Thursday, June 5, 2014

Your education is your own....

Many times over the years, I have heard someone lament the high cost of studying at the local university.  We've equated career advancement and opportunities with a college education and, although this is generally correct, it's not a complete opinion.

Companies hire and promote based on experience, capability, and knowledge.  Many entrepreneurs are just really smart people who used their knowledge to fill a niche or enter an existing market with something better than what was already there.  Note that none of this requires a degree.

There are thousands of college-level courses available online, absolutely free of charge.  The term used to refer to this phenomenon is "Massive Open Online Courses" or "MOOCs".  MOOCs are complete courses, some even have an instructor community of folks who help each other through the course.  There are homework assignments, textbook materials, lecture materials...many have videos of lectures.

Anyone who has ever attended college knows that you only get out of it what you put into it.  Instructors and lectures only take you so far; as a student, you must study, review, research, and ask questions.  MOOCs are much the same and those with videos of lectures and/or social communities offer just as much support as any college (if not more).

The only down side - you do not get college credit and although there may be a certificate of completion at the end of some courses, it doesn't count for very much.  However, the goal here is not to get a degree - it's to get the knowledge.

"Knowledge is power."  Cliche, but so very true.  If you can learn how to develop iOS software, you can write apps and sell them on the App Store.  If you want to develop a new engine, you can devote time to study of physics, chemistry, and mechanical engineering.  Need to learn accounting to handle your home business' finances, you can grab a few accounting classes.  Interested in expanding your knowledge of history so your novel accurately portrays a particular period in time, you can grab some history courses.

College is a convenient, organized way to become educated and earn a document that tells the world you put in the extra time and effort to advance your personal knowledgebase.  It's not the only way to expand that knowledgebase and MOOCs offer everyone a fantastic opportunity.  This is where the rubber hits the pavement; if you want to make something out of yourself, it's up to you and no one else to make that happen.  This is another tool you can tuck in that belt as you work your way up the pole of success.

Search "MOOC" on Google and you'll get nearly 3 million results.  Look it up in the news and you'll find enough articles to keep you reading quite a while.  There are lots of big name universities involved including Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.  Apple has the iTunes University (available on Apple devices) with many courses as well.

Here are a few links to help get you started....

  • CodeAcademy - - Software development courses.
  • Coursera - - Many different courses.
  • Duolingo - - Language courses.
  • EdX - - Many different courses.
  • KhanAcademy - - Many different courses.
  • MIT - - Many different courses.
  • Open Culture - - Many different courses.
  • Stanford - - Many different courses.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The History of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day.  This is one of a few heavily celebrated holidays in the US.  We usually enjoy the holiday as a family holiday - cookouts are the order of the weekend - and it marks the start of the summer season.

But...that's not really what this holiday is all about.  Shortly after the Civil War, we established Decoration Day as a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.  It actually started out being May 30th to coincide with when many flowers would be in their seasonal bloom.

It's important to understand the emotional state of the nation that brought this day of commemoration to the forefront of our leadership.  We had just finished the civil war and more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed during the war.  There were only some 31 million people living in the US at this time; that means roughly 5% of the US population was killed.  The effects were enormous, truly giving the people of the United States reason to pause.  To get a feeling for what this would be like today, imagine 6 million people being killed over a 3 year period; everyone touched by the losses of a controversial war with complex causes (it was about much more than just slavery, including economics and state rights).  What's more, these figures are just estimates developed during a time when there were very few real records kept and some historians estimate the losses were MUCH higher (closer to 750,000 or more).  More Americans died during this conflict than any other in the history of the United States until World War II (1941-1945) and there were far more people in the US by that time (133 million).

The first, large, national observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868.  There were some local observances that occurred earlier and the official "birth" of the day was given to Waterloo, NY, where a formal ceremony on May 5, 1866 honored local war veterans.

After World War I, the holiday was expanded to honor those who had fallen in all American wars and in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day as a national holiday, giving the day its new name and formally dating it as the last Monday in May.  (Many older Americans still call it "Decoration Day".) Americans visit the final resting places of our fallen soldiers, placing flowers and small American flags around their burial markers.

In 2000, recognizing that Americans had lost the true meaning of the day, Congress passed the "National Moment of Remembrance Act" to further encourage the people to give something back to their country on Memorial Day.  The act asks Americans, wherever they are at 3pm local time on Memorial day, to join in an act of national unity by observing a moment of silence.

An interesting sidebar...may states in the southern half of the US also have a "Confederate Decoration Day" or "Confederate Heroes Day".  This day honors those who died fighting for the Confederate States of America during the civil war.  It is very controversial, as one might expect, as are other Confederate holidays.

As with many holidays, modern society has forgotten the true meaning of the day.  Memorial Day isn't just a time for families to gather and have a cookout.  It isn't just a day off or when the pool opens.  It's a time of remembrance; a time for us to sit back and reflect upon our freedoms and the high cost of those freedoms, honoring the many men and women who fought to protect those freedoms.  We can never forget the sacrifices that have been made to ensure the privileges allowed to the United States.

How much water do I need?

Someone started a discussion today that I thought would make a great blog discussion as we head into the warmer months:

How much water do I need to drink each day?

It's a tough question.  We hear all the time about how we need to eat right, and everyone learns to "drink 8 glasses a day".  Athletes and outdoor workers are always being warned about dehydration, but what about us normal folk?

The US RDA for water is 3.6 liters for the typical adult.  For kids, it ranges anywhere from 2.9 (4-8 year olds) to 3.4 liters (9-13 year olds).  (These numbers include  about a liter of water from the food you eat.)  Of course, those who are more active (athletes, including dancers, sports enthusiasts, and martial artists) should be getting more when they're exercising, just to replenish what you lose in sweat, and anyone working in the summer heat will need more for the same reason (even if you're doing yard work).

Thing is, it ain't easy to drink all that water!  Well, never fear, you actually don't have to DRINK it all and drinking what you do need is actually very easy.

Everything you eat is made up of lots of water and that water counts toward the 3.6 liters US RDA.  An average sized apple contains as much as 4 ounces; pasta and actually add water to prep them for eating; add tomato and lettuce to that sandwich for an extra ounce or two.  In other words, almost a whole liter of the water we need each day comes from the very foods we eat during the day.  That's why we can usually get by with closer to 2 liters that we actually drink (about 67 ounces).  Although the "drink 8 glasses of water a day" saying has been largely derided and debunked, it's actually still about right as a "glass" is actually an 8 ounce glass and that's 64 ounces.

"But I don't like water; it has no flavor!"  Ok, ok - I get it.  A lot of people want flavor in everything they consume.  So...add flavor.  Anything you drink counts toward the 2 liters you drink; coffee, tea, juice, milk, even soup broth.  Although I hate to admit it, even soda pop, KoolAid, and beer count (although you need to watch your intake there for obvious reasons).  Coffee drinkers will get 8-16 ounces with their morning hit, and I know I get every bit of 16 ounces when I drink a tall cup of OJ in the morning.

The key to getting the water you need is to take a bad habit we already have with food and make it a good habit with water.  I'm talking about "mindless drinking".  Let's face it - we like to nibble while we watch TV or engage in other couch sports.  Do the same with what you drink by always having a cup of water nearby.  I recommend water bottles and straw cups for those of you on the go.

I'm a techie so my work is fairly sedentary, involving long hours of sitting in front of a computer.  There is always a 24-32 ounce cup of ice water sitting next to me and I refill it at least twice in any given day, sometimes three or four times.  If I leave the house to run errand, I fill up a 24 ounce straw-cup with ice water and take it along with me.  At night, when I go to bed, I take a 24 ounce cup of water to keep on the nightstand so I can take a few drinks during the night when I wake up.  And I pretty much always start my day with 8 ounces of water from the get-go, just to replenish all the water lost while I was asleep.

"Wait; I get that I lose water when I exercise, but how do I lose water when I'm asleep; I'm not doing anything!"  Actually, you ARE doing something when you sleep - you are breathing and sweating.  You lose as much as half a liter (16 ounces) of water just laying there asleep.  (BTW, that's almost a pound in weight.)  This is to say nothing of how much you'll lose when you make that first visit to the bathroom in the morning.

Some quick and easy to follow tips for getting in enough water each day....

  1. Sip don't gulp; several sips equal a single gulp but it's hardly noticeable.
  2. Keep a filled glass next to you and sip throughout the day; refill regularly!
  3. Keep a glass by the bedstand and get in the habit of taking a drink when you awaken during the night.
  4. Keep a filled glass by you for sipping while watching TV.
  5. Take a filled glass with you when you're running errands.
  6. Have a filled glass around when you're doing other stuff - taking a bath, reading in your favorite hammock, giving a speech....
  7. Use ice water (actually helps, especially if I'm feeling hot, even though you want to drink warm fluids when you want to cool down).
  8. Count ALL fluids you drink - coffee, tea, fruit juice, milk, etc. Even soup broth counts.
  9. Accept that your daily intake will vary; some days you may be at 2.5-3 liters while others may be 1.5.
I also recommend using a water filter (on the fridge or the kind you attach to the kitchen sink) and a few reusable water bottles to keep costs down.  A lot of folks really like their bottled water but more oft than not, the inexpensive bottled water is just water that has been further filtered from the tap (look at the label).  Tap water is usually just fine to drink, but it actually has a flavor and smell all its own; by filtering that out, you may find you like your water better.  (Do the same with your ice cubes, too.)

Incidentally, did you know you can actually drink too much water?  It's even more difficult than drinking enough, but it is possible to drink so much water that you suffer water intoxication and it can  kill.  Drinking too much water can result in hyponatremia (too low blood sodium concentration) and it can raise blood pressure.  The kidneys eliminate excess water but if you get too much too fast, they just can't keep up and the blood becomes waterlogged.  This increases blood pressure (add fluid to a closed system) and tends to draw out water soluble substances, especially salt.  Thankfully, the kidneys are pretty good at eliminating water and there's more to water intoxication than just drinking a bunch of water.

The health benefits of drinking more fluids are many; even more so when that fluid is just water.  Water helps with appetite, cell elasticity and health (skin and muscles), kidney health, regularity, and general elimination of bodily waste products.  It's good stuff and many of us need more.  Hopefully this article will help you get the water you need each day.  Happy drinking!