Talking directly to Donald Trump

Trump.jpegRegardless of who was in the white house I’ve always felt that the office was fairly inaccessible to the average American citizen. How can one person, or even many people make their views known to the president of the United States without some kind moneyed apparatus willing to amplify their message. It seemed like without a lobbying group behind me I could only vote for the person I feared less and then hope for the best.

I would argue that whatever one thinks about Donald J Trump he is by far the most accessible president of all time. We know for a fact that he is constantly consuming media, including perhaps the most democratic social media platform: Twitter.

Yes, it has become abundantly clear that Donald Trump personally reads (and sometimes responds) to his twitter messages. He may well be the first president in the history of the United States to whom an individual citizen without a lobbying firm or a government position can communicate to. Incredible!

That being said, I’m sure the president receives thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tweets every single day. I imagine the likelihood of him seeing a single tweet is fairly small, so I have a request for you: Share this pots, then follow me on twitter. My new handle is 45deals I’ll be tweeting some flattery attached to a policy suggestion at Donald Trump every day at 9:00 AM Eastern time. Sometime in the next 24 hours, read my message and if you agree with it, retweet it or better yet copy and paste it as your own tweet. Imagine the president seeing 10,000 of the same message every day, he’d almost certainly read it! The best part is, there is no obligation. If you don’t like what I have to say, just ignore it and move on with your day.

What kind of things will I be tweeting at the president? Things like:
Only @realDonaldTrump truly understands how the US should deal with climate change. Guarantee he will support cap and trade! #artofthedeal

@realDonaldTrump understands Obama and Dems couldn’t imagine an actual healthcare solution. He will take us to Single payer!

@SpeakerRyan has undermined @realDonaldTrump at every turn! Trump might be smarter to support Ironworker Randy Bryce 20018!

@realDonaldTrump might be one of the few true patriots left. He will save the American people grief by breaking up the big banks!

Also tweet at me if you have an idea for a daily tweet at the president and I’ll likely put yours up. It might take some time as I’ll be scheduling them in advance but I’ll look at every suggested tweet!

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Saving money by scooting:

Warning: What follows is a number-heavy post that is much more about finances than scooter-riding. Proceed if you’re into that sort of thing!

About a year ago I bought my first motorized two-wheeled vehicle. After a year of MCATs, interviews and campus visits, Helen had chosen Penn State College of Medicine to spend the next four years becoming a doctor. She would be living in Hershey, approximately 100 miles from our current apartment in Philadelphia.


My eventual choice: A PCX 150!

Knowing that she would be close by was comforting, but there were still questions about how often I would be able to see her. While I only work three days a week, and have the ability to work from home (or Hershey) some of the time, the public transportation options are not ideal. The easiest way to get to Hershey is through Amtrak’s Middletown train station. Tickets are $25 on weekdays, or $30 on weekends, each way. I’d also have to use two Septa tokens $1.80 each to get to and from 30th street station in Philadelphia, and bug one of Helen’s friends to make the drive out to Middletown (6.8 miles of fast roads that I would be unsafe to bicycle on), usually bribing them with a coffee or a burrito.

Because I live in a city that is extremely bike friendly I have no desire to own a car. Insurance alone would cost between $100-$150/month, or the cost of two round trips by train, before gas. Not worth it for a vehicle I would rarely use for anything else, so I started looking at motorcycles and then their more fuel-efficient and easy-to-drive cousins, scooters.

Scooters are typically much smaller than motorcycles, with engine displacements of between 50 and 150 cubic centimeters (cc) compared to around 250cc displacement on even the smallest motorcycles. Scooters typically have their engines in front of the rear wheel, creating a storage space below the seat not available on motorcycles. Because scooters have shorter wheel bases and tires, they are less stable and often incapable of reaching highway speeds. Scooters also automatically change gears, so riders are not required to learn how to use a clutch and a foot pedal to change gears like on a motorcycle. Because they are smaller, scooters often get better gas mileage.

After a lot of research I settled on a 2013 Honda PCX 150. The 150 is descriptive of the 150cc engine size, large for a scooter. It can easily cruise at 55 before topping out around 68 mph. It also has a larger than typical 14 inch tire size, and is rated at 104 miles per gallon. Also important was the fact that it was a scooter from a major brand with several dealers in the area. I read multiple horror stories about cheap off-brand scooters with small malfunctions involving parts that are simply not available.

Driving a larger scooter requires a motorcycle license, which in Pennsylvania is easy to acquire. The learners permit cost $10 and about an hour of studying while waiting in line to take the multiple choice test. With a permit I was able to sign up for a free safety course, which concluded in my license test. The course included two days of boring lectures and word problems followed by two days of riding lessons (on motorcycles provided for no cost). The riding lessons were very helpful, and I would highly recommend the course, even though the first couple of days felt like a waste of time.

After passing the test I was licensed and ready to start riding. Since then I’ve put approximately 1,700 miles on the scooter with no significant problems. Driving is a blast, and I’ve tracked the mileage through at 97.7 mpg over the life of the vehicle so far.

But, am I really saving money? I decided to track down as much data as I could over the first year of my scooters life to see what the cost of ownership actually was. Here is what I came up with:

Out the door purchase cost of the scooter (new) plus taxes, tags, registration, one year of insurance and a DOT certified helmet: $4,258.89
Total gas (1700 miles): $55.96
Oil: $30 (I bought an 8-pack of the appropriate oil, and I did the first oil change myself)
Other equipment and upgrades (Includes windscreen, additionally trunk space attached, riding jacket, riding boots, and second helmet for passengers): ~$1,000
Total cost of ownership: $5400.81

Expenses not incurred (includes 8 round trips visits to see Helen 1.5 of which included transporting Helen, and approximately 17 non-bicycle friendly errands run around Philly, 7 of which included Helen):
Amtrak: $495 (8 round trips to Middletown including 2 at weekend rates, plus 3 one way tickets for times I took Helen to or from School on the scooter)
Septa tokens: $106.20 (9 tokens for Helen for trips we’ve taken together, 50 tokens for me)
Bribing Helen’s Friends to pick me up/drop me off at Middletown: Approximately $25 in coffee/burritos.
Total savings: $626.20

Total cost minus total savings equals a cost of ownership of $4,774.61 after one year. In other words, I’m $4,774.61 in the hole vs. just paying for public transportation.

This doesn’t bother me at all for a couple of reasons. The first is that I anticipate the operational costs of the scooter to remain under $200 a year. Operational costs are things like gas, insurance ($88/year), registration, oil changes, ect. If I repeat this years numbers in expenses not incurred, I’d bring down my total cost of ownership by $426.20 every year, or $1,278.60 over the next three years. That would drop the amount of money I was paying for the convenience, exhilaration and fun of owning the scooter to $3,496.01 over the four years Helen spends in medical school, or about $874/year.

Fancy scooting is optional.

The other reason is that I imagine that my use of the scooter will increase. Helen has another two months of school this year, which means I’ll probably make another 2-3 round trip visits during a period last year in which I made zero. That alone would represent a major increase in money saved over public transportation. Additionally, while Helen will take summer off this year, in years 3 and 4 of med school, she will be away year round, which means a lot of additional trips during the warmest, best riding weather of the year. I imagine my use of the scooter will increase somewhere between 25% and 30% next year, and double by year 3.

Assuming a 25% increase in usage next year, and an additionally 75% in year 3, followed by the same usage in year 4, my cost of ownership (vs public transportation) by the end of med school should be about $2,087.08, or $521.77/year. In that time, I anticipate putting 8,925 miles on the scooter.

Currently the suggested retail value of an earlier version of the bike (a 2011 PCX 125, which had a slightly lower MSRP at the time) is $2,110 according to kelly blue book. Assuming the value of my bike is similar in two years, I could sell it and end up in the green, even when assigning a value of $0 for convenience and fun factor!

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My Marathon: from zero experience to crossing the finish line!

I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more. – Narrator, fight club

Back in June I decided that I wanted to challenge myself physically. I wanted the type of challenge that felt impossible at the time, but that I knew if I committed myself, I’d be forced to push myself further than ever before. I dropped $115 on registration fees, and immediately started telling people about my intention. I wanted there to be no backing out, barring serious injury. 

I’ve always run in an informal way. I played soccer and basketball throughout high school, but I had no idea what I was signing up for. Distance running is a completely different beast than the short bursts needed to play basketball at a high level, and Soccer didn’t come close to preparing my body for extended training runs. 

With zero experience, I needed to establish a baseline. How far could I actually run, pre-training? Philadelphia summers tend towards 80+ degree heat and 80+ percent humidity. I sweated walking around the block, and couldn’t manage more than a couple of miles without a downing a bottle of icy water and taking cold shower. I travelled to Greeley Colorado for a Quaker conference in early July. The mornings were cool, and free from the oppressive East coast humidity, but the altitude left me breathless after only about a mile. My longest run in the first month came courtesy of an unusually cool day in late July coupled with a light drizzle. I managed about 5.5 miles, and headed home tired.

I went West in early August for the first chapter of Not Back to School Camp. Taking advantage of the time change, I got up early every day for the first week and ran. At camp I had the advantage of running partners, which was wonderful motivation. The best running spot nearby was a steep hill, which kicked my ass every morning. My camp runs culminated in a 6 mile double round trip. Up the hill and back again, twice. It felt great. 

Between sessions at Grace’s house in Eugene, Oregon, friend and fellow staffer Abbi Miller and I enlisted each others help to stay in shape. Her Yoga and core exercises left my abs sore, and I set the pace and distance for regular runs around town. I looked up mileage recommendations for marathon training online, and found that I was behind. My first Saturday in town, I gutted out 10 miles, my personal best. I was sore for a day and a half, but I topped 11 miles the next week.

Second session of camp took us further west to the Oregon coast, where I ran my first half marathon. 3.3 miles up the road, 3.3 miles back. Half pitcher of water gulped down, half a Clif bar eaten, then out and back again. I felt amazing. My first 10 mile run had been nothing but pain, but it appeared that my heart, lungs, and lower body muscles were getting with the program. I was experiencing runners highs, forgetting about my legs for a half mile at a time, and just enjoying the breeze and the scenery.

Unfortunately, that was my last run of the session. I came down with a minor camp illness, nothing serious, but I needed to sleep. I lost my east-coaster on the west coast early-wakeup advantage. I slept until breakfast every morning, and with the end of the session approaching, I couldn’t find time to run. 

Back in Eugene again after second session, I got in a couple of nice long runs. Once with Blake alongside the Willamette, then across the river to Tilke’s house in Springfield and back, another along the opposite shore. Neither topped 13.1 miles. Before I knew it, we were heading East to the Vermont for the final two weeks of camp. Jet-lagged and overwhelmed with extra camp responsibilities, I didn’t get in a single run. I did however, swim across the lake and back several times.

ImageSigne was the first to attempt the swim. She triumphantly reported her experience at one of our junior staff meetings, and I couldn’t wait to do it myself. We enlisted Elijah and Brenna to join us, and on the count of three, plunged into the icy water. I don’t know how wide the lake was, and I don’t consider myself a strong swimmer, but it felt like exactly the sort of challenge I was looking for. As we touched the rocks at the other end of the lake, the dock we left seemed impossibly far away. Halfway back, I picked my head up to see Brenna already close to finishing. Elijah and Signe were setting a slower pace, way back behind me and George was paddling the lifeguard board alongside them. I was all alone in the middle of the lake. I was tired, the water was cold and deep, and I had no choice but to get to work. Getting out felt so good, I promptly committed to repeating the swim on all three of the remaining days of camp. 

A month later it was race time. I’d had a lackluster finish to my training, eventually running a 15 mile personal record, then cutting a long run short due to pain in the arches of my feet. I replaced my shoes, just in time for the recommended two weeks of tapering off form training. According to the experts, I’d trained all that I could, now my job was to stay in good shape with short runs, fuel up on carbs and hope for a good race. 

On race day I arrived at 6 AM. I waited 45 minutes to use a port-o-potty. I had to get as much stretching as possible done in line, because the race started at 7 AM. I was hoping to run a 4 hour and 30 minute race, but I couldn’t find the pacer. I did see the 4:15 guy, so I stuck tried to get as close to him as possible. 


Mile 6!

By mile 3 I needed to pee. I saw some other guys peeing on a wall along Columbus boulevard and raced up the slope to find a spot. Then I sprinted to catch up with the 4:15 pace keeper. I had a tendency to run too fast during training, so I was happy to be able to depend on someone else to be deliberate in their pacing. 

At mile 6 I passed Helen for the second time. She’d cheered me on at mile two, then cut across town to see me as I made my way up Chestnut street. I was feeling great, and showed off for the camera as I went by.

By mile 13 I started to feel it. I’d made friends with a med school student from New York named Adi, also running his first marathon. We’d been able to maintain a stead pace while conversing for the past few miles without major effort, but as the half marathoners split to the right for the finish line, I imagined how sweet it would be to go with them. 

Instead we went left, slogging up Kelly drive. No longer were there cheering crowds of center city with signs, nor the frat kids along 34th street to tempt us with cold beers they tried to press into our hands. There were miles of empty road before us and I was not feeling my best. By mile 16 I could no longer carry on a conversation, responding in short grunts or one word sentences to the other runners. I downed a gel pack, and a gatorade, and told my legs to shut up.

Entering Manayunk was a relief. There was a marathon party going on, and we were the guests of honor. One guy had his whole drum kit set up on the sidewalk, and kept our legs in motion with a marching beat. There were hundreds of people in the street cheering us on, offering us fruits, and again, beer. I declined the beer, but was buoyed by the support. I got my legs back under control in time for the hill at mile 19, and made the turnaround at mile 20 feeling good again. 

At mile 23, I hit the wall for the second time. The clouds parted and the sun beat down on us as we made our way back down Kelly drive towards the finish line. I downed a cup of gatorade, doused myself with two cups of water, then drank a third. I’m in the middle of the lake, I told myself, gotta keep swimming. No point stopping here.  

ImageI refused to acknowledge any signals of distress from my lower body and powered ahead. My friend from earlier in the race, Adi decided to run ahead. I decided to stick with him as best I could. He pushed me every time I slowed down. “Come on man, don’t break your form! Come on, we have to go!”.

At mile 26 I could see the finish line. I gathered all my remaining energy for a sprint to the end. Adi had already finished, but had turned around to cheer me on. I high fived the mayor, who stood near the white line and tears came to my eyes as a passed under the giant red timer.

As I slowed to a walk I could feel my knees beginning to stiffen. I felt like the tin man, filled with a heartfelt pride I didn’t know I had, and badly in need of oil. I leaned against a fence and painstakingly reached down to pull my foot up into a stretch. It was pure agony, but I was convinced that If I didn’t do it, my knees would lock up and I’d be frozen in place. Standing like the rocky statue, except with a medal around my neck and a shiny blanket around my shoulders. My family and Helen found me at the finish, helped me to the car, covered my knees in ice, and fed me protein and carbs for the rest of the day. They were just what I needed.

Without a doubt, the marathon was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever attempted. Crossing the finish line was meaningful in a way that goes far beyond running. I can’t tell if this was a one-off adventure, or the beginning of a new era in my life. I do know that I’m finally no longer sore, and a run sounds really great right about now.




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Follow my marathon this Sunday:

5311130442_9c60d0dbd5I’ll be running the Philadelphia Marathon this Sunday, November 17th. This is the first running event of any kind I’ve ever entered, and one of my goals of 2013 is to finish it in under 4 hours and 30 minutes. This means slightly slower than 10 minute miles. At that rate of speed, I’d qualify for the Boston marathon if I were at least 75 years old. In other words, from the perspective of regular runners, this isn’t a particularly impressive goal, but for me it still seems daunting.

If you’re interested in following along on Sunday, my progress and results will automatically be posted on Twitter and my Facebook. You can also sign up for Text alerts by registering here, and searching for my name.

Of course, I’ll post the results here sometime next week, along with a full account. Wish me luck!

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This is how I carb load: Delicious roasted potatoes!

With the Philadelphia Marathon less than two weeks away, I’ve been advised to load up on carbohydrates. Thats no problem for me, because potatoes are one of my favorite foods. Here is the plan:


Step 1: Get big bag of potatoes at Costco. I’ll be making up about half of this 15 lb bag, and eating it over the next several days.


Step 2: Wash lots of potatoes


Step 3: Cut them up into small chunks


Step 4: Separate into cast iron pans


Step 5: Get the spices! Taco seasoning, Crushed Red Peppers, Chopped Onions, Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Sriracha sauce, Minced Garlic, Olive oil (ignore the Cheerios)


Step 6: Add the spices!


Step 7: Stir the spices in!


Step 8: Add Soy Sauce


Step 9: Add water


Step 10: Put them in the oven at 400 degrees


Step 11: Wait 20 minutes


Step 12: Take them out and stir em’

Step 13: Once, thoroughly stirred, put them back in

Step 13: Once, thoroughly stirred, put them back in

Step 14: Wait another 20 miuntes

Step 14: Wait another 20 miuntes

Step 15: Remove and stir again. There should be considerably less liquid now. Stir again.

Step 15: Remove and stir again. There should be considerably less liquid now and the potatoes should be starting to brown. Stir again.

Step 16: Wait another 15 Minutes

Step 16: Wait another 15 Minutes

Step 16: Remove them from the oven for the final time. They should be browner than before, and just beginning to stick to the sides of the pan.

Step 17: Remove them from the oven for the final time. They should be browner than before, and just beginning to stick to the sides of the pan.

Step 18: I've already eaten a heaping plate of potatoes, the rest go in the fridge for the next few days. Delicious!

Step 18: I’ve already eaten a heaping plate of potatoes, the rest go in the fridge for the next few days. Delicious!

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I’m too young to spend this much time sitting down doing nothing!

Earlier this month I started a new 30-day challenge to only use Facebook and email twice a day. As of today, I’m officially admitting that I’ve failed in both the letter, and spirit of the challenge. Even when I was able to check email and Facebook only at the prescribed times, I made up for it by wasting my time on other social media sites, or on other useless parts of the internet. The hilarious Aziz Ansari illustrates the problem brilliantly in this clip: 

For me, this feels like a big deal. I’ve developed a difficult habit to kick. It’s robbing me of hours of time every day, and not giving me much in return. It’s hurting my body in the form of whatever price I pay for the hours I’ve spent on the couch. My iPod touch is quickly becoming my go-to distraction in the quiet moments I used to spend thinking about the big picture, planning life goals, or mentally preparing for my day. For every Facebook message I send to reconnect with an old friend, I also spend at least a half hour looking up useless trivia when I could be connecting with the people around me in my real life. 

Photo Credit: Anonymous9000

Photo Credit: Anonymous9000

The most insidious thing about the internet is how useful it can be. It’s like having the best library in the world in my living room, but I have to enter it through a tunnel in which one thousand storytellers and salesmen try to pitch me on everything imaginable. They’re all very interesting and convincing, and most of what they’re selling is free! Couldn’t I just give each one of them a few minutes of my time before I get to the library to do my work? I’m nodding my head, nearing the end of a very interesting story, told by a charming fellow who just rode his bicycle across the country solo. When he’s done, he asks if I’m at all interested in watching a short video about the making of an “invisible” bicycle helmet. Three hours later, I finally reach the library, get my work done, and then spend another couple of hours researching cheap cell phone plans and learning what the tech community thinks of the latest apple products on my way back to my apartment.

The internet is as enticing as times square, but much more subtle.Photo Credit: Justin in SD

The internet is as enticing as times square, but much more subtle.
Photo Credit: Justin in SD

My problem is that I’m no longer controlling my internet experience. There are way too many smart people getting paid good money to get me to look at their websites to casually enter cyberspace. I need to be armed with a plan, or I need to stay out altogether.

For now, I will be using this internet usage form, filling in my intended use of the internet before entering cyberspace. That way I’ll be less likely to squander away hours, days or weeks. I’m too young to spend this much time sitting down doing nothing.

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Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience?

Photo Credit: stevendepolo

Photo Credit: stevendepolo

Soon it will be performance review time at work. In the past 5 years, there has been a lot of turnover and juggling of positions, so part of streamlining the review process is creating clear and succinct job descriptions that match our actual work. These were sent out to us for our review.

I made some minor suggestions and clarifications, and then I got to the qualifications section. The top item read college degree or equivalent experience required. I have a problem with this for three reasons.

  • A college degree and experience are not equivalents. Your BA in Biology won’t help you run a weekend trip for 35 middle schoolers. I’m good at my job because I’ve had a lot of practice working with young people and organizing events (and because of my Quaker background). Equating generic college degrees to relevant work is illogical, and undervalues experience.
  • A college degree may be irrelevant to a specific job, and re-enforces a “college-for-all” ideal that isn’t serving people who are contemplating higher education. College tuition is rising exponentially, and joblessness among college grads is rampant. The myth that a college degree is the ticket to a good life (which has facilitated a 38% increase in college grads under 25 since 2000) deserves to be questioned.
    Meanwhile, the US skilled trade workforce continues to suffer from lack of qualified laborers. It would be nice if we didn’t need an ad campaign to promote available, well paid work, while college graduates can’t find the jobs they were promised, and struggle under the load of massive debt and unemployment.

    With student debt on the rise, college isn't such a cake walk, and the job perspectives afterward aren't so sweet. Photo Credit: clevercupcakes

    College isn’t as sweet of a ride as it used to be.
    Photo Credit: clevercupcakes

  • The qualification doesn’t actually describe the person we’re looking for. We know that a Biology degree is probably irrelevant to a Middle School Program Coordinator, but what skills are relevant? Why not instead say that we’re looking for an applicant who has X number of years experience working with children/teens as well as organizing events. This is much more descriptive of the qualities that are necessary to perform the job well. Perhaps your degree in education afforded you the opportunity work in a classroom, and you organized a club through your college. Or maybe you organized a weekly outdoor activity for local homeless children while pursuing a non-college educational path. Both of these are examples of the type of education/experience that is actually relevant to this work.

The next time you have the opportunity to post a job description online, consider leaving out the education requirement. Rather than using Bachelor’s degree as a catch-all term for ‘good applicant’, be specific about the qualities that might make an applicant a fit for the job. Consider relevant experience from all sources. The internet means more opportunities to self-educate formally (courseraMIT,  ItunesU, trade schools, apprenticeships) and informally (mentors, accountability buddies, etc.) than ever before. If you want people to work for you that are able to think outside the box, then be open to hiring people who are already thinking creatively about their own education.

Fortunately, my boss is willing to listen to constructive criticism. She removed the educational requirements from the job descriptions, now we’ll see whether anyone else notices.

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