Friday, December 26, 2008

Flickring Christmas 2008


Christmas 2008 028, originally uploaded by Jared & Michelle Ott.

I'm just getting acquainted with Flickr, and I like that I can post directly from flickr to my blog. Unfortunately, I think I can only post one picture at a time, rather than a string of pictures and text, as I'm accustomed to. Michelle took this picture on a walk today. They are Mountain Ash berries. You can see all of Christmas 2008 here.

Flickr is nice, but it's also getting to be a pain managing all my profile pictures, not to mention the profiles themselves. The best feature of Flickr is geotagging. I'm looking forward to tagging all the locations our pictures are taken. Michelle and I can be found on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jared_michelle_ott/.

P.S. Posting from Flickr doesn't allow the pictures to come through as aesthetically pleasing as using blogger. Nice idea, but after messing with this post for half an hour trying to get the picture resized nicely, I give up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reusing Disposable Cups

My latest conservation scheme is reusing my to-go coffee cups. It just felt like a shame to throw out these nice, convenient, sturdy cups after only half an hour. It's working out really well, to be honest. I mean, Starbucks makes those cups sturdy enough to be reused. And they really are much more convenient to take on the road. They fit perfectly into cupholders, and you don't have to wash them when you're done, unlike to-go mugs. I hate washing to-go mugs. I never feel like the lids really get clean.

This is one of those all-to-rare cases when the right thing to do environmentally coincides with the most convenient thing. If you don't mind rinsing and reusing paper cups.

FYI, the last post was authored by my brother. I'm actually quite proud of it. You're always welcome Jere.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Christmas, Part 2, Chapter 7.

The cat is wearing silly clothes.
Running, staring, licking.
A new feline dessert.
Cats r gud loolz/
-Jared Ott
I hope you'll enjoy the first of many in a series of Holiday and Yule-time flavoured and themed pieces of poetry. Tomorrow will see another prudent update with possibly an Irish/Slavic undertone throughout.

Lamps.
Lamps are an amazing source of light and waste heat in this world. I'm so glad I take the time each day to appreciate these wonders of our dark and slightly cold-ish world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Christmas

- Family Traditions -
Michelle and I give one another a full stocking, rather than a single "big" present, at Christmas. This year we are traveling to Alberta to be with my family, so we've started opening our little gifts early. One of my favorite things about Michelle is how excited she gets about life in general, and presents and holidays and Disneyland specifically. Especially Disneyland and presents. Her excitement is contagious, and as a result I'm really amped.

The best part of my stocking this year is that Michelle made such an effort to be environmentally aware and conscientious about the presents she got me. I have 7 little gifts, and all but one of them was made outside China. Not an easy task. What's more, fully four of them were purchased used! It really means so much to me that she did that. So what was my first little present? A pair of reflective ankle straps (made in France), for keeping my pant legs from getting caught in the chain ring when I bike to work.

- Christmas Reading -
In other news, I'm taking two weeks off this Christmas and really looking forward to lazy days at my parents' place. I always overestimate the amount of reading I'll actually get to do on vacation, and this time will be no different. I'm going to either pick up Treasure Island or The Count of Monte Cristo, in addition to Steiner's Portage. Chances are I won't crack any of them, but you gotta aim high, right?

It occurs to me that I asked for books for Christmas... I'm gonna have some heavy suitcases on the road home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is Twitter good for?

I mentioned my growing interest in social media in a previous post. It started with Twitter a couple weeks ago. I had heard the name, but didn't know what it was good for so I decided to check it out. Well, you can't see what's going on unless you sign up, which I did. Since then, they have posted a video explaining what its all about (here). My twitter account can be found here. As you can see, it seems to be an instant messaging service - but who needs another one of those? No one, that I can see. So there has to be something more to it...

Well there is, and there isn't. It truly is just a site for posting messages under 140 words. Micro-blogging, it's being called. I can perhaps best explain it's appeal through some examples.

Twittendipity
I heard a number of stories about how Twitter facilitates communication faster than any other medium. Do I mean it's faster to tweet your buddy than call him? No. What I mean is, twitter was the first medium to have first hand information on the Mumbai attacks out to the world. Another story to illustrate: when Guy Kawasaki forgot his power supply, he posted his need on Twitter and had 5 replacements offered in a few minutes. The best example, though, is how Terry Jones got an impromptu interview with Robert Scoble. Terry explains how it happened better than I could, here. Terry also coined the phrase Twittendipidty. In my own special case of twittendipity, I've been looking for an organization working in Haiti to support. So I randomly posted a question out there, and I think by chance someone saw it and pointed me toward Mission MANNA.

Interesting Stuff
Twitter is also useful for finding interesting content online. Some users specialize in finding and broadcasting links to interesting stuff. In the week I've been on Twitter, here are some notable examples:
Three of those four items came from @timoreilly's feed. I recommend following it.

I might try and get my family to join...

We'll see.

You can follow me here.

Google Analytics is Watching You!

Lately I've been curious about how many of you "blurkers" are out there. In order to find out I signed up for Google Analytics about a week ago. It's Google's free tool for tracking traffic on websites. So beware; big brother is watching!

No, really.

You wouldn't believe the amount of detail included in these reports. OK, OK, there's no personally identifying information, and everything is presented in aggregate. But still, there's a lot of information. For example, geography. From December 4 - 10th I've had 29 visits; 22 from the US, 6 from Canada, and 1 from Croatia. (Croatia, if you're out there, I'd love to hear from you!).

Also tracked is info about your PC: operating system, browser, Flash and Java version and screen resolution. I've had 25 windows users and 4 mac users; I guess I'm not attracting the cool crowd. Lot's of variety in the browser section: 11 for both Firefox and IE; the 4 mac people use Safari; Google's own Chrome shows up twice, and one visit from someone using Opera. Before today I'd never even heard of Opera.

All kinds of analysis is provided about visitor habits: how many absolute unique visitors (takes out people who come back more than once - if you're wondering there are 14 of you thus far), how long you spend on the site (average of 13 seconds - come on people, that hurts), how many different pages you look at, which pages you looked at, and even which keywords you used to find the site.

Where you come from is tracked - and actually this might be the most interesting one. But I can't give away all my secrets. Check back soon, I'll be posting all kinds of good info. Probably not about you this time though. Probably back to me again. As Van Smack says, more of me and less of you is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bookends - Twitter and 'The Call' by Os Guiness

Today at lunch I finished Os Guiness' book The Call. I had started reading it a number of months ago, and hadn't picked it up in several weeks. The timing was interesting, because this week I have become interested in emerging social media, web 2.0, twitter, and the like. And Os' writing in The Call is deeply influenced by many historical figures and writings. So today has felt like bookends as I look into the future and into the past simultaneously. The Call was good for me to read, informative and encouraging, if a little difficult to follow at times. The last chapter and the end of the book are almost poetic. And throughout the book the theology is dead on. It has reinforced my belief in the element of tension - the following excerpt is a good example:
People make two equal but opposite errors about life as a journey and faith as the Way. On one side, usually at the less educated level, are those who prematurely speak as if they have arrived. Such people properly emphasize the certainties and triumphs of faith but minimize the uncertainties, tragedies, and incompletenesses. Having come to faith, they speak and live as if they have nothing more to learn. All truths are clear-cut, all mysteries solved, all hopes materialized, all conclusions foregone - and all sense of journeying is reduced to the vanishing point. There are seemingly no risks, trials, dangers, setbacks, or disasters on the horizon. Or so they seem to talk.

On the other side, usually at the more educated level, are those who are so conscious of the journey that journey without end becomes there passion and their way of life. To such people it is unthinkable ever to arrive, and the ultimate gaffe is the claim of finding a way or reaching a conclusion. Like the perennial seekers we met earlier, for them the journey itself is all. Questions, inquiry, searching, and conquering become an end in themselves. Ambiguity is everything.

Yet the Christian faith has an extraordinary balance between these extremes. As those responding to God's call, we are followers of Christ and followers of the Way. So we are on a journey and we are truly travelers, with all the attendant costs, risks, and dangers of the journey. Never in this life can we say we have arrived. But we know why we have lost our original home and, more importantly, we know the home to which we are going.
Perhaps more important to me were the following lines on identity:
God calls and, just as we hear him but don't see him on this earth, so we grow to become what he calls, even though we don't see until heaven what he is calling us to become.

No one has captured this more profoundly than George MacDonald in his sermon "The New Name" from Unspoken Sermons. In his message in Revelation to the Church in Pergamum, Jesus promised " a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." MacDonald pointed out in good biblical fashion that "the true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man's own symbol - his soul's picture, in a word - the sign which belongs to him and no one else. Who can give a man this, his own nature? God alone. For no one but God sees what a man is."
Anyway, to summarize, there are definitely gold nuggets in this book, but it's difficult to state in one sentence what they are. More than anything, I was encouraged by this book. I was encouraged about my future, my life's journey, and the call placed upon my life. And I needed that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Typos 2

Found in a job description:

"Requires knowledge of ... basic mathematics, and English compositon and grammar."

Wonderful irony.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shopping with a Conscience

Today I got an email from the International Labor Rights Forum announcing the 2009 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide. Check it out, if you like. I also inadvertently found Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping - quirky and kind of weird website. But I think I agree philosophically. Getting back to the Labor Rights Forum, I think I support the unionization of workers in developing countries. In the US, where labor laws are strictly enforced, I think the benefit is debatable. Actually, I think that there are situations where unionization is a smart choice from the business' perspective, and I think there are a lot of times when it's actually detrimental to workers to unionize. Anyway, in other countries where labor laws aren't as strict, unionization may provide workers with more rights than the government will. However, what are the chances that a government that won't or can't enforce labor laws will protect workers' rights to unionize?

If I sound tentative, it's because I'm not sure I've heard the other side of the argument yet. In other news I sent a number of emails off to various organizations asking them to change this or that bad environmental or social justice practice. Responsible Shopper really is a great resource. One of the first (and only) companies to get back to me was Target. Their policy sounded a little public-relations oriented, but at least they took the time to respond to me. I sent a follow-up email asking for more specifics; we'll see what happens.

I also sent an email to The Lantern asking my standard question about green information - it was actually a slightly modified version of this post. The Green Lantern is a column written by a guy named Jacob on Slate.com, and although my query didn't get answered in his column, he did send me a nice, seemingly personal, note back:
Jared,

Thanks for your question -- it's a good one. Unfortunately, we still don't have much in the way of generalizable environmental info available for consumers. (In places like the UK, they do a far better job of this, although any ratings systems there are pretty nascent.) However, I'll keep your question in mind, and perhaps consider a column about the limited sources of information that are available about companies and products.

Best,
Jacob
Your word of the day is nascent - "just beginning to develop; in the process of emerging, being born, or starting to develop" (from the Encarta Dictionary in Word).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Searching for Green Info - Update

In my original post on this subject (here) I said I was going to send a letter to the editor of the Bellingham Herald. Well, apparently he or she didn't like it much because it hasn't been published yet. I did, however, start a lively discussion in the Herald's new reader forums. You can check it out here. The synopsis is that it's always better to buy used, as Eric commented on my original post.

The more I thought about this issue, the more I considered starting a second blog devoted to documenting the environmental and social justice records of various companies. I even checked into conscientiousconsumer.blogspot.com - which is occupied by another individual who had the same idea, only a year or more ago.

Just a few days ago Eric dropped me another line, which included a link to the Responsible Shopper website. These guys are doing exactly what I envisioned, and more. They include links to sites where you can actually take action on issues, which is awesome. For getting informed and taking action on social justice and environmental issues, Responsible Shopper is the best site I have seen.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cheesiest Country Songs Ever

Michelle and I both speak a little Spanish. She more than I. The difference is she knows past and future tenses. I'm an in-the-now type of guy. Anyhow, we both know well enough what a real Mexican Spanish accent sounds like. And we are in the habit of poking fun at English pronunciations of Spanish words, especially in a southern drawl. If you've done it, you know what I mean. If not, ask me and I'll show you sometime. That's the backdrop for the first contestant in my "Cheesiest Country Songs" contest. It's from Garth Brooks.
She used to be my rosa amarilla
My little Mexicali tomatilla
But then one night I drank too much sangria
Woke up and found a note that said I'll see you

Oh, my baby no esta aqui no more
My baby no esta aqui no more
She left me here with nada
Broke my heart like a pinata
My baby no esta aqui no more

Whoa, whoa, whoa, if you see her
Please, please tell her that I need her

I used to be her number one vaquero
Her numero uno caballero
But I've had to hock my spurs and my sombrero
'Cause when she left she took all my dinero

Oh, my baby no esta aqui no more
My baby no esta aqui no more
She left me here with nada
Broke my heart like a pinata
My baby no esta aqui no more

Whoa, whoa, whoa, if you see her
Well please, please tell her that I need her

Oh, my baby no esta aqui no more
My baby no esta aqui no more
She left me with nada
Broke my heart like a pinata
My baby no esta aqui
My baby no esta aqui
My baby no esta aqui no more
And all the High School Spanish teachers let out a collective sigh of despair.

Our next contestant is Alan Jackson. Now, I really like Alan; he has a lot of really good songs, and he is the quintessential country voice. But no one is accusing him of being technologically savvy. Computer geek he ain't. Picture the writing process for this song, circa 1996:

Alan: What about that internet thing? Heard a lotta talk about that lately.

Bubba the Cohort: Yep, I reckon them there computadoras is here to stay.

Alan: You sound like Garth Brooks. Now let's see here... computers. Internet. Keyboards, mouses, electricity, printers. Yeah, I can work with that. Now ain't all them spots on the internet started out with dubyas? What say we call it www.memory?

And a hit was born...
I know you're leaving, I see the signs
You're gonna walk out on this heart of mine
You'll never call me, you'll never write
You made your mind up, you're gone tonight
If some rainy day you're all alone
You feel like talkin' you can log me on

At www.memory
I'll be waitin' for you patiently
If you feel the need, just click on me
At www.memory

You won't even have to hold me or
Look into my eyes
You can tell me you love me
Through your keyboard and wires
No, you won't have to touch me or
Even take my hand
Just slide your little mouse around
Until you see it land

At www.memory
I'll be waitin' for you patiently
If you feel the need, just click on me
At www.memory

If you feel like love, just click on me
At www.memory
For the record, I checked www.memory and it's an e-tailer of computer memory and other accessories. You gotta remember to register your domain name, Alan. Geez.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Typos

I came across two typos in the last week that had me in stitches, as they say. In talking about them Michelle suggested I come up with a section on my blog for writing down the best typos we come across. Since I'm running out of room on the sidebar, I decided to start using Labels. Will I go back and label all my previous posts? Maybe. Only the ones that fit into nice categories.

Anyway, here are the typos. First off, Michelle and I tried to sign up for a Childbirth and Parenting class at the local technical college. Some miscues happened, and we got a letter indicating we would need to re-register. It concluded with the following statement:
"I'm sorry for any incontinence this may cause you."
Luckily, the mix up hasn't caused any incontinence thus far.

I came across the second typo at a conference I went to recently. The subject matter, Labor Relations, is relatively dry. In the middle of a particularly dry paragraph, the material took a citrus-y twist:
"In the same lime of discussion, it is important to consider..."

This one hinges more on context, so at a later date I may add the particular sentences before and after. Anyhow, feel free to chime in with your favorite typos. And remember, spell checking is no replacement for good old fashioned proof reading.

"Once" and the Arts

Michelle and I watched "Once" last night, and it's the first movie I've seen in quite awhile that I really liked a lot. Two things stood out - first the music. Watching Glen Hansard perform was really cool. He has an intensity that goes really well with the music itself, or maybe it was the natural connection between a musician and music he's created. Either way, watching him perform was... riveting? I can't come up with exactly the right word.

As a side note, he reminded me a little bit of my friend Zach. I think it was just the facial hair/guitar combination. And the intensity.

Secondly, the relationship between guy and girl was excellent. The movie managed to depict a relationship that doesn't fit quaintly into the three or four categories of romantic relationship we've been conditioned to expect from movies. In fact, it manages to be unique among all the relationships I've seen in movies. It left me sad, but not unhappy. My expectations were unfulfilled, and yet I was very satisfied. You should watch this movie (unless you think music is boring). Also be aware that the Irish accent makes the characters difficult to understand at times. And there's a few f-bombs.

Today I was listening to CBC Radio 1, and I'm convinced that the Canadian arts and culture scene is unique in the world. I'm no expert on the arts, but I really think there is no artistic environment like Canada's. I heard this week's episode of "DNTO", a radio program produced in Winnipeg. I just think it's really cool that a place like Winnipeg hosts such a vibrant arts community. Anyway, my musical weekend has inspired me to add learning to play the piano to my life goals list.

While we're on the subject of Canadian radio, I also really like Wiretap (quite funny, if inappropriate and off-the-wall at times) and As it Happens (could any theme music be more iconic? I think not).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Searching for Green Info

Here is my situation: I want to buy a new car, or a bicycle helmet, or a new spatula.

And, I am willing to pay more money if I know that extra money is going to support cleaner industry, safer working conditions in developing countries, and environmental responsibility.

Furthermore, I want to avoid inadvertently supporting businesses, brands, and products that exhibit destructive behavior, especially wealth transferring (making their goods inexpensive by refusing to pay decent wages, harvesting raw materials unethically and refusing to clean up the mess their production processes create).

Here is my problem: I am in the house wares department looking at spatulas, and I can't tell Evil Corp from Good Guy Inc. Do I buy XYZ's spatula or ABC's spatula?

Where can I find a resource which rates companies and brands on their environmental and societal impact?

I have been looking, lest I receive an angry "STFI" in the comments section, for this type of information on the web. Here is what I have found:

gazelle.com - Nifty recycler of electronics
epeat.net - More or less what I wanted, except it's limited to computers
worldchanging.com - Green news media outlet
treehugger.com - Another green news media outlet
green.wikia.com - An environmental wikipedia of sorts

My next step is going to be writing a letter to the editor of the Bellingham Herald, very similar to the above. Maybe I can tap into all the earthy people around here. If it's out there, someone in Bellingham knows where to find it. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Some Green Thoughts

Awhile ago I got on a green kick and started keeping track of what I bought, where it was made, etc. I haven't been very good about keeping that up, which I regret. But the main goal was never to keep a log; it was to develop a habit, or maybe to change my way of thinking. Lots of times I feel like I'm trying to swim upstream. Our culture is very powerful.

I had a small but satisfying success today. As I've whined about on this blog before, my laptop is coming unhinged. Well, the power cord finally gave out a few days ago. The battery has been toast for some time, so no power cord, no laptop. No laptop, no internet. Life grinds to a halt. I jest, but there's more truth there than I'd like to admit.

Anyhow, I checked online (ironically enough) and the replacement part was going to be $65; and, not only that, but it would be a whole new part when only one little section of the cord was broken. [Incidentally, that was my goal for tracking my purchases: to have my buying decisions include questions like "how much waste am I creating?" and "who made this and under what conditions?" in addition to "how can I spend as little as possible?". Ultimately, I would like to be asking "how can I get the greatest use while causing the least human and environmental damage?". But I digress.]

After checking on a new part online, I remembered Craigslist. Surely someone has a perfectly good power cord just laying around in there basement. Good idea, but it was more frustrating than fruitful. And I'm up one useless power cord in the process. Finally I checked with Data Doctors, who were really helpful when Michelle was trying to get our "m" key fixed awhile back. They didn't have a used one either, but the owner explained how I could just replace the plug on the power cord. Which I did. And it works, so far. And it cost $3.22.

Wow. I think I might be the most boring guy in the world. I was eventually going to point you toward the RElectronics website, which I learned quite a bit from. To put this all in the context of my blog, for the last few years I've been wrestling with our culture's 'use it up, throw it out' mentality. The Story of Stuff really impacted my thinking on the subject. If you haven't already, you should check it out. And, if you know of other people or books or websites that are responding to this issue in new a different ways, I'd love to hear about them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

General Reflections

I finished reading Maus a number of weeks ago. It was the first graphic novel I'd read, besides a collection of Marvel comics, which doesn't really count. I really enjoyed it, but I'm going to avoid making any grandiose critical pronouncements. I will say that Vladek Spiegelman was a very real and endearing character to me, and my favorite part of the book.

In a weird coincidence Mark Blumenthal, editor and publisher of Pollster.com (a political polling and analysis site I've been frequenting lately) posted this today. Blumenthal's father-in-law, who passed away yesterday, has a very similar story to Vladek Spiegelman, as documented in Maus.

Michelle and I have been watching the Office almost every night. We're already half way through Season 4, which we got less than a month ago. The Office is great because it is so subtle and compelling in the way it engages our culture. I don't know exactly how to explain it, except that I watched the last two minutes of "Survivor Man" twice in a row, totally spellbound. And I need to see "The Deposition" again. I mean, it's totally hilarious, but it's the once-in-a-blue-moon, darn-that-was-poignant, out-of-nowhere-when-you-least-expect-it, rewind-that-I-need-to-see-that-again moments that have me totally hooked.

More good stuff from The Call:
For Jesus, spirituality is plainly not a life of contemplation divorced from a life of action. There is nothing in Jesus' life of either the super-spiritual "Catholic distortion" or the all-to-secular "Protestant distortion" we saw earlier. There is only a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal, work and rest, dispensing and recharging, crowds and solitude, in the midst of one of the shortest, busiest public lives ever lived.
If we are not to be dried up, our secular lives require supernatural refreshment too. But equally, if our supernatural experience is not to become an end in itself and a source of indulgence and pride, we must resolutely descend from the mountain peaks of vision to the valley of ordinary life where our callings take us. The New Testament knows no monasteries or monks, only spiritually disciplined disciples in a demanding, everyday world.
Last but not least, I'm excited to say that Michelle and I are having a girl. We went this weekend to a second hand store and picked out some of her first clothes. I learned that newborns wear pants with their onesies. Hey, it looked like a complete outfit to me.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Political Reflections

As you may or may not know, I'm fairly sure I'll be voting for Obama in the upcoming election. I have to say, I'm a sucker for what people are calling his "rhetoric". Take this article, for example, particularly the last paragraph. It's been brushed aside as the ability to read from a teleprompter, but I think it's more than that. I believe there is power in the spoken, and written, word. I have for some time admired another rhetorical politician - Winston Churchill. His words, I believe, single handedly willed the English people onward in their resistance and endurance of the Nazi onslaught. Actually, if anyone is interested in a good Christmas gift for me, I would love a collection of Winston Churhill's speeches and public addresses.

Over the last week or so I've had some reservations about voting for Obama. Call it buyer's remorse, or second guessing, or whatever. First of all, I got an email forward about how Jesus revealed to somebody that he was going to pull the shroud back on the evil practice of abortion. Accordingly, this individual sent out a video, which I chose not to watch, but which apparently included footage of aborted babies, etc. I'm fairly sensitive to graphic stuff like that, so the suggestion alone made me feel guilty, like a vote for Obama was a vote for killing babies. But then I remember something he said. I'm paraphrasing: "I'm not pro-abortion; no one is pro-abortion. We need to teach our kids abstinence; that's the best option. Second, we know not everyone will chose abstinence, so we need to teach safe sex. And finally, and most importantly, parents need to take a greater role in their children's lives, including teaching and helping their kids to understand their sexuality." Again, I'm paraphrasing. He said something along those lines during one of the debates. A well-reasoned position. I really like that on several occasions he has challenged parents to take more responsibility for the lives of their children, suggesting that many of the societal ills can be righted by proper parenting. I agree with that. I also remembered that I voted for Bush in 2004 based on abortion, and it doesn't seem to have had much impact on the issue. In fact, none at all that I can see.

Maybe Obama's just a windbag. But he's an inspirational windbag, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who can bring out the best in others. And I think that's a very important quality in a leader.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Things I'm Applying

There are some spiritual truths which I have learned, per se, but which I haven't learned to apply. The following paragraphs come from "The Call":
Midlife crises that are genuine and not simply fashionable are generally due to the tensions between three very different desires: for successful careers, for satisfying work, and for rich personal lives. Early in life the differences between our personal lives and our work may not be marked or obvious. But as life goes on, and especially if success in one sphere is not complemented by success in the other, a yawning chasm will open that leads to deep frustration. Sadly, studies show, a few people enjoy neither their work nor their personal lives; more enjoy their work but not their personal lives; only a few say they enjoy both.

Crises created by a contradiction between successful careers and satisfying work are even more fateful. For when we set out in youth and choose careers for external reasons - such as the lure of the salary, the prestige of the position, or pressure from parents and peers - we are setting ourselves up for frustration later in life if the work does not equally suit us for internal reasons, namely our giftedness and calling. "Success" may then flatter us on the outside as "significance" eludes us from the inside.
I wrestle with this a lot. Theoretically, I want work that is satisfying, fulfilling and significant in my own eyes. Practically, I don't really know what satisfying work would look like for me. What am I gifted for? What am I called to? I usually default to applying for jobs I'm qualified for, which haven't had the significance I'm looking for. Another problem is that I panic if I'm not able to contribute to my savings on a regular basis, to say nothing of actually having to spend those savings.

Speaking of money, another quote from The Call:
Second, and more practically, calling introduces into society a different style of operating that directly counters the market mentality. We do what we do in life because we are called to it, not because we get paid for it.

Contrary to the ways of commerce, calling means that life is lived for God's sake or for it's own sake under God. Intrinsic satisfaction outweighs external rewards such as pay, advancement, and external recognition.
That I need to try to live out. Thus far, it has not been easy and I haven't had much success. Little by little, though, the picture is becoming clearer. I want to be in a position to listen to people, understand them, and encourage them. I want to help people. I want to teach people. I want to strive, with close friends and colleagues, for some common good. It's hard to know what I was made to do. For now I can be faithful and patient.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Checking In

I've got a typical case of blogger's remorse. I've been away too long. Here is what's going on with me:
  • Fall is a good time. Expensive coffee for looks and warmth. Beautiful scenery. Rosy cheeks.
  • This Friday is find-out-the-baby's-gender-day!
  • Patrick tuned me in to the Village, and I've only listened to one sermon, but it's reawakened my appreciation for good teaching.
  • I've been thinking that I need to remember who the shepherd is and who the sheep are. Lot's of times I think Christians act too much like the shepherd, and it really turns people off. We're all sheep here people.
  • I've probably forgotten some things I bought. I did just buy The Office: Season 4, which is fantastic. But I challenge you, just try to find out where a boxset was manufactured. I can't find it anywhere. That's why my purchase tracking no longer adds up.
  • Michelle and I are retreating to the San Juan Islands this weekend. We're going to take in a show, drive around the beautiful countryside, try to see some late season Orcas, go out to eat, and relax.
  • Luke and Barbie have joined the blogosphere! Welcome guys.
  • Happy Thanksgiving Canada! Happy Election Day Canada!
  • The hockey season has started again. Hope springs up in the Edmonton Oiler fan, if only for a month or two.

Well I think that's all for now. I'll be back soon, I hope.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Back in Balance

Alright, so my goal this morning was to even out the new/used balance in my purchase record, which I definitely did. And then some. Here's what I found:

A Baby Backpack! It's turquoise, and I was debating it's purchase when several ladies informed me that I'd be kicking myself if I didn't get it when I went to get one in the store in a few months. It also brings out my eyes, I'm told.

SNL: The Best of Christopher Walken on DVD. Christopher Walken is funny without trying.

The brightest, most vibrant, most obnoxious reflective vest in the world, to keep me seen on my bike in the dark mornings ahead.

A CD wallet full of CDs I probably don't need - but how could I turn it down for $1? Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Pete Seeger, Bette Midler, just to name a few. Kind of an interesting mix don't you think?

Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter which is an absolute classic of business strategy. He's kind of a legend, an impression instilled in me by Dr. Proudfoot, my business strategy prof in University. Unrelated except that it's in the textbook genre, I also bought a Quantum Physics textbook. I'm going to get to the bottom of this Large Hadron Collider business.

I also got some flower pots for free. I'm only going to score the products that saved me from buying something new in the "purchased used" category. The textbooks, CD wallet, and SNL DVD were unnecessary, but fun to get. So I guess the "used" is still lagging behind the "new". Such is life.

Happy Saturday!

*** UPDATE ***
I can't believe I forgot! I typed that whole post on my new (to me) keyboard and completely left it out. I got a great USB keyboard, which I've been after for awhile since the "m" on our laptop is dying a slow death (you know this if you've checked email at our house). But there's MORE! This USB keyboard also came with two additional USB ports built right into the keyboard, solving another problem we had - only one USB port. Our laptop is being ravaged by planned obsolescence. Did I mention the battery no longer works? And the AC adapter power cord only works sporadically?

On the sunny side, new and used purchases are even again.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blog Updates

I've been meaning to update the extra stuff on the fringes of this here blog for awhile, and I finally found time tonight.

Firstly, I added a number of new individuals to the Blog Roll:

Megan H - A good friend of the family's

Katie L - Katie does the typing, but the whole clan is represented. Pat is one of my golfing, fishing, and hockey cohorts.

Rob M - I just discovered Rob's blog today, and I was overjoyed at having found it. Every now and then Rob will send Michelle and I an email, and they're fantastic to read. Who knew a near endless supply of his writing was to be had! His latest post, My Car Makes Me Sin, is extremely entertaining. I highly recommend it.

I also updated my purchase statistics. My goal was to keep new and used purchases at the same level, but it's not working out. Although, I'm going garage sale-ing (I'd like to nominate garage saling as a new English verb. Who do I contact about that?) tomorrow so I might be able to bring things back into balance. Clothing is difficult to buy used, especially professional-type attire. On the other hand, I haven't been to the Goodwill in awhile, so I'm not exactly doing everything I could be doing.

I added Bicycle Commute Statistics because I think it's interesting and because I log the trips at Whatcom Smart Trips anyway, and they do all the hard work. I was actually really surprised at how little money I'm saving; cars are very efficient. On the other hand, I can't believe 68 pounds of carbon dioxide would have been emitted into the atmosphere. That seems like a lot.

That's all.

Political Rant (You've Been Forewarned...)

So I'm leaning Democratic this fall. Here's one reason: long-term energy. Democrat solution: newer, greener technologies. A long-term perspective. Republican solution: drill more.

Pardon the sarcasm, but let me see if I've got this straight: oil and oil-related products are increasing in price, largely because there's a limited supply and an unlimited demand. So our solution is to use up said limited resource at an even faster rate? Seems just a tad short-sighted, doesn't it? And in our mad dash to use up the last of our dwindling resources, why not trash the planet along the way?*

I know the Democrats have been a little light on the details, and some of the suggestions (properly inflated tires?) seem ridiculous in light of the magnitude of the problem - but aren't they at least headed in the right direction: reduced consumption, other sources of energy? Isn't that where we're going to have to end up anyway?

And another thing - I'm a fiscal conservative (smaller government, free markets... if that's not a fiscal conservative, that's what I meant) and I'm sick of one-way conservatives. It's pretty duplicitous to say we believe in free markets, but only if it means consumer prices go down. Oil is getting more scarce and it’s being used more so the free market is dictating that prices go up - simple supply (going down) and demand (going up). The genius of the free market system is that the increased price of oil and oil-related stuff will spur innovation and creativity to find better, cheaper energy sources. Keeping the price of oil down is short-sighted and will only hamper our transition to the next energy supply.

So I'm happy gas is more expensive; heck, bring on $10/gallon!

Actually, I've been thinking about this for awhile now (time warp - most of the above was written when I was in a more rant-ish type mood; now I'm a little more contemplative) and I think efforts to find a new source of energy are being hindered because we're focused on switching out oil with something new while still maintaining our consumption habits. Consider your personal range; by that I mean the distance you're willing to travel and still consider it 'convenient'. Another way to think of it, what length of trip do you consider significant enough that you block off a whole day for that one trip? What if that distance was drastically reduced? Maybe our culture should shift such that all our day-to-day activities are accessible by bike and foot, and any travel beyond that is done by airplane. What is the airline industry if not a worldwide mass transit system? We'd sure save a lot of oil not making those big long oil-strips we call highways. The infrastructure requirements of long distance air travel are so minimal in comparison to the automobile it's not even funny.

Well, all that aside, I do think that these are just the beginnings of a multi-generational shift in the way humanity views, uses, and consumes energy. The transition hasn't even really begun here; I don't have the data, but I'd hazard a guess that the average cost of fuel and the average commute length in America have charted a similar trajectory over the past 30 years.

Well, thanks for listening. I feel better already. What do you think?

*Editor's Note - that last little jab isn't entirely fair; the oil industry is quite clean in comparison to other natural resource industries. The mining industry, for instance, does hundreds of times more environmental damage than the oil industry. But that's beside the point.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Recent Musings

I've had a few random thought-strings that I thought I'd share.

First off, I've continued to ride my bike to work on occasion and I can't believe how awful exhaust fumes are. I often come to a stop too close to the vehicle ahead of me, and I don't notice at first, but after a few breaths I realize I haven't gotten any oxygen. I don't think automobile exhaust disgusts people nearly as much as it would if it were black instead of colorless. When I'm driving my car, or when you pass other cars on the highway, it's as if there's no toxic fumes at all because there's no visible sign of it. I thought about suggesting a color additive but I guess indifference is better than black soot everywhere.

I'm in the market for a waterbath canner - so if you've got one that your willing to sell, let me know. My first experiment, on borrowed equipment, was making pickles. It was fun, but I over cooked them. They came out the consistency of baby food. A wise grandmother of a friend overheard my plight and suggested relish. I think it might turn out more like a pickle paste, but it's all going to the same place. I might have a good invention on my hands! Jared's Perfect Pickle Paste - great on hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches and more! My next canning project is going to be blackberry jam. I was out picking some blackberries tonight. Blackberry picking is not a good activity for arachnophobes. Spiders everywhere.

I got a new book today - Hit the Ground Crawling from dadsadventure.com. It's a book by dads for dads-to-be. Michelle and I got this packet with all kinds of baby information, mostly in pastel pinks and blues, but one handout caught my eye - it was black with this smiling, dirty baby holding a wrench on the cover. I read it, front to back, within a day or so, and it was one of the first things to really connect with me about this whole fatherhood thing. (I'm fairly certain that I've told everyone that Michelle and I are expecting, so this shouldn't be too shocking). Anyway, I've got that to dig in to.

That's probably enough random rambling for one day.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Garden (and Other) Produce

So I've been meaning to post some pictures for a few weeks now. Michelle and I went blueberry picking, and I put them in plastic bags to freeze for the long cold winter ahead. There's something about growing things that I really like. I think it's the fact that you've got something to show for your work when your done (hopefully!). I also really like how practical it is. I enjoyed just running the berries through my fingers. Some of them were still warm from the heat of the sun. I vacuum packed each freezer bag with a straw, and the super smooth bag perfectly molded to each berry made for a really cool feeling texture. Unfortunately I can't help you feel it with pictures, but here's my attempt:


Also a few weeks ago, we pulled about 75% of the carrots from our garden. Here are the long, straight, prize winners:


And here are the mutants:


And here is the finished product:

I've actually already eaten all these carrots. Apparently they all taste the same because they made a great snack at work. I'll have to remember to plant more carrots next year. And not to judge a carrot by it's shape.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Payne Hollow - Harlan Hubbard

I finished reading Payne Hollow: Life on the Fringe of Society a few days ago. It's a Thoreau-esque autobiographical book about Harlan and Anna Hubbard's life on the shores of the Ohio river. The most interesting part of the book for me was Harlan's idealism, which I think I share with him in some small degree. Here is an example:
Our objections to an outboard motor are more subtle, and not generally understood by the practical minded. It makes a different craft out of the johnboat, a driven thing, quivering as if in pain. A motor is odorous and noisy. Even a small one spoils to some extent communion with the river. It interferes with your contemplation of sky and water and the distant view. It's noise discourages conversation, but this in some cases may be a desirable feature.
It's not evident in the passage quoted, but he is comparing the outboard to the use of oars as a means of crossing the river. I enjoyed hearing why they did this and that, both the philosophical reasons for their retreat to the land, and the practical means of day to day survival. I would recommend it as excellent reading to any who consider themselves idealists or naturalists. Unfortunately, it seems to be available only regionally. I happened to encounter it through a friend who has lived in Kentucky. I couldn't find it in any local libraries. Of course, the internet will bring it to your doorstep, though I'm not sure Harlan would approve.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

NW Washington Fair!

It's Fair week, and Michelle and I went out on Thursday afternoon. I was most excited about the food, and it didn't disappoint. I had, in chronological order, a Hawaiian Shaved Ice (to cool off from the trip out - no A/C), a half a basket of fresh cut curly fries, a delicious strawberry lemonade with real lemon, a chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream bar from the Boy Scout booth (Haggen-Daas has nothing on those boy scouts), corn-on-the-cob, buttered and salted, also from the Boy Scouts, and poffertjes, which are little dutch pastries served with butter and powdered sugar. At first I thought they would be better with syrup, but then I realized I just wasn't using enough butter. The best food booth was, by far, the Lynden PTA stand. They're prices are the cheapest at the Fair, and when we got to the front of the line we asked about water (usually $2.50 for Dasani) and explained that we wanted a HUGE drink, but didn't really want that much sugary pop. They gave us a "Tanker" size cup filled with ice and water - FREE! Nothing is free at the fair - heck, we were willing to pay for it if we had too. Anyway, they earned my wholehearted endorsement. Here is Michelle with the Tanker:


We also saw a horse show, with teams of Clydesdale horses navigating a course and backing up to the stage. It was interesting how they backed the wagons in. The whole thing kind of reminded me of trying to get my drivers license as a kid. Here's what I think was the winning team:


We spent a good amount of time walking through the livestock barns. The poultry barn contained all manner of chickens and roosters and ducks and game hens, and this little critter. Michelle thought it was cute, so we watched it for awhile. It didn't move. It took us way too long to figure out that it was stuffed. Yes, fake. We're those city people who take pictures of the only fake bird in a barn of 300+ birds. You gotta admit, he's cute. A baby emu I'm told.


My favorite was the goat barn. It brings back memories of being a kid, since we had goats on the farm. Floppy-eared goats, cute (and mischievous), like this one:


So that's it for the fair. Make sure you hit the Lynden PTA booth. Best food at the fair. Here's a picture of our garden, as it was in late July. The cucumbers, of which there are three little hills in the picture, have since taken over. And I'm hoping to have bell peppers soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kikkerland Design - 2

Today I got another response from Kikkerland, this time from a VP. It said:
Dear Jared,

Thank you for your purchase of a Kikkerland Kitchen timer. We share your concerns and are taking steps to improve the accountability of our suppliers and are committed to reducing waste and improve the quality of our products and the environment.

We ask our suppliers to sign a commitment to not use forced or child labor and to use labor practices that conform to local laws.

At some of our larger suppliers we do factory inspections. Kikkerland will not knowingly buy from any suppliers, which violate this agreement.

We do not actively participate in local issues of the place of manufacture but try limit the harmful effects of our activities. We try to reduce waste by reducing packaging and using recyclable packaging such as paper and PET plastics wherever possible. We try to reduce pollution and save money by increasing the load factor of the containers we bring into the country.

We are also active in a reforestation project in Brazil Mil Fohas and just introduced a new line of notebooks, Writersblok, of which 2% of the proceeds will support NYC826 an organization that promotes literacy and creative writing skills in children in New York City.

We realize that this reply does not address all of your concerns. There remains a lot to be done. As we grow and our ability to address these issues grows we are committed to further reduce the harmful impact of our activities and motivate and encourage our suppliers to do their part as well.

Jeroen Kuiper

Kikkerland Design Inc.

Kikkerland is a smaller company, I think, and more agile in responding to customer inquiries. For that I'll give them credit. It's nice to know that they are active and conscientious about their business practices, thinking about the packaging they use, supporting reforestation and literacy projects. I'd like to see standards above and beyond "local laws", but then again I'm not familiar with Chinese labor law; it could be quite progressive. Overall I'm pretty pleased with their response. Given the choice between Kikkerland or other similar products, I'm going buy and be willing to pay more for Kikkerland stuff.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kikkerland Design

Recently I bought a double kitchen timer from Kikkerland Design, in mint green. For some reason our microwave doesn't have a timer feature, and I was getting tired of needlessly heating up Pyrex dishes of water. So we got the timer. Alas, even designer items such as this one are made in China these days. So I sent the following email Sunday August 3rd:

Subject: Double Timer, Mint

As a conscientious consumer I am attempting to make more of my purchasing decisions based on the ethical and environmental practices of the companies who produce the products I buy. To that end, I have a few questions related to the Double Kitchen Timer, Mint color, that I recently purchased. I understand that I am asking a lot - the more information you can provide for me, the more comfortable I will be purchasing Kikkerland products in the future.

1) How much do you know about the working conditions under which your products are made? How do they compare to North American standards?

2) Are you certain no children were employed in the manufacturing or distribution of the double timer I bought?

4) How familiar are you with the environmental impacts of your manufacturing processes? Are you sure the raw materials used in your products are produced or harvested ethically?

5) What are you doing to improve the living conditions in the areas where your products are produced?

Thank you in advance for your time,

Jared


Yesterday, August 11th, I got the following reply:


*** UPDATE 8/15/08 *** Laura asked me to take down her initial email, as she only meant it to be an acknowledgment that a response was forthcoming. The official reply is above.
I was impressed, especially since it's been like a month and several reminder emails and I still haven't heard anything from Memorex. Maybe they'll surprise me. Although the email doesn't contain any specific details, it's satisfying to know that my concerns were heard and appreciated.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Raspberry Ridge 3, Jared 0

Reading Michael Bamberger's "The Green Road Home" has renewed my interest in golf. Last Tuesday Pat and I played 9 holes at Raspberry Ridge, then today Dave and I played 18 holes. I kept the scorecards and ran the numbers with Excel. There's only 9 holes at Raspberry Ridge, so with three rounds I was able to get some good numbers. The course is a par 34, fairly short, with no par-5 holes. I shot 51, 50, and 53 for the three rounds, which amounts to just under double-bogey golf, or about an 18 handicap. On the Par 4 holes (there are 7) I averaged 5.9 strokes per hole, and on the par 3 holes I averaged 5 strokes. My best hole was number 9, where I averaged 4 strokes, one over par, followed closely by 4 and 5, where I averaged 5.33 strokes, or 1.33 over par - close to bogey golf. My worst holes were 3 and 7, on which I averaged 6 and 7 strokes, triple-bogey in both cases.

You might think all this data crunching is useless, but it gives me a good framework to work from, mentally. Now I know that bogey or better is an improvement on my game. And I know I need to bare (bear?) down on 3 and 7.

In other news which I have not had a chance to blog about, I crashed my bike on the way in to work on Monday. I crushed the helmet I was wearing, and I'm pretty sure it would have been a hospital trip if not for the helmet. I am a big believer in bike helmets now. I also bought my first new product not made in China, a little package of tissue paper for putting in gift bags, made in the good ol' USA. Memorex still hasn't gotten back to me, and neither has Kikkerland, who make a kitchen timer I bought recently. As for used purchases, I picked up a nice bike pump, and some pedaling shoes, both from craigslist. The search for a bike continues...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Conscientious Consumer - Part 2

I've added two new lists to my sidebar to track the number of things I buy. One tracks the number of new products I buy versus the number of things I get used. The second tallies the manufacture location of the new products that I do buy. As some of you may have guessed, I'm looking forward to getting a good sample of information so I can start adding the percentages. A graph or chart won't be far behind.

Part of the reason I'm doing it is to remind myself to get things used whenever possible. Buying used has several advantages: 1) There usually isn't any packaging to throw away. 2) It's usually cheaper. 3) An item that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill gets an extension of it's useful life. Yesterday Michelle and I were out and about and I found a used pair of golf shoes for $25 at Play-it-Again Sports. Then we found a baseball glove for $5 at Goodwill. Goodwill also had two pairs of size 12 (my size) golf shoes for like 5$ each. They looked pretty ratty though, so I stuck with the more expensive ones I already had.

A little off-topic, but none-the-less interesting, Michelle and I won $5 in Sports Bucks from Play-it-Again Sports for getting a trivia question right. The question was "How many sports teams in the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB have names that DON'T end in 's'?". The choices are 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12. We got that one wrong, but we got the bonus question right, which was "Which league has the least team names that DON'T end in 's'?" I know your first instinct is to head for Google, but you shouldn't. Try naming the teams you know. You should stop reading and make a list, because I'm about to give you the answers we got.

Michelle and I got the Utah Jazz, Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago White Sox (Michelle), Boston Red Sox (Michelle), Minnesota Wild, and I just thought of one we missed, the Miami Heat. I know there's one more that I can't remember now (that we got when we were standing there). So how did you do?

The new product I purchased today was a firewire cable for transferring the video of our Bowron Lake trip from the Camcorder to the computer. Made in China, of course. I'm gonna try to find out if they know under what conditions it was made. So far no response from the email I sent to Memorex. Well, I shouldn't say that. They forwarded my questions on to the research department, and they haven't gotten back to me. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Conscientious Consumer

Today I was driving my mom up to the Abbotsford airport (she was visiting Michelle while the boys were canoing and camping) and we got to talking about The Story of Stuff and consumerism and where our products are made and various other things. After I dropped her off I continued thinking about it, and I had a few ideas. I'm going to try and keep track of the products I buy new and the countries where they're manufactured as well as the products I buy used. I'm also going to start sending specific questions to the companies who make the products I purchase, such as:

1) How much do you know about the working conditions under which your products are made? How do they compare to North American standards?

2) Are you certain no children are employed in the manufacturing or distribution of your products?

3) I noticed a significant amount of packaging came with your product. Have you considered ways to reduce the packaging in your products? Could more recyclable packaging be used?

4) How familiar are you with the environmental impacts of your manufacturing processes? Are you sure the raw materials you use are produced or harvested ethically?

5) What are you doing to improve the living conditions in the areas where your products are produced?

What other questions should I be asking? What do you think about my idea? Could I phrase these questions in a more effective way? It occurred to me that someone has probably done this and collected up the responses into a book. Have you heard of any books like this? It's kind of cool because it finally makes me feel like I'm able to do something about this issue. I'll post the responses I get from my inquiries, if I do get any responses.

Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit - July 14 - 21, 2008

We got back yesterday from our Bowron Lake Canoe trip. I'm pretty sure everyone who went had a blast; I know I did. My absolute favorite parts were the moments of stillness. The wind wasn't blowing, the water was flat as glass, and the only sound was the rhythmic gurgle of canoes slicing through the water. The scenery was beautiful and we saw some really cool wildlife, including numerous eagles and osprey, 2 moose, a black bear and her cub (from a distance), among other things. Day one we stayed in campsite 6, day two in campsite 16, day three in 26, day four in 37, and day five in 48. I may post in more detail a little later, especially when I get Mike's and Jeremiah's pictures in the mail.

Right now I have another post on my mind...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

Today's the day! I'll be leaving any minute for Wells, BC and the start of our 5 or 6 day canoe trip. All my gear is packed, mostly in one pack thanks to Michelle's Kelty hiking backpack. My dad, my brother, and Mike are meeting us there, and Dave will be here to pick me up any minute. (If this post ends abruptly, he came a few minutes early.)

I've been meaning to post about Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman I started reading a couple weeks ago. It recounts the story of how Mr. Speigleman's father survived World War II as a Jew originally living in Poland. The author uses anthropomorphic representation, with each nationality symbolized by a different animal. Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, Americans are dogs, etc. The book won a special Pullitzer prize, I think because they don't have a comic book category. So far it's been excellent. I highly recommend it.

Maus has gotten me thinking about pacifism. In one sense I like that pacifism is a radical example of principled living. When you take everything away from an organism, nature dictates that it will do anything to survive. Humans are no exception - when you back us into a corner, threaten our loved ones, etc, we will often do whatever is necessary to survive. I like that pacifism is a distinct choice to be set aside from the natural order - no matter the circumstances or the situation, violence is not to be engaged in. It sets us apart.

On the other hand, if everyone were a pacifist, wouldn't violent men rule the world in short order? What are your thoughts on Pacifism?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Garage Sale!

Today we held a three generation, 4 couple garage sale at Michelle's parents house in Ferndale. Attendance was pretty good, we sold quite a bit of stuff, but there was definitely more than a car load left when we were done. So we decided to cart it all down to Ben's place in downtown Ferndale and do it all over again next Saturday. Michelle did a lot more work than me getting ready for today's sale, so she's not too excited about putting signs up or getting ads in the paper. I, on the other hand, didn't do any work and I got a little taste of how much fun hosting a garage sale can be. So I'm excited to make signs, promote the sale, and collect up things to sell. Everything must go by 1:00pm next Saturday! No reasonable offer refused!

We made a little over $60 today, and we cleaned out our house of stuff we don't use. I very much like both ends of garage sale-ing, and I hope it's a regular aspect of my life in the future.

I may post a few pictures if I get around to it...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Biking and Gardening

Recently I've been biking to work. I borrowed a vintage Fuji 18 speed from Michelle's Dad, and it's taken me a week or so to get used to the friction shifting, located on the frame. I took it in to Kulshan Cycle today after work because it's been slipping teeth, especially when I'm putting a lot of torque on the pedals. I thought it needed a new chain, but it turns out it just needed to be lubricated and worked in a bit. One of the bike mechanics loosened it up for me and put some penetrating oil on it. It was like night and day - now it's really smooth. I bike about 2.1 miles one way to work every day, and it's really a relaxing ride. Not much traffic, except for one intersection, and it's relatively flat. I'm getting exercise, saving money on gas, and not polluting. It's been really eye-opening actually. Biking to work is really convenient.

This spring Michelle and I planted a garden in one corner of our friend Bea's garden. Bea has chickens, a dog, and some cats, and she recently acquired some ducks. It's a blast to go over to her place. The chickens sometimes segregate themselves into a corner of the yard, and when you come in they all come marching out, like they're on patrol, to investigate the situation. We planted carrots, radish, bell peppers (which didn't come up), cucumbers, broccoli and some flowers. All from seed! I'm pretty impressed with the broccoli - it's big and we just harvested the first three heads. We've got all the radish we know what to do with. Let me know if you have any good recipes that feature radish, or if you want any fresh radish. I like gardening because it reconnects me to the basic functions of life. It's very real. I feel like a lot of peoples lives, mine included, are a little pie-in-the-sky. I counted the other day, and I think my real job, while very necessary, is about 4 degrees of separation from providing for people's basic needs.

Speaking of my real job, click here for a link to some work I did recently. Click on the "Salary Matrix" link. That's all me!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Blogs of Note

So I've been planning on highlighting a couple blogs for the last week or so. I really need to start building "blogging time" into my daily routine.

Patrick and I meet for breakfast every Thursday. He spent 2 or 3 years living in Central Mexico after university, and he met his wife there. While he was there he collected 43 stories based on his experiences and I find them fascinating to read. He has cleaned up and posted 23 of them so far at patvoy.blogspot.com. They are worth checking out.

Eric and I met in Calgary when I was going to U of C. His blog is a collection of quotes and passages from books he's reading. I try to check in regularly, but he's a pretty prolific reader (and blogger). Recently I asked him how he reads so much, and if it ever feels like a chore to him (sometimes it does to me). He said:

First of all, I read a lot of fiction which I really enjoy and it doesn't seem like work to me. I try and balance that with some non-fiction that really interests me (usually history, politics and economics). I am about to read Common Wealth by Sachs (I'm pumped). Mostly I only make myself read something when I really want to read it. I leave books until I think, "I should read that, I bet its good". The Devils by Dostoevsky has been sitting on my shelf for 2 years. Reading should be fun, if it isn't right now, take a break. And don't worry about "I need to read everything" because you won't, and that is OK.

He's right - I won't read everything. And it is OK. I needed to hear that - reading is again a peaceful, fulfilling activity for me. Anyway, check out his blog at raskolnikov-thethingsiread.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Spirited Away

Spirited Away is an animated Japanese movie in the vein of Alice in Wonderland. I have to admit, it was a little wierd, but that was also part of the appeal. For example, Chihiro's parents weren't animated to fit the western stereotype of what animated Japanese people look like. They were animated the way Japanese people see themselves (the parents, and Chihiro, were very nationality neutral). At the same time, the characters exhibit unique and distinctly Japanese, or maybe Asian, mannerisms. It was cool to watch. It was also cool to look at. I don't know much about animation, but this movie used a different technique than I have seen before. The shots out the car window were particularly interesting.

In terms of the plot, it made just enough sense to keep me watching, which isn't saying a whole lot because I have a low tolerance for things not making sense. I was thinking about one scene again today and I realized that there was a subtle but powerful environmental message that I didn't pick up on until now. If you like foriegn films or the fantasy genre, this is one you should see. IMDB tells me it won the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated Picture.

In other news, I started biking to work this week. I borrowed a touring bike, complete with saddle bags for a change of clothes and shoes and what not. It hasn't rained on me yet, so I'm still liking it.

Countdown to Bowron Lakes trip: 26 days!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird

I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird a few days ago, and I really enjoyed it. Sometimes I wonder if serious literature isn't wasted on High School students. No offense to High-Schoolers, but I certainly wasn't at a maturity level in High School to appreciate the themes that this book brings up. It makes me think that I should re-read The Outsiders and Fried Green Tomatoes, the two I remember reading in High School.

I have a lot of respect for the way writers like Harper Lee are able to create engaging, enjoyable stories and characters and at the same time address themes like racism, stereotyping, and cultural norms. Getting into the minds of Scout and Jem as they attempted to reconcile their natural and innocent understanding of fairness with the behaviors and attitudes of the community around them was fascinating. I wonder what assumptions I make on a day to day basis just because, subconsciously, I've agreed to it with everyone around me. I have a suspicion that the underlying principle persists, but I think in 50 years we'll look back and see the effect in totally different issues. Animal rights, maybe? Consumerism and "externalized costs" (see thestoryofstuff.com)? Probably not - probably something else I haven't been smart enough to question.

Atticus Finch will go down as one of my favorite literary characters. I'm going to try to remember to flip through this book again when I'm a father. I hope my kids and I have the same type of relationship he had with Scout and Jem. I also wonder if I'll ever face "that one thing" that I need to do. Hopefully I'll see it coming if I do.

Anyone have any recommendations for other classics I should put on my list? I'm trying to work up the courage to start Anna Karenina, but I'm afraid I don't have the attention span for it... Maybe I should stick with high school level classics, and then when I'm 50 I might be ready to take on Tolstoy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ski to Sea 2008

The Ski to Sea race was yesterday, and my leg went off without any (major) hitches. This year we had two teams, number 260 and 295. I was the Road Biker for Team 260, and Michelle was going to be one of the Canoeists, but that leg was canceled. Read all about it here.

Tommy (Road Biker for Tea 295) and I arrived at the DOT Shed (runner - road bike exchange area) at around 8 in the morning to await the hand-off from our respective runners. It was sunny and hot all morning, and we took refuge in the shade. Tommy's team arrived first, and about 15 minutes later my number got called. I took my bike and my bag and made my way to the starting gate. That's when things got interesting.

Travis, my team's runner, passed the timing chip to me; so far no problem. What I should have done was taken 15 seconds and strapped it to my bike before I took off. Instead, I put my foot in the toe cage and pushed off. Then as I tried to sit back into the saddle, I misjudged it's height and the front of the seat grabbed my bike shorts and yarded them down. Yep, I mooned the entire road bike staging area. There was an audible "oooh..." as the crowd looked away in horror. I hastily pulled my pants up, and I was off. But I wasn't out of the woods yet.

I still had the dumb timing chip in my hand, and it was a real struggle trying to attach it to my wrist one-handed as I road down the mountain. It was velcro, so of course it got stuck to itself. When I shook it to get it unstuck, it flew out of my hands. I think I hollered an obscenity and I definitely slammed on the brakes, leaving some nice skid marks on the road. I laid down my bike, ran back up the hill, and luckily found the timing chip right away. When I laid down my bike I must have knocked the chain off, but again, luckily it only took me a few seconds to put it back on. Overall I think I only lost about 5 positions - finally I had everything organized, and I could focus on racing.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, except when I almost collided with a guy handing out water. Otherwise I passed more people than passed me, and I felt good going up the hills. My overall time was 1 hour 52 minutes, which was under my goal of 2 hours, so I was happy about that. I averaged about 20 mph, and my fastest speed was 41.8 mph. There was a section where I was cruising at around 40 mph for several minutes, and I was able to brake by sitting up out of my tuck position, which was nice. The overall race results aren't working quite yet, but you can see all the details here. If they're not working yet, check back soon.

I don't have any pictures to post at the moment, but suffice it to say that a spandex bike jersey makes for mean tan lines. Yowza.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ski to Sea Training Report #3

So I've been meaning to post a Ski to Sea Training Report after every training session, but as you can see I haven't gotten around to it. So we're starting with 3. I am doing the road bike this year - last year I did the canoe, and let's just say I wasn't the first to sign up for that leg this year. The road bike leg is the longest leg at 38.5 miles, and takes the race from deep in the mountains out to the Nooksack River, where the Canoe leg takes over.

Michelle and I started training just over a week ago (the race is two weeks away - May 29th). Our first outing I went 13 miles in about an hour and a half. Not bad, considering it was all flatland stuff, compared to the race which will trend more towards downhill. On Thursday we went out again, but only did 5 miles.

Today was the big cheese. The whole ball o' wax. I went up the mountain with our runner (leg before me), our cross country skier, and our downhill skier. They dropped me off at the exact spot where I'll take off from on race day, and I had 38.5 miles ahead of me. The first third of the race has the most downhill sections. My top speed was 34.3 mph, but there were some uphill sections, most notably just as I came into Maple Falls. It was tough enough that I needed a break, and I stopped for about 5 minutes. From there it was again mostly downhill, but less dramatic. At Kendall the race takes a sharp turn north on Kendall Road. This section was tough because it is essentially flat, and my legs were pretty weak by that point. My left calf actually started cramping mildly. The route turns west again at South Pass Road, and at this intersection I took another little snack/rest break. When I got going again I struggled up a steep but short little hill, and a few miles later came upon a more drawn out uphill climb. My legs gave out about half way up, and I paused again. I recovered enough to make my way up the hill, but it was getting tougher. I noticed on South Pass Road that the uphill climbs were more frequent and less likely to end with the relief of a downhill section and more likely to gradually give way to a flat section or slight downhill incline. No rest for weary legs. The final 3 miles into the towns of Everson and Nooksack was actually very pretty, and I got a nice rhythm going, averaging between 14 and 15 mph most of the way.

All in all I think it took me between 2 and 2 and a 1/2 hours. I finished at 1:35pm, and I think I left between 11:15 and 11:30am, but I didn't check before I took off (d'oh!). Not bad for my first outing. I think a really good time is 1.5 hours.

More later as the training rolls on!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing and Fishing

So I've been trying to earn a few more bucks on Helium the last few days. I got paid $12 (woo-hoo!) a couple days ago, and I got a PayPal account all set up, and my $12 is burning a whole in... well, I want to spend it. Actually, I'm still not convinced it's real. It's money from the internet. All of my instincts tell me money from the internet isn't real. So I'm anxious to convert my internet money into some real products. Specifically fishing-related products.

The hang-up, and why I want to earn a little more money, is that shipping is $4.95 up to a certain limit. So I want to get as much stuff as possible to spread the shipping cost out. Despite the fact that I'm not sure it's real, I still gotta be responsible with my internet money.

Speaking of fishing-related products, Michelle's dad bought a boat last weekend! It's a 14' Sears Gamefisher (used of course), with a trailer. Should make this summer's outings a little more comfortable!

In other news, Astonishing X-Men just keeps getting better. I laughed out loud a few times, and the story is getting more and more engrossing. On the other side of the literary world, To Kill a Mockingbird has been fantastic as well. Harper Lee builds the kid perspective into the narration so well that it still catches me off guard sometimes. I know I'm probably supposed to like him and all, but I hope that as a father I'll be half as smart as Atticus Finch. I'm just finishing Part 1, but I'll keep you posted.

Hopefully you're enjoying spring if it's come yet - I heard Alberta got a blizzard recently! I'd say neener-neener-neener, but the weather would probably go south (no pun intended) before I got done.

I'll leave you with the best bumper sticker I've seen recently:
Homer, Alaska:
A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Life of the Beloved

I picked up Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved a few days ago. Michelle and I started reading it together a couple of months ago, but it fell by the wayside. For some reason it really connected with me this time. It's a small book, and it's very easy to read. At the same time, there are profound truths on every page. It's the type of classic that I think I will appreciate more every time I re-read it.


I started reading a new genre today: the graphic novel. I picked up Astonishing X-Men: Gifted this evening on my way home. In this case a graphic novel is six comic books bound together, but on the plus side there aren't any annoying adds or anything. So far it's pretty good. I got thinking about comics because Michelle and I started watching the first season of Heroes. It's been pretty engrossing so far.

Interesting fact I recently learned: Google is willing to give away their 411 service (1-800-goog-411) because they use it to improve their voice recognition algorithms. How smart is that? So next time you call goog-411, make sure to try out your best Sylvester Stallone accent. Learn that Google.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Done Winston Churchill!

Yesterday I finished reading Winston Churchill: An Informal Study of Greatness by Robert Lewis Taylor. It was published in 1952 in the US, and I picked up my copy at Gold Beach Books in Gold Beach, Oregon, last February. I had been interested in Churchill for a while, and I liked the idea of buying a book used, and I found one, and it was only six dollars, so I went for it. It has taken me over a year to finish reading it, but that's not really a reflection on the quality of the writing. I just googled Mr. Taylor, and apparently his 1958 novel The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters won the Pulitzer prize for fiction. He also wrote for the New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post. Pretty good taste, I'd say, by the book buyers at Gold Beach.

Winston Churhill was actually quite funny, and I laughed out loud a lot. Taylor spends a ton of time on Churhill's early life, from childhood until his political career began. In contrast, there were only about 20 pages about World War II, maybe because the book was written only a few years after it's conclusion. The author also points out, several times, Churchill's personal policy against giving free interviews or information out to journalists; apparently, if anyone was going to make money writing about Churchill it was going to be Churchill. All in all I enjoyed the book, but I also kind of feel like I got a monkey off my back. If you're interested, drop me a line and I'll lend it to you.

I've now started To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - should be interesting. I've wanted to read it ever since seeing Benny and Joon, in which Joon references Boo Radley, a character in the novel. Actually, probably half of my motivation for reading classics is so I get all the jokes and references in pop culture. I don't know what the other half is.

In other news, Michelle and I watched This is Spinal Tap last night. I was surprised that I hadn't seen it before with Mike, Luke, Tony, Joel, or the rest of the Red Deer crew. It seemed right up they're alley. What's up guys?