Monday, December 31, 2007

A Plan for 2008

I've read resolutions, wish lists, and need lists for the coming year. I'd like to put forth a plan for my next year. Thanks to Chris Brogan for the motivation to put together this simple but practical plan.

Create at least two original works for non-profits or specific causes, in the digital media space. After taking a Digital Storytelling class at Portland Community Media, I'm excited about applying my skills to help make the world a better place.

Complete a Field Production class and volunteer on two productions to develop my film-making skills. A side-goal is to enroll in yet another PCM course, just not sure what that will be right now.

Create a podcast series dedicated to technology for a better world. Technology is a broad term and in this case I want it to be since I want to be able to interview people involved in many facets of using technology to make the world better. I don't want to mention people at this point since I haven't talked to them, but some of the topics I'd like to cover include

- using mobile technology to improve the lot of people in developing countries
- the social networking sites and their usefulness for non-profits
- digital storytelling

Help the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon: this may come in the form of volunteering on an event and/or working with digital media to promote the organization.

Promote myself as an expert in using digital media and software technology to make the world a better place.

Well, that's all I've got for now. It's a manageable list and practical, just like it should be. My final, but certainly not the least, thanks go to Kilong Ung, my co-worker, friend and super inspiration for all that I do to help others. This past year Kilong and I cemented our friendship through daily walks during our weekday lunch time. I learned a lot about philanthropy and leadership from Kilong who is himself a born leader. Kilong has just stepped down after several years as President of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon although I believe he will still be very involved in helping the new leadership. Thanks Ki, and Happy New Year to all!

Cambodian Children's Education - thank you Nhuong Son

Beth sent me a link to Nhuong Son's blog and in particular the entry about his support for the Sharing Foundation. After reading this you will see why even a little bit of aid for children in such a poor country means so much. Truly inspiring! Thanks Nhuong and Beth! If you agree, consider giving to the Sharing Foundation using the widget on the right side of my blog.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sharing Foundation

I've added a widget on the right side of my blog (down there, see it?) for accepting donations to the Sharing Foundation which provides a lot of help for children in need in Cambodia. Whichever organization receives the largest number of unique donors will receive $50,000. as part of America's Giving Challenge.

I learned of the challenge and the Sharing Foundation from Beth Kanter's blog. Beth, who is on the Executive Board of the foundation, is a tireless advocate of the use of social media in non-profits and provides educational and consulting services as such. Her interest and dedication to the children of Cambodia is awesome.

Please consider the Sharing Foundation as you decide on your year-end (or January 2008) charitable contributions. If enough people donate, we will have helped the Sharing Foundation get an additional $50K to help Cambodian children.

Podcasting with the H2

Part of this week off I've spent researching where to host an audio podcast and playing with my new Zoom H2 mobile recorder. There are plenty of good hosting sites from what I can see but (Liberated Syndication) seems like a good place and it's hosting some very popular podcasts. I like their pricing: you pay for a maximum disk space usage each month starting at 100MB for $5.00 and incrementing from there. So if it looks like you're going to surpass your limit you can just upgrade another $5.00 and get a lot more space per month. Easy.

The H2 is pretty cool. Although I'm no pro when it comes to these devices, I can see that it is packed with a lot of functionality in a small package and at a good price. I recorded my voice at different settings, downloaded the wav files to my pc using the USB interface cable and listened. I'm impressed with the quality of the recording as well as microphone options: 2/4 channel stereo. I recorded to a 4GB SDHC card (that's the largest the H2 supports, but it's plenty given that it reported I had well over six hours of remaining audio space after just recording for about a minute).

So I now know that I can do either in-studio recording (that would be in my home office) or field recording. The H2 comes with a wind sock and a detachable handle for convenient interviewing. I'll have to do some practice to get the sound right, as well as brush up on journalistic interviewing skills. But the real hill to climb for podcasting is going to be getting an audience. Right now my blog is not widely read (but you, dear reader, I do thank you for your attention!) and the blog and podcast topics are not aligned with my full-time career in software engineering like some other technies I know.

But that's no reason to not do it. As one of my heroes, RFK, said

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."

I would like my participation in Social Media (i.e., blogging, podcasting, social media sharing sites like FaceBook) to be used to make the world a better place, not just to have online friends and a place to go to when I'm alone in a coffee shop with my computer. I don't mean to imply that that's not okay for someone. But I've passed the half-century mark and I feel that I can more effectively use my remaining time. Ughh, that sounds gloomy, but it's not meant to.

I'm going to try to narrow the focus of my blog (maybe I'll create a separate blog for personal news of interest mostly to my family and closest friends) and align the podcast with it. So I've got to get thinking about how to do this. Any advice from readers is very welcome!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Homecoming and a Digital Media Holiday

I'm looking forward to my time off from work after Christmas. The best part will be having my daughter (right) back with us in Portland after a semester in Quebec where she has immersed herself in the French language, both Quebecois and native French. It's a nice feeling to see your children reaching out into worldly spheres where you yourself have not been (in this case, the language immersion) but there's no substitute for a hug and a smile and hours of good conversation with them as you see them growing up in front of your eyes. Ken and Laura have given us so much to be proud of in the last few years and we look forward to celebrating the (immediate) family reunion. Laura will be graduating in June from Portland State University while Ken has just achieved second in the district in personal banking sales at Wells Fargo.

The other part of my holiday vacation will be all about digital media. As I've said in an earlier post, I completed a digital storytelling class this fall and am actively seeking out projects to practice the craft. I'm putting a proposal together to develop a story about the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland. For the past half year, as a volunteer, I have been scanning thousands of the Arboretum's photographic slides for digital storage. It's been an incredibly tedious task but I'm one to two hours from completing the project. The digital story I'd like to tell would ideally be told, in voice-over, by the staff and maybe former staff of the Arboretum.

I'm also hoping to work with some NGOs doing good work in Cambodia, as a way to continue perfecting my craft, as a way to promote their work or cause, and as my continuing education on that developing country's history and progress.

Another part of my digital media holiday will be devoted to research into setting up a podcasting program dedicated to social causes. I'd like to interview people involved in specific issues such as the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), Cambodian development, microfinance and sustainable approaches used in developing countries. I'm hoping that I can develop an audience for such a podcast and possibly tie in an online donation process that will allow listeners to contribute to the various causes promoted by interviewees.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Stopping human trafficking

KI Media, a great blog whose subtitle is "Dedicated to publishing sensitive information about Cambodia," has posted a guest commentary by Laurence Gray, a World Vision Regional Advocacy Director, in which he points out that the Mekong region of southeast Asia "has a reputation as a hotspot for the trafficking of young people, most notoriously into the underage sex scene." The article refers to a report commissioned by World Vision and the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater-Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP) and called "Sex, Sun and Heritage: Tourism threats and opportunities in South East Asia." The report makes recommendations for prevention and awareness-raising campaigns, as well as recommendations for protection of children and prosecution of criminals. One recommendation was for stiff economic fines applied, for example, to bars which hire under-age girls.

Tourist dollars being spent in Cambodia and other south east Asian countries is increasing. One way that we can fight this problem is to contribute toward meaningful employment of adults in these areas. Another is to support the organizations that rehabilitate children who have suffered in human trafficking. My suggestion is that whenever you plan on vacationing in south east Asia, do some web research beforehand on organizations which you can visit and donate some of your vacation funds to their causes. It's the least we can do if we're enjoying the history, culture and natural beauty of these countries.

Of course you don't have to travel to make a donation. Two organizations I've become familiar with recently, and which I plan on supporting, are Transitions Cambodia (see my last posting), and Digital Divide Data, of which I've also recently written.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Transitions Cambodia and the film, Holly

There are over two million children being trafficked for sex around the world. Last night I saw the important film Holly along with many members and friends of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon. It tells the story of a Vietnamese girl of around 12 years old who is sold into slavery by her family. Shes ends up in a hotel/brothel in Phnom Penh. Ron Livingston, the star of Office Space, plays an American who is disgusted when offered Holly for sex by the hotel manager. He befriends the girl and with that learns how the world of sex trafficking is ruining the lives of so many children and teenagers.

This was a well-written and directed film, the reviews of which should help to get more people into the theaters to see it. Our audience was fortunate to have Azi Ezroni, the film's producer, and James Pond, founder and Executive Director of Transitions Cambodia, available after the film to speak and answer questions. Azi told about the threats to their lives in filming this story in Cambodia and how she was detained for several days before being allowed to bring the film with her out of the country. James, who I briefly met at the Cambodia Backstage fundraiser a few months back, created Transitions Cambodia to assist victims of sex trafficking, providing counseling, a safe home, education and adult life skills training. Here is a snippet of their mission statement:

At TCI we believe that the imperative goal is not to remove a girl from one form of abuse, only to place her into a situation that will further her abuse or trauma. While shelters provide some necessary services to a small percentage of trafficking victims, it has a limited application. Research and experience has shown that young women coming from sexually exploitive situations are in need of being involved in making decisions in regard to their own futures. They need to have a broader scope of expression in their living situations, community, and family environments. We work with our clients to help them discover themselves, explore their possibilities, and begin the process of crossing from one place to a better place.

I was fortunate enough to sit next to someone who is doing some marketing work with Transitions Cambodia and I hope that, with the film and digital media education that I'm getting, I can create something of promotional value for the organization.

If you're in the Portland area, I strongly recommend you go to see Holly at the Regal Fox Tower. If you're not in this area, check out the film website for locations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winter Organic Farmer's Meal

Mmmm! This was probably the most satisfying vegetarian meal I've ever had. Maria made it entirely from organic produce we receive in weekly deliveries from Organics To You. Most of their produce is from local farms. In the case of this meal, all of it may be with the exception of the pinto beans and the olive oil (although both are organic). Starting from the top of the plate, we have Chiogga beets with their distinctive red and white rings, roasted red and purple potatoes, boiled acorn squash and carrots then enhanced with a brown sugar and butter glaze, kale sauteed with pinto beans and caramelized onions, and finally an artichoke. I didn't actually eat the artichoke, not my favorite vegetable, but put it on the plate for the shot.

This morning Maria said that she was thinking of making a vegetable smorgasbord but after eating it, when I asked her what she would call it, she said it is a winter farmer's meal. So there you have it. Thanks honey!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Technology and Service in Cambodia

I've been doing a lot of reading about Cambodia lately including Michael Freeman's book, various blogs and some MDG materials. Tonight I came across a growing social business named Digital Divide Data (DDD) that is set up as a 503-C in the US and as an NGO in Cambodia. DDD's mission is two-part: to deliver high-quality digitization services to clients (one of which is the Harvard Crimson newspaper, and to provide to their employees "fair wages, health care, education, and career advancement opportunities". Many of the employees, moreover, have physical challenges suffered because of land-mines, polio or other misfortunes of their poverty-striken lives in Cambodia.

I can't say enough about an organization like DDD. They not only bring technology work to a country trying to raise itself out of poverty, but they bring work to the very people who have the most difficulty finding work: the physically challenged!

Their latest newletter reports that their employment has now reached 450 (from an original 18 in 2001) with an annual budget of $1.5 million, sixty percent of which is from earned revenues with the remainder from donations. There are a lot of people in need of work in Cambodia, both in the city of Phnom Penh and in the countryside. You can participate in DDD's mission to raise up this wonderful country by helping their employees with their education. DDD has a scholarship program where an employee (referred to as an operator since they operate using computers) pays half of their educational costs and the donor pays the rest. They ask for $240. per year from a donor to cover the educational costs of the scholarship.

If you're moved by this type of investment in a country's and a person's future, go to their web site and look at some of the videos. They are moving.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Art of Possibility

Ben and Rosamund Zander, in their book The Art of Possibility, speak about operating within the realm of possibility as opposed to constraints. It's a similar message to Frances Moore Lappe's message from her book, Getting a Grip. Kilong Ung also speaks of this in another way. The viewpoint that they all share, of abundance as opposed to scarcity and constraints, applies to how we each see ourselves in the world. Yes, there are scarce natural resources and constraints do exist on our lives. But, as the Zanders put it, there is a difference between survival and survival-thinking. The former has to do with having the necessary inputs and environment in which to survive, something that can be applied directly to poorest of the poor in this world on a daily basis. Survival-thinking, on the other hand, is how a person who is not dealing with daily survival perceives their actions and behaviors. 'I have to drive to work because of the distance I need to travel.' 'I have to continue working toward a fat retirement because otherwise I will end up losing out when the time comes to retire.' These are some examples of survival-thinking.

Rather than think that way, why not look at the possibilities we have. Sure I've got to keep working to pay my mortgage, but there are so many ways that I can help solve problems in this world.' Ok, I'm not a marketing writer so I don't have the cute phrases to catch your interest. But you get the point.

Papert-style education and locative media devices

Seymour Papert, formerly an MIT professor and now at the University of Maine, is famous for his studies and publications on enhancing students' creativity in education with the use of technology. He professes the use of constructionist learning as opposed to instructionist learning. See this Papert speech for more information.

I just came across an interesting project named Frequency1550 by Waag, an organization in the Netherlands whose original mission was
"to make new media available for groups of people that have little access to computers and internet, thus increasing their quality of living."

Frequency1550 is a mobile game uses 3G cell phones and GPS devices to transport students back to medieval Amsterdam where they compete with other students to find answers about the city in those days. Although I love the idea of putting the control in the hands of the students, this is part of the constructivist learning strategy, I was surprised that students can sabotage other students by planting bombs to go off in particular locations.

Creative Media For the Community

I'm finishing up a Digital Storytelling course at Portland Community Media this week. This course has been a gentle, but exciting, introduction to creating a story with digital images, voice over, music soundtrack and Photoshop-created graphics. Taught by a born storyteller, Tim Rooney, a staffer at PCM, the course is geared toward digital media newbies interested in learning the art of digital storytelling to tell their own personal or a community-interest story. No video is used in this course, just still images and graphics. The goal of the course is to have each student become familiar with the basics of these tools: PhotoShop, Apple's Final Cut Express and GarageBand, and to learn how to tell a simple story. My story is entitled From East to West and is about my move from the east to the west coast. From the many themes that I could have chosen, I decided to focus on my own personal feelings, in particular what may have (or not) motivated me to want to move and what places I have here in Portland that replaces some important places to me in the Boston area. It won't be a perfect project. The idea is to get your feet wet with the tools and finish the project. So Tuesday night I plan on finishing it in the three hours alloted to me during class. If it's not done in time, I hope to be able to finish it very soon, before Tim chooses the time to have the stories aired on cable tv and put on the PCM web.

I'm really stoked about this medium of communication! I've always wanted to apply myself to the creative arts, having tried drawing, watercolor painting, photography, acting and guitar. I never got enough traction with any of them. But the combination of left and right brain synergy that is required to do great digital storytelling feels just right to me. I get to be technical (I'm sure my programming will enter the fray at some time in the future of a project) and I get to apply my creative instincts.

After completing this first project I will be looking for another project to do. I might even take the other PCM digital storytelling class which includes video. As Maria embarks on her para-legal education in January, I will be embarking on my new, exciting hobby.

Now... how can I use this new found talent to help eradicate poverty, or make for better communities in the Portland area, or help reduce the effects of global warming, or get people to eat locally and organic more?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Getting a Grip on Democracy

I've been away from blogging for a couple of weeks now. The last week has been tough because of the flu which I've had since Saturday. Feeling tonight like I'm finally getting over it.

I just read Getting A Grip by Frances Moore Lappe of Small Planet Institute. It's a short work in reading but powerful and lasting in ideas. She encourages us to move from our thin democracy to a living democracy where instead of seeing issues, we see entry points. There are so many issues or problems in the world and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Frances suggests finding entry points which can be any way for you to address one of the issues. One of her examples involves a community in Texas that was upset that local businesses were not hiring local Hispanic workers. Rather than simply protest that, the community got to the root cause and discovered that people needed training. So they started a locally-funded program to train and educate citizens for better jobs. There are so many entry points. You just have to look for them. I realized that I wanted to do more as part of my job and in reviewing an internal web site, I discovered that there is a representative from each company location on my employer's charitable giving committee. But not one from the Portland area as we were just acquired this past year. So I volunteered, was accepted onto the committee and am contributing by identifying local organizations that will be recipients of the company's charitable contributions, both in the form of direct contributions and through gift drives.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Young bicyclist killed on W. Burnside

This is tragic. A nineteen-year-old art student, riding in a bike lane, was killed by a truck on West Burnside Street in Portland yesterday. If you've got a bike and live in the Portland area, come to the memorial ride tonight, Friday, at 6:30pm starting at the west side of the Burnside Bridge.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Solar and Sustainable Tour

Maria and I attended the West Linn Solar & Sustainable Tour this past Saturday even though we don't live in the town. There were two interesting presentations, one by Chris Morgan, a resident who has used photo-voltaic cells to generate electricity and heat hot water, and two people from the Clackamas River Water Providers that serves West Linn. Some of the interesting take-aways:

If you have the land, you can get some of your space and water heating done using geothermal heat, i.e., heat in the ground.

Solar electricity is a lot more affordable than it used to be. But you need to take into account the long-term payback; it is not a small investment. Chris' estimates per Kwh for solar electricity was between $7.50 and $9.00. If you use 6000 Khw per year, that is between $45,000 and $54,000. There are a number of ways to calculate the payback, but there are intangibles that go with the investment as well. As Chris put it in a handout:
"Now whenever the sun shines we notice it and smile, and as silly as it may seem, after putting in the panels we both marvel even more at all the beauties of the Earth. There is tremendous satisfaction knowing that you are living in harmony with your world..."

In the world of water, using an ultra low flow toilet can save a typical household between 8,000 and 12,000 gallons of water per year.

Take shorter showers to save water. We picked up a little conservation kit that included something called a "Shower Coach" that is a five-minute hourglass encased in a plastic molding that latches onto a shower stall. I've got my showers down from near ten minutes to five to six minutes with the help of the coach.

It's more fun doing these types of events together than solo. Maria is energized to reduce our footprint and we're talking seriously about bringing solar PV contractors in for estimates.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Tonight's Ecological Footprint class featured a presentation by Charlie Stephens of Adjuvant Consulting. Charlie is a seventeen-year veteran of the Oregon Department of Energy and an expert on energy systems for homes. As someone in the class said to me afterwards, he should be where Al Gore is, giving his presentation to the masses. I learned a bit about heat pumps, phantom energy use, and how much it is going to take for everyone in America to avoid an energy crisis (50% reduction in space heating and cooling in our homes to begin with). A daunting task but something that we must get to work on now. Here is a link to a pdf of a similar presentation that he made.

I was pretty tired when I got home tonight, so I tried to go to bed after taking the dogs out. But I couldn't sleep because I was troubled by the enormity of the task of figuring out what to do to (pick one) (a) save the planet, (b) help starving children, (c) keep more of the kids in the US from being so idle that they turn to crime or drugs...

In my last post I challenged readers to state or to think about what they are or could be doing to give our children hope for the future. So here's my own answer. Although I have some technical skills with computers, the thing that I get most excited about is opening up possibilities for others. This can be in the form of tutoring a student in math, getting neighbors to think about the climate crisis, or contributing money toward the building of a theatre to give young artists in Cambodian villages a stable place to practice their art.

Tonight, after hearing Charlie Stephens describe several ways to enhance existing home hot water heating systems, I raised my hand and explained that this information was great for the twenty-five or so people there in the room who would take this information home and maybe think of applying it, but the real issue is how do we get the larger population motivated to do something about this? It is the answer to that question that motivates me. I can study how to improve my own house's ecological footprint but how do I not only reach a lot of people but actually help move them toward significantly reducing their footprints and embracing renewable resources?

This summer I was exposed to the slow food movement which led Maria and I to subscribing to an organic produce delivery service. Eating local, eating organic, they became a passion (they still are, just more routine now that we have a regular delivery). And I'm pleased with the progress that that switch to eating more local food is also reducing our ecological footprint. Taking this message to others, encouraging others to eat local and organic, is another way to feed the hope of our children. Geez this is almost sounding like one of those tv commercials about giving twenty dollars to feed a hungry child. But it feels real, even if it sounds cliche.

A Healthy Sense of Hope

Here's an inspiring story written by Sonja Waters of about how those of us who are parents (and yes, the non-parents of our generation) have to help our children (and other peoples' children) develop a healthy sense of hope about the future. The story is punctuated with a somewhat humorous dialog between Sonja, her teenage daughter who is having climate nightmares and her mother (the grandmother in the story). There was a lot that our generation (essentially the baby-boomers) have done for clean water, clean air and tolerance of differences in our society, but the gloom and doom of the future exists for our kids. They see big, big problems, melting ice caps, suicide-bombers, the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, and wonder whether the world will end in their generation.

So what are we doing about giving them a sense of hope? We tell children not to talk to strangers, to avoid fast-food (at least most of the time) and to study really hard to get ahead (ahead of whom?). Are we really preparing them well for the future? I've worked hard for over twenty years in my career, a testament to my children that hard works sort of pays off. Both of my children understand the importance of working hard. But that's not enough. As role models for the young (yes, that's us, not Kobe, certainly not Roger Clemens, maybe, maybe Tom Brady) we should be doing our best to make the world a better place for our children and that requires effort.

So, what are you doing to make the world a better place for our children?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reduce the Hype, Get the Real Numbers on Alternative Energy Sources

Heather and Martin referred me to this book by a British physicist for learning how to assess the real impact of various forms of renewable energy. The book is in draft form right now. Just reading the Preface, I'm hooked! The author, University of Cambridge physicist David MacKay, explains that he had to understand why two professionals, one a physicist, the other an economist, could write books about the global energy crisis and have completely opposite points of view: one claiming oil will run out and the other that there is no crisis. MacKay saw similar disagreements among noted professionals on topics such as nuclear energy and renewable forms. To understand the problem better, he wrote this book that looks at just the facts, the numbers, applied to energy sources. He explains that he wants the reader to be able to make sense of policy decisions. In his words:

"The aim of this book is to help you figure out the numbers and do the arithmetic so that you can evaluate policies; to lay a factual foundation so that you can see which proposals add up."

If you are at all concerned about energy and environmental issues, you should consider reading some or all of this book. Let's reduce the hype and get the real numbers on alternative energy sources.

An Adventure in Reducing my Ecological Footprint

This past Tuesday evening I attended the second class in the Ecological Footprint class I'm enrolled in. As homework, we were supposed to walk, bike, or take public transit for at least one errand we would normally do by car. I chose to take TriMet's light rail from the Sunset Transit Center in Beaverton to downtown Portland and walk between there and the class over on 1st and Columbia. Although it took me a little longer to get to the class, it was far more exciting, educational and peaceful than driving Skyline to the Sylvan entrance to 26 and then 26 to Market Street in downtown.

I've taken the light rail several times before (in my eleven plus years in Portland, that's not nearly enough, I know!) but this was an adventure. When I arrived at the transit center I went up to one of the ticket machines to purchase my ticket. From the brief information I found on the machine, I figured I needed a two-zone pass, which is $1.75 for a two-hour ticket. As some people who know me locally know, I pay for most things with cash these days. With only a $20. bill and a $1. bill in my wallet, I put the twenty into the machine. Out came my ticket and my change: ALL in coins, mostly the new one-dollar coins shown below.

Since my train was scheduled to arrive at any moment, I was in a bit of a hurry so I didn't count the change until later, when I realized that TriMet ripped me off on the order of two to three bucks! Geez! But no worries, it didn't upset me as much as notify me that I need to use more forethought when I'm about to buy tickets from those machines.

After my class, which focused on eating locally and eating less meat, both more sustainable than not knowing where your food comes from and eating lots of meat, I walked back to the transit mall area for the ride home. At the ticket machine (replica shown below),
I pressed the button for a $1.75 ticket and then tried to insert my newly-acquired one-dollar coins. The coin slot was blocked, didn't open. I tried forcing a coin in it and that didn't work. So I thought, well, maybe you place the coin sideways into this larger circular area and it slides down. Well, it sort of took my coin, but it didn't slide very far. Stupid me, I pushed it and eventually it slid down, somewhere into the belly of the machine. At that point a screaming and loud siren sound came blasting out of the machine! People gathered around me as I explained that all I did was try to insert a coin. The siren went on for about a minute I think after which it just stopped. No ticket, no indication that my one-dollar coin was used to deduct from the $1.75 charge for the ticket. Soon after a train came by but it was going to Gresham not towards Beaverton. I realized I was on the wrong platform and walked the two blocks to the westbound platform where I was able to buy a ticket from a "working" ticket machine! Whew!

The last part of this adventure was a thirty-minute delay near PGE Park where the train broke down. Fortunately I had a book to read.

Monday, September 24, 2007

One Laptop Per Child (and One for your child)

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program started at MIT that had the goal of creating a $100 laptop for children in developing countries has announced an offer for donors to not only donate a machine to a child in a developing country but to get one for their own child to use. The program will be for a short time in November and is revealed here. The original $100 price-tag goal, however, has been raised to $188. And the program requires you to pay $399. for the two laptops, one going to a child in a poverty-striken area and the other to you.

This gives OLPC an opportunity to expand the distribution of the laptops throughout the world while generating excitement about them among families in the developed world. For kids interested in programming, it provides an additional opportunity for developing and testing software for the machine. Presumably a separate Linux machine would be necessary for software development; not sure.

Intel's Classmate PC is their own attempt to inject a low-cost laptop into the developing world. Apparently Nigeria has adopted it in some of their villages because it runs Windows, which presumably will give high-school age students a better chance of getting work. That's Intel's claim I believe, not mine.

Alternative Energy Sources

I've been corresponding with a friend in the Washington, D.C. area about setting up a non-profit oriented toward alternative energy sources such as solar. Although there are a lot of sources out there for energy information, not everyone knows how to get started. I'll post more about this as we make progress in our planning and are ready to go public with the organization.

In the meantime, a local friend has just blogged about the wild and crazy idea of bicyclists storing up electrical energy generated while riding and then selling that energy at a depot or energy station, with the accumulated juice going back into the local electrical grid. I think that this is a great idea. There are already some home-made electricity generators based on stationary bikes and some cell-phone chargers hooked up to bikes. Think about the possibility of having cheap electricity generated by thousands of people and making that electricity available to the community to reduce demands on fossil fuels. Think further about that idea being applied in a developing country where the electricity powers local industry, raising the country's per capita income in a sustainable economy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ecological Footprint

I went to my first Ecological Footprint class tonight. Offered by the Center for Earth Leadership in Portland, the class started out with a general overview of sustainability and what an ecological footprint is. Dan Bower, Transportation Options Policy Program Manager for the City of Portland then gave a very interesting slide presentation in which he explained why Portland is a model city for sustainable living. Focusing primarily on bicycling in the city, he explained the Bicycle Boulevard concept. Here's a quote from the Transportation Options website:

"Bicycle boulevards are not striped with bicycle lanes, so they are not always visible to new or potential riders as good bicycling streets. They do have amenities that make them work well for people riding bicycles, including crossing treatments at major intersections; traffic calming to keep auto speeds slow; and a stop sign pattern providing cyclists with a better flow along the street."

Bicycle commuting has increased dramatically in Portland since we came here in 1996. In that year about 5,000 bicyclists had crossed a group of four surveyed bridges in a day. It's now up to 14,000 cyclists! The city and some businesses offer cash benefits to employees who do not drive to work, bicycling, walking and/or taking mass transit instead. I'm curious if surrounding communities (Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham) have incentives for businesses to encourage their employees to not drive. There is a business tax credit available in the city of Portland.

Some interesting web links from the class:,

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Clinical Economics

Jeffrey Sachs' description of the developing world in terms of an economic development ladder is vivid. Through engaging stories, he shows the difference between Africans in Malawi who have not a toehold on the development ladder and Bangladesh women and young Chinese professionals who are, with their countries, on the ladder and on their way to escaping poverty hopefully forever.

Early in The End of Poverty, Sachs then relates the key paradigm shift that he made and which he professes for understanding and eradicating poverty: clinical economics. His wife is a pediatrician and no doubt his observance of her skill and practice of solving late-night emergencies has helped him to develop his concept of clinical practice applied to developing country economics. Sachs took four lessons from clinical medicine: (1) the human body is a complex system, (2) complexity requires a differential diagnosis, (3)all medicine is family medicine and (4) monitoring and evaluation are essential. Just like the human body, a country's economy is a complex system and diagnosing it requires more than looking at a severe budget deficit and runaway inflation (the two symptoms of Bolivia's problems when Sachs first got involved in development consulting back in the mid-1980s). The diagnosis for Bolivia, for example, required an understanding of its economy in terms of geography (it is land-locked), its political and social systems and the fact that its primary exports have been high-dollar value per weight items such as tin which were necessary to overcome the high costs of transporting it to ports from the high Andes. If you're browsing a bookstore and come across this book, don't forget to look at the table on page 84 entitled "Checklist for Making a Differential Diagnosis." Pretty comprehensive. Sachs is one of the main players in the Millenium Development Goals, a UN initiative to eradicate extreme poverty and improve the health of people around the world.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

An example of seeing the forest AND the trees

I've been fairly active this weekend. On Friday night I got some help from a few of the mechanics at The Bike Gallery on NE Sandy Boulevard. They recommended replacing the tires on one of the bikes Kilong and I are donating to indigent girls in North Portland. And they fixed the brakes on the other bike. With my pleading, the mechanics were able to knock ten percent off the cost of parts.

Then on Saturday morning, I met Kilong's family in their neighborhood and we all walked the bikes up the street to the girls' residence. They were very happy to have bikes! I also got to meet their brothers, little guys with a lot of energy who kept us company as Kilong showed me around part of his neighborhood. I found out that Kilong's wife Lisa later purchased bicycle helmets for the girls and their brother!

We walked around the New Columbia neighborhood, drank coffee at AJ Java, talked with another neighbor about elderly services and events, picked apples from a tree and generally had a good time in this jewel of a community. The coffee shop, AJ Java, I have since learned, has an owner dedicated to enriching the lives of disadvantaged children. The community has its own paid security force which is housed in a building that just blends in as just another house or apartment. Children are encouraged to keep the parks and greenspaces litter-free. Not with ugly signs saying not to litter, but through direct encouragement from community leaders who themselves are residents of the community. Knowing that the Liberian girls to whom we donated the bikes live in this neighborhood really lifts me up!

That was by far the highlight of my weekend. After that, I went to the Hoyt Arboretum where I am in the process of scanning all of their photographic slides into a computer so that the photos can be accessed electronically. I started earlier in the summer and am about halfway done. Hopefully I can finish the entire task by end of the year. We have also talked about how to use the images, such as extending their database to contain pointers to the image filenames. One of the horticulturists on the staff once told me about a larger arboretum that had a setup throughout their grounds where visitors could get information, read from a database, displayed on a handheld (bluetooth-enabled) device. That's cool and I'm sure the Hoyt will get there someday.

I've read through a few chapters in Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty. He believes we can end 'extreme poverty' which is what about one billion people on our planet are experiencing. They struggle on a daily basis for survival and have not yet reached even the first rung on the ladder of economic development. I'm heartened that he firmly believes that we can eradicate this poverty within our lifetime, and not with a drastic alteration of our own well-being. I'll post more as I continue reading.

Finally, I saw the movie Hotel Rwanda last night. Besides feeling the shame at not trying to get our government to do something about that when it happened, I was struck by the courage of Paul, the real-life character who was Assistant Manager at a resort hotel in the country and helped save twelve-hundred lives by housing refugees in the hotel during the genocide. While watching the movie, I reflected on the fact that Kilong told me that the six-year-old Liberian boy in his neighborhood remembered and could tell what he experienced in his country before they had to leave it. These events brought home to me the tragedy of our times and how it is not just something we can sit back and shake our heads at before we switch the TV channel or sit down to another home-made meal.

A good example of seeing the forest AND the trees.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

One person at a time

When someone he knows does a good deed for another person, my friend Kilong may say to that person that he "is now part of a force that makes the world a better place, one person at a time." In today's sound-bite world, it may seem just like part of the background but let me explore exactly what this means to me, personally.

Like most people, I want to make the world a better place. I want the war in Iraq to end, poverty to be eradicated throughout the world, child abuse to go away, etc. Choose your poison, there are a lot of ills in today's world. How can I be part of a force that makes the world a better place?

A "force" is something powerful. Merriam-Webster Online defines it as strength or energy exerted or brought to bear. It is from Latin's fortis meaning strong. Another way of putting it is, to have force is to have influence. So how can I be a force, an influence, on the ills of society? And how do I do it one person at a time?

My son mentioned an interest in volunteering to me the other day. I pointed him to Hands On Portland. Kilong, learning that I was a fairly avid bicyclist, asked if I could find a way to obtain bikes for two ten-year-old Liberian girls who live in his neighborhood. We're delivering those bikes this weekend, thanks to the generosity of two wonderful residents of Sandy, Oregon who discounted them 66% from their original, craigslist-advertised prices. One person at a time.

I don't care what you think of me about writing about this. I'm not interested in getting credit for any of this. But I won't be quiet if, by telling my story, I can help you to be a part of a force to make the world a better place, one person at a time. As Kilong so astutely wrote me in regard to the bikes, "it's not about the bikes."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Technology and Microfinance

This article in MIT's Technology Review magazine highlights a UW grad student named Tapan Parikh who has applied a whole lot of common sense to the problem of poverty in the developing world. As the subtitle states, he applies 'simple, powerful mobile tools' which are software programs that he develops for mobile phones. Tapan spent a lot of time in the field learning how people performed their work, whether they were fair-trade coffee farmers or fishermen, and then crafted software that would assist them in making their business successful. As an example, a fisherman in India could determine which port to head for to sell their catch, avoiding ports where the market is glutted on a particular day. Tapan believes in decentralization and his products are being used in the traditionally decentralized area of microfinance.

Contrast this with Mifos, an open source microfinance software project sponsored by The Grameen Foundation. This project's core is a freely-available MIS system for microfinance institutions. The Grameen Foundation is providing the initial leadership and funding for the project but is actively seeking developers and other technology pros to participate in this open-source project with the goal of making it an industry-wide effort.

These are two great examples of applying technology expertise to the problem of poverty by enabling more successful microfinance ventures. I'm excited about both of these projects. Whether they are conflicting models or will someday meet in the middle is hard to say. But there are smart people applying themselves to an increasingly dire situation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Family

I've been back to blogging for about a month now, covering events and causes of importance, and it has been a lot of fun. Along with these things I care about, there is a wonderful family that I want to recognize. They are my rock and always keep life interesting and fun.

I've been married for almost twenty-five years to my lovely wife Maria. Born on a farm outside of Rome, Italy, and living only a five-minute walk away for the twenty-something years before we met, Maria is one of the reasons I'm who I am today. That's a long story for another time. Today, she is a metaphysical counselor and sole proprietor of the Inner Peace Connection.

We have two children who, and yes this is a cliche but it is so true, we are so proud of! Ken is our oldest and is a personal banker at Wells Fargo while continuing his college studies in the evening. We sometimes wonder how he went from the rebellious teenager to the professional, courteous and kind adult we know today, but then we never shy away from taking credit for him. Here's Ken during one of his Patriot moments as we sat waiting for the Pats to take on Indy last November in Gillette Stadium (yes that's in Massachusetts for my Oregonian friends).

Last but not least is my daughter, Laura, who is just a little over a year younger than her brother. She is in Quebec this fall as an exchange student at an all-French-speaking university. That sort of tells you what Laura's all about -- learn something then dive right in and immerse yourself. She's blogging about it too. When she comes back to Portland, Laura will be graduating from PSU after the spring 2008 term. I'm glad she's frugal and sensible; doesn't want a Lamborgini for a graduation present :)

So that's my immediate family. Pretty cool people, huh? Well, I certainly think so.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Portland Century

This past weekend I rode the Quarter Century (25 miles) in a relatively new Portland bike event called the Portland Century. On Saturday, the day before the event, I helped out by posting course markers throughout North Portland along the tail end of the 50 and 100 mile routes. It was a learning experience -- finding bike trails I didn't know about. An exhausting day but I'm glad I did it since I saw how much goes into such an event. The day of the ride was a breeze. I could have easily done the 50 miles but when I came to the crossroads where the 25-mile turned off, I decided to err on the side of caution given that I haven't biked a whole lot this summer.

Along the route, the organizers had set up rest stops (just one for the Quarter Century, which was just enough) and to my surprise there was a delicious strawberry shortcake and other treats waiting. I also met up with a few other riders, Bob and Farrah and Beth. Everyone was just so friendly! At the finish line back at the North Park Blocks, we were treated to a fresh wild salmon dinner with organic produce provided, I think, by Pioneer Organics (the competitor to the service we use, Organics To You) and a raspberry cobbler. Oh, I can't forget the free beer provided by Widmer Brewing. I spent about three hours on the ride, including the break, and another three hours after the event, talking with fellow riders as we drank and ate to our hearts' content. The picture of yours truly accompanying this post was taken by fellow rider Bob.

The remaining proceeds of the event fees goes to Hands On Portland which is where I first heard of the volunteer call for the course markers. Thanks y'all!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Take Back the Tap

Anna Lappe, here, wrote about a really important water resources issue that has a steep slope to climb: that slope I see as the "convenience" of bottled water. It's so easy to go from "I want to take care of my body, so I don't drink soda." to "Going for a hike, it would be nice to tote some water. Oh, darn I don't have a reusable drink container so I'll just buy a case of that bottled water from the supermarket." When you examine this, you realize that there are great opportunities for saving money as well as improving the environment while continuing to drink water instead of soda pop.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eat Local Challenge

One of the blogs I subscribe to is the Eat Local Challenge, and they are urging folks to participate in a month-long challenge for September. I'm in! Maria and I subscribe to Organics To You, a delivery service from which we receive delicious, fresh produce (vegetables & fruit) from an array of local farms. This covers a lot of the food we eat but not all of it by any means. I want to find some good sources of grass-fed, locally-grown chickens, lamb and beef. We eat a fair amount of chicken and much less lamb and beef. So part of my challenge to myself is to find these sources before September 1st.

I've cut down to almost nothing my intake of dairy milk, replacing it with rice milk for my morning cereal (which has been Puffins of late). For the Challenge, I'll have to find a local source of this milk if it exists, and of cereal. These are not going to be as easy to find, I'm afraid, and may have to be my exceptions.

If I continue to bring lunch to work, I can avoid the local restaurant fare and stay true to the Challenge. This has worked well for me for the past few weeks. Cutting out the free chocolate from the company reception area will be tough, even though I justified it because of the benefits of dark chocolate!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Buy a brick to build the theater

Last Thursday night, I attended a fund-raising event at The Monkey and The Rat store in Old Town. The event was to raise funds to build a permanent theater in rural Cambodia for The Reasmey Angkor Bassac Theatre Troupe, which is the last remaining traveling theater in Cambodia. The atrocities brought on the people of Cambodia by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 - 1979 also nearly obliterated the cultural life of these wonderful Southeast Asian people.

Initiated by the Portland-based actress and philanthropist, Helena de Crespo, the fund-raising event was both fun and instructive. My good friend Kilong Ung was the master of ceremonies and his personal involvement with Cambodian causes (he is the president of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon) shined through in his inspiring introductions and encouraging words. The highlight of the night was the dancing of Cambodian teenagers who performed the Coconut Dance, a traditional Khmer dance.

After their show, the dancers were individually introduced to the audience and it was then that I learned how much the Cambodian community is thriving in Oregon. One student is headed to Stanford University in the fall to begin college and another to Columbia University. They are all involved in either sports or music programs as well. When I talked to one of the students, Sidney, who had been selected as a member of the Caddy program through his involvement in The First Tee golf program for youth, I met a confident young man who is thinking positively about his future.

Helene de Crespo needs to raise $10,000. to build the theater. At the event, each person that contributed at least $10. will have their name displayed in both English and Khmer on the legacy wall within the theater. Donations are being handled through Village Focus International, a non-profit 501c3 organization.

Here are some pictures from the evening:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Healthier Food in Schools

How to educate our children is a question answered in a multitude of ways, and there is enough controversy over it that it is often difficult to get clear information on the results of applying different educational techniques or systems. But one thing that I firmly believe is not controversial is that our children should learn good habits while they are in a formal school system. The diet of school-age (K-12) children is something that schools can teach through the practice of providing healthy meals and snacks. Soda machines and highly-processed foods have no place in a school.

To this end, US citizens have an opportunity to promote healthier food delivery in schools through a couple of measures currently going through the US House and Senate. Please follow these links to learn about these measures, sign the petition and send a note to your senators and congressmen. Thanks.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cambodia Backstage

Through a good friend, Kilong Ung, I have come to learn and care about the work being done to rebuild the country of Cambodia that went through years of horror at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Next Thursday, August 16th from 7pm to 10pm, a free event called Cambodia Backstage will highlight the live arts of that beautiful country. It will be held at The Monkey and The Rat at 131 NW 2nd Ave and Davis. Here is a map.

Actress and philanthropist Helena de Crespo is trying to raise $10,000 to build a theater that will be the only indoor theatrical performance center in rural Cambodia. Attendees to this event can help by sponsoring bricks. For $10 per brick, a sponsor would get his/her name imprinted on the brick in both the Cambodian and English alphabets.

Please consider attending this event if you're in Portland next Thursday evening.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kudos to Allan Classen of The NW Examiner

I look forward to getting The NW Examiner, a free monthly newspaper covering northwest Portland. Reading about new businesses in the area, local events and politics gives me a feeling of community in the rapidly privatized world we live in. Allan Classen, Editor and Publisher of the paper, pleasantly surprised me with his view on the blogosphere. At first I thought he was going to rant about how non-professionals are taking away the attention of readers who should be reading what the professional journalists write in brick and mortar (and paper) publications. Instead, he praised blogs because they are so up front with their opinions and do not attempt to walk an objective point of view to satisfy a theoretical standard. Classen states that

"While most of the conventional news stories I see serve only to spark speculation about what's happening between the lines, some local bloggers are steps ahead: pursuing angles I haven't even thought about."

And the different points of view that he gets in the blog replies adds to the enjoyment and the variety of points of view.

Kudos to Mr. Classen for his article (which appears in the Editor's Turn column on page 3 of the August issue)!

This evening while in my car on the way to a walk in northwest Portland, I heard Bill Moyers on the radio railing about the establishment media and their control over Americans' minds. It made me realize how lucky we are to have the Internet and the blogosphere. Blog proliferation has given us many places from which to gather news, hear opinions and learn. Maybe too many places but better than too few.

I believe everyone needs to learn how to analyze competing points of view and how to effectively absorb knowledge. When I was growing up, it meant paying attention in school, reading, having discussions. Formal education is still a valuable vehicle for training young minds. But the Internet, composed of the blogosphere, academic, non-profit and commercial sites and both known and anonymous interactions, provides a goldmine of information and opportunity to become educated, effective stewards of our planet and of our communities, local, regional and global.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I just finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma last night. This is an important book. The 'omnivore's dilemma' is that there are so many choices of what to eat for an omnivore and he has to determine what to eat based on...what? what is safe to eat? what is nutritious? what tastes good? It is a dilemma but what Pollan is really talking about in this book is where our, meaning our species, food comes from. He examines food coming from the industrial food system, where the corn crop is king, fertilization is primarily from fossil fuels, meat is fattened in unnatural ways and the conglomerate food companies process the overabundance of corn and soy into food items that are intended to satisfy our variety of tastes and assumptions about what we should eat. Pollan contrasts this system with what he calls the pastoral food system, focusing his attention on a single farm in the state of Virginia where very little external input (i.e., feed) enters into the complex equations of the farm which produces high quality chicken, ham, eggs and beef. The contrast with the industrial food system is so drastic that this section of the book reads like a breath of fresh air after the suffocation of our sense of morality that rises from the pages of the industrial food section. A third section of the book contrasts these two food systems with the hunter-gatherer system which Pollan points out is not a realistic alternative for Americans (or nearly anyone else on the planet) but which he wishes to explore because it is a stage in which we as a species experienced.

About halfway through this book, which is extremely well-written, I decided to change the way I eat. Maria and I subscribed to an organic produce delivery service which delivers a box of vegetables and fruits from mostly local farms once a week. Although I have not sworn off meat, I am striving to eat organic meat. To date, we have been successful in finding organic chicken. Pollan reveals that just the 'organic' label is not enough to satisfy the truly moral chicken-eater (my words). An organic chicken is fed with pesticide and chemical-free feed but the feed is grain nevertheless. Chickens don't take to grain naturally -- they like grass. I want to find a local farm which has grass-fed chickens which also freely roam as opposed to living in their filth in a barn which they never leave for the grass lawn outside (this describes the large organic farming of chickens). Truly grass-fed chickens will also produce much nicer eggs, with yokes high in carotene which makes them a richer orange color and easier to separate from the white of the egg.

Read this book. It will change the way you eat if you typically eat from the large supermarket foodstuffs. Another book I want to read, maybe next, is also about eating , and it is by Barbara Kingsolver. It is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Her family spent a year growing their own food or buying locally. No industrial food system allowed! Barbara is a talented novelist. This book promises to be another breath of fresh air I think.