RV for sale

While I haven’t written about it enough on here, I’ve had this lovely 2006 Roadtrek Adventurous RV in my possession for the last two and a half years, but it’s come time to move on.

It is a 2006 RV (2005 van) built in Canada by Roadtrek, on a van built by Mercedes in Germany and sold as a Freightliner in the US.  About a year ago, I had a new engine put in by Mercedes.

The van has 128,120 miles on it as of this post, and will likely have a few more by the time it is sold, although maybe not too many.  There are fewer than 5,000 miles on the rebuilt engine, which was installed last September (13 months ago) and has a warranty for 11 more months.

It is a full-featured RV with all the goodies.  It has a full kitchen and bathroom, with a “wet bath” consisting of a sink, toilet, and shower in one enclosed space.  It has a bed in the back which converts to a dinette where four people can sit down for a meal or a game.  Roadtrek calls it a “king” bed but it’s really about the size of a standard queen.  There are ample storage cabinets lining the roof of the van along the driver’s side and wrapping around over the bed area.  I replaced the old TV with a lightweight 20″ LCD computer monitor (widescreen HD) which can be used with a Chromecast or Fire Stick (not included, but I’d be happy to throw one in if you need it).  There is installed a WeBoost cell signal amplifier which, when powered on, usually adds about two bars of cell service for faster data and clearer calls, often from places where you can’t otherwise get a usable signal at all.

It has a ladder on the back and six roof-rack crossbars.  However, to accommodate the roof rack I had to remove the awning, which is included; you can take off the roof rack to put it back on, or if you’re creative you can probably figure out how to mount the awning on top of the rack.

There is no rooftop air conditioner.  A prior owner swapped it for a second vent fan, and I prefer this configuration as it allows me to have two DC-powered fans running on battery while parked, which you can’t do with an air conditioner that requires AC power.

The generator is present, but does not work.  I don’t know what is wrong with it.  It never mattered to me because it makes little difference to my style of camping. You can buy a new one for about $2500 online, or bring it to any Cummins/Onan dealer to see what’s wrong with it.

The stereo system has been upgraded to a Pioneer digital media unit with Bluetooth, USB, and aux input.  The speakers are upgraded front and rear.  It is pre-wired for a subwoofer, which I had previously mounted under a rear seat; I am open to negotiating it back into the deal but expect that most buyers won’t value it.

I am asking $30,000 for it, and willing to negotiate including what is included for a lower price; for example, I am willing to discount for removing the roof rack or the cellular booster, or reinstall the subwoofer for my asking price.  

 

 

The Biblical argument for Biden (from Facebook)

One of my Facebook friends, a Trump supporter, shared this meme on his Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/levi.hombrelibre/posts/4918530741506195

I made my usual snarky comments, then got this in response:

Here is my reply:

Sorry for the slow response, as is typical in Facebook “argument” I am being tasked to reply to a lazy meme with detailed research.  Oddly, a cursory Google search didn’t give me a lazy solution, because it seems few sincere Christians have previously endeavored to apply scripture to modern politics – only the insincere ones who reject Christ’s true teachings in favor of the Evangelical heresy.  

Anyway, the first thing is that Biden, unlike Trump, actually knows the Bible.  Here’s an article about Biden actually quoting scripture from memory, something Trump can’t do.  https://religionnews.com/2020/08/06/biden-quotes-bible-at-black-church-meeting-while-trump-says-his-rival-is-against-god/  While Trump loves doing photo ops with closed Bibles, willing to engage in violence against American citizens to make that happen, there’s no indication he’s ever actually opened a Bible – he wasn’t able to name a favorite verse, or book for that matter.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERUngQUCsyE 

Trump has also famously proclaimed that he doesn’t need God’s forgiveness, which is clear blasphemy and wholesale rejection of Christianity.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKLVIm7Q0IQ so in light of that, I’m pretty confused how any Christian could vote for Trump over a confirmed Catholic who quotes the Bible at campaign events.  Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  Trump made it very clear that he is not saved by Jesus – he thinks he’s good enough on his own.  

But anyway, to what you asked for.  Let’s begin with 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  So, based on that, you should vote for the candidate who lives a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  That’s Biden, not Trump.  

Proverbs 29:2, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.”  So, don’t vote for a wicked man – an adulterer who blasphemes God (see above) and is cruel to immigrants.  

Speaking of immigration, here are 22 verses on why you should reject Trump’s immigration policy if you are in fact a Christian (a claim I am less and less convinced of) https://sojo.net/22-bible-verses-welcoming-immigrants

Leviticus 19:34 “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 27:19 ‘Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’

Matthew 25:37-45 

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

On “America First” we have Acts 10:34 – America is not special to God, and it is heresy to put it before other nations.  “Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

The main issue that swung me from Republican to Democrat as a Christian was compassion, which admittedly is a pretty broad topic.  I gather it really from the whole penumbra of the New Testament, but you’re asking for specific verses, because I guess you don’t really see the Bible as a coherent whole, which I guess is fine if that’s how your faith works, so here’s a few verses.  For starters, perhaps my favorite verse, Matthew 22:39, with context from 34 through 40, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

There is no compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience to be found in Trump or any modern mainstream Republican candidate.  But it’s really not hard to find examples of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience from Biden.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/2020/08/20/how-empathy-defines-joe-biden/#48a2fcfd75cf

No response to that.  But then I went back up thread and realized I’d misread the comment.  He wasn’t asking for a Biblical argument for Biden, he was asking me to argue for Biden using the same cherry-picking of verses.  So, I followed up.

… I realize now I misread your comment.  I thought you were asking for a Biblical case for Biden, not for me to take this cherry-picked list hand selected to make an argument counter to the main thrust of the Bible and apply it to Biden.  Naturally, if you’re going to cherry-pick verses to invent your own religion in lieu of following Christ as a whole, it’s going to be hard for me to use that particular list to argue for a Christian over an anti-Christian autocrat.  But sure, I’ll indulge you.  

Pro-life: Trump is not pro-life.  He has endorsed policies forcing women to carry pregnancies to term, yes, but that is not truly pro life.  Here’s the full verse, ignoring the cherry picking that goes narrower even than a single verse:

There are six things the Lord hates,

seven that are detestable to him:

17haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,

18a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that are quick to rush into evil,

19a false witness who pours out lies

and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

So right here, in the FIRST verse you have cited, we have an indictment of Trump – God hates a lying tongue (Trump has told over 20,000 documented lies in his time in office, but even if you accept his backpedaling explanations on many of them, you can’t possibly deny that he’s a frequent liar).  And as to hands that shed innocent blood, Trump has pardoned and praised war heros, including one who was convicted of murdering a prisoner – THAT is “shedding innocent blood.”  God indeed detests shedding innocent blood.  That’s why Christians can’t vote for Trump.  Biden has never shed innocent blood; so on verse one, you need to vote for Biden.  

Verse two: Genesis 12:3.  Here as with the first verse, the meme author isn’t even quoting a verse in context; he’s adding his own interpretation to suit a narrative that is not Biblical.  Here’s the full verse:

3I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.”

Okay, so how would a sincere Christian interpret this verse?  I don’t know how a sincere follower of Christ would read into this a Biblical commandment to politically support every action of the modern Jewish state.  There are other verses I could bring in here about God only being with Israel when they behave in a Godly fashion, and from that explain that Israel as it behaves today is not worthy of the support of Christians.  Anyway, what this verse is really saying is that the People of God (NOT the political nation of Israel) will be blessed by God.  So, if we are to apply this verse to politics, we should vote for the candidate who speaks well of Christianity, the one who professes sincere faith in God, the one who humbly seeks forgiveness, and not the one who blasphemes.  That’s Biden.  

Third cited verse: Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor,

and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Okay.  Well as the meme author explains it, this verse should mean God is against debt.  In that case, we have to vote for Biden.  This one really isn’t at all ambiguous.  Trump has grown the National Debt more in three years than any past President did except in time of World War.  Even in his first two years, when America was at peace and prosperity, Trump and his budgets ran up record deficits and increased the national debt faster than his predecessors.  But also, look at the person themself.  Trump won’t release any info on his personal finances, but the one page of his tax history we have seen told us that he was at least a billion dollars in debt in the nineties, and we know from his personal lawyer and his bankers that he remains hundreds of millions if not billions in debt to foreign entities to this day.  Biden has released decades of tax returns, and he has a positive net-worth and has never taken out a billion-dollar loan; and while he was never directly in control of the national debt, he served in Congress during the only years it shrank in my lifetime, and served as VP during six years of shrinking federal deficits.  Biden is without a doubt the candidate to choose if you hate debt.  

Onward.  2 Thess 3:10.  “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.””  I don’t really see how that has much bearing on either candidate.  However, Biden voted for welfare reform in the 1990s, so if you were trying to argue that welfare somehow defies this verse, you would have to take Biden on his record on this issue and give him the vote.  Trump’s record on this verse?  He’s a trust fund baby who never worked a real job in his life, only gambling with inherited money.  There is no way to make a pro-Trump argument with this verse.

Pro-marriage: I won’t even get into the verse.  Both men have had multiple wives, but the details matter.  Trump has been divorced twice and has had documented affairs on all three wives, including his current one, and has admitted on-record to paying off mistresses to stay silent.  You cannot argue that Trump is pro-marriage, unless your definition of someone’s stance on marriage is based on how often they break the vows they take.  

Next point: government’s purpose is to reward good & punish evil – I’ve seen this argument elsewhere in neocon politics.  Again, this is one where we need to look at the whole reference given (Romans 13) and not just the meme author’s interpretation of it.  I think the meme author is trying to make a “law and order” or really, authoritarianism, argument here.  But this is the chapter that says:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”  This is an endorsement of “big government” and a contradiction of the Christian Right’s claim that government should be limited.  Point to Biden.  

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Again, this verse favors taxation and government – point to the “tax and spend” liberals; point to Biden.  

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Love one another?  Point to Biden.  Whoever loves others has fulfilled the law?  Point against Trump, who spews hate with every tweet.  

12The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh?  Point away from the adulterer.  Point to Biden.  

Finally, “I will vote based as close as I can on God’s word.”  Well, take this whole post for that one, along with my prior comment.  But let’s look at the full verse as well, in the interest of completeness.  “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Okay.  In that case, I will reiterate my original point: ALL scripture.  Not just a cherry-picked listed with an anonymous author’s self-interested biased interpretation.  You have to look at the whole of scripture, particularly the words of Christ.  

My favorite passage of the words of Christ is Matthew 5.  I will only quote selected lines from it, not to cherry-pick but because you’ve probably already stopped reading based on the length of my comment anyway.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  I would say if we were to take that verse at face value as an instruction on how to vote, we should vote for the less wealthy candidate.  Point to Biden.  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Did you catch the headline where Trump’s campaign took shots at Biden the other day for visiting his family’s grave while Trump golfed?  Biden has suffered tremendous loss in his life – most of his family in a car accident at the dawn of his senate career, and his decorated veteran son a few years ago.  Trump, when his brother died, posted pictures of himself smiling on the golf course.  

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  I don’t think this one needs much explanation, but Trump is not known for being merciful.  Rather, he is known for building concentration camps for children whose only crime was being brought to America by parents seeking a better life.  

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  I’ve said it before, but Trump is not pure in heart; see my other comment for the video; he won’t even ask God for forgiveness.  

So I’ll leave you with that.  That is a short biblical case for why you, if you profess sincere faith in Jesus, should vote for Biden and not Trump.

Update at the apex of my 2020 cross-country road trip

2020 08 20

I feel kind of bad that I haven’t been blogging along the way on this trip. I’ve been updating Facebook and sometimes Twitter and Instagram, so see my personal social feeds for the blow-by-blow.

I’ve been on the road for a little over three weeks now, on a trip that will eventually encompass the whole month of August, nearly 10,000 miles, and I suppose around a dozen states – 13 so far, probably at least one or two more along the way. Jackson has swam in three Great Lakes and one ocean; he will hit the other ocean before the trip is over, and the other two Great Lakes when we get home if not before.

So why? I realize now I don’t need a reason. I don’t need to justify travel. My ultimate reasoning for this trip comes down to wanderlust. Many years ago I was inspired by the Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere”, but I never really did anything about it. Honestly, I still haven’t – I haven’t been to most of the cities and small towns he names in that song – but at one point wide travel was a personal goal, one that just kind of fell by the wayside. When I first drove cross-country in 2005 and 2006, I had a laminated map that I drew on with a sharpie to illustrate the states I had been to, on that trip and in general, and if I hadn’t lost it in some move years ago I would’ve kept it going. I think I’d gotten to something like 22 states by the end of that trip, maybe more. By the beginning of this year, I’d been to 41; by the end of January, when business took me to the interior northwest for the first time, I’d gotten to 43. At that time I’d set a goal of hitting all 50 before turning 40, which would mean a trip to the remaining seven (including Alaska) this year. COVID-19 seemed to nix that plan… and then one day, controversially, I just decided to go anyway. While I care about the pandemic, I do not believe life should grind to a halt to wait it out.

This is not purely a mission to check off trivia facts about myself or numbers on a list. I don’t want to have visited all 50 states by age 40 just to say that I have. Honestly, it’s not that impressive – 40 years is a long time to wait for a trip that could be done in a year; a teenager could do it with their first beater car. No, it’s not an impressive achievement. It’s just a starting point. By visiting all 50 states, albeit many White briefly, I can get an idea of where I want to explore further. Now unfortunately in that sense the mission hasn’t been as productive as one might hope; I haven’t quite *ruled out* that many states. From this trip, frankly most of my stops have been worth further exploration down the line, but yes I think I can focus on fewer than half. Wyoming certainly merits more time exploring, and I think is my next mountain biking destination. Michigan is amazing for gravel biking, and I guess really just a general relaxing vacation. Washington and Idaho require more river exploration. The other states from this trip admittedly made less of a lasting impression, but nonetheless I will return at least briefly on future travels.

Another purpose of this trip was much less abstract: I was just going nuts staying in Buffalo, and I didn’t feel content to repeat my usual travels. Ohiopyle and surrounding areas have come to feel similarly stifling as Buffalo. North Carolina was similarly played out for me after spending most of last year in the area. The only option to satisfy my wanderlust was to go exploring.

Finally, this trip has been a voyage of self-discovery. Not in any profound way. I don’t think I’ve learned anything I didn’t already know; but I confirmed something I’d maybe forgotten, and verified something I’d come to doubt. I have learned that I am inherently a nomad. I am not, by my nature, meant to be in one place. None of the places I’ve been, as amazing as they have seemed to me, have rung out as a natural “home” in a particular sense. No place out here triggered in me a nesting impulse, a desire to stay put. To the contrary, the more I traveled, the more I wanted to travel; the more I found myself a visitor and a stranger, the more I realized that is all I’ve been anywhere, including Buffalo and even Long Island. I am, in a philosophical sense and obviously not to be confused with the sociological phenomenon, homeless. And that is fine. What I call home is merely an arbitrary choice and a practical arrangement, a place of convenience to leave behind the things I don’t need to travel with, a place to receive mail and pay taxes, and a place to cultivate an adequate sense of normalcy for the comfort of others. My home is not a true home in the emotional sense. I do not profoundly miss it. Yes, from time to time, I desire rest from the road, and the place is suitable for that; but only temporarily. I will not remain there indefinitely.

So there it is. Mission accomplished – I have learned more about who I am. I have not solved or settled anything, I remain unsettled and migratory, but I know that is my unavoidable nature. I will not fight it further. I will not try to civilize myself. I will not be domesticated. And I will live with the implications – the largest being that it will be even harder (though still not impossible) to find a suitable partner. Tinder it seems remains a joke – the last girl I talked to seemed promising, until she said, bitterly, “some of us have to work.” She didn’t care that I do – it’s not on her terms so it doesn’t count. She’s not for me, that’s fine. I’m open to suggestions if anyone knows a good dating platform for vagrants.

Update and reboot: Some discussion on happiness research

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m going to resist the temptation to update you on all the developments of the last two years. Instead, I’m going to focus on the findings of my research.

As most of you know, my main drive in life is happiness, and I’ve spent the last decade on a quest to discover the keys to a happy life. I started by figuring out what happiness isn’t – and I think most of us who’ve put serious thought into it already know that. Happiness isn’t simply “the American dream” of a great career, material wealth and possessions, and an impressive spouse and family. All of those things are nice, yet we all know plenty of people who’ve checked all those boxes and are still miserable. Hell, people have been writing songs and novels on that very thesis for decades, maybe even centuries. For some reason, all the trappings of conventional success are not a guarantee of happiness. Now to be clear, they aren’t likely to necessarily hurt your chances of being happy; many happy people live very conventional lives with fulfilling careers, significant wealth, and conventionally impressive families. But we all know that won’t make you happy. 

So what does? My serious question for happiness began in earnest at a precise moment, essentially during my winter job during my second year of law school at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012. That’s when I realized my attempts to live the life I imagined others wanted me to live were a failure on all fronts; not only wasn’t I achieving it, it was a bad goal in the first place. At that time I came out to my family and my few friends about my mental illness, set boundaries with my family I’d never set before, and adopted a “yes man” mentality with a decision to start affirmatively doing things that I wanted to do and not let anyone tell me what I couldn’t do. And honestly, it worked pretty well for a while. I learned a lot about happiness and I definitely became much happier. But I didn’t get all the way there. I can say now that my decision to prioritize recreation over work in an extreme way was not a winning strategy for happiness. In the end I ended up failing at both; I didn’t become a world-class kayaker or even really a respectable athlete, I didn’t find a way to make a living kayaking or life coaching, and along the way I neglected my career and worsened my long-term financial standing. So my new thing is recognizing that path as a well-intended failure. Happiness, it turns out, is not as simple as just doing what you want to do all the time. So what now? What is the next evolution in my pursuit of happiness?

I’m writing this from my rental car outside my workplace in West Palm Beach, enjoying a nice break from Buffalo’s bleak weather, and engaged in one of the practices I think I have kind of figured out: optimizing my work situations to allow me satisfaction and productivity in my work while simultaneously and consequently creating enjoyable life opportunities. What exactly am I doing right now, and how does it fit in on the path to happiness? Well, for one thing, I’m fulfilling multiple “values” at once. I’m helping people, I’m making money, I’ll be getting some exercise shortly, and I’m having fun. I’m living the dream of doing what I love vocationally and having fun along the way. One happiness theorist I’ve spoken with privately would say I’m creating a mutually beneficial experience to satisfy several of my priorities at once. 

I just read a book called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-k.” I’ve actually read a lot of self-help books on happiness, including some that weren’t even published that I came across in my research. I’ve found a lot of common themes in them, and let’s distill it a bit. What themes do most “happiness experts” agree on? We could maybe think of these as tried and true rules to happiness, but I hate the idea of setting up rules, so let’s just call them guidelines or principles. 

So the first principle that most happiness experts seem to agree on is intentionality. Regardless of their personal frameworks, happiness experts all agree that a happy life is derived from intentional choices. We could also call this volition. The dictionary calls that just “the faculty or power of using one’s will.” I most concede that there are some, particularly in the religious frameworks, who claim to reject the idea of self-direction and personal choice, but I don’t think they’re even being internally honest with that. 

You have to make a lot of intentional choices to be happy. You have to choose your metrics. You have to choose your priorities. You have to choose what matters and what does not, and who you will try to satisfy and who you will ignore. Some theorists seem to believe that the very act of making a choice is the critical element, but most agree that choices matter because of how happiness is personal. 

And that’s the second principle: happiness is personal. My advice is limited in value because what works for me may not working for you, in several ways. For example, if I told you the key to my happiness was creating a work situation that created recreational opportunities and facilitated travel and hobbies, it would be bad advice in two key ways. First, and most gurus miss this, this particular pathway simply isn’t an option for many people. I’m extremely fortunate, and a common mistake among gurus (lookin at you Tim Ferris) is assuming that everyone has the same resources and opportunities. We don’t. The universe gifted me with a string intellect and a demographic background that allowed me to get a great education, and dumb luck landed me a flexible career. But I could just as easily have been stuck in unskilled work, or even disabled like the people I usually work for. For those people, advice derived from my career would be worthless. No, your path is going to be different from mine in many ways. We have to distill the fundamentals that can be translated, and honestly that’s the hardest part of happiness coaching. I can give you broad principles, as can a lot of authors, but we simply cannot come up with a plan for you. It’s got to be personal. 

What else? The third commonly held principle in happiness research is priorities. You simply have to decide what does and does not matter to you. This is really just a fusion of the first two principles, so maybe I’m wrong to call it a third. The beauty is there are no strict rules, and there’s no authority on this either; I’m merely trying to help you find some principles. 

I’ve got to level with you on my results. As I said, I’ve been working on happiness for a decade, and part of that for me has been managing clinical depression. A big mission for me has been to prove that you can be happy even with mental illness or disability, and yeah, honestly, it’s hard sometimes. So maybe another principle we could add about happiness is that it’s hard. I know that sucks. I know you want an easy way. I can’t offer you one. If it exists, I haven’t found it. Anyone who tries to sell you an easy path to happiness is lying to you, they’re manipulating your desires for personal gain. And I don’t know, maybe they really think it is easy, because it was for them, because they got lucky. I’m probably the least successful person you’ll encounter in the happiness world, and yet here I am, broke and struggling in my businesses, slipping into crippling depression from time to time, and making a literal career of complaining about stuff not working out for people. That’s all true. And yet… I don’t think I’m failing in my quest for happiness.

That’s my final revelation: that it’s a process, not a destination, and yes it’s entirely possible to be happy through suffering and failure. So that’s principle four: it’s a continual process.  It’s not about arriving somewhere.  It’s about how you live day to day.

I’ve written or said quite a bit there so I’m going to cut it off now and call that today’s overview. Tell me in the comments section where you think I should go with the next post. Tell me if there’s a point I should elaborate on, or I guess you could also tell me if you think I’m wasting my time here. The bottom line is that you’re going to have to figure out your own ultimate answers and your own process, but I want to help you however I can. 

iPhone Xs vs Pixel 3: An observational review

The iPhone Xs

I loved the design of the new iPhone X when it came out in 2017, but after trying one out for a week in early 2018 I decided to hold off for the next one.  My iPhone 7 was perfectly adequate at the time.  Then Apple introduced the iPhone Xs with a lot of subtle upgrades from the X including a new 512 gigabyte storage option, so I pulled the trigger on launch day.  I’ve now been actively using the iPhone Xs for almost four months and think I’m prepared to offer a brief review of it.

It’s really great.

Here’s what’s new or better coming from my old iPhone 7:

  • Better cameras on front and back with Portrait Mode, zoom, and 4k video
  • New “full-face” OLED screen
  • Face ID
  • Slightly larger
  • Upgraded internals
  • Louder speakers
  • Better battery life
  • Wireless charging

And a bunch of more subtle stuff.  iOS 12 adds a lot of new features as well but you don’t need a new iPhone for that, it works on all iPhones back to the 5S.

A lot of people hesitate to try out the new phones because of, basically, the home button.  They like the comfortable and familiar nature of it, the intuitive approach, and the Touch ID sensor.  Let me say that it didn’t take long at all for me to not miss the home button at all.  First off, Touch ID doesn’t hold a candle to Face ID, at least for me personally.  With my paper-thin skin, I was never able to get consistent unlocking from the fingerprint sensor, so most of the time Touch ID just meant having to enter a passcode.  Face ID means I have to look at the phone and swipe to unlock, and it works with wet hands, gloves, etc.  Sunglasses don’t throw it off.  Hats and helmets don’t either.  In fact, I can even be bundled up for winter kayaking with my Buff neck warmer and my half-cut helmet and it still works, although a full-face helmet obviously throws it off.  It works in the dark.  Bed can be tough if my face is half-buried in a pillow, but if I turn my head so my face is exposed it’s fine even sideways.  In short, I rarely have an issue unlocking with Face ID, whereas Touch ID was always hit or miss.

The gesture approach to switching apps is also an improvement.  With the old home button, you returned to the home screen or unlocked with a single press of the button, and used a double press to activate the app switcher.  With the new system, you return home or unlock with a fast swipe from the bottom, and access the app switcher by swiping up about an inch.  Now you can also switch apps just by sliding your finger along the bottom of the screen, which I find myself doing all the time.  It’s basically alt-tab for an iPhone.  Brilliant.  I love it.

Now, the other function of the home button was Siri, which has now moved oddly enough to the power button.  That means the new gesture for Siri was the old gesture for powering off the phone, and powering off the phone now takes a chord of two buttons.  But I got used to it quick and I think I even prefer it now.  Siri is her same old half-reliable self- sadly Apple still has a lot of work to do there.  But activating it is no problem.

The home key and Touch ID are the only things you lose going from an iPhone 7 or 8 to the iPhone X or Xs, or the new Xr.  Everything else is pure upgrade.  The screen!  Big and beautiful.  Now, “the notch” has a lot of critics, and here’s how I look at it: I don’t think of it as a notch taking away from the screen, I look at it as “ears” adding to it.  Think about it – on an iPhone 8 (and every previous iPhone), the screen cuts off below the earpiece and goes straight across, with the status par taking up about the top 1/8 inch of screen.  But with the iPhone X and up, you get two little bits of extra screen next to the earpiece and front camera cluster, and Apple has moved the status bar stuff up to those new spaces that used to be just plain glass.  More screen!  Not just the more screen up top, but also reclaiming the space that used to be status bar.  And the bottom is bigger too, with a whole extra vertical inch of screen between the two reclaimed areas.  That’s awesome!  And the screen itself is stellar – higher resolution than the 8 and 7 (although less than the + phones – get the Max for that) and because it’s an OLED, the blacks are totally black.

The display also has Apple’s True Tone color management, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you compare it against a phone that doesn’t have it, like the Google Pixel.  I find it impossible to describe but basically the colors just look better – it looks “right” and next to it everything else looks wrong.  Killer display.

So next I could talk about the cameras, and they’re killer.  Not just the back camera, which is outstanding, but the front camera, which is the best selfie cam I’ve ever used (although bested by the Pixel in one way – more on that below).

me and mountains
Selfie somewhere in southern California
Portrait mode with the iPhone Xs

I could post more photos, but you can just check my instagram, @whitewaterlawyer, for more.

So photos are great.  What else is great?  Sound quality for playing music and other audio.  Just great, not really much to say.  The weight and feel of the phone in the hand, although in full candor I use it with a Mous case and not bare.  The raw power of the CPU/GPU combo is great, although admittedly it’s just plain overkill – it’s more than twice as fast as the iPhone 7 which already ran all my apps very well.

There’s really only two things that I don’t like about my iPhone Xs, and both are inherent to all iPhones.  The first is the way incoming calls are handled.  Just flat-out awful.  When the phone rings, the call dialogue fills the screen and can’t be dismissed without either answering the call or sending it to voicemail.  If you don’t want to talk and don’t want to send a “you’re not important to me” message, you have to wait it out.  Not nice.

My other complaint is peculiar to my personal use case: my phone is buggy as hell, which I’ve figured out is due to a host of bugs inherited through my backup. I’ve had iPhones since an 8gb 3G in 2008, and every time I’ve gotten a new one, I’ve set it up by restoring all data from a backup of my previous one.  I do this to preserve the data in the 100+ apps I use, along with things like my accumulated text messages and photos.  But it turns out that over the course of many repeated backup and restore operations, the backup itself picks up little glitches, and because you can’t selectively restore, in some cases setting up an iPhone from a backup can result in weird behavior.  None of it is severe, but I’ve got weird glitches like options missing from my settings menus and search not always working right.  I haven’t yet decided these problems are worth the hassle of “setting up as a new iPhone” even though, at least, Apple has moved most non-app data into iCloud so I wouldn’t lose any texts, photos, or notes.  I’d just have to re-download and configure all of my apps one at a time, manually enter all of my email accounts, etc.  Not a fun project for a rainy day.

The Pixel 3

Because Who’s Ready will be launching first on Android, I found myself in need of an Android phone.  Now, picking out a new iPhone is pretty easy – you pick a size, storage capacity, and color, and that’s about it.  Picking an Android phone is a whole other matter.  Once you’ve settled on screen size and storage capacity, you might still have dozens of choices.  I wanted something similar in size to my iPhone and at least 32 gigabytes of storage, and needed something with the latest version of Android that I could keep up to date for a few years.  That sadly didn’t narrow it down too much so I just looked at what was on sale for Black Friday and read a bunch of reviews.  I almost bought Samsung’s S9 for $519 on the BF special on Amazon, but then I saw that Google was offering the Pixel 3 for basically half price on their Google Fi service – $200 off up front and a $200 service credit.  Fi works out cheaper than adding a line on Verizon as long as I don’t use too much data, so I pulled the trigger, even though I probably would’ve been fine with a cheaper Fi phone from Motorola or LG.

Some of this is about Android, and some of it is about the Pixel.  Because I’m new to Android, I’m not really sure which is which for some things.

First, a lot of the hardware is similar to my iPhone.  The dimensions of the phone are almost identical.  There’s no headphone jack.  The rear camera is single instead of dual, but the front camera is dual.  The screen is an OLED of about the same resolution but a little smaller since there are bezels on the top and bottom.

Some comparisons:

Camera – Both the front and rear cameras are on the Pixel great and while I personally think the iPhone cameras are better, a lot of reviewers feel the opposite.  I really like the dual front cameras, though – the Pixel adds a separate wide-angle selfie cam, which is noticeably wider than the iPhone and means it’s now possible to get great selfies with my dog which is really difficult with the iPhone.  The rear camera is single-lens so the portrait mode is not going to be as good as the iPhone.  I haven’t played with the portrait mode that much – I just don’t like the interface of the camera and found that when I had both phones handy, I usually reached for the iPhone.  But I did spend some time at the dog park shooting exclusively with the Pixel.  It takes decent action shots, but on the whole I was just not impressed.  It’s definitely not bad.  And maybe it’s the screen more than the camera.  But the images just don’t pop off the screen like they do on the iPhone.  Ultimately I see this category as a tie.

Screen – The Pixel has an OLED screen just like the iPhone, so it’s also got a high resolution and great true blacks.  Plus, unlike the iPhone, Android supports an “always on” display, so a portion of the screen is lit up with time and date and notification icons even when the phone is locked (sidebar, I don’t like the notification icons, more on that below).  But the screen lacks an equivalent to Apple’s True Tone, which makes it noticeably dull in colors in various settings when held next to the iPhone.  It usually looks a little more “blue” than the iPhone and is harsher on the eyes.

Interface – This is more about Android than the Pixel specifically, but I think it’s a big piece that has to be considered when choosing a phone.  The interface in iOS is just plain beautiful, and it’s impossible to fully appreciate the beauty and elegance of iOS without spending some time on Android.  Everything about it is polished and smooth.  I give particular credit to the screen fonts.  Text on the iPhone is crisp and soft in just the right places, with smooth lettering and perfect kerning.  Even fine print is clear and legible.  Not so on the Pixel.  Many have pointed out that Android supports custom fonts, but I shouldn’t have to customize a phone to get something easy to read.  The default system font is just harsh on the eyes if you’re looking at the phone for more than a few minutes.  This applies to everything you do on the phone – apps like Facebook and Instagram, every Reddit app, even just texting.  The font is downright jagged compared to the default text on an iPhone.  And you can’t customize it without downloading third-party software to modify the Pixel, which I’m just not all about.

Some things about Android are hands down better than the iPhone, but not many that I’ve noticed.  People say that notifications in general are better but I’m not sure I agree; the icon routine just results in a cluttered status bar and makes clearing notifications a mandatory chore instead of optional like on the iPhone.  But incoming notifications are unobtrusive, and here’s the killer – that even applies to phone calls.  When an Android phone rings, you can answer or send to voicemail like an iPhone, but you can also finish your text message or whatever else you were doing before dealing with the call, or you can look up some info about the contact in an app, or you can slide the notification away and let the call silently ring out.  That is excellent.

A lot of people love the customization that Android allows.  I do not.  I like being able to customize my devices, but I only care a little bit.  Give me a great home screen layout for sure.  But I shouldn’t have to spend time organizing my phone just to make it usable.  With the default launcher on the Pixel, you can’t just have all the icons you want on the main screen – you have to customize it, and you have to manually plant each icon on a screen.  They don’t automatically sort, they just sit wherever on the screen you happen to drop them.  You can add various “widgets” to the home screen, which is nice, but gimmicky.  I added the calendar, but it doesn’t work so well, partly because the built in apps often just suck.  I can’t figure out how to display multiple accounts in the calendar, for instance; in fact I’ve found the phone almost useless for email and calendar because of how user-friendly it isn’t.  I can’t figure out how to get it to default to an account other than the one associated with the Google Fi line, nor can you log out of that account.  I did eventually figure out how to add a second Google account but it wasn’t intuitive.  Very little about this interface is intuitive, at least to a seasoned Apple user.

Part of this customization is that while the phone comes with a baffling array of apps, many of which I don’t know the purpose of, it is lacking a few of the basics. There’s no voice memo recorder.  The notes app has a half-assed voice memo feature that’s supposed to suffice, but it’s “voice activated” which means it stops recording when you take a breath, and you have to look at the screen to use it.  Useless.  Apparently true Android users use Google Assistant to take voice notes.  I haven’t had much luck with Google Assistant – the phone has a gimmicky “squeeze to activate” feature where pressure sensors on the sides of the phone serve no function but to activate Assistant.  Why they had to use subtle pressure sensors instead of a good old fashioned button is a mystery to me.  But it just doesn’t work.  It’s impossible to activate it while the phone is being held in a dashboard mount, and half the time I try to use it, it starts to come up but then disappears before I can actually use it.  Ultimately, and ironically, it’s easier to use Google Assistant on an iPhone where there’s at least a screen icon for it.  I don’t like how this is implemented.

Speakers – the Pixel uses valuable front space for two large speaker grills instead of a bigger screen like the iPhone.  Yet in spite of that, the sound quality is crap.  Well, I don’t know, it’s probably better than a lot of phones.  But it’s not even close to the sound quality of the iPhone Xs.  It’s merely okay, which is again baffling considering how much showmanship they’ve put into the physical design of the speakers.  Maybe I’m missing something, but the same track on Spotify sounds tinny on the Pixel and great on the iPhone.

On the whole, the Pixel is a good quality phone with all the features you need, but in terms of polish and user interface it just doesn’t come close to the iPhone.

Update: Who’s Ready and other happenings

Every time I come to update this site I’m disappointed in myself for how far behind I’ve fallen.  So this post might be a bit of a belated catch-up.

Who’s Ready

My major new project for 2019 is a new social networking app called Who’s Ready.  I’ve got a whole web site set up about the app, at www.whosready.app, along with a facebook page at facebook.com/whosreadyapp, and some other social media as well.  So I don’t have to tell you everything about it right here, but maybe I should tell the story of how it came to me.

If you’ve been following this page or the other places where I narrate my life, you know that I travel a lot and that my main passion in life is outdoor activities – mostly whitewater kayaking, but a few other activities as well.  Whenever I find myself in a new place I want to get out and explore, at least go for a hike, and I often wish I had company to do it with.  I struggled for a while using Facebook groups to find activity partners, but I find the solution woefully inadequate for many reasons.  I wanted a way to just push a button and find nearby like-minded adventurers, and didn’t understand why in 2018 there isn’t an app for that.  So, I decided to build it.  My financial situation improved somewhat in 2018 and I finally had the ability to start financing other projects beyond my law process, albeit just barely.  So I wrote up a complete design spec for the app, worked on finding a name (a more difficult process than you might imagine), went looking for a programmer, and formed a corporation.  I found a programmer who could build the MVP version of the app for a price I could afford, and set up a contract.  At this point we’re behind schedule but hopefully within a week or two of having a product in the Google Play Store, and within a few months we’ll be on the iPhone as well and charging forward with more features and a viable business model.

I’m excited and terrified about this new venture.  Once again, I find myself in a role I’d fantasized about but had never visualized actually achieving – first that happened with my career as a lawyer, and now with the role of “software CEO.”  Wow.  Of course any fool with a checkbook and a pen can become a CEO by starting his or her own company, it’s meaningless until it translates to actual success, and we just aren’t there yet.  There’s a lot I’m going to have to do to get this thing off the ground.  Building it is just step 1.  I also have to market it and get people to use it.  Because it’s a social app, its success and utility are 100% dependent on how many people decide to download and use it.  It will be more fun and more useful with a million users than with a hundred users.  So my job, and it’s a big job, is to accelerate the growth of the user base as quickly as I can, to create a great experience for users.  That means advertising, attending events, and talking to people.  It’ll be fun, but it’ll still be hard work, and there will be a lot of disappointment and frustration along the way.

I’m super stoked about it.  Check out the web site and Facebook page today, and hopefully by the time you’re reading this you’ll also be able to download it on the App Store of your preferred platform.

First RV trip, lessons and experiences

I realize I’ve fallen behind and this post really merits at least three posts on different topics.  So I guess I’ll just dump a lot of info into this one post, with the dates when I should’ve written them.

2/11/18 – After this Yosemite experience, it’s clear to me that I need to make some adjustments for my 37th year.  The first is that I definitely need to follow through and buy the RV, because it will enable me to take more trips like this and explore the national parks and forests.  Maybe it will help me meet new exciting people, too… maybe even women.

2/13/18 – I’m doing this!  On the plane right now to pick up a 2006 Roadtrek RS Adventurous class B RV!  It should be perfect for me and Jackson, and after some small modifications (roof rack and ladder) it’ll make a great shuttle vehicle.

(later that day) Mine!

RV
Here’s my Roadtrek at the dealership

2/15/18 – First trip in the RV, sort of.  Just the drive home from PA to Buffalo.  It’s an adequate experience so far, but boy is this thing scary to drive fast in.

3/12/18 Fuck it, I’m driving to Alabama.

3/15 Okay, first business trip in the RV has been an interesting experience.  The drive down was way slower than expected.  I definitely need a roof rack as the two kayaks in the back are really killing the interior space.

Turns out there’s virtually no chance of finding parking for even a class B anywhere near the work site, and the plumbing is still winterized, so the plan ended up being to stay at a hotel, board Jackson at a local vet, and take Uber rides to the hearing site from the hotel and back.  It worked out reasonably, except some issues with the Uber being late and more expensive than I’d hoped.  So was the bottle of bourbon I realized I should have in the van.  Note to self, don’t wait until Alabama to buy liquor.

3/16 The Ocoee is great!  But maybe I should’ve planned a little better.  Running out of propane in Birmingham en route to Tellico turned out to be terrible timing.  Thankfully it turns out Roadtrek installed an electric heater, and the campground had a power outlet available.  New rearview camera is a nice little upgrade.

3/19 I probably should’ve planned better.  Not enough paddling so far this trip, and it’s extra frustrating traveling around with two boats when I haven’t even used the bigger one.

3/21 Snow.  Ready to call the trip a bit of a bust after three days in a row of paddling plans falling through.  Electrical problems are mounting in the van, for some reason the rear battery isn’t charging even after installing the new battery.  Heading north.

 

3/22 Top Yough!  Yay!

Birthday in Yosemite

What a long strange trip it’s been!

Some of you may have heard of GoRuck. They make backpacks, and to sell more backpacks they invented the sport of “rucking” and started hosting “GoRuck challenge” events in various cities. So they’re known among the adventure/obstacle racing circles and have been on my radar for years. Their bags are highly optimized for air travel, sized well to serve as carryons, particularly for “one bag” travel.

Considering how much I fly, I’ve wanted one for a while. So when a little bit of unexpected money came in a few weeks ago, I decided to indulge. With free shipping and the military discount, their flagship GR1 bag came to about $225, a sum I could reasonably manage out of my recent “found money” pool. I received the bag and excitedly packed for my first travel ordeal with it, a series of single overnights back and forth between Western NY and the south.

Sadly, the bag underperformed, although by only a little. It turned out that an overnight business trip with my recreational items added (suit, dress shoes and hiking boots, dress shirt, change of base layer, toiletries, laptop, chargers and cables, other electronics,bathing suit, towel) just barely fit in the bag, not leaving room for food, and with some access and organizational problems.

Of course the solution was obvious: upgrade to the slightly larger GR2 bag, which has the same height and width but is much deeper, yet still supposedly sized to fit under an A321 seat. I decided to upgrade my bag, but since I got such a great deal on it, it made more sense to resell than return. I listed it on Reddit, priced modestly at $15 more than I paid for it, plus shipping. I got a few replies but one intrigued me: would you trade for a 34l GR2? Since that was my exact ultimate goal, it was a resounding “hell yes.” So we started planning the exchange. But how do two adventurers swap gear without meeting?

A few ideas were floated but none that solved the trust problem. I could cover shipping, that’s fair since I’m getting the better deal, but that means I’m shipping my $300 bag to a stranger in the blind hope that he ships it back, with no real recourse if he doesn’t.

He texted me from a number that my phone identified as “San Francisco.” That was a little intriguing if unsurprising; seems like half of Reddit is from the Bay Area. But so are a few of my friends. Real friends I haven’t seen in years. And I was just sitting around wishing I was on a trip in my RV, but stymied by a waiting period on a loan. So I posted to Facebook and messaged people, checked JetBlue, and sure enough I could throw together a trip on miles. So I headed to San Francisco to trade backpacks.

The trip was not without snags. Delays stacked on delays and eventually I arrived at SFO around midnight – apparently after my rental car agency closed for the night. There was one agency left open, and by my math the line would be going a good three hours, assuming they really had a dozen cars. Dan messaged me on Facebook. “You okay? Need rescue?” Yes. So I took a $35 uber to his place, listening to Muslim propaganda along the way in a car with disturbingly detuned headlights.

And Dan and I talked well into the night about all the things we needed to talk about, and it was good, and then I left for three hours on a quest for a rental car that involved some walking, some Starbucks budgeting, a train, a good deal of hiking, and finally a “fuck it, I’ll get an uber” for the last four miles. Then a hell of a shuttle, then another line, then a Jeep, and then hauling ass to the drop point.

Louis was waiting for me at the mall. I don’t know Louis, but we’re social media friends now. He wears scrubs so he must do something medical. Maybe he’s a doctor but I didn’t ask. The exchange now included a second bag, a GoRuck Bullet, and cash. We swapped, played with Venmo on our phones, and parted ways.

I had a few small missions planned in San Francisco proper. First lunch, at a little Mexican place Louis recommended. Good burrito. Next REI to exchange Christmas socks (wrong size) and top up camping gear – a way to secure my sleeping bag to the GoRuck and some camp fuel. Then Safeway for groceries- apples, granola, beef jerky, and of course water and beer. Then the road to Yosemite, showing… 6 hours? How did it go from 3 to 6? I underestimated traffic it seems.

So instead I decided to meet Gabe last night and embark to Yosemite during daylight the next day. Gabe told me about a place for a little hike along the way where I could try out my Bullet Ruck and not skip leg day. I logged just two miles but caught a beautiful sunset in a surreal pasture of hills adjacent to affluent suburbs. Feasted on In-n-Out burgers, then sleep.

Work woke me this morning as usual. I spent some time on various obligations and felt productive. I’m not really on vacation after all; I worked in the airport and on the plane and wherever else I get the chance. After all the nominal purpose of this mission is to make future business trips more efficient. After work and another gratuitous shower I got an indulgent California breakfast ?$15 pancakes) and headed east.

I finally arrived at the park gates at 4 pm, and received my coveted lifetime pass instead of paying. And was told that my plans were all wrong. I would need to head to the valley campsites and hope there was a spot left. There was, and I walked in the door for it at 4:58, the nick of time. I found the spot and quickly took off in search of a trailhead. Hiked through the sunset and got some mediocre pictures, then to camp to set up.

It’s funny how sometimes the best parts just don’t translate well to writing. That short hike was powerful. And yet it was private. It was my own experience, shared perhaps with millions judging by the well-worn rocks. I came back rejuvenated. What have I been missing? This is something I needed. I am glad I came.

So I came back to the campsite and set up my hammock. Had some challenges with equipment failing but in the end it worked out. I crashed a campfire and chatted with a couple from Berkeley who come here often; they gave me a drink. I needed sleep and took it, and I am now recovering from my second wind with the help of Ambien. Goodnight.

Some thoughts on starting a Social Security practice

I’ve been fielding some questions on Reddit lately about starting an SSDI practice, and I’ve been asked to share the content.  Unfortunately I can’t copy-paste without doxxing my main Reddit handle, so I’ll have to start from scratch here.  I now present my super abridged guide on how to get into Social Security advocacy, assuming that you are already a licensed attorney in solo practice.

How much can I make on SSDI cases?

SSDI claims are on a contingency fee basis, similar to personal injury, but frankly not nearly as lucrative.  The fees are set by law at 25% of the retroactive award, with a cap of $6000 that applies to claims won at or before the initial hearing.  The government handles withholding the fee from your client’s award, so you don’t have to worry about collections, but the government charges a service charge ($93 if you get the fee cap) for the service and there’s no way around the charge.

How many cases can I expect to win?

This is a really tough question.  Right now the “grant rate” nationwide is only about 45% according to disabilityjudges.com, a site that aggregates freely available data the SSA publishes.  But your mileage will vary based on what hearing offices and judges you appear in front of, as well as of course the quality and nature of your clients’ cases.  I am not aware of any analysis that has been done breaking down grant rates by case type or condition, nor do I think the data for such an analysis is available at all.  Generally, you are more likely to win with claimants over age 50 than with younger claimants; you are more likely to win with a physical impairment than a mental impairment; and you are probably more likely to win an SSD claim than an SSI claim.  If you are screening your clients for the merits of their cases, then your win rate will go up, but keep in mind that turning clients away has some downsides to it.  On the other hand there are some major downsides to not screening, such as wasting time and money on cases you won’t get paid for.

Over the years my personal win rate has been as high as over 90% and as low as under 50% in any given year.  Grant rates have come down substantially nationally in the eight years I’ve been doing it, though, and those high numbers were with firms that strictly screened cases for merit.  The 50% figure comes from a firm that wasn’t allowing me to screen cases at all.  If I counted cases I withdrew from against my win rate, it would dip below 50% in probably several years, but I haven’t run the numbers that way.  My win rate is down since going solo as I haven’t had the luxury of saying no to potential clients; I won’t have that until I have enough work to keep me busy full-time.  At the starting stage, you have to accept that a solid percentage of your clients are going to come in with bad cases, and you’re probably going to have to take the clients you get.  A total novice might have to expect as low as 25% to win.  I plan my financial forecasts and marketing strategy around a conservative 1/3 win rate, which I arrive at by including withdrawals and rejected cases in the overall number.

Sometimes it’s worth taking the tough cases just to roll the dice, but when you do you should be realistic in setting expectations with the client.  I’ve won more than a few cases that I thought were hopeless.  I recently won a case in which the rare “felony onset” rule was in play, and got to pocket half of a $5700 fee as a result.  My gut instinct had been to withdraw, but I stuck with it just for customer service.  Turned out to be the right move.

How do I get cases?

There are a lot of ways to get cases, but I’ve found partnering with other law firms to be the most efficient way to start a practice from scratch.  I do this in a few different ways.  When I first went solo, I was making most of my money doing “per diem” type appearances for large national firms that just needed coverage in my area.  It can be tough to find those gigs, and at first the pay’s not that great, but when I first started I made enough to basically pay my bills that way.  Eventually I connected with a firm that offered a very reasonable fee share – a 50-50 fee split, and they provide a lot of staff assistance as well as marketing and the expenses for obtaining records.  Those gigs are hard to find, but a great way to bootstrap a solo practice until you can get referrals at a more favorable rate.  I created a similar arrangement with a local personal injury firm; they’re covering 100% of marketing and contributing staff time and development expenses, and we split the fee 50-50.  In theory I could have negotiated a better arrangement, but with the way SSA pays out fees the 50-50 split actually simplifies my accounting quite a bit, and there’s some value in that too.

I also picked up a bunch of cases from a local SSDI attorney who folded her practice to take a government job.  Buying or inheriting a client book is always a great way for new solos to get a jump start, but there isn’t an easy way to find those deals.  Mine was the result of years of networking and a good bit of dumb luck.

What expenses do I need to worry about?

The main expense in SSDI is paying for medical records.  If you happen to live in New York, great news, you don’t have to pay fees for the records themselves.  I use a record retrieval service to gather my records, though, and they cost me $20 per record request, which can add up to a few hundred per case.  Before I was paying this expense myself I was pretty willy-nilly in requesting records (at a firm); now I am more strategic in where I invest my development dollars.

Other than that, it’s just basic office overhead.  Personally I run a mostly paperless office.  I pay about $10 monthly for an efax service.  I rent an office for under $500 a month, but for my first two years I worked out of a home office without major issues; I just did a lot of housecalls to meet with clients.  Travel expenses can add up if you’re taking cases out of town.  I spend some money on software that helps me work more efficiently, such as Acrobat Pro which saves me a lot of time reviewing files.  You need a computer, but you don’t necessarily need to indulge in a MacBook Pro like I did.  A scanner is definitely essential, but you can do what I did and find a busted old multifunction machine to inherit from an established attorney who upgraded, or do what I did before that and just rely on a cheap consumer multifunction.  You don’t need a dedicated phone line; you’ve already got a cell phone and besides you should always be available to field calls from potential clients.  Oh, and you need a printer, but see above.  Everything else is a luxury.

What kind of staff do I need?

None.  I don’t have a single full-time employee and I handle about a dozen cases a month, which should be a solid six-figure revenue stream by the time my fee backlog gets caught up.  I pay contractors for various things that I don’t want to do myself, though; as mentioned above, I pay a retrieval service for records, and I’m currently employing an experienced paralegal as a contractor to prepare briefs for me.  These are luxuries, though; I pay people to do work I don’t want to do myself, but I don’t really need to.

How much will I make?

Ahh, the killer question.  That’s a really, really tough question, because there are so many variables.  Theoretically it’s just how many cases you can handle per year, times your win rate, times your average fee, minus your referral costs, minus your overhead, minus any staff expenses, minus any medical or expert fees you pay out.  That’s an awful lot of variables.  My first two years I barely broke $30k; my third year I made $45k; and I’m really hesitant to make predictions for year four but I’m confident that I’ll finally break six figures this year.

How long will it take to get paid?

It takes forever to get paid on these cases.  First off, most of your clients will come to you early in the process and you’ll be waiting upwards of two years to even get to a hearing, unless you find a source of already scheduled cases.  Once you get to the hearing, you might be waiting up to six months for a decision.  Most will come in a month or two; some will come in a week or two; some will drag out.  Once you get the decision, you could get paid a week later, it could be another six months, once in a while it’ll be over a year until you see a check.  Don’t expect to get paid a dime within six months of retaining your first client in the best case scenario.  For some clients, you’ll be waiting two or three years between retaining the client and getting paid.  I’m waiting on decisions right now from some clients I retained in 2015, and I’ve got some from that year who don’t even have hearings scheduled yet.

That’s about all I’m going to say for this initial broad overview.  Read my other posts here and on jamesratchford.com for more information on the nuts and bolts of how Social Security Disability advocacy works; what you need to prove and how to go about it efficiently.  If you have questions, I am available by email at jamesratchfordlaw@gmail.com and by phone.  I also offer a paid consulting service to help you set up your practice and to train attorneys in the basics of SSD advocacy, including the option to observe hearings.  Finally, I have a document library available which I have shared with a few attorneys and firms to help get a practice up and running and to establish a competitive advantage.

Business travel essentials, part one: Packing

The frequent flyer’s handbook part one: The business trip packing list.

One part of my work that I really enjoy is traveling to cover cases all over the country. This is usually a service I perform as a contractor for other attorneys when their clients move to a different area, but I sometimes encounter the same need for my own clients and do it myself. That means I go on a lot of very short business trips, as little as 24 hours, and I fly a lot more than most people, often twice a month or more.

So let me share some tips from a frequent flyer. Note that your needs may be different from mine, but for the attorney on business travel, this should be a helpful guide.

Luggage

Most airlines allow travelers to carry two bags on board the plane, and require additional bags to be checked to the baggage compartment, usually for a fee. Checking baggage is a hassle and a risk, so I try to avoid it except in special circumstances like a long trip or if I’m bringing bulky gear like kayaking or skiing equipment.

Most frequent flyers use rolling luggage as a carry on, and if that’s what you want to do it’s not hard to find good luggage suited for the purpose. However, I have found rolling luggage to come with a lot of downsides, and after years of trial and error I’ve switched to using a backpack instead. Why a backpack? The main reason is that it’s much easier to carry around the airport, especially if you need to run which is inevitable once in a while to make a short connection in a large airport. The next advantage of a backpack is that it more easily fits into the smaller overhead bins common to the smaller airplanes that fly into more remote airports. Finally, since backpacks are less common on planes than rolling luggage, it’s much less likely that someone else will accidentally take your bag.

Now, backpacks vary a lot, and it’s easy to spend a fortune on a good travel backpack such as the GoRuck GR1 or GR2, but I haven’t found that necessary. What’s nice about the GoRucks is that they are shaped like conventional rolling bags, which makes them easy to pack and they hold a lot, but I’ve found that a simple student-type backpack is more than sufficient for most trips. I use a low-end North Face bag that I bought for $30 at a climbing festival. Before that, I was pretty happy with the Eastpack school bag I bought for college in 1999. A large backpack holds more than the largest rolling bag that would fit in the same space, but can be stuffed into a slightly smaller space, so you can freely use a relatively large day pack. I don’t recommend larger “backpacking” backpacks, but they may be acceptable for longer trips.

The second bag should be some variation of a laptop bag. I use a courier bag from REI that provides good storage for a laptop and basic business needs and then some. Check with your preferred airline for recommended dimensions and ideally get something that fits your volume needs but still fits under the seat.  I don’t personally recommend spending a lot on this bag, but to some professionals image matters, so buy whatever you like.

What to bring

Again this is assuming a short overnight business trip of just a day or two.

In the backpack or rolling bag:

  • Change of clothes (base layer) and work shoes
  • Hygiene supplies – some like to rely on what hotels provide, but I prefer my own shower supplies so I bring that in a ziplock bag, along with toothbrush and toothpaste, nail clippers (you never know), a small bottle of mouthwash, and optionally a small “sample” bottle of cologne. Personally I don’t shave, but if you do, bring just a razor; most hotels have shaving cream available for free. Oh, bring deodorant; hotels rarely have any to give you. I get my toothpaste from the hotel front desk periodically; I have never bought a travel tube of toothpaste.
  • Recreational clothing – most trips include at least a few hours of downtime and I prefer not to spend that wearing a suit, so I tend to bring comfortable clothes if I don’t wear them to the airport (see below). I usually bring a bathing suit as there’s usually a hotel at the pool even if it’s not a beach destination, and I’m often traveling from Buffalo in the winter. Bring your own towel if you’re planning a beach trip; you may not be able to use one from the hotel depending on your checkout time.
  • Sandals – flip flops are great to wear in hotel showers and to the pool or beach.
  • Medication – if you are reliant on any kind of medication, I recommend keeping a few days supply in each of your bags.

And that’s it for the backpack, unless you have a special need or desire; there are no set rules here.

The smaller courier/laptop bag

The second bag that shows under the seat in front of you is more critical, and I try to fit as many of my essentials in it as possible.

Your mobile office – for me, this consists of quite a few items:

  • Laptop (in a neoprene sleeve)
  • Laptop power adapter and cord
  • Portable scanner – less essential now that phones can scan but still nice if you expect to receive documents
  • Power cords and adapters for phone and headphones, and for your smart watch if you have one
  • Flash drive (several in my case)
  • Any adapters you might need (especially if you have one of the newer USB-C laptops)
  • Any paperwork you will need for the trip – best to print it in advance as hotel facilities are unreliable

Other electronics:

  • Bluetooth or wired headphones- these are really essential for longer flights
  • Portable power pack – every frequent traveler should own one of these. You’ll use and rely on your phone more while traveling, and if you use Bluetooth headphones they could die over the course of several flights. If you don’t have one, grab a cheap small one on Amazon, but get one big enough to charge your phone a few times.
  • Car charger – I use a dual USB lighter jack adapter to plug my phone in to the rental car. It’s less essential now that most cars have a USB port, but you can’t rely on that as you never know when you’ll be stuck in a 2013 Elantra.
  • Aux cord – in case you get stuck in a car without Bluetooth. Most of them at least have an aux port.
  • Vent clip phone holder – to hold your phone in view in the rental car for navigation

Optional electronics:

  • Kindle or tablet- I used to carry these to use in flights, but I don’t anymore. I now consider it dead weight but if it’s worth it to you, bring it.
  • GPS unit – I use my phone, but if you prefer a stand-alone unit it may be worth the space and weight to you.
  • Ezpass – it’s not a bad idea to get a spare to keep in your travel bag. In certain areas this will save you on tolls versus renting one from the rental car agency. On the other hand it really sucks if you forget it in the rental, and the more you have in the car the more you can forget.

I don’t carry these last few items, because for my needs it’s better to keep it simple, but do what works for you and you decide what’s worth carrying.

Clothes: I pack my work clothes in my work bag for a few reasons. They’re less likely to get wrinkled there than in your backpack, and this bag is less likely than the bin bag to get lost or stolen. If you lose a bag, you want to minimize what you need to buy on site, and the last thing you want is to be scrambling for a replacement suit at 8 AM before work.

So my suit pants and dress shirt get folded and go in my courier bag. I put them in a plastic grocery bag for more protection. My tie also goes in this bag. Socks and base layer go in the other bag; in an emergency I can just keep on what I’m already wearing.

Medication: you should have a few days supply of any essential medications in each bag, including “PRN” medications, and OTC essentials like Advil or Aleve and motion sickness pills if that’s your thing. Imodium and antacid are a good idea too.

Secondary ID and form of payment – Losing your wallet on the road is a nightmare, and in some cities and airports business travelers are targeted by pickpockets and muggers. I keep my passport and a backup credit card in my courier bag.

On your person:

Clothing- I dress oddly for transit. I wear my sneakers, comfortable casual pants, a t-shirt, my smartwatch, sunglasses, and my suit jacket.

Why the suit jacket? It’s almost impossible to stuff it in a bag without wrinkling it, short of using an absurdly bulky and expensive garment bag. Plus it has pockets and comes off easily, so it spares me from having to unload pockets at airport security. Trust me, this will save your time. And it’s a cool look.

In my wallet I have the two most essential “optional” items: my Nexus card for the TSA Precheck security line, and my American Express card.

I can’t sing the praises of TSA Precheck enough. You can buy into it as a stand-alone product for $25 a year if you have an enhanced driver’s license, but you get it for free with a NEXUS or Global Entry card, which is just $50 every five years and also speeds you through the US ground border crossings.

Similarly, I can’t get over American Express for business travel. Which Amex is right for you is a whole other article, but I am not aware of any card that beats them for transaction tracking, fraud protection, travel perks, and loss protection. My favorite feature for business travel is how easy the web site makes it to generate expense reports for client billing. If someone else is paying your bills, there’s no other card that comes close. And if you get one of their premium cards a lot of other perks kick in, like free rental car insurance, life and injury insurance, travel bookings, and of course reward points.

I don’t travel with much cash at all if I can avoid it, but if it makes you feel safer stuff a few 20 dollar bills in a hidden spot in each of your bags. A little cash is nice to enable things like eating at street vendors, but I seldom need it, and for tracking purposes I prefer to spend every dollar of a trip on the Amex anyway. However it’s a great idea to have a few dollars in quarters in your bag for city parking.

And that’s about it. If you use this as your packing list for business travel, you’ll be lean and fast at the airport while having everything you are ever likely to need.