Reflections on 2017

Friday January 12, 2018 – Columbus, Indiana

Looking back to last year, I can easily it was one of the best years as far as accomplishments, even though there were many goals that I set were not met. Think about that, I am proud even when the goals I set were not met, how can that be. My number 1 goal for 2017 was to buy a house, I tried to do it and was unable to do; the reason was that I did not know what was needed to fulfill it and I was not ready to do it. Goal Number 2 was to get a promotion and I did accomplish that; here is the kicker, this is not what I’m most proud of in 2017. My greatest accomplishment in 2017 was not even a goal at the beginning of the year, it was not even a goal by October 2017. Getting a deep understanding of my finances is my greatest accomplishment of 2017.

Looking at my records, I’ve had an Excel Budget since 2007 when I changed jobs and Debora stopped working, and almost every year we’ve set up a family budget. I thought that was enough, to know if our planned expenses would be covered by our income, yet we had good months and bad months. Questions about what we could afford was gut check that would lead us to hitting our spending breaks way ahead of the next paycheck. I felt that I was failing, if only we would stick to the theoretical budget we would be fine, a fleeting hope that never materialized.

Coming back from our summer vacation where our expenses were so far off our budget I turned my concern into action. I opened the 2017 Budget and added a column called expenses, then another with the difference. I pointed my browser to my checking account and started adding the values into each of the budget’s categories. Two months after, I had added my savings accounts and started tracking movements across accounts and had a tab for each paycheck, then a workbook for each month. In November I had tabs for each credit card, loan, and savings account; this changed my life.  I am so proud, happy, elated about these new revelations; I know exactly why I could not buy a house in 2017 and I’m happy I didn’t.

I am looking forward to a good 2018, I’m actually looking forward to better understand my financial situation and do something about it. The greatest consequence of wrangling the financial beast is that I feel I can wrangle other beasts in my life. I want to understand my health, my time management, my work habits, my exercise patterns, etc. I recognize a formula that works: define, measure, analyze, improve, control; straight out of the Six Sigma playbook. I’m so happy to start 2018 and looking forward to the new challenges.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Lifehack: Audio

new best friendIf you were to see me from 7:30am to 5:30pm you will see me wearing my headphones, y almost never taken them off, I love them. My wife gave them to me as a Christmas gift a year ago. There are 3 activities I use these headphones throughout my day:

  1. I’m in conference call, I’m in conferences about half of every day.
  2. Listening to music, I’m in an open collaboration office and if I’m working I’m listening to music.
  3. Podcasts & Audiobooks, all other times I’m listening to either a podcast or a book.

I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks when I had a long commute in Guatemala, 60-90 minutes each way. Now, this how I consume technology news, how I learn history, how I understand social problems, how I prepare for new skills, and how shape my political views.

I love listening to books, I use Audible, and the readers are amazing. I can be walking and be immersed into a great story. Everywhere I go, my goes with me, my headphones are an appendage now.

Podcasts are my second love, it has taken a bit to find the right mix of podcasts, both in length and content. For some podcasts I listen to every episode, with others I only listen to the ones I think are interesting. Here is my list of podcasts:

What do you listen to?

*headline image courtesy of unsplash and Antonio Spiridakis

Note Taking

I must confess that during my years in High School and later in College, I did not take notes. I am a listener, I would go to class and listen. There were plenty of people who took notes, and some were my study buddies. Their notes would refresh my memories and together we could really understand the lectures. Now, 15 years after my college days, I am a note taker.

IMG_2894I wanted to explore how I transitioned from not taking any notes, to a place where I find pleasure in taking notes. I can’t remember the exact date, but do remember the job. I was a manager for a company that published Market Studies for the Pharmaceutical Industry, and every client I met used a notebook, either an agenda or a moleskin notebook. I also mas managing multiple projects and making commitments to different parties; I couldn’t keep everything in my head.

My first attempt was to use a digital organizer. I signed up with Evernote to write my tasks and notes. I liked the perpetuity of my notes on Evernote, and being able to search for emails or documents; but the complete solution was not Evernote.

I saw my assistant using an inexpensive notebook as a work journal and thought that something like that could help me. I made several attempts to find what I liked until I got in a good rhythm, and from there I have a notebook.

This week I was reading an article on taking notes, and saw these amazing notebooks from a soccer commentator. (Full Article)

I am not as organized or as artistic as this commentator, but I do like to keep things organized. I carry 1 notebook that holds goals for the week, tasks for the day, and commitments or things I want to follow up on. I also carry with me a legal pad with a line across the center to make it 2 columns (2 columns make for more tidy notes), and a small pad as scratch paper. Every Friday before the end of the day I move the things that are not yet completed to the next week. Every Monday morning I plan for the week, blocking times in my Outlook calendar for specific work and putting tasks to a particular day on the week as a to-do. Every day I write my to-do for that day.

I still use Evernote a lot, and I will spend a whole post on how I use Evernote. Every week I take a picture of all my notes for the week and add it to a note on Evernote title Week Of XX along with any other paper notes I took.

I would love to know who else still take notes on paper and your overall process.

*headline image courtesy of unsplash and Tim Gouw

Tool: Password Manager

Famous words from LOTR “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them” The state of passwords and hackers is probably just one click darker than Mordor, and thus the need of a password manager. My tool of choice is


I started using Lastpass many years ago, I currently have 326 different sites. I can go back to 326 different sites and remember my username and password, most of them have unique, long, complicated passwords. But passwords are not the only things I store in my lastpass vault.

  • Profiles – whenever I need to create a new account, or fill personal information, I can push a button and fill all the info. I have a profile for my personal data and for work.
  • WiFi Networks – I can store credentials to frequent networks that you use, in case you don’t have them stored in your phone.
  • Secure Notes – Store you bank information, routing and account information. Other accounts where you have to make deposits. Super secure notes or images can be added and additional per note passwords.
  • Memberships – Take a picture of a store membership that you use once a year and save it in a membership item
  • Credit Cards – Store credit card information to either use on websites instead of storing the cards in their system, or just as reference in case you lose the card.


I use this service every day, in multiple devices (you do need to pay to have it in multiple devices). The premium account is $12, which to me is a great value for what you get. The iOS integration is amazing, got to a site on your phone, click a button, authenticate with your fingerprint, and you are in.


Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Have a long, complicated password to be your master password.
  2. Enable 2 factor authentication
  3. Enable country restrictions and allow only the countries where you would need to login from.

Capture2 Capture3

If you want to give it a try, consider using my referral code:


Tool: RSS Reader

I wanted to tell you about a tool I use every day, an RSS Reader. My reader of choice is According to Newsblur I’m subscribed to 114 RSS feeds.


“RSS uses a family of standard web feed formats to publish frequently updated information: blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video. An RSS document (called “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, and metadata, like publishing date and author’s name.” via Wikipedia

Some people think of an RSS Reader as an inbox, and they see 100 unread stories, and feel overwhelmed, don’t do that. RSS is about scanning, not reading. If there is a feed you don’t care about what happened the last week, mark it all as read and go on. You can also skim through the titles and only read the ones that are interesting.


One of the things I love about Newsblur is that I can train it to show me only the authors or topics I’m interested in for each particular site. There are some sites that have hundreds of stories each week, but I only care about 1 author that writes a weekly on a particular topic. I can train Newsblur to only show me that topic from my favorite author.


The last thing I love, and it might be counter intuitive, is that I pay Newsblur $24USD each year. I love the value that I get from Newsblur that I don’t want them to go away. I think that $24 is a good value proposition and hope to see them succeed.

Other Screen Shots

*headline image courtesy of unsplash and Manu Schwendener

Home PC – Why?

This year I’m building my PC for our house, it is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. I kept meaning to do it, then I read this post on Coding Horror, and the desire to take this on came back. I want to address on this post why I’m doing this.


  1. Our current home pc is a laptop I purchased for my MBA 5 years ago. It is a good machine, Intel Core 2 Duo Chip, 6GB RAM, 512 GB HHD. It has served us well, as I mentioned on my Dropbox post this machine contains an offline copy of everything that is stored in my Dropbox account. It also syncs any pictures we take on our camera, and connects to a backup Drive. This machine is beginning to slow down, the HHD is starting to show wear.
  2. I have moved many of our assets away from a PC, I still want a central hub. If the internet went dark, I can be assured that all my photos, all my files, all records are there, close to me.
  3. All other devices still can’t do everything a PC can. I’m amazed how easy it is to create a movie on iMovie on my phone. I can edit a photo to my heart’s content on any devise, but try to format a document with text, images, and column that is more than 1,000 words. Printing is still hard (margins, gutter, flow) on mobile devices. You need a PC to properly format, print, and basically have an always on, copper cable, connection to the internet.
  4. I want to build the machine, I really want to tackle this project.

What will be the end result?

So far these are the specs for the PC:

Looking for a system configuration like this one is well over $1,500 I’m hoping to build it for less than $500. I will start buying the parts next month and should start building and testing in 6 weeks. I will update you on the progress!

Dropbox Family Plan

I’ve been a loyal Dropbox user since 2010 and have now incorporated it into our family’s workflow. I started using the free version mainly for myself, over the past years I upgraded to the Pro version and added my account to all devices in the family. Here is an overview of the workflow.

Dropbox Diagram

As you can see most of the devices are connected to 1 dropbox account, right now the Pro price is $9.99 USD per 1TB per month. Our family is using about 24% of the capacity, and we are only adding about 60GB per year.

The way we have set it up is mainly for images, this way either one of us can take a picture and it’s uploaded to Dropbox. I can use images from either phone to add to the blog or share in social media.

Notice that I also do a backup of the whole system to a local hard drive, just in case.

I am sure there are other ways to do this, but I am happy with our current set up. Except for the following and maybe they are deal breakers for you:

  1. You have to trust your family members, they will have the power to delete files, you can undo anything within 30 days, but still you have to trust them.
  2. To share in social media a picture my wife took on her phone, I have to download the image to my phone before I can use it. Dropbox is smart not to upload it again, but if you are trying to get a lot of images, it takes time. A video, a lot more.
  3. When I hit the 1TB mark the next level up is $15 / month with unlimited data.
  4. I don’t consider Dropbox a backup solution, mainly because it mirrors deletes. Right now I have a local backup, but there is room for improvement.

I have in the back of my mind some possible upgrades to this workflow:

  1. I know I need an offsite backup solution, I really like Amazon’s Glacier service and at some point I want to embrace it.
  2. Phones are essential part of our digital life, I do have the phone backed up to Apple’s servers every night, but I might have to give in and add iCloud Photo to have a second line of defense to my images and to easily navigate past images.
  3. I have to upgrade my home computer, the drive is only 500GB and I want that machine to have at least everything on Dropbox. Hopefully this year I will build an HTPC.

As always, let me know your thoughts, I especially want to know your family workflow.