Posts Tagged ‘ transportation ’

DuoLingo: Learning A Language, Gamified

I wrote a post a little while back about my family’s Italian heritage, and the Order Sons Of Italy and all of that, but what I might have forgotten to mention is that my wife and I have been trying to teach ourselves to speak the language on and off for at least three years now.  I used to think my only hope was Rosetta Stone, because even programs as extensive as Berlitz were easy to fall out of using, and tedious to learn with.  Basic vocabulary is difficult enough to remember, even without introducing the vague concepts of verb tenses, I/you/we/they conjugations, and whatever other special little rules the language contains.

I’ve been having a pretty easy time learning what I have lately with this website called Duolingo.  They offer Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portugese, and English–all completely free–but here’s the kicker:  They’ve “gamified” it so you’ll actually continue to use it.  

Basic Home Screen. They Say You Can Be Fluent In 3 Months!

It’s everything you could ever want in a language program.  You don’t even really sign up as you sign in with your Facebook information–it’s like this site was just waiting for you to get off your duff and make use of it.  Their learning tree is simple and easy to look at, their mascot (an owl) appears in your email to keep you motivated to keep after your chosen language, and they hit every word and sentence type from several different angles at the time that you learn it.  That way, you don’t learn a word, then try to figure out how to fit it into different sentences later on, when the word has become fuzzy or forgotten all together.  Also, you can “invite” your friends to learn with you, and compete against them in a learning race.  It’s much the same way that Rosetta Stone’s method immerses you in the language…except it isn’t six hundred bucks.  It’s free.

I’m sure they are working on more languages as we speak, but for now, I’m happy that Italian was one of their chosen languages to launch the site with.  Pick out a language and start learning it!    

 

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In Communicado

Hey All!  I hope that your weekend has been relaxing, and your upcoming week will be moving along splendidly.  Mine is shaping up to be interesting, to say the least.  Lately, I have been back in the rhythm of learning and doing new things on a fairly regular basis, and it feels fantastic!

One end for talking, the other for LISTENING.

This week, I got an email from Chris Brogan like I usually do on Sunday mornings, and its focus was on something that I continually strive to be better at:  Communication.  You may remember that I shamelessly plugged Chris’ company (Human Business Works) once before, and as before, I am not being paid in any fashion to promote his products.  The guy just puts amazing content into my email box for free, and I wanted you to know.  This is an example of great stuff spreading by word of mouth.

This morning’s newsletter talked about communication in a very interesting way.  Actually, the message of this morning’s “discussion,” as it were, was more along the lines of, “If you share/repost/reblog someone’s stuff, give them credit for it because it’s the awesome thing to do,” but here’s what I took from it:

This guy  puts some great content on Twitter (a site I rarely use to post 147 characters of useless information about my lunch), and Chris linked to it.  I clicked, and found something really interesting–which is the focus of my own message today.

As I read down the list of his Ten Commandments Of Conversation, I couldn’t help but nod my head.  I cannot tell you how many folks I come across whose ultimate goal is to convince me of a particular political idea, or complain about something, or dream out loud about things they may or may not ever do, or tell me every last detail of the way their first love ended, even if it was twenty years ago.  I used to think that everyone found what I had to say interesting, until I began to realize that if I’m talking to someone and thinking about other things, they must have been thinking that about some of the things I was saying to them.  In fact, I’ll never forget once when I was in college, I was catching up with my brother one night on the phone, and he cut me off with a, “Dude, get to the point.”

The truth is that when you communicate with someone, it would be helpful to imagine that you can only communicate your message to that person in writing.  Can you imagine how long a rant of yours would take to literally write out on a piece of paper?  You wouldn’t bother.  You’ll sit there and ponder for a second what your message really is, so that you can get it down on paper in (something close to) the least amount of words it will take you to.  Speak as if you were writing, and you will train yourself to hone the message you are trying to convey down to the simplest, most essential points.

You may feel it, but resist it. Smile the whole time. It goes a looooong way!

Combine this technique with the other Commandments (by using your one mouth half as much as your two ears) and people will walk away from a conversation with you with fond memories in their head, and not even give it a thought as to why.  I’ve had people talk “at” me for upwards of 45 minutes, and the entire time, I am the one coaching the conversation along.  I’ll ask pointed questions, get them to tell me about the things that matter most to them–family, home life, pets, jobs, egos, goals, how they’re getting ahead…I’m telling you, some of these folks greet me very fondly on a regular basis, and they don’t know hardly a thing about me.  Why?  For no other reason than they haven’t taken the time to ask.

It feels great when someone wants to know things about you, doesn’t it?  Well, if your goal is to help those around you to be more comfortable in your presence, just ask questionsand actually listen to the answers.  Remember them for future reference.  In fact, if you really want to get crazy with it, you can do what Bill Clinton (one of the best networkers of our time) did and keep track of those you meet.  It doesn’t even matter if this person bores you to no end–if their only interaction with you induces happy chemicals in their head, they will remember you fondly when they get promoted from newbie desk jockey to branch manager.  Whether you know it or not, you guide every person, every day into the place in your life that you want them.  If you want to get ahead, guide those people into a place that makes them feel great about you.  The rest will work itself out.

The point is that everyone you meet is judging you.  Your face, your body, your clothes, your breath, your skills…they are making judgments on every single little signal that comes through when you communicate with them.  Your job is to convince them that you are worth every second of their time (and you are.)  It’s ironic that the easiest way to do that is to get them talking about themselves, but ignore the irony and focus on the fact that it works.  You’ll be happy that you did.

So…who’s got troubles with those around you?  Caustic people?  The guy with terrible breath?  The guy/gal who wears things to work that no one has any business wearing to work?  The person who dominates every conversation?  The condescending/micromanaging/unconfident/overly-involved-in-your-personal-life/lackadaisical boss?  If you’d like an opinion on how to handle certain people, I’m sure anyone reading here will be happy to help.  We only want the best for you, so if you need a hand with a certain situation, feel free to comment here.  The advice may (or may not) be backed up by PhD graduates, but either way, it’s free!

Here’s to a great week!

Cruisin’…

It’s just shy of a week before my wife and I head west to Chicago for Christmas, and everyone I know is pretty much cruising on autopilot–pretty typical for about this time of the year.  It’s a wonder anything gets done at all!

It isn’t particularly cold here during the day, but it drops to near freezing at night.  (Thank God I quit working outside in that…)  I was talking with Alli last night about how long it’s been since we’ve been able to take a vacation (the last real one was on our honeymoon), and we’ve decided that it’s time to prioritize a trip in the next couple of years, before Little Ones come along, and the speed of life really gets going.

Not an hour after we had this conversation, I get a call from my Ma…she tells me she “bought a franchise,” and I can only imagine what shape this will take, since she doesn’t have a background in business.  I was wrong to doubt her, though, because one thing she does have a background in is travel.  She’s been a flight attendant for going on eight or nine years now, and she managed to get my Dad onto all 7 continents before he passed away a couple of years ago, of complications related to dimentia.  She’s been all over the planet.  Imagine my Republican, uber-conservative, freedom-and-gun-loving Dad tooling around St. Petersburg or Beijing.  Cracks me up every time I think of it.

Anyway, she called to tell me that Cloud 9 Vacations is up and running, and to spread the word.  Any of you who know my Ma will see this is a logical next step for her.  After all, she’s done a lot of the “try it before you buy it” for you already, and she can tell you with confidence which places/cruises/trips will be top-notch, and which ones to avoid.  Any of you who haven’t met her yet will learn instantly that I got my outgoing nature (and most of my personality) from her.  She’s fun and easy to get to know.  I keep my friends from seeing her too much because I’m afraid they’ll like her more than me. <Insert laugh-track here>

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go and check it out!  I’m telling you, I looked at a couple of week-long cruises around the Mediterranean–you get probably six or seven ports of call, and the whole fare is just shy of a thousand bucks.  For my readers here on the U.S. mainland, you can do a 7-day cruise to St. Barth’s out of Miami for just over six hundred bucks!  It’s hard to find a decent hotel that cheap–comes out to under $90 a day, and you’re literally traveling the whole time!  She’s also partnered up with American Express, which means bookoo travel points if you use your AmEx card to book the trip.

Call my Ma (Denise Grana) toll-free at 855.334.9500, or check out http://www.cloud9vacations.net, and you can find her blog at cloud9vacations.wordpress.com.  She’ll hook you up with a trip you won’t forget!

Making The Distance A Little Smaller…

I have this fantasy (it’s a goal, actually) that I’m currently working toward, as I find my footing in the real estate business.

Black circles are where everyone’s from. I want us all in one place some day!

 

See, all of my family, and most of my wife’s, live in the Chicagoland area.  I’ve lived away from the Chicago area for a sum total of nearly ten years now–2 of them in college, and the past 8 for various reasons–and it has made things difficult when it comes to having access to family.  When I was living in Salina, KS during college, I couldn’t make it in for several cousins’ weddings, and one cousin’s funeral because I had no money or transportation.

Having further lived in Wichita, Tucson, and now outside DC does not make things easier.  In December of 2009, Alli and I went home for a week for Christmas.  When my Dad passed away suddenly the next month (January 2010), I dropped everything and drove home for a week.  The following month, I went home to see my brother marry the love of his life.  Three trips home in three months.  I had no paid time off built up for any of it.

The goal that I am working toward right now will be one of my life’s biggest accomplishments once it happens:  I want to get everyone I care about in one place for at least a weekend–a ski trip, or maybe a cruise.  I was thinking about what it would take to accomplish this a couple of days ago, and I didn’t realize the sheer magnitude of the number of people I would want to be there.  My extended family on both sides is enormous (I grew up with 22 aunts and uncles, each with two to four kids), and Alli’s whole family would probably be another  thirty to forty people.  But beyond that is how scattered everyone is.  I haven’t made any kind of head count yet, but I personally have family or dear friends from the states of IL, KS, AZ, OK, TX, VT, WI, VA, CO, LA and FL.  Eleven states.

It’s been my goal since I got into real estate to make enough money to fund quicker and easier access to friends and family, but it just hit me recently how cool it would be to make my wish of having everyone in the same place actually come true.

There’s one key point about this goal that will make me happy to see it all happen:  As my wife mentioned, “Well, I’m sure you’ll reach your goal if you die.”  Heh…the goal is to be alive for it the first time.  I guess she’s right, though–part of my legacy has been set in motion already, and I have no real control over it.  *wink*

Old Man Winter’s A-Comin’!

Old fuel–the sludge is on the bottom.

Hey folks, it’s finally getting to be my favorite weather outside–what my friends and I have called “HoodieWeather” for as long as I can remember.  Well, quick on the heels of Autumn is going to be Winter which, depending on your geographical area, will entail cooler (or colder) temperatures at the very least, and at worst, an emergency trip to the Home Depot for shovels, snowblowers, and generators when a good blizzard comes through and locks up normal life for a few days or a week.

Well, are you prepared to deal with winter this year?  Or with a crazy storm, if it comes through?

First, if you don’t have a generator, get one.  When all else fails, a source of electricity is a life-saver.  If you have the space, get two of them, and the next time your whole neighborhood is in the dark, you could probably find someone to rent your spare to.  Do this enough times, and it shouldn’t take five years to pay itself off!  If you already have a generator–write this down, it’s important–chances are good that it’s been sitting all year in your shed or garage, untouched.  The problem with this is that the gasoline has probably begun to deteriorate into a sloppy, slimy gel at the bottom of the tank.  This will clog your fuel injectors, and prevent your motor from ever getting started when you need it most.  Take your generator out, bring it back to life, and run it a few times now, while you have the time to figure things out if it won’t start.  Engines like to run, so knock the cobwebs out of yours now!

 

Second, get your furnace a tune-up.  You can replace the filter yourself, but get someone out to your home to give your furnace a thorough inspection.  The last thing you’ll want to have to deal with is losing your home’s heat on the coldest night of the entire year (which, as Murphy’s Law states, is exactly when it will happen).

Not the Porsche!

Third, check on your water pipes.  When your pipes aren’t insulated correctly, they can freeze–and when they freeze, they can burst.  Who needs to deal with a near-freezing lake in their basement?  And actually–to add to that point, it wouldn’t hurt you to know where your main system water shutoff valves are located.  You’ll save yourself time and energy simply by knowing where these are, because there’s a fair amount of panic involved when a pipe bursts, and every second the valve is open can cost you 20 or 30 extra minutes of cleaning up after a gusher.

Do the same with your gas shutoff valve, too–any leak is cause for immediate evacuation, and not knowing where the valve is could cost you dearly when the temperature in your home drops, and your furnace decides to try to kick on.  BOOM! Here’s an easy way to find both of them.

 

There is still plenty of time to get these things done–get after them now, and you’ll thank yourself later.  A little preparation goes a looooong way!

The Great Unknown…Returning To School and Career Change At 30.

The time has come to stage my coup.

I’ve been accepted into The American University’s Kogod School of Business, and I can’t wait to get that ball rolling in the fall.  Further, the time has come for me to transition out of aviation (for now) and into a subject that I began focusing on and learning about over five years ago now:  Real Estate.

Business and Real Estate–two things I have no formal experience or education with yet.  I’m leaving the comfort of showing up to work every day at 8am (or 7, or 5, or 6pm), punching the time clock, working on tangible, mechanical things and seeing tangible results…the truth is that I have no idea what will happen in the next couple of months.

It’s both exciting and terrifying.

But you know what?  Nothing will happen if I don’t do it myself, right?  I’m ambitious–sometimes too much so, according to some–and I’ve been waiting for five years to be able to act on this.  I only put it off that long so my wife could properly finish her graduate degree in Arizona, and we lived on my salary alone before we moved out here to Virginia.

Frankly, I’m nervous about how we will survive here while I’m in school.  Our bills aren’t exorbitant, but our cost of living here is.  A nice place in a relatively safe area has been running us nearly $1700 per month in rent, and that isn’t unreasonable out here.  We have basic cable, two sensible, reliable vehicles, and some credit card debt to deal with, but otherwise, we aren’t spendthrift.  We had smartphones (which I got us for cheap during a free upgrade period with our provider), but we downgraded them to save $60 a month on the (required) data plans.  We’ve held off on buying an iPad, despite how handy we would both find one to be–and how much we salivate every time another iteration of it comes out.  We’re getting rid of cable, because it makes more sense to rely on Netflix or Hulu than to pay out the nose for three hundred channels of “WasteYourTimeHere.”  We’re trying to find a cheaper place to move, but we don’t want to dig up $3400 to break our lease early–and that’s if we could even find something.  The occupancy rates at apartments are so high out here that we didn’t even bother looking at several of them because we simply couldn’t find parking near the leasing office.  It’s a great time to own an apartment building.

We’re downsizing as many of our expenses as possible to keep our bills within my wife’s salary alone, in anticipation of my starting school, and the income lag from starting in real estate.  I’ll pick up a job to get through it if I have to, but I’d prefer to have the ability to focus my energy on schoolwork, internships, and networking opportunities if I can.

And then there’s the real estate.

I plan on being a licensed Realtor by September, when school starts.  I figure it will pay off because I’m pretty decent at networking, I talk to everybody, and being in classes with hundreds of students every day gives me the chance to build a friendly rapport with a captive audience.  This will let me capitalize the most out of my time there, because look at this:  The average price of a home in Muncie, IN is something like $185K.  The average price of a property here in the DC area is nearing $400K.  Some of the contacts I have figured out that it would take literally three times as many homes sold in Indiana as it would to make the same money here.  DC will treat me well, if I can wiggle my way into it, and figure out what makes it tick.   As it stands right now, though, almost no one knows me, and I have but a few people in my address book here in the area.  That, of course, is up to me to change, and I intend to; it’s just that everything takes time.

I’m excited about my prospects, though.  I’ve been doing my homework on these choices for years now, and I’m confident they are the right way for me to go.  In five years, I expect to have achieved my goals.  I am standing on the precipice of a turning point in my life.  I know I’ll do it–I know I need to–but it doesn’t stop me from being consumed with trepidation of the unknown, and frustrated by the constant juggling I’ll have to do until I cross the finish line.  I guess that just means I’m human.

Enough about me–what’s new in your life?  What’s the next Great Unknown project you are tackling?  Has it gone according to plan for you?  Did you anticipate the issues you ran into, or were you blind sided by some of them?

And Now, For Some Clarity.

Having been on the trail lately for a job which will keep me a little closer to home, I am often asked in interviews, “OK, so…what’s your story?”  I usually explain, “Well, When I got out of high school in 2000, I went to Kansas State at Salina to learn to fly, got my Private Pilot’s License, then switched majors and moved home to go after my mechanic ratings”–at which point, I usually hear, Why?

I have several answers that I give for conversations’ sake, but the honest answer is simple:  I have no idea.  I’ve thought about the why for ten years now, and I still cannot put my finger on it.

Me and Bryan, ca. 2004-05

I guess the simple answer is that I wasn’t sure how to be a man yet, at that point.  I had all this freedom, no one to answer to, and despite being there for school, no clear goal.

When I watched the rest of my family drive off down the road that first day after they moved me down, I remember feeling a little trepidation, a little sadness, and a level of excitement and adventure I have only felt a few times in my life (one of them was my first solo).  When I met my roommate Bryan–who could have been my twin brother–I knew we would get along well, and there wasn’t a moment to waste.  We were both very outgoing–the ones with our dorm door open on move-in day, getting to know the other residents as they passed by.  We found collective ways to get involved–with student government, with our baby at the time, Phi Delta Theta, and secondarily, with our classes.

We did all the fun and dopey things you do when you are newly placed into the microcosm of a satellite college campus in the country.  We went “Puddle Jumping,” whereby you run out and jump into the biggest puddle of water you can find after a good rain, even though it was 37 degrees outside.   We piled into the back of a guy’s truck and literally chased thunderstorms, trying to get a glimpse of a real tornado after the sirens went off in town.  TOP GUN was almost never turned off the lobby TV, if it was on when you got there.  (Neither was it changed from CNN for five days after September 11 happened.)  We grinned knowingly at the Wal-Mart checkout lady as we innocently picked up some supplies from the automotive section–an oil funnel, some plastic tubing, and a shutoff valve.  I picked up smoking at eighteen, and we would spend hours–hours–at Russel’s (the restaurant/truck stop right off of I-135 on Salina’s north side) smoking, drinking coffee, and hammering out the issues at hand, whatever they were.  Many times, we’d have as many as twenty people there, and we’d end up staying through the shift change.  (It was really ignorant to do that, but I didn’t know it back then because I hadn’t had a server job yet.  We tipped as well as we could.)  We invented The Cigarette Olympics, whereby two people at ends of a long table would toss a cigarette at each other, and the goal was to catch it in your mouth.  We spent long hours talking each other through life’s biggest plans (Bryan’s island–“Hinnland”), and grandest failures (Bryan and Delton were instrumental in getting me through them at the time, as was my old friend Kevin).  Those people are still my dearest friends, even though life took us on different paths to different states.

Since KSU-Salina was an old Air Force base, whenever something big was happening, we’d filter out to the runway to see it.  My fondest memories are standing next to the runway (though it was fenced off) and watching the Navy slam their planes into the numbers in preparation for actual carrier landings, or standing literally under a B-2 Spirit at about four hundred feet as it slowly lumbered into the air on takeoff, bound for wherever in the broad daylight.  There was an old Lockheed Constellation who was a resident there–named “Connie”–and her four huge engines never left the ground in both of the years I was there.  If you Google Salina, KS and zoom in on the airport in Earth view, she’s still there on the north end of the ramp, as a matter of fact.  (You’ll also see a bunch of buildings to the right of the North/South runway; that’s the Kansas-State at Salina campus.)

"Connie" the Constellation

I had such a great time there, so why’d I move back?

Well, for one, I was slacking in school, and hadn’t yet developed a work ethic related to studying properly.  By the end of my time there, my grades had gone down hill, I was broke (aren’t we all at that age?), and I had begun to really miss the friends I left behind, and the house I grew up in.  I returned home confused, aimless, despondent, and (by my own standards) a complete failure.  It hadn’t helped much that my own Mom, to combat her feelings of embarrassment among our extended family and friends, griped that she’d “sent me down there to learn to drink and smoke.”  The worst part was that she was right, and I knew as much as anyone else did.  I was as lazy in grade school as I was in college, and I’d given up trying to impress my parents long before, but that first night I slept in my own (old) bed was a new low for me.

What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be.  Did I want to be like my Dad?  What felt normal?  What felt right?  What do I stand for?  What’s this politics stuff all about?  How do I feel about one night stands?  How do I feel about people who continually threaten to commit suicide when it’s so obviously for the attention?  How do I feel about a friend getting an abortion?  How do I feel about driving drunk, or being around those who do?  How do I feel about drugs?  How do I feel about a friend being a closet alcoholic?  I had a relatively uneventful teen-hood, and all of a sudden, I had an adult lifetime’s worth of situations before me that I was completely unprepared for.  

I didn’t know until after I’d already made the decision that I’d done the right or wrong thing.  Once, I went by a girl’s house whom I’d met at a movie theater while waiting in line.  I found out after I got there–and after she’d changed into the stereotypical “something more comfortable”–that she was engaged (the electric guitar gave her away).  I knew I had a decision to make, and twelve years later, I still feel good that I left.  Twelve years later, I see how stupid it was to have blown a portion of the rent money on beer, and to waste the chance of a lifetime–an essentially all-you-can-fly school program–in the endless pursuit of instant gratification.  I now see how sleeping in front of a toilet because of alcohol was not a bragging right.  How not remembering the night before isn’t funny, nor is puking in someone’s car.  How making nearly zero progress in two years was not helping.  How publicly embarrassing an ex-girlfriend to people she didn’t know was still hurtful, even from three states away. How being friends with everybody wasn’t paying my bills.  How taking your family for granted was foolish.

I finally kicked smoking for good about six years ago, and I haven’t shotgunned a beer since I lived in Salina.  Now, I tip for a server’s time, not for the $1.65 cup of coffee I drank six cups from.  I came out of A&P school with a 3.47 GPA in 2004, and have finally picked up the drive and motivation to develop myself into anything I want, knowing full well that it will take work.  I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to apologize to that ex-girlfriend for what I did, but I’d be surprised if she’s genuinely forgiven me for it.  In her shoes, I probably wouldn’t.  She’s part of the reason I try so hard to treat my wife well, though, I can tell you that.  My sister has made me an Uncle twice now, and I make it a point to call her, my brother, and my Mom at least twice a month–even if it’s just for a couple of minutes catching up.

So, why did I leave Salina, KS instead of getting my act together and finishing what I started?  Heh…your guess is as good as mine.  I guess it’s possible that without failure, there can be no success…but I’m sure it’s something far simpler than that.

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