Kiva

In my life, I’ve often wanted to give to charities, but I tend to hold back because I just don’t know what they will do with the money. I’ve seen horror stories of foundations with administrative costs that strip 90% or more of every donation, meaning very little actually goes to the cause. And then there is stuff like the recent Kony 2012/Invisible Children thing where it apparently looks like a good idea, but the money is actually going to people who are guilty of many of the same abuses that they claim to be against.

But Kiva, from every source I can find, appears reputable. And it isn’t your usual “give and forget” kind of thing. The way it works is this:

  1. You put money into your fund.
  2. You loan money to people.
  3. They pay it back.
  4. You get to loan the money out again.

In this way, every time you can afford to toss a little money into your fund, say a few bucks a month, you are growing the account. If you put in $25 this year and next year you put in another $25, you now have $50. And with most people repaying in about a year, if you were to put in $25 a month for 12 months, you would be able to keep lending $25 a month, every month, forever.

If you’ve been hesitant to join up with Kiva, they are running a promotion right now where you get $25 for free if you take an invite from an existing person through a special link. Like this one. I’ve also decided to start up a team where we can pool our resources and track our contributions. If you want to join it, go here.

Especially with this latest promotion, there’s almost no reason not to join Kiva. So, why not?

Worth Doing Well

Any job worth doing is worth doing well.

Any job with acceptable compensation (be it monetary, spiritual, emotional or other) is worth doing.

Any job I take on will have acceptable compensation. (I don’t intentionally commit myself to things that I know I will hate doing and gain no form of reward from.)

So, by the transitive property, any job I take on is worth doing well.

If you live your life by these simple rules, it is possible that you might have a job that sucks, but you should never suck at your job. If you find yourself being terrible at your job, you either need to find a way to be better at it or find a job that is a better fit. By knowingly, willingly being terrible at your job, you are choosing to make your own life worse and having a negative impact on everyone you interact with. Conversely, by doing your job well, you will have a positive impact on the people you interact with, and that, in turn, has a chance of making you feel that your job doesn’t suck.

Lately

Because I know my readers are so very interested in everything I do…

Shakefire.comI’m a writer for Shakefire, and in the last couple of months here is what I’ve written:

I kinda suck as reviewing music. I like reviewing movies more, and hopefully in the future I’ll be given more movies and less music.

Anyway, in the future I plan to post one of these round ups once a month or so, when I remember to do it.

Planning, Packing, and Points Between

I go to Dragon*Con every year. Despite the fact that we live in Atlanta (or near enough to it), we book a room at one of the host hotels and stay downtown for the weekend. It’s like a half-vacation. We go, we have a great time and love every minute of it, but we aren’t really “going on vacation”. Six years ago, I took another non-vacation. An overnight really. We drove to Savannah on Monday, stayed the night, and drove back Tuesday. That was our wedding. A couple of years before that, we did a long weekend in Savannah. You’d have to go back to, I believe, 2003 to find a real vacation-vacation in my life. We went to Cozumel for 5 days. And before that, we went to Mardi Gras in 2001.

On Saturday, the wife and I will be heading up to a little cabin we rented in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We’ll be coming back on Wednesday. Five days and four nights, away from home, in another state. It’s been about nine years but we are finally going on vacation.

When we go to Dragon*Con, the weekend is pretty well mapped out. There are panels and parties. I’m on staff. It is, as far as vacations go, pretty regimented. When he did Cozumel way back when, there was little plan. We had a hotel, all-inclusive, and that was it. I’d been to Cozumel before and mostly just gone to beaches and bars and the usual stuff (I was part of a group of 30 people who went together). But this time it was just us. One day we rented a jeep and just went driving around the island. We found some unoccupied beaches and a little restaurant on the windward side of the island. It was great.

This time around, I’m aiming for something in between. The final day we have to check out of the cabin early anyway, so we are just going to check out really early and drive over to Asheville and visit The Biltmore, and then head back home that night. Either on the day up, or one of the three middle days, we’re planning to spend some time touring the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. We also plan to do some hiking, and of course a little casual relaxing. It’s cold here, and we are going north, so I expect some time spent in front of a roaring fire might be in order. And as weird as it sounds, we are planning to curl up and watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night. We don’t have cable TV anymore, so events like this are something we don’t get to watch at home.

The cabin has a kitchen, and we are trying to plan some meals to cook and foods to take with us for snacking, though we probably will eat out at a couple of places that have been recommended to us. We are driving up, so the only limitation is what we can fit into the Jeep Cherokee.

And then we get to packing clothes. It is still winter, so we’ll dress warm, maybe throw in an extra couple of sweaters and make sure we take our jackets. There are no plans to do anything super fancy so no suits or cocktail dresses.

I’m very excited about the whole thing, probably more than I should be.

Oh Captain, My Captain

I am the Captain

One ugly mutha fu--

I have long said that I think EVE Online is one of the best MMO game designs out there. Being able to train skills while offline and the entire game being of the “you are what you wear” style where you can take a character with all the skills in the world but if you put him in the shittiest new player frigate, he’s not much better than a new player in the shittiest new player frigate – aside from game knowledge and actual skill at playing. The one thing that always irked me about EVE though is that, essentially, you play a ship.

Yeah, you get to make a picture for yourself, and with the newer expansions you can now walk around in your captain’s quarters. Did they add space station ambulation yet? But for most of the game, you are a ship. A ship with no crew but you.

Two years ago, Cryptic launched Star Trek Online. I had played in the beta, but it hadn’t impressed me enough to be worth $15 a month. But now it’s gone “Free to Play” and I’ve gone back in. They’ve made some updates and I like what I’m seeing.

I am the Captain

The major element that makes STO good, for me, is that I am just the guy in charge. I’m not the ship. Yes, when I do ship combat the difference between Star Trek and EVE are fairly trivial, but to me they are important. The graphics lend themselves to the idea that I’m not actually in a 3rd person view of the ship, but that I’m at the helm looking at a simulation of what all my sensors are telling me. There are pictures of my crew at the bottom of the screen, on whom I can call to use their special abilities to assist in the battle.

Every bit of this game makes me feel like I am leading a team, as opposed to that I’m controlling a single unit. And it feels good.

When we get to ground combat, I have my Away Team, which other games would call henchmen. Except I get to train them and equipment. I get to build, to raise a team to get the job done. I know their names, and when I get new gear or they earn experience, I get excited to help them be better crew members.

Aside from the senior officers, there are also duty officers. Not originally part of the game, they are probably one of my favorite bits of it now. I find tasks that need doing, either on board the ship or away, and I assign my crew to do them. Picking the right crew is important as it affects the outcomes, and when they succeed they bring in experience, credits, items and more. Critical successes can result in double rewards or even buffs for me and our ship. Most importantly, it is another thing that makes me feel like a captain. (I also earned a couple of levels on my character just by logging in a few minutes a day and using my Duty Officers during a week or so when I couldn’t play for real.)

Until the Next Episode

Recently, the MMO world has been abuzz with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and mostly for their focus on story. By this, people really mean that you get to choose answers to dialog trees that lead you toward either the dark or the light. For me, that is completely uninteresting because I would probably 99% of the time pick the light side answer. In general, I just don’t play games to be the bad guy. I like being the hero, and face it, the Sith side aren’t the heroes.

For me, good story simply means it’s told well enough that I become engaged to the story. And one thing Star Trek Online does well is tell engaging stories – if you read them, that is. Although, some missions do have voice overs. But another thing they do that I like is that their “accept” answers are simple, matter of fact “Accept this mission” and “Beam down to planet” and not more involved, essentially putting words in my mouth. I like it when my MMO lets me be me, instead of trying to tell me who I am (I’m looking directly at you, Cataclysm Goblin Starter Area).

Even more, while the game does have its share of random and daily quests (we’ll come back to those in a second), there are chunks of content that are doled out in episodic form. I sit down, start the next episode, and in a half hour to an hour, I’ve played out a whole plot. Very much like an episode of a Star Trek TV show. I love it!

The Non-Repetitive Dailies

Some games have implemented a form of Daily Quest, things you can do once a day, every day. In a few games it is literally the same quest over and over. In other games, it’s a selection of quests that rotate through on a schedule – it looks random at first, but every one is getting the same random quest, so what’s really happening is that the server is cycling through a list of quests.

STOs Daily Quests are more along the lines of what you would expect from a foundation of a continuing mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. You are asked to go to a cluster or sector of space, seek out random spawning anomalies and systems, and complete three adventures. Sometimes you are just scanning unusual formations. Sometimes you deliver supplied to people in need. Other times you defend outposts under attack. Just the other day, I had to beam down to the surface of a planet that was only in the Stone Age level of technology and retrieve a fallen probe before they discovered it, without being detected myself.

Sure, I get repeats now and then, but there appear to be enough of them, a few dozen at least, that it doesn’t happen often. Oh, and there is a daily to do three player created missions.

That’s right. Players have the ability to create content in The Foundry.

Free to Play Pay

I still find the “Free to Play” moniker to be a bit troublesome. Yes, you can play for free, but there are, as always, limitations. Though these may be some of the most lenient limits I’ve seen. Some of them are even lifted by simply buying something, once from the store. I already bought one thing, and I can see myself buying access to certain ships or other things in the future.

I’m enjoying it. Here are a few screen shots of my current ship.

The Super Bowl

A Cook’s tour of the field, watching the players gambol about, was enough stiction to send his mind careening through recollections of his heyday and his mouth to gamming away about them between lymphatic swigs of his alcoholic elixir.

Any Given Sunday

The Only Constant Is Change

So, I just started doing this Drawing of the Day thing where I was doing a drawing based on the word of the day as posted by either reference.com or Webster’s. I did four of them and stopped. I haven’t given up, but I had a thought.

First off, doing something daily is a bit hard and actually detracts from my ability to do other things. Also, some of the words of the day are just odd to think of alone. It’s just a word with a definition, no direction, and what I wanted was actually a bit more of a directed exercise.

You see, I can always sit down and just make shit up. My problem has always been that when I return later to the work from the “make shit up” session, I find it hard to continue the work. So, what I’m really looking for is more like the writing prompts you can find all over the place where they give you a subject and a direction and you are supposed to write on it. But with drawing.

To that end, I’m changing the project from Drawing of the Day to something like A Picture is Worth a Week of Words. Instead of using just a single word, I’m going to take seven words, still using the reference.com and Webster’s sources (I’ll choose all 7 from one source, and either I’ll do one, the other or both), and I’m going to do a drawing. I may also do some writing to go with it. They’ll go up on Sundays and use the words from the previous week (Sunday to Saturday).

I’m excited. I was excited before but quickly became drained. This less intensive version should be exciting without the exhaustion.

I Support Vocation

Last night, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address before congress. Here is a transcript. And while a great many topics were covered, I want to talk about the section on education. Here it is:

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us — as citizens, and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. (Applause.) We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.” (Applause.) That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. (Applause.) We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. (Applause.) And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher. Your country needs you. (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. (Applause.) That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. (Applause.) And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit — worth $10,000 for four years of college. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too. As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps — if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take — we will reach the goal that I set two years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.)

I put that last sentence in bold because it caught my attention. It caught my attention in large part because I feel that it is chasing a metric that is entirely wrong-headed. I think this section has a lot of good ideas in them, but I am worried it is going to continue pushing a paradigm that is unsustainable.

Check out the video to the right. Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs testifies before congress about the need for more vocational training. I went to school for a time in the Pennsylvania school system, and in Junior High, the 7th grade to be exact, I was required to take Home Economics, Art, Wood Shop, Metal Shop and more. Just a half a semester of each, the intent to be to expose kids to skills they may not encounter in their day-to-day lives. And this continued through the 8th and 9th grades, and when you moved over to the High School for 10th grade, you were allow to choose between two tracks: Vocational or College Preparation.

The College Prep track is what pretty much every kid these days encounters in school. You take standard English, History, Science, Math, etc. in an effort to make you ready to pursue an academic path into college. Essentially, the goal is to make the student well-rounded so that college can then mold them into their future selves. Meanwhile, the Vocational track still had kids take English, History, Science, Math and more, but they were more basic survey classes, and shorter, making room for their vocational classes. By senior year, the Vocational track kids were rebuilding cars, doing HVAC work, building furniture, crafting tools from metal, painting, glass blowing, baking, doing the work of a seamstress, and more. Many of them were hooked up with apprenticeships after graduation and while the College Prep kids went off to four more years of school, the Vocational kids were starting careers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “we need vocational tracks because some kids aren’t smart enough for college” which is the argument opponents always take. I’m saying “we need vocational tracks because some kids have talents that make them totally awesome but aren’t found in college”. You see, I want kids to be happy and awesome when they grow up, and if a kid absolutely loves fixing things with his hands, why do you want to force them into college to pursue a generic business degree?

The only saving grace in regards to this is Obama’s mention of strengthening our community colleges and technical schools. Done right, it can be like a Vocational track in High School but after High School, with 2 year degrees in specific areas that don’t require taking lots of “junk” classes unrelated to the degree. Of course, in general it will fail to provide kids with a proper sample of skills in order to discover they might actually like working on cars or sewing dresses, so many of them will plod on to traditional college and get mediocre grades toward a degree someone else convinced them would be good for them, never having had the opportunity to find their own personal awesomeness.

I don’t have a kid, but I hope to some day, and if their school doesn’t provide it, I’ll make sure I introduce them to a wide variety of skills in order to help them find the path on which they can be the best version who they are. If that path includes college, so be it, but if it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

DotD: educe

educe, \ ih-DOOS \, verb.
To draw forth or bring out, as something potential or latent.

educe

DotD: yegg

yegg, \ YEG \, noun.
safecracker; also : robber

yegg