My 2015 In Review

I have started to be very interested in S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. being an acronym which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time- bound.

As I am working to set goals for the rest of my life and for 2016 in particular I thought it’d be a great exercise to look back at 2015 and see what happened and what I already have achieved.

A year is a long time. In January 2015 I was still in my first position working for John Deere which was working on engines. I had been looking for a new position since about May 2014. I had applied for a position in December 2014 with the Ag department but had run into some roadblocks in the organization. I interviewed for a few more positions between January and April . In April learned that the technicalities were fixed and I was able to be offered the position I had interviewed for in December. I started my new position May 1st 2015.

I was part of the University of Northern Iowa competition ballroom dance team from Sept 2014 to May 2015. March 8th, 2015 I was completing the 2nd amateur (newbie) dance competition I was involved in. This took place in Minnesota. It was a great experience where I was able to learn how to ballroom dance and complete in 3 competitions total. Two in Minnesota and one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Learning a new skill has been very fun. I was able to dance at quite a few weddings and it’s something that people are quite surprised by. Growing up being a wrestler and car guy and mechanical engineer this was not something many people saw coming. Truthfully I hadn’t seen it coming myself. Way back in early 2014 I think or maybe even late 2013 a friend asked me to go dancing one time and it stuck.

Between January and March I took the transmission out of my 1987 Monte Carlo SS. I replaced the front and rear seals. I also ended up fixing the transmission cooling lines as well as replacing my power steering pump and hoses. All those things were leaking. For the first time in 11 years of ownership of that car nothing seems to be leaking.

In April a dirt bike was stolen from the back of my truck which prompted this post.

At the end of April I participated in the “Financial LIteracy Test” sponsored/created by Mike Finley. The top 10 people won a total of $100,000 ranging from $1000 for 10th to $25,000 for first place. I did not win any of the money but I learned a lot about finances from reading both of Mike Finley’s books this year as well as various discussions I’ve had with the man this year. Through this I was able to recognize that starting a ROTH IRA was probably a good idea for me. I was able to put in $5500 (max year contribution) for 2014 before April 2015 (catch up period) as well as fully funding my 2015 ($5500). I have also started saving for my 2016 contribution and hope to have that funded in early 2016. That will allow me to start saving in other vehicles or giving more. In April I did my own taxes using Turbotax instead of paying to get them done like I did the 2 previous years.

In my interest to continue to be more efficient in my living, I cut my living expenses dramatically (for 6 months) by getting  a roommate. He has moved on and gotten married (which I’m very happy for him) but again I need to look for a roommate.

In June I rebuilt the engine in my Honda bobber, put it back in the motorcycle and eventually resynced the carbs and it ran super.

Books can take you anywhere!

In 2015 I read 37 books and listened to 21 audio books as of November 15th 2015. The list can be found here. This has been a wonderful experience. It has opened my world to many different experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise have.  We all have one life to live but via books we can gain a whole person’s life’s accumulation of knowledge about subjects as varied as launching early NASA space shuttles, Lucid Dreaming, Financial Literacy, Religion, Atheism and the future of the world.

I visited 11 different churches with my church. We would visit them 1x a month, usually the 2nd weekend of the month. Sometime it’d be a saturday (7th Day Adventists and Muslims) 1-11-2015 -Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), 2-8-2015 Sunday – Universal Unitarians, 4-11-2015 – Mosque, Waterloo IA,  5-9-2015 Saturday – 7th Day Adventist Church in Waterloo, IA, 6-21-2015 Sunday – Trinity Bible Church, 7-12-2015 Sunday – First Church of Christ – Scientist, Cedar Falls, IA, 8-9-2015 Sunday – Greenhill Baptist Church, Cedar Falls, IA, 9-13-2015 Sunday – Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, Waterloo, IA, 10-11-2015 Sunday – St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Waterloo, IA, 11-8-2015 Candeo Church, Waterloo IA. This has also been a wonderful eye-opening experience. I have approached each service with a sense of curiosity of what I will find there. What is similar to my usual services (Catholic)? What is different? Why do they believe what they do? I have met many great people and learned that we all could likely learn a bit more from knowing our neighbors better.

I have continued mentoring 2 brothers via The Job Foundation (TJF). I have also been able to help out there in other capacities from making lesson plans to providing supervision at large group events. What TJF does is provide financial literacy training to many kids who would otherwise not get it (which is really all kids!) These kids are given a few lessons throughout the school year as well as they are rewarded with Conditional Cash Transfers. They get paid to get good grades. Over half of the money is put into a savings account that is inaccessible to the kids until they graduate high school. The rest they are empowered to spend, save or donate as they see fit, giving them the opportunity to make real decisions.  If you’d like to make a 1 time or recurring donation please contact us here.

Around march 2015 I started volunteering at Cedar Valley Gearheads. “Our mission is to provide safe, reliable vehicles at no cost to those most in need in the Cedar Valley.” I have really enjoyed working on vehicles there and the few opportunities I have had to interact with the people receiving cars. I was recently voted in as Vice President for this group and am looking forward to helping them grow as an organization that does even more good in the coming year. If you’d like to make a 1 time or recurring donation please contact us here.

I learned a lot about electricity and it’s future applications via presentations at the Waterloo Technical Society. They give presentations about various topics. Three I went to were about a residential solar project, a Tesla S owner and the UNI power plant operation. Summaries can be found here. I was also able to sign up for some shares of the Cedar Falls Simple Solar project which allows people to  purchase and get the benefits of solar panels without having to maintain them or have them on their land even. It’s a community solar garden. How neat is that?

Along with that interest in electricity I was also investigating it for transportation. I found a very cool website I had been talking with friends about building an electric bicycle for months and later an electric motorcycle. I finally just bit the bullet and bought the parts for the e-bike. I assembled it all for about $620 ($300 bike, $200 tire, $120 batteries) and was able to ride it around some. It is 1000 watts which is about 1.3 horsepower. It will go 29mph when fully charged. The one time I tried to get a max distance it went 10 miles averaging 18-20 mph. Not bad! I have since found many options for production electric bikes that seem a pretty good value.


Another bike and efficiency related thing I picked up in early 2015 was riding to get actual places I needed to go. I started by biking to dancing lessons at UNI. It’s only a mile. After that first short ride I was ecstatic. I was so jacked to bike more. I started biking down to main street and out to Gearheads. It finally ended with me biking to work about 6 times this year (45 minute bike ride). I was even up early enough one day to see Jupiter still in the sky at 5:30 in the morning. What a treat!

In my increased desire for efficiency in 2015 I took the step and actually sold a vehicle! My 2007 Mustang GT. While I enjoyed the car while I had it I kept thinking I needed more power. I asked myself what I’d actually do with a more powerful street car? I finally talked myself into selling it. I have more recently been considering a Toyota Prius or a Chevrolet Volt. My car buddies will be shocked or sickened to even hear those things coming out of my mouth but reading and learning about others has given me some appreciation of the fact that there might be more important things out there than me driving a fast inefficient car. All that being said, in my latest set of life goals I am still targeting owning a Lamborghini by the time I’m 30. Of course, we could all have self driving vehicles in the next 4 years so that might already be an obsolete dream. Who knows?

I was also lucky enough to stand up in 1 wedding, usher 2 and attend 3 more.

All of that seems to be a fairly thorough review of my 2015. Looking back, it was a great year. One of the things that I think contributed greatly was my renewed interest in informal learning through constant curiosity. Now looking forward I am working to set goals for 2016 for myself as well as set comprehensive life goals. I will hopefully share some of those in the future.

What did you do in 2015?
What do you hope to do in 2016?

Change Ourselves. Change The World

“Everything done was done by a human. You are a human. You can do it.” – Axel Hoogland

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Ghandi

“We are not the rational beings that traditional economic theory assumes… Financial institutions and regulators need to accept the reality of (behavioral) biases and design products and policies around them.”Dean Karlan – Yale Economist and Founder of IPA

“Bucky championed a design revolution, maintaining that it was far easier ‘to reform the environment than to attempt to reform people.’” Page 10 Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth

It is very disheartening to me that these two great minds, Buckminster Fuller and Dean Karlan have both basically given up on the ability of people to change. They have decided that it’s easier to provide situations that can steer people a little in the right direction instead of asking people to wake up and see the complete truth. As I’m only 26 years old perhaps I am still coming at the world with a bit of a naive view but I think that it may be thinking like this that has gotten us in our current situation of people plodding mindlessly through life. If we assume people aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions why would it ever occur to them that they would be able to?

Words have power and if people are continually told that something is to complicated for them to understand, for example the stock market, of course they will be afraid of it and be willing to pay massive amounts to people to manage their money. Now that is just a waste of their money. I could become a mutual fund manager right now and beat 90% of fund managers by just investing in Index Funds. I would become rich but I would be engaging in the dumbing down of society as well as basically robbing them. Luckily there are already places like Betterment that are taking that over by robot and hopefully in the next 10 years they will have that market locked up and the mutual fund managers will be done robbing people.
I still have a fundamental belief that if we share as much information with people as possible they will be able to make good rational decisions. To be able to do this there are a lot of inherent biases we need to remove from people’s minds. The first is the thought that “someone else is so much smarter than me. I could never do that.” My favorite self created quote to combat this situation is “Everything done was done by a human. You are a human. You can do it.” If that doesn’t sum up the world I don’t know what does. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and change the world by changing yourself!

Charity And Jesus

You may have heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There’s another day you might want to know about: Giving Tuesday. The idea is pretty straightforward. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, shoppers take a break from their gift-buying and donate what they can to charity. Bill Gates

I wanted to think about charities a bit as I am involved in quite a few. The whole basis of a charity is to help someone else. Some charities are (low) paid positions. Some are completely volunteer. Some are paid an actual living wage. Listen to this TED talk about charity if you have time. He talks about thinking about the salaries of CEO’s in non-profit vs. for profit companies. I especially like this question “Why is it ok to make tons of money not helping people but if we want to make a little money spending time doing something that does help people that is looked down on?” (paraphrased).

I believe each of us should make it our goal to work the government out of the “charity” business as much as we can. I believe the role of the government should solely be to provide security for it’s citizens, whoever they may be. If people are free to go about their business not harming anyone that would be a wonderful society. The government has to keep people from starving, as that is a part of providing security. This is a wonderful idea, in theory. Unfortunately in practice there can be people who will exploit this system so they never have to work in their lives or work very little. They are abusing the system. This is unfortunate and I don’t believe that most people who receive that help are in that situation. I have faith that most of humanity is “good people” who honestly want to work and get ahead. We should all recognize that. We should also all work to help those who need help as much as possible.

I listened to a speaker at a church recently. He was a missionary, meaning he went to other parts of the world to “Share the good news of Jesus”. I don’t completely understand what his exact message was to those people as there are many Christian sects and they all preach a little different stuff. The part of the story that really was touching to me was after their mission left and they had spent 2 years teaching people about Jesus, then the locals started a bunch of outreach missionaries such as providing food to the needy. Now people will say “Look at the great things these people who were taught about Jesus are doing now”. I believe that one aspect of religion is that it allows us to be vulnerable without being completely vulnerable. We always have something to drop back on, to say “Well that wasn’t totally me that was religious me.” To protect our strength if someone wanted to joke about our vulnerability. I also think a lot of people feel like they need permission to do good. They don’t feel they have any authority. I believe that part of what the missionary gave these people was a purpose and some authority. I wonder if the missionary had come in saying “We should work tirelessly to love others.” If that would have gotten the people to work towards helping each other quicker.

Another aspect of charity is that we are told we aren’t supposed to brag about giving to charities. That is supposed to be a personal and humble experience. If we give to charities but then go telling others about it that is not being very humble. I think part of the issue with this is the bible verse
Matthew 6:1-4
Giving to the Needy
1. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4. so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Maybe we could announce it just a little? Maybe that would encourage others to follow the lead? Much like the opening thought about CEO salaries for non-profit vs. for profit, I pose the question “Why is it OK to tell others how much money you have by purchasing expensive houses/cars/etc but it’s not OK to discuss how much you are helping others?” Why is that the “bad” thing? We need to get out of the cycle of being negative when others are expressing their pursuits of helping others.

To provide a few things to think about I want to ask:

How much are you giving to charity? Both time and money are valuable. Honestly time is perhaps more important as it will help you realize how much you really have. It will eventually inspire more monetarily giving once you understand the organizations you are giving to.

The second question I wanted to pose was in response to my continued struggles with “the followers of Jesus” in a general sense, not towards any one denomination. Do you think it is more important that others know about Jesus or that others are provided with security? I believe that a lot of “believers in Christ” think that it is their duty to spread the name of Jesus so others can say the magic words “I believe in Jesus” and thus be “saved for eternity”. I am personally thinking along the lines of “If there is an all powerful and loving God he should be more than capable of taking care of our eternity. We should be more worried about acting like Jesus to others here, helping them prosper on this earth and extending their lives and making them better in the here and now.” I would argue that if you are more worried about people’s eternity you aren’t actually showing your faith, you are showing your lack of faith because you are still worried about eternity. I want to end as much suffering on this earth while I am here.

The reason all this ties together is that I am arguing that there shouldn’t be any such things as a religious charity that is focused on “saving people for eternity”. We should be more focused on helping others here and if they happen to ask we can mention our true motivations for helping them, if it’s really not just because you love them as fellow human beings.

This brings up one more situation related to Jesus and charities and non-profits. Many non-profits are religious based and are dedicated to spreading the name of Jesus, even in places that it might be dangerous to people’s lives to even know about Jesus, much less believe in him! Do you think it’s more important that people believe in Jesus in this life or that they are provided security here? I believe that if we really care about others we should be more worried about working to provide them a safe environment that they can then develop beliefs in instead of pushing our religion on others and then praising their bravery as they are killed for believing something we introduced them to.

What do you think?