Websites I Can’t Live Without

Websites I can't live without.Please forgive the hyperbole in the title “Websites I Can’t Live Without.” The truth is, yes, I can live without them. However, I use them so frequently that not having them at my disposal would create a void.What are the websites you can't live without? Click To Tweet

Google: I use Google for all my Internet searches and online research. I launch it from my toolbar in Firefox, which takes me to Google for the search results. I can quickly zero in on the exact information I need and only seldom get distracted.

TheFreeDictionary: For online dictionaries, this is my favorite. If I’m writing anything, there’s a good chance that I have this site open. It allows me to quickly verify the correct usage of a word, as well as point to synonyms. (Random trivia question that was recently posed to me: “What is a synonym for euphemism?”)

IMDB: For all my movie, television, and actor information, I immediately go to imdb (“Internet Movie DataBase”). I tend to spend too much time there: I suppose that it is my guilty pleasure—no, wait that might be…

BibleGateway: This is a great site to read or study the Bible. Search by verse, key words, or topic. Plus it has lots of related tools and resources. It also has more Bible translations than I knew existed.

The Weather Channel: Yes, I’m fixated on the weather and weather.com is my go-to source. Though lately, I’m more inclined to use their app.

Amazon: As a writer, it seems I’m often looking up books and checking authors. Though I’m not there every day, it’s close.

Social Media: I’m often on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and GoodReads.

I use these sites most every day that I’m online—which happens to be almost every day.  I suppose that I could live without them—but why try?

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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A Statistical Profile of the Homeless

A Statistical Profile of the HomelessWhen you consider the homeless, what do you think they are like? (You do think of the homeless, right?)

Here is a statistical profile of the homeless in my local area:No one can fix the problem of homelessness alone, but together we can make a difference. Click To Tweet

  • 32% of homeless adults are employed
  • 37% of the homeless are children
  • 27% of the homeless households are headed by single parents (implying that 63% are two parent households)
  • 30% have education beyond high school
  • 24% experience chronic homelessness (implying that 76% are short-term and correctable)
  • 11% of homeless adults were homeless as children

The first four stats are surprising, not fitting most people’s stereotypical views of homeless demographics.

The last two figures are also appalling, showing that for some, homelessness is pervasive and even generational. Of course, the flipside of that is that for most, homelessness is a temporary condition that can be overcome. The more help that is available, the quicker they are able to get back on their feet, again providing for themselves.

Those of us with homes can express gratitude for our own shelter by helping those without homes to get turned around. This can easily be done by supporting and volunteering at churches, para-church organizations, non-profits, and government agencies that help feed, house, transport, train, and support the homeless as they work towards reversing their situation.

No one can fix this problem alone, but by working together we can make a difference.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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A Lesson From Birds

A Lesson from BirdsOne Friday we received some much-needed rain—1.8 inches in just a couple hours; it was a downpour.

The following day, to my dismay, I noticed that a Robin’s nest had been knocked out of my crabapple tree. I was saddened to see three unhatched eggs on the ground. They had been deserted; it was too late to do anything about it. (Even had I discovered them right away, the chance of keeping them warm enough to hatch would have been a long shot, not to mention nurturing them if they hatched.)

Interestingly, the nest was intact. The problem was that it wasn’t adequately anchored to the tree. I could see where it once was attached and though it was at a “Y” it was surely not an optimal one. Additionally, since Robins often lay eggs twice a year, these parents will need to build a second nest if they intend to try again. Be careful on what foundation we build—make sure it is a firm one. Click To Tweet

As a nature lover, I derive great joy through the life of animals. Although dead animals are a real and natural part of nature, it is a side that I prefer to overlook. Yes, I know about natural selection and the survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, these babies didn’t stand a chance because their parents didn’t build a stronger, better nest. It is a small consolation to know that this particular trait is being effectively removed from the gene pool.

The lesson in this is to be careful on what foundation we build—make sure it is a firm one. Rarely in the US does this have literal life and death ramifications, but in other parts of the world it does, primarily the third-world parts. In other situations, the wrong foundation could be living in a bad neighborhood, sending your kids to an ineffective  school, starting a business without a plan or enough capital, investing in a shaky opportunity, and so forth.

Just as with building bird nests, it is important that we find the right foundation and carefully build upon it. The consequences of not doing so can be dire.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Are You Colorblind or Color Aware?

Are You Colorblind or Color Aware?I rarely think back to my time in high school, but recently I remembered a conversation I had with a classmate. Or at least I remember the end of our conversation.

I don’t know what we were discussing or what I said, but my friend glared at me. “You forget. I’m not like you… I’m Mexican!” She was right. I forgot. Or to be more precise, it didn’t matter to me so I no longer considered it.

As the initial shock of her rebuff wore off, my surprise gave way to pride. I was colorblind when it came to the tone of her skin. I treated her as an individual, not as a stereotyped member of a different race. I no longer noticed the hint of her accent or the physical characteristics that revealed her ethnic origin. I only saw a friend, someone I liked, who liked me, and was fun to be around.  Discuss and celebrate our differences. Click To Tweet

However, my smug self-satisfaction didn’t last long. My next reaction was distress. By failing to remember our differences, I assumed we were the same. I disrespected her by not acknowledging her culture, her traditions, and her family history. To be blunt, I viewed her as white—just like me.

For matters of race, being colorblind isn’t enough. We need to be color-aware, too. How to balance these opposing goals, though, is an ongoing struggle. Sometimes I manage okay, but other times I don’t do either as well as I would like.

That’s where dialogue comes in, being able to discuss and celebrate our differences. That’s when I need a friend who is brave enough and cares enough to gently say, “You forget; I’m not like you.”

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Carbon Credits

Carbon CreditsAm I the only one scratching my head over carbon credits? The whole idea of having environmentally “good” activity negate environmentally “bad” activity seems strange. Why not just focus on reducing or stopping environmentally harmful action?

What if there were “water credits?” If someone dumps 100 gallons of polluted water into a river, would it be okay if they purify 100 gallons of water somewhere else? I don’t think so. Or if they reclaim 200 gallons of water, can they “sell” a 100-gallon credit to a polluter who can then with a clear conscience dump 100 gallons of tainted water into a nearby lake? Again, no!Why not just focus on reducing or stopping environmentally harmful action? Click To Tweet

Of course that scenario would make perfect sense to someone who ran a waste water treatment plant. They could sell “water credits” to industrial polluters and get rich, the same way that sellers of carbon credits are lining their pockets. Isn’t that tainted money?

To me, carbon credits is sort of like saying that it’s all right to speed as long as someone else is driving slow; one person’s speeding is counteracted by another person’s willingness to dawdle, therefore their combined average velocity is lawful. The next time you’re stopped for being in too much of a hurry, try that argument with the police officer and see how far you get.

In the meantime, just drive the speed limit and be kind to our environment—it’s the only one we have!

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Save Water

Save WaterIt seems that most hotel rooms come with a “save water” card. They request that you conserve water (and avoid other environmentally unfriendly actions) by permitting them to skip changing the bed-sheets. Placing that card on the bed signifies your acceptance of their request. The issue of protecting the environment is merely a ruse. Their actual desire is to save money. Click To Tweet

In similar manner, a notice in the bathroom suggests you indicate your willingness to reuse towels by hanging them on the shower rod.

I’m fine with both requests. After all, the sheets aren’t changed daily at home; neither are the towels. If weekly is acceptable in my domicile, it’s okay at hotels—at least from a cleanliness standpoint.

Of course that requires disregarding the high price paid for the privilege of staying there. It is arguable that at a couple hundred dollars a night, fresh linens are in order. It should be noted that my concessions save them time and money; ergo I deserve a break on the price.

In considering this, I feel compelled to point out that using water to wash a towel does not actually consume the water—the way going for a drive consumes gasoline. Once the laundry process is complete, the water still exists, albeit in a slightly less clean condition. It can be purified and used again—and again.

The issue of protecting the environment is merely a ruse. Their actual desire is to save time and money, thereby increasing profitability. I’m all for profits, but I don’t hide that reality by falsely pretending to care about water.

How do I know they’re disingenuous? Quite simply, most hotel rooms’ waste water: the faucet drips, the drain plug doesn’t work, the toilet runs continuously, and the shower has problems: either diverting only a fraction of the water to the showerhead or coming out with such force as to peel your skin off, with no way to tame the flow.

At least one of these problems is seemingly present in every hotel room. Addressing them will save water, too.  But they’re not done, because that would take time and cost money.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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Can You Disconnect?

Can You Disconnect?There is a growing phenomenon of people who can’t seem to survive without their cell phones and/or Internet access. They have a compulsion to stay connected 24/7. When they go on vacation, they won’t leave without their technology  They actually develop anxiety when they’re electronically disconnected from the rest of the world. The thought of unplugging causes panic and a foreboding sense loss and confusion.Mobile devices are just tools, nothing more; they aren't essential to life and living. Click To Tweet

In a way, I understand this. In my work technology is an essential element, which without I could not accomplish much. For those rare times when I lose my Internet connection, I feel helpless because so much of what I do requires access to Cyberspace—such as composing this blog entry.

Yet, when I end my workday, I can make it without being online. Yes, the World Wide Web is a nice tool and a convenient resource, but it is just a tool, nothing more; it is not essential to life and living. I can survive without it.

On my recent trip, I chose not lug my laptop. As such, I went 90-plus hours without checking email. What a pleasant break! True, I did pay for it when I returned, with hundreds of messages clamoring for my attention and requiring a full day to wade through, but the respite from the information superhighway was wonderfully refreshing.

I did pack my cell phone, but that was primarily to call home. (By the way, my cell phone is just a phone—no Internet access, no text, nothing but voice). Even then, the cell phone was off much of the time—and didn’t work in the convention center anyway.

Frankly, despite my great affection for technology and constant use of it at work, I look forward to those times when I can totally set it aside and live life sans Internet and cell phone.

I can disconnect, can you?

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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Making Travel Connections

Making Travel ConnectionsYou may recall that air travel is low on my “things-I-like-to-do” list (see (Road Trip and I’m Back). I view flying as something to be endured. As such, while my body is flying, my mind goes to my “happy place”—whatever that means. Therefore, I can miss opportunities around me. But sometimes I come out of my self-imposed cocoon and actually connect with my fellow travelers.

On my recent flight, I plopped down in my seat and the lady next to me blurted out, “I’m kinda nervous; this is my first time flying.” I assured her it would be fine and told her about the scheduled “1-hour” flight ( thirty minutes on the ground/thirty minutes in the air). Once in Detroit, I showed her the monitors for connection information, walked her to her gate, and pointed out the closest restroom and nearest eatery (she had over two hours to fill). She thanked me profusely and we parted company. Most people, I have found, are good talkers—if only there is someone who will listen. Click To Tweet

Over the years, I’ve helped many people navigate an airport. Interestingly, every one was female. I guess that re-enforces the stereotype that guys don’t ask for directions. (For the record, I’m not opposed to doing so but only when I’m confident that my adviser won’t make things worse.)

Later, I struck up a conversation with a guy my age. We talked about his business and then his family, which segued into personal struggles. Conversation flowed easily. He would make a statement; I would respond with a thoughtful question. He would answer and the process would repeat. I wasn’t deeply probing, but I was I was being intentional. I couldn’t believe the details he was sharing, but as long as he wanted to talk, I was willing to listen. I made some positive observations he hadn’t realized and affirmed good in areas where he saw only frustration.

Suddenly, he blurted, “I can’t believe I’m telling you all this—I just met you!” He paused and became momentarily suspicious. “You’re not like an under-cover guy, trying to find out stuff about me, are you?”

That’s one I’d never heard. I assured him that wasn’t the case. “Some people say I’m a good listener,” I said.

“And I’m a good talker,” he beamed.

Most people, I have found, are good talkers—if only there is someone who will listen.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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Breakfast in Seattle

Breakfast in SeattleWhile traveling for work, on a Sunday morning I needed to leave for my convention by 7 a.m. To my dismay, the hotel’s kitchen didn’t open until 7. The front desk had no alternative options for my morning meal.

I recalled a McDonald’s a few blocks away. So at 6:45 I set off on a brisk walk, praying that Mickey D’s would be open. The streets in downtown Seattle were mostly quiet and the sidewalks, empty; my hope that the Golden Arches would be serving breakfast was quickly fading. I was happy for the experience, witnessing a business directly address a societal issue. Click To Tweet

I approached the restaurant and much to my glee the lights were on. Not only that, but the place was filled with a bustle of activity; they were doing a brisk business. What was unusual was that most of the patrons appeared to be homeless.

Although I was wearing a light jacket, most people had on winter coats (needed to keep warm at night); their clothes were mismatched, dated, tattered, and dirty (the homeless accept whatever clothes are offered, aren’t in a position to color coordinate, and lack access to washing machines). Many carried worn plastic grocery bags, bulging with contents (possibly their only possessions). There was a line at the bathrooms (the homeless generally don’t have access to restrooms at night). And there was a momentary outburst (perhaps alcohol related, but more likely mental illness), but it was quickly quieted by a friend.

The beautiful thing was that the McDonald’s employees weren’t a bit fazed. They treated everyone with respect and courtesy, not shooing people away or insisting that purchases be “to go.” I’m sure there were some non-paying people present too, just wanting to get warm, but that seemed okay, as well.

This is how things should be, but seldom are. Most restaurants don’t want “undesirable” people in their establishment—even if they have money. Bathrooms are off limits and such folk are often tersely asked to leave.

For my part, I was happy for the experience, witnessing a business directly address a societal issue.  In a satisfying way, that was “church” for me that day. In fact, I was so drawn that I returned Monday morning to repeat the experience. Thanks, McDonald’s for doing the right thing.

[For a compelling insight into the plight of the homeless, I highly recommend reading Under the Overpass.]

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

What Time It Is?I used to be fixated with knowing what time it was. You might say I was slave to the clock. I was compulsive about checking my wristwatch and the more concerned I became about time, the more often I looked. I think it was the dark side of time-management.

As I planned my daily activities, it was under the optimistic assumption that each task would proceed ideally and without problems. I was constantly checking the time to see if I was on-track or falling behind. But since real-world realities would eventually overtake my unrealistic time projections, I often ended up feeling pressed and stressed. Why subject myself to this constant stress of worrying about the time? Click To Tweet

As a result of the time so frequently, I could generally tell someone what time it was—plus or minus a few minutes—without looking.

One day I had enough and I quit—cold turkey. I took off my watch for good. I made this decision after being on a delayed flight. I was concerned about making my connection and nervously peered at my watch every few seconds. How absurd! No matter how often I checked, I could not affect the outcome. I would either make the connection or miss it. So why subject myself to this constant stress of worrying about the time?

Yes, I still want to arrive places on time and don’t like to make others wait for me, but beyond that time isn’t nearly the stress factor in my life that it used to be.

The question, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” was posed by the rock group Chicago in 1969. In the song’s chorus they follow-up their first question with a second, “Does anybody really care?”

That pretty much sums it up for me.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.