March 31, 2023

Simple Stuff And A Simple Song: ChatGPT

You know who can't be Bob? ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot created by OpenAI. It was trained on a massive dataset of text to generate human-like responses to prompts, and was released in November 2022.

Curious about all the fanfare surrounding this new technology, I visited the website and asked the thing, 

"What are the essential material possessions for a simple life."

It answered,

As an AI language model, I do not have personal beliefs or values.


However, based on cultural and social norms, some of the essential material possessions for a simple life can include:

Shelter (a comfortable and functional home)

Basic furniture (bed, table, chairs, etc)

Minimal clothing (quality and durable instead of quantity)

Basic kitchen utensils (a few pots, pans and utensils)

Household items (cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc)

Means of transportation (a reliable bike or car)

Necessary technology (phone, computer, etc)

Books or other sources of entertainment or enrichment

Personal mementos or sentimental items 

Basic outdoor gear (for hikes, camping, or other active pursuits)

However, what constitutes "essential" and "simple" can vary depending on a person's lifestyle, priorities, and values.

Hmm, not too bad on that one, so I asked it to do something else for me.

"Write", I prompted, "a song about simple living in the style of Bob Dylan." 

A few seconds later it printed out this little ditty:

Verse 1:

I wake up every morning to the sounds of the birds

And I feel so lucky to be alive

I don't need no fancy cars or gold-plated words

Just the simple life is what I thrive



Living simple, it's the way to be

Less is more, let your soul run free

There's no need for excess, don't you see

Living simple, it's the way for me


Verse 2:

I don't need no mansion or a diamond ring

Just a cozy cabin and a guitar to sing

I don't need no suits or a fancy career

Just my guitar and my voice to steer



Living simple, it's the way to be

Less is more, let your soul run free

There's no need for excess, don't you see

Living simple, it's the way for me


Verse 3:

Life is too short to be chasing wealth

I'd rather feel the grass between my toes

I'll take my time and enjoy my health

That's the kind of life that everyone knows



Living simple, it's the way to be

Less is more, let your soul run free

There's no need for excess, don't you see

Living simple, it's the way for me



So if you're feeling lost in this world of greed

Just remember simple is the key

Live with love, kindness and generosity

Living simple, it's the way to be.


Ironic to be asking a super complex artificial intelligence to answer queries about simplicity, but what ChatGPT came up with was definitely interesting and somewhat entertaining.

But is it job threatening?

One expert believes that "up to 300 million jobs could be replaced" by AI technology, "with two thirds of all occupations being at least partially automated by AI.” 

Maybe human bloggers will go extinct. 

Songwriters, too?

I'm not so sure. 

I feel that Bob's Nobel prize for Literature is safe, and that ChatGPT can not approach Henry David Thoreau's beautiful writings on the simple life. 

It definitely can't plant beans, let alone 7 miles of them. 

"What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day's work." 

- Henry David Thoreau

We will have to wait and see what happens now that the Pandora's box of AI has been opened.

It is probably a good idea to plant a bunch of beans, either way.

March 29, 2023

Wendel Berry's Standards For Technological Adoption

Wendel Berry at work... without a computer.

"The sustainable guys there talked about low-tech solutions. Sometimes you're looking back in time for solutions."
- Stephen Gist

In 1987 Wendel Berry explained that he did not wish to buy a computer with which to do his writing. 

He never did relent, preferring the low tech and less flashy pencil and paper combo.

His goal was always, "to make myself as plain as I can". 

Towards this goal he shared his standards for technological adoption.

They are as follows:

1. The new item should be cheaper than what it replaces.

2. It should be at least as small in scale.

3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than what it replaces.

4. It should use less energy than what it replaces.

5. If possible, it should use some form of renewable energy, such as solar or that produced by the body.

6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.

7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.

8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that would take it back for maintenance and repair.

9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

Using such standards would mean that much of the technology we use now would no longer be produced or consumed.

How much of modern technology advances the human condition, rather than advancing surveillance, control, and profit-making?

Maybe we need less technology, not more, or perhaps the answers we need can only be addressed by low tech rather than high.

But talk that way and most people will think you are insane. We have accepted high tech unconditionally as a good that always makes life better.

Berry says, 

"The Luddites asserted the precedence of community needs over technological innovation and monetary profit.

The victory of industrialism over Luddism was overwhelming and unconditional. It was undoubtedly the most complete, significant, and lasting victory of modern times.

To this day, if you say you would be willing to forbid, restrict, or reduce the use of technological devices in order to protect the community, or to protect the good health of nature on which the community depends, you will be called a Luddite, and it will not be a compliment.

Technological determinism has triumphed."

In an insane world, the sane will be seen as the ones who have lost their minds. 

Some would say that Wendel Berry was not thinking straight to consider that using a pencil for writing, and editing on paper with his wife, could not be improved upon by the purchase and use of a computer. 

And yet, he still resisted. 

"The individual", Friederich Nietzsche said, "has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe."

He thought that if you tried it, you would often be lonely, and sometimes frightened. 

But, he thought, "no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself". 

You could say that Berry was off his rocker for not being an enthusiastic cheerleader for high tech. But you couldn't say that he didn't own himself.

We would do well to consider his standards for technological adoption, and seriously question all new innovations before we choose to adopt them in our own lives.

Contrary to what the tribe believes, new technologies are not always improvements that benefit humanity.

March 27, 2023

If This Isn't Nice...

In a world that seems to be getting more bad, author Kurt Vonnegut implored us to take a moment to acknowledge when things are good. 

And aren't things often good? If not, I guess we are doing it wrong.

The things that make us happiest are often those that are free.

To a money worshipping society, this seems impossible. 

The best money can do is make your unhappiness a little more palatable. But only for a little while.

Vonnegut suggested that: 

"When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, "If this isn't nice, what is?"

I did that yesterday when I rode my bike  into town to pick up a pack full of groceries.

To start, it was a beautiful sunny day. That sweet, sweet sunshine is good for things that are solar powered, like me.

Along the way I saw an irruption of robins, the first I have seen this spring. 

An irruption of birds is described as a sudden surge in numbers, and is often associated with migration. They are an amazing sight after a long winter without so many of our winged friends.

Cheerful red breasts littered lawns, so many heads tilted toward the warming soil in a search for early worms. 

The first full moon of March (on the 7th this year) is known as the Worm Moon. It marks the approximate time that earthworms and other wiggly things start to stir as Spring approaches.

I got to the store and picked up bananas, a bag of apples, and a day old baguette. 

Through a bit of frugal shopping, I got all three items marked down (50% off). I passed on the half price chocolate bars. That's not the kind of sweet I am looking for.

On the way back home I spied out a spot where I know I can find early blooms. Sure enough, there they were - a bunch of bright, white snowdrops.

When I got home there was a pair of snow buntings eating grass seeds on our front lawn. 

Linda mis-spoke and called them snow dumplings. I think I like that name better, and from now on in our house they will be known by that.

The plumping white dumplings stayed for hours, pecking away to fatten up for their thousands kilometre journey back north for breeding season.

Now, if that wasn't a sweet, peaceful day, what is? 

I was grateful for it all.

"One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge when times were sweet." - Kurt Vonnegut



March 26, 2023

There Is No Box

“They first try to convince you there is a box, then they challenge you to think outside it. The truth is, there was never a box; there is no box and there never will be. Your only limitation lies in who you think you are — your ego.


― Omar Cherif

I do my best thinking outside, the real outside, where the limitations, borders, and walls of society don't exist.

I centre my thinking outside everything I have been told and believe I know.

A change of perspective can be life-altering. 

Once seen, it can never be unseen, and I often wonder, "Why can't they see it?"

Then I remember to be patient - they may still be trapped in the illusion of the box.

My job is to dissolve the illusion of mind boxes. For myself, and for others.

Box? What box?

There is no box, except in our minds.

March 23, 2023

It's Hard To Make Everything From Scratch... But It's Fun Trying

Preparing to make vegetarian sushi.

"Cooking (from scratch) is the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being."

- Michael Pollan

Linda and I have a long term goal in the kitchen - make everything we eat from scratch. 

What we have found that we can't make everything from scratch, but it is fun to see how much we can make ourselves.

Pizza - we make the dough, the sauce, and cut the toppings, but buy the mozzarella. We don't make cheese... yet.

We have learned that most foods are easy to make. Time and labour intensive, maybe, but not complicated.

Cooking this way is challenging, but also very satisfying. We like to be as self-sufficient as we can be in the kitchen, and everywhere else. 

Fresh garden veggies can be used in a variety of dishes.

We also like saving money, and with food prices inflating at levels not seen for decades, now is a good time to know how to do stuff for yourself instead of relying on corporations padding their bottom line.

For us cooking from scratch is ultimately an investment in good health.

Growing and processing food and preparing meals is often the most fulfilling part of our days.

Greek lunch - we make the hummus, pita bread, za' star spice, and tzatzki. We didn't grow the olives.

Food can be poison, or it can be medicine. 

That is why are taking control of what we eat.

For us, doing as much as we can ourselves is the best way to do that.

Our latest made from scratch foods? Vegan mayonnaise and peanut butter. 

Next on our list? Mustard, and other nut butters (almond and cashew). After that we will take on pirogies, and we have always wanted to try making pasta.

We have been making our own skim milk yogurt for years.

Fun. Rewarding. And very, very yummy.

Best of all, it is one of the most powerful preventive health measures one can take at home on your own.

We figure we either have to make time to cook wholesome healthy foods, or make time for a doctor appointment. 

Eww. Does anyone like having to do that?

March 21, 2023

Questioning Standard Consumption Habits

“I decided to break the trend of accumulating stuff sooner rather than later. I moved to smaller homes ahead of my need. I downsized before I was forced to do so. I sorted and dispersed my things while I had the energy and the ability to either donate or sell my stuff.” 

― Lisa J. Shultz

It is always a good idea to question standard consumption habits if you have goals like saving money, toiling less, or retiring early. 

It is the standard consumption habits in consumer economies that keep us working jobs we don't like to buy things we don't need.

That usually means a lifetime of needless effort, and even if you win the prize, the results are rarely satisfying.

No one on their death bed wishes they worked more, or bought more crap.

For my entire life it has taken more work every year to maintain a standard consumer life. 

This is because the 1% increased their take of the spoils of increased worker productivity, while the people doing the work get less.

A couple of standard consumer items highlight this situation. This shows when I first entered the workforce, compared to more recently.  

Average new vehicle in 1981: $8,910.

In 2022: $48,000 (5.39 times what it cost in 1981).

Median single-family home in 1981: $62,000.

In 2022: $390,000 (6.3 times what it cost in 1981).


Median weekly wage in 1981: $300.00.

In 2022: $1,048 (3.49 times what it was in 1981).

Most workers have been falling behind as everything inflates wildly except wages.

The way Linda and I retired early to a simple life was by questioning every standard consumption habit.

Over the years we decided we didn't need or want: a car, TV, home stereo, BBQ, meat heavy diet, restaurant and fast foods, movies, concerts, international travel, regular holidays, kitchen gadgets, big house, domestic travel, shopping for entertainment, and most everything else that poses for "having a life" in consumer economies.

It was liberating. We found it to be more fulfilling to give up the consumer life all together and release the futile struggle to "have it all".

After that we realized we didn't need to work full time jobs that were stressful or that we didn't enjoy. 

Part time and contract jobs that were interesting and more fun paid the bills until we retired completely. 

Linda worked a relief position in a library for many years, something she always wanted to do. 

After teaching I went back to gardening, and also did a stint in environmental education working as a river rafting team leader. 

I also tried working as a chauffeur for a while, driving some of the biggest, dumbest cars to ever grace the planet. That was fun for a short time, and allowed me to meet some really nice (and generous) people. 

We can still choose to live differently. 

Standard  consumption habits have not been mandated. Yet. And simple living blogs like this one have not yet been labeled as "misinformation".

When we start to question the standard consumption habits that most take for granted as "just the way things are", we can see that they are empty, hollow promises that do not provide a lasting benefit.

It is still possible to start building a resilient, sustainable life with less wage slavery and crap collection, and with more time to enjoy each other and simply being alive.

March 19, 2023

Spring Is...

I like a good pun. 

I also like Spring.

It is just around the corner, now, and starts Monday, March 20th at 6:24 pm where I live in the Canadian Maritimes.

Have to start our garden planning, and order some seeds. Soon. Very soon.

Happy Spring, and happy gardening.

March 17, 2023

MacGyver It

How do I save money and resources while sticking it to the corporate crapification of consumer goods?

I MacGyver that crap and make it last.

"To MacGyver" something is a reference to the character of the 80s TV program MacGyver. 

The character was known for his often humorous and creative contraptions and solutions to the challenges he faced each episode.

When I "MacGyver" something it means I make, form or repair something with whatever is on hand, and it is one of my favourite things to do. 

That is why even though I am not into clutter, I still maintain a robust resource depository in my kitchen. 

If one is going to MacGyver things one must be prepared.

Armed with little more than a Swiss Army knife maybe I could, like MacGyver, make a defibrillator out of a candlestick, rubber mat and extension cord.

I hope I never need to do that.

But I have fashioned a set of home speakers out of a plastic bin, vehicle speakers and wires (torn out of our van before we had it towed to the auto recyclers), and duct tape. 

Or how about fixing my glasses with a stripped twist tie, or making a laptop stand with a toilet paper roll and rubber bands from broccoli? 

For me this is not only frugal, but also a creative and fun challenge.

I love pulling a good MacGyver that works and saves money.

What are the favourite MacGyvered projects that you have created?

March 16, 2023

Fighting Food Inflation - Buying In Bulk

Left - 1kg plastic bag of oats from chain grocer. 
Right - 20 kg paper bag of oats from food buying group.

Trying to save money on rapidly inflating food prices? Buying in bulk may be the way to go, if you are able.

I like to buy big amounts of foods in sizes that are not available in any of the stores in our small town. 

Buying the smaller sizes they stock means having to purchase multiple units, or visit the stores more often, and I don't want to do either of these.

Usually smaller sizes cost more, too (but not always).

For example, we used to buy non-organic old fashioned rolled oats from the chain grocer. They were only available in 1 kg plastic bags. 

I didn't like the packaging, and the oats cost .40/100 gm.

When we joined a local food buying club we were able to purchase basic foods in larger amounts. 

This collective action shows the benefits of cooperating with neighbours to leverage your purchasing power.

Most wholesalers have minimum order limits that make it difficult for individuals to take advantage of lower prices. Grouping together overcomes this problem.

Now we buy our oats (which are locally grown and organic) in 20 kilogram bags. They are the biggest bags of oats I have ever seen, and I love them.

These oats come in a giant heavy paper bag. So much better than having to buy 20 small plastic bags of oats in the store and having to recycle all of them. 

And as we are finding out, "recycling" often means "landfilling" when it comes to plastic waste.

Buying in bulk has also been good for our pocketbook. 

The big beautiful bag means we are now paying only .33/100 gm for our wholesale organic oats.

Less cost, better packaging, and handier than stockpiling small bags or having to make repeat visits to the grocery store. 

The organic whole grain wheat flour we buy through our food buying group is equally as awesome. It comes in giant 25 kg paper bags, and the contents are sourced and milled locally. 

It costs us .29/100 gm vs .40/100 gm for fake non-organic "whole wheat flour" from the store which can only be bought in 5kg bags.

Who knows where the store flour is grown, or milled, or what is actually in it? They don't say.

Buying in bulk does not always cost less, so we always compare prices first, but it usually is a cost saving. 

If you can, try joining a local food buying club or coop as they can often facilitate bulk foods for less.

With rapidly inflating food prices, every bit helps. And if, at the same time, the collective action can provide local, healthier foods, so much the better.

March 14, 2023

Wild And Free In The Winter Woods

Lots of nice, fluffy white stuff.

Last week I got out into the woods for my first and second snowshoe adventures of the winter.

The first day was overcast and beautiful. The second, sunny and beautiful.

It is almost spring equinox, so it was a late start to the season. And it may of ended shortly after it began.

Activity in sugar maple groves will soon begin with perfect temperatures being below zero at night, and above zero during the day.

In our location, so near to the ocean, I have to hit the snow while the going is good because you never know when the warmth and rain may come.

And come it did, just a few days after the heaviest snowfall of the winter. 

Next to the brook at the bottom of the valley behind our home. Nature, nature, nature!

That is why I am grateful for every moment I get out on the snowshoes. Even if it is only twice a year. 

Snowshoeing through the muffled, muted winter wonderland makes me feel like a kid again.

Just like when I am on my bicycle. Which I have riding a lot this winter due to the lack of snow. 

It's pretty good either way.

My tracks on the sugar shack trail.

But being in the woods walking on water (frozen water) is magical. So quiet, tranquil, relaxing and rejuvenating. 

Here there are no human biases, or lies, or societal rules. In the woods I find clarity, and the purpose of my life.

Being in nature provides a rejuvenating good vibe that lasts for days. 

The tracks of some other creature that lives in the woods, 
possibly snowshoe hare, or hares.

It is conceivable that we will get another good dump before spring gets off to a serious start.

If so, I will be ready to go on my refurbished snowshoes (I replaced the straps with a new set from the manufacturer) which performed perfectly.

I am always looking for tracks and signs. This photo reveals evidence of something eating tree bark. Several creatures do in these woods. In this case I suspect porcupine.

I am thankful for the conditions that allow me to float through the forest atop heaps of snow. It is an outdoor experience like no other.

It is times like this that I realize that Thoreauian truth - all good things are wild and free.

March 8, 2023

Simplify Beliefs, Simplify Life

"When thoughts arise, then do all things arise. When thoughts vanish, then do all things vanish."

- Huang Po

Simplifying mental clutter is more important than simplifying the clutter in our homes.

Indeed, it is a pre-requisite, because without it, the clutter will accumulate once again. 

I take the time to sit down and be quiet. Do I feel my life? Is my heart open?

I try not believing my thoughts for a while. It is liberating. 

We are not our thoughts. We are not our beliefs.

Why be so invested in them? 

What if everything we have been taught is false? There is no reason to cling to that.

Living in simplicity, and questioning my beliefs, I learn that when reaching for something, I end up realizing that I already have it.

I find out that the problems I am trying to solve may not really be problems in the first place.

I even try to not have a belief about simplifying beliefs. That's just another belief.

When I stop listening to an endless stream of thoughts, life simplifies itself.

The clutter in my head and my home, dissolves, and it doesn't come back.

March 5, 2023

Nature Deficit Disorder - Quarantine Version

Steve Cutts - Man 2020 is an update of the 2012 video Man

"Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day."

- Richard Louv

Modern cultures have been tragically separated from nature with deadly consequences.

A good example of this occurred when our governments locked us down in a completely failed attempt to control a respiratory virus.

Those locked down did not complain of their lack of ability to commune with nature.

But they did complain about not being able to go to the gym, the hairdresser, the pub, and restaurants.

While some of the locked down did miss going to the park, most lamented the fact they couldn't get out to spend their money to buy stuff and entertainments.

When we don't value nature, how could
we miss it?

Modern "advanced" cultures that are all in on Progress aren't into nature much, and it is killing us (and everything else).

How sad. 

There are no technological advances that can substitute for the real thing.

Our nature deficit disorder can only be cured by repeated exposure to nature. 

We must recognize that we ARE nature, and without it, we are nothing.

It could be the park, or a backyard garden. Bird watching or stargazing. Even simply sitting quietly outside in the sun and breathing fresh air is curative

The most radical thing we can do at this point in history is reconnect with the natural world.

It is the only thing that will save us.