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Various books I’ve read

Crossing the Sahara in the 14th century

Crossing the Sahara in the 14th century

I have been fascinated with early stories of people trying to climb mountains, have early adventures through vast foreign lands, or cross the great unknown and deserted barrens.

Yet no stretch of land is so isolated, bare, and desolate as the Sahara desert. It’s hard for us to imagine the realities of traveling during the early centuries of modern civilization, but fortunately we have some documents from those periods. Some of which have been summarized and collected in a book called ‘The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages‘, by Francois-Xavier Fauvelle.

First off, there were your guides. You had to travel in groups for safety from bandits and injury. Guides at the journey’s port cities had to be purchased to lead you across the desert. Deserts they knew fairly well because when not guiding, they might be the very raiders that would kill you on a different trip. They were often a shady lot that had little patience for the unprepared.

While today’s travelers complain about $4 bottles of water at the airport, the water situation was different for earlier Saharan travelers:

Then there was the problem of water. It would be even better to say the problem of thirst, your constant companion during the crossing. All travelers, all geographers say the same thing: the water is sometimes “fetid and lethal” and, Yaqut al-Hamawi humorously reckons, “has none of the qualities of water other than being liquid.” Such a beverage inevitably generates intestinal pains that make life difficult and sour the memory of the trans-Saharan experience. In good years, when there had been plenty of rain, water filled the rocky gullies, and people could drink and do laundry. In bad years, the burning wind dried out the water in the goatskins; consequently, a camel’s throat had to be cut and its stomach removed. The water it contained was drawn off into a sump and drunk with a straw. In the worst-case scenario, one could kill an addax antelope and follow a similar procedure to extract greenish water from its entrails.

We complain about uncomfortable airline seats for 8 hours while crossing the ocean at 30,000ft. Earlier travelers endured countless days/weeks of far worse inconveniences.

And then there were the small, but numerous and in the end obnoxious, daily inconveniences: the omnipresent fleas, which you would try to drive away by wearing cords soaked in mercury around your neck; the numerous flies everywhere there was a rotting carcass (i.e., precisely around the wells and the camps); and the snakes.

And then there was the ever present danger of dozing off, lack of attention during a stop, or just getting turning around in the maze of dunes to realizing you were separated and probably lost in the desert to die.

The caravan tempers these harsh conditions with strict discipline; it diminishes them through distractions. You will put distance between yourself and the column only at your own risk, the Berber leader must have said. Those who paid for the crossing would amuse themselves hunting addax, letting their dogs run free, and riding a bit ahead of the caravan to let their horses graze and to enjoy the invigorating wait. But the games, the intemperance of the city-dwellers, could cost them dearly. Even though caravans could be made up of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of camels, one could quickly lose sight of them behind a curtain of dunes. A few centuries later, on the same stretch of desert, but from the opposite direction, a caravan of pilgrims lost two of its members in a row and yet noticed only a day and a night after they disappeared. Nobody dared go back to look for them for fear of being lost themselves. The author of the story concludes philosophically: “But our conscience was clear because we had warned them of the risks they were running by not abiding by the rules of the caravan.”

Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Have you had a sense that Hollywood movies have felt a little too ‘cookie-cutter’ lately? Or that they feel somewhat unoriginal or a little too sugary?

John Williamson is a long time lecturer and publisher of games. He gave a great talk at PAX Prime 2016 on why you can tell exactly what is going to happen next in a Hollywood movie by looking at your watch. It’s narrative structure that has been picked up by writers and is now used in almost all our media from graphic novels to Hollywood productions. Just about every modern movie in the last 10 years uses it – it’s called The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The structure was outlined in his book called “Save the Cat!

Recently, this structure has been catching some flack for making our movies too cookie cutter or even deceptive. One very valid argument (in my opinion) is that lazy writers can rely on the well-understood emotional reaction the structure creates to communicate themes and messages as true without having to argue them or give any evidence they actually are true. In other words, instead of relying on substance of the story, it relies on the simple fact that the ‘Save the Cat!’ emotional ride guarantees a positive emotional reception for what you want.

Some say it lets writers be so lazy they need not even be concerned about the actual content of the story, but to just rely on the structure of the emotional ride to guarantee a positive response from the audience. Just change the actors, theme, or conflict and you have a brand new movie without changing much else.

You can find a link to John Williamson’s great presentation here, or download a copy here. He covers a HUGE range of story telling techniques from ancient to new, eastern and western, but the relevant section on Hollywood plots, however, starts at slide 111.

Here’s the breakdown of the structure, by minute. (This assumes a movie of 110 minutes. Adjust the times based on your movie’s total time based on the ratio laid out here.)

  1. Opening Image – (minute: 1) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
  2. Set-up – (minutes: 1-10) Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
  3. Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – (minute: 5) What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
  4. Catalyst – (minute: 12)The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
  5. Debate – (minutes: 12-25) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
  6. Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – (minute: 25) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
  7. B Story – (minute: 30) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
  8. Fun and Games/The Promise of the Premise – (minutes: 30-55) – This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
  9. Midpoint – (minute: 55) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
  10. Bad Guys Close In – (minutes: 55-75) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
  11. All is Lost – (minute: 75) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul – (minutes: 75-85) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
  13. Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – (minute: 85) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
  14. Finale – (minutes: 85-110) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
  15. Final Image – (minutes: 110) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

His presentation then shows how this structure works from modern movies like ‘The Fault with our Stars’, to “Indiana Jones” to video games like Super Mario Bros and Ico.

Try it out on the next movie you watch and see how accurate it is.

Perverting Education to just be rationalization

Perverting Education to just be rationalization

Barrett nodded. “Education?”
“New York. London. Berlin. Paris. Vienna. No specific course of study. Logic, ethics, religion, philosophy.”
“Just enough with which to rationalize his actions, I imagine,”

– From the description of the depraved Emeric Belasco. Hell House by Richard Matheson

If your philosophy, religion, ethics, or logic come from popular authors or coffee table/internet level articles – do yourself a favor and stop. You’re far more likely to end up justifying your own beliefs instead of being challenged to find real truth. The kind you can base your life on.

Pro-tip: it doesn’t exist in any soundbite. Instead, it teaches you to think critically, to see the nuances of arguments, to realize NONE of them are completely correct, AND to see both sides. If your education isn’t doing this, then you’re just being spoon-fed what you want to hear. Your education should challenge you, make you angry, confirm and refute what you believe. Education is what allows you to experience that without having to lash out against others – and just deal with the ideas.

Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian

“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”

Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey

Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey

This has to be one of the most interesting reads (audiobook listen in my case) I’ve had on the subject of nuclear history. I also think it should be read by every engineer of any background.

Why? Jim Mahaffey, while a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and having spent over 25 years in governmental, military, and civilian nuclear projects, presents a narrative that isn’t stilted in the usual pro/anti-nuclear rhetoric. I found myself captivated for three reasons. Firstly, some of these events and details I had never heard of before – like the fact there was a cave full of natural radioactive ore that sickened some hunters who wandered into it. Secondly, and related, he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He cites the chemistry, physics, and even patent information for everything involved. There is no hyperbole. His information comes from actual studies, chemistry, nuclear physics, and the hard scientific data. Some of the facts in the book I’d never heard anywhere else before. Sometimes I wondered if he wasn’t leaking secrets.  Finally, he does all this with a captivating sense of storytelling and a fantastically dry sense of humor. I found myself sitting in my car listening to a story finish out – such as when he tells the story of a cable tray fire that breaks out during one particular accident:

“The fire continued to grow so the supervisor ran down the hall and grabbed a larger fire extinguisher. He emptied it into the blaze, but the fire was unimpressed.”

The thing that makes this book great is that he isn’t arguing for or against nuclear power. He explains the chemistry and physics of what is going on so well that it removes the fear and terror we often associate with nuclear reactions. So all you are left with are the accidents. This is really unbiased storytelling that does what it should: it doesn’t tell you what to think – it presents all the data and narrates the story so that it makes YOU think. What would I have done? What should be done?

This is why I suggest every engineer read this book. Even if you are not interested in nuclear accidents or nuclear power scares you. It’s not really about that. It’s about the difficulty of engineering – especially engineering where failure means serious consequences. It’s about the mental traps we as engineers fall into. We can be extremely intelligent and well versed, but get taken out by a simple rat chewing a cable. The fact that it deals with energies that can, and have, killed people crystallizes the importance of each design decision. You’ll often see yourself connecting the thought that the designers had with your own engineering principles – and realizing the weak points.

Highly recommend.

Spoilers below on what I ‘learned’ – don’t read if you want to come up with your own conclusions

After listening to it on audiobook over the last week or so, I found myself thinking about these topics:

  1. Anything that is foolproof is not. All mechanical systems have a useful lifetime and/or fail at some point. Maintenance doesn’t always happen when it should. Things that fail sometimes take time for people to realize they failed – especially if it is a backup system that is rarely used. People plug things in backward by accident, read the wrong gauge, use the wrong lubricant, etc. You cannot suppose that everything will be maintained as it was when it was perfect and new and the designer is right there watching it. Plants become unprofitable and corners get cut. Staff turns over all the time and information is often lost.
  2. The weakest system, not the strongest one is all that is needed to start a problem.
  3. In work around dangerous forces, you cannot have an ignorant workforce. People must understand WHY each procedure is there, or they’ll come up with shortcuts that may get themselves or others killed unexpectedly because they’re trying to save time/effort/money/etc.
  4. We should probably not run experiments on commercial reactors/preparation plants. That should only happen in the lab. But there are many ambitious, very smart people that want to make a name for themselves and do things they should not because they believe they are smart enough.
  5. When something must run constantly over a long time – given a long enough timeline – EVERY possible thing will happen. Every possible combination of failures will also happen. You simply can’t imagine it all.
  6. Even when you imagine and prepare for the worst, it can be worse.
  7. Luck plays a big part in disasters. Given exact same plants and the same accident, one will be ok and the other will not because of luck in the smallest detail/timing of how something happens.
  8. Real disasters usually involve 2 or more very unexpected and different things simultaneously going bad or failing in quick succession.
  9. Individual systems that are failsafe on their own can react in unexpected combinations when more than a few things at once start failing. You must look at how the system as a WHOLE handles an event that causes serious single and multiple system failures (i.e. a delivery truck loses its brakes, knocks over a power pole, and then hits the turbine building. It starts a fire that shuts down the turbines. With the external electrical wires down, the lights in the building go off. Unfortunately, that happens to be where the fire handling equipment is – that nobody can now find in the dark. You now have a nuclear meltdown because you can’t put out a fire because the lights went out.)
  10. You must design things to end in a state after such an event that you can recover from them without endangering lives. When the explosion/leak does happen, is there a way to clean it up?
  11. It is often the discounted/seemingly unimportant support systems that cause the accident to become a disaster. While massive amounts of effort are spent understanding nuclear forces and fission, most reactor accidents are caused by things like pump bearing failures, valves that get stuck, emergency generators that don’t kick on because the wiring went bad, or running ill-advised tests.
  12. An unexpected chain of failures is what sometimes causes a disaster. (ex: a failing data cable starts generating error messages. The error log starts filling the available hard drive. The drive fills and crashes because nobody thought there would be so many messages. The computer that crashed was also controlling some other subsystem, which now fails too. That causes a bigger failure that leads to a disaster.)
  13. An alarm that goes off all the time is as useless as if it hadn’t been installed at all.
  14. When what you’re doing trips a failsafe – this is not a good thing. It’s an indication you’re operating outside of the defined parameters of the design. It’s an indication that you were one step from disaster. It’s critical to examine exactly what happened and prevent that from happening again. Procedures or actions that regularly trip a failsafe indicates imminent disaster.
  15. The amount of thought and fail-safes you build must be directly proportional to how bad it will be if it goes wrong. Dropping a jar of tomato juice requires water, a mop, and bucket and buying a new bottle of tomato juice. Dropping a jar of fission products all over the floor is a whole other matter. From isolation, to clean up, to personal safety, to disposal, to handling what to do with the materials, clothes, and items used in the cleanup – all require complete thought and handling.
  16. One must stay a little paranoid and constantly vigilant when working with systems that involve deadly/dangerous forces. A regular schedule of checking and re-checking is the only way to know if things are working as they should. You cannot be laissez-faire until a failure to fix something. Even little anomalies are indications that must be checked out. One must stay curious, regularly check, and fix things that don’t even seem super-important at first. See #2.

Here’s a great example:

A liquid storage tank of olive oil that develops a tiny leak could be bad. You are losing product, money, and might cause an injury if someone slips. It is even worse if it was almost undetectable and goes dripping into the floor drains for weeks, months, or even a year.  It gets even worse when the oil coagulates in the underfloor drains and almost completely plugs them up. Then the 50,000-gallon vat of spaghetti sauce spills and the drains that should have saved everyone don’t work. It causes the spill to go everywhere and gets on everyone. It gets even worse when the sauce ruins tens of thousand dollars of product that was sitting on the floor and destroys electronic machinery drenched in it. It gets even worse when it runs into the basement, filling it 2 feet full of spaghetti sauce. Because of one dripping olive oil vessel, you now have tens of thousands in lost products, people drenched in goo, machinery destroyed, and a basement flooded with a sauce that may take hundreds of thousands to clean up. On top of the fact you can’t make one more jar of the product until it’s all cleaned up.

Now imagine that it was nuclear fission products that dripped. And when enough collects, it becomes an unshielded reactor in the floor that kills anyone that comes near it.

This is why every engineer should read this book. To understand how failures really happen, and why just making an individual system fool proof and having safety systems can be a false comfort. The nuclear world is full of extremely smart people that bragged nothing could go wrong. Humility and diligence are the values we should cultivate.

Journey to Ixtlan

Journey to Ixtlan

There is one simple thing wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time.
If you don’t think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change? You don’t have time for this display, you fool. This, whatever you’re doing now, may be your last act on earth.


Sh*t’s F*cked – A Positivity Guide

Sh*t’s F*cked – A Positivity Guide

Great little Etsy e-zine I got from the library when I laughed at the title. It had some great nuggets of self-care in it. Appears to be the things you start realizing as you start to hit your 30’s 🙂

  • Physical change prompts emotional change. Get out of town.
  • Remember to leave for vacation only AFTER you have addressed important issues. Be accountable for the feelings of others – and your own.
  • Borrow a friend’s dog and go exploring together. Don’t have a friend with a dog – borrow a shelter dog.
  • Take yourself on a solo date: watch the sunset by yourself. Eat your favorite snacks. Breathe deeply. Don’t get up until the sky is dark. Don’t invite other people. Learn to love solitude and sitting with yourself.

I liked the solo date one myself. I have just the spot picked out on the Oregon coast too…

More Spooky Tales for Fall and Cold Winter Nights

More Spooky Tales for Fall and Cold Winter Nights

While looking around for more great old-time ghost stories, I came across another great website collection of stories here. To avoid the risk of them disappearing, I copy them here (again) for your enjoyment.

Collections these stories come from for further reading:

  • Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1947)
  • M.R James: Collected Ghost Stories (1992)
  • The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe (1992)
  • Gothic Short Stories (ed. David Blair) (2002)
  • The Virago Book of Ghost Stories (2006)
  • Ambrose Bierce: The Spook House (2008)
  • The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories (2008)
  • The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales (2009)
  • Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories (2012)
  • Tales from the Dead of Night: Thirteen Classic Ghost Stories (2013)
The Gathering of 100 Tales

The Gathering of 100 Tales

Ghost stories exist in just about every culture of the world. You can learn a lot about a culture by the ghost stories they tell. Ghost stories, and particularly Japanese ghost stories have been very popular of late (The Ring, Ju-On, etc) but their origins go back as far as the oral traditions of each culture. Just as with Greek odysseys and ancient poems like Gilgamesh, ancient ghost stories provide amazing windows to the past and the strange of every culture.

During a recent adventure through Victorian era ghost stories, I also learned of an old ghost story telling tradition in Japanese culture. Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語怪談会, lit., A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales) was a popular Buddhist-inspired ghost telling parlor game during the Edo period in Japan.  The exact origins are unknown, but it was believed to be first played amongst the samurai class as a test of courage. In Ogita Ansei‘s 1660 nursery tale “Otogi Monogatari” a version of the game was described in which the narrative tells of several young samurai telling tales in the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai fashion. In the tale, as one samurai finished the one-hundredth tale, he began to extinguish the candle when suddenly he sees a giant gnarled hand descend upon him from above. While some of the samurai cowered in fear, a swipe of his sword revealed the hand to be merely the shadow of a spider.


According to early texts, the tradition method went like this:

  • The game was to be carried out on the night of a new moon when the night is darkest without even moonlight. All light sources should be covered or extinguished.
  • The location should be the home of someone in the group in a selection of 3 neighboring rooms. The best configuration is if the rooms are arranged in an ‘L’ shape where one cannot see the room at the top of the L from the room at the bottom right of the L.
  • The participants gather in one of the end rooms with a few lanterns. The room next to that is to be pitch black.
  • The most secluded room has 100 lit candles or andon (traditional Japanese paper lanterns) and a writing desk with a mirror on top.
  • All dangerous items should be removed from the rooms (decorative swords/etc).
  • Each person is to wear a blue robe.


  • The participants take turns telling 1 ghostly or supernatural story at a time. They should be of ghostly encounters, folkloric tales passed on by villagers who encountered various spirits, and the like. These tales became known as kaidan.
  • After each story is told, the teller gets up with a lantern wrapped with blue paper.
  • They walk alone through the dark room to the room lit with 100 candles/andon.
  • They extinguish one candle, look into the mirror on the table, then return to the story telling room.
  • Play proceeds like this with the most secluded room becoming darker and darker until the final story.
  • In some versions, only 99 stories are told and play stops until the sun rises to tell the final story.
  • In other versions you tell the final story. When you enter the lit room and extinguish the final candle while looking into the mirror – some spirit or image may be evoked.

While this might have started as a test of bravery for aristocratic warrior classes, it quickly spread to the working classes. As it gained widespread popularity in the 1600’s, people began scouring the countryside for mysterious tales and collected them into books. The stories also started merging ghostly vengeance with elements of Buddist karma. The collections and popularity of the game grew and is still deeply in the culture today.


For those that have caught Japanese horror movies and popular Japanese anime/manga/literature, the influence of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai and the themes those stories created during that era is very clear. Some shows even have mock recreations or clear spinoffs of the very game.

In Japan, like many other cultures, there is the idea of Kimodameshi (きもだめし or 肝試しlit. “test one’s liver”).  These “tests of courage” involve a person/people exploring frightening, and potentially dangerous, places. Kimodameshi is usually played in the summer, in group activities such as school club trips or camping. At night, they visit scary places such as a cemetery, haunted house, or a forest path to carry out specific missions there.

Further Resources

While many of the stories might seem strange to us today, they are also very interesting and often some very similar characteristics as western ghost stories. I recommend picking up one of the many collections of kaidan/ghost stories from Japan and give them a read.

Here are 10 famous Japanese ghost stories to start your journey. See how many themes you recognize. Another great book is Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was an Irishman that had a colorful past, moved to Japan and researched ghost stories in the late 1800’s

Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year

Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year

Who hasn’t thought of chucking it all and moving overseas to some cheap little beach villa or living in some exotic country? When I saw this at the library, I figured I’d pick it up:

International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year

First off, this book was written by people who lived what they’re writing about – which makes it highly credible. It is an easy and fast read written like a good buddy chatting about his life over coffee. It is clearly geared for people who are thinking about retiring abroad for the first time as opposed to an in-depth or technical guide. Its main strengths are that it gives you a great broad overview sufficient for you to begin your deeper dives elsewhere, and for the realities/questions to ask yourself to see if retiring abroad is really right for you. Its biggest weaknesses are that it lacks depth in legal/technical/financial matters and definitely paints an overly rosy/optimistic picture on most of its topics.

Good points/advice:

  • The book is very easy and quick to read. Covers a lot of ground and give a great broad overview.
  • He has sample real-world budgets of his own living expenses along with discussions about what that buys you (at least in the author’s country).
  • Probably the best part of the book is the chapter on if life abroad will mesh with you or not. He tells you to really dig deep and be brutally honest with yourself. I wish he’d gone into this more, but it was a great eye opener. I believe he correctly asserts that the more brutally honest you are with yourself, the better your decision will be. He breaks his points down into about 10 questions and refers you back to them again and again. They boil down to these points:
    • Are you ok with change and living as your new country lives? This isn’t a retirement community, it is a lifestyle change to live more as a traveler. Do you love at least a little adventure every day doing even common things like getting around, buying toothpaste, etc – or do you want to ‘nest’ in US comforts?
    • You cannot afford to ‘take it with you’ nor will you likely want to. Living abroad on these budgets means you will live and eat as that country lives. Cosmetics, medication, deodorant, snack foods, tv shows, furniture, etc – all will be different. In many cases, you simply can’t live as you did. Electronics here might make no sense in a country with no internet fast enough to stream Netflix – or will not work at all on ‘dirty’ 3rd world power or the country’s 220/50hz power grid. That heirloom cloth pattern chair will do nothing but mold in humid tropical beach climates. That fancy washing machine will not work with local hookups or water/electrical quality. You will also need to eat local foods to live cheaply. Are you ok with that, or need your steak dinners each night?
    • Be honest about the weather you like. Are you really a beach person or would mountains suit you better? Are you ready for sand all the time and 100% humidity every day for 6-8 months? Are you ok with rainy seasons? Have you traveled to your country of choice during the ‘worst’ season?
    • Are you ready to live, recreate, eat, and pattern your life after how your target country lives? How attached are you to watching US football or sports? How do you spend free time and are you able to get supplies for hobbies there? Are you ok with neighborhood roosters crowing at 6am every day (with no noise ordinances)? Are you ok with the slower, possibly more corrupt pace of business and government services? Poverty, food safety, and animal treatment in your new country may shock you. Will you be ok with building new local friends/connections on relationship and spending time rather than business/utility?
    • Are you really ready to leave natural support nets with your grandkids, family, friends, communities, and lifestyle here in favor of skyping/visits? Flying home is one of the biggest costs you’ll have – are you cool with only 1-3 visits a year? Are you ok leaving business associates and other professional contacts behind?
    • If you have a spouse, are you evaluating these questions with them and both onboard 100%
  • Great common-sense advice like:
    • Take at least one long trip, and hopefully several/yearly trips, to your destination before moving. Preferably at least once during the ‘worst’ season (hottest/rainiest/etc).
    • Don’t decide to buy a home there while drinking a margarita by the beach. Contact a local lawyer and ask yourself the deep soul-searching questions he had above.
    • What we would have done differently from those that went there.
    • Getting a reputable local lawyer for real estate purchases and protecting surviving spouses by writing contracts properly.
    • Don’t expect to make any extra income by working there. The pay will not be sufficient to make up gaps.
    • You may not need to become fluent, but if US tax laws confuse you, imagine doing legal documents and taxes in a foreign language. You’re going to need to hire a few lawyers at the beginning for sure.
    • Be prepared/able to return if this doesn’t work for you. Some people find it very difficult and give up. Others do great for years, but ultimately decide to return for family.
    • The US is based on Common Law, while most of the rest of the Americas are Civil Law. This makes getting a good lawyer for things like buying a home essential.
  • He has information about individual countries in the book. The best communities in that country for ex-pats on a budget and interesting social/financial/cultural notes. It’s a great place to get started to dig deeper.
  • Basic overview of how medical insurance works in other countries – especially private/public coverage and important key questions/differences to ask to make sure you’re getting the coverage you need.
  • Basic information and common issues with buying a house abroad and the fact you will absolutely want a local lawyer for this type of transaction.
  • Some basic differences between Common Law and Civil Law:
    • You must codify transferral of your home/property to surviving spouses after your death or they might have to go fight for their own home.
    • You must do very thorough ownership history checks or you could end up in a legal fight with a great grandchild that never signed a release on property that you purchased.


  • The book simply is not sufficient to actually plan a move abroad. It gives a great starting point, but you will need to do a lot more homework. Especially financial and legal homework.
  • Big sections read like just common sense since it doesn’t give enough specifics on many topics. This, however, might be what some romantic types need.
  • Focuses primarily on Central and South America, even though none of those (except Mexico) are in the top 10 countries of expats. However, some of the top 10 are likely not livable on $25k/year.
  • I feel he paints too rosy a picture of living aboard when it comes to personal safety and health care.
    • He makes many valid points about several countries on his list having tentatively ‘better’ healthcare – but that was as defined in an old study he quotes by the UN. Without specifics of their metrics used, I’m tempted to believe a country might get great marks for maternity care and treating common ailments but may not do well at all for what the average 65 year old (til death) will deal with. His budget numbers/livability also assumes you are a ‘relatively healthy 65 year old person’. He has no data on cancer treatment, heart condition treatment, etc. These are all things to consider since, not to be morbid, this is where you are going to likely pass away. You could find yourself passing away much earlier if the quality of care is bad for the treatment you need.
    • Missing altogether is an honest discussion about inevitable end-of-life care you will receive there (terminal cancer, organ failure, etc). There is no discussion about handling or treatment of those permanently disabled by stroke, dementia, etc.
    • He asserts things are much more safe than I believe is wise. While traveling abroad is usually safe, there are real concerns. A good example is how he talks about how great his own Ecuador is, yet never talks once about the real security threats that a personal friend who was in the Peace Corps encountered. During an uprising, they were evacuated from their mountain towns to the capital, protected under armed guards in a compound, then flown home as things deteriorated. Brazil has serious safety issues in their big cities with paid executions in broad daylight. He doesn’t mention the growing dangers of kidnapping, car jacking, etc in Mexico. At best, he mentions that ‘he has stories’ and that one lady was fleeced in a real estate purchase, but doesn’t give sufficient details for my tastes.
  • Not enough really detailed financial advice. I can’t fault the book on this since you could write a whole book on that, but this book simply doesn’t give you enough information on the financial planning steps you should go through. How to handle taxes, considerations of where/how to generally arrange finance, keeping money in-country vs out of country, etc.