Audiobooks – December 2023

The Grand Banks Café by Georges Simenon

After an ill-fated voyager a ship’s captain is killed and Maigret is asked by a friend of the accused to investigate. 3/5

How to Educate a Citizen: The Power of Shared Knowledge to Unify a Nation by E. D. Hirsch Jr

The author argues for better structured teaching to improve education and citizenship. Controversial but seems backed by evidence. 3/5

The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet by Jeff Goodell

A book about how Global Warming will make many areas unlivable & descriptions of recent heat events. Showing how the affects are here already. 4/5

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt.

The books follows a Music Exec, A CD Pirate and The Inventors of the mp3 though the overturning of the Music industry as music went online. 4/5

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin

The story of the January 1888 blizzard that killed 2-500 people on the US Great Planes. A mix of personal stories and overviews of the storm. 4/5

The Little Book of Exoplanets by Joshua N. Winn

A great book on histories of discoveries, various techniques, types of planets, planetary formation, etc. Great introduction to the field for interested armatures. 4/5

For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor

The 2nd Bobverse book. The Bobs try deal with Primitive Aliens, Hostile Advanced Aliens and Hostile humans. A fun listen 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

Donations 2023

Each year I do the majority of my Charity donations in early December, timed to be around my birthday.

I do a blog post about it to hopefully inspire others. See previous years: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

All amounts are in $US unless otherwise stated.

General Charities

$800 to Givewell Top Charities fund . I’ve been donating to Givewell as my main “help the poor” charity since they have fairly low overheads and try and get the most impact from their donations. They also get good reviews for living up to these goals.

My employer matched this donation so total given to Givewell was $1600.

Software and Internet Infrastructure Projects

I was planning this year to donate $100 each to Software in the Public Interest and the Software Freedom Conservancy, unfortunately Paypal is currently blocking charity donations from Asia/Pacific so I was unable to donate to them. Adblockers on my browser might also be a factor.

Others content creators

Payments via Patreon

I signed up to Nebula in mid-2023 for $30/year and reduced my Patreon subscriptions a little. Below is current as of mid-December 2023

  • $2/month to The Prancing Pony Podcast who make a podcasts show about J R R Tolkien
  • $1/month to Zach Weinersmith who creates SMBC Comic and other stuff
  • $1/video to The Nerdwriter who does Youtube videos
  • $1/month to CGP Grey who does Youtube Videos
  • $1/month to City Beautiful who is creating videos about cities and city planning.
  • $1/month to Alt Shift X who creates Youtube videos
  • $1/month to RMTransit who does a Youtube channel on Transit.
  • $1/month to Quinn’s Ideas which is a Youtube Channel about Science Fiction (especially Dune)
  • $1/ month to Asianometry who creates Youtube videos, mainly on Economics and the semiconductor industry.
  • $1/month to CityNerd who Videos on Cities and Transportation

AudioBooks – November 2023

Convoy escort commander by Sir Peter Gretton

A memoir of the author’s WW2 Naval service culminating commanding North Atlantic convey escort groups. Descriptions of shipboard life and battles. 3/5

Making It So: A Memoir by Patrick Stewart

A good autobiography of the actor’s personal and professional life. Lots of details of early life and career but more selective thereafter. Interesting throughout. 4/5

Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Apollo Moon Landings by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton & Jay Barbree

A fairly standard account of Apollo but with Shepard and Slayton adding some extra first-person accounts and insights. Skip the tacked-on chapter from 2009. 3/5

Grinding It Out: The making of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc

Autobiography of the McDonalds founder. The earliest bits of the book are probably the best but even later there are still a good mix of stories and advice. 3/5

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

A present-day nerd dies and is uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe. Feels a bit like Andy Weir. Recommended. 4/5

The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 by Matthew J. Davenport

A detail account of the earthquake and fire, following participants and drawing our 100 years of sources and science. Great read. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

Audiobooks – October 2023

Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World by Henry Grabar

Parking, it’s history and economics, land use and zoning. A fun, accessible book that might be good introduction to those new to the topic. 3/5

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

The source of the recent film. Comprehensive although not straying far from the subject and an easy read. 4/5

How 1954 changed History by Michael Flamm

A short series of lectures about major (mainly US) events during 1954 from medicine to politics to popular culture. A nice quick read. 3/5

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

A combination memoir, company history and management advice book. Works well for all 3. 4/5

My Rating System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

Audiobooks – September 2023

When the heavens went on sale: The Misfits and Geniuses Racing to Put Space Within Reach by Ashlee Vance

Covers 4 rocket companies trying to follow SpaceX: Astra, Firefly, Planet Labs, and Rocket Labs. Good overview companies and their founders. 4/5

A Crime in Holland by Georges Simenon

Inspector Maigret travels to the Netherlands to assist a French professor who is suspected of murder. He is hampered by language barriers & lack of jurisdiction. 3/5

The Ultimate Engineer: The Remarkable Life of NASA’s Visionary Leader George M. Low by Richard Jurek

The biography of a senior NASA administrator during the Apollo era. Interesting although a bit less technical than most NASA books 3/5

Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris

The story of five legendary Hollywood who joined the US military in World War 2 to make films for the armed services. Great book, definitely recommend. 4/5

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read

September 2023 Update

I thought I’d do an update on my current status and what I’m up to.


Unfortunately I got made redundant from my job at Sharesies in March. This was part of company-wide layoffs that saw about 30% of all staff and 50% of my team get made redundant. I was very sorry to leave, it was a great company with great culture and I was working with a great team.

I’m still using their product for my share investments (mostly Smartshares Exchange Traded Funds) and I have a small number of shares/options in the company.

After a job search I started at a new company in April. It is a fairly large company with a complex internal system so I’ve spent the last 5 months getting my head around their internal systems and tools we have to use

My team is part of a global “follow the Sun” operations department so we get a handoff from the US when we start and handover to Ireland at the end of the day. Unfortunately timezones mean I start at around Noon and finish at 8pm and also have to work one in four weekends.

The new company has a pretty good culture, although since it is large there is a lot of corporate overhead. My first month was spent doing something like 40 training courses and that didn’t even cover much of my day-to-day.

Covid / Getting out

My job at Sharesies was 100% work from home so I only spent one week in the office the whole 18 months I was working there. My new job however is a fairly strict 50% in office so I go in 2 or 3 days each week. They do have free food in the office.

Outside of work I still mask on public transport and for most shopping trips. Currently the covid numbers are fairly low so I do about one cafe visit/week. I’ve also been going to Auckland Thursday Night Curry although my new shifts make this difficult.

New Zealand has eliminated all anti-covid measures (such as mask requirements) and we are currently between waves. However there are still a steady number of hospitalisations and deaths so I’m not in a hurry to increase my exposure, especially in places like the supermarket where there isn’t a lot of upside.

I haven’t yet caught covid, but I have caught a cold and persistent cough in mid- 2023.

Weight Loss and Exercise

Between July 2022 and March 2023 I was on a fairly strict diet to lose weight. I was consuming around 1000 Calories/day by just having a couple of small meals each day of potatoes, plus some cheat meals etc.

Peak was losing around 1kg/week but eventually the diet petered out with my new job etc. Overall I went from to 107kg to 79kg. But have put on around 6kg in the 6 months since. I might to a blog post at some point on my diet experience.

I also was using a rowing machine and doing lots of walking. This has been reduced since my new job and the cold winter of 2023.

I am planning to try and restart my diet and do more exercise.



I have not played any in-person Chess since late 2021. Unfortunately Chess is a high-risk activity for Covid. Lots of Kids and you are in a crowded room for hours at a time.

My new job also involves me working evenings so it will be difficult to play evening Club chess.


I am trying to get more involved with Tolkien Fandom. I’ve join The Tolkien Society and subscribed to their magazines. I’m trying to work though them as well as back issues.

I attended the Ausmoot conference Online in 2023 and I am considering attending in person to Ausmoot 2024. I took an Online course on the Silmarillion also listening to various podcasts.

Unfortunately my regular conference was last held Online in 2022 and it looks like it will not be run in future. This means the Sysadmin Miniconf I’ve helped run since 2006 will probably not be held again.

Linux Australia has created the Everything Open as it’s new flagship conference. I didn’t attend in 2023, although I may in future.


I’m still interested in Public Transport, especially Greater Auckland. I’m working on a new article or two on the subject although switching jobs has delayed things.

I’m still working to improve my programming skills

My proposed Business idea hasn’t progressed beyond the planning stages. I have things mapped out but the main gap is getting my programming skills up to being able to create a Django website to host it.

I’m still listening to Audiobooks and also doing around 30 minutes a day of reading books.

I’m still using Twitter but I’ve also joined the BlueSky Social (login required to see my account).


Audiobooks – August 2023

America, Empire Of Liberty by David Reynolds

90 * 15 minute episodes covering US history. A fun listen although obviously not a huge amount of detail. 3/5

The Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon

When a perplexing murder occurs outside Paris, Inspector Maigret arrives at an isolated intersection marked only by two houses and a dingy garage. 3/5

Outlive꞉ The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia

Lots of advice on how to extend your [healthy] years well above the average. Plenty of good advice even if you can’t follow it all. 3/5

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

The forth Earthsea Book, it follows Tenar (from The Tombs of Atuan) with Ged as a secondary character. Less fantasy and action than the previous books. But still interesting. 3/5

My Rating System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

Audiobooks – July 2023

Hollywood: The Oral History by Jeanine Basinger, Sam Wasson

Extracts from hundreds of Interviews by the American Film Institute. Great coverage of the Studio System especially. 4/5

Maigret and the Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon.

In the 6th Maigret Book. The leading citizens of a village are being attacked. Maigret must determine why and by whom. 3/5

Beyond Blue Skies: The Rocket Plane Programs That Led to the Space Age by Chris Petty

An account of the US Rocket Plane programs including the X-1 and X-15. Emphasizes the people, politics and stories 4/5

My Rating System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

Can I Retire at 55 ?

I’ve recently been doing a review of my investments and retirement goals. I was made redundant in early 2023 and made an estimate on how long my savings would last. While it wasn’t enough to retire on it was a good percentage of the way there.

I got a new job after a few weeks but I decided to make some more detailed calculations to see how much I would really need and if I was on track.

Note: That all numbers in the blog post are 2023 New Zealand dollars and I’m assuming are inflation adjusted.

My Situation

I am a New Zealand citizen living in Auckland, New Zealand. I work in IT and have a stay-at-home partner and no children. We rent and don’t own property. We have Investments in Managed Funds and Term Investments plus Kiwisaver Retirement accounts. I am not including any inheritance.

Our total expenditure is around $50,000 per year. About half this is rent. This doesn’t include major purchases ( eg a replacement car ) or travel.

Why retire early?

The big reason to retire early is due to declining health and life expectancy. At 55 I can expect till live till around 85. Which probably means I’ll die in my 80s. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to be fairly active till 70 but probably not past that. Almost certainly at either myself or my partner will be unable to do active activities (eg walking around a city all day or tramping) by 70.

This means if I retire at 65 I might get 5 years of active retirement. Whereas retiring at 55 could give me 15 years, 3 times as much. If I get sick at 67 then the differene is even greater 12 years vs 2.

Retirement scenario

My working scenario is that I will retire at 55. We will then spend $70,000/year for 5 years on extra travel etc. Then $60,000/year in our 60s followed by $50,000/year from 70 onwards.

New Zealand Superannuation will kick in when we each turn 65. This provides around $15,000 after tax for each person.

Running the numbers

So to test this out I’ve been using a free app/site called . It lets you plug in your retirement length, portfolio and spending and it will run it against every starting year (in the US) since 1871. It will then show you the success rate including the “nearly failed”.

A hard year to check against is 1973. A falling stock market and high inflation wipe out a lot of your savings at the start so you need a good initial amount to keep ahead of your later withdrawals.

1973 starting date.

I found I would need around $1,350,000 starting amount for every year to be successful and no near failures for a 30 year retirement. The numbers were virtually the same for 40 years.

However if I adopted the Gayton-Klinger Guardrails strategy and spend up to $5000/year less when my portfolio was down I could get away with just $1,200,000 saved.

The result

It appears that we will need around $1.2 to $1.35m (in 2023 $NZ) to retire at at 55 with my assumed spending patterns. At my current saving rate there is a good chance I could reach this.

Delaying retirement beyond 55 to save more money loses healthy years of retirement with not a lot of upside in risk reduction. However a delay of a year or two greatly improves the expected outcome so it is an option if things look tight.

There will always be some risk. ie a Stockmarket Crash, financial loss, costs increase (eg rent) or health event could cause problems and I would no longer be working to adjust to it.

We also won’t have a lot of spare money to voluntarily spend on things. eg a $40,000 on an extended holiday wouldn’t be in the budget and would be hard to save for.

I ran the numbers assuming I buy rather than rent. However since Auckland housing prices are so high compared to rents it doesn’t seem to be significantly worse than paying rent out of savings.



Audiobooks – June 2023

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

A Culture novel about an expert game player who goes on a mission to an Empire built on a complex game. Interesting and recommended. 4/5

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

Interwoven accounts of the day from participants. 4/5

Last Man Standing by Craig A. Falconer

Lone Man tries to survive space emergency. Tries to be the next “The Martian” but doesn’t succeed. Science flaky. Many people like but I gave up at 30% through 2/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all