Waste Reduction

“People are always amazed when I tell them we only put out a bag of trash every couple of weeks,” said my friend Lora Frost.

What? How’s that even possible? You’re full of crap. Hippie. You’re pulling my leg aren’t you? Sometimes my inner voice is an ass.

This is where your trash goes. Isn't it pretty.
This is where your trash goes. Isn’t it pretty.
These we some of the thoughts in my head when I heard this. But the truth is I respect Lora and believe her. This got me thinking.

She’d told me her and her husband just recycled a bunch and they reduced the stuff that actually has to go to the landfill.

Well I believe if someone else can do something, then so can I. Her statement made me think it was possible, so I began on a journey to reduce my waste.

Step 1: Mindfulness

There is a concept, mainly in the Buddhist tradition, of mindfulness. Put in simple terms it is paying attention to what you are doing. Mindfulness is relevant to eating, because we rarely pay attention to every bite we eat. I found mindfulness to be the first huge step to reducing your waste.

Pay attention to what you are tossing in the trash can.

Think in terms of volume. How much space do different things in your garbage take up?

The thing that became very obvious to me was most of what goes into my trash is packaging. In many cases this can be recycled.

Step 2: Recycle All You Can

Before we started this waste reduction journey we recycled plastic bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans. We kind of did cardboard, but it was a pain so we really mostly did it only for boxes that things game in the mail.

Once we noticed that packaging was a huge part of the volume of our trash, we made a place for recycling cardboard and paper. It was a big reduction in volume.

As with most changes you try to make you need to make recycling as easy as possible. This means you have to have a place to put each kind of recycling, and those places have to be easy to find and use. We moved our current recycle bins from the laundry room into the kitchen and added a paper recycling trash can in the kitchen as well.

Step 3: Stop Using Disposable Stuff

The next thing you notice is we use a bunch of stuff that is made to become instant trash. For me the big one was paper towels. Why do we have these things? Yeah they are easy to use and handy, but really most of the time we could just use a regular towel and wash it instead.

Paper napkins are another example. Why not just use cloth napkins?

You might say both of these example are paper, but once you fill them with debris and food etc, you really can’t recycle them.

Another high volume disposable thing we had were plastic sandwich/quart bags, to-go cups, and to-go containers. We used little plastic bags all the time to hold leftovers from a meal, and packaged foods like cheese we’d opened and need to store in the fridge. Then when you are finished with whatever is in the bag to you send it off to the landfill. The solution to this one is reusable containers. In our case it is those plastic tupperware things with lids.Styrofoam Containers

We eat out a lot and as a result get quite a few to-go boxes, usually styrofoam which is the worst because you can’t recycle it, at least not in Abilene. Same for cups. This is one we haven’t fully implemented a fix for, but I now take my own cup to my favorite wings place and they just fill it for me. I plan on putting a large plastic container in my car to use for to-go stuff in the future.

Our main solution to this restaurant left over problem has been…

Step 4: Stop Taking Crap You Are Just Going to Throw Away

Once you’ve taken the extra effort to start reducing your waste it gets really annoying that everyone give you so much crap that you aren’t just going to have to throw away.

You have to learn to say no a lot.

But let’s talk about the simple way we’ve dealt with restaurant left overs. About half the time the food we want to take home is for the dog. In that case we just wrap it in a paper napkin if they are on our table. It’s a good reuse of something we could do without.

One time we were at a place with cloth napkins – Yea! – but we wanted to take some meat to the dog, so The Mrs asked the waitress for some aluminum foil to wrap it in. That was brilliant because it is definitely recyclable. Sadly the waitress brought us not just foil, but a styrofoam container as well. The container stayed unused on the table.

Paper handouts. Everyone wants to give you a big piece of paper with information on it. Just say no, or take a picture of it with your phone if you need the info and hand the paper back. I’ve been doing this with business cards for a couple of years now anyway. I used the incredible Evernote, which reads the business cards and makes the info searchable.

Bags. Everyone wants to give you a bag to hold stuff in. The culture has started to realize we can bring our own better, stronger, reusable bags to the grocery store. Guess what? We can do that to any store. Also, if you carried all your items to the register you can carry them to your car as well, so just say no to the bag.

I could go on and I probably will in future blog posts.

I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, but I was touring a gym the other day and they wanted to give me a couple pages of information that was on their website. I just blurted out, “No thanks I can get that off your website. My new years resolution is to reduce the amount of waste I produce and I’ll just end up throwing that away.”

The head of the gym smiled and said, “That’s a lot better new years resolution than a lot of people make.”

Why don’t you join me in an easy change for 2016? I challenge you to be mindful of what you are throwing away. Just doing that will probably inspire you to create less waste in the all year long.

5 Bullet Fridays

Tim Ferris is my virtual mentor right now. I’ve read all of his books and am an avid listener to his podcast.

I’ve also made a resolution to try and write something everyday. Nominally this would be on my book, but today I’m traveling and probably won’t get that kind of opportunity.

5 Bullets. Get it?
5 Bullets. Get it?

So I’m taking a page from Tim and doing a 5 Bullet Friday. These are just 5 random things that are influencing me or are interesting to me.

#1. Toastmasters District 25 Conference. Remember I said I was traveling today? We’re driving to the DFW area for our TM district conference. It’s our first time there and should be interesting. One thing that has impressed me is how much effort they have put into welcoming First Timers.

#2. Never Eat Alone by Kevin Ferrazzi. Of all the things going on in my life right now, this book is having the most impact. It is about building your personal network and has incredible insight into how valuable professional relationships are and how fun. I’m thinking about gifting it for Christmas this year.

#3. Beltway Park Church North. I’ve been going to this church for at least a month. Its a little on the DL because the Mrs can’t be a member there. But I realized today I’m going to miss church on Sunday because of the conference. And I’m actually going to miss it. I can’t remember the last time that was true.

#4. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I haven’t finished this book but his discussion about Resistance and doing the work is extremely powerful. It’s kind of like if a Marine drill sergeant wrote the Artist’s Way.

#5. Evernote. This application has been my brain for years, but it seems not everyone knows about it. Really you should check it out. I plan to write a speech about how I use it and I’ll post it to this blog when I do.

Need Your Help To Start Writing a Book

Since the fall of Reactuate Games I’ve been trying to decided what I’m going to do with my life. I won’t go into the process that I’ve been going through because that would be a distraction, but I’ve decided to decide.

I’m going to write a book.

Working title is Distinctions For Life. It will be a self-improvement/self-help/lifehacks book. That’s as far as I’ve gotten on its over all concept. But each chapter will be a pretty self contained topic.

For the last few months I’ve been compiling a list of topics in the form of Chapter Titles. This is where I need my friends’ help. I need to start. Looking at the whole of the idea is daunting and a great way to never start. I’ve decided I’m starting this week. But to know if anyone else thinks this is a good idea I want you to tell me what to write first.

Here’s my current list of chapter titles.
DFL_Logo
– The Macro and Micro parts of life.
– Take Responsibility
– Things wear out – replace your socks
– Social Interaction can be learned
– Build a network
– Yeah Goals
– Live life with Purpose
– Make mistakes
– How to avoid mistakes
– Routines
– Morning Pages
– Your brain is for thinking Your Phone for Remembering
– Knowledge brings depth to things
– Your body is a soup of chemicals
– Emotional bank accounts
– Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly
– Simple is not easy
– Systems
– Change you focus change you mood
– Beliefs
– Identity
– Go the extra mile
– Peoples communication channel of choice
– The myth of work/life balance
– Enjoy the process
– Process oriented goals
– People orient goals
– Work around mental blocks
– Stop shoulding on yourself
– Expertise isn’t about what you know it is about what others don’t.

Please leave a comment and tell me which chapter you’d find the most intriguing. From that list I’ll pick what to write first.

My Eulogy for Cleo and Jennifer Haston

Today we buried my wife’s parents in Flagstaff Arizona. These are the words I would like to have said at the service, but I can’t even think them without crying. There is no way I could have said them.

My favorite memories of Cleo and Jennifer show their humor. Cleo constantly joked with wait staff at the many restaurant meals we shared. They’d ask “Is there any thing else I can get you?”

He’d always – to the point of annoyance sometimes – answer “Money?”

My favorite story of Jennifer I didn’t experience directly but heard later, probably from Cleo. On one of the many trips the two of them took together they were on a beach. She noticed him check out a bikini clad woman walking along the shore and said, “Cleo, the only way you could get that girl was if you chased her down waving your W2.”

I was reminded of him at church last week when I noticed a woman in the aisle barefoot. Cleo once commented to someone who asked what Suanna and I’s church was like after he visited.

“No one at their church wears shoes.”

Which for Hope Chapel in Austin was funny but only half true.

The most important thing Cleo and Jennifer did for me though was to raise a daughter who knows how to be a better wife than I deserve. Their relationship taught her that life together isn’t always easy. You don’t always get along. You aren’t perfect toward each other.

But you approach life together. You try to make each other and everyone else laugh. You make the best of the bad times and in the end you are always there for each other.

And when you pass on, they take your bodies, turn them to ashes. Mingle those ashes together. Encase them in stone. And bury them in the ground side by side.

Then for as long as this planet circles its star the two of you will always be together.

Home Stretch

Literally in the home stretch for the UK adventure. 17 jam packed days.

DrWhoPremierThis week we have Dr Who Premiere, with us in Cardiff today through Thursday.

Stupidly I didn’t bring my camera from London. What was I thinking? Could I catch a train and get there and back today?

Nine-Worlds-logoFriday through Sunday we have the Nine Worlds Convention in London.
icanmakeshoes_logoMonday and Tuesday of next week I’m getting private lessons on shoe making.I know a little strange, but I’ve had an interest in creating some high tech, geeky high heels for over a year. I’ve looked around the US for a place to learn to do it, but haven’t found anywhere within a reasonable distance and cost. Found I Can Make Shoes in London via an article and decided to check it out. I’d already missed their class on it, but found out I could just do it as a private lesson. I’m going to make the Mrs something Dr Who themed.
London WorldConThen lastly by not leastly, the reason we’re in the UK. Loncon3/WorldCon in London, where both The Mrs and I are presenters.

My presentation is

Intro to Electronics and Illumination in Costuming

Friday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)

Adding electronics and/or illumination to costumes used to require a high degree of technical knowledge, but now there are many products available making the process accessible to more costumers. This demonstration will show off some of the available technologies, including some of the exciting new developments in the e-Textiles movement.

Kevin Roche, Ron Davis, Amy Young

I’ve got two costume projects to complete before Loncon that require access to a laser cutter, and not time to get to the one at London Hackspace. But it is open 24hrs….

Power Voltage in the US and UK

Electrical outlets in the US and the UK look very different. Those in the UK are much bigger. They seem HUGE to me. They always have 3 prongs and the prongs are much larger.

Plugs & AdapterActually there is another kind of plug in the UK that has two prongs and is always marked “Shaver Only” and always in the bathroom. I’ve never used one of these so I don’t have much to say about them.

Talking to another visitor from the states about the outlets, he said, “…and it’s all 220”. In the US we do have larger 3 prong plugs that carry 240V. They are primarily used for large appliances like clothes washers and dryers. I also called them 220. I don’t know why since they are 240, unless it is that appliances that use them are called 220. The usage voltage is always lower than the outlet voltage.

But I wasn’t sure the current was actually the same. Did a little research today to answer this question and thought I’d share.

There are two main differences between household power in the US and the UK, voltage and cycle rate.

Voltage

In the US your standard wall outlet provides power at 120 volts. In the UK, the standard wall outlet provides current at 230 volts. Both of those numbers are inaccurate. In the US it’s actually 114 to 126 V, and the UK is 230 -6% to +10%. According to Wikipedia, this is because in the UK, most power is still supplied to homes at 240.

If you are curious, US voltage is shared by Japan and Taiwan. UK voltage by Australia and New Zealand. The rest of the world is 230 +/- 6%, which is the new EU standard and something the UK is working to use.

Cycle Rate

Thanks to Nicola Tesla power is transmitted to our homes via Alternating Current. It gets it’s name from the fact “The direction of the current reverses, or alternates, 60 times per second (in the U.S.) or 50 times per second (in Europe, for example)”. (How Electricity Works)

So that’s another difference, they also have a different “hertz rate”. They alternate a different number of times per second.

From a traveler’s point of view, this just means you need an adapter to plug in your stuff. I’m sure most people think this is just because the plug shape is different, but there are some electrical stuff going on in there to change voltage and cycle rate. Interestingly this is actually one of the advantages of AC. It is easy to change the voltage at the point you want to use it.

I should also point out that a lot of stuff that lets you plug in your DC/battery powered devices, like a laptop or cell phone, really just needs a new plug. The conversion from AC to DC that happens already has to bring down the Voltage, way down. For instance my MacBook Pro’s power adapter bring it down to 20V.

This also means I can buy a UK MacBook adapter and use it with my MacBook without fear. Technically if I could just find the part with the plug on it, that’s all I’d need to make the switch. But alas, Apple doesn’t sell just that bit of cable or plug by itself, though they give you both when you buy an adapter.
Apple Plugs
Which is what I bought when we got to the UK. I needed a new power brick/cable anyway because my old one was frayed. I went to the Apple Store in London when we first got here and just bought a UK power adapter. It came with a cable and just the little plug part. I put the plug part on the Mrs’ US power adapter brick and used the cable on mine for the rest of the trip.

The Same And Different: Toastmasters Clubs Edinburgh

ABtoEDNTMLike all Toastmasters both the clubs we visited were welcoming and friendly.
The Mrs and I love Toastmasters and are already missing our home club. One of the goals we had for our trip was to visit Toastmasters clubs. We accomplished that twice while in Edinburgh.

There are 3 public Toastmasters groups that meet in Edinburgh. This post will talk a little about they are different and the same as our home club based on our visits.

Meeting Frequency and Length

The first thing that was obviously different was the clubs only meet every two weeks. The second thing was those meetings were 2 hours long, twice what our home club is.

Interestingly they use basically the same format for their meetings, which means they still only have 3 speeches a meeting. That also means members’ progress is slower because there are half as many opportunities per year. Even though the meeting is longer, the speeches are still 4-6 minutes.

Having a longer meeting does give them time for a break in the middle where everyone can talk and network. That was one of the most enjoyable parts of the meeting for me.

Meeting Agenda

If you were to just list the roles of the Scottish meetings and our Abilene meetings everything would almost match up exactly. The order is a bit different and some of the roles work considerably different, but basically it was what we would expect.

The meeting is opened and closed by the Toastmaster not the President. There is no opening by the President and the Toastmaster isn’t introduced. (More on introductions in a minute). At one meeting the President did speak near the end, but that was to talk about some club business, not to close the meeting.

Also there was no Pledge of Allegiance nor prayer/though. They did say the Humor Master (what we call the Joke Master) could be the Invocator.

Table Topics was after the break, which put it after the speeches and the speeches evaluations.

Evaluation

You are probably wondering what they do with all that extra time if the speeches aren’t any longer.

In a word — Evaluation.

Speech Evaluation Form
Speech Evaluation Form

There is a lot more evaluation. In our meeting each speaker has an evaluator, and the meeting has a general evaluator. So does theirs, but they also give 2 minutes after each speech for everyone to write down thoughts on each speech. In every seat when you arrive there are three forms giving you a guide for evaluating. After you fill it out, which is optional, you write the person’s name on it and either hand it to them then or wait and give it to them at the break. None of the speakers read these at the meeting.

So everyone evaluates the speakers, not just their evaluators. The Evaluators do still come to the podium and give a specific evaluation for the person, just like ours. (Well we mostly don’t go to the podium).

General Evaluator

The General Evaluator role is much more all encompassing. Basically they give an evaluation of not only the meetings, but each person who had a role in that meeting who hasn’t been evaluated by someone else. During every meeting, the timer, grammarian, ah-counter, each evaluator, etc all get specific feedback from the General Evaluator. Obviously this takes a little longer than our General Evaluator has, but it is valuable feedback.

Ah-Counter

Both clubs had an Ah-Counter role separate from Grammarian.The Ah-Counter is the one with a buzzer, not the Timer. They are suppose to buzz non-speakers every time they use an Ah so they will become aware of them. Neither of the club’s AC’s were really good about this, but it is an interesting idea. If you don’t do it all the time, then when you do do it it throws the speaker off. I think if it was going off almost constantly, you’d just deal with it and go on.

Table Topics

They did table topics a little different. There was still a Table Topics Master, whose job it was to lead the table topics and ask the questions. But they also had a Table Topics Evaluator, who came up after and gave feedback to each Table Topics Speaker and the Table Topics Master.

The Table Topics Evaluator was also the one who gave out the Table Topics blue ribbon. Small brag time, The Mrs got Best Table Topics at the first meeting we went to and I got it at the second.

The Table Topic question we got at the first meeting was hard. The TTM asked us during the break if we’d be willing to do Table Topics, so people did know it was coming. He even told us the general shape of the question. He said we’d be given the beginning of a story and we had to finish it. When I got asked, the story started something like this….

“You are driving home to Edinburgh along a country road and off in a field you see a man running toward the road. As he gets closer you can see his clothes are all chard and about to fall off. When you stop he comes up to the window and says….”

If found it very hard to jump right into the middle of a story like that. It is also hard to BS your way around it, like you can with many table topics questions.

I also committed a bit of a faux pas at the first meeting. When they called on me, and I was first, I just stood up and did my Table Topic from where I was. Everyone else went to the front. The Evaluator mentioned that in my evaluation.

At the second meeting there was no warning for us before the meeting. They just asked if one of the visiting Toastmasters would like to do a Table Topics question and I said yes.

Timer

They didn’t have our fancy timing lights. Instead they used a notebook with colored pages in it. The timer would flip the page over to change the color. Same colors with the same meaning as our lights.

One thing I did notice was that everyone was only given 30 seconds over, not just people past Competent Communicator. I also don’t think they asked how long the speech was. It was just assumed to be between 4 and 6 minutes. That’s actually probably a better way to do it.

They also timed everything. Their agenda had times next to every role on the agenda, and the Timer and Toastmaster watched where they were during the meeting. During the Timer’s report he told each person how they didn’t on their time.

Grammarian, or rather WordMaster

This role was almost exactly like ours is. One club did use the title Word Master, which I thought quite a bit cooler.

No Introductions

Neither club did introductions for either the speakers or anyone in any role. At the first meeting the General Evaluator mentioned the Toastmaster should have done bios. At the second meeting it wasn’t mentioned.

“Can you do CL?”

At the second meeting they had some missing people, and one bit of juggling they had to do involved finding someone to “do CL”. I had no idea what that meant, but The Mrs sorted it out. Everyone who had a role and was completing their Competent Leader manual gave those manuals to this person. Then he filled the evaluations for all of them during the meeting. Would save you having to find someone to do yours like we do, but seems like quite a job for one person.

Those are my observations about the differences and similarities between the Texan and Scottish Toastmasters meetings. The one thing I will say was very obviously the same were the people and their attitudes. Toastmasters are just friendly, open and ambitious people. They have the same hopes and fears. They are the kind of people who do something about it, even if sometimes it is difficult.

We’ll try and get to some meetings while in London as well.

After Two Weeks In Scotland

It’s an Adventure.

That’s the way I describe our trip to the UK all the time to those who ask why we’re here and to myself. My goal for the trip was to learn what it’s like to live in the UK. It isn’t really a vacation in the sense of seeing the sites, though we’ve done that.

So what have we done and accomplished while in Scotland?

A Tour of Edinburgh

On our first Monday a model friend of mine Danielle and her Scottish boyfriend Jon took us on a walking tour of Edinburgh. Jon gave us an insight into both the touristy/historical stuff on the Royal Mile, and some modern political things. They also showed us an incredibly beautiful forested walk in the center of the city called the Dean Gardens.

There is a pub on the Royal Mile called the World’s End. I thought had to do with the Simon Pegg movie of the same name, but I should have known better. First of all the words “The World’s End” are carved into the street and have been there for hundreds of years.

Jon explained that line was where old Edinburgh ended, stretching from the castle down the royal road. This was the only way to approach the castle and you could put a canon at the top and shoot all comers. In typical Scottish humility it was called The World’s End because that was where the true Scotland ended, hence the end of the world.

Public Transportation

Edinburgh is a pretty walkable city, but that does add quite a bit of time to any trip you might make if you walk everywhere. Plus you will get tired walking all the time. So we’ve been riding the bus a lot. It’s now gotten to the point I’m getting a feel for which buses go where and can catch one without having to look at a schedule.

I will say Edinburgh bus service has a very nice iPhone app. It does a great job of routing you from place to place and tracking your movements once you are on the bus so you have an idea of where to get off. Of course that depends on the driver deciding to actually stop at all the stops listed on the route, which doesn’t alway happen.

You can also buy tickets via a second app. I’m not sure why there are two apps, but there are. You have to buy £10 worth of tickets at a time because of the percentage they have to pay Apple for the in-app purchase. Then you activate the ticket right before you get on the bus and show your phone to the driver. There are two kinds of tickets. A Single which is for one ride from A to B and costs £1.50. A Day Pass which lets you ride all you want for the whole day and costs £3.50. This means we get to figure out if we’re going to do more than one there and back ride in a day to pick which one to use.

Also many of their buses are double decker buses. You may be thinking of the quaint old double decker buses you’ve seen in movies, but they are modern buses with two levels of seats. Most of the one that are single level are hybrids, which is also interesting.

Too Much Together, Too Much Alone

One other thing I’ve noticed, and the thing that has most made me think “Why are we doing this for this long?”, is we’re spending a lot of time just the two of us. We’ve been married 20+ years and enjoy each other’s company, but there are times we start getting on each others nerves.

Couple that with being in a strange country where we basically know no-one and you can feel both crowded and lonely at the same time.

Still we make do. We understand each other enough to know when we need to spend some time apart and one of us will go explore the city or work in a coffee shop to give the other some alone time.

The other – meeting people – is harder. I’ve become quite the introvert and that’s a struggle if I want to meet people in the UK. Heck, now I look back at Abilene and realize that after almost 2 years there I only know a handful of people. How did I expect to make friends here in just a month?

Probably the biggest social occasion we’ve had was visiting Toastmaster clubs here. This was the first place where we’ve had a chance to just meet people and talk. Of course meeting people was one of the reasons we joined Toastmasters in Abilene too.

What To Do Now

That’s my brain dump of what’s been going on during our grand adventure in Scotland. After writing it, I realize I need to be more proactive finding opportunities to meet and talk to people.

Also the Edinburgh Film Festival is coming up in the next couple of weeks and I plan to go to a number of the films and the video game symposium. I also think I need to try and learn something while I’m here, I’m just not sure what.

More to come.