Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You can help people have jobs in Afghanistan!

Times are tough for people in the USA. So many people jobless, or under-employed. Much less extra income -- maybe no extra income. The media and business leaders are talking about a recovery that's happening, but most of us are NOT seeing it. Scary! I really understand (wow, do I ever understand...).

But I hope you will consider donating just $15 (just $15!) to one man's effort to start a cleaning company in Kabul, Afghanistan.

I've been volunteering with BPEACE for a while now, and my most recent effort was to help mentor a Kabul man -- Sherzai -- in starting a cleaning company in Afghanistan. Working online with a cleaning company in St. Louis, Missouri, I prepared a detailed guide to help Sherzai know all that starting a cleaning company would entail, what "green cleaning" is and if it was realistic for him to pursue such with his company, how to budget for his start up, etc. A colleague in Afghanistan then donated her precious time to translate our materials into his native language (Dari).

A cleaning company in Afghanistan might not sound that vital or exciting, but it is hugely important. Homes and work places must be clean in order to keep people healthy and to attract foreign investments. Sherzai's effort has the potential to employ hundreds of people and set a standard that could encourage others.

Please consider donating just $15 to Sherzai's effort (it makes me sad to see him at the bottom of the leader board). Or donate to one of the other Afghan or Rwandan entrepreneurs wanting to start or expand a business in their home countries (each job has the potential to employ several dozen, even hundreds, of people). Or donate to BPEACE in general, to help all the entrepreneurs.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

1000 miles riding my own motorcycle!

I've now ridden more than 1000 miles on my own motorcycle. Hurrah! Here is everywhere I've been so far by motorcycle.

The 150+ mile ride on back roads to Corvalis (farthest South trip) last Sunday was terrific, though not enough winding roads for Stefan: interesting things to see, some really lovely houses, and even a ferry ride! We also had a wonderful 188 mile ride a week ago, through the Nehalem Valley, with lunch at the Birkenfeld Country Store (which turns out to cater specifically to motorcyclists) and lots and lots of winding roads, then back through Newberg to Canby - gorgeous scenery, little traffic (except for other bikers) and dry roads.

If I wasn't riding, I would be pulling my hair out. Being unemployed for so long, missing Europe so much, and feeling like Oregon (and, indeed, the whole move back to the USA) has been such a huge mistake, it's riding my motorcycle that gives me so much of what I miss.

My first overnight motorcycle trip (camping) on my own bike could happen in late May or in June. I'm still not going as fast as Stefan around curves, but he's good about waiting for me if he gets more than a mile ahead (which does happen if we hit a really, really winding road). And for the record: I go at least the recommended MPH in a curve, and sometimes 5 - 10 miles over.

My goal? 1500 miles by September 1, 2010.

Gail saw this and thought of me. And, indeed, it's how I think now when the weather is nice. I love riding a motorcycle of my own: first of all, it's empowering. I love the sense of accomplishment and confidence riding a motorcycle of my own gives me. It also fits well with my love of adventure. I also love the camaraderie/community with other bikers -- I haven't found any motorcycle snobbery yet among motorcyclists I meet -- and everyone (waitresses, gas station attendants, etc.) are just so welcoming when we pull up and I pull off my helmet. And I feel so cool! The downside of riding my own motorcycle? It's really challenging physically and mentally, and I always have to be ready for that challenge. I also have to be hyper vigilant while riding, always assuming that truckers and car drivers do not see me.

But with that said, I don't think there's a thing wrong with women who ride on the back of a motorcycle -- I refuse to fall into that kind of motorcycle rider snobbery. One of the really nice things about riding on the back of a motorcycle is that you don't have to pay attention at all to driving -- you get to just experience, just grooving along, zoning out, not making any decisions, just enjoying the ride...

I looked up motorcycle classes when I lived in Austin, Texas back in the 1990s, and intended to sign up for them, and then never did. I'm not sure I really ever would have on my own. So I have to thank Stefan for being so supportive and encouraging of the idea. I'm just so sorry I waited so long!

To all my women friends: if you have ever thought you might like to ride a motorcycle, sign up now and take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course nearest you (in Oregon, instead of MSF, there is Team Oregon). You do not need your own motorcycle to take the class (and probably not even your own helmet). And if you pass the class, in most states, you will get your motorcycle license (no need to take another riding test) after you finish the written test. You aren't making any kind of big financial commitment to take the MSF course -- it was $150 when I took it. It's a two-day course, and at the end of it, you can decide you don't want to ride a motorcycle. It's a fantastic way to spend a weekend, at the very least.

Just promise me that, once you decide you do want to start riding, whether on your own motorcycle or someone else's, the first thing you will be is a helmet of your own!

on science, theories, beliefs and superstitions

The Origin of Species is a SCIENTIFIC theory, not just a theory. And there's a big difference in the two uses of this word:

In everyday language, a theory is a hunch or speculation. Not so in science! The SCIENTIFIC METHOD is a body of rigorous techniques for investigating phenomena. That means gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific theory is not an assumption, opinion, view, belief or contention. It is, rather, a system of scientifically proven principles. A scientific theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses. A scientific theory has been verified many, many times by different researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he or she can only create a hypothesis.

Evolution is NOT "just a theory." It is a fact. Even if you believe the Earth is only around 6000 years old, the science that species have evolved in that time according to the principals outlined by Darwin and others is irrefutable -- so irrefutable that theologians who teach the young-Earth creationist myth acknowledge that life on Earth has evolved in the last 6000 years .

Companies base their business decisions about where to find oil, where to mine for certain minerals, etc., based on the science that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and a whole buncha geophysical activities have happened in that time (yes, I believe scientists do use the term "buncha").

Here's a testimonial of a man who realized young-Earth creationism was not science when he became a geophysicist working for a seismic company. In addition to be a fascinating testimonial, it also is a reminder of one of the dangers of repudiating of science. Other consequences of repudiating science are uneducated students and unfunded science programs that are vital to our country’s prosperity and health, and communities and individuals that live based on fear and superstition rather than reason. It's thinking that is a danger to my country as well as to myself as an individual.

And, yes, you can be a Christian and believe in science (including the scientific theory of Evolution).

Friday, April 9, 2010

More photos from Australia

More photos from Australia, from what is now one of my favorite cities on Earth: Melbourne.

And don't forget the travelogue for the Australia trip!

No, I'm not moving there; I would never subject my dog to six months quarantine. Not for any job in the world.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This American Life - NUMMI

When I was in Australia, I met a woman who is a big fan of This American Life, the hour-long radio program that plays on most public radio stations around the USA, and is available for free streaming online from the web site. I'm a HUGE fan myself, and was really happy to hear she loved the show; too often, I hear from foreigners, "So, the USA is just like the TV show Friends or Sex in the City, right?"

(for the record, she's also a huge fan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. We're best friends now)

This American Life is sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, always insightful and always entertaining. It's a great thing to listen to while you are cleaning your house.

Most This American Life shows have multiple stories around a theme. But sometimes, the show is focused on just one story. And one recent single-story episode was absolutely fantastic: if you haven't listened to the episode Nummi, stop what you are doing and listen to it now. It details the story of a GM subsidiary, NUMMI, based in Fremont, California, that successfully used Japanese-style management for its manufacture of cars. The dream was that the successful NUMMI plant would change all of GM from the ground-up, for the better. But, sadly, GM didn't get it, and they killed the successful NUMMI plant. This episode shows exactly what is wrong with American management and the manufacturing sector -- and not just the car industry. If you consider yourself a good manager, or want to be one, if you are getting an MBA, or if you want to understand why the USA is in trouble economically, you have to listen to this episode.

(and if you want to understand the global economic crisis and aren't an economist nor a mathematician, don't miss the episode The Giant Pool of Money)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Australia travelogue

I'm back from Australia, still severely jet-lagged. Since this was for work, I was online regularly (unlike when I travel for fun), so it's the first trip where the Internet played such a huge role in sharing the experience as it was happening with my friends (that's you!). It was so much fun interacting with you all while I was in Australia -- thanks for your posts to Facebook and emails!

Because of that, I was keen to get the Australia travelogue done ASAP. There's a link to photos there as well. As always, feel free to email me directly with comments or questions (or share your comments with the world, that's fine too).

This will be my last international trip for a very long time, and has been my only work in 2010, both of which have made me more down than usual following a trip.