Thursday, December 31, 2020

Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee

"Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless like water."

One of my favorite reads this year, this book was everything I hoped it would be. I expected to learn so much from the daughter of one of the greatest martial artists of all time, and Shannon Lee delivered in her own words and through the aphorisms, maxims, and proverbial words of wisdom imparted by her father, the great Bruce Lee. 

In Be Water, My Friends the author shares countless insights to her father's way of life. Lee reveals shards of truth about Bruce Lee's philosophies and teachings. She relates our lives to the quotable words of an icon. And throughout the book, we learn that being like water allows us to act in a fluid manner that is necessary to live a fulfilling life. Water is natural and powerful. It is form-filling. It's movement is logical yet free. 

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

The dangers of climate change are coming sooner than you think. If you're reading this post right now, you'll probably still be alive when some of the worst imaginable things could come to fruition. Come on, you've already felt the affects. Don't be naive. Just accept the fact that it's coming. But do your best to contribute to mitigating the factors.

Climate change will impact every aspect of our lives. It will distort the pictures in our minds of a world that once was, and stories told to our children will seem fairy-tale-like. 

This book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, is a flavor for what's to come. It might seem extreme and the numbers may come off as hyperbole, but make no mistake, if we continue on the path we are on, life could be a living nightmare. 

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

My favorite book of the year, The Making of Asian America: A History, was an easy and impactful read about our history, one that I'm certain not many people know anything about. Because the reality is that Asians and Asian Americans have been left out of the US history books and teachings in school. I, for certain, was not educated in the least bit during my high school career about the importance and significance of Asians in America. For all intents and purposes, it should be said that much of America, American culture, and the standards that this country flourishes upon are grounded in what Asians and Asian Americans lived and died by and for throughout this nation's history. And it's not just the United States. Asians have had profound impact in both North and South America. I bet you didn't know that. 

From railroads to laundromats, from the slave trade to indentured servitude, from healthcare to politics, from food and culture to standards of daily living... Asians have had meaningful, noteworthy impact. And you may not even realize it. 

And because of the way history is taught in school, you may never even know how deeply you have been affected by the struggle, survival, effectiveness, and diligence of the people of these ethnic origins. 

Thank you, Erika Lee, for opening my mind to a history and a future that matters.

Read this book!

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein


Through 2014, this is certainly the word I'd use to describe the way this book was written. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate examines seemingly almost every aspect of climate change. Naomi Klein's research is extensive and global. The causes, effects, potential, the conflicts, possible solutions, the ideas and failure, the who / what / where / when / why if everything that climate change touches is addressed in her writing. She even gets personal, and that's the most heart-wrenching part. Because it's easy to see climate change as an existential crisis, it's easy to just set it aside in your everyday life. But once it hits you, once you're affected and cannot avoid the direct impact and parallels, your personal life will never be the same. 

I loved this book for how it addressed everything that I ever thought about and more about climate change. The exposure to different lines of thought and possible outcomes was insightful and sometimes anger-inducing. 

And after reading it all, if someone remains unconvinced that climate change is real and that actions need to be taken, then that person is unfortunately delusional. For me, this was further proof and knowledge about the goings-on of climate change. And I wonder what Klein would add to this since 2014. Obviously many things have changed, and more change is coming in 2021 with a brighter outlooks. I'm anxious to see how climate change and our reactions will guide our future. 

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

Every once in a while I have to read some fiction to change up my mindset, refresh, and try to keep some level of my imagination in use. If anything, it's a good way to not be so serious all the time. It allows my brain to relax. 

But in this book, The First Phone Call from Heaven, strangely enough, the topic at hand was pretty heavy in mind and heart. The novel calls to our attention the age old ponderings of the afterlife. Without any kind of understanding of life after death, the mystery continues to confound us all. 

There are a number of main characters whom we all follow to some extent, each of them having a seeming connection to a loved one or related person who has passed. Those connections were established and developed through a series of phone calls from the dead. It becomes a phenomenon to be watched and debated by the religious and non-religious alike. But are these phone calls real? 

Do you believe in life after death? 

This story makes you examine your own hopes, dreams, and beliefs. But no matter how you conclude on matters of the afterlife, that reality remains totally unknown. And maybe that's the way it should continue to be.

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

We know he's funny. And often the ability to make someone laugh is rooted in your experiences, your upbringing, the way you live. Trevor Noah had all the trappings to prevent him from being successful. But somehow, he survived and has come to be one of the most popular comedians of our time. 

His stories about being born during and living through apartheid at such an impressionable age are laughable looking back. But I'm certain that in those moments in time, there was nothing funny about his environment. The challenges he overcame, the obstacles his mother (and even father to some extent) had to live through, the hurdles that a bi-racial, multicultural South African had to endure all made Trevor Noah the person we know today. 

I found his stories entertaining and telling of the kind of person he is now. I enjoyed a chuckle at the craziness of his choices and the way he reflects on his past mistakes and life lessons. I now have an understanding of a perspective of a similarly aged person in a completely different environment. The truths, the fears, the simplicity, and the reality of his life was eye opening and thought provoking.

There's plenty to learn from a read of this memoir. I hope to read future books about his life and reflections. I suppose like all biographies and autobiographies, this was one to learn from and enjoy.  

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

This book was fantastic! If I could give one word to describe how this book was written it would be: real. Despite the title, the descriptions in these pages and illustrations are so accurate. Any of these events could have happened to any of us. And reading about them happen to someone else is sometimes so amusing. There is no doubt that you will laugh out loud when you read through some of the scenarios that Allie Brosh describes. It's just hilarious. This is one of those books that you read and think..."this has happened to me" and it might not be funny as it's happening to you, but when you read it back and remember what happened to you way back when, you can't help but laugh. I've often thought that there are so many things that I should have, could have documented throughout my life that would have been just as stupid, frustrating, debilitating, stressful, thought provoking, intelligent, happy, and funny of course. 

There are sections that are deeply emotional and difficult to talk about. But this medium gets it across and acknowledges that they are things that need to be addressed and spoken "outloud." Still real. And very important. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read and the portraits painted that have an uncanny way of connecting with your own experiences. 

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty

I've finally had an opportunity to read about the "Zen master's" life! Phil Jackson's life experiences have helped him develop the modus operandi that we've all come to admire. I enjoyed learning about what makes the greatest basketball coach of all time tick. His approach to dealing with difficult situations is truly zen-like. For example, working with a Dennis Rodman or a Ron Artest we all imagine is very challenging, but Phil Jackson makes it seem so easy and put together. He's a master of figuring people out, making them perform to the apex of their abilities, and having them reflect on themselves and dig deep to push their limits. It's amazing what his approach has produced. 

I learned about the Chicago Bulls. I learned about the LA Lakers. I learned about his time and own personal experiences with the New York Knicks. He shared his family life, conversations in basketball's management circles, and his own personal reflections. I learned about backstories of some of the most famous basketball players from reading Phil Jackson's account. The Chicago Bulls background was very much like The Last Dance on ESPN. Everything in this book was just so cool to read about. 

I think I was hoping to gain more than I did out of this book, but I don't think I did. And that's ok! I've read a lot about these paths towards success in other books, but these perspectives were so different and hit so close to home because of my deep interest in the sport of basketball since my youth. It was just good to connect the suggestions to the results that I've watched growing up. 

I wish I learned more about Phil Jackson's thoughts on humanistic psychology and Native American philosophy, as well as Zen meditation. But he only touched on some of these aspects as they related to his coaching. I think I expected more depth, but I can't complain because it was still interesting to read about. 

Overall, it was still a good read. And I've taken away a few leads to other things to read. One of the books Jackson referenced was Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
by Shunryu Suzuki, so I've put it on my reading list. What is this zen about? We will see...

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What inspires you to read, reflect, and journal (or blog)?

Reflection - Mt. Fuji, Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi, Japan - Circa May 2016

The following is an MS Teams conversation with a colleague after learning that we each enjoy reading, reflection and writing: 

T: What inspires you to read, reflect, and journal (or blog)? 

J: I think I was inspired to read by just my curiosity of everything in the world. In my past, I never read that much. I only started reading heavily in the last maybe 3-4 years. Instead of reading, I traveled a lot. I learned a lot that way, from talking to people, observing, feeling, and experiencing. But as I grow older, my responsibilities grow and so travel (although I still do it often) is now not as often as I would want it to be. Reading (specifically non-fiction) has kind of opened up those other avenues to learning and education about things foreign to me while I cannot travel as much.

Reflection is something pretty new to me too. I only really started reflecting on my life when I took a sabbatical from work. That really allowed me to take time to think of my past and my future in great detail. I started to understand better what I was doing, why I was doing things, and what I could do to change or improve my future. The reflection is so important now. I feel like if I didn't have that time (sabbatical) to reflect, then I wouldn't have grown in all the ways I feel like I've grown in the past 5 years. I was out of work for nearly 2 years.

The journaling and blogging has always been a part of my life. My dad used to journal when I was a kid. I grew up on notebook journals and writing events down. I had a calendar that I would just fill in all the boxes with tidbits. So I always did these little things, albeit not as consistently as now. But now I find that my blogging has allowed me to just put my thoughts out there. To not just contain them in my head but to make it "real" by making it public. It helps kind of relieve my brain from just constant thought. And if anyone reads it, then great. If not, then at least I can look back on my thoughts to see how I've grown. And because they're "tangible" I'll never have to wonder what I've possibly forgotten. 

And more recently in my life, writing / blogging is a way for me to pass on my life to whatever children I may have in the future. I looked back on the lives of my parents and thought, I don't really know what their day to day life was like. You get to hear stories and tidbits of whatever they can remember. But those memories are few and far between and obviously not nearly enough for you to understand who your parents are and what they really went through. If they had written it down, you could read it like a book and imagine and fully feel what they experienced and lived. I think that more than anything now is my motivation to write. 

And then kind of as an aside, I feel like the more I put out there for people to read, the better the chance that others get to know me and understand me. And maybe my thoughts will help others in their lives somehow. But that's existential. 

But let me turn it back to you... what is your inspiration to read, reflect, and/or write (if you do all of the above)?

T: That's powerful. You're so right--often times we don't know our parents. We know what they did for us throughout rearing, but we don't know simple things about them like their favorite color or greater things like what they experienced in their lifetimes. I hope your future kids find comfort being able to read about their dad throughout their life. You inspire me to do the same. 

In college (the fist semester of my junior year, to be precise) a profoundly impactful professor told us to never stop reading if we wanted to grow. He said, "You are the sum of two things: the books you read and the people you meet." As someone who craved growth (and still do), it was enough convincing for me to stick my nose in books from that point forward. Similar to your sabbatical, I took a few months off after I graduated and before I started work at [XXXX] and solo backpacked SE Asia. During this time, I required myself to journal each day; so quickly can we forget life-changing experiences--whether we realize it in the moment or in hindsight--if we don't pause from our busy lives to make sense of the what we experienced that day. I reflect on my journals from that trip and can track back to key catalysts and see how they've shaped the man I am today. So, I now live by a slightly amended version of my professors quote: "you are the product of three things: the books you read, the people you meet, and the journal you carry, for your journal is the free-space where you can make sense of your books and experiences." The reason I read, reflect, and write is to make the most of my precious, limited days on this beautiful planet and to wake up with the goal to be a better version of myself from the day before. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I meditated for the first time TODAY

Mrauk-U, Myanmar circa March 2017

I've read about so many successful people who meditate. It cannot be a coincidence that those who fare so well in life (at least to the public's perception) practice this ancient ritual. And for a long time, I've wanted to try it. I didn't know how except for what I've read. And I thought that my mind was not prepared for something so deep. In books, the process is so simple but everyone cautions how difficult it is to tame the mind, even for just a few minutes. But if this is what people who I highly regard are doing, I wanted to know why, how, and what the impact would be to my life. 

To be honest, I don't know why I decided to do it now. Maybe it's because I started to read the "Zen Master" - Phil Jackson's book entitled Eleven Rings or if it's because I just completed reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams. But I decided to do it. 

A few tips that I learned: 

  • don't drink coffee before you meditate
  • blow your nose before you begin
  • find a relaxed position (but if you don't, your body will adjust through the meditation)
Most mornings, I'm alone in the kitchen after I've walked the dogs and taken my medication. I typically use this time to read because of how peaceful and quiet this time can be. I did read for about half an hour but then suddenly had the urge to try out meditation. 

Consciously, I told myself I would try the simplest form - breathing. I closed my eyes. And I concentrated on the inhale and exhale of my breath. Trying to keep my mind from wandering, I said to myself, "in in in in in" as brought oxygen into my body... then "out out out out out" as I relieved myself of carbon dioxide. And I repeated this over and over and over. 

At the beginning, I could see my eyes fluttering. I could feel my eyeballs moving around behind my eyelids. I could "see" the colors changing as if watching the silhouette of objects behind a curtain. It's like REM except you're awake. I could feel my mind try to stray away from "in in in in in" and "out out out out out." My mind would try to "think" about if my breathing was right, if I was comfortable, what was my body doing? At first I was uncomfortable. My nose was a little stuffed. I could imagine my nostrils being slightly clogged. I "felt" that my body was not in the "perfect" position. My shoulders were too tight and high. My neck was stiff. 

But as I continued to breathe "in in in in in" and "out out out out out" I could feel my body settle. What?! How did that happen? Then my "vision" became white. I was realizing (which I shouldn't have been realizing) that my eyeballs had stopped their rapid movement. I was "seeing" just light come through my eyelids. I could feel my body adjust itself to correct the uncomfortable feeling. My shoulders relaxed; my head tilted down to relieve my neck of discomfort. And I was getting into a rhythm. Strangely, I was conscious of this, but I was also conscious of my breathing. Is that possible? I could "hear" myself thinking "in in in in in, out out out out out." 

I did this for some time. Not knowing how much time, I just opened my eyes. I looked at the clock, and I think 10 minutes or so had passed. And at the same time, I felt a weird sensation in my body. It felt something similar to when you have high blood pressure (which I do) and you get up too fast, you become dizzy. Except in this case, I didn't feel dizzy. I think what I felt was all the oxygen being disbursed throughout my body, as if all the "in in in in ins and out out out out outs" were contained only in my lungs and brain while my eyes were closed. And then when I opened them my brain distributed them to the rest of my organs and limbs. In a way, I was momentarily paralyzed by the breakthrough back to reality and my present self. 

After a few seconds I felt comfortable and relaxed. It was a strangeness that I've never felt before. It was surreal. I can only liken it to waking up from a great, restful sleep. But that's only close and not exact. And I liked it. I'm almost certain that I will do this again. 

Am I crazy? Or is this what it's like to meditate? 

Have any of you experienced this? Please share with me. I'm a newb.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

The perspectives two holy men of two different religions from two different regions of the world are humanly the same. The friendship of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the definition of boundless joy. 

This book takes place in the span of one week, where the Archbishop of South Africa pays a visit to Dharamsala, India to visit his long-time friend the Dalai Lama. The long overdue visit is one of the last in which the two would see each other as their age and health create a growing list of adversities to overcome but none like the lives they've already lived. Through exile and apartheid the two friends have suffered harsh realities but have found everlasting joy through their experiences and lifelong deeds. In this book, they share how to be happy and how to find joy. 

The basis is love and compassion. So easily said, yet so difficult to live. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop offer their insights in how to achieve the ultimate goal. 

I enjoyed reading about the perspectives given and how similar their lives were to each other. We are human after all. So why should it be a surprise at how closely their lives resembled each other's? I think the answer is that in our society, we often highlight our differences. But if we just keep in mind that we're all human, that makes us 100% similar. From there, it should be easier to be compassionate about one another and share the difficulties and challenges, as well as the the success and happiness. When you can do that, you will find joy. 

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Halfway Mark: What have we accomplished in 11 years?

Scientific American - November 2009

I'd be really interested to read an update of this article and see where we stand today, as of 2020, which was supposed to be a halfway mark for the 2030 potential. It all seemed to be very doable, but have the obstacles that we encountered in the past 11 years significantly slowed the plan for a sustainable future? For sure we've made significant progress, but are we too late in preventing sea level rise, droughts, and extinction? How much have we accomplished in 11 years? How much still remains? Curious.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Another Reason Why Bhutan's Beauty Remains In Tact


Bhutan is the World's First Carbon-Negative Country

And another reason why Bhutan will always remain in our hearts...

Read about our time well spent in Bhutan, here.

Paro Taktsang (aka Tiger's Nest) - Paro Valley, Paro District, Bhutan - circa April 2017

With our friend's mom - She is a host, local guide, and loving mother. As you can imagine, we were treated like family. 

Our new friends - Tshewang & Tshering and Auntie's dog.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

"Wisdom is like rainwater - both gather in the low places."

On Climate Change: 

"For a couple of hundred years we have been telling ourselves that we can dig the midnight black remains of other life forms out of the bowels of the earth, burn them in massive quantities, and that the airborne particles and gases released into the atmosphere - because we can't see them - will have no effect whatsoever. Or if they do, we humans, brilliant as we are, will just invent our way out of whatever mess we have made.

And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequence stories all the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more "inputs" (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse. 

At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the power we are unleashing - a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us."

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

On Joy:

"The Dalai Lama was describing the Buddhist concept of mudita, which is often translated as "sympathetic joy" and described as the antidote to envy. Mudita is so important in Buddhism that it is considered one of the Four Immeasurables, qualities we can cultivate infinitely. The other three are loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity. "

"Mudita recognizes that life is not a zero-sum game, that there is not just one slice of cake in which someone else's taking more means we get less. Mudita sees joy at limitless."

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams 

On Indebtedness:

"To be indebted is to fixate on the future. I tense up after good fortune has landed on my lap like a bag of tiny excitable lapdogs. But whose are these? Not mine, surely! I treat good mortune not as a gift but a loan that I will have to pay back in weekly installments of bad luck. I bet I'm like this because I was raised wrong - browbeaten to performs compulsory gratitude. Thank you for sacrificing your life for me! In return, I will sacrifice my life for you!

I have rebelled against all that. As a result, I have developed the worst human trains: I am ungrateful. This book too is ungrateful. In my defense, a writer who feeling indebted often writes ingratiating stories. Indebted, that is, to this country - to whom I, on the other hand, will always be ungrateful."

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

On Weakness:

"Now, we should also realize that the recognition of our own limitations and weaknesses can be very positive. This can be wisdom. If you realize that you are inadequate in some way, then you develop effort. If you think, everything is fine and I'm okay just as I am, then you will not try to develop further. There is a Tibetan saying that wisdom is like rainwater - both gather in the low places. There is another saying that when the spring bloom comes, where does it start? Does it start on the hilltops or down in the valleys first? Growth begin first in the low places. So similarly if you remain humble, then there is the possibility to keep learning. So I often tell people that although I'm eighty years old, I still consider myself a student."

- Dalai Lama XIV

On Humility: 

"The word humility actually comes from the Latin word for Earth or soil, humus... Humility literally bring us back down to Earth, sometimes with a thud."

"Humor like humility, comes from the same root word for humanity: humus. The lowly and sustaining earth is the source for all three words. Is it any surprise that we have to have a sense of humility to be able to laugh at ourselves and that to laugh at ourselves reminds us of our shared humanity?"

- Douglas Carlton Abrams 

Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders

"Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings."

"Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard fact. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren't the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too."

"Slavery wasn't a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn't a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn't a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn't a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one."

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

In my effort to learn more about how others feel as minorities, I picked up this book entitled Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, a Korean American who weaves her own history with the history of racial inequity, art, the ideas of friendship, and the difficulties of living with and through it all as a female. 

While I understand many of the issues that she hits on, I could not relate. But I could see how countless others would be able to, especially any who overlap any of her minority categories. I, however, had a very different upbringing and experience than she had. Some people would call my life "privileged" or "easy." And maybe it was. 

Despite our differences, I still appreciate that the author had the courage to share her stories and life with the public. That's not easy. 

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Solar Energy: My Financial Logic is at War With My Conscience

Tesla Solar Panels

Over the past few years, solar energy has interested me to the point where I asked that our house be built to enhance the support for future solar panels on the roof. My personal financial investments have also revolved around renewable energy. And so I've recently looked into having solar panels installed on our home. In my opinion, it's not yet inexpensive from a financial standpoint. 

But from the perspective of climate change and the health of our environment, it's probably invaluable at this point. 

Here's the high level overview and some of my thoughts: 

  • One of the first things that people interested in solar look into is the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Despite the fact that solar hasn't been so widely adopted yet, the credit seems to be already phasing out. The credit comes as a tax benefit and is computed based on the initial cost of the system. You get the full credit in year one. As you can see, residential customers have less than 3 years to get any kind of credit for adopting solar. I hope that there is a renewal of the incentives. 
    • 2016 – 2019: The tax credit remains at 30 percent of the cost of the system.
    • 2020: Owners of new residential and commercial solar can deduct 26 percent of the cost of the system from their taxes.
    • 2021: Owners of new residential and commercial solar can deduct 22 percent of the cost of the system from their taxes.
    • 2022 onwards: Owners of new commercial solar energy systems can deduct 10 percent of the cost of the system from their taxes. There is no federal credit for residential solar energy systems.

  • Solar panels have a life of somewhere between 20-25 years. But they have practically no maintenance, other than maybe having to spray them down with water to remove any bird droppings. 

  • The ability to capture enough sunlight depends on the orientation of your house, how much sun you receive, whether or not you have trees or adjacent buildings creating shade, the slope of your roof, and the surface area of roof you have to add panels to. 

    Southward facing home with 46 solar panels
    Heat map - yellow = most exposure = most efficient; dark orange = least exposure = lease efficient

  • Some solar companies can only build you a system that does not exceed 10% of your power utilization. They use the previous year's energy bill and consumption in kilowatt hours as a guide. 
    • I take issue with this because the older your home gets, the less efficient it is. Additionally, if you had problems with energy consumption in the past year, your data may not be as accurate. A system built today may not be appropriate for your usage in 5 / 10 / 15 years. 

  • Unless you live on a farm or out in the middle of no where, you have to remain connected to the energy grid. A battery is really only good for storing energy in case the power goes out. I learned that if there is a power outage, because you are still connected to the utility and the solar power feeds the utility lines automatically, if there is a power outage, the solar system shuts down automatically. So there's not really an option to be living a battery-powered life. In any event, a single battery costs about $9-15k. So tack that on to the cost of your system. And likely, you will need more than 1 battery if your home exceeds a certain size. 

  • The cost of the system itself depends on the amount of energy you will need to create and the amount of space that you have to lay out solar panels to create and store that energy. In general, the bigger the house, the more energy consumed, the more panel you will need. 
In our case, we averaged somewhere in the range of 1500-2000 kilowatt hours of consumption over the past year which ranged in cost from $175 to $225 per month. The solar panels necessary to run our home at this rate would cost us about $36,000 for the panels alone, and that's paying it up front (not a loan) and getting the 26% federal tax credit (which comes when you file your tax return). So the cost of cash out the door on day one is really +/- $48,000 and then you have to wait to get your credit when you file your tax return. If I added a single battery, the cost would be an additional $12,000; two batteries would cost $19,000 (both before tax credit). 

There are other options that the solar companies offer. The one that draws the most attention is the $0 due at signing / no cost today. Essentially what happens is you can finance the cost of your system over 10 or 20 years. The interest they charge is 2.99% for 10 or 4.99% for 20 years. And you, instead, have a monthly payment to make to the solar company rather than the utility. So you end up paying more, obviously. The $36,000 system will cost roughly $44,000 by the time you're done paying it off.

My first issue with this is if I wanted to finance the cost of my solar panels, the better option would be to take out a home equity loan or borrow against my home. With interest rates so low these days, I'd get a better deal that way. 

My second issue with financing is if you choose the longer option at 20 years to avail of a lower monthly payment, by the time you're done paying for the system you've reached nearly the end of the life of the panels. By that time, you'll have to replace panels or worse yet replace the entire system. Have you really saved any money then? Or are you just breaking even? 

Also note: solar panels are not a home improvement. They are considered tangible personal property and not a fixture of the house. That being said, they do not improve the value (financially) of your home. In fact, if you wanted to take the solar panels with you to your next home, in theory, you could. But solar companies still advertise that having a solar system will increase the value of your home. I suppose it could, if the buyer of your home was willing to purchase the panels from you, but they could easily say they love the house but not the panels and have you remove them before you sell. In which case, you've got to shell out the money to have them taken down, and then there's no guarantee that they'll fit on the new home you're moving into. 

My problem now is one that's moral and ecological. While I know that becoming self-sufficient from an energy perspective will help the environment and that installing these panels would be doing our part in "saving" the world, my financial logic is at war with my conscience. I cannot justify the cost mathematically. The cost vs. (financial) benefit is about even. But the (financial) cost vs. (climate change) benefit is heavily in favor of adopting a solar energy system. 

Have any of you gone down this decision path? If so, please feel free to share your insights. And if I've gotten anything wrong up there, please help me understand so that I can correct my thinking. Many thanks! 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Your Mother


You remember what happens when your mom tells you to do something and you go on lollygagging along and forget to do that one thing...

You get your ass beat.

Don't forget who your mother is and make sure you listen and act accordingly.

Negative Connotation, but Inherently Positive

"Two steps forward, one step back" ... is still one step forward!

Unfortunately, the driver of negative connotation here is the mind's association of the work "back" with backwards direction, regression or reversal. What's often lost in the phrase is the logical notion that you have still achieved more than what you started with. 

How do we change the impression in our minds from negative to positive? 

Big Daddy, Sossusvlei, Namibia, circa 2017

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Fear, Not; Courage is Action

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act despite it." - Desmond Tutu

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism

 "The Buddha is supposed to have said, 'I have taught one thing and one thing only: suffering and the cessation of suffering.' The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is filled with suffering. The Sanskrit word for suffereing is dukkha."

OPINION: COVID-19 the Climate Changer

While I was reading a book published in 2014 about climate change, it re-occurred to me that COVID-19 is mother nature's way of combating climate change on her own. This isn't the first time I've thought this.

There's a section that describes the tug of war between capitalism and the economy versus the efforts of climate change experts and environmentalists. My understanding is that the ideals of each side are contrary to each other, making their efforts inversely related. 

With COVID-19, although it's a health issue, the impacts to capitalism and the environment are both positive, actually. How so? 

In terms of capitalism, the stock market (not that it's a great indicator or all encompassing) is booming. There is significant unemployment currently, but I think it's a stepping stone towards future sustainable growth and development. The housing markets affected by low interest rates are great for buyers and sellers can profit from the demand. Construction continues to build and improve in growing areas. And despite small business failures due to health restrictions, I believe they will rebound because those who suffer and survive will learn and grow. 

In terms of the environment, the reduction of daily commutes, daily flights, and the constant movement of floating waste factories has all been minimized. Pollution on a grand scale has been reduced significantly. More people are working in their yards due to travel restrictions and boredom. Less people are driving daily. More people are growing their gardens for the same reasons. There's more time to tend to these basic things now that the economy is on temporary hold. 

In a way, COVID-19 is a climate changer in itself. It's changing the climate of capitalism. And it's helping to change the actual climate of the world. Looking at the positives rather than the negatives, COVID has been helpful. Some will say that it's at the expense of others' well-being and health, and I agree. It's tragic and sad. And I feel terrible for those who are suffering and being challenged physically and mentally. Everyday we hear about these things and it doesn't change the somber mood, but hey, I'm trying to look at it from a different angle. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Rise & Read

Sunrise over Angkor Wat (circa February 2017)

I started reading early in the mornings because I realized that...

  • I retain the most information / knowledge when I am fresh
  • I understand more of what I'm reading. I digest ideas and concepts quicker.
  • It's the most peaceful time in my household. I can truly immerse myself without interruption.
  • I feel good when my intellect rises with the sunshine.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Possibility of Practicing Multiple Religions?

"Can you / should you practice more than 1 religion at a time?"

I formulated this question when I was about 75% of the way through reading The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama XIV and Howard Cutler. As we all may have learned throughout our lives, there are so many intersections between different faiths as well as science. A logical, capitalistic man would pick and choose the best of all worlds and try to combine all the practices to yield the best lifetime results. 

But just as soon as I developed this thought, I was almost seemingly divinely answered by the Dalai Lama himself.

The part that refutes the notion of practicing more than one religion is the necessity to become immersed and develop a "deep feeling, making them part of one's inner experience." Can you truly incorporate and draw from the depths of multiple religious views? Not even God himself (or Allah or Buddha, etc.) had that ability. So maybe it's best not to even try. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler

I wish this book was actually written by the Dalai Lama. In fact, it was written by Howard Cutler based on his interviews with the Dalai Lama. So in a way, it's a little bit misleading.

I suppose that not enough people get any kind of interaction with the Dalai Lama, so we should be "happy" with what we get. Cutler seems to have done the best job he could with the limited time with His Holiness. But to me it just wasn't satisfying. 

In picking up this book, I had hoped to read so much more by the Dalai Lama. I was hoping to be more inspired. I was hoping to have deeper appreciation and understanding. And it's not that I didn't get any of this, it's that I was being greedy in thinking that I'd get more. 

The Dalai Lama's teachings are on the surface pretty basic. But it's in the application of "the art" that is deep and difficult. So many of the simple things he says and that Cutler makes note of could be discussed for hours, days, months, years! And one's personal achievement in happiness could take equally as long. 

I did pull some good things from this book as you've seen in my previous posts. And I respect even just the attempt to put into words what a lifelong journey towards enlightenment has to offer. 

I think what I've taken most from this read is that happiness comes most from the simplicity in life. To achieve happiness, start with what you can control and remove from your life the stress and fear that comes from what you cannot control. 

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Prediction: Eye Contact Failure

The world's exponential use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams or any other remote computing collaboration software for the work environment highlights the need to be visible and helpfully personifies a voice from a distance. While it's easy to just be on camera and speak when called upon or participating in the conversation, what's hard is maintaining eye contact with your audience. 

In some ways, it's almost as if you're on stage, not addressing any one person, but a group of people, in which situations the most often heeded guidance is to look over their heads to avoid the feeling of nervousness. (On the other hand, speaking in front of these small groups still gives us the practice of public speaking.)

In one-on-one conversations, it's become too easy to avoid eye contact. Our vision is constantly distracted, whether it's our cell phones, a second / third / fourth monitor, or a family member crossing your field of vision. We hardly have real eye contact anymore. Even if it looks like you are face-to-face, the other person could easily just have your video minimized and could be staring at something else on the screen; it just so happens that the camera is on that screen. 

I predict that once we go back to working in-office, our newly formed habits will overrule our once professional routine of locking eyes with our conversation partners. We will seemingly be distracted in the face of our colleagues, our eyes constantly wandering over their shoulders, looking down, peering at our phones, or if close enough to our desks, starting at our monitor while trying to carry a conversation. 

I'll tell you now that this bad habit needs to be kicked. So practice being engaged with your counterparts on-screen now. Close your other windows. Minimize your distractions. Fully immerse yourselves in whom you are working with. Connect visually, not just audibly. You'll be more productive that way too. 

Just because we're working remotely, doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our in-office etiquette. 

Post-COVID-19: Will flying ever be the same?

Since COVID-19 ravaged the world causing pandemic, 51% of the global fleet of airplanes have been grounded. Through 2018 there was a shortage of pilots in the world, and continued to be exacerbated with retirements without enough new pilots, but with travel and aviation taking a beating from the widespread communication of the virus, there's now a major surplus. But that surplus will quickly return to a deficit once global travel picks back up...whenever that is...

As a self-proclaimed avid traveler, the questions that comes to mind for when flying the friendly skies returns to some kind of (new) normal are: 

  • How are all the pilots keeping up their aviation skills and maintaining their awareness? 
  • Are they regularly going through flight simulators while they're grounded, out of work, furloughed, or their longer-than-normal wait times in between flights? 
  • How much time must be spent in a simulator by a pilot who was laid off when the frequency of flights picks up in the future? 
And to add another hurdle to the already seemingly dangerous return to flying, how will climate change impact / test the pilots' skills? 

The world is becoming more and more perilous with derechos, fire tornadoes, and the Greenland ice sheet melting beyond repair which will cause spiking world temperatures, like this new mark in Death Valley. How can we be sure our pilots keep us safe? Will flying ever be the same? 

Positive Change

The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIV

Reading this passage, I immediately connected to my own experience. I've never described the process I went through mentally when I decided to earn my CPA, study for it, and pass the exam. But this really sums it up so well, and the proof that the process works is my certification. 

Learning and Education - from the numerous mistakes I've made to the various people I've witnessed and the number of insights I've gained, I learned the hard way. To further success in the field of Accounting, having a CPA, understanding the details of GAAP / Tax / Audit / Business, and using that education could only help me.

Conviction - I formally and firmly declared to myself that change was necessary. And that change was that I needed to be certified in my chose profession.

Determination - for successful people, failure drives determination. Decide to avoid failure, and success is within reach. Every day I was set on passing the exam. Everyday I wanted to improve. 

Action - I looked at ways to improve memory. I tested different diets to help give me energy. I started to drink coffee. I began to chew gum in an effort to correlate muscle memory with studying. I changed the time of day I would study. I changed the order of topics I would study. I modified my mindset. Every action improved my results. 

Effort - without effort, I'd be a failure in my objective. Without effort, I would have made no change. Without effort, I'd have been stuck. Without effort the results may have been depression. But my efforts created suffering in the short term, happiness in the long term. Like a basketball player who goes to practice, the efforts get reflected in the results. 

This 5 step process worked for me. I'm sure it will work for you too.

Monday, August 17, 2020

"Our suffering may not be as worthless and bad as we think." - Dalai Lama

An excerpt from a book I'm currently reading:


This is the reason why people who, from the outside looking in, have suffered great tragedies and obstacles seem to have the most compassion and understanding of our problems and issues. They have become so in tune with their challenges that they are able to develop empathy for ours. We are able to connect on a different level. And that is more helpful than we could ever have imagined. 

In turn, we should change our views on suffering and use it to grow ourselves and support others. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

It's A Small World After All

One of the most serendipitous things to ever happen to us occurred, in of all places, an airport. A lot of you would say that knowing us, maybe that's not so much of a chance occurrence. But think of the odds of something like this happening. Though no prior planning, no communication, no knowledge of timeline or itineraries - we bumped into my aunt and uncle in the Lufthansa terminal of the Frankfurt am Main Airport in Frankfurt, Germany. 

My aunt and uncle, who reside in California and happen to be a pair of our marriage sponsors, were returning home from a vacation to Egypt. Their layover from Cairo was in Frankfurt, with an onward journey to Los Angeles. 

Carolyn and I have made our home Texas in recent years. We were on a return trip from our two-and-a-half week trip to Saudi Arabia. Our itinerary called for a connection in Frankfurt from Jeddah to continue on to Houston. 

Coincidentally, we were all flying Lufthansa. Coincidentally, we had layovers in Frankfurt at around the same time in the same terminal with departure gates within eyesight of each other. 

While waiting in line to get into the Lufthansa Business Lounge, I spotted a woman with an uncanny resemblance in stature and looks as my dear aunt. As it was quite early in the morning, I kind of had to rub my eyes and do a double-check. She was speedily walking along by herself on her way to check out the duty-free shop while waiting for her flight when I spotted her. It's strange how quick my recognition of her was in a sea of people criss-crossing the terminal of a very busy airport. It's not like she was wearing anything that really stood out. It's like the scene in The Matrix where Neo is in a crowd of people walking in the same direction seemingly all wearing black and then all of a sudden there's a woman who is wearing Corvette red and walking in the opposite direction. That's how quick the recognition happened. 

But in terms of how sure I was, I'd say it was like 70-80% certainty. It was the kind of recognition where you think to yourself, I'm going to call out her name and if she turns, then that's definitely her. But if she doesn't then I'll just pretend I never said anything and put my head back down and wait patiently. 

When I called out, though, she turned! And she was as stunned as I was. We quickly recited our layover situations and then she walked us over to see my uncle who was close to the gate. When he caught a glimpse of us from afar walking towards him, he was just as surprised and happy to see us too. Needless to say we chatted until the first of our flights had to depart. 

A chance encounter like that is so much fun. The geek in me would imagine the probability but fail to compute it. The traveler in me hopes to have more run-ins like that in the future with others we know. 

It just goes to show that it’s a small world after all. Keeps your eyes open.

November 17, 2019

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

Sadly, Anthony Bourdain rests in peace. But thankfully, his "adventures in the culinary underbelly" have really opened our eyes to the challenges, processes, coolness, creativity, and glory that kitchens all over the world really deserve. 

His television shows (No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown) are among my favorite reality series of all. Each of these productions were combinations of my favorite things - food and travel. Bourdain's narration of his travel and eating adventures are exactly as he wrote Kitchen Confidential - descriptive, intelligent, sarcastic, insightful, empathetic, adventurous, and real. It's the blunt and vivid stories and journeys depicted in both this book and his available-for-all-to-view tv shows that really captivate an audience. 

Reading this book after his tragic death in 2018 has allowed me to re-live the excitement of watching his tv shows in a different way. To finally understand his history and connection with the industries he's highlighted in his illustrious on-screen career have given me a deeper appreciation for what he did and how he did it. 

I look forward to reading his other books, The Last Interview and World Travel: An Irreverent Guide (when it's released), in the near future. 

Check it out on GoodReads.

But it on Amazon

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tao Te Ching: A New English Version by Lao Tzu

It's hard to refute any of the ideas that Lao Tzu, regarded as the found of Taoism, has to offer. Every page is quotable. Every saying has balance. His teachings emphasize the art of doing without doing. If Lao Tzu's teachings were scientific, they'd be the equivalent of Newton's 3rd Law - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

Regardless of what faith you have or religion you follow, this book and the teachings contained herein can be applied to our everyday lives. All it takes is some introspection, observation, and dedication to balance.

A version, not a translation, by Stephen Mitchell. That's an important distinction.

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Here's an excerpt that I enjoyed: 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Become Like Water My Friend

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu - a version by Stephen Mitchell

This reminds me so much of the Bruce Lee quote:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
 He must have studied Lao Tzu, and is clearly a master of the Tao.