Friday, December 26, 2014

The Value of Travel

If you've been reading this blog then you know that global travel is something I value highly. However I'm not sure if I've ever taken the time to explain what's behind that.

Do I like to travel in order to avoid working?
Am I a beach bum or a slacker who has no interest in contributing to society?

In fact, I believe that thoughtful global travel is the highest form of contributing to society. After all, everyone on the planet is now our neighbor and as a global superpower I believe it is both our responsibility and in our best interest to better understand our neighbors so that we can all get along.

So why do I travel?
Why did I spend a month in Indonesia and want to live (not just as a tourist) for at least 3 months in each of Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, Thailand, France, Chile, the Himalayas and more?

Rick Steves articulates the answer far better than I could. This sparkling 20-minute video is highly recommended and chock full of beautiful, thought-provoking insights, some of which I've highlighted below.
http://youtu.be/kYXiegTXsEs




On "America! Fuck Yeah!"
2:53 - how we grew up thinking that America was at the top of the pyramid and everyone else was "trying to figure it out"
3:00 - we have the American Dream...these people have the Sri Lankan Dream... our dream is beautiful but so is theirs
3:13 - "travel wallops my ethnocentricity"

On Iran
7:09 - "Why am I going to Iran? Because I believe it's good character to get to know people before you bomb them."
7:41 - "fear is for people who don't get out much"
8:04 - Another perspective on "Death to America" in Iran.
9:28 - On being aware of and understanding the baggage of other cultures

On Legislating Morality
12:00 - In America we're all about government by, for and of the people via the corporations we own. In Europe they also have government by, for and of the people, but in spite of the corporations they own

On High Taxes
17:14 - Rick Steves: How can you Swiss people so dociley pay such high taxes?
         Swiss citizen: What's it worth to live in a country where there's no homelessness, no hunger, and everybody (regardless of their parents) has access to quality health care and education?

On Understanding Other Religion
19:00 - the Whirling Dervish

On the Value of Travel
20:30 -  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness"
                               - Mark Twain

Be sure to also check out Rick's podcasts. He's also here on twitter.
And feel free to share this video with people you know who "don't get out much".

Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 In Review: What I Watched

This is the third of a few posts reviewing my experiences in the past year:
  1. What I Read
  2. What I Listened To
  3. What I Watched
  4. What I Did
In 2014 I watched more movies than any other year of my life. This was the result of my expanded free time, living in a new place and not knowing anybody, and living in a big city again that has quality arthouse and independent cinema.


What I Watched in 2014

Movies

Six films really stood out to me and were an absolute pleasure to behold. I've ranked them here in order of my preference:
  1. Birdman - Michael Keaton & Ed Norton starred in the best and most beautifully crafted film I saw this year. Follow the link to read the rotten tomatoes reviews that describe it better than I can.
  2. Mistaken for Strangers - It starts out as a documentary about the band The National directed by the singer's brother. But it's where it goes from there that makes it spectacular and unique among rock docs.
  3. Jingle Bell Rocks! - I covered this one last week.
  4. Boyhood - This film was made over the course of 12 years, following the growth of its lead actor from boy to adult.
  5. Top Five - It's funny. And it has romance, but I'd {shudder} to call it a romantic comedy because Chris Rock is at a level of excellence that genre has never seen. 
  6. Snowpiercer - Best and only sci-fi I remember seeing in 2014. It all takes place on a train in a dystopian future where the entire planet Earth is frozen.

TV Shows

I finally watched Breaking Bad after having it recommended to me by enough people over the past few years. My technique with tv shows is to not worry about watching them on their first run but to wait a few years. Then, if people are still talking about it, I'll watch it on Netflix (if available).

Normally I can't make it past season 2 or 3 of an hour-long drama series because I feel as if after the first couple seasons the writers have to force the plot in a variety of cliched ways in order to keep the program on air and making money. After all, the first goal of almost all television is for the show to make money. That's why after a few seasons we tend to see things like:
  • Everybody starts sleeping with everybody else
  • Some long-lost friend/lover/enemy/child from the past shows up out of nowhere. Shocker!
  • Tragedy like a car crash or heart attack
  • etc.

I enjoyed Breaking Bad, but part of the reason I made it through all 5 seasons is because I knew it was ending in the 5th season. If I were watching it live on the first run I would have given up on it.


Videos

Cody Townsend wasn't the first guy to ski this. That honor belongs to Travis Rice. But, damn, did he ever slay it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 In Review: What I Listened To

This is the second of a few posts reviewing my experiences in the past year:
  1. What I Read
  2. What I Listened To
  3. What I Watched
  4. What I Did
I've always been an appreciator of thoughtful, well-crafted music -- music that is written from the soul of the performer because the artist has a driving need to create it and share it. Please note that this is different from most music heard on pop radio which is created in order to be sold to the biggest group of people possible.

Over the last several years I've become a huge fan of podcasts, too. In the olden days it was always good to catch an informative hour-long radio program from NPR, but they usually aired on Saturdays and Sundays so I'd only hear them if I happened to be driving in my car at the right time of day. And even then, it's likely that I would only hear part of the show.

The new art of podcasting now allows the listener to hear those programs (and many many more) whenever they want. Even more importantly, it has democratized the airwaves by allowing anyone anywhere to make a recording and share it.

The podcasts I enjoy most are a combination of both professionally produced shows from some NPR outlet as well as individuals who decided to start recording themselves talking about something they're passionate about.

Here's a sample of what I listened to most...

What I Listened To in 2014

Music
"Mincer Ray" by Guided by Voices - An older GBV song written by their secondary songwriter Tobin Sprout. Can't tell you how many times I listened to it on repeat in the past few months. It just really grabbed me this year.


A Love Supreme by John Coltrane - I finally bought my second true jazz album, this one, after enjoying Miles' Kind of Blue for the last decade. I'm glad I finally appreciate this foremost style of jazz.


Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers - They just keep on cranking out phenomenal pop records.


Southeastern by Jason Isbell - Listened to this gorgeous, heartfelt album more than any other over the past couple years.


Songs for Slim tribute by Steve Earle ("Times Like This"), Lucinda Williams ("Partners in Crime"), The Minus 5 with Curtiss A ("Rockin' Here Tonight"), Joe Henry ("Taken on the Chin") - These artists took songs written by Slim Dunlap and portrayed them in a new and more masterful light, spurring me to compare Slim Dunlap to the likes of Townes van Zandt & Leonard Cohen (i.e. someone who writes beautiful songs but doesn't have the best voice or arrangements).


Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Denver in April 2014 - I previously wrote about it here.


Podcasts
The Tim Ferriss Show - Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week has weekly discussions with world-class performers in a variety of fields in an effort to desconstruct their successful habits and thinking.
The Sprocket Podcast - Fun show out of Portland, OR that talks about riding bicycles and living simply, usually with guests.
Pedal Hub - New Twin Cities-based podcast about bicycles and bicycling.
WTF with Marc Maron - Neurotic comedian hosts in-depth & personal interviews with interesting artists, musicians, comedians, etc.
Freedom Lovin' - Inspiring discussion around the host, Kevin, and his experiences in securing a location-independent income stream and long-term global travel.

Travel with Rick Steves - I used to think that Rick Steves was too dweeby & populist, but I've grown to appreciate his thoughtful, open mind and his deep insights into humanity after a lifetime of interacting with people of different cultures.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 In Review: What I Read

This is the first of a few posts reviewing my experiences in the past year:

  1. What I Read
  2. What I Listened To
  3. What I Watched
  4. What I Did
Since quitting my corporate career one year ago I've had more free time, pretty much all of which was spent reading stuff, listening to stuff, watching stuff and doing stuff. I've had the luxury of time to examine my life closely and make sure that the stuff I'm reading, listening to, watching and doing align with my personal values of living fully and treading lightly.

My primary goal right now is to establish a location-independent income stream. By that I mean that I want a way to make money consistently while out camping, backpacking, skiing, or living in places around the world like Colombia or France or Thailand. I want an income stream that doesn't require me to show up at a certain place at a certain time. That's what I'm pursuing by owning a Supercuts hair salon franchise in Denver. It doesn't have to be a huge income as I've done a decent job of retirement saving over the years. But a few grand a month would kick ass.

What I Read in 2014

Books
As part of simplifying my lifestyle I bought a Kindle and gave away all my books. Because of this I've found myself reading a lot more than I used to because my entire library can now fit in my pocket. The ease of carrying a bunch of books means that I often bring my Kindle with me and am finding significantly more time to read.

Here are some faves in no particular order...
  • San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart by John Scherber - Stories of expats living in this charming Mexican city
  • The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko - Thrilling story about a record speed attempt floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon
  • The Last Season by Eric Blehm - Nice read about what it's like to be a National Park Ranger and the story of one who went missing
  • Tao de Ching by Lao Tzu - Ancient Chinese classic
  • Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson - Scientific neurological look at meditation, happiness & wisdom
  • Simplify by Joshua Becker - On the benefits of simplicity and one man's journey to unclutter his world
  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi - An enlightening look at how peaceful communication can create compassionate connections with family, friends, and other acquaintances
  • Superhuman by Habit by Tynan - How to develop new habits
  • Practicing Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton - Not as radical as the title suggests, which I greatly appreciated. Book is actually built around mindfulness.
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen - Beautiful classic that's about everything in life except the snow leopard.
  • The New American Road Trip Mixtape by Brendan Leonard - Modern day On The Road
  • Leap of Faith: Quit Your Job and Live on a Boat by Ed Robinson - Fun stories from this lifestyle that many of us have dreamed about

Blogs
Most of the blogs I really enjoy are currently listed over on the right hand side of this page under the heading Blogs I Read. Here's a brief summary of each...

  • Adventure Journal - Lots of cool outdoorsy & adventurey stories
  • Al's A-Basin Blog - Regular updates on snow conditions and what's happening at Arapahoe Basin ski area where I have my season pass this year
  • Becoming Minimalist - Simplifying one's life
  • Bumfuzzle - Family of four travels the world pretty much full time in a variety of fascinating vehicles
  • Full-On - Fun outdoor adventure stories from a Mpls gentleman and his kids
  • Going Places Quietly - Bozeman friend samh shares his tales of human-powered outdoor adventures
  • McSweeney's - Brilliant contemporary humor in written form
  • Mr. Money Mustache - Sage and confrontational wisdom from a guy who's figured out how to not allow American consumerism and sloth to upset his family's financial situation
  • Raptitude - A guy who's getting better at being human
  • Russo's Rants - Minnesota Wild hockey blog
  • Small House Bliss - Gorgeous small houses that I want to own
  • Strong Towns - Strengthening America's cities, towns & neighborhoods. Act local.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jingle Bell Rocks!

For the last several years I've enjoyed the Sound Opinions podcast's take on alternative Christmas music. And now... there's a film about it:



Thanks to the Denver Film Society for showing it tonight. More on the film here.

I just returned from the viewing and it was phenomenal. The music is terrific as are the profiles of the people in the subculture who obsessively collect it.

Here are a few of the music highlights like Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa":



Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis":



"Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) by The Free Design:

It might be showing at an arthouse cinema near you. If you're a music fan I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine

Ever since I was diagnosed with hypertension earlier this year I've been doing lots of research about how to improve that condition. Hypertension (very high blood pressure) can lead to early onset of strokes, heart attacks, etc.

What I've found is that in just the last 10 years we have significantly increased our knowledge of how the human body works. Advancements in medical technologies have allowed us to get a closer look into the functions of our brain, heart, other key organs and the human body as a whole.

A few years ago my friend Leah introduced me to the idea that the bacteria that lives in our gut might also be a key factor in our overall health. The scientific findings on it are still in their infancy, but are pointing to very powerful results.
"Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food"   - Hippocrates
Below are a couple videos made by an Australian TV show that nicely illustrate the problem and the solution.



  • 4:05 - the association between gut bacteria and health has only been discovered in the past few years (since technology has allowed us to examine them more closely)
  • 4:20 the bacteria that lives in our body far outnumbers our own cells by a factor of 10:1. The bacteria also contribute 100x the number of genes that our own genomes do.
  • 4:50 - some scientists say a human being can be looked at as a superorganism, like a termite colony or a beehive where individuals are just part of a whole
  • 9:30 - caesarean section babies have gut microbes that look more like the microbes in our skin than children born via natural birth whose gut bacteria looks more like intestine
  • 10:00 - c-section babies are more likely to have allergies and asthma issues
  • 11:00 - our gut bacteria change depending on what we eat
  • 11:20 - bad food, especially low fiber food, supports bad bacteria that create disease
  • 13:45 - taking antibiotics is like dropping a nuclear bomb on our gut bacteria
  • 15:00 - diseases like asthma, depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, autism, allergies, multiple sclerosis and obesity may be linked to poor gut bacteria (which is linked to poor diet)

So what do we do about it?
Part 2 of the video suggests some tactics....



  • 26:30 - see the dramatic improvement in insulin levels for one test subject after changing his diet 

The result of what's been learned so far is both striking and quite elementary -- what we put into our mouth has a direct effect on our overall health.

Hippocrates knew this in 400 B.C. but the corporations that produce and sell processed food have done a terrific job of changing our habits.

My goal is to get my blood pressure back to normal levels without the help of pills. I'm making progress but these habits are so ingrained and difficult to change, even when I know they directly hurt me. It's difficult when I know that any single donut or bottle of beer isn't going to kill me, but that only over a long period of time will their wrath be felt.