Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where do we draw the line?

In this age of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc, there’s a whole lot of information about each of us being shared and viewed by others. For the most part we can control the spread of that information, by setting privacy preferences or simply limiting the amount of data we put out there. Usually these restrictions are discussed in terms of what we wouldn’t want strangers to know about us. For example, I don’t post my home address on my facebook page next to a status update that says, “Janet is heading out of town for 5 days!!” because I don’t want some shady character seeing that as an opportunity. Yes, I know a potential robber could find my address through other means on the internets after discovering I was going out of town, but I try not to make it incredibly easy. Also, I can restrict my status updates to only be shown to my “friends,” or those I’ve granted the ability to see what I’m doing at any given moment. (Hopefully none of those people would ever rob me). But after I've assured myself that I’m not sharing too much with criminals, I need to analyze what I’m sharing with friends…

I used to think I lived in this sheltered world where only 20 somethings ever got on facebook or myspace. They were all like me, so it didn’t matter what silly thing I did or said, or what crazy pictures I posted. And then facebook and myspace hit mainstream. You started hearing them mentioned on the news and on TV shows, and they weren’t the secret clubs they used to be. Now everyone’s got a facebook page! Including my mom. And my dad. And my former teachers. And my coworkers. And my bosses. So now posting those pictures of Oktoberfest or my Cozumel beach trip don’t sound like such a great idea. I still want my close friends to share in my fun times, but I don’t care to show my mother a picture of my drunken debauchery on a Mexican beach. Or my boss for that matter. I'm not saying that either of those people isn't my friend, I'm saying that there are some things that are best kept among a limited group of users.

So this is the part where you tell me to just create private photo albums on snapfish and email out the link to only the specific people I want to see them. Well that’s all well and good, but what about everything else besides pictures? What if I want to let my friends know I’m heading to a bar for happy hour on a Wednesday night, and they should join me, but that gets read by my superiors who will be seeing me the next day, wondering what kind of lush drinks during the week? And you can say goodbye to status updates or comment exchanges during the work day. I’m terrified to announce my joy in meeting my husband for lunch, for the possibility that it might look like I’m doing anything non-work-related during the day. If I receive a random question from a friend about a photo or my plans or whatever it might be, you’re out of luck even though it could be answered in about 5 seconds. I could probably respond over facebook mobile on my iphone while walking from my desk to the bathroom, but I’m not going to do it because of the “appearance” that I’m not busy enough during the day. Facebook can turn into a Big Brother scenario very quickly.

Scaling it back to an even simpler situation, what information do I share on my Profile? Do I refrain from answering the political affiliation and religious beliefs questions because I’m afraid my fairly Conservative family members and coworkers will realize I'm not a God-fearing Republican? I wouldn't be too bothered if that caused a friend to change their view of me, but I certainly have to be concerned if it changed a coworker or boss's view of me. What if my performance review was being given by someone who recently saw me make a comment about how disappointed I was in the Bush administration, and that person is a die-hard Bush supporter? You can try to dispute this, but it's really hard to separate out the different roles we play. And it's really hard not to consider certain information once you're aware of it.

So what is the solution? Do we hide our true feelings? Do we avoid making any comments besides "the weather's great"? I don't think the point of facebook/myspace/twitter is to censor ourselves. They're a way to connect with people, and a way to let other people keep up with our happenings....our jobs, our kids, our dogs, our favorite shows. But just because I want to keep some people updated about ALL aspects of my life doesn't mean I want to keep EVERYONE updated about all aspects of my life. Unfortunately there isn't a way to tell facebook to only show my high school friends the next comment I plan on making. So if I plan on utilizing facebook/myspace/twitter for its intended purpose, then I have to censor my friends. Not my content, my friends. It doesn't mean I don't like you, it means I think our relationship is better served if we don't know every single thing about each other. Unfortunately I'm too far gone to implement this plan on facebook. But there's still hope for twitter! I'm setting it up so that I have avenues to be able to say whatever I want, whenever I want, but to the audience of my choosing. That's the way it needs to be and that's my prerogative. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Informed Giving

Since I've started actively seeking out charities to donate to, instead of waiting to receive requests, I've come in contact with a lot of different charities. Sometimes it's hard to decide where to allocate my donations, but I've found a website that helps! Charity Navigator does a lot of research for you so that you can be an informed donor. Ever wonder how much an organization spends on program or administrative expenses? Ever wonder how much they pay their CEO? Ever wonder how efficient they are in their fundraising? This website helps answer these questions, and rates the charities on their organizational efficiency and their organizational capacity. It also has some very interesting top ten lists (check this one out)! Whether you have one dollar or a million dollars to give, wouldn't you like to feel confident that it went to good use?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Few Small Ways to Save the Planet (and maybe a little money too)

Over the past year, I've tried to find ways to lessen my impact on the earth. Even though the earth's resources aren't going to be depleted in my lifetime, that doesn't mean I can ignore the fact that I'm contributing to that possibility for future generations. I just thought I'd share a few of the changes I've made, in case anyone else finds them useful! Feel free to share any of your tips with me, through comments. I'm always looking for more ways to make positive changes.

The biggest thing I've changed in my life is to try not to be so wasteful. When you go to the grocery store, do you notice how many plastic bags they use? More often than not, it seems like a bag won't even be filled up all the way before they start another one. Also, milk or other heavy items will be put into two bags, when it really doesn't even need to be bagged at all. Then you get home and unpack and you have a million plastic bags. It just seems so silly considering how many trips we make to the grocery store each month. I've started trying to bring my own tote bags with me when I go grocery shopping. That way I can use them over and over again and avoid plastic bags altogether. If I happen to go shopping and forget the totes, I make sure and save all the plastic bags I received so that I can bring them back in for recycling the next time around. It's wasteful to throw them away when there's a recycling receptacle at almost every store. Also, if I just run in the store for a few quick items, I carry them out without a bag.

Whenever I go to the mall, I usually visit a few stores. If I happen to buy something from three different stores, I get home and have three bags to throw away. Now I've started either bringing my own tote when I go shopping, or just using the bag I get from the first store for all subsequent purchases. I know it doesn't make that big of a difference, but it's a start.

Most work days I snack on cereal, or pretzels, or carrots, or other things like that. These items usually come in large packages, and I just need an individual portion each day. I buy plastic sandwich bags or quart-sized bags for bringing them to work. It didn't take that many days for me to realize I'd go through those bags like crazy if I brought two to work every day and threw them away after each snack. Now I've started bringing the bags back home with me and filling them up again for subsequent use. It makes a lot more sense to reuse them and it saves money too.

If you work in an office, (especially in an accounting position), then you know how much paper gets used/thrown away each day. If you work in an office that provides free sodas (like I do), then you also know how many cans are thrown away each day! Jer and I try to recycle as many things as possible at home, so I figured it shouldn't be any different at work. I have a box in my cubicle where I collect recyclable items. It's amazing how quickly it fills up! And to think, all those items would've previously been thrown away and would've probably ended up (unnecessarily) in a landfill. Imagine the difference we'd make if we all recycled more!

Besides sodas, I drink a ton of water. Previously I would use the styrofoam cups my employer provided, and get a new one each day. Man, that was wasteful! Recently I received a Nalgene bottle from my employer for my participation in our wellness program. It makes so much more sense to drink my water from a reusable bottle each day. It creates less waste, and would save my company money if we all did it.

In my position, I'm constantly jotting down notes or working through solutions on a small spiral steno pad. I'd fill up a page with ink, flip it over, and move on to the next page. Just recently it occurred to me that I'm going through these notebooks way too quickly. Do you know why? Because I'm only writing on the front of each page. I'm not sure why I apparently was purposely avoiding the back of each page, but there definitely wasn't a good reason for it. It was just another wasteful habit I had developed. Now I make sure I get the full use of each notebook before I go looking for another one.

Jer and I were at Lowe's today, and I needed to pick up a couple rollers to finish painting one of the guest bedrooms. I saw a two-pack and grabbed it and started to walk away. As I did, a display caught my eye and I stopped to read it. It was for a roller made from recycled materials. Huh. Interesting. I compared the prices and they were actually a little bit cheaper than the "value pack" I was holding. Well that was an easy decision! I'd definitely prefer to give my money to a company that uses recycled materials, especially at a reduced price!

Do you ever notice that you either don't get any napkins when you drive through a fast food place, or get a billion of them? There's no in-between! In situations like the latter, Jer and I would eat our dinner, use like two or three of the napkins, and throw the rest away without giving it a second thought. Lately I've been saving all those extra napkins and either putting them in my car (for random spills or runny noses!) or just keeping them at the house for everyday use. It really cuts down on the paper towels we go through.

I know each of these examples, in themselves, are very minute. They seem a little pointless when viewed on an individual basis. But, making little changes like these helps me be more aware of my impact on the planet. Some people may think I'm turning into a penny-pincher, but that's really not it at all. The potential money-saving effects weren't part of my motivation. I got fed up with how wasteful I felt I was becoming, and knew I needed to change that. Anything above and beyond reducing my carbon footprint is just bonus!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My April Selection

The Bet
The recipient and amount for our donation this month was selected in a fun way! Some friends of ours, terrbear and stinkle, had mentioned the possibility that they'd try to go the entire month of March without eating out. I told them I thought it was impossible, and, of course, a bet ensued. The terms were as such:

1) Jer and I start with a balance of $150, T & S start with $0
2) Every time that either T or S eats out, $25 gets added to their balance. This means if they go out to eat together, that's $50. Each $25 that gets added to their balance, also gets deducted from our balance.
3) The challenge lasted 3/1/09 - 3/31/09
4) At the end of the challenge, you donate your balance to the charity of the other couple's choosing.

The Results
After 31 days, T & S had eaten out four times, bringing their total to $100. That amount was deducted from our balance, bringing it to $50. I'm pretty impressed that they went the entire month only eating out four times. I have a hard time going one week without eating out four times!

The Selections
Jer and I selected The Hunger Project for T & S to donate to. This organization works towards ending world hunger, not just through hand-outs, but through activities that promote self-reliance. They also recognize the importance of empowering women in their quest and using them as agents of change.

T & S requested that we donate to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. As you probably know, Lance is a cancer survivor, and he uses his experience to inspire and empower others affected by cancer. His Foundation supports local programs that aid cancer survivors, it funds researchers, and it collaborates with many other organizations to address needs and effect change.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Little Too Much Excitement for Me

I'm not sure why this event popped up in my memory recently, but I figured it was an interesting enough story to share, even this far after the fact. While I was attending Texas Tech in Lubbock, I worked at a mortgage company. It was located on the outskirts of town, near 82nd & Ave F. It was a pretty industrial area, so each building was like a mini-warehouse. Next door to us was a paging/answering service company, and next door to them was Wylie Propane. My coworkers and I always joked about how it probably wasn't safe working near a propane plant. Boy, were we right!

I was sitting in my office one day, when my boss came charging through the back door of the building. He flew down the hallway, and as he passed by my office he yelled, "Get out now! The propane plant is on fire!" I remember sitting there for one second, as his words sunk in, and then the rush of panic I felt when I realized what he said. As I started to get up, I saw my coworker Amanda running after him. I grabbed my purse and followed suit.

As I ran out the front door of the building, I immediately felt the heat of the fire. The sound was pretty deafening too. I, along with my coworkers and other people from the buildings nearby, sprinted as fast as we could through the vacant field that was across from our offices. Everytime we stopped to look back, someone would yell that we were still too close. When we got to a distance that we felt was safe, all we could do was sit and watch.

Wylie is a propane distributor, so this location had pallet after pallet of personal sized 5 gallon propane tanks. There had to be thousands of them. They also had two enormous 18,000 gallon tanks on-site that stored propane. Their entire building was engulfed in flames, along with everything else on their property. The small canisters would catch fire and explode, and become dangerous projectiles. We could see them flying through the air, hitting neighborhood businesses, with some landing in the field not too far from us. We all just sat there in disbelief, as the fire became massive. It was incredible.

Considering how large and dangerous the fire was, we didn't hold out much hope that the fire fighters could extinguish it before it spread to nearby buildings. We just really hoped the huge storage tanks wouldn't explode, or the damage would've been exponentially greater. To get an idea of how massive this fire was, check out this video. The fire reached this magnitude very quickly. The building adjacent to the fire is the communications company (with the red roof), and I was in the building next to that one. Here's another video that shows the vantage point I had as I ran from the building. The center building in the shot is the one I was in, and parked out front you can see a Gray Ford Escape (next to the white truck). That was my car! I thought for sure it was dunzo! haha.

After my coworkers and I sat there in disbelief for a while, we figured we might as well head home. They had already battled the blaze for about an hour, and evacuated the nearby residents. So we got friends to take us home (since our cars were being held hostage!) and watched the news and waited. Firefighters battled the blaze for almost 3 hours before finally getting it under control. The wind was blowing strongly towards the east during the fire, so the businesses behind Wylie were in the path of it. Since our building was to the south of the fire, we were untouched. When all was said and done, we were incredibly lucky. It's hard to believe we didn't suffer any damage considering our proximity to the fire. Some other folks weren't so fortunate. The Wylie plant was completely destroyed and 23 cars and 7 other businesses were damaged. While I was able to return to my car and building unscathed, it was a little too much excitement for me.