Friday, May 30, 2008

Pandora's Box Rocks

For you music lovers I want to introduce you to Pandora. This website is an online radio station that adapts to your style.

The whole premise is ingenious. They call it the Music Genome Project, a vast database of songs cataloged by dozens of different attributes: male or female vocals, instruments, rhythm, and other more complicated things like orchestration and arraignment.

You start with one artist or song, lets say Blink 182. They'll then play for you Blink 182 and other bands with similar characteristics. You get to fine tune your preferences with each song by giving it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And if you like different styles of music, say classical, classic rock, etc, it's no problem. You can make as many stations as you need.

It's incredibly accurate and sometimes eerie. I swear at one point Pandora just started playing my "most played" list off my I-pod. Its real benefit comes from its ability to introduce to new music. Once it dialed into what I liked, it played a lot of new stuff that I could really groove on.

The Good:
  1. A station that finally plays what you want!
  2. Discover new awesome music.
  3. It's free.
  4. You can find out that you like the song "Rooftops" by Lost Prophets because, "it features electric rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, a vocal-centric aesthetic..." and on and on.

The Bad

  1. You can only skip so many songs per hour because of "licensing" or some other legal mumbo jumbo.
  2. You can't repeat a song you really like over, and over, and over again. Which is how I like to listen to music.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Use or Be Used

I like to listen to the Rich Life on KXL 750. It's a money show, but not your typical one. Its tag line; "accumulating wealth and developing a lifestyle rich in the things money can't buy," highlights the show's bottom line: Money exists to make your life better. Your life doesn't exist for money.

Big words from a guy whose life revolves around money, it's easy to say that when you're loaded right? Well, he gave me a reason to believe his sincerity with some of the most spontaneous and unusual talk radio I've heard.

Towards the end of a segment about markets and investment's the host said "Money isn't important," followed by a long pause. I waited for a commercial, or for him to continue, but he didn't. I wondered what was happening. Then he came back on, in a choked up voice. "Money doesn't matter," he said again.

Fighting through tears, he recounted the story of a friend who had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Even though the whole purpose of his show is money, he continued, that ultimately doesn't matter. In the blink of an eye your life could be over. He ended with "money, stocks, and all that, it's all crap." and then off to commercial.

Wow. You can hear the preacher tell it but you know its real coming from a man who makes his living selling financial advice. "It's all crap." Not a great way to convince people to buy mutual funds.

I say "amen." It's very true. In the end little does matter, least of all your bank account.

In honor of the Rich Life and its straight talking host I have compiled a top five* list of things that do matter in life:
  1. Family: No matter what else happens they're still blood and that makes them unique.
  2. Friends: God's greatest gift to us.
  3. Faith: Something bigger than us, our hope for tomorrow.
  4. Making a Difference Where you Can: Each of us can help in our own way. Leave the world better than how you found it.
  5. Living Life to the Fullest: Laughing, loving, traveling, giving, experiencing- all the things that make life good!

*I tried to make a top ten list but found it too difficult.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Tide Has Turned (Why I'm a D)

I got my Democratic Ballot in the mail recently, first one I've ever recieved. Up until last month I had been a Republican all my life. I remember sitting up late with my dad in 2000, watching networks call Florida for Gore, then Bush, and then toasting to his victory. How much has changed since then!
Republicans have recently lost three special Congressional elections in districts they had controlled for years, the most recently in heavily conservative Mississippi.
What's behind the change? Lets look at what the typical conservative cares about:
  • Fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget
  • Ethical and moral behavior from elected officials
  • A strong military
  • Anti-abortion

After 7 years of Bush, including 4 with a Republican-controlled Congress we have:

  • Historic budget deficiets and embarassing pork-barrel spending like Sen. Ted Stevens' Bridge to Nowhere.
  • Scandal everywhere you look: Cheney's office outing an undercover CIA agent for questioning Iraq intelligence. Florida Rep Mark Foley diddling interns. Dirty money. Ethics scandals.
  • Our blood and treasure is being drained daily in Iraq.
  • And abortion is still happening!

Not to mention Republican's failure to wean us from foreign oil has enriched our enemies like Venezuela while resulting in sky-rocketing gas prices.

Nor the fact that Republicans have stood in the way of protecting our environment for years.

We gave them power and they abused it. Look where we are now. If the God-fearing people of Mississippi are willing to throw in their lot with the Democratics, far left wackos included, 2008 will not be a good year for the Republican Party.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Project of the Week

It's becoming a weekend habit. I spent an hour today perusing Global Giving. It's hard to choose what to support with so many projects doing amazing things. From providing women in the Sudan with seeds to sow so they can feed their families, to reeducating former child soldiers in Colombia, to planting trees in Haiti, there's something for every taste.

It makes me feel guilty to click past them, like I'm walking by a starving child on the street with a ham sandwich in my pocket (we've all been there). If I were a millionaire I'd fund them all. Until then, I'll be posting a project every week that I find inspiring. If you feel inspired go check it out and give what you can, even if it's just $5 or $10 bucks. If you do, or if there's a project you want me to highlight leave a comment and let me know.

Today's project is the one I finally settled on today. Here's the info from Global Giving:
Turning Waste into Wealth (from Global Giving)
Engaging 1000 households in solid waste management, thereby improving the living environment for poor people as well as rejuvenating soil and safeguarding agricultural biodiversity.

Project Needs and Beneficiaries
With industrialisation and urbanisation, the quantity of waste is increasing and the composition of waste is becoming more diversified. Today, waste in India is being burnt or dumped; either producing hazardous smoke or leeching into the soil and water. Implementing solid waste management schemes in Kancheepuram District, Tamil Nadu, would mobilise entire communities around the waste-issue, while offering a simple solution for how to turn "waste into wealth" - e.g. vermicomposting and recycling.

We will implement solid waste management schemes where the community is mobilised and learns the importance of segregating their household waste. The waste will be collected and processed through e.g. composting, biogas, recycling, etc.

How You Can Help
$25 - Train one Green Friend, garbage collector, to mobilize and increase household segregation of waste in towns
$50 - Provide a Green Friend, garbage collector, proper uniform and protective gear to ensure the safety of the worker
$100 - Conduct awareness campaign for poor, rural communities on the benefits of solid waste management for public health, sanitation and the environment

Go check it out and change the world!

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Breakfast: Blueberry shake, peppermint tea, power bar.
Lunch: Avocado salad.
Dinner: Two bowls of fruity pebbles and the last hunk of my Tillamook cheddar cheese.

As the state of Oregon would ask my students on their standardized tests, which of these is out of place?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Life is too short. Stop being awkward.

Sometime, especially around people I don't know well, I can be awkward. Things might not appear awkward, but I feel awkward. I don't know what to say or worry what people will think of me. All you introverts probably know what I'm saying.

One thing that's bummed me out lately is my lack of rapport with my collegues. My school is small, very small. There is one math teacher, one science teacher, one for PE and social studies (me) and two language arts teachers. Things have always been cordial and professional, but never felt like I really clicked. The lunch room jokes and hijinks went on with me as a bystander. And that's no fun.

The other day I had had enough. I think a lot about how it will be on my death bed; what I'll look back and regret, and what I'll say I'm glad I did. Death Bed Me is my wisest self. He sees the worth of actions and things stripped to their core, free of the day-to-day emotion that colors my judgement. Death Bed Me knows I have nothing to lose. He knows that becuase he's about to die, so he wonders why I make big deals out of small things and neglect the big things. I knew he would say, "Why the heck did you spend so much time being awkward. Just be yourself and love people!"

What did I have to lose? It's May. I've been with these people since August. Things should be more comfortable!

So at home I put on my white board among my goals "Be the best teacher/coworker ever. " And if you don't think that the power of positive thinking is real, it is.

Long story short things have been great. People I felt might have disliked me only a few weeks ago I know spend lunch laughing with. People have come by my room just to shoot the breeze. It's amazing how a little self confidence can change your life.

So ask your Death Bed Me what he/she would change and get some self confidence of your own. What do you have to lose?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Debt Sucks!!!

It's not sexy, adventerous, or particularly world-changing, but living well means knowing how to manage your money.

The enemy of your money is debt. It's everywhere on the news these days: foreclosures, bankruptcy, crushing credit card debt. Anyway you cut it debt is no good, but credit cards are particularly insidious with their late fees, endless minimum payments, and rocketing rates if you miss one payment even by one day.

You might have heard these numbers before but they are worth repeating:
  • A typical credit card has an interest rate of about 13%. Try getting that in the stock market.
  • At 13% it would take you about 11 years to pay off a $5,000 balance making on the minimum payments. You would pay nearly $2,000 in interest.
  • The average American credit card debt is $9,200.

Including mortages, cars and student loans it all adds up. I have plenty of it myself with credit card debt and student loans. Last year I nearly became one of those credit card horror stories you hear about. I had about $10,000 on the card, but at a reasonable 5.99% percent. I was one day late on the payment and I called the company and begged the representative to accept my payment via phone. She assured me that my rate would not increase, a point I pressed her on repeatedly.

Much to my surprise then, when I recieved my next statement my rate had rocketed to 24.99%! There were nearly $200 in finance charges alone. Just in interest! I called the company right away and told them I was assured my rate would not change. To their credit (ha) they reviewed the phone call (yes, they really do record those) and changed my rate back, but had it stayed I would have been in trouble.

So if your crushed with debt what can you do? Aside from going on Deal or No Deal or calling one of those shady debt relief hotlines, it may seem dire. But there is hope! And its name is Dave Ramsey. Check him out right now. I love this guy, just love him. He has a radio show dealing with debt reduction and money management that airs here in Portland and around the nation, and he knows his stuff plain and simple.

To get out of debt he advocates the debt snowball. It works like this, list your debts from smallest to biggest and interest rates be darned. Cut back on ALL needless expenses; the gym, netflicks, Starbucks, and pay down the SMALLEST debt first. Free from that payment, you attack the next smallest amount until one by one your debts are gone. Using the debt snowball I've paid off $6,000 since January!

I love one of his sayings, "Live like no one else so you can live like no one else." That means eating rice and beans to get out of debt, so when you're debt free you can use all that extra income to really live. I keep thinking about the day I'm debt free and instead of giving my money to a big bank I can spend it as I see fit. Someday I'd like a house, a new car, to see the spots on the globe I've missed. I'd also like to support foundations like Global Giving more. Giving is something Ramsey is big on, he's not about accumulating money for money's sake.

So check out his website, stop living past your limits, and pay for things in cash! Leave me comments and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

It's Mother's Day, time to save the world.

Usually I associate Mother's Day with flowers and chocolate, but this year I'm getting my wonderful mother (I have the best mom in the world) something different. While on a late night on-line chess binge yesterday I came across a link to Global Giving.

This amazing website connects donors with great projects all around the globe, ranging from environmental change to hunger relief to education. One cool feature is that it tells you exactly what your money will do. For $20 this project will provide clean drinking water to one Bangladeshi child for a year. Give $250 to the same project and you will contruct latrines for five families (I thank God for our sewer system every day).

Right now they have a Mother's Day giving campaign relating to women. So instead of flowers I made a donation in my mom's name to free one Nepalese girl from being shipped off by her family to work in the city. In Nepal, poor rural families will sell their daughters as young as 7 into servitude for $40 or so. As you can imagine, there is a lot of abuse.

The group I gave to uses donations to pay for the girl's education, and provides the family with a pig as compensation for the lost money. Everybody wins. Girl gets to stay home and gets an education. Family gets a pig. Mom gets a card that I personalized from Global Giving telling her that I loved her enough to free a child in her name!

When I woke up this morning did I think I'd being freeing a Nepalese girl from bonded labor? No. That's Global Giving's genius. It allows anyone with the internet and a credit card to make a difference anywhere in the world. And you don't have to give a lot to do something amazing.

Make mom happy and see what you can do today.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I believe we're made up of those three things, and that you need to nourish each one to live well and be happy. As Juvenal said: A healthy mind in healthy body. And no that's not a rapper, that's Juvenal the Roman poet and satrist. If you haven't heard about him you should check him out here.

In my quest to improve my life I have attempted to follow his maxim and have created the following schedule for my mornings being unveiled for the first time here:

5:30-5:55: Prayer, reflection, and reading the Bible
5:55-6:10: A delicious breakfast
6:10-6:40: Cardio, preferably riding my bike or running if my tires are flat (like they are now). That's as good as a cup of coffee to get your day going.
6:40-6:55: Weights. I have a pair of 25lbs dumb bells I bought from Wal-Mart. Between those, sit-ups, and push-ups it doesn't take me long.
6:55-7:05: Study French. I got the Rosetta Stone for Christmas 2 years back. It's actually pretty decent, but I hardly use it.
7:05-7:20: Shower/Dress/Leave for work. I'm a guy, it doesn't take me long.

I think it's pretty complete but I'd love to hear any comments, modifications, or your own morning goals.

Now for the sad confession. I've had a list like this since August, and have followed about one in ten days. What is keeping me from speaking French, getting in shape, and generally feeling great?

A lack of self-discipline. I don't know if you're like me or not, but I LOVE sleep. And I always love to watch hilarious shows like the Office. Then when the Office gets over at 9:30 instead of sleeping I'll do something like play on-line chess. Or check Facebook. Or play on-line chess and check Facebook all while watching 30 Rock becuase I was too lazy to get up and turn the TV off.

Yeah, I just described my night tonight. But guess what. Tomorrow I'm getting up at 5:30, and it's going to be great.

Cheer me on. Changing myself before (as) I change the world. More on changing the world soon.