All posts by amysenger

Supreme Green: How the Dutch and Danish Dominate Sustainable Living

Wind Farm Off Copenhagen

The effect is melodic — clankety clank, clankety clank — the sound of bicycles plugging along. At first you don’t notice — the absence of taxi horns squawking with ire, or tailpipe exhaust assaulting your lungs, or stressed-out drivers mouthing invectives behind the wheel – but as soon as you do, as soon you notice the beauty of a car “light” society, it becomes your new optic. NOW I see. Cities like Los Angeles and Manhattan truly suck.

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The Rise of the Asset-Light Generation

Every year, Mary “Queen of the Net” Meeker releases her must-read “State of the Internet” report, gleaning insight from predominant internet trends, with almost prescient accuracy.

In this year’s presentation, one of the major themes she identifies is the rise of the “sharing economy” or as Mary calls it, a shift to an “Asset-Light Generation.”

Mary-Meeker-2012-Internet-Trends-Year-End-Update-Business-Insider

A simple translation of this term is: Americans buying less stuff. It is a trend that should not only inspirit sustainability advocates, but Americans all-around. Asset-heavy consumption has led our country to experience a rise in obesity, a rise in pollution, and a rise in debt, with a net impact of a decrease in quality of life.

So cheers to the rise of the “Asset-Light Generation” — there’s hope for us yet.

Aristotle’s 12 Virtues and The Path to Happiness

Aristotle: Marble Portrait Bust

Every now and then, I like to consult the wisdom of the great philosophers, as a matter of existential hygiene.

Or, as John Mayer puts it, to contemplate: Am I living it right?

As far as philosophers go, Aristotle ranks amongst the best of the best, considered one of the most influential founding figures in Western philosophy.

A polymath, he not only studied almost every subject possible at the time (384 BC – 322 BC), but made significant contributions to most of them. In physical science, he studied anatomy, astronomy, embryology, geography, geology, meteorology, physics and zoology. In philosophy, he wrote on aesthetics, ethics, government, metaphysics, politics, economics, psychology, rhetoric and theology. He also studied education, foreign customs, literature and poetry.

Suffice it to say, he did a lot of studying…a lot of thinking.

So I appreciate this nifty little chart he put together (okay, he didn’t actually create a chart) that serves as a tidy set of guidelines for living:

Aristotle’s 12 Virtues and Associated Vices of Excess (via bcresources.net)

Of course, these are a diluted interpretation of his compiled thoughts and books on ethics referred to as Nicomachean Ethics, which originally consisted of ten separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum, which were either edited by or dedicated to his son, Nicomachus.

But for the sake of this post, and our attention-limited lifestyles, the visualization works.

Another reason I like Aristotle? He believed man’s highest good is happiness. Not pain, not suffering, but happiness. And, according to Aristotle, the attainment of happiness ultimately depends on the activation of our individual powers and talents. Self-realization produces the happiest life; whereas, the individual whose potential remains unfulfilled will inevitably suffer extreme frustration and discontent (via Ideas of The Great Philosophers).

So there you have it. A little bit of philosophy, a little bit of ethics, to guide your day and light your way.

And I recommend reading Aristotle…smart guy.

A Labor Day Question: Will You Be Living Your Passion At 80 Years?

Composer John Williams

This weekend, I experienced the mellifluous genius of John Williams conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl through a series of scores he has composed over his fifty-plus year career. The man responsible for creating the iconic themes to Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter (the list goes on, and on, and on) is now eighty years old and is the living embodiment of having a career versus having a job. Last year, he received two Academy Award nominations for War Horse and The Adventures of Tin Tin and shows no sign of slowing down.

Which got me thinking…what will I be doing when I’m an octogenarian? Will I be living my passion? How many people envision a career beyond “retirement age”?

It wasn’t until I witnessed Williams on stage — the exuberance on his face, the vigor in his voice — that I considered the question.

Warren Buffett is 82 years old and while preparing for his abdication of the Berkshire Hathaway throne, appears amazingly involved. Queen Elizabeth is 86 and spoofing herself at global arenas like the London Olympics. It’s conceivable these magnates will remain actively centered in their vocations well into their 90s.

As our lifespans lengthen, are our views on everything from careers to relationships to faith expanding as well? While I haven’t read it (yet, it’s on my to-read list), I’m told the book “100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith” tackles these issues with thought-provoking adroitness.

A couple years ago I made the decision to pursue a career I loved, versus succeed in a job (that started out as a career) I liked. Now, as I draw inspiration and guidance from those living and sustaining their dreams, like Margaret Atwood, who at 72 is working with the online writing community at Wattpad to encourage new writers, I look towards the future with an unexpected optic, one that answers “I hope so” to the aforementioned question: Will I be living my passion at 80 years old?  

Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, Margaret Atwood

On Labor Day, as we pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers, it seems appropriate to reflect upon on our laboring futures, with farsighted lenses.

Businessman and author Harvey Mackay is touted for coining the phrase: “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” While this feels exceedingly trope-ish, there is a distinct difference between a labor of love, and just laboring, with the former presenting a much more sustainable, and fulfilling, future.

The Key To Winning Gold, In Anything

The 2012 U.S. Womens Gymnastics Team

As the Olympics begin to wrap-up and I take a Yoda-moment to reflect on the dedication and drive required to, not only be an Olympic athlete but to win gold in such prodigious company, my thoughts gravitate to an interview I watched with Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman.

Bowman revealed how during training, he would create unexpected challenges for Michael to navigate, including stepping on the Olympic athlete’s goggles before a swim so that the eyewear would fill with water and Michael would have to accommodate the new circumstances. In 2008, Phelps encountered this exact scenario in the 200-meter butterfly, but because he had prepared for it, he knew exactly how many strokes he needed to touch the wall and was able to swim without disruption to win the gold. If you look up the definition of sang-froid in Wikipedia, it links to this exact event. Okay, not really, but it should.

This ability to practice and execute, no matter what the circumstances, is the key to excellence, the difference between “nailing the landing” — or not.

As a writer, I can cite every distraction in the book, from noise to lighting to the “comfiness” of a chair, to keep me from getting the pages written. But these are just excuses, and weak ones at that. As Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” What he was really saying to Luke was, “I don’t want to hear your frickin’ excuses!”

There’s a Buddhist saying: If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained. Champions are made, not in spite of the distractions, but because of them.

John Hughes Never Stopped Writing Until His Heart Stopped Beating

John Hughes, one of my favorite, most beloved screenwriters and filmmakers, passed away three years ago, on August 6, 2009.

That his work has managed to stand the test of time, a feat so many writers fail to achieve, is a remarkable phenomenon in itself.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is now over twenty-five years old. But the line, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” is as relevant today, if not more so, as it was in the 80s.

Even more impressive than his writing, however, is how Hughes did it. Constantly. Fervently. With passion and vigor.  He was never without his moleskin (of which he left behind over 300) and he never ceased to observe, edit, and synthesize everything around him. For him, writing was not so much a profession as a condition of life. It was his ethos.

On the day of his death:

[His wife], Nancy awoke in her Manhattan hotel room to find her husband’s side of the bed empty, which was not unusual. It was Hughes’s custom to get up early and enjoy a morning constitutional when staying in New York. The routine provided him with an opportunity to get a head start on his relentless observing, sketching, and note-taking.

Hughes had collapsed on a sidewalk a few blocks from the hotel. He was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, near Lincoln Center, and pronounced dead of a heart attack. (from Vanity Fair)

What’s truly inspiring is that when Hughes passed away, “…he was doing something he loved. He was out note-taking and observing.” This, I believe, was the key to his talent and his genius. He wrote, and wrote, every day, until his heart stopped beating.

I can’t imagine Hughes penning a more fitting ending to the story that was his life.

And so, to appreciate his death is to celebrate his life. Thanks for the movie memories, John.

 

 

 

France overall holds the most Greek debt

As Greek voters returns to the polls for the second time in six weeks in an election that may determine the fate of the euro currency, the rest of the world watches with eager eyes.

Below is a breakdown of exposure to Greek debt, by country. While France overall has lent the most to Greece, it’s the German government that has opened its pockets the most. These countries have the most to lose should Greece default.

via BBC Business

Great Expectations: Pixar anoints its first female protoganist in “Brave”

Dear Pixar: You had me at her hair…

With a resplendent mane of fiery red curls, Merinda, the hero of Pixar’s latest animated feature “Brave” is truly the hallmark of a princess whose time has come. And not just because the animation of her volume of hair required a technological breakthrough, which it did.

Six years in the making, Merinda is the first female protagonist to join Pixar’s all-male cast of leading heroes, breaking the mold of the damsel-in-distress princess archetype that punctuates virtually all films produced by Pixar’s predecessor, Disney.

Associate producer Mary Alice Drumm describes “Brave” as a movie about redefining expectations for female protagonists:

“I think when people think about a girl as a hero, they think less strong, less brave. But Merida is brave like her father and brave like her mother. She’s a very relatable person, and I think people are going to have some interesting things to talk about after they see the movie.” ~SFGate

Producer Katherine Sarafian adds:

“There’s the bravery of adventure, with sword fights and chases and all that,” she says. “Then there’s the bravery of being seen for who you are. If you see yourself in a certain way and the rest of the world sees you in another way, that’s a struggle. It’s brave to look at who you are and speak your truth and find your way in the world.” ~SFGate

Brave opens June 22, and although its leading lass is garnering attention for her gender, Sarafian says the film is still a Pixar movie, with “big action, big heart, big humor, big adventure.”

If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?

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Norway proving the future of hydrogen vehicles

Photo via Engaget

A team of Norwegian drivers recently crossed Europe in a pair of hydrogen-powered cars using only existing hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

The Oslo to Monte Carlo trip hit the record books as the longest a hydrogen-fueled vehicle has ever travelled using only fuel from permanent hydrogen filling stations. Other cars have circumnavigated the globe and crossed North America, but did so with fuel trucks in tow. This team made the 1404 mile journey over the course of five days with a pair of Hyundai iX35 FCEVs, and never once ran out of fuel.

The journey was the brainchild of Zero Emissions Resource Organization (ZERO), a Norwegian advocacy group that promotes fuel cells, EVs and other green technology. It highlighted just how far ahead of the rest of the world Europe’s hydrogen infrastructure is, and also how much more work needs to be done before hydrogen becomes a viable fuel source for vehicles. // via @WIRED

On a side note: I personally know of a businessman who bought real estate and secured approval to build a hydrogen fueling station in Maryland several years ago. He was subsequently offered several million more dollars over the cost of building the station by a prominent gasoline company to NOT build the station. Alas, he took the deal and the station wasn’t built. 

The lucky last aisle seat next to the “Fat Man” on the plane

Yesterday, I had an experience that restored my faith in humanity. One of those heart-swelling moments when I thought to myself, “Yes, all is right and good in the world.”

I was flying on Southwest from LAX to BWI. I don’t regularly fly on the airline (but when offered a free flight, I’m not one to turn it down!) and had forgotten to check-in for my boarding group. By the time I remembered, I was relegated to C30 and practically guaranteed a middle seat.

*A note about my flying style: I’m mildly claustrophobic and particularly fidgety and faithfully book an aisle seat whenever I fly. 

When I boarded the plane, I scanned my seating options — all middle seats.  I carefully walked down the aisle, looking at potential mates, searching for someone who’d be able to handle me getting up at least a few times to go to the bathroom and stretch my legs.

And then I saw it, oddly open and beckoning — an empty aisle seat.

I curiously approached the row, and asked the man sitting in middle if the seat was taken. He said No.

Score.

After I sat down, I thought a little about my good fortune, and wondered if the man’s weight had anything to do with the seat going empty for so long (I’m not assuming it did, but simply stating it was one of the explanations I considered for such an unlikely event).

He was definitely heavier than the average male. His belly protruded beyond his mid-thigh and he appeared slightly uncomfortable sitting in the middle. But flying next to him for five hours turned out to be a notably pleasant experience.

He was mindful of not intruding on my space, and invariably calm and low maintenance.

Towards the end of our flight, I asked him if he was from Maryland (he was) and then inquired into his trip to LA. It turned out he, and his three daughters traveling with him, were just connecting from Hawaii.

His wife had gotten a year-long job assignment in Waikiki and they were moving there this summer.

He told me he was a middle school teacher (of math and science) in Baltimore City and he would be taking a sabbatical from teaching in order to “just enjoy Hawaii and spend time being a dad.”

I subsequently burst out in a huge smile and exclaimed, “I’m so happy for you!”

We talked for about 20 minutes. I wish I had struck up the conversation earlier. He was smart and insightful and seemed kind and compassionate. His one daughter, about 10 or 12 years old, sitting in the window seat next to him, was quiet but cheerful and regularly smiled as we talked.

I walked off the plane carrying the feeling that there is justice in the world. That good things can happen to good people.

And it was a rousing reminder of how much we can miss in life when we only look at the surface of things.

PS – I considered not posting this, for fear of offending those sensitive about weight. However, after moving to an environment that glorifies youth, beauty and thinness over everything else in this world, it was a much-needed reminder of what I value and hold dear.