It’s All About Progression

I love skiing.  If I had to rank passions, it’s one of my top two.  But it wasn’t always that way.

My dad set me up in my first lesson just before my third birthday and until I was a junior in high school, it was just something I did with my family.  I didn’t dislike it, but I also didn’t spend my week ogling over binding systems, building a life list of resorts to hit, or day dreaming about tree runs.  But as I got older, better, and found a few friends who would occasionally brave the traffic on I-70 to spend the day on the mountain, my passion grew.  Now I track my ski days and vertical, check the snow report daily, watch all kinds of ski flicks, and pester every skier I know to join me on the hill.

Last week I attended an event where professionals in the action sports business talked about their lives and career paths. Chris Davenport, one of the country’s best known ski mountaineers explained his career path and progression as a skier.

Dav rips. Photo: Chris Davenport Skiing, Mike Arzt

Growing up on the East Coast, Davenport cut his teeth racing on the icy hills of Vermont.  After college, he began entering big mountain contests for fun.  His talent caught the eyes of sponsors and filmmakers, and a career as a professional big mountain skier followed.

Ski films may look glamorous, but the process is not. It takes hours to set up and film a single shot.  There are long downdays waiting for the rain to pass or the powder to fall.  The temperatures can be bone-chilling and equipment breaks. Avalanche danger constantly lurks overhead. Not to mention the big risks taken for sexy shots.

After years on the ski mountaineering and filming scene Davenport began to question what was next.  He was offered a lucrative job in finance that would allow him to stay in Aspen and he heavily considered it, but he wasn’t ready to give up the outdoor lifestyle just yet.  On a mountain bike ride he took to think it over, a new idea struck him.  Fourteeners.  He would climb and ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks in less than a year. And that’s just what he did from January 2006 to January 2007.  In the end, the effort was successful and resulted in a book, Ski the 14ers.

Since the fourteeners journey, Devenport’s career has never been better.  He’s had fantastic opportunities to climb, ski, and guide at home in Aspen and abroad, great sponsorship offers from the likes of Red Bull, Spyder, and Kastle skis, and been able to continue to pursue his passions for skiing and mountaineering.

At the event, Davenport explained it was all about progression, following his passion for skiing from racing, to big mountain competitions, to filming, to guiding and mountaineering. He’s been able to grow and change while doing one thing he loved, long past the time he could have been simply a racing king.

Indeed, it really is all about progression.  I hope with any of my talents and passions I can continue  grow and change with them as they evolve into new and wonderful things, and that I am richer for it.  For skiing, I hope this means beginning to dabble in sidecountry and backcountry trips.  In-bounds, I have new sections of ski areas I’m hoping to tackle this winter. Last winter, La Niña looked fondly upon us and I got to ski more untracked powder than I could ever imagine before.

I’ve come a long way since toddling days on the rope tow, and I’m very excited to continue the progression.

This summer's progression: my first pond skim.

Playing with Colorizing Photos in Photoshop

Lest anyone worry I think only about the weight of the world (human trafficking, torture, climate change, the limited access many people have to safe drinking water, etc.) tonight I taught myself how to colorize photos with Photoshop. Thanks to the miracles of YouTube, it only took about 15 minutes to learn.

So here’s an illustration of a phenomenon I’ve observed many times:


Defining Human Trafficking

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine was invited to write a paper for a conference to be held at Johns Hopkins University  on the impact of current media coverage on human trafficking.  Because a fresh set of eyes always can catch typos and clarify arguments, I offered to help edit his submission.

While reviewing the first draft, one issue became immediately clear– possibly the biggest impediment to shutting down human trafficking in the United States is the lack of a common definition and understanding amongst the media, the public, and local government agencies of what constitutes human trafficking.  This shortcoming limits the amount of pressure the public puts on politicians and law enforcement to intervene in human trafficking operations, contributes to the continued prosecution of victims rather than traffickers, and allows the persistence of a practice threatening some of the most vulnerable amongst us.

Brett Myers /Youth Radio

Here, I will lay out a few definitions and examples of human trafficking in the United States to contribute to the effort to create a common public understanding of what exactly constitutes human trafficking.

The term human trafficking proves a bit misleading.  Individuals need not be transported to be trafficked, although they may be. Human trafficking can consist of forced servitude, coerced commercial sexual acts or selling sex under any circumstances involving a minor under the age of 18.

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Teaching and Tech: is it Time for Universities to Change?

It’s no surprise to any of my friends that I listen to massive quantities of NPR.  If you know me, you know about half of my conversational sentences start with “I heard an NPR report about…” and that I’ve replaced R&B beats with Fresh Air podcasts to keep me motivated on a run.  So I’m not going to surprise anyone when I say, I was listening to NPR the other day and heard an interview that demanded I respond with a blog post.

Last Thursday “Talk of the Nation” hosted Don Tapscott, co-author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business And The World to discuss teaching “the net generation.”  Tapscott explained today’s college students grew up multi-tasking, collaborating and learning with technology.  For these young scholars, hours on the internet vastly outweighed those spent glued to the tube. Therefore, the broadcast model of communication–and accordingly, teaching (think lecture halls)– is dead to students who are constantly connecting with multiple streams of information.

For universities to best serve these students, Tapscott argues that everything: lectures, slide presentations, reading materials, etc. should be posted online for free and professors should be engaging students there, rather than in classrooms.  All math courses should be taught online with individual pacing and coaching.  Professors should function as content curators, picking out illustrative YouTube clips rather than content creators broadcasting long lectures. Indeed, he refers to this model of education as a “birthright,” claiming Millennials labeled “entitled” simply demand the type of education they deserve.

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Three World Cup Games You Won’t See on TV This Year

It’s June 2010 and World Cup fever has arrived.  Americans, largely indifferent at best to the world’s most popular sport, are coming out of the woodwork to cheer on the US national team.  Names like Donovan, Dempsy, Howard, and Altidore are thrown around like Manning, Jeter, Bryant and Woods on any other day.

However, for the other 6.4 billion people on Earth, the World Cup is as big as it gets. Bars are packed at all hours of the night for live match broadcasts,  town squares are crowded with locals jammed around one large screen to share the action, and national heroes are waiting to be made.

Perhaps most importantly, with this World Cup, Africa has the chance to prove its ability to organize and host international events of the greatest scale.  This is a moment of pride for the whole continent.

But the World Cup action doesn’t end in South Africa.  Grassroots soccer organizations all over the globe hold their own World Cup tournaments from time to time and celebrate life and sport without thousands of cameras, multi-million dollar bonuses, revolutionary light-weight cleats, or Shakira there to cheer them on.  Here are just a few:

Refugee World Cup

Ahmad Amin of the Iraqi team displays the colors of his home country. Photo: Nancy Gay, FanHouse

On June 5th and 6th the Bay Area office of the International Rescue Committee and Soccer Without Borders hosted the first Refugee World Cup in Oakland, California.

Nine teams of refugees from conflict-addled countries including Bhutan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Myanmar (formerly Burma) duked it out in the common language of soccer in a land newly their own.

Ali Kareem, the captain of the Iraqi team who came to the US after being injured in a bomb blast and exiled to Jordan, explained in a KQED radio interview the significance of the games.  “For refugees, when they came here there are so many challenges like the language, finding a job, and soccer is the only thing they really manage and they know how to do. So they really want to play to prove themselves to prove that they are really good enough. So soccer, it’s like their thing.”

Homeless World Cup

Homeless World Cup Ireland vs Ghana

Action between Ghana and Ireland in Milan 2009. Photo: Homeless World Cup (All Rights Reserved.)

The Homeless World Cup takes place annually to bring attention to the problem of homelessness in effort to end it.  Additionally, it provides players an opportunity to build confidence and pride while representing their country and working toward something inspiring and meaningful in their lives.  According to the organization’s website,

“The impact is consistently significant year on year with 73% of players changing their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training, reuniting with families, and even going on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.”

True to the nature of homelessness, which cuts across nationalities, races, genders and ages,  players can join men’s, women’s and co-ed teams as long as they’re over 16 and have been homeless some time in the last year.

This year’s Homeless World Cup will unite 56 nations and take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this September.  Check out the footage from the 2009 finals in Milan, Italy here.

Amputee Football World Cup

Players from Cameroon and Sierra Leone on the pitch at the 2007 African Nations Football Cup for Amputees. Photo: justinhane via Flickr

This year’s Amputee Football World Cup (organized by World Amputee Football) will be played in Crespo, Argentina in October. Teams attending the tournament each tend to change with the availability of funding; however, the USA, France, England, Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Turkey, and Uzbekistan should be expected to field sides.

Amputee soccer started in the 1980′s as a rehabilitation and strengthening exercise for single leg amputees, but it quickly grew into a competitive disabled sport.  The game has a few simple adaptations. Field players on crutches dribble and kick the ball with their functional limb, but cannot control or block the ball with the crutches.  Use of a partial limb or crutches to intentionally control the ball is treated as a hand ball.  Goalies have two functional legs, but only one functional hand and arm.  After that, have at it.

Amputee soccer first came to my attention in 2007 when I visited Uganda.  News reports discussed the Ugandan team preparing for the All-African Amputee Football Championship and Amputee African Nations Cup.  On a continent where medical care is scarce and war has ravaged populations for decades, amputation is not entirely rare and soccer not entirely forgotten.

Countries that have emerged from merciless civil wars like Sierra Leone and Liberia have a lot of healing left to do.  Amputees on the streets symbolize their past horrors.  While many of these amputees are victims of the bloodshed, most are former combatants now shunned from society.  Few have the opportunity to work, so almost all survive on panhandling.  For these people, amputee soccer provides a seed of hope for a world of acceptance, peace, and normality.  There are compelling videos about players in Liberia and Sierra Leone here and here.  Check out a professional conflict photographer’s photos of the Liberian team here.

More Updates on Social Vibe

I genuinely like the idea of Social Vibe. It’s a great way to introduce blog visitors and Facebook friends to causes you support and increase social consciousness.  It also makes simple procrastination feel useful and productive and raises critical funds for non-profits and relief agencies. (Who cares if I’m playing a game or writing silly notes?  It’s helping people!)

However, since I put the Social Vibe widget up on my blog about 8 months ago, it’s been terribly glitchy.  It’s been more of a hassle to those who click than a help.  So until further notice, I’ve taken the Social Vibe down.  Perhaps in a few months I will try again.  I sure hope Social Vibe can get their technical act together, because it’s the linchpin to their long-term success.

Northwestern, What’s “W” got to do with it?

“Hail to purple/ hail to white/ hail to U Northwestern.”—Northwestern University Alma Mater

University Hall

University Hall at Northwestern University

In the last few decades Northwestern University has established itself as a top Midwestern national university with ultra-competitive undergraduate admissions, excellent graduate programs, a dynasty in women’s lacrosse, and an imperfect but lovable football team that will thrill you, then break your heart.  (Please refer any questions about this to the 2008 Alamo Bowl or 2009 Outback Bowl.)  However, for a university touting a top five graduate business school in the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern has a significant brand identity problem.

For alums like myself, and others intimate with the university, we know that Northwestern University is properly shortened “NU.”  For example, as used in the university’s basic cheer, “Go U! NU!”

Yet, those less familiar with the University, such as sportscasters, student’s family members, and people who think Northwestern is in Seattle, the shortened moniker becomes “NW” or “NWU.”  Who could blame them? “NW” is how Northwest is abbreviated on a compass after all.

NU Press

Northwestern University Press logo. Despite the "NW" logo, we still called it the NU Press.

Admittedly, the use of the “W” has been, at times, embraced by factions of the University itself.  Northwestern’s previous web address had been www.nwu.edu, but by 2004 that had been phased out for www.northwestern.edu.  The Northwestern University Press, where I worked for three years, displays the northwestern quadrant of a compass rose with a bold NW on it for its logo.  I recall a Dillo Day (Northwestern’s spring student festival where thousands of nerdy undergraduates pretend they go to state school for a day) t-shirt circa spring 2004 that said “N-Dub Dillo Day.”  Nevertheless, if you refer to Northwestern as NWU, you have given yourself away as an outsider.

NU Seal

Northwestern University Seal

So here I make a call to action.  Northwestern University, the time has come to either embrace or purge yourselves of that pesky “W.”

While “North” and “West” are tiny four letter words on their own, somehow “Northwestern” becomes too long to display in its entirety in such cases as on sporting scoreboards.  Then, it often becomes “N’Western.” I don’t have a problem with this, as really, what other than “North” does one usually see “N” abbreviate?  This situation seems to argue for clinging to the “W.”

However, since “Northwestern” is a single word, without spaces or dashes, and it is the proper grammatical form of the word if speaking in terms of either direction or the historical region of the American Northwest Territories, whose population the university was founded to serve, the abbreviation stands to remain at simply “N.”  That is until one finds that the charter granted to the school by the Illinois general assembly in 1851 reads “North Western University,” bringing us back to the legitimacy of “NWU.”

NorthWestern

NorthWestern seems to be in the archives. Is NWU next?

Still, all of this grammatical and historical analysis doesn’t take into account the current Northwestern iconography consisting of seals, sports logos, and graphic identity pieces.  All of these simply feature a stylized “N,” “NU,” “Northwestern,” or “Northwestern University.”  No such luck “NWU.”

The Northwestern University "N Cat" logo.

So what will it be Northwestern?  Keep the “W” or put the kibosh on it?   I personally argue for reinforcing the NU brand.  It’s already out there, it’s already embedded into the University’s culture, it’s grammatically correct, now all you have to do is get the media to play along.  Nevertheless, I acknowledge the loveliness of the “W” in NWU as well.

What do you think?  What is the proper titling for Northwestern University?  Does having that lingering “W” damage how recognizable the Northwestern brand is?

Did My $80 Running Shoes do in My Knee?

On an unseasonably warm January afternoon last year I went for a run with my friend Carrie.  Three miles into our six mile journey, I suddenly felt a twinge in my right knee in the location of an old ski injury.  No matter how much I tried to stretch it out, it didn’t feel any better.  It stayed sore the rest of the night and became too painful to walk down stairs the next day. The injury was diagnosed as bursitis (isn’t that supposed to be for people older than 22?) 6 months later.  There was nothing to do but ice it and take ibuprofen.

It was another 19 months before I could run without knee pain again.

*****

I remember the first time I saw them. A free-spirited nymph frolicked in the grass hawking bars of soap and shampoo in them. Her long hair clumped by grease into faux-dreadlocks rendered the cleansers she peddled ironic. However, it was another sign of her connection to the earth which caught my eye– her long red toes.

What the H-E-double hockey sticks was she wearing? Whatever they were, they were creepy.

131680007_2c61a43d2a_m13305164

Several months later I discovered the woman’s so-called shoes  were the Vibram Five Fingers (sometimes referred to as “frog feet”).

Manufactured by the legendary rubber sole maker, the shoes with separate pockets for each toe are said to allow your feet and each of their muscles to move naturally to build strength and agility while preventing cuts and scrapes. At the time, I wasn’t sure I bought the whole concept.

Two years later Five Fingers are one of the year’s most talked about items. Everyone from WIRED magazine to The New York Times and the Twitterverse have chipped in on the conversation.

Design isn’t the only factor pushing Five Fingers into the forefront; a rash of recent medical studies and news articles have thrown into question everything we’ve come to expect from modern running footwear.

Back in April my good friend Sarah, likely recalling the knee troubles I’d had, sent me an article about the connections between running injuries and shoes. The article referred to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year which revealed there is no proof that any running shoe makes you less prone to injury.

Each year 65 to 80 percent of runners sustain an injury. No matter what their footwear. No matter who they are.  Young, old, fat, thin, male, female, recreational or competitive.

That’s a long cry from the commonly advocated position that all runners need a “special” shoe to fit their gait and running style.

In fact, other studies between 1989 and 1991 found that those wearing more expensive shoes ($95) were more than twice as likely to get hurt than those wearing inexpensive shoes ($45). (At least one study did take into account training surface, mileage, speed, motivation of training for competition, injury history and speed.  It still found inexpensive feature-bare shoes to be involved in fewer injuries.)   One theory behind these findings is that the expensive shoes packed with proprietary technology provide too much cushioning– altering one’s gait in such a way that the lower extremities constantly search for stable grounding and thus increase impact on each footstrike.

Adidas Trail Response 14. I love them. I bought three pairs.

All of this information makes me wonder, did that $80 pair of Adidas Trail Response shoes that fit perfectly the first time I put them on (for which reason I bought an extra pair, and then another pair for my mother) contribute to my knee maladies? I hope not. Yet, like the Tootsie Roll Pop question, the world will likely never know.   Maybe I simply struck the ground in the right way to aggravate an old injury I never properly took care of.

However, I know for sure the wrong shoes can contribute to serious problems. Two years ago I bought a pair of bright orange Nike + shoes to track my running.  I was excited to get a great deal on the shoes, but even more excited that I bought them at a fairly disposable price.  Within days I had shin splints and knee and hip pain while wearing them either running or walking.  Retiring the shoes proved the only remedy.

Before anyone flocks to the barefooting movement (myself included) experts warn that switching to unshod running too quickly may cause serious foot problems.  Beyond the cuts and blisters, tendons, bones and muscles pampered by a lifetime of shoes may be injured.  They suggest easing into it, walking around barefoot at home and starting with light training on clean sidewalks or grass.  Alternatively, one can try low-tech, thinner soled shoes that encourage weight to land on the ball of the foot, instead of starting with a heel strike like thick shoes. Runners can then move into barefoot running. Vibram suggests a similar process for preparing to wear Five Fingers.

I plan on trying to work my way into a little barefoot running.  It could help my knee and hip, which have both been uncomfortable since that lovely January day in Chicago.  I’ll follow up as to if it’s a successful venture or not. Who knows, maybe I’ll even cave to my gear-head tendencies and try out the goofy frog feet for myself.  I’m finding myself a potential believer.

Feel free to share your own sporting equipment or running experiences and play safe out there!

Save: Ink, Money, Environment

Although since graduating I spend more time staring at web pages than books or course packets, I still appreciate the printed page.

I’ve always found it easier to track and annotate printed information than electronic, and my genetically disadvantaged eyes enjoy the relief from screen glare paper provides.  However, as a person on a budget and self-proclaimed environmentalist, I still feel guilty printing anything I don’t know I’ll keep.

Luckily, along comes a lovely Dutch innovation… Spranq Eco Sans. Developed by SPRANQ creative communications of Utrecht, Netherlands, Spranq Eco Sans is a lovely sans serif font intended to be the economical, ecological workhorse of the daily printer.

ecofont_logo

By cutting small circles in the middle of each character, Spranq Eco Sans reduces the typeface’s surface area by 30% while remaining easily legible.  Thus, using the font to print out e-mails, news articles, or paper drafts for personal use can help you stretch the toner cartridge on your favorite printer.  It can also help you rest easy at night, knowing you’re limiting the chemicals you put out into the environment in your printed works.

ecofont_sample

The font itself is round and playful, somewhere along the lines of Tahoma or Verdana.  However, the circles cut inside do limit its utility for design work.

You can download Spranq Eco Sans for free here.  The website provides support links for help installing the font.  Once installed properly you should be able to access the font on any programs you use on your computer including Microsoft Office, iWork, and Adobe Creative Suite applications.

Other quick printing tips to save yourself money and trips to the office supply store:

  • Reset your document default settings in your favorite word processor to 1″ margins.  You can print more on your page, and for the wordy students out there, squeak under the page limit on your latest assignment.
  • Set your default printer settings to draft or quick printing quality.  Ink saturation levels will be lower and you can always change to high quality  when you need to present something perfect.

What the “Green Media” is Missing

Small children are naturally liberals.  I remember the first time I heard about climate change, then called “global warming,” I was an impressionable 8 year-old.  My mother and I had shopped at Target, and on the way out I picked up their monthly kids newsletter.  On the front page was a picture of a sickly cartoon Earth with a cold water bottle on its head and an exploding thermometer sticking out of its mouth.  The Earth was sick, and it was my job to help it.  I took that job very seriously.

Growing up a skier, I worried throughout elementary school about this “global warming” and if that meant there would be no more snow, and thus no more skiing by the time I had the opportunity to share the sport and the outdoors with my kids.  I had been indoctrinated.  I was now an environmentalist.

Flash forward to the age of twenty-three and I’ve majored in Political Science to study environmental politics and I’ve worked in an environmental research non-profit.  That goes to show, these lessons stick with you.  The “green media” wields true power, and like Peter Parker’s (Spiderman’s) uncle told him, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

I believe the green media often falls down with this great power.  It places too much emphasis on new products to consume and not enough on the value of using what we have. Rather than effective and practical measures one can take to decrease his or her environmental impact, it shows us fancy products to buy and further fuels our psychological compulsion to consume.

For example, continuing on the theme of skiing, this article on Top Green Skiing and Snowboarding Tips from Planet Green provides worthy advice on ways one can make greener choices when taking to the slopes; however, three of ten tips (and three of the first four listed) require buying new equipment, all of which carry their own environmental footprint.

Sure, a sustainably sourced bamboo-based snowboard manufactured with wind energy creates a smaller footprint than another snowboard manufactured overseas employing potentially dangerous chemicals which is then shipped halfway across the world.  There is no dispute on that.  But what about the virtue of using what you have?  I have a perfectly good three year old snowboard that I love, should I toss it aside just to buy something constructed more sustainably?  That means one more snowboard has to be created and one more snowboard has to be thrown to waste.

Ah, but what about recycling and donating products for reuse?  Yes, the article suggests selling or donating your gear for reuse, but it never mentions actually reusing things yourself!  Why not buy used gear to prevent it from ending up in the landfill?  There is plenty of awesome gear out there used for only a season or two.  Why not keep wearing the same jacket you have or taking a hand-me-down instead of buying one made with recycled materials and naturally sourced coconut husk-based fibers?  None of these products are inherently bad.  In fact, they’re all moving in a beneficial direction, if you need a new jacket, maybe you should buy these products.  The problem is that the green media doesn’t often enough suggest these reduce and reuse methods.

It also doesn’t always use expertise, creating potentially dangerous situations.  Mr. Brian Merchant who wrote the article admits within it that he is not an expert skier.  One of the recommendations he provides is to take up nordic skiing, which he conflates with backcountry skiing.  Both of these methods entail using primarily human power to explore the slopes, rather than chairlifts or snowcats.  However, backcountry skiing and snowboarding is seriously hazardous!  While Merchant suggests bringing along a friend or two, he offers no warning about the need for backcountry training in avalanche safety or first-aid.  His statement that “proper knowledge” of the backcountry is needed doesn’t portray the level of risk involved nor the methods of obtaining such knowledge.  Point being, not every green measure is for everyone.  Journalists need to acknowledge the risk involved with their suggestions and sometimes need expertise in an area to properly share this information with their readers.

The saying goes: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”  There’s a reason those words are in the order they are.  The green media must recognize this and place just as much emphasis on measures to reduce consumption and reuse materials as it does on fancy new products.