not about operating as a business with a good cause in mind. If I sell drugs on the streets of Los Angeles to support children in Africa, that is not charity.

Considering all these motivations, can you recommend a charity to support? My friend Jared founded the ambitiously named CHOSA. I’ll definitely consider that charity because I have seen the work Jared does.

Can you recommend a charity comparison web site? I’d be particularly interested in a service which asks me a series of questions, then recommends a charity based on my answers. I’d happily pay for that service, or pay a commission to the service.

Here’s a fairly unrelated picture (flickr tagged “philanthropy”) to break up the monotany of text on this page. 🙂

FuseMail is Go

After my bitching about FuseMail, two of their guys chimed in and saved the day. My faith in FuseMail was restored. I’ve gone ahead and moved my personal email over to them. It’s live. 🙂

A few things I like:

  • Mail is filtered on the server. I no longer have to download spam if I don’t want to.
  • Virus checking and spam filtering are automatic, I don’t have to worry about it.
  • My mail should be relatively safe, automatic backups, etc.

Thanks to Pat and Henry for responding to my blog post and dealing with the issues. I feel reassured.

FuseMail fail

I signed up with FuseMail to host my email.They have failed me. Badly.

I reported a problem to them. I provided a detailed technical report. I received a short response which did not relate to my problem. I replied, at length, explaining that they had completely failed to address my problem. I received a second reply which was almost as short and just as useless as the first.

Overcome with frustration, I called them. The agent was the same person who sent me my first reply. I knew the call wasn’t going to go well. After 40 minutes on the phone, they finally conceded that they had made a mistake, there was a problem with their system. A senior engineer had fixed it, it would be sorted in 5-15 minutes. No apology.

Privacy

While on the phone, without asking my permission, the agent went into my mail account. She was looking for an email I said I had arrived, but she couldn’t find it. She had full and unrestricted access to my email. Ouch. I’m amazed that FuseMail staff need no permission to read my mail.

So, this leaves me looking for a new mail service. The best thing about FuseMail would seem to be their 14 day money back guarantee. I can cancel without having to pay for the shoddy service! 🙂

For the geeks out there, here’s a log of the ticket.

I opened with:

G’day,

I’ve set up a new domain and associated mail account for domain.co.uk.

Here’s the log when I try to send a test mail:

telnet mx.fusemail.net smtp
Trying 208.70.128.213…
Connected to mx.fusemail.net.
Escape character is ‘^]’.
220 smtp-gw31.mailanyone.net MailAnyone incSMTP Mon, 25 Aug 2008 21:38:03 -0500
HELO callum-macdonald.dyndns.org
250 smtp-gw31.mailanyone.net Hello callum-macdonald.dyndns.org [119.11.6.234]
MAIL FROM: me{at}callum-macdonald.com
250 OK
RCPT TO: steve{at}domain.co.uk
550 Email Address was not found lvl0
DATA
503 valid RCPT command must precede DATA
500 unrecognized command
quit
221 smtp-gw31.mailanyone.net closing connection
Connection closed by foreign host.

Please advise.

Cheers – Callum.

FuseMail responded with:

Hi,

The MX record is not currently pointing to us, if you have changed this recently, please keep in mind it can take up to 24 hours for this to propagate.

In outrage I replied:

Come on now, don’t treat me like I’m stupid.

I didn’t say that the MX was pointing to FuseMail. I said, the server is not accepting mail for the domain. I included a telnet log which showed me connecting to the server and attempting to deliver mail. The mail was rejected.

If your response was meant to say “The mail server will only accept mail once the live MX records point to it.” then it should have said that. What it did say was just bloody obvious. Stating the obvious doesn’t help me resolve my problem.

So, let me repeat myself. The server mx.fusemail.net is not currently accepting mail for the domain domain.co.uk.

I have another domain, opencouchsurfing.org which I have set up on FuseMail. The server mx.fusemail.net *does* accept mail for that domain, even though there are *no MX* records pointing to fusemail for that domain.

So, there is a problem with domain.co.uk. The server should accept mail for the domain but it does not.

Just for the record, as a new customer still on trial, I’m not impressed by support so far. I expected a better level of understanding from a dedicated mail hosting company. I feel like I’m dealing with GoDaddy’s hosting support.

Callum.

To which they had this to say:

Hello,
None of your domains will receive mail in our system. The MX record for these domains must be pointed to our server for the mail to be delivered here. This is how the transfer of emails work. I can assure you that if you send mail to any of your addresses they are not going to come here unless there is a forward setup on the other server to send it to chmac{at}fusemail.com. Let us know if you have any other questions.

What do you think? Have I overreacted? Should I give Fusemail another chance? Or should I terminate them at once for gross incompetence?

Update: I have removed the technician’s names from this post upon request from FuseMail.