I Resigned - What's next?


On Friday, September 6th, I worked my last day for Bowdoin College, and perhaps my last day for a traditional employer (always with the caveat that if Barak calls me for a favor, I’m in). What started in 2015 as a burning desire to provide a more abundant lifestyle for my then-unborn daughter, turned into constant research, which turned into an ever-growing side-gig, which turned into me giving two weeks notice two weeks ago.

That feeling of excitement at meeting new people and new possibilities is back. While I had great co-workers, my desk job had become monotonous and frustrating. I am now ready to wrestle a grizzly (a very tame, trained, declawed and de-fanged grizzly)…It would still win. But you know what I mean- I’m pumped about what’s next. What is that you ask?

First let me take us back to 2015. Rommy, my wife, is pregnant with our daughter (hurray!). Soon I will be the only bread-winner for an undetermined amount of time. While my job in development at Bowdoin College paid all the bills, we weren’t saving meaningful amounts of money and any non-profit job would not do much more than pay bills. I wasn’t willing to ‘sell out’ and use my MBA for a bland corporation. While I had already proven adept at investing my paltry savings in the stock market, tripling a very small amount of money is still a small amount and not a reliable source of income. Nor is writing (though I hope to have more time for this now!).

At Carleton College in 2003, I took a life-changing class called Building the Eco House taught by our Director of Facilities, architect Richard Strong. J-Lo also took the class with me. More on him later. I loved the class so much, I became a paid teaching assistant the next two years when it was offered, essentially re-taking it twice. J-Lo and I built Carleton’s first green roof with full funding and support from Richard Strong and I was seriously pondering a career in green roofing. Fast forward to 2015 when I was mowing the lawn, listening to podcasts and I stumbled on the real estate podcast Bigger Pockets and realized that this was one area where a fellow could, through study, hard work and grit, turn nothing into something. The problem is that lots of real estate types are Presidential-level douchbags and landlords vie with used car salesmen for worst reputed profession. I suddenly realized that I could justify becoming a real estate investor and landlord to myself by making a lot of buildings more sustainable.

I had already insulated my house and popped on solar panels (back pat back pat), but that’s just one house. Not exactly saving mother earth. I had decommissioned my own oil furnace and replaced it with heat pumps (back pat) but again, small personal changes won’t change societal problems. But what if I could both start making extra money for my unborn daughter AND decommission other people’s fossil fuel systems…? It was on. I started devouring real estate books and podcasts for 2-3 hours every day. I met local investors, I talked to realtors, and in late 2016, I partnered with family to buy a single family investment property.

That was a massive learning experience and led me to buy a 3-unit property just a 7 minute walk down the street from the office where I worked. This was a delicious little secret. I could walk or bike over to my building to check on it during lunch. With both properties I dove into renovations, hiring contractors and learning how to do (and not do) all kinds of things like remodel a kitchen. Feeling empowered and energized, I reached out further and in 2018, bought three buildings totaling 26 units with family/friend investors providing the capital and me providing the research, acquisition and asset management. By this time I had hired 3rd-party property management because while I could easily manage a few units myself remotely and hold down full time jobs as dad and employee, 30 units was a non-starter.

In early 2019 I organized a larger group investment in a 10-unit mixed use commercial building in downtown Brunswick and also invested in a 6-unit building in Lewiston with my brother. I’m under contract on a building abutting my original 3-unit so the total now of units I co-own is 50. While this may sound impressive, I’m a minority owner of most of these and the passive income is not enough for me to hang up my boxing gloves and retire anytime soon.

Which leads me to the other two activities I’ll be diving into. The buyer’s agent I worked with for the past few years Don Spann had encouraged me to get my broker’s license, which I did in January so I’ll be helping other people invest in, sell and lease commercial real estate throughout Maine. When my best friend Brian Sprague from graduate school was looking for work and my 3rd property management company was under-performing, I knew that the best way forward was to found my own company- so together we’ve created Katahdin Property Management. Right now we’re learning new software and making all the beginner mistakes on my buildings, but soon we’ll put out our shingle and market to other owners.

We recently helped settle several Rwandan families that were housed in overflowing Portland homeless shelters and the Bowdoin student newspaper ran this story on my very last day on the job. My wife Rommy also works at Bowdoin and my two toddlers attend the Bowdoin Children’s Center, hence the photo for this post showing my old staff ID on the left and my new Spouse Gym ID on the right. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity real estate has given me to make people’s lives and neighborhoods better places and I’m excited to see what’s possible.

Posted on August 31, 2019 .

Hop on Pop

I may have started a dangerous game. I taught my 3 year old daughter ‘hop on pop’. Basically I just lie prone or curl up in a ball and she ‘wrestles’ me, squealing, “Here comes trouble!” Naturally now my 18 month old joins in, even though he can’t say ‘hop on pop’ yet. It’s becoming a problem because I’ll ask my daughter, “OK Sisa, are you ready for nap time?”

She’ll respond, “Only if I can hop on pop”. Pro-parenting tip, letting your toddler hop on pop before going to bed actually prevents them from going to bed and gets them all wound up.

Before she goes to sleep my wife and I always ask Sisa what she wants to dream about. She’ll often respond with an activity or a favorite character like Moana. For the past two days she’s responded with a giggle, “I want to dream about hopping on pop.”

Posted on July 14, 2019 .

Done with a phone?

As a parent of two toddlers with a full time job etc. There isn’t always as much time to nestle down in front of a desktop with a cup of coffee (which I no longer drink) to thoughtfully take care of all the online tasks I want to. I’ve learned to let go and trust that doing it on a mobile phone is OK. For instance, right now I’m accompanying my daughter while she falls asleep. It occurred to me that I need to post today. Then it occurred to me that squarespace (the software that powers this blog and my website) probably has a mobile app. 5 min later, it was download and today’s post is done while my little angle has me by her side.

Posted on July 13, 2019 .

Meeting Mueller

I’d been pondering what to say to Robert Mueller for months. We were going to be at an event together and I hoped I’d have a chance to meet him. What should I ask him? I’d been muellering it over and nothing jumped out at me. While I was dying to know a range of things both about his investigation and his life in general, I imagined (correctly) that I both wouldn’t have much time to talk to him and that I didn’t want to come off either as a rabid fan or political ideologue etc. I had thought about polling friend of Facebook about what to say, but the idea seemed a tad crass or braggadocios to me, so I kept it under my hat (until now).

Finally the time came and there he was in person! At an opportune time when he was by himself, I summoned up some conviction and extended my hand to introduce myself. After I brief introduction, I said the only thing that really seemed appropriate to say to this man at a first time meeting with little context, “I just want to thank you for your service to our country and say how much I appreciate what you’ve done.”

Unsurprisingly, he was humble and politely thanked me. To my surprise, he asked some casual questions about me and my background before we parted ways. In trying to process this brief introduction for nuggets of either wisdom or just observations, one piece does crystalize for me. Mueller is a genuinely nice and respectful person who instinctively serves and thinks of others.

Posted on July 11, 2019 .

30 Posts in 30 Days

Tim and Seth made me do it.

Tim and Seth made me do it.

I’m a podcast junkie as some of you well know. I was listening to a particularly inspiring episode of the Tim Ferris show with guest Seth Godin who writes a daily blog. I’m giving it a try for a few reasons:

  1. It forces me to plant my flag in something every day- a thought to share, a story, an observation.

  2. It sharpens my writing skills and builds a daily practice that improves my editorial/authorial stamina if you will. As a runner I run almost every day, so too must I write.

  3. It helps me build an audience by providing fresh content every day and helps my audience learn more about who I am and vice versa!

  4. I’m launching Cyber Fire on July 25th and this will help fans like you spread the word!

Annnnd, we’re off!

Posted on July 9, 2019 .

100% Kickstarted! 3 Next Steps

Cyber Fire Banner.jpg

It’s not where you start the race, it’s where you finish. After a fast start in early December, ebbs and flows mid-month we finished strong (with 17 minutes to go) with 58 backers contributing $2,986 to launch Cyber Fire. THANK YOU for supporting these efforts. I celebrated by taking a 48 hour break and letting my long lustrous hair down. Now it’s back in the saddle and HEEEYYAA to make this manuscript into a book!

What’s next?

  1. DESIGN I’m sending the finished manuscript to graphic designer Katie Murphy of North Yarmouth notoriety. She designed Coffee Smuggler for me and I’m excited to transform a ho-hum Word doc into a gripping page turner. Marion Strauser (who made the banner image above using my artist friend Vanessa Michalak’s Night Sky painting) will work with Katie on the cover and jacket design.

  2. LAUNCH STRATEGY AND PLAN My friend (and emmy award winner) Shy Mukerjee has offered to coach me in this realm. I’ll get help from webspert and fellow author Ben Birney. My goal is to get this way, way beyond the ‘family and friends’ realm into the hands of Jane Q. Public by selling at least 10,000 copies in 2019. You can help with the March launch by quickly buying a copy (if you didn’t back the Kickstarter or want more copies) and writing an online review. Reviews, links, mentions, etc drive sales.

  3. KICKSTARTER REWARDS My loyal Kickstarter Publishers will all be listed on the first page of the book and you’ll be the first to get copies in March before it’s available to Jane Q. Public.

That’s all for now. If you’re not on my email list, please hop on here.

With excitement and appreciation,


Posted on January 3, 2019 .

My 2019 Resolutions Menu. Yours?

First, to those who've backed the Cyber Fire Kickstarter, THANK YOU.
To those who (like me) are in the "I've been meaning to do that one of these days" camp, let's make today the day!

I'm getting sweaty palms as the Dec 31 deadline approaches and even just $10 gets you the book which I'm probably going to sell in March for $12.99, just saying...

I love resolutions, vows, and challenges of willpower big and small. Not that I'm always good at them mind you! Here is a list I'm contemplating for 2019. I'd love to get your feedback on mine and hear yours as well!

This one scares and excites me. It's a stretch, but it's possible. Why? Whyyyy you ask? I love that feeling of bliss that comes from getting in a workout and creative work all before the day really starts. It makes the rest feel like a bonus day. Not sure if I should allow myself flexibility for sickness and the unforeseen, could either lead to success or slippery slope...If I'm going to take this on, then I'll also need to accomplish the next one...

Sexy and wild right? I'd make this resolution with the following caveats: I can stay up past 9pm if there's a good social reason to do so. Often I "get sucked into the internet" and end up perusing social media or news at night. Useless at best and destructive to my Goal 1 at worst. My other caveat is that once my body is in bed at 9pm, I can read as long as I damn well please (which is rarely more than 20 min).

Running nerds know what I mean. Run a mile every day. Rain or shine (or snow, sleet, hail, sickness etc.) I tried this in 2016 and failed, though I made up to when my daughter was born, so I'm giving myself a sticker. A variation of the streaking resolution could be WORKOUT INTENSELY FOR 10 MIN EVERY DAY. So in crappy weather I can do stretch circuits in the basement etc. Maybe I'm looking for an excuse to buy a treadmill?

I mean, I can cancel it if Cyber Fire sells 100,000 copies and is made into a movie, but assuming my book writing career remains as unremunerative as most do, I plan to continue accelerating my real estate investing goals and projects. I've begun working with family/friend investors to renovate and improve Maine properties so if you're want to know more feel free to drop me a line.

Why? Whyyyy you ask? I just had some oh so delicious bacon. That said, every since my 90 day plant-based dietary challenge, it has actually been very easy for me to avoid me. I desire it less since the carcinogenic and artery-clogging characteristics are front of mind. I'd say I average 2-3 servings of meat per month right now (basically whenever I'm offered bacon). I average probably 100 servings of sugar per month: cookies, ice cream, jam, sweetened fruit juice, you name it. It's not even that sugar itself is so bad for me, just that most of the things that are made with it are. They're delicious treats though, so if I take this one on, it will be tough.

This will be hard. Most of it is in my control. I’d be excited about selling 1,000 copies, but in this age of ebooks and online marketing, reviews etc. All it takes is some good buzz, algorithm success and your reviews (hint hint) to push sales higher. I want Cyber Fire’s message to reach a truly mass audience and help justify my years of labor on this one. Meanwhile, I’ll be chipping away at my next book, a biography of Mensen Ernst, the greatest ultra-runner in human history…

That's it. Keeping it simple at 6 for now. If you've read this far, I'd like 3 things from you.
1. For heaven's sake, please help get Cyber Fire to the Kickstarter goal here!
2. What are your reactions, suggestions, and experiences with any of these resolutions?
3. What resolutions are you considering for 2019.



Posted on December 24, 2018 .

90 Days of Plants - Part 2

I did it. 90 days of no meat, no dairy, no oil, no sugar. I started with no alcohol too, but after the Superbowl came by I reduced that one to 'very very little alcohol for 90 days.' Actually 93 days elapsed. That's a funny story. I had done a blood test about 45 days in and planned to do another at the end. But life was busy; kids, work, etc. and I was thinking to myself, 'I know I'm healthier, I weigh less, do I really have to pay $50 and carve an hour or two out of my schedule to get some test results where I already basically know the answer?'

Rommy started making delicious multi-grain bread.

Rommy started making delicious multi-grain bread.


I wavered and almost didn't schedule it. But finally, on the phone with the doctor's scheduler, I took their first available time that worked for me- it was three days after I was supposed to be done. Most of my diet was easy for me in terms of willpower. Those last three days were actually pretty hard- especially when I had to fast for 12 hours prior to the blood test. It's that feeling when the end is in sight, you're almost there, that you really want to stop pushing. To take your foot off the gas. To just eat a cookie or some hummus (which all has olive oil).

So what can I share about this experience? I suppose I should start with the data and results:

Weight Start: Start 168 : Goal: 155 Halfway: 151 lbs  End: 148
Resting Heart Rate Start 70-80 : Goal 60 Halfway: 57 End: 64
Height 5’9  Goal 6’1 (just seeing if you’re reading) End: Diet failed to make me tall
Blood Pressure Start: 118/85 : Goal 110/70 Halfway: 128/78  End: Forgot to measure...
HDL Cholesterol Start: 40 : Goal 60  End: 44
LDL Cholesterol Start: 141 : Goal 70 Halfway: 100 End: 109
Total Cholesterol Start 199 : Goal 150 Halfway: 145 End: 157
Fasting Glucose Start 96 : Goal 70 Halfway: 86 End: Untested
Triglycerides Start: 127 Halfway: 102 End: 67
Steps/day Start: 6500 : Goal 10,000+ Halfway: 8,656  End: 11,080

Let's take some of these results individually. Weight. I weigh less now. This is kinda nice. I feel a bit more confident jumping in the pool for Sisa's swimming lessons. My running feels easier and faster. Those are the pros. The cons are that most of my nice work clothes are loose. I look like a 90s rapper with baggy pants and shirts. This was the most visible result of the diet, one that friends and family either complimented me on or complained about. Weight is kinda a no-win too, I'm either a little on the chubby 'dad-bod' side or I'm 'too skinny'. I can't be bothered to lift weights, so I'll opt for skinny. An interesting conclusion is that extra weight sheds itself really fast in the beginning where I lost 17 pounds in 45 days and then 3 pounds in another 45.

Resting heart rate. First, I skimped on budget and bought a cheap Chinese pedometer that promised to track my heart rate and blood pressure. It did both of these as promised- just wildly inaccurately. I also didn't really understand what resting heart rate meant. I assumed it was when I was sitting in a chair being inactive. After I upgraded to an Apple Watch (which I love love love!) about three weeks in, I discovered that their resting heart rate is basically measured when I'm asleep. So there may have been some improvement here, but it's uncertain.

My cholesterol dramatically improved during this self-experiment. Interestingly, my LDL 'bad cholesterol' had a better score halfway through than at the end, but my HDL 'good cholesterol' only improved towards the end. Conclusion: this diet improved my cholesterol by about 25%.

My Glucose score improved quite a bit by halfway through, but for whatever reason, the lab didn't perform a glucose test on my final visit, so I'll never know the final result. I can live with that.

I slashed my triglycerides in half. This is also a strong argument to keeping and holding a diet like this, since I only realized half of my improvement after 45 days and another equally large improvement by the end.

Finally, my steps steadily ticked up. My guess is that this actually correlates more to weather than my fitness drive since I started in January and ended in March. But again, it's a win so I'll take it.

The first week or two of this diet were challenging. Temptations abounded. But as I settled in and grew comfortable with what I was eating, they melted away and a new normal developed where I wasn't tempted to eat anything with a forbidden ingredient. My indulgent dessert became bread, chunky peanut butter and lots of honey. My snack du jour was walnuts or raisins. Only later did I discover dried cherries which are superior to raisins in every way.

There were a few times when I really ate badly. Like my lunch was a small bowl of white rice I grabbed from the fridge and maybe an apple. But let's replace badly in that sentence with simply. This diet removed 97% of all the myriad food options that abound in society and our kitchen and I was left to explore the remaining 3%. All of which is healthy. That was the fun thing about this diet. Where previously, overeating and overindulging produced extra pounds and unhealthy side effects, can a person eat too much avocado? If so, I probably did. At no point during this diet did I care about portions. I ate whatever I wanted (within the rules) whenever I wanted and in whatever quantity I desired. A funny thing happened though. I was less hungry. At first I thought this might just be a trick of my mind. But as time went on, I grew more certain- I was really less hungry. One plate filled me up when two or three would've been desired before. I think a lot of this has to do with removing energy-density from my food. By that I mean that energy-dense food tricks our stomachs into 'thinking' that we're not full- meat, oils, fats, sugar, all of these tell our body to keep eating. Whereas ruffage, basically just plant leaves and bulky beans, grains and nuts tell fill our stomachs to the brim and our guts send a poignant signal- stop, I'm really full of fiber.

I enjoyed the challenge of the diet. I had great energy and felt fine. So what am I doing now? I've found a new baseline. Things with even small amounts of oil taste and feel extremely oily to me. Cheese feels like eating pure butter. Milk is gross (unless on cereal or with brownies). I've decided to allow myself to eat whatever I want and test myself again in a few months to see if I've arrived at a healthier baseline than my pre-diet numbers. One thing I'm avoiding is meat. I know it's bad for me, bad for animals and bad for the planet. That said, I'm not going 100% vegetarian. Some meats are either too delicious or it would be rude for me to refuse. Some also come by surprise. I ate an egg roll thinking it was vegetarian but BOOM, it had meat inside. Rather than spitting it out, I ate the egg roll. I think I'll probably eat meat somewhere between 0-2 times per month though where before it was 1-2 times per week. I'd prefer for it to be 0, but realistically, without a solemn vow of meat chastity, the occasional bite of meat won't kill me.

My hope is that you'll give a diet like this a try. I loved this experience. If I were ever confronted with a life-threatening heart condition or need to cleanse by body before/after cancer etc, I'd go back to this plant-only diet in a heartbeat and I'm trying to keep it central to my everyday eating going forward. I hope this has been helpful for you and please don't hesitate to comment or ask questions.




Posted on April 30, 2018 .

90 Days of Plants - Part 1


We all indulge in sweets. Melting vanilla ice cream with maple syrup and crushed walnuts on top. A glass or two of smooth buttery red wine from Bordeaux. A tangy IPA when you get home. Grilled bison burgers. Hot fried chicken with honey on top. Raw salmon and tuna sushi. Flakes of hard aged Parmesan cheese from Piedmont, Italy. Wash it all down with cold organic milk...Hungry yet? We know it's bad for us but it tastes great and makes us happy, so why not indulge? Everybody does it. We even convince ourselves its healthy because its free range or organic. We're omnivores after all.

Everybody also gets cancer. Everyone also gets heart disease. People close to me have died early- very early, from both. I keep up with the health and medical news. For a few years I've been generally trying to reduce my meat consumption- knowing that it promotes cancer and heart disease. While I've cut back, I certainly can't say I feel any healthier. I'm not in better shape. Now I have not one but two little children that depend on me. In the two months after my son's beautiful entry into the world on November 3rd, I stayed up late watching him each night, indulging myself with a nice beer and heaping bowls of ice cream while watching football. Despite being a lifelong runner, I'd only laced up my shoes a handful of times since his birth. New Years was around the corner and I wanted a change.

Maybe its the competitor in me- but I enjoy challenges of willpower (to a point) and taking on vows. To me, a vow must be kept with no compromises unless life itself is on the line. So it was that I decided to embark on another dietary challenge. This one would be different from previous culinary adventures like when I only ate local ingredients from within 100 miles for 30 days (very very hard), giving up alcohol for six months (pretty easy) or when I ate only organic ingredients for a month (medium). This time I'd focus like a laser on a diet that I believe to be entirely healthy. Only plants. No meat, no dairy, no fish, no added oil, no added sugar, no alcohol. This limits me to exclusively grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

I began preparing by measuring every pre-challenge health indicator of mine I could. I was not surprised to discover that at 34 year old I wasn't very healthy:

Weight 168 : Goal 155
Resting Heart Rate 70-80 : Goal 60
Height 5’9 : Goal 6’1 (just seeing if you’re reading)
Blood Pressure 118/85 : Goal 110/70
HDL Cholesterol 40 : Goal 60
LDL Cholesterol 141 : Goal 70
Total Cholesterol 199 : Goal 150
Fasting Glucose 96 : Goal 70
Triglycerides 127 : Good enough
Steps/day 6500 : Goal 10,000+

My blood is not healthy- the optimal LDL (bad) cholesterol level is below 100 and I'm about 50% above that in what some call the "pre-heart disease risk zone." I'd seen enough health documentaries to know that many of those numbers would improve if I stuck to my diet. I write to report on my results and experience so far- not to brag about what a dainty little vegan I've become, but to meditate on health and perhaps encourage others to give this a try. After all, my goal is the evaluate this diet after 90 days, see where my health indicators were and decide whether to add things back in.

As of now, I'd plan to add back limited amounts of alcohol, sugar, oil, and maybe some dairy like my old love, Parmesan cheese. I have a feeling that meat, fish and I may have parted ways forever and I may vow never to knowingly let them descend my trachea again. They're just too toxic to human health and their harvest is too harsh on the planet. I am sad about fish, since if there was a way to sustain ably harvest them and ensure that they didn't hold mercury, endocrine disruptors etc, I'd consider fish healthy. I used to catch fish and we'd eat them the same day. Fish tacos were my go to lunch item for years. Alas, bio-accumulation of toxins and heavy metals means that doctors recommend rationing even the innocuous sardine and even if they didn't, so many fish populations are in free fall that I'm not sure our children will see cans of tuna on super market shelves.

"So what do you eat?" people ask me. I joking respond with a straight face, "Dried grass, leaves, bark..." After a chuckle, I'll explain that I usually make a smoothie with my daughter for breakfast. I dump each ingredient onto her high chair and she either puts them in the blender or samples them and then puts the rest in.

Friends ask me to share recipes. I can't because I really hate recipes. I'm a goal oriented person but not necessarily a rule follower. I often resent overbearing authority figures and recipes are just that- rules rules rules. It's like doing homework to me. If I really have to, I'll follow a recipe, but only when the stakes are high. The way I like to cook is based on guidelines, upcoming expiration dates, intuition and experimentation. Meaning that you won't like half of what I might make, but you'll never eat the same exact thing twice. Here's my precise morning smoothie recipe:

One or two handfuls of walnuts. Sometimes a small handful of peanuts, but just a few adds a very strong flavor. Dump in some oats for about a second. One or two organic bananas, this is the base. A handful or two of a frozen fruit like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries or peaches. Don't add more than two or you'll lose the individual flavors. Sometimes wash and throw in a big handful of spinach. Sometimes add something else like pear, apple, or cantelope. Dust in some ground chia/flax seed. Add almond milk or some non-dairy non-sweetened liquid (I hate water smoothies, blah!) until the liquid is near the top of the stuff inside. Blend baby blend.

Things I've tried adding and do not recommend: anything stringy like lemon, clementines, grapefruit or oranges. Nothing too strong like garlic or ginger.  Honey (more because it will stick to everything around the blender), kale (too fibrous for my blender).

After four weeks of my diet, here is the report: I've lost about twelve pounds. I don't feel hungry as often as before. My stomach went through a gurgly transition the first week as I shifted from low fiber to basically only fiber. The second week I felt normal energy energetic and normal. Like pre-diet, I eat a lot, perhaps more than I should at dinner, usually a big heaping plate often followed by seconds or dessert. Now dessert is a piece of whole grain bread toasted with honey drizzled on top. I snack on nuts during the day and drink a lot of carbonated water and coffee. I'm really not yearning for what I see others eating around me, just occasionally steadying my hand. We often cook a meal that I can eat half of and the other half includes some meat, dairy or oil- I then can have leftovers for lunch the next day.

By week number three strange things started happening. Really strange. Back when I was in college, my sense of smell diminished greatly. It's hard to put a number on one's sense of smell, but I'd say mine went down by 30-50%. As a child, I picked up on flowers from afar, now I needed to bend down and insert my nose into their petals. My wife would hunt down some tiny rotting piece of fruit in our house while I would say she was crazy (she always found something). I didn't dare believe it at first, but after three weeks of eating plants, my nose felt clearer and I began smelling things a bit more accurately. At the same time, food flavors intensified. Each avocado I ate went from being soft green mush to having their own unique flavor profile that danced on my tongue. Lentil soup went from bland blah to each individual vegetable working together on jazz.

I digress, but while I cannot measure the change or even prove that it's real- this diet has regained my long lost sense of smell and sharpened my sense of taste. That alone is pretty cool. Week four has me feeling positive, energetic and vivacious. I feel like I'm selling something in the way that I describe this transformation. If only the big vegetable lobby would mail me the check.

The other day I got on a treadmill to run a mile during my lunch break. After a quarter mile warmup I set the pace to 6:30, expecting it to be hard. It wasn't too bad, so I did another quarter at that pace. That still wasn't bad so instead of a cool down I cranked it to 5:56 for a quarter. Running had me feeling light and excited. Well, maybe I was just excited about being light. After all, imagine carrying a six pound weigh in each hands for years and then suddenly letting go after four weeks of eating plants. It livens one's step.



Posted on January 14, 2018 .

Nuclear Plant Hacks?

I'm getting scooped left and right! It's really getting frustrating.

I'm getting scooped left and right! It's really getting frustrating.

Maybe I shouldn't write books that take place just a few years in the future based on plausible but disasterous world events...Because they keep coming true before my book is ready! E-Pocalypse is supposed to be a fictional dystopian thriller, not a non-fiction recounting of global news. Ugh. First a Maine-crewed vessel was lost at sea, then we begin facing off with the Chinese in the South China Sea and now this.

I guess I shouldn't complain because this BBC News story only mentions the Wolf Creek nuclear facility in Kansas getting hacked and my book features the Palo Verde plant in Arizona. 

Can we at least not have power plants hacked and shut down during a record heat wave? That's my entire premise, not to mention that doing so causes people to die and would be awful. This book is supposed to be a grim warning, a meditation on modern vulnerabilities and hubris, not a digest of events come and gone.

I had already been mumbling and grumbling when the Russian hacking story gained prominence. After all, they have been my fictional bad guy hackers since 2012. Do I now change my hacker villains to North Koreans, Chinese or Estonians just to avoid imitating life? Blah again.

I guess the only good news about E-Pocalypse about imitating life is that the second draft is now DONE and in the hands of my beloved Advance Readers. I hope to arrange for publication by year's end. Want to be an advance reader and receive a free copy and thank you in the acknowledgments? Just drop me a line. Edits due August 30.

-Dave Holman


Posted on July 7, 2017 .

The Baumer

Mark Baumer was way better than me on our baseball team growing up in North Yarmouth, Maine. He was a better athlete. He was a more ambitious writer than me. He was unfiltered. Authentic. Back in high school he was quirky and fun but hadn't grown into the full weirdness he later embraced. Back then, JD Seeley held the undisputed weirdness crown for the Greely class of 2002, but Mark clearly wrested it from him later in life. Mark was a man who never grew out of the inner boy and channeled his childlike curiosity in every hour he lived.

He was a fearless writer, artist and activist. His fearlessness led to his death and his fearlessness has led to the inspiration of thousands of people across the world who are now discovering his art online. He was a prophet of our times and also of his own death. His last video has over 26,000 views as of last count and his fundraising goal of $10,000 stands at over $20,000. Click below to donate in his honor:

Mark liked doing things. So he did things. He chose not to live within the comfortable middle class social boundaries than 999 out of 1000 people restrict themselves to. Why bother? That life didn't inspire him. Spontaneity, adventure, travel, and constant, constant creation were the trademarks of his inspired minimalism, self-experimentation and stubborn refusal to conform to a bland life of full time employment that is incumbent on most people.

I haven't kept in close touch with most of my high school classmates and Mark was one of the few who I tuned into. If you knew Mark, you couldn't help but tune in sometimes. He was constantly posting, writing, making videos, books, poems, wild crazy experiments, writing in the squirrely neon script of a child experimenting with life itself. He was mesmerizing.

Death makes us honest. And to be honest, and I'm embarrassed to say this, there were times over the years when I checked out his creations and then tuned out because it seemed to me that their poetic incoherence bordered on madness. I'm more of a non-fiction reader and I didn't get some of Mark's projects. Maybe I was jealous that he wrote 50 books in 50 days when it took me five years to write one. There were times when I really thought he might have gone crazy. As I began to pay attention to his barefoot journey and watch his videos I woke up to the realization that Mark was a genius.

First of all, his video editing, his rapid jump cuts, his constant stream of consciousness are addictive. Each video has moments of belly laughter, joy, weirdness and spontaneity. His videos are brilliant, well edited, and speak powerfully with his unique style and voice. They are raw, authentic and amazingly somehow edited on whatever mobile devices he could charge at gas stations and use under a tarp in the rain.

I began to identify with Mark again. I identified with his journey, with how his mind was working. I've been on long endurance hikes and marathons when my internal monologue stepped in to fill the boredom and pain of putting one foot in front of the other. Mark was talking to himself and talking to others at the same time. He created a fascinating window into his journey, his beliefs and mind through his art. He invited us all to walk with him. Barefoot. Across America.

Finally, after being out of touch with Mark for years, I posted link to his 99th video on Facebookand urged people to support his efforts. I meant to donate but didn't. I should've made that gift when he was alive but I didn't. I made my donation the next day when I heard the tragic news and my stomach sank. Too late.

Mark wrote me a short, simple and nice comment the day he died. It had weird emojis of course.

As I neared the end of writing this tribute to Mark, it occurred to me that his reply to my post might have been the day before he died. It wasn't. It was the morning of his death. It was at 9:56am. Fear suddenly shot through me. Was it possible that Mark had been distracted by writing to me? Could he have wandered near that white line as he looked down and typed to me? I pictured him smiling at an old name suddenly popping up after years of silence. I saw him walking in the sunshine, typing to me, momentarily oblivious to his surroundings, not looking up as an oncoming driver used their phone. Could I have been inadvertently responsible for killing my friend? I Googled articles with shaking fingers until I found one. Mark died three hours and nineteen minutes later.

Mark lived on another wavelength. He danced the line between genius and weirdness and blended both into a unique vegan smoothie of his own creation. His vision was prophetic in many ways. Like many great figures, it now almost seems like he had some premonition of his own passing from the Earth. After all, his site is literally https://notgoingtomakeit.com/ and the day before he died, he encountered a yellow post by the roadside with the word "killed" scrawled on the asphalt. In classic Baumer fashion, rather than avoiding this ominous sign, he embraced it and made art with it. He slapped that sucker on his blog. Now his bare, authentic, poetic feet announce his passing in characteristically bizarre style.

Mark was prolific, poetic and passionate. I'll be discovering more of his art over the coming weeks and years. I feel like I've only scratched the surface of a person who just constantly made fascinating things. He created so much in his 33 years and set it all up to be shared, commented on and discovered. I have no doubt he'll be inspiring people from all over the world to be weird, to act on their beliefs and to be creative for a long time to come. I hope you'll take the time to read, watch and listen to more of his creations. It hurts a lot to lose Mark, it still feels unreal, and I can't really accept that Mark is totally gone. Per one of his last videos- I like to think that Mark filled out the proper paperwork to become an owl and now he's an owl.


Posted on January 24, 2017 .

2017 Resolutions

As I drove down Sligo Road in Yarmouth, I started thinking about 2017. I love making resolutions, commitments and vows. They help me challenge myself, explore new ways of living, and also to find my limits or go beyond them. New year's resolutions offer the hope of improvement, fresh starts and new beginnings.

Here are the resolutions I'm considering for 2017. Some are broad, some are specific. I think that the more resolutions are like SMART goals (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, time-based) the better. I'm not sharing these goals to brag, but because I know that publicly committing will make me more accountable. I also hope that by sharing them I might inspire you to get to work on your own goals and give me feedback on mine.  I'd love to know what you think.

1. Be a fantastic dad and husband. OK, it's broad beyond belief. Yet, it's really my first priority for 2017, and I'll achieve it through more patience, open communication, and time management.

2. Run at least one mile every day without fail. 30+ min of exercise counts. I tried this last year and made it to March 24th, when we went into the hospital for our daughter to be born. I've been off the wagon. I'm getting back on. Running every day made me feel great. There were a few cold/sick/tired days when my run resembled a trudge, but my physical fitness level felt far better by spreading my mileage out all week than condensing it into 2-4 medium mileage days.

3. Publish my next book E-Pocalypse. This is a big one. It will require writing and/or editing 1000 words a day. I'm almost done with the first draft, but I've stalled at around 95,000 words. It will require query letters, dogged persistence and better time management.

4. Food and Diet. Here are a bunch of things I am eager to try:

  • Eat the Forks over Knives Diet in February. This means no meat, dairy or sugar. This will be tricky to balance with family omnivore considerations. I did this once before and forgot to eat enough salt because the diet makes finding allowable processed foods difficult and thus no extra salt is in my food like usual.
  • Only eat meat max three times per week and avoid it whenever possible. I'm close to this now so it won't be a big stretch.
  • Limit of 5 alcoholic drinks per week and none before driving. This will be easy since I stopped drinking in 2016 shortly after my daughter was born. It's a nuisance so I'm going from straight edge back to casual enjoyment.

5. Buy at least 2 rental units. I'm learning how to invest in real estate on the side. I realized that to save enough for my daughter's college, and allow me to eventually live the life of a part or full time writer, so I need to create passive income streams. The plan is to provide quality homes and move them towards energy efficiency and green materials. Achieving this goal will probably take the form of finding the deal, partners and financing to invest in a duplex or 4-plex apartment building in 2017.




Posted on December 20, 2016 .

Sligo Solar Part 3 - The Roof, The Roof

If you stood in our front lawn and gazed up at our roof, it looked fine- just like a shingled roof should look. Our inspectors had blessed it when we bought our house two years ago. Of course this same inspector missed the fact that daylight was visible from our attic around the bathroom exhaust fan pipe which had lost its ring seal- but that’s another story (and a good one that involved me worming my way over attic insulation in a gas mask with full cans of caulk and spray foam insulation in the dark in the February cold). But I digress. The roof.                 

I had a feeling that a 27 year old roof might not be in the pristine shape it appeared to be, so I asked a roofer if he’d be interested in coming over to look at it and provide me a quote for replacement, just in the off-chance that I’d need it. When he arrived we circled the house and he pointed out how some of the singles had a mild warp that caused their exposed ends to turn upwards. “That’s an early sign that they’re getting old. It’s not too bad. I’d say your roof has 5 to 10 more years in it.” He then cheerfully provided me the gut-wrenching $10,000 quote to replace said fully functional roof.

                  I began a long and almost-successful line of thinking that went like this: since solar radiation, temperature fluctuations and the impact of rain, hail, etc are what cause the most damage to roof shingles over time, installing solar panels over those singles might well protect them, extending their lifetime. Perhaps installing panels that will last 25-30+ years over 5-10 year shingles will magically convert those singles to 25-30 year shingles. This was a tempting line of thought with $10,000 was at stake and I indulged in it.

                  But what if I installed the panels somewhere other than my roof? Surely delaying a $10,000 expense for 5-10 years was worth the effort of considering a ground-mounted array. The trouble with ground-based arrays at my house is two-fold. My yard is quite well ringed by 50-75 foot tall trees and though we have some good areas of southern exposure for the panels, the trees would shade them for certain parts of the day or could even fall on them. I found myself considering how many of my trees I’d have to cut down to install solar panels. Sure, I’d chainsaw them up and burn them for heat, but still, it just felt wrong. We like our trees. I also had visions of our 4 clever pet goats finding a way up on top of a ground-mounted array and cavorting over our kilowatt generators and prancing on our panels. I considered a pole-mounted rotating panel array but the price per kilowatt hour was always 10-30% greater than a similar roof-based array, plus the ten year warranty on the hydraulic rotator didn’t reassure me.

                  Community solar offered an alternative to all this roof and ground confusion and it was (and is) taking off in Maine. Basically, anyone who lacks a good roof for solar (so most people) can get together with 9 other people and all buy panels that are sited in a field (typically a field owned by one of the 9 members). The beauty of this system is that a condo dweller in Portland can own solar panels in Penobscott that offset their Central Maine Power (CMP) electric bill every month. Anyone in the CMP service area all over Maine can do this anywhere in that service area. Maine has a net metering law whereby any excess power generated by one’s panels in a given month is banked as credit for 12 months until it expires. So in sunny summer months, solar owners can generate double or triple their usage while in the dark colder months they can use up the credits they banked so a properly sized system it averages out to about $0 each year.

                  There was only one company in Maine offering to facilitate community solar farms, and that was Revision Energy. They had given me some very competitive quotes and even offered their own 2.99% fixed rate financing on projects with a 12 year loan where the monthly payments came out to be very close to my current average electric bill payments. It seemed like a no-brainer. Except that community solar projects have extra costs. Lawyers are involved, landowners have to be paid rent, fields have to be mowed, the group has to insure its panels etc. Nonetheless, I pursued the idea but Revision kept discouraging me from trying because I had a perfectly situated south-facing roof. They insisted that I’d be paying more per kilowatt hour to go with community solar. A ten percent extra cost on a five-figure project is nothing to sneeze at. The fact that the cheapest quotes were always for people to climb up on my roof rather than work comfortably on the ground felt counter-intuitive, but it proved universally true- roofs are cheapest.

                     Both Rob and Revision had been firm in one thing: I’d be crazy to put brand new panels on a really old roof. I was so eager not to pay $10,000 to replace my roof that I even had Revision quote me how much it would cost to simply remove and reinstall the panels 10 years from now when I actually did have to replace my roof. After some head-scratching the answer of several thousand dollars came back. And the level-headed suggestion that I replace my roof. Rob brought up a genius idea, as he is wont to do: why not just replace half the roof?

                  Eureeka!  In fact, I really only had to replace about 40% (3 of 4 front pitches) of the entire roof to cover the area under where panels would go. I finally met with Rob for about two hours and got down to brass tacks.

We fully analyzed the pros and cons of ground mounted and tracker panels vs. a roof array and he provided a roof array quote that I reckoned as the cheapest (per kilowatt hour-installed) and highest quality of all the quotes I’d received. Plus, he had a really cool crystal ball instrument of sorts that allowed us to view how my trees would block a ground mounted array at all times of the day throughout the entire year. Rob got his calculator in full gear and something told me that the months I had spent quoting, questioning and analyzing needed transform into action- this was the best I was gonna get. I told him that I needed to figure out the roof situation and financing situation and I’d be back in touch.

                  Both happened quickly. I got a loan for the full amount of the panels and A+ Roofing gave me a jaw droppingly affordable quote of just over $3000 to replace my roof with energy star architectural shingles that reflect (rather than absorb) most of the sunlight that hits them. Game on. Roofers were soon swarming over our house, producing so much thudding that our cat’s years of paranoid vigilance proved to be warranted as she cowered in the basement expecting monsters to eat her at any moment. I estimate that the roofers smoked about one cigarette for every ten shingles they installed, but that was none of my business- it’s a damn hard job and my hat is off to anyone who can shimmy up a two story ladder with 70 pounds of equipment on their backs. A crane came and hoisted pallets of new shingles up and the men set to work with what looked like giant crowbars to pry off the old shingles into a giant tarp set up over our flower beds and plants below. They had our roof stripped bare, re-shingled, flashed, and ready for the senior prom in about six hours. Then they were cleaned up and gone with only a few scraps and cigarette butts left in their wake before I even got home from work. It was awe inspiring. They do indeed earn an A+.

                  Now the roof was ready...

Posted on November 20, 2015 .

Sligo Solar Part 2 - The Reckonings

The larger the investment, the more due diligence needs to be done. Before we bought our home, my wife Rommy and I poked around the crawlspaces and closets of twenty houses with our delightful real estate broker Dick Sproul. We saw stairways to nowhere and frogs in the basements of what from the outside appeared to be charming homes. There are no solar brokers that I know of to help one navigate the plethora of panels out there and the many firms pedaling them, but I could've used one! Hopefully this story will help others travel from the dark to the sunshine with solar.

The first decision to be made was a simple one: rent vs. own. In Maine we have the dubious fortune not to have companies targeting our tiny market for solar leasing, but this is very big business in most of the US. The lease deals sound too good to be true. They say, "We'll just come to your house and install solar on your roof totally free and it will lower your electric bills!"

What often happens in reality is that there are some installation costs involved to the home owner and the electric bills may not be significantly reduced. The lease company pockets all the federal, state and local incentives and derives a good profit margin while the homeowner actually loses money over time compared to buying their own panels. This is like leasing a zero emissions furnace for your basement. Let me be clear, I think solar leasing is far preferable to nothing and I would bless almost anything that moved society off fossil fuels, including solar leasing. Solar leasing slaps panels on roofs and reduces all the mercury, smog and pollution that would've powered that home. Leasing might make sense for some people in some situations (for instance if you plan to move in less than 8 years, which is the breakeven point on my solar panels), but the economics of buying panels, even by financing 100% of the costs, are undeniably superior for the homeowner. Would you lease a car for 25 years? Lease payments, and financing payments are similar in their monthly cost but the lease payments never end whereas paying off a solar loan lets you do the free electricity dance.

Though tempting with its apparent freeness, I ruled leasing out due to its actual costliness. Next, I needed to get quotes from solar companies, so I burned some gasoline to attend a community energy expo of sorts. Families and prospective buyers mingled with heat pump salesmen, energy efficiency consultants, solar contractors, and green business people of all stripes. I spoke with four solar installers, including our family friend Rob Taisey who has founded his own solar company Assured Solar.

Rob lives on a road near ours and is an unrepentant entrepreneur, engineer, tinkerer, inventor, and general jolly do-er of all things mechanical. His local claim to fame is his perfectly named business Stump and Grind, which uses gigantic robotic chainsaws to make stumps wish their seeds had never sprouted. Despite his mustache, suspenders, and unconventional interests, Rob is actually a Bowdoin College graduate and former nuclear engineer which put him on the extremely over-qualified fringe of solar representatives at the community expo who ranged from professional sales reps to recent college grads. Rob started dabbling in solar back before it was cool in the 70s now his former hobby employs almost a dozen people in our town.

Naturally, I wanted to work with Rob but, being a believer in due diligence, played hard to get, circulating among many solar booths and requested quotes from all. I couldn't afford to pay thousands of dollars extra just because Rob was a friend, so I resolved to only choose Assured Solar if their quote was closely competitive with the other quotes. As we chatted, Rob pointed out a startling idea that I hadn't considered, "You know, you could put panels on your roof that would power your parent's house on Chebeague Island too."

I did not know this. I'd never heard of such a thing. But it was intriguing and after some discussion, my parents hopped on the bandwagon as well. They also use heat pumps so their electric bills justified a solar investment.

The next question to tackle with the installers providing quotes was a choice between 3 options: a roof array, fixed ground-based array, or a pole-mounted 'tracker' array that followed the sun's angle perfectly throughout the day. The pros and cons of each possibility from each installer multiplied the complexity of my decision making process and bogged me down with hypotheticals. Some weeks after the expo as quotes and possibilities trickled in, I picked up a magazine in a doctor's office and learned about the rapid growth of community solar farms in Maine...

To be continued in part 3.


Posted on November 13, 2015 .

Sligo Solar Part 1

I'm really excited about a project put solar panels on my house. I'm going to share some of the experiences with this process here as unrepentant solar evangelist in the hopes of convincing even the most hardbitten oil-burning wild catter to give solar a chance.

Before I go any further, I want to shout one key message from the rooftops: I'm doing this because it's cheaper than natural gas and oil in the short, medium and long run. I heat my Maine home with two high efficiency electric heat pumps and we have a third that heats our water, so we pay a hefty $140 per month on average in electric bills to keep our house a toasty 70 degrees. That's water, space heating and electric for about $1700 per year. I'm taking out a 10 year loan with a 3% fixed interest rate for $13,000 (the price of the system after a 30% federal tax rebate). These solar panels will offset 100% of my annual electric usage and the monthly payments on that loan will be $127. So I will pay about $13 less every month than I pay now, and each bill represents a mini-mortgage payment to own my own electrical generating system rather than "rent" electricity from the coal-fired grid. After 10 years of loan payments, my space heating, water heating, and electric bills simply...stop. For 20+ years. Over the 30 year life of this system, I estimate I'll save about $25,000, averaging about $865 a year.  Although I'll break even in 8 years, because I'm financing this (rather than using my own money), the savings start on day 1. So I'll shout it from another rooftop, solar can be radically cheaper than oil or natural gas. Plus it can't catch on fire, explode, pump pollutants into our atmosphere, get spilled into the gulf of Mexico, or lend support to petro-state monarchies and dictatorships. Well, I suppose you could dump a panel into the Gulf, but you know what I mean.

The wheels started turning in my mind back in college when I learned enough about science to realize that we're on the brink of catastrophic climate change within the next 100 years. If you believe in science, that reality of climate change is not up for debate. What is up for debate are the countless details of how the catastrophe will unfold: how fast will it happen? When? Where? What impact will feedback loops have? Which populations can adapt and which must migrate? How much coastline will be lost and where? How badly will different argicultural regions and societies fail? When will we lose the glaciers? Can we capture carbon and terraform Earth to slow this down? If we can, should we? When will the Great Barrier Reef be gone? When will Greenland's icecap melt start contributing to significant sea level rise? Will polar bears go extinct? Will it get really bad by 2030, 2050 or 2100? These are all urgent questions that our best scientists and climate models can't answer with great precision and they are also great excuses for the complacent to do nothing because firm answers are not forthcoming.

End Part 1

Posted on October 21, 2015 .

1000 words an hour

I've been writing a lot recently. The first draft of my next book is about one third finished with almost 30,000 words in the can. There's one hitch. I switched from working on my non-fiction running book about Mensen Ernst to working on my fiction novel, E-Pocalypse. I had gotten bogged down frankly. With company in our house for several months and a lot of dense historic research to handle, I was spending weeks and months this Spring and Summer without making much progress.

I needed some low hanging fruit. Something easy. So I put Mensen aside for a while (not long I hope!) and switched to writing the fast paced thriller E-Pocalypse. This one has been FUN. It's gotten me excited about writing again, and that's an intangible but elemental necessity. Where I used to get up early to write, this past week I've been very productive between 9 and 11pm. Routine is key, but sometimes changing it can help shake me out of a non-writing stupor.

I'm excited about E-Pocalypse because it weaves together three challenges facing society today:

  • Environmental problems like global warming and glacial melting
  • Cybercrime in the internet of things and the vulnerability of infrastrucutre to cyber attack
  • Macroeconomic instability in a digital financial system that cannot quickly absorb shocks

Throw in a lot of multi-cultural intrigue, plenty of romance, and I hope I have something you'll really enjoy. Writing fiction feels effortless after 6 years laboring over historic non-fiction. It's like switching from bulky trainers into racing flats or taking an addition class after calc. I'm not saying my book will be a great success or that this is actually effortless, but it certainly releases me from the burden of research. Where each written page in non-fiction might require me to read and synthesize ten, fiction turns this ratio on its head. I still enjoy mixing a lot of real history, politics, people and places into E-Pocalypse, and I've been able to spend 60-90 minutes producing about 1000 words almost every day in recent weeks. I feel some momentum building. At this pace I could finish my first draft by December and have a free copy ready for advance readers by February.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Dave Holman

Posted on October 3, 2015 .

Friday Event, Diving Deep, and 1000 Miles in 1000 Hours

First, if you live in Southern Maine, I invite you to come to the Portland Public Library this Friday, March 6, at 12pm to hear me speak about Coffee Smuggler as part of their Local Author Series.

With that plug out of the way, I am excited to tell you a little bit about the research I've been diving into. I haven't read like this in years. Err, decades. I'm averaging a book every five days.

I realize that this is normal for many of you and perhaps even slow for the real speed readers out there, but for most of my adult life, I've read a book about every 3-5 weeks. Good ones go quicker, boring ones languish or get put aside. Pretty soon after I first learned to read (I was a late bloomer in those embarrassing pull-out classes until 3rd grade), I went from 0 to 60 and spent the next 5 or so years reading a book per week for pleasure. I loved losing myself in the story and couldn't wait to pick a book up and a glass of raspberry iced tea when I got home from school.

That feeling is back thanks to my ultra-marathon book buying binge. First, I raced through Running on Empty by Marshall Ullrich. This was necessary because I had scheduled an interview with this legendary ultra-runner and wanted to be able to ask questions that his book left unanswered. Marshall is an amazing man and the story of his 3,000 mile run across America provides valuable insight into the life of Mensen Ernst (the subject of my next book). Just before Marshall, I interviewed Frank Giannino, who holds the record for running across the US- a blistering 66 miles per day from San Francisco to New York set in 1980.

Next, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek took me deeper inside the sport of competitive ultra running and gave me some fascinating glimpses into the mindset that a runner like Ernst must have. Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel by Jason Robillard provided a comical, yet practical guide on the physical realities of ultra-marathons, orienteering, and trail running. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn amazed me with the similarities between Kenyen runners and the life of Mensen Ernst. Now, I've launched back into the historic context of Mensen Ernst with Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Sport by Matthew Algeo and also Why We Run: A Natural History by biologist and ultra-marathon record holder Bernd Heinrich.

I finished feverishly scanning Loperkongen Mensen Ernst, one of two books ever written about Ernst. This copy was dear to me because it was the only library copy in the US, diligently lent to me from the Library of Congress and due for return all too soon. At first, I tried to read the choppy Norwegian-to-English translation that my phone was conjuring, but I soon abandoned that if I was ever to get through the entire book during my lunch breaks in the Bowdoin Library. Tantalizing clues about the real Mensen Ernst have been flying by me and I'm eager to dive into this translation and make sense of it.

There's so much I want to tell you about. There are so many facts and phrases that can be woven together to support and provide context for Ernst's life. Perhaps the most startling theory I've begun stitching together is that virtually without exception, all the greatest ultra-distance runners experienced hard working childhoods and were raised in relative poverty in rural areas: Mensen Ernst, Marshall Ullrich, Yiannis Kourus, Scott Jurek, Edward Payson Weston, Dennis Oleary, the Bunioneers, and hundreds of Kenyan runners who dominate distance running today. This rural upbringing and poverty meant a lot of physical work and foot travel as a child. These runners also dedicated many years and sometimes decades of their lives to running before achieving their best results. Yet everyone seems to agree: running and especially ultra-running is a mental sport, so researching the psychology behind endurance running will be an important piece of Ernst's biography.

More books are on the way, including a biography of a man who no doubt inspired Mensen Ernst, Captain Barclay who ran 1 mile every hour for 1000 hours in 1809. Most critically of all, a Norwegian librarian is going to scan and send me the origin text for much of Ernst's story: his 1842 German biography written while he was still alive. I'm off to the races.


Posted on March 4, 2015 .

Next Book: OCR Adventures

Raise your hand if you know about OCR! Optical Character Recognition.

Today I sat in the Bowdoin College library reading Løperkongen Mensen Ernst by the Norwegian author Bredo Berntsen. I need to read this book because it's one of only two that have ever been written about the man I believe might be the greatest runner in human history: Mensen Ernst. My next book is about Mensen Ernst who ran from Paris to Moscow in 13 days and 18 hours. That's about 110 miles per day. Or 9 minute miles for 15 hours per day. It's at the very outer limit of human ultra-marathon possibility. But possible?

I got an email notifying me that the book arrived at the Bowdoin library from the Library of Congress as per my World Cat request (yeah, I'm picturing Garfield too). I trudged a frigid quarter mile past lawns buried in two feet of fresh fallen snow to take my new book home to examine. At the front desk, I asked for my inter-library loan book. The librarian and her student worker looked at me like I was a fool. "Are you sure it's an inter-library loan book?" she asked raising her eyebrows. She already knew the answer. Of course it wasn't. Unbeknownst to me, inter-library loan had gone out of fashion. I felt old.

"I think so, it's called-" I gave her the unpronounceable Norwegian gobble-

dee-gook. Finally, after much searching among stacks of other books, the student worker found it, sitting by itself in a cubby marked inter-library loan. The librarian made a little clicking noise and began treating me like an equal. Then book was wrapped in a strongly worded white paper from the Library of Congress. She kindly but firmly informed me that this book could not be removed from the library. I suppose since it is the only copy in the United States, I could abide by that rule.

Prize in hand, I found a table with a nice reading lamp. I would need good lighting. I opened the book and began reading the first pages. I got those little goosebumps of adventure as the words revealed themselves to me. I felt like an old alchemist using a magnifying glass for the first time to see a hidden world inside commonplace objects. Except instead of a magnifying glass, I was holding a smart phone.

I don't read Norwegian and this book is definitely in Norwegian. I don't know how to say the most basic things like hello or beer. My smartphone does though, and with a $10 OCR app called TextGrabber, I was able to read Bredo's words with only a slight delay. Not only could I read them, I saved digitized text files that scanned Bredo's words on paper into digital Norwegian and then translated that Norwegian into English. In about 2 seconds. I read 20 pages of a Norwegian book in half an hour.

Of course, anyone reading this after 2020 will think I'm quaint. Oh, those were the days before flawless instant translation of everything. Language barrier? Were you born in the 20th century or what? I had to let out several audible woooowws and gasps of amazement as paper Norwegian transformed into digital English before my eyes and I emailed myself pages of Bredo's book. It wasn't perfect, I had to retake the photos pretty often, and even then, the translation made his English pretty harsh. But it worked.

Løperkongen conquered, I then began to search for the rarest of them all, the 1844 biography about Mensen Ernst that Løperkongen is based on, the infamous German tome Des Steuermannes Mensen Ernst aus Bergen in Norwegen; See- Land- und Schnell-Reisen in allen fünf Welttheilen by Gustav Rieck. To pronounce that properly, it's very important to yell it loudly with a mouth full of sausage.

I had read a very insightful article by Tony O'Donnel about Mensen Ernst that said that only 2 copies of the book (whose title I won't repeat for brevity, we'll just call it Steuermannes) exist in the world. After some intense Googling, I found one in the Norwegian National Library and emailed them public contact number with the subject line, "book scan?". 

Greta Hysvær wrote me back with amazing news. They would put it in the scanning queue and it should be ready in a few weeks. Hopefully, the magic of OCR can crack this 1840s German nut too once it arrives. Needless to say, Librarians are fearless curators of knowledge and we'll need them forever.

Posted on January 28, 2015 .

Coffee Smuggler Sold At These Independent Shops

Posted on December 1, 2014 .