02016 Year End Review

You can read my 02015 year end review here, which I did in November 2015. Wow. For 02016 I am waited until the actual end of the year to complete it.  

Here is my 02016 year in review. You can check the contents below if you just want to skip to one section
Simple Solar

Charities I Donate To
Personal things I did this year
Earlier in the year as part of my quest to share information that I think will have a positive effect on the world I made a few videos about investing and money. They can be found on my Youtube Channel here. For 2016 I had a total of 680 views coming to 814 minutes or 13 hours and 34 minutes.  While that is not a record for YouTube by any means, it was an interesting experiment for me. I will continue to think about YouTube this year and see if there is any more interest on my part in using it.


Simple Solar:

I believe almost 2 years ago I heard about a potential solar field that would be built by my local electricity provider. They called it Simple Solar. I really liked it for a few reasons.

  1. You could buy as many or as few shares as you wanted.
  2. You didn’t have to do your own maintenance (which most people don’t want to do, simple is better!)
  3. It would move with you if you moved houses, as long as you were in their provider area still. Not possible with a $20,000 home solar system.
  4. You didn’t have to worry about metering back into the grid it’s already part of the grid. This takes away a bit of hassle that you may have with a personal solar setup at your home.

The way it works after we purchased the credits and the field was build was that the shareholders will be credited each month on their bill for 20 years the amount that their shares produced when averaged over the whole solar field. There is no specific panel I own in the solar field.

I started receiving payments on my monthly bill in approximately July 2016. I also started paying for my panels, 4 shares of the whole project at $270/share for a total of $1080 or $90/month paid over 12 months. My monthly pay back rate is  $0.055002/KWH.  (Kilowatt hour). My 4 shares each generated 14.28 KWH in December (a not very sunny month). The normal rate I pay is $0.0579/KWH. While that is only $3.14 this month other months I have seen a payback of $6 or $7. Assuming a monthly payback of $5 = $60/year = $1200 over it’s lifetime. This just covers the $1080 investment. So at first it may not seem to be great money investment. $1,080 returning 7% a year for 20 years would be $3,869.  My calculation doesn’t take into account any raise in the electricity price that will surely happen over 20 years. It also doesn’t include a calculation for how much pollution is being reduced. Because of those reasons I see the money I put in this solar field as investing in the future. I see this as just as important as investing in your retirement accounts or perhaps even more important!

Here is an interesting website that shows the instantaneous and lifetime, and other facts, output of the solar field. Here is a video of the field.

I wrote 17 posts for www.MyWheelLife.com You can find the list of all posts here.


Near the end of 02014 I was introduced to Mike Finley AKA “The Crazy Man In The Pink Wig”. He can be found here. He helped me learn a lot about investing and money management. One thing he encouraged was a yearly net worth statement. Here is what I’ve done over the year related to that.  

Start of Year 02016– 1-1-02016
401K – $60,383
HSA – $4,119.76  (none invested)
Vanguard – $14,268.47 ($3,000 to be part of 2016 ROTH $5,500 limit)
Bonds – $853
Total – $79,624.23

End of Year 02016 – 12-31-02016

401K -$85,896.34 (Change +$25,513.34)
HSA -$6,527.75 ($2,799.24 invested)   (Change +$2,407.99)
Vanguard -$17,933.78 (Change +$6,665.31)
Bonds – $882.01 (Change +$29.01)
Total – $111,239.88

My total 401K deferment was $17,399.20 between my own money and my company’s match. My personal ROTH IRA deferment was $5500, the max for someone under 55 years old. My HSA investment was $3350 but some of that was spent for health expenses, that’s why that is not $3,350 higher than the start of the year.

This gives a total of $22,899.20 into retirement accounts (401K + ROTH IRA).

You can see that my 401K balance rose more than the money I put in. This is due to growth of the economy. This is why it’s good to save money in the market, it grows faster than the market. You can see a great graph from Mr. Money Mustache here about how the market is always growing (over the long haul). If you checked the markets everyday, like I did, you will realize that most of the growth in stocks came after November 11th. Previous to this the return was hovering around 2% or 3%. This just goes to show that it is hard to know when to put money in which is why dollar cost averaging is a good strategy. With this strategy you don’t try to time the market. You just buy when you have money. This is how most 401K investments are set up if you have money deferred from a paycheck anyway since that is a regular payment.

On 7-6-02016 I purchased $2600 of FUSEX (a S&P 500 index fund) through my Health Savings Account which is held at Fidelity . The expense ratio is .09% or $0.90/$1,000 invested (Meaning if I have $2,600 total invested in that account I pay $2.34 per year to have that money in that investment. At the end of the year that $2,600 had grown to $2,799.24, which is a growth of $199.24/$2,600 = 7.6% growth. The Mad Fientist has a great post about the benefits of a HSA and investing it.

Digging further into my financial laundry, I will report that I do not own a house nor am I saving up for one. I am enjoying the limited amount of home repair time and cost that an apartment affords me. For most people you could include a house in your net worth calculation but you’d also have to include it in a debt calculation. I have no debt from vehicles, student loans or a house which puts me in a fairly good situation.

As for savings, I have a relatively small amount in cash at any one time. I do have my HSA which can cover any medical bills and the principle of my ROTH IRA can function as emergency cash at any time if I am in a real bind. If I need thousands of dollars in cash for anything besides a car or home loan I am probably in trouble. With my salary and  credit history and showing I have assets in a ROTH and 401K I should be able to secure a loan at any time with little down. This may not be an option for everyone but I believe it works for me.

I have a life insurance policy through work by default (2X my salary) and one extra one through work for $30,000 that costs about $2 a month. I have been meaning to cancel that but I have to physically send in paperwork and haven’t yet. Being a single male with no dependents I don’t see much need for life insurance on my part.

I wanted to share this information because a lot of people do not talk about money or retirement, but a lot of people are anxious about it. The less you talk about something the more anxiety comes from it because the less you know about it. I believe in the free sharing of information. I also believe if you don’t control your money it will control you. I understand that some people measure the value of others by how much money they have or make. This is true for people who don’t make or have a lot assuming that those who do have stolen it from them or others. It is also true for people who make or have a lot thinking that those who don’t are lazy or stupid. Both stereotypes are mostly wrong. Open dialogue between people would help clear up those misunderstandings. I also believe that knowing what you have should help you realize that you probably have more than you need. You can compare yourself to the rest of the world at the website “Global Rich List”. I found that (according to investments) I am in the top 7.6% of people in the world. That certainly makes you think.


One thing that I am unsure about is how I am supposed to balance saving vs. spending vs investing in myself or others. I think about how selfish it is to consume so much energy, food, entertainment myself when there are many who are unable to get enough to eat. That lead me to read the book “Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help”. While I am no saint, I wish I was better. One friend I talked to about this this year said that we should all do our best at whatever we are “called” to do. He thinks that if you are “called” to be the best race car driver in the world you should pursue that with passion. I am a bit skeptical if anyone is called to be the best race car driver. I understand that we can’t always be focused on helping others or we’ll get burned out or cynical. But how much more should we be trying to help others who are in a worse spot than us solely based on where they were born?

The tough thing about this line of reasoning is that you eventually end at that you shouldn’t have any fun and you are never doing enough because there is always someone else to help. At least that’s what others have told me. I want to take a bit more hopeful view of it. I hope for a time when we each care about one another more. We provide for those who don’t have enough and we aren’t to wrapped up in our own small lives. The book “Looking Backward” by Edward Bellamy has a pretty interesting outlook on this future.

In light of that, and while I am probably saving more than many people, I am also interested in many charities. Here is some information on those.

Charities I Donate To:

I read the book “The Life You Can Save”. You can read my review of that book here

That goal is possible. Here’s a seven point plan that will make you part of the solution to world poverty.

  1. Tell others what you have done. Spread the word in any way you can: talk, text, email, blog, use whatever online connections you have. Try to avoid being self-righteous or preachy, because you’re probably no saint, either, but let people know that they, too, can be part of the solution. Peter Singer (page 168 The Life You Can Save).

In working with that message, here is my list of charities for 2016 and a bit of justification for each.

Wikipedia – I uses this nearly every day. I appreciate that donating to charities allows you to choose how much you value it yourself and also allows you to pay as much as you can while not limiting access if you can’t pay.

Partners in Health – I read the book In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez at the end of 2015 and into January 2016 at the request of a friend. I appreciate that Dr. Farmer is working to help those in need get basic services that we take for granted in the developed world.

Alternatives Pregnancy – Based in Waterloo, Iowa. This is a Christian based non-profit that helps women who are pregnant. They are a pro-life organization. I appreciate that they are working to help those who can be in a tough position (unplanned pregnancy) instead of just telling them to have a  baby but not supporting them.

St Augie – Platteville, WI – This is the church I went to in college. They asked me to donate to them so I do now since I didn’t have a lot of money in college. (This is a relatively small monthly amount).

Long Now Foundation – This is a non-profit dedicated to long term thinking. They are where I picked up the idea of using 02016 instead of 2016 for a year date. I like them because they are inherently selfless, planning for long after they are gone. ($8/month = minimum membership).

End 7 (sabin vaccine) – Similar to Partners in Health.

“Most people have never have heard of diseases like elephantiasis, river blindness, snail fever, trachoma, roundworm, whipworm or hookworm. But nearly one in six people globally, including more than half a billion children, have these diseases. Without treatment, NTDs can lead to lifelong disabilities and suffering. Just 50¢ can treat and protect a person against all seven of the most common NTDs for up to one year.” – From their site.

Focus – Being Catholic I supported a friend’s girlfriend and future spouse (now spouse) who was doing Focus at the time. Now I support one of her friends.

One Acre Fund – I read their book, The Last Hunger Season, and a few pages into the book I donated to their charity. Here is my review of their book. Their philosophy of giving a man (or woman) the tools and knowledge to take care of themselves vs. handing out charity is a great idea to me. This is supporting both immediate needs (within one growing season people get more food) as well as helping them provide for themselves long term.

Imagine Missions – A woman started an orphanage in Haiti. I went to a friends church one day this year and she was speaking there so I decided to donate to them. $25-$50 a month provides for a child’s education and food. They also make a Facebook post daily so you can keep up with what they are doing.

The Job Foundation – I both mentor kids through this local program and donate to them. I see it as an investment in the future. This is a local and long term program.

NPR – I had grown up listening to NPR and was on a resurgence about a year or 2 ago. Eventually I have transitioned to listening to audiobooks almost all the time when I’m driving but continue to contribute (a little) each month to NPR in the likely event I start listening to them in the future again. I also listen to some public radio content via podcasts so supporting my local NPR station is another way to support those. Similar to Wikipedia, if you can pay for something and you use it you should to help subsidise it for people who may not be able to afford to pay for it. I know I listened to NPR in my life when I couldn’t pay for it and others were.

Children International – This charity allows you to sponsor individual kids who otherwise wouldn’t be getting the schooling and some healthcare. This is an international and long term program.

House of Hope – This is a local charity that is helping women and children who are in a tough place. I like that it gives them 2 years to get back on their feet as well as helping with education. I think this is very similar to the idea of a basic income (in a limited capacity).

Charity:Water – This charity is working to provide clean water to people by providing wells. Clean water can provide so many benefits since it stops a lot of other issues related to dirty water. It also gives more free time since people shouldn’t have to walk as far to get water.

Give Directly – This is a charity interested in seeing what happens when you provide people with a basic income. I read the study, “Household Response to Income Changes: Evidence from an Unconditional Cash Transfer Program in Kenya”  about some people who received help from them. I am interested in what happens when a basic income in provided. Will people work harder at something they enjoy? I am interested in what would happen for a basic income if it was applied to everyone. It’s cheaper to provide that for people who have a lower standard of living to start out with. They are working on a basic income program this year in Kenya.

Cedar Valley Gearheads – I don’t donate to this charity but I was the Vice President this last year. I see their work as good for effecting a short term immediate need of some local residents. Each charity has it’s own focus, long or short term, local or distant. Ultimately all need support so we should just identify which we can help the most and do that.



I had heard about micro-loans and microfinance for a while. I finally took the plunge and put my first $100 into Kiva January 28th, 2016. Since then I have put in a total of $608. Some of that was donated to Kiva for their own expenses. I have made a  total of 37 loans this year of $25 each for a  total of $925 loaned. That is one interesting thing about Kiva is that that money is not donated but only loaned. You can also pull that money back out of Kiva anytime after it’s been repaid to you. The money comes back but you don’t receive interest on it. I had one person die who I’d provided a loan to so that money was lost, but since it’s $25/loan (unless you choose to do more) it’s not a big loss. A much sadder loss for the man’s family that his life was lost.


I also read the book “Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least” which was sort of a memoir of one of the founders of Kiva.

Kiva is interesting because it gives you a lot of stats. You can keep track of how many countries you’ve loaned to (28 of 79 available countries to loan to for me this year). This could be a bit of a result of the gamification of everything. Another interesting aspect of their gamification is you can join lending teams. Fittingly the 2 largest teams with their stats are:

(A+) Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics,… 36,404 members have lent $29,751,725 in 1,024,874 loans

We loan because… We care about human beings and understand that it takes people to help people.


Kiva Christians 18,557 members have lent $28,448,925 in 611,093 loans

We loan because… Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (Jam. 1:27)

A little further down the list is Kiva Mormons 1,747 members have lent $3,877,725 in 111,031 loans

To spare you the math, and just for fun, that’s an average of $1533.06 from each Christian and $817.27 for each Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics….
The Mormons come to $2219.65/person.

Another fun thing that Kiva will do for teams is make various graphs. For example the Kiva Christians seem to fund more loans by men (by some percentage) while the Atheists seem to fund loans to women by approximately 4x!



Kiva’s microloan dollars are distributed by local banks and credit union partners in the countries it operates in. The lenders, such as myself, are only the capital. Some of the partners charge interest, others do not. The lenders (like me) do not get any interest though.

I am often quick to make a judgement about something like charging an interest rate to those who are asking for such small loans. To help offset some of those thoughts here is a FAQ page from Kiva. This can be seen as similar to the One Acre Fund policy of lending partners (people they are helping) money to purchase seed, fertilizer and other stuff from One Acre Fund and expecting to have that loan paid back. The borrowers are better off since they are able to produce more food for themselves and to sell. It is good for them to give that money back so someone else like themselves can receive that loan the next year. They are also free to get another loan from One Acre Fund to purchase more feed/fertilizer. Since they are likely to produce excess to be able to pay back the loan and have more for themselves overall the loan is a good thing. I believe the way Kiva’s partners operate with charging interest if they have to to survive may not always be a bad thing.

I am interested if Kiva and microloan is the right thing to do in general. I certainly believe that those people are probably being helped but one question is if the people who don’t receive loans are actually being hurt by the competition they are receiving from someone backed by a loan? Are the people receiving the loan getting an unfair advantage? I am not sure.

Another question I wondered was “Would there be an opportunity for ‘regular’ lenders like banks to make money from lending and gaining interest from a typical microloan user?” Again, perhaps but they may be more likely to lend at even higher rates than if the capital is coming from a relatively “rich” backer from Kiva. (Relatively rich since a typical loan on Kiva is a few hundred dollars compared to thousands or even hundreds of thousands for a typical USA loan for a car, house or education.

Kiva is also interested in other types of loans, such as their 0% loans available in the US here. Perhaps they are also available in other places?


I loaned my first money via Zidasha on August 21st, 2016. It is similar to Kiva (it was started by a former Kiva employee) in that it does micro loans. I can’t tell you exactly what is different. The way I have it set up it auto relends money as low as $1 (although you can go in and set it to relend at a certain date to allow more to get paid back to you for a larger loan to any one person). I sort of like have a little more ($25 vs $1) in each loan, but I suppose the way Zidisha does it, having even more people participate in each loan, donating as low as $1 spreads the risk out even more for the lenders. If you don’t particularly care which projects/businesses/school education gets your money the auto relending seems fine. It is probably more efficient. I mostly signed up for Zidisha just to see a different system from Kiva. My first loan through Zidisha was for $52 and now through repayments $78 total has been lent to 9 loans. I am not actively adding money to this like I have been to Kiva. I haven’t looked into it enough to determine which I really think is better. Kiva is certainly larger. You can find a lot more information about Zidisha here.




I finished reading 33 books in 2016. I started 2 books that I didn’t finish. Antiquities of the Jews (super long book, I got 100 pages in which is longer than most of the books on this list and Getting Things Done the art of stress-free productivity (2015 Edition) – David Allen This book I just found rather boring. A lot of people in the work group I read this with didn’t finish it either.) I also read 1 kindle book (Time and Regret). I had resisted reading Kindle books because I like being able to highlight in my books and find those references again. I found that it is even easier on a Kindle to do that. I also just like having a book in my hand. Maybe I’m old fashioned. I may try more Kindle books in the future.

I finished 21 audiobooks between audible and CD’s.  I have mainly given up listening to music or news on the radio. Perhaps current news would be good to listen to but I find it usually incomplete. I generally find that I can find more reliable information a few days after some real information is found out. I remember in 2015 listening as the Boston Marathon Bombers were being chased down. It sounded as though I was getting live updates from the officers chasing them. I was getting anxious just listening to it. I don’t really need that up-to-date news. I can hear it in a day or 2. Because of that I am now identifying things that will improve my understanding of how the world came to be as it is and things that will improve me. I read books on history and the future. On technology and religion, about science and pseudoscience and science fiction and a lot of books about space, Mars and astronauts! I listened to books about the governments of China, Russia and North Korea. I read a few books about the work certain nonprofits were doing (Kiva and One Acre Fund). I purchased 33 books from Amazon but only read 20 of them. I didn’t read 13 of the books I purchased (for myself to read). Of the other 12 books I did read some must have been purchased the previous year, some were purchased in person, a few came from a book study at work and at least a few were gifted to me by other people. I listened to 2 books by Walter Isaacson, read 2 by C.S. Lewis, 2 by Oliver Sacks and 3 by Scott Adams, one by Albert Einstein and one about him, 2 by astronauts (1 by Buzz Aldrin and 1 by Chris Hadfield) and one about the experiences of a lot of astronauts (The Overview Effect) and 2 books about Kiva (one by a person who started it and one by a man who loaned a lot of money via Kiva and interviewed some of the people who received that money).  I also read one book for the third time, Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth by Buckminster Fuller.

My complete reading list over the past few years can be found here.

Personal things I did this year:
In January I attended the Detroit Auto Show. One of my favorite vehicles shown there was the 3 wheel, 2 person Elio. It is not in production yet but I hope it eventually is!
In June I attended a wrestling Camp with my younger brother. He is a freshman this year.
Later in June I visited a friend in Texas. We went to the Johnson Space Center, 2 Lamborghini dealers and a Hindu Mandir (temple) in Houston.
In July I attended a family reunion where we celebrated the 100th birthday of one of my father’s aunts.
In July I also became a Godfather for the 2nd time.
In November I visited a friend in Chicago and went to the Museum of Industry and Science. The German U-boat there was incredible!
I visited the Performance Racing Industry Trade show in December 2016.




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 www.EValbum.com. 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?

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?

On Giving

“No one ever became poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

In 2014 the Gross World Product (GWP) was between $87 trillion and $75 trillion. GWP is a count of all the money “made” from sales of good in a year in the whole world, legal goods. That comes to $16,000 per person. This means everybody! The old. The sick. The hurt. The children.  This means that if money were divided equally each person would have about $16,000 a year to live off of. How much did you spend last year?

The Motley Fool said that the average American spends $140 a day or $51,000 a year. That’s crazy!  $51,000/$16,000=3.2 (Subtract one for yourself) So that means that the average american is using 3.2 people’s worth of money! Now I’m certainly not saying I’m exempt from this situation. I am fortunate to have a high income. I have been considering how to effectively use this gift I’ve been given. What could we do with that money instead? Give it away!

This study by the National Center For Charitable Statistics shares some facts on giving. The “normal” US family gives between 2% and 6%. Honestly, 6% was better than I was expecting, but that’s for people who make $10 million +. For us “mortals” There’s a correlation between lower wages and higher percentage of income given. Ranging between up to 4% for people making $45k while those making between $100,000 and $2 million are giving around 2.5%. While that is more money total, we should all remember the great words of Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility.”

There are a myriad of reasons the “normal” person doesn’t give. One is we are afraid we won’t have enough. We compare ourselves to our neighbor who undoubtedly has more stuff than we do, but if we compare ourselves to, for example, the Syrian refugees, we seem to have a lot. If you are reading this on a computer you already have electricity and internet which puts you ahead of most people in the world. If you have electricity you likely have running water and a reliable grocery store within 30 minutes of your house. If you have a steady job you are already more privileged than most in the world.

No one told us it was good to give. Some people are just so caught up in the consumer lifestyle in the US from watching crap like Jersey Shore and The Kardasians that they think all you can do is spend money on stupid crap. For these people I will just say, stop watching that crap. Also stop going to the store to buy whatever strikes your fancy. I know the power of advertising as much as anyone. I walked into Walmart yesterday just to “Look at the new Star Wars toys” since I’m a bit of a Star Wars nerd. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with Star Wars or entertainment (besides Disney disregarding 30 years of continuum books to make boatloads of money on new toy deals but that’s an argument for another day). But the sheer volume of new toys for that is staggering! Also I succumbed to buying a handful of new Hot Wheels, naturally Fast and Furious branded. Marketing is tough stuff! That’s why it’s just better to stay away!

Another reason we don’t give more is we don’t think our money will be used effectively when given to a charity. This is a valid concern. Some people I talk to don’t want to donate money abroad because they are unsure if it will actually reach the people they are trying to help. That is a great and valid concern, but we shouldn’t let it paralyze us. There are plenty of sites that independently audit non-profits and give them effectiveness ratings. An alternative would be that you could donate to a charity in your town. Most of us spend time with people in the same boat as us, economically. We feel uncomfortable going to a different part of town where the houses are a bit run down. We should embrace those people. They are our neighbors also. The more we embrace uncomfortable situations the more comfortable we will become in them. We also might just help some of those people out of those situations and that will be good for everyone. For these people I’d reference Matthew 6:21.

“Where your treasure is there also your heart will be.”

If you are donating money to some organization and also volunteering there you will be able to be sure that your money is actually helping others. An added benefit is that you aren’t out spending money if you are volunteering!

How will we see this world improve for everyone? We have to start with ourselves. If we don’t help our neighbor, why would we expect anyone else to help them?

So how does your giving compare to the “average person”?

How does your yearly spend compare to the world per capita income? Could you live on less and still enjoy life? I’d challenge you to think about those questions.

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


Don’t Kill Your Child! Please!

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5

I recently was made aware of this website by The Friendly Atheist.

The basis of the story is there is a pregnant woman. She is 26. She has scheduled an abortion for July 10th and will have the abortion, unless pro-lifers send her $1 million, which she promises to put in a trust fund to give to her child, who she’ll not abort if the $1 million is raised. The child will be given up for adoption and the money will be transferred to the child at the age of 21.

The Pro-Lifers” who have apparently decided they speak for all pro-lifers, have said they will not pay anything towards this fund, and I agree with them, in principle. Their argument being “It’s a hostage situation and we don’t negotiate with terrorism.” Terrorism in this case being using terror to coerce someone into doing something, not the general thought of Middle eastern terrorists that is prevalent in people’s heads these days. That is a fair stance.
Here are a few ways this situation could play out.

  1. The money is not raised and she has an abortion. – This would be the worst outcome as a child would be murdered.
  2. The million, by some miracle (which I do believe in miracles), is raised. The child is put up for adoption, which the female who will birth the child, has vowed to do. The money is given to the child at the age of 21, which makes very little sense, why not 18 which is the age people are considered adults, at least in America. Now this child (adult by now) will have to ask why there is a million dollars given to them. This could go 2 ways.
    1. The child could become very depressed at the thought that his/her biological mother wanted to kill them which would make the child question his/her self worth. Eventually leading to a unfulfilled life and potentially self harm or harm of others out of frustration.
    2. Alternatively the child could become so empowered by the fact that so many people (except his/her own biological mother) loved him/her enough to donate money to save his/her life that that child (now adult)  will become a super advocate against abortion.
  3. Another alternative, is that the mother could raise the child herself after thinking some more and realizing the grave mistake she is making by committing murder. I would encourage her to contact this woman or any other who regrets their own abortion. You can find plenty by just googling “I regret my abortion”. The only unfortunate part about this is that likely sometime it will come out that the mother was considering aborting the child and made a very large fuss about it. Likely the child will be pretty put off by the thought that his/her mother had considered killing him/her. I would be also. Hopefully the mother would do this very gingerly and really explain how she was led astray by public opinion into believing that the child was not really a person.

That’s the attitude that I’m personally taking towards this woman. She’s 26. I will be in August. I’ve done some dumb things in my life. She has also. But she still has the opportunity to make the right choice. Don’t murder your child.This is me pleading with you. If I was a millionaire I’d give the million easily, but I’d also try to talk to you. I’d ask you how you got to this point. I’d try to share the beauty of your child with you. But I can’t do those things, because you are an anonymous person on the internet. That’s also why I can’t just go about giving money to every person who threatens to kill someone. Will you give it back if you murders her child? I wouldn’t even want it! At that point it’d be blood money. What I can tell you is that I do support children I know are in need now as much as I can. I support children through The Job Foundation and through Children International as well as all people who need water via Charity Water. The point of mentioning these is not to show to the world what a great guy I am. It is to show you that real people do support others in need, as we can. But the value in that support is that it is loving support, given freely. Those people don’t demand I give them money. I give it to them because I love them, even though I don’t personally know them. It’s given freely, not taken or demanded. What does it prove if something is taken? Nothing.

When would you be happy? After I cashed out all my retirement accounts and sold all my vehicles? No. None of that would make you happy, because you don’t care about me, or your child, or anyone else. You are, at this moment, a selfish person. Our current society teaches us that it’s good to be selfish. This is the sad state of affairs we are in.

I do agree with you. Christians could always give more and that’s certainly something we each need to work on, but please forgive us. We are not perfect either, we are just sinners, just like you, and we really are trying.

While I disagree with your desire to murder your child, I will pray for you. I pray that you don’t murder your child. When you become more selfless, you will find that you are enjoying life more. You don’t love every moment, but living in love is more fulfilling than living for yourself.

I have also not donated to your site and I likely won’t but it has helped me recognize that I can always give more and so I have pledged to donate monthly to a local pregnancy help center, Alternatives. I only hope that you can find a similar place near you.

And please, don’t kill your child! Please talk to someone. Call me (715-820-0377) or email me (hooglandaxel@gmail.com) or talk to someone more local (probably more helpful) but please just don’t kill the child. We really do care about you. But we can only help you if you ask for it, not demand it. Love can’t be demanded.


Thank you to Amy Entwistle at Flickr Creative Commons for the cover photo.