Brother, Can You Spare A Buck?

For no particular reason I opened up Wikipedia and clicked the “Random Article” link. What came up was “Aggressive panhandling”. Funny because just a few days prior a friend had posted on Facebook that he’d given a few bucks to panhandlers and wondered if he was a sucker for doing so.  What I think this means is that all social media is interlinked and the giant corporations are directing our web traffic to support their evil schemes. Oops, that’s another blog post.

Unless you live in Lebanon, Kansas you’ve seen ’em. Beggars, bums, panhandlers, urban campers, 17th century music majors, hobos.

Down on his luck

They stand on corners, intersection medians, and near shopping areas with their cardboard signs. “Down on my luck”. “Homeless and hungry”. “Need gas money”. “Homeless vet”. “Why lie, need $$ for beer”. They range in appearance from young-ish kids sporting multiple face piercings, to sad older folks, to filthy wackjob looking guys who’ve clearly need a serious delousing. You sit in your $30k car watching them shuffle from window to window looking for a dollar. The guilt sets in, especially women. You fish through your pocket or purse, find a buck just in case he gets to your window before the light changes. If you don’t have anything handy you do everything possible to avoid eye contact. Staring down intently at your phone seems to be a favorite tactic.

For most of us a dollar isn’t going to make or break the monthly budget. It’s not like your children will have to skip dinner tonight if you give up a buck. Should you feel guilty about not giving? Absolutely not! Don’t give them money!! Ultra liberal do-gooders are probably hyperventilating at this point. Don’t worry, they’ll be ok once they have a chi latte. First off, it’s the rare exception that these beggars actually need that dollar to eat. Per a PD contact, many of them can easily make up to $200-$300 a day. Yes, you read that right. It’s common to see them wander off the median and head to their car and drive off when the (sucker) traffic is slow. Many dress for the part and carry multiple cardboard signs with various sayings in case the current one isn’t working.

If nothing else, there’s the safety issue. Do you really want to roll down your window and invite a hepatitis infected drug addict to reach in and grab your purse or worse? Think it doesn’t happen? I know in your Hello Kitty, sunshine and rainbow-filled world all people are good, but that’s just not reality. Sorry.

I just want to work

I’m certainly not suggesting these folks are well-off.  They’re out there for many reasons. Probably the biggest one is a drug addiction. Sadly, they’ll take that dollar from you just as quick as they’ll break into your car or home looking for stuff to steal and sell. Gotta feed that addiction. Mental illness can be a factor as well as a host of other unfortunate events. Waaay down the list is the true, down on his luck, lost his job, home foreclosed on, can’t feed the kids, homeless guy. Why? I believe that most people will take steps before things got to that point and do everything possible to either prevent, or get themselves out of that scenario ASAP. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but my gut tells me it’s the rare case.

Warning, politically incorrect statement: At least in the SF Bay Area, 90% of the restaurant dishwashers, car washers, and fast food workers are our southern friends – here in a temporarily undocumented status. They do not speak English. (no complaints, their English is better than my Spanish)  The point is that they work, and work hard. If an illegal immigrant who does not speak english can find work and survive without begging… so can many (most) of the dudes working the street corner. Begging for money has become a choice for them, not a survival mechanism. Like it or not, giving money is only enabling the behavior. It’s not an accident that cities like San Francisco who pride themselves on being tolerant towards panhandlers are meccas for the homeless. It’s hard to walk down the street in SF without being accosted by some scary looking dude looking for money.

Giving is good. Giving makes you feel better about yourself. I like giving. The difference is that I want to give in a way that maximizes the benefit. Give (or better yet, volunteer) at your local soup kitchen/homeless shelter. Give to a drug, job, outreach center. Give to your church. Find a charity that matches your personal goals and opinions and give. You’ll feel good, and the overall benefit will be 100x what that dollar you give at the intersection does.

How Comes Jamaica Full Of So Much Screwface

How comes Jamaica full of so much screwface
Same time mi lift mi head to the sky
And a tear drop fall from mi eye

Look pon di gully side
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at that hungry child
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at the school weh deh youth dem go fi get dem education
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at the conditions of our police stations
Do you see anything fi smile bout

From “Morgan Heritage – Nothing to smile about

Where’s the beach resort?

I can’t afford the cool new jeans I want. I hate my car but don’t qualify for a loan for that new Cadillac Escalade. My job sucks and all my friends make way more money than me. My house is only 2,000 square feet and there’s just not enough room. I just can’t face all the traffic and crowds at the mall. I just don’t have the energy to go for a walk or make it to the gym. Seriously? The amount of complaining and whining here in the US about first world problems is nauseating.

If you live in the United States and are relatively healthy, not disabled, and have an IQ higher than a garden snail, stop bitching about your problems and start enjoying life. It’s short, we only go around once (apologies to my Tibetan Buddhist friends), and you never know what’s waiting for you around the corner.

In 2010, in the United States, the poverty threshold for one person under 65 was $11,344 (annual income). This does not include the value of food stamps, earned income tax credits, rent subsidies, etc… I’m sure you’ve seen the stories – many of the “poor” in the US have more than one TV, air conditioning, and two cars. Just this morning I read that the US spends $1.6 billon providing free cell phones to low income folks. Does it suck to be on that end of the income spectrum? Yep. Been there, done that. Spent part of my childhood on food stamps, welfare, and rarely getting the newest/cool clothes for school.

There is more opportunity in this country than anywhere else in the world. Does that mean everyone will succeed? Nope. But even what we consider low income is a standard of living that much of the world would fall on their knees for. The official poverty line for India is $12 a month. 40% of Ethiopia’s population is below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Why am I and my family/friends so much more well off than those folks? For no reason other than in life’s lottery we were fortunate enough to be born in the US. No skill. No ingenuity. Not a well-managed 401K. Just luck of the draw that we were born here and not Zimbabwe.

So… stop your complaining and excuses and go do something many folks on this planet aren’t lucky enough to have a chance to do. Enjoy life.

Everyone Needs A Tattoo

A friend is currently designing a new tattoo for herself. I like what she’s come up with. What I like best is that it’s something that has meaning to her. It also really pisses me off. I’ve been ready for another tattoo for a while now. Something bigger. Art. Maybe something that can’t be done in one sitting. But here’s the rub – I have no idea what I want. It really bothers me that I can’t come up with something that is important enough. Something that has a personal meaning significant enough to commit to ink. Am I really that shallow that I can’t come up with an idea?

My first one was a spur of the moment sort of thing. A right of passage. Something to get out of my system. Poked around on the web for some flash, picked something I liked and went and found a shop. I still like it, but has no meaning whatsoever. I guess the significance was just to say I have one. When asked I just tell people I’m an expert in ancient, tribal, gekkota studies.

First One

Let’s get the tattoo rules out-of-the-way. Wait until you’re at least late twenties, if not thirty. Period. Any younger than that and you’re still trying to figure out how to tie your shoes, how to make a living in the world, and if you really like red wine or just trying to impress your friends. Neck, face, hand/finger ink, just say no. Sleeve or similar visible tattoos are cool, but just accept that you will immediately exclude yourself from certain jobs. Don’t even consider something highly visible it until you have an established career, and then it still better be a career that’s tolerant. Deal with it. It’s just the way of the world.

I’ve spent hours looking at various tattoo styles. Significant research. Ok, I watched a bunch of Miami and LA Ink episodes. There’s a new show now called Ink Masters that’s helping. I will now ask all potential tattoo artists to demonstrate their skilled shading technique. But what to get?

From an artistic standpoint I really like the Japanese styles. Koi fish and fu dogs. That really doesn’t fit my personality though. Besides, I hate sushi.

Koi

As far as more traditional tattoos I’m fascinated with skulls. I find the Day of the Dead sugar skulls pretty neat, but anyone who knows me would probably laugh if I had a skull tatoo. Besides I’m not catholic, so there’s no religious significance.

Sugar Skull

I do like the new-school bio-mech art. The problem I see there is that I think there’s only a few artists in the country who are doing it really well. I don’t have the attention span to do any actual research.

Biomech

Another option would be to just let an artist have free reign to design something. Errr, no that’s too scary. God knows what I’d end up with.

New School

Which brings me back to disappointment in myself. The logical thing to do would be create something that had real meaning for me. A favorite artist’s work. A quote or saying that helped me through a hard time. My all time favorite superhero. A stylized piece of cheese symbolizing my ancestors migration west from Wisconsin. I’ve got nothing. Zero. I can’t come up with anything. I feel so… so… superficial. My personal lack of anything meaningful has turned this into a quest.

If anyone has any ideas, please share them! If you have a deeply moving story about a personal loss I might consider adopting it as my own at this point. Nobody needs to know that the portrait on my shoulder of grandpa Joe, who we lost in WW II, isn’t actually my grandfather. People will appreciate the story. And secretly they’ll be jealous because everyone needs a tattoo. When you exit this world you’re not going to get extra credit for having kept your skin blemish-free. Scars and tattoos show that you lived life. You experienced the world. You weren’t afraid of what other people might think. Enjoy life. Go get that small, hidden tattoo that nobody would expect you to have. And no, it doesn’t have to have deep meaning.

At least not the first one.

Yo, Pay Attention

So I’m out on a mountain bike ride yesterday. A good climb up and over a ridgeline that drops down into a valley. At about the halfway point it’s fairly isolated. Probably six miles from the parking lot. Singletrack and semi-wooded. Later in the day and the sun is dropping below the ridge and shadows are creeping in. Zipping along having a blast I spotted a hiker up ahead on the trail. Female, young-ish, alone. I slowed down, skidded my tires a bit, cleared my throat, tried to make some noise so I wouldn’t startle her. Clearly she didn’t hear me, so at about 20 yards I said “good afternoon – coming around on your left”.

This poor girl jumped about 5 feet and looked like someone just set a firecracker off at her feet. I’d clearly scared the hell out of her. She wasn’t wearing headphones or talking on the phone. Just meandering along in her own world, completely oblivious to everything around her. It amazes me how clueless people can be. I have no problem with doing stuff solo, but for gods sake have a little situational awareness! I’m certainly not advocating that folks need to practice military type tactics when hiking or jogging, but take a second and think about your situation. Look behind you from time to time, don’t wear headphones if you’re alone in an isolated area, look around the parking lot before you walk to your car, etc…

I love seeing people getting outside and enjoying nature. Everyone should take a risk once in a while and get of the paved walking path at the neighborhood park. Head out somewhere away from people. We’ve become a society too conditioned to everything being sanitized and safe. Just be aware of your current situation and what’s around you. Besides, when you’re paying attention you have a better chance of spotting wildlife.

I, of course, am a hyper-vigilant person. For a very good reason. Snakes. I’m petrified of ’em. I spend my biking and hiking time avoiding sticks and shadows, convinced it’s a snake. I pull my earbuds out for much of the time when I’m running for fear of not hearing the rattle of the giant fifteen foot diamondback waiting for me around the corner. The worse part of my fear is that I’m a frigg’n snake magnet for some reason. They’re usually just garter snakes, but I’m convinced those are just the advanced scouts for the bigger snakes.

Sigh… it’s exhausting being me sometimes.

 

On Walking Goats

On the trails the other day I passed a couple walking a goat and a llama on leashes. Neither farm animal seemed particularly pleased to be on a leash or out for a stroll. The llama looked fairly petrified, especially as I went by on bike. The goat wasn’t exactly being walked. It looked a little more like it was being drug up the hill. The couple on the other hand were perfectly happy with their crunchy-granola, Santa Cruz vibe. I’m sure they were convinced that walking farm animals like domesticated pets made perfect sense. I could only think WTF? It’s funny the things we do that make perfect sense to us but must look nuts to the rest of the world.

  • I like to run (pavement, dirt, trails, doesn’t matter) in Vibram Five Fingers.
  • I don’t mind getting up early and driving 4+ hours to hike/ski and then drive home. At the same time I don’t like getting up early to do something that’s only a 10 minute drive away.
  • If it takes longer than a couple of minutes to prepare lunch I’d rather just eat fast food… yet I don’t think twice about spending hours prepping for dinner.
  • I do not like wind under any circumstances. I have no problem doing stuff in the rain.
  • I’d rather sweat and suffer than take the time to stop and take off a layer and be comfortable.
  • It really bothers me to go somewhere if I haven’t looked at it/found it on a map first. Makes no difference if it’s a store in-town or a lake in the backcountry. I don’t like finding places on the fly.
  • Public speaking to a small group is much worse than a large group in terms of pucker-factor.
  • I’m very self-conscious about “looking” like I’m good at something if I’m not. I would never wear a fancy cycling kit or ride a super expensive bike because I’m not a very good cyclist. I live in fear of looking like a poser so I end up wearing ratty old t-shirts rather than something that’s probably more functional.
  • I don’t think twice about hiking, cycling, backpacking, skiing, etc… solo. Going to a movie or restaurant by myself – will never happen.

And of course – who’d be dumb enough to give up a perfectly good job and house in the silicon valley to move to Idaho with only a vague plan for what comes next? WTF?

See You At The Top

Endurance activities are a funny thing. Of course conditioning and training play a big part, but for me the mental aspect is almost more important. A week or so ago I was doing a mountain bike ride that’s pretty much a four mile climb straight up. As you get near the top there’s a really steep climb. Lung searing, legs burning, I might barf sort of a hill. At the top of that climb, with almost no break, is another even steeper, longer hill.

When I rode this last time I made it up the first hill. Still completely anaerobic, gasping for air I started up the second. About a third of the way I glanced up towards the top. When I saw how much further I had to go I could feel a wave of defeat flow over me. I just knew I’d never make it to the top. With a bunch of people watching I stopped. Doing the equivalent of the walk of shame, I had to push my bike the rest of the way up the hill.

Fast forward to yesterday when I did the same ride. I felt great the entire way up. When it came to the two final hills I already knew I’d be able to clean both of ’em. Sure enough I rode up them with ease and even managed to chat with someone on the trail on the way up. How did I do that? My conditioning couldn’t have improved that much in a week. Same bike, same weather conditions, same breakfast. There’s something about a positive mental attitude that does wonders for performance. Now, if I could just figure out how to have that same attitude every day!

Let Me Solve That For You

Today I started working through some chemistry refresher lessons. I quickly realized two things. First, it’s been a frighteningly long time since I thought about this stuff. Second, how I approach things is much different as an adult than it was as a first-time student. I found myself fast forwarding the second I thought I knew something. I whipped out the calculator as soon as the instructor mentioned a formula. Worse of all, I kept checking mail and social media every five minutes. It wasn’t very long before I was a bit lost on a simple concept. I’m clearly not the sharpest crayon in the box, but I’m not the dullest either. How did this happen?

Our world has become one of instant access to everything at all times. Always connected. Real-time analysis of speeches, world events, sports. Accuracy can always be “tweaked” in a subsequent blog or story. I’ve clearly developed AADD (adult attention deficit disorder). Paying attention to something and ensuring you really understand it is hard. Making the commitment to study, learn, and not just do enough to pass a test will be challenging for me.

You hear a lot that the younger generation, having grown up with multi-tasking – information overload, simply manages all this intuitively. Part of me mostly agrees. Watching my young nieces and nephews playing video games or working on the computer can be exhausting. Thirty-plus years their elder, I cannot process the on-screen information fast enough to keep up. How are they absorbing information that quickly? Easy to be intimidated… and then I followed a popular (in the college-age/hipster world) blogger looking for a research assistant. He posted the application requirements to make it the next level of applicants. Five simple instructions. Of the four thousand who applied only 1500 were able to successfully follow the instructions. Perhaps taking your time to understand something before acting is becoming a lost art?

Since my new path is in the medical world, I think I’ll learn to take my time and ensure I’m really learning. The consequences of not understanding might be a bit higher than a poorly written blog post <grin>.

Famous Quotes

The other day a friend and I were exchanging famous quotes we liked. He then sent me his personal quote/saying that has meaning for him. Made me think – if folks were going to repeat a saying or philosophy of yours, what would you want it to be? My version is:

“We only go around once in this life. Don’t waste it waiting for tomorrow. You never know what’s waiting around the corner.”

For me it’s a continuation of why we made the decision to move back to Boise. A healthy dose of mid-life crisis and recognizing our eventual mortality plays a big part of it as well. We had been talking about moving back to Boise for years but it was never the right time, couldn’t right now with the jobs, maybe next year, etc… We finally realized that it was never going to be the perfect time. If we didn’t make some bold moves, another ten years would pass us by and we still wouldn’t be in Boise. In terms of finances, careers, and family was it the best decision? I don’t know the answer to that, but if we don’t try we’ll never find out!

Yesterday there was another affirmation of this – freestyle skier Sarah Burke passed away from injuries sustained during training. When she woke up that morning for what was probably a routine training day, of course she, her family and friends would never have thought that there wouldn’t be another tomorrow. We need to be responsible of course… but also realize that your tomorrow may not arrive. If today was the end, are you satisfied with what you’ve seen and done?

No, not a New Years resolution

So many changes on tap for 2012. One of the major changes was leaving my job at Microsoft. Eleven and a half years at MS plus another nine or so at other companies. That’s a lot of time spent in the tech world. During that time I don’t think I ever took more than two continuous weeks off.  Prior to starting my next adventure (more on that later), I decided to take some time off.  It’s only been a few weeks, but already my mental health is markedly improved. I cannot describe how good it feels to wake up without that level of stress.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt this happy.

One of the tasks I’ve always intended to be better at is keeping a blog/journal.  So… this is it. Not sure where I’m going with it, but frequent writing can’t be a bad thing for self-development.