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  1. Pictures from Hong Kong
  2. Pictures from Bangkok
  3. Investing in Your Most Valuable Asset
  4. 43 Things I've Learned from 90 days of Non-Stop Travel.
  5. Fitting my life into 18 liters
  6. Are you a Hunter or a Farmer?
  7. Street Photos from a Vantage Point
  8. Photography tip: Taking Pictures of Waterfalls
  9. The Biases of a Traveler.
  10. Living Without Sunk Costs
  11. more ...


  1. Mail #2: Fog, San Francisco
  2. Mail #1: The Eichler House, Silicon Valley
  3. more ...


  1. Accessing the Internet in China
  2. Pictures from Chiang Mai
  3. 43 Things I've Learned from 90 days of Non-Stop Travel.
  4. Fitting my life into 18 liters
  5. Learning to Ride a Motorcycle in Thailand
  6. Motorbikes of Hanoi
  7. The Biases of a Traveler.
  8. Beijing
  9. Travel Gear Update #2
  10. Kompong Khleang, Cambodia
  11. more ...


  1. Pictures from Hong Kong
  2. Pictures from Bangkok
  3. Pictures from Chiang Mai
  4. Investing in Your Most Valuable Asset
  5. Portfolio
  6. Learning to Ride a Motorcycle in Thailand
  7. Motorbikes of Hanoi
  8. Street Photos from a Vantage Point
  9. Rainy Day in Shanghai
  10. Beijing
  11. more ...

Accessing the Internet in China

Which VPN to use in China

Tue 22 July 2014

Beijing, China.

Before you get to China consider downloading and signing up for a VPN service. The firewall in China eliminates access to Facebook, Instagram, and the New York Times, and severely hampers access to Google, FourSquare, and almost every other service located in the United States. Without a VPN it will be hard to read news, use maps, translate languages, check email, or message your friends. It can be crippling.

I tried three services: my own ssh based service4 which runs on this server and the VPN services offered by Astrill 1 and Cloak. Astrill is by far the fastest and most reliable, my own ssh based VPN didn't work behind certain wifi networks, and Cloak wouldn't connect at all in China 2.

If you decide to use Astrill make sure that you download the client for your computer and phone before entering mainland china. Download speeds to Astrill's servers are severely throttled in China3. Also sign up for the service or the 1 week trial before arriving in the mainland — signing up requires an SMS verification which is hard to do from abroad.

Astrill's VPN has three connections available: OpenWeb, OpenVPN and StealthVPN. "OpenWeb" is only good for web browsing, "OpenVPN" allows more than just web browsing (DropBox and SSH especially) but tends to be blocked in China. "StealthVPN" is the same as "OpenVPN" but it works inside China and costs $10/month. I'm using StealthVPN for a one week trial now and love it.

You should know that Astrill's minimum service plan is for 3 months. If your trip is less than a week you can use Astrill's 1 week free trial instead of paying for the service. For me it might make sense to have a secure VPN all the time that I travel — even when I'm not in China. I never know how shitty the internet will be in any point of the world and I never know how different services will be throttled in different countries. To me unrestricted, private access to information is worth at least $5-10/month.


  1. I don't get anything if you sign up through this link. Astrill has an affiliate program but I haven't figured it out. 

  2. I recieved an email from Cloak saying that their phone app should work fine in China, but not their desktop app. 

  3. My connection to astrill.com ran at 5k/sec the first time I was in China. I was able to download the installer onto my DigitalOcean server at about 100k/sec and then download it from DigitalOcean to this computer at about 50k/sec. I think this means that my connection to astrill.com was throttled to 5k/sec when it could have run at 50k/sec. 

  4. The command to use is simple, "ssh -vND7070 user@host". Then adjust your Mac to use the new proxy in System Preferences. If you already have an existing server like I do at Digital Ocean 

Pictures from Chiang Mai

Fri 11 July 2014

Check out all recent Thailand pictures here.

Motorcycling is glamorous. Riding my scooter definitely is not. It has a wimpy tenth of a liter engine that coughs and wheezes to lift me up hill and can barely move itself 45 miles per hour even in a full downhill sprint. But it's still incredibly freeing.

In a car we have our personal space well defined: I'm in this five by ten foot box, you're in your own five by ten foot box. On a scooter that box doesn't exist. At traffic lights all the scooters push to the front of the queue, only a foot or two apart from each other. Here I'm exposed to the world: hearing people's conversations, talking to them as I drive by, feeling and smelling particulate exhaust from the bike in front of me burn itself into my eyes and nostrils. Getting covered in dust, feeling the puff of air from passing cars, and feeling the difference in heat from the sunny and shaded sides of the street.

On a motorbike you can see a friend, say hello to them, and then stop and talk for a while without turning your bike off and without blocking traffic. This doesn't feel much different from the way that the Segway was supposed to change cities: the motorbike is just faster, cheaper, and you look like less of an idiot riding one.

After several months of walking, busing, and taking public transit around Asia the simple ability to get on a bike, kick start start the engine, and move across town without sweating a liter of salt water is incredible. It feels like the childhood dream where I learned to fly. It gives me a fresh understanding of the cities I visit.

Chiang Mai is a gorgeous place, so much that I decided to cut my other plans loose and spend some extra days here. The people in Chiang Mai are among the friendliest I've found and Chiang Mai is the first place I really think I could live. It's the Kyoto of Thailand: temples everywhere, smaller and quieter than it's big brother city, and decidedly more relaxed. A nice hotel room would cost you $900/month and a perfectly adequate hotel might be $300/month — much lower if you can negotiate.

Outside Chiang Mai is nice too. Riding through the mountains it's easy to see why people with attention deficit disorder love to ride motorcycles: it's nearly impossible to think of anything aside from the number of ways that you might be dying in the next few seconds. Dodging gravel pits, loose sand, and potholes feels like a video game with only one life. It's enthralling.


Investing in Your Most Valuable Asset

Thoughts from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Thu 10 July 2014

Chiang Mai, Thailand.

What's your most valuable asset? Think on it for a minute.

Most people would probably say that their most valuable asset is the most expensive thing they own: maybe a house or a car. Other people would say it's their family.

I think that our most valuable asset is our attention. This isn't obvious, but it should be: we get paid to apply our attention to problems at work, the religions of the world demand our attention to pray, and our family and loved ones ask for attention from us to feel valued. If we completely lost the ability to hold our attention we would be unproductive and unemployable.

What else demands our attention? A push notification about a friend request interrupts us in the middle of dinner, the apps on our home screen fill with red badge icons to remind us of things we haven't done, friends message us when we're deeply involved in a face to face conversation with someone else, and emails arrive over our lunch break perfectly timed using artificial intelligence to place them at the top of our inbox.

We have at most 24 hours per day of attention, 16 if we sleep regularly, and the computers of the world would like to eat all of that time by distracting us.

I'm not saying that this is evil or even that it's wrong. Our attention being eaten is just a side effect of a metrics and advertising driven world. As internet citizens we have shown each other that we're too cheap to pay money for things. So instead we use them for free and pay with our eyes.

Any large Internet service will have a metrics team and that team will invariably optimize metrics with A/B tests. In a world designed by statistical tests the metrics that are the most reliable and easy to measure are the ones that will be taken more seriously. Services will be optimized for clicks, revenue, and time spent because those metrics are far easier to measure than fuzzy concepts like satisfaction, utility, and happiness. So our time and attention tend to get eaten and our happiness — well — no one really knows what that looks like over time.

In general this is fine — most people like using computers or they would stop. But on the margins this makes us increasingly distracted. It's become hard to even read a book.

What can we do about it? I love using Facebook and Instagram but I know that I'll just log in reguarly anyway. So I've turned off all push notifications, badges, and from push emails on my phone. I also unsubscribe from every marketing email as soon as it comes in — I'm going to go shopping anyway. This isn't a major investment, it's just a little one, but it lets my thoughts follow their own path instead of being interrupted mid-stream by information I'm not ready for.

Each time I preemptively block something from distracting me: a home screen badge, a push notification, or a spammy mailing list, I buy back some of that ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. It feels a lot better: I feel happier by letting my thoughts exist without interruption. It could be worth making the same investment in yourself.

P.S. I'm guilty of advertising too. My last headline was jokingly clickbait. I don't charge for this site, and only a handful of people have bought my prints, so instead I link to products on Amazon hoping that you'll buy them and offset some of my production cost. Invariably this biases me to write about things that can earn money with affiliate links. I don't like it, I try to avoid it, but I know that it's true.

Just as an experiment here's a subscription option. I doubt anyone will directly pay for this content, but if you do I'll take all the money and apply it to future budget travel, camera gear, website hosting costs, and coffee to keep me writing and making things you find interesting.


Other Recent Posts

  1. 43 Things I've Learned from 90 days of Non-Stop Travel. Jul 2014
  2. Fitting my life into 18 liters Jul 2014
  3. Portfolio Jul 2014
  4. Excess and Minimalism as a Traveler Jul 2014
  5. Option Value Jul 2014
  6. Learning to Ride a Motorcycle in Thailand Jul 2014
  7. Motorbikes of Hanoi Jun 2014
  8. Are you a Hunter or a Farmer? Jun 2014
  9. Photography tip: Look for the Details in Architecture Jun 2014
  10. Street Photos from a Vantage Point Jun 2014
  11. Photography tip: Taking Pictures of Waterfalls Jun 2014
  12. The Biases of a Traveler. Jun 2014
  13. Rainy Day in Shanghai Jun 2014
  14. Living Without Sunk Costs Jun 2014
  15. Photography tip: Panning Shots May 2014
  16. Hamburger Defaults May 2014
  17. Beijing May 2014
  18. Cars of the Future May 2014
  19. Travel Gear Update #2 May 2014
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  21. Kompong Khleang, Cambodia May 2014
  22. Angkor Wat, Cambodia May 2014
  23. Cambodia Notes and Pictures May 2014
  24. Malaysia May 2014
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  35. Travelogue #3: The Kind People of Los Angeles Apr 2014
  36. Lifestyle Deflation Apr 2014
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  38. Around the World Packing List Apr 2014
  39. Travelogue #1: Constraints Apr 2014
  40. Mail #2: Fog, San Francisco Mar 2014
  41. Angel Island, San Francisco Mar 2014
  42. Mail #1: The Eichler House, Silicon Valley Mar 2014
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  44. Why Travel Mar 2014
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