The Second Year

A year ago my friend / business partner / brother-in-law Brady and I started a new summer camp team building company, Custom Camps. We are still going strong, and have already booked more business in the first month of this year than we did in all of our last one. According to the The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of small business fail in the first year, so we just passed that hurdle. About two-thirds of business survive two years in business, half of all businesses survive five years, and one-third survive 10 years. We hope to make it longer than that.

Most business that do fail early fail because of cash flow problems. This seems obvious, but cash flow is a tricky problem to iron out. We have adjusted our contracts over the past year to help us meet cash flow issues as they have come up. Often we are securing venues, catering, staff, and vendors six months in advance, and most require an up front deposit. Many of our clients are Fortune 50 companies whose billing timelines are extended (to say the least.)

To account for the upfront demand for our events, we now require a 50% deposit upon execution of the contract, and the rest upon completion of the event. We have found that this helps in a few ways.

  • This up front payment allows us to cover the deposits needed to secure resources for the event.
  • The client now has significant skin in the game, and is more inclined to work diligently with us to make sure the event is successful. This is a two way street, and the more input we have from a team, the more customized we can make our offering.
  • We pay individual contractors after the event, and the second payment from the client can go towards this expense. However, for some events we still have to float this payment out of profits from previous retreats as it can take over 45 days to get paid from some clients.

Our business is what I would call “soft seasonal.” We have more interest spring through fall than we do in the winter, but the temperate California climate helps in this regard. We are increasing our winter offerings, and introducing new lines of business that should help shore up the slow times, but we still plan on taking the full month of December off. We did this last year and it was a stress free and guilt free way to step back and look around at the other parts of our lives we want to focus on.

We are excited to keep running Custom Camps for the upcoming year and grow it in new and exciting directions!

Useful things from 2018


A short list of things I have found useful over the course of the past year.

Honda e2000 Generator:
This very quiet generator can power my woodworking tools in the woods, run lights and sound equipment at the camps I produce, and is a backup for my fridge at home. It won’t run all high load appliances (pressure washer, large saws, etc) but is a good backup.

Fake Spot:
Is that Amazon product’s reviews fake or not? Many are paid reviews these days, and you never know if the product is actually good. This site will help you figure out what you are really getting.

My go to task manager, syncs across all screens and gives me intuitive ways to manage my multiple todo lists.

Airtable is best tool for running all aspects of my business. It is an easy to manipulate database that can do all sorts of things. I use it to manage our clients, staff, offerings, etc. I use the API to display public data on our website so that anyone on our team can edit it quickly.

My default email client now. It has email scheduling, reminders, undo, calendars, and tracking. I can see when people read emails, download attachments, and click links. Keyboard shortcuts are the same as gmail, and I have all my mail addresses at once.

Dark Reader: Chrome Store Link
This Chrome extension turns the web dark to match Mac Mojave’s dark mode. I prefer dark backgrounds to white ones as they are easier on my eyes.

Express VPN:
Protect your self on open networks, and never torrent without it!

If you are not using a password manager at this point, then you are probably at risk of being hacked. I like this one as it integrates well into everything (mobile, web, etc)

Ring Doorbell:
This doorbell has been super useful, as my office is in the basement and Mandy’s studio is out back. We won’t hear a normal doorbell. This lets me know if I need to get a package off the porch.

I usually find a few fun things a month, and will try to post more often with the ones that end up sticking around.

Keeping your sanity with Mute Filters

I still use RSS to pull information from the internet to my eyes. It is the most efficient way of gathering information from multiple sources without having to manually dig, and it avoids the brain killing viral balloons from Facebook and the like.

However, there is one endless source of “news” that I am done hearing about daily. Trump. I don’t care to give any of my attention to this national reality show anymore. Enter the Mute Filter.

The news reader I have used since Google reader shut down is Feedly. It has a mute filter that removes all articles from your feed containing key words. I made a test filter for “Trump”, set it to last for 7 days, and then forgot about it.

It filtered 1561 articles in 7 days!

Today, it turned off and my feed went back to garbage. Example A below. (I know Gizmodo is a rag, but I like their tech product features…)

Example A

The Mute Filter is going back on and going to stay that way. Any actual big news related to this trumpster fire I will hear about on NPR or via email or from friends.

Cost of Newspaper Subscriptions

My brother Matt asked why there is no useful comparison of the cost of newspaper subscriptions. Some Googling made it clear – this consumer comparison does not exist. So, I took a few minutes to knock one together.

I think the real reason is most people are looking to get a specific paper, and are not shopping around for which paper is most affordable. If you want the WSJ, you want the WSJ, and the cost of USA Today doesn’t factor into it.

I’m not going to keep this updated as the cost seems to shift around depending on the season, which ads you have viewed in the past, and the content of Trump’s last tweet.

California is burning while everything else floods.


Active fires in California as of Sep 1, 2017.

There have been 30% more individual fires this year in California than there were last year. Many more in Oregon and up into Canada. A few have been near our place in Nevada City.

Multiple regions experianced disaster level flooding in the past two weeks. South Asia (40 million people affected), Nigeria, and Texas.

Update 9/1/17: San Francisco just had its hottest day ever. 106 degrees.

Crossing the country for the Eclipse

Taken by Matt Hanna, on an iPhone

The first solar eclipse Mandy and I saw was in October of 2014. That one was a partial eclipse, but nobody seemed to care. We grabbed glasses from the Lawrence Hall of Science, and joined crowds in the Berkeley hills to watch it happen. Shadows went wild, and it was a fun afternoon.

The first lunar eclipse I saw was in College in North Carolina. Since then I have seen a few and even observed one through my telescope, which was a lot of fun.

None of them compared to the totality of the 2017 eclipse. Mandy and I joined the great migration by flying to South Carolina to spend the week with my family in Hilton Head, with the plan to drive up an hour to Charleston to observe the totality.

The Migration

On Monday morning, we loaded up into a rented minivan with my family and our 10-month-old niece, and headed out at 7:30am. It was getting cloudy, so four of us kept an eye on different live cloud maps, all trying to figure out the best spot to go. Citing the lake effect (clouds don’t form as consistently over water in summer months) we aimed for a lake in the middle of the state. Traffic was not as bad as we were expecting, and the drive in took around three hours. This put us in Lexington, SC a few hours before the main event.

The town was packed. It was in the “Path of Totality” and had been preparing. Cafes were giving out eclipse cookies (Oreos and MoonPies) and every law enforcement agent in the county was on duty. We scoped out a few sites, and ended up parking near the lake, and joining thousands of people on the shore as the moon started crossing the sun.

We watched while swimming, and Mandy saw totality start while in the water. The clouds completely dissipated in the 20 minutes before totality, and then it happened. The diamond ring exploded around the moon, and we had a clear view of the sun’s atmosphere streaming out. The crowd cheered, then became silent as our brains tried to cope with what we were seeing. Darkness had fallen instantly, stars were out, and the sun had turned into a ring of fire. Sunset was visible on all sides around the lake and the colors were beautiful.

The totality was only two minutes and 33 seconds long, but it seemed both far longer, and much shorter. I’m still trying to parse out how it affected me, but I felt minuscule on the cosmic scale and part of something massive for humanity. Estimates say that 200 million people watched the eclipse in the US on Monday. On that field thousands of us were struck with awe at the same moment, and shared a powerful experience.

Interesting Data

On the way to the eclipse, people had trickled in over the weekend in small, but constant streams. Once it was over, it was like a pulse bomb was set off in the road infrastructure. Look at the traffic patterns below that follow the eclipse trajectory – some of those red and orange lines stretch for hundreds of miles.

Traffic heading back to the island took six hours. I-95 was slammed with everyone who came up from Florida. When we got back, my brother Matt looked up the effect the eclipse had on solar output in California. Interesting curves here:

Also, people on the path cared much more about the eclipse than those who were far away as Google search trends shows below:


Santa Cruz and 5000 pound Mammals

Sea Elephants in the Background

This weekend Mandy and I went down to her college town of Santa Cruz and walked among 5000 pound Sea Elephants. Santa Cruz is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco if you take the freeways for most of it. We did not take the freeways.

Between San Francisco and Santa Cruz runs a section of PCH-1, the Pacific Coast Highway. If you grew up going to east coast beaches and have never been to California you might need some context. The east coast (at least the southern parts) has long gradual slopes out to the beaches. The sand stretches out, and people can ride bikes, walk, and even drive cars along them.

Contrast this to much of Northern California,where the mountains ram up against the ocean, then plummet in 200 foot cliffs directly down into thrashing waves and rocks. It is breathtaking, and leaves you reeling from the power of nature.

PCH-1 skirts the very edge of these cliffs for hundreds of miles all down the Pacific coast, until the cliffs give way to beaches somewhere near Los Angeles. In some sections, the aforementioned power of nature has beaten the road into temporary submission, and covered in it a rock slide or washed out parts underneath it.

Along PCH-1 is a state park called Año Nuevo. It is here that thousands of Sea Elephants beach themselves and make the sand dunes their mating grounds between December and March. We have been meaning to go see them for a few years, but you can only go out to where they are on a docent guided tour that needs a reservation “up to 56 days in advance”.

With the recent rain and storms, we bet people would not show and there would be extra tickets — we were right. Mandy brought rain pants. I did not. By the end of the two hour hike out and back, I had learned: That these things are born weighing 70 pounds, and then gain 230 pounds in 28 days. Their mother’s milk is 55% fat. They can get up to 5000 pounds and live 14-20 years. An alpha male will fight all the other males, then control a harem of up to 40 females. There are multiple harems spread out along Año Nuevo’s sand dunes.

We got to walk in and among them, but not to close to the main groups – just around the outcasts and “bachelors” who were not alpha that year and the young pups.

We saw a female sea elephant start to leave for the season, and then four 5000 pound males chased her into the ocean and get into a massive fight over who had the right to her. It was surreal.

The Twitch

A few times a year my lower eyelid starts to twitch. It is annoying, but not painful in any way. It is happening now and I looked up the different reasons it can occur:

Computer eye strain

Yup, yup, yeah, uh huh, right. All of the above. Boozy wedding party in LA last weekend, no sleep, running a startup, drinking lots of coffee.

I often do not notice when I am stressed out and overtaxed, so I am glad my body has developed relatively harmless way of letting me know to take it easy.

I got a robot to clean my floors

Mandy and I are notoriously bad about sweeping up our floors. Our dog sheds like crazy and this leads to little dustbunnies building up in all of the corners. We had resigned ourselves to living with it until I started seriously looking at Roomba robots. 

The newest versions have rubber rollers that do not allow hair to get wrapped up in them, and are perfect for pets. For years I have heard people that hate the robots or love them. I think it depends on your house.

Our place is all one level, with hardwood floors throughout, and is basically perfect for these things.

Since we got it, our floors have been dog-hair free and we don’t even have to think about it. It is scheduled to run while I am at work, and I am sure it keeps our dog entertained.

It never finds its way back to the charging station, but I don’t care. It is inevitably stuck under our bed or couch. I just find it when I get home and put it back, ready to go the next day.