Episode 183 – Daniel Siemens

Daniel is a model ship builder and tax analyst





Daniel Siemens, a tax analyst for SCL Health in Denver, Colorado, talks to John about a rare passion of his: building model ships in bottles. Daniel tells us how watching Pirates of the Caribbean got him into this hobby, the skills from it that he applies to his job as a tax analyst, and how it affects the way his co-workers and clients view him in the workplace!




Episode Highlights

• Getting into model ship building
• The largest and smallest model ships he has built
• The most difficult part about building model ships
• Building a model ship for the British sailing team
• How his passion for shipbuilding is an easy conversation starter
• How his skills in shipbuilding can be applied to his job as a tax analyst
• How his passion for model ship building has affected his career
• John’s favorite and least favorite accounting jokes

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Pictures of the ships Daniel has built

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Getting the boat into the bottle

The completed boat

Daniel’s links



  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Hello. This is John Garrett. Welcome to Episode 183 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. By sharing that with everyone, that makes them stand out like a green apple in a pretty stereotypically red apple world. I’m always so fascinated in how we usually try to stand out with our technical expertise. I’m here to shine a light each week on someone who understands that expertise isn’t always earned in degrees and certifications. Sometimes, it’s experiences from your passions outside of work that make you better at your job, but only if you share them.

    Really quickly, I’m doing some research. It’s a super short one-minute anonymous survey about corporate culture and how the green apple message might apply in your world. If you’ve got just 60 seconds, please head to greenapplepodcast.com. Click that big green button there. Answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous. I really appreciate the help for the book that I’m launching very soon. Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show, so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Daniel Siemens. He’s a Tax Analyst at SCL Health in Denver. Daniel, thanks so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Daniel: Thanks for having me.

    John: Oh, man, I’m so excited to have you on and talk through this. I never had anyone that’s got your passion on the show or even met anyone that does this. So I’m just so jacked up for this. But before we get into it, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions.

    Daniel: Alrighty.

    John: Yeah, get to know Daniel on another level here. Yeah. All right. All right. I know you’re ready, so here we go. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Daniel: I would say Firefly, then Star Wars.

    John: Oh, okay. Firefly. I like it. Okay.

    Daniel: Let’s throw that in there because that’s a great show.

    John: Yeah. So that’s where it’s at. All right. How about when it comes to computers, more a PC or a Mac?

    Daniel: PC just because I don’t have as much experience on a Mac. I haven’t really used for much, so PC.

    John: Yeah. No, I agree. Me too, man, me too. Now when it comes to your mouse, more left click or right click.

    Daniel: Ah, I’m going to say left click. Right click is what you use to get in the menus.

    John: Right. And you get lost down the rabbit hole, right?

    Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. You’re looking for something special, left click typically.

    John: There you go. All right. Do you have a favorite sports team?

    Daniel: Ooh, favorite sports team? I think the only one that I follow really is probably the English Olympic Sailing Team. I followed for a little while. I have some experience with my hobby with that.

    John: Right. Very cool. Yeah. That’s awesome, man.

    Daniel: Yeah. Sailing in general, I try to follow. I’m not a huge sports person otherwise.

    John: Okay. Okay. How about would you say more suit and tie or jeans and T-shirt?

    Daniel: Oh, jeans and T-shirt, so much more comfortable.

    John: Right, right. Okay. I have to ask you as an accountant, more Balance Sheet or Income Statement.

    Daniel: Ooh, I struggle with this one, I’d say Balance Sheet. I think Cash Flow is where I learn everything.

    John: Oh, wow. You know how to do Cash Flow Statement. You’re light years ahead of me, man. That’s impressive.

    Daniel: Oh, yeah. Cash Flow tells you the whole nine yards. I like the Cash Flow.

    John: Right. Okay. Okay. How about do you have a favorite adult beverage?

    Daniel: I don’t drink actually, which is ironic for my hobby. Root Beer by far is my favorite.

    John: Okay, Root Beer then. It sounds like an adult beverage.

    Daniel: Yeah. It’s mostly like that. Yeah.

    John: I love it. I love it. How about as an accountant, do you have a favorite number?

    Daniel: Oh, favorite number? Oh, my goodness. I don’t know if I do. I treat all members equally.

    John: Right.

    Daniel: Yeah. I’m not sure if I have a favorite number.

    John: That’s all good. All good, man. This is an important one actually: toilet paper roll, over or under?

    Daniel: Ooh, over. It’s easier to get too.

    John: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s how the patent was actually drawn up.

    Daniel: I think so too. Yeah. I remember seeing that post. I was like, “Well, that makes a lot of sense.”

    John: Right. Right. How about prefer things more hot or cold?

    Daniel: I’m going to say hot because I like summer better.

    John: Okay.

    Daniel: It’s hotter in the summer.

    John: I’m a meteorologist, but you are correct. That works.

    Daniel: Yeah. Typically, it’s hotter in the summer.

    John: Right. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Daniel: Ooh, I like both, but I think I’m going to go with crossword. Strangely enough, I’m not very good at Sudoku. Being an accountant, I know I should know numbers but, man, Sudoku just drives me nuts.

    John: That’s how I do my tax return because I don’t know how taxes work. Put a random seven and, “Oh, there’s no seven here? Okay, let’s do that.”

    Daniel: Yeah. Right. Wind up your ones and nines in it.

    John: Right.

    Daniel: Yeah. I still don’t know the difference.

    John: No, they shouldn’t. They don’t.

    Daniel: Yeah. Just do it.

    John: Exactly. Exactly. All right. We’ve got six more, six more. How about a favorite color?

    Daniel: Blue.

    John: Blue. How about a least favorite color?

    Daniel: A least favorite? Probably like pea green. You know that pukey green?

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Daniel: I don’t know. It drives me nuts.

    John: Yeah, yeah. Totally, totally. How about a favorite band or musician?

    Daniel: Nickel Creek. I highly enjoy Nickel Creek.

    John: Okay.

    Daniel: Yeah. They’re there in and out of being back together and out. But their last concert was great.

    John: Very cool, very cool. How about pens or pencils?

    Daniel: Pens by far. I’m a fountain pen user myself. I highly enjoy fountain pens.

    John: Oh, fancy pens. Nice.

    Daniel: Oh, yeah.

    John: Yeah. Look at you. I like it. I like it. How about a favorite actor or actress?

    Daniel: Oh, that’s a good question. I’ll go with Nathan Fillion. He’s funny.

    John: Oh, wow. Okay.

    Daniel: I don’t follow actors very much, but that’s the one I know because he’s in Firefly, so there you go.

    John: Right. There you go. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?

    Daniel: Favorite thing, I have a 74 Beetle that I drive around and fix up and drive somewhere. It has a ton of fun. They’re extremely fun cars and easy to work on.

    John: Yeah. That is awesome, man. Very cool, very cool. Yeah. Now, we’ll jump into the super fun here. I mean how did you get into the — I mean the proper terminology like shipbuilding in bottles. I mean what’s the proper terminology?

    Daniel: I guess ship in bottle building is usually what I tell people. I build ships in bottles. I guess build ships and put them in the bottles technically. Yeah.

    John: Right. I mean how did you get into that?

    Daniel: It was kind of on a whim. I’ve always been a big fan of pirates and stuff. I think I grew up in a very structured world. So pirates were kind of that they don’t have to follow rules, alter ego like, “Oh, I wish I didn’t have to follow all the rules, so I’ll be a pirate.” I was watching the Pirates of the Caribbean. I think it was the fourth one. They put the Black Pearl in a bottle and Jack Sparrow was over there. “How did they get the Pearl in the bottle?” It got me thinking, “How did they do that?” I just got online and started researching and figured it out and just started putting them together and found there was this small community, this small forum that was out there and I got a part of. A lot of these older gentleman helped me figure it out. It’s been absolutely fun and just an amazing experience all around.

    John: That’s awesome, man. I love it. I love it. Just the pirates are like your alter ego. I mean just growing up in a structured environment plus being an accountant and tax.

    Daniel: Yeah. We have a lot of rules to follow. We’ve got to break out sometime. Yeah.

    John: Right. That’s so good, man. I mean my being a comedian was kind of that where you can just have this alter ego that balances you out. For you, it’s the pirates. That’s awesome man. I love that. I really do. Then watching Pirates of the Caribbean, you see the Black Pearl and you’re like, “Hey, how did they do that? Let’s get into it. I can do this.”

    Daniel: Yeah. It was figure it out.

    John: Yeah. Good for you, man.

    Daniel: Yeah. It just went from there. It’s been absolutely a ton of fun. It’s very interesting.

    John: Yeah. I mean how big are the bottles typically? Where do you get — I mean it’s not like you just go get, drink a beer and then put a ship in it. I mean these are clearly bottles that you’re getting from somewhere special?

    Daniel: I get them all over. Thrift stores typically have quite a few. You go to the grocery store, like syrup bottles. The funny thing is once you get into ship in bottle building and people around you understand that you’re into it, they start bringing you bottles. I have a plethora of them, especially because I’m in a local ship club here. So all the guys there, they’ll bring me the craziest looking bottles and, “Can you use this one?” It’s like, “Well, if I can’t, I’ll throw it away. It’s okay.” I’ll do the job for you.

    John: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

    Daniel: But yeah, they come out of the woodworks. As far as size wise, I’ve done just a variety. Man, I’m trying to think. The biggest one was probably like a quarter gallon or so. The smallest I’ve done is a little two inch vial.

    John: Whoa.

    Daniel: Yeah. I got to the really small stuff. It’s funny. I started selling them on Etsy. I figured out really quickly that you can’t sell them for enough money for the amount of time that you put into them. So there’s that kind of balance of, “Well, I’m going to put 40 hours in but sell it for 100 bucks. It’s not worth it.”

    John: Right. Right. 250 an hour.

    Daniel: Yeah, yeah. It’s ridiculous. The market doesn’t want to pay you a lot for them. So I figured out that fine balance of, “What can I build in an hour and sell for 30 or 40 that’s actually worth it to the market?” It turned out to be these tiny little vial ones because I don’t have to put as much detail into them. Man, I made it big in the dollhouse building community apparently, which I didn’t expect. I hadn’t even thought of. But somebody posted a review of my stuff that, “It looks perfect in my dollhouse.” I was like, “Well, great. I guess it would. That’s amazing.”

    John: Right. “I’m a terrible marketer of what I do.”

    Daniel: Yes, I am. I’m just stumbling into this.

    John: It’d be really weird if I would’ve said, “So how’d you get into it?” “Well, I wanted to build things for dollhouses.” I’m like, “Wait, what?”

    Daniel: You’re like, “What other hobbies do you have? This is weird.”

    John: Exactly, man. But that’s so awesome, man. Clearly, the hardest part has to be building the ship.

    Daniel: Well, yeah, it is because there’s a lot of engineering that goes into it. Everyone thinks that you build the ship in the bottle. That would be extremely hard. I’ve never done it that way. It’s not the way that you do it. You actually build the ship outside the bottle. Then you build it in a way that it’ll fold up and go through the bottleneck itself and then unfold on the other side. Most part, it’s folding the mast down. There’s hinges and different things. You can fold the mast down, stick it through the bottleneck and pull on the lines and get it to pull back up. The difficult part is trying to engineer it in such a way that it’s going to get in there. The other side is you aren’t really aware of the space that you have until the ship is in there. If you’re a millimeter or two off, it can have a very bad effect. You can have the mast up and it hits the top of the bottle. You’re just like, “Well, now what?” You can’t just write off the bottle. It’s really hard to do. You’ve got to get it back out and work with it again. It can get pretty crazy. But that’s the fun part of it. You just get determined. You get it done and you do it. Even when I get done, I look at them and like, “Man, I did that.

    John: Yeah. Yeah.

    Daniel: “I know how I did that. But how did I do that?”

    John: Yeah. Even you’re like the magician where every time you do the trick, you’re like, “I don’t even know how I just did this.”

    Daniel: Yeah, right. But there it is.

    John: Right. Ta-da. That’s what I would do it if I were you. Every single time I did it, I would go, Ta-da.”

    Daniel: Yeah, exactly.

    John: But that’s awesome, man. Do you build different ships each time?

    Daniel: Oh, yeah. That’s the funny thing with it too. There’s a few kits out there. Most of them aren’t very good. But if you learn how to scratch build, you can build anything, absolutely anything. I’ve built, oh, a whole variety of things from pirate ships and Xebecs. I don’t know. I built a Santa Maria at one point. I think the coolest one, the best story I did, there’s a European ship in bottle community. They reached out and said the British sailing team is having an auction. What they want to do is sell signed memorabilia. Somebody pitched the idea of, “Let’s get ships in bottles. Let’s have them sign the sales of these ships in bottles. Then the ships will be in the bottle, have the signature on the sale and then they can auction these off. They said, “Does anyone want to help build these?” I was like, “Well, heck yeah. Sign me up.” So yeah, I got Heather Mills and her team. I have her signature on the sale. I built the ship in bottle of the 470 classes, what it was, and shipped that off to Europe and then you sit in the auction to help raise money for the team.

    John: That’s so cool.

    Daniel: It was super fun and just be like, “I was a part of the Olympics to a very small degree.”

    John: Right. Right. “I’m still waiting for my metal.”

    Daniel: Yeah. That’s funny because they did win the gold too. I was like, “Oh, my goodness. I had the signature of the Olympic gold medalist.”

    John: Very cool, man. That’s awesome. Is this something that you talk about at work at all?

    Daniel: It’s funny because I keep them in my cubicle area. So I’ll have anywhere between six and ten. They’re — how do I put it? — the magic show that doesn’t stop performing

    John: Right. Right.

    Daniel: Since they’re just out there, people stop. They’re coming to ask me for questions or whatever they need. They’re like, “Oh, my goodness. Did you build these?” “Yes, I did.” Then just starts a conversation on its own. I don’t really have to bring it up that much, but it’s always a great conversation starter.

    John: Yeah. No, that’s great. Was there ever a point in time where you were reluctant of, “I don’t know if this should be at work,” or were you just like, “Hey, this is what I do. I’m bringing them in.”

    Daniel: No. I always — I mean because it’s a good display piece anyways. I have kids at home so I worry a little bit.

    John: Right.

    Daniel: I’ve only had one break and it wasn’t the kids’ fault. But no. I’d take them to work and just display them because it’s a good thing to display around the office anyways. They are a lot of fun to see and a lot of fun to have around.

    John: Yeah. I think that’s great. It’s cool that you were like, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it. What do you want?” Yeah. They’re cool, I mean just straight up. I mean as you described building the ships and getting them in and all this, I mean do you feel like any of this gives you a skillset that you use in your job or in accounting?

    Daniel: That’s a good question. I think part of it is — and it comes with the mindset in general with ships in bottles — is you got to be able to think around things and think about new ways of doing things because every ship is a little bit different and there’s different ways to do things. There’s probably eight or nine different ways to put ships in bottles as far as how the mast will hinge or go in separately or different versions of that. With accounting, it’s the same way I’ve found. There’s different ways to get to the same endpoint with accounting, especially when it comes to using Excel and stuff. I find all sorts of formulas and different ways to get things done to where I don’t have to do as much work. That’s been trying this help with some of the companies. I just worked on a project with somebody else for my current company for payroll reconciliation. They were taking 12 hours, I think, they said to do this payroll reconciliation. So we built this Excel spreadsheet and got it done in a half hour, which is just tremendous. There’s so much time that we can save if we look at things just a little bit differently.

    John: Right. The end result is the ships in the bottle, ta-da.

    Daniel: Exactly.

    John: Sam with accounting, the tax return is done. The analysis is done, whatever.

    Daniel: Yeah. Probably, we can get it done faster, better, but still coming to the same accurate result.

    John: I love that, man. That’s interesting. Yeah. I mean I never really thought of it that way, but that’s exactly right. That’s cool, man. Do you feel like the ship building has benefited your career at all?

    Daniel: I think so. I think if nothing else, it’s gotten me in front of various groups of people and out in the community itself. So just being able to relate with people in general and relating with people at work at the same time because that’s part of who I am. I display it. It’s out there. I think people know me as that, “Yeah. It’s the guy that builds ships in bottles. Yeah. He’s the tax accountant over there.”

    John: Right. Yeah.

    Daniel: Yeah. You get a name for yourself very quickly because I mean there’s not a lot of people that — I think the last estimate, it’s purely an estimate, was there’s maybe 3,000 people in the entire world that build ships in bottles on a regular basis.

    John: Wow.

    Daniel: It’s a very niche hobby. There’s not a lot of us out there, so it stands out.

    John: Yeah. That’s awesome, man, in that you’re willing to stand out. A lot of people, especially in the accounting profession, we’re almost always taught to conform. Yet, clearly, it’s benefited you in some big ways, which is neat. I mean is this something that you shared straight out of college or it was something else, more of the topic of conversation?

    Daniel: Well, I got started with ship in bottle building, probably spent five years, I think, five or six years ago. It’s fairly recent. I mean I think before that, I don’t know if I was really, I don’t know, upfront about any of my hobbies or things, just blended with the crowd. Of course, you’re starting out in business and stuff so you’re the underdog anyways. You’re like, “Oh, no. I’m just hiding over here.”

    John: Right. Right. Yeah. But it’s true. It’s true. Yeah. Because then someone’s going to ask you a question. You’re not going to know the answer. Then you’re going to feel dumb and whatever, who knows what. Yeah. I mean that is true how that goes where most people feel, yeah, like you don’t want anyone to know your name.

    Daniel: Yeah. You don’t want to get that attention.

    John: Yeah. What was the tipping point?

    Daniel: What was the tipping point? I think for the most part, it was just because I wanted something nice to look at in my office.

    John: Okay. Okay.

    Daniel: So as far as something I built, something I was proud of, I was like, “Oh, I like to look at it. It’s appropriate for the office, so why not?” So I started to bring them in. Then it did break out from there as far as people asking questions. Then as my skill improve, I started getting better looking ships in bottles because my first ones were just not great.

    John: Oh, yeah. That’s how we all are, right?

    Daniel: Oh, yeah. And that’s how everything works.

    John: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

    Daniel: So they eventually started getting better. Yeah. So they become great conversation pieces, especially as my skill improved. Yeah. I think it’s been just a transition career wise and as well as skill wise as far as that goes.

    John: Yeah. Because that’s true too, yeah. I mean if you’re any sort of creative. I mean I remember when I was doing comedy, you know what I mean? I didn’t exactly invite everybody. I mean if they wanted to come, they could, but you’re not good. It’s like you’re going to compare me to the really good ones that are on TV and I’m not there. So that’s what happens. I mean it’s the same with any sort of arts or creative outlet. But the thing is do you find that people are judging you by that? I think a lot of it’s in our own mind.

    Daniel: I think a lot of it is in our own mind, I think. I don’t think anyone’s judging me, but I think people think I’m probably more meticulous than I really am, which is it’s okay for accounting.

    John: Right.

    Daniel: You do this meticulous ships in bottles. It’s like, “Wow this guy really gets into the details.” I was like, “Whoa, I give you the illusion of detail.”

    John: Right. Right. Right.

    Daniel: That’s part of building. When I got into ship in bottle building, there was a guy that was teaching me that talked to me about how when you look at an object, you take the shapes of that object. Then you can put that like — when you look at a cannon, you see this long cylinder. It’s sitting on a box basically. So I don’t get in and put the wheels and the ropes and all the individual parts of the cannon. That’s insane. No. I put a piece of wire on top of a square piece of wood. There’s my cannon. But when it’s a millimeter long, you don’t know the difference.

    John: Right. Right.

    Daniel: It looks meticulous, but it’s not as meticulous as it actually is. I think it gives me that — people look at it and go, “Oh, my goodness. It’s very meticulous.” “Well, I guess.”

    John: Right. Yeah. You don’t want to ruin it for them. You’d be like, “Totally.”

    Daniel: “Oh, totally.” Yeah. I ride in to, “I’m very meticulous on all my work.”

    John: Right. Right. It’s one of those things where it’s like we’re not in junior high anymore. If you’re in seventh grade and you tell people you build ships in bottles, you’re probably going to get stuck in a locker. Nowadays, it’s like – everyone’s like, “This is the coolest thing ever. What?” because we’re adults. Yeah. Anyone that’s critical of that, I think it’s on them. It’s like, “Well, what are you doing?” “Nothing.” “All right. Then get back to me.”

    Daniel: “Excuse me for a second, what’s your hobby?”

    John: Yeah, totally. I think it’s great, man. Kudos to you. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening? Maybe there’s another one of the 3,000 in the world that’s listening that they think that their shipbuilding has nothing to do with accounting or law or whatever their professional job is.

    Daniel: I’ll just say have fun with it. I mean any arts or craft sort of thing, almost anything you do in life, just have fun with it. Take it for the journey that it is. I think a lot of people get very caught up on, “I got to be the best ever right now.” It’s like, “No, no. Enjoy this journey. You’ll learn a lot from your mistakes, so you got to make the mistakes.”

    John: Right. Yeah. You totally do. You totally do.

    John: Yeah. No, this has been great, man. Really fantastic and so cool. I mean I can’t wait to share the pictures with everybody. They can see them at greenapplepodcast.com. Yeah. I mean just to – yeah, cross paths sometime soon. This is going to be awesome.

    Daniel: Yeah, absolutely.

    John: Yeah. So it’s only fair, before I wrap this up though, to flip the tables and you can rapid-fire question me. Now, I’m on the hot seat. You can let it rip.

    Daniel: Alrighty. I think I only had one question as a comedian because I’ve been interested in accounting jokes just in general. The problem is most of them are pretty lame. It’s a cruel world. Oh, really, again.

    John: Oh, right, right.

    Daniel: What is your best accounting joke as a comedian?

    John: Oh, wow. Okay. My best accounting joke. I guess – oh, man. Wow. My favorite accounting joke that I have probably is where I say that, “Being the funniest accountant is like driving the fastest minivan.

    Daniel: Totally.

    John: I mean it doesn’t matter. You can put oil or some flames on the side, but it’s still a minivan.

    Daniel: Yeah. You’re still an accountant.

    John: Because I mean that’s how I got into it. I got bored after lunch sitting in my cubicle. I started to look around the office. I dawned on me, “I am the funniest person in this department.” What didn’t hit me is that being the funniest accountant is exactly like driving the fastest minivan. Yeah. That’s probably my favorite one that I have because it’s one that comes out of nowhere. It’s really harmless.

    Daniel: Yeah. It does come out of nowhere. That’s great.

    John: Yeah. I mean minivans are still fast. The one that I absolutely hate that I don’t tell — and if someone starts to tell it, I will cut them off — is, “The difference between an introverted accountant and an extroverted account is the extroverted accountant looks at your shoes.” That’s stupid. I mean because clearly, that’s not who we are.

    Daniel: Exactly.

    John: This podcast proves that. Everyone has my permission to just interrupt anyone anywhere telling that joke. Even if you’re not even part of that conversation, just yell at them.

    Daniel: “John said no. John Garrett said no.”

    John: Right. Exactly.

    Daniel: He’s the Comedian Accountant Authority.

    John: Yeah. Are there medical bills involved that I don’t know who you are?

    Daniel: The spokesperson of Accounting for Comedy.

    John: Right. Right. Exactly. But thanks so much, Daniel. This was really, really great and so cool. Thanks for being a part of the Green Apple Podcast.

    Daniel: Yeah. Thanks for having me. This is a lot of fun.

    John: Okay. If you like to see some pictures of Daniel’s ships or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.


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