Why I pay more for podcasts than Netflix

[Update: Someone wrote this same basic essay using a more direct approach and fewer lengthy paragraphs! To read his take, check it out on Medium.]

Each month, I give eight dollars and forty-seven cents to an online video streaming service so that I can access TV shows and movies purely for entertainment value. $8.47 a month. $101.64 a year. Each month, it takes me somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes working at my current job to pay for this service, which I think is a fairly decent deal. Netflix doesn’t usually cause me stress; I may not use it each day, I doubt it benefits other aspects of my life, but it feels like a fair price for easy entertainment.

Since moving to Vermont, I give Geico $57 a month, which does nothing for me, or it hasn’t for my entire Vermont driving career. That’s only a little over $2k the last three years, but for no return, yet… watch me drive off the road tomorrow because I wrote this.

The point is that payments add up, and not necessarily toward anything important. Rent. Utilities. Insurance. Groceries. Loans. Of all the money I make, little good is done with it for the benefit of society, for the greater good, or for my community. I give to Vermont Public Radio monthly and during their pledge drives, and various local charities when it occurs to me. I give to the World Wildlife Foundation and the Nature Conservancy annually. If I pass a panhandler standing in the cold on my way to get coffee, sometimes I buy him a coffee too – because it’s not a big deal to be nice on a cold day; it’s a $1.50 coffee. The money, overall, that I put back into society for society’s benefit feels slim to me.

This is why I’m a Patreon supporter, and this is also why I give between $26 and $39 each month to a few select independent podcasters and one vlogger. $39, when compared to the monthly cost of Netflix, seems rather high. But when compared to a night downtown around the pool table, seems… sort of average. It’s easy to drink those dollars up, or spend them on a variety of other fleeting or unnecessary pleasures. And here’s why those dollars are so much more valuable when used through Patreon: Because the podcasts and vlogs I support are windows into other people’s worlds* and I believe podcasts in particular are integral to the future of voluntary learning and self-education (*more on this in a bit).

The following podcasts are very important to me.

Some that I support financially are:
Home of the Brave – Scott Carrier
The Lapse Storytelling Podcast – Kyle Gest
Rumble Strip Vermont – Erica Heilman
America’s Best Friend – Rocket (a vlog)

Some podcasts that I actively listen to, but do not yet support financially:
RISK! Show – Kevin Allison
The Savage Lovecast – Dan Savage
Reply All – Alex Goldmund and PJ Vogt
The How I Learned Series – Blaise Allyson Kearsley
The Heart – Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli
99 Percent Invisible – Roman Mars
The Moth Radio Hour – George Dawes Green
This American Life – Ira Glass

When I say podcasts are windows into others’ worlds, I am mostly talking about story- or interview-based podcasts. Home of the Brave, The Lapse, Rumble Strip Vermont, Risk!, How I Learned, The Heart and The Moth are all truly excellent examples of this. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ll know the value that I place on shared experience (link to post). In the post, I talk about how an experience shared between two or more people helps create and strengthen the bond between them, ultimately forming a stronger relationship.

In life, however, our relationships are limited. A 2015 Time article says that a socially-healthy person should have between three and five really good friends, with up to 15 people close to them and a social circle of 100-150 people. Between three and five really good friends. A mere average of just four!

Now, I’m not saying that a person can’t have a lifetime of wonderful, valuable experiences with the four people closest to them, but those experiences are obviously limited. We usually have best friends who are pretty much the same as we are right down to the way we’re born and how hot we are. This could be a severe roadblock in life when we suddenly need to relate to, understand, or acknowledge someone who’s different than us: our experiences and strongest relationships may be limited to the same ol’, same ol’ we know and have always known. Our spectrum can be severely stunted, right from the start. And since we’re not necessarily prone to stepping outside the box when it comes to experiences (admit it — humans like to be comfortable), it seems to me that a window to someone else’s world — storytelling or interviews, complete with voice inflection, presented via podcasts — should be seen as a very, very valuable resource and tool to help us navigate life.

So, in a time when consuming information from Fox and CNN News is basically akin to “drinking the Kool-Aid,” these types of podcasts are my chosen media. The more perspectives I can hear on issues, the more individuals’ stories I can listen to, the more I feel I’m able to open my mind and step outside that limited box, and continue to understand the world a little better.

That, my friends, is why I pay more for podcasts than for Netflix. It’s an investment in my own capacity to have empathy and sympathy.

Continue reading

“Hey, are you free tonight?”

As a person striving to see others’ perspectives, nothing bugs me more than someone involuntarily, accidentally being rude. Consider the following text conversation:

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.08.01 AM

There is one glaring thing that bugs me about this exchange: Despite being on the receiving end of the invitation, I’ve been given no opportunity to say “no” without lying or feeling rude.

• The question “Are you free?” is vague, and leaves room for only a “yes” or “no” response, but gives no intent.
• Responding “yes, I’m free” means that the invitee has no reason not to go to the bask-ice-ball game.
• Responding “no, I’m busy” means that the invitee may never be informed of the event.
• The person holding the bask-ice-ball game has all the power in this exchange. The invitee has none; the conversation is unequal and imbalanced.

The only way to politely avoid this exchange is to lie, say you’re on the hook for something, and that it may fall through, leaving you available.


This kind of sucks and also wastes time with a follow-up message 10 minutes later (my response of whether or not I want to attend the bask-ice-ball game, which should be my decision, depending on whether or not I want to wake up bruised and sweaty on the pavement outside my friend’s house with a concussion. Bask-ice-ball is not a sport to be trifled with).

But wait! All is not lost. Both of these situations can be avoided simply by informing your friend of your intent in the very first line!


Or, if you’re not in the mood for a concussion:
This way, you don’t have to lie, you don’t have to attend something if you don’t want to, and you don’t even have to give a reason that you don’t want to go. Believe it or not, it’s none of your friend’s business why you can’t go, if you’re free but don’t want to attend. Personally, I’d be blunt with them about it: “I can’t make it tonight, but I’m also not a huge fan of bask-ice-ball ever since Laura gave me a compound fracture at that game last winter. Let me know if you have a boardgame night!”

That’s it. Straight and simple.

In conclusion, let’s do away with “Are you free tonight?” unless the intent is clearly stated in that very same message. It corners people into lying (or possibly attending events they don’t care about) and ultimately leads to the destruction of society. Or at least friendships. Most folks don’t want that.




A big life has love.

“All you need is love,” said John Lennon. I think he was partially right.
Love, and to pay the bills. That’d be ideal.

What else do you need? I don’t mean want, I mean need.

• A residence
• Food
• Clothes
• Vehicle/fuel
• A few hobbies, favorite activities, or positive routines, and the means to make them possible
• A companion, or maybe a few
• Peace of mind
• A job, to pay for all these things

Okay. I think we can safely say most people could survive on those things. Apocalyptic scenario, you’d default to those things, and maybe trade “hobbies” for “farming and hunting” and “a job” for “looting and pillaging,” but hey, we can’t all be perfect.

How do you define success? I’ve been feeling inadequate in terms of success the past three years (unfortunately, I don’t think I’m about to stop after I finish this post). I’ve felt like my life will be worth a bit less unless I die leaving a legacy, unless I leave a huge positive mark on society. I am fairly afraid of the two opposite options – dying having left a huge negative mark on society, or leaving no mark on society and no legend to my offspring and descendants.

But being interesting has very little value once you’re dead. And that’s just it: we’re all going to die. Some of us sooner than others.

We’re all going to die.

So, as long as we’re not Mark Zuckerberg, or John Kennedy, or Oprah, or Winston Churchill… as long as some of us are just regular people, why not try to be happy with a smaller world? A smaller world, perhaps, consists just of the necessities, and love. Is more needed? Is any more needed?

Perhaps we don’t need to leave the world a better place. Maybe we can leave it just as we came into it. Maybe our reach only extends as far as a normal human being, that is, say, as far as in It’s A Wonderful Life — George Bailey’s influence in the world extended to Bedford Falls, and barely beyond. And that’s okay.

That’s okay. We can live a big life without changing the entire world.
And sometimes a big life is small, and sometimes, all you need is love.

This post was inspired by a Medium article. 

Homemade Accomplishments

Bought this beat-up old excuse for a couch from Goodwill in Williston. It cost $8, and I worried about sitting on it to test it out. Fortunately it held, and along with it I found a nice-looking chair for $5 with a beautiful dark blue cushion. I decided that it would be worth my time to give the couch some love and match them, since they were going to be my downsized-replacements for a huge overstuffed couch and chair that I’d just given away. The loveseat concept works much better with the small apartment I live in than a full 3-seat overstuffed couch.





Above, the “before” photo. An old chipped and scratched oak frame, old dirty cushions, but a sturdy love seat overall.



Off come the cushions, each with its own internal frame. At JoAnn Fabrics I matched the seat cushion of the chair (far left) to some amazingly-similar scrap fabric that I found in the discount pile at the fabric store for half-off. They only had 2 yards and 18 inches, so I bought it all for $10 and hoped it would come close.



I decided to wrap each cushion like a Christmas present, since my sewing skills are rusty and this would save time. The staple gun is an amazing tool, and the 1/2-inch staples bit deep into the cushion’s frame, securing the fabric in place as I kept it stretched taught over the top of the cushions.



Testing to see how it’s doing.





All the cushions are done, with some struggle with the two back cushions, with which I had to mess around with the fabric since there wasn’t really enough to do them correctly. Decorative pins were used on those in addition to more-hidden staples, since the back of the couch is exposed and can be seen by passers-by. The decorative pins are prettier than staples.



The old oak frame needed some love too. I sanded most of it down, added oak arms supported with metal brackets and attached with cabinet screws, and stained the whole thing with hickory oil-based stain.



Above, the arms are finished with a coat of gel stain, a substance that sticks to pre-stained wood (which these arms were, being left over in the scrap wood pile at my cousin’s furniture store). The gel stain went on in a curious, almost paint-like manner, and were simply gorgeous the following morning. The stain was followed with a coat of polyurethane.



Now, time for the cushions to go back in using the original bolts that held them in the first place.



Hot damn! Look at that, she’s a beaut’! And all for $18 + already-owned stain & staples.



Back on the Prius’ Thule bars, to head back to Vermont.



Ta-da, looks pretty good next to the matching chair! Not too big for this little living room, and still comfy as heck. I feel accomplished, and Socks seems to approve too. Now I can finally crack open that James Ellroy novel in style and comfort.














Borderline Idiotic

This is a direct copy of a facebook post from my timeline.

I think it’s nuts that Europe is taking in all these refugees with shaky finesse, working hard under pressure to figure out a way to accommodate them all, and America can’t figure out a long-term working relationship with our southern neighbors (besides drug trade and payment) in Mexico.

We’ve had ages to set up an acceptance plan for these people who can’t afford to, or are afraid to, stay in their native country. And now some idiot claims he’s going to build a wall and force them to live in the horrible conditions of their homeland.

To paraphrase Michael Moore in his film Sicko, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as “me, me, me.” This is the only world we’ve got, and we should look out for ourselves — all of us human beings. Europe is leaps and bounds ahead of us in the “we” mindset. We Americans had better get our act together.

Scott Carrier interviewed Charles Bowden in 2005 about this issue. I’m not sure there’s any clear solution, but Bowden voices a very realistic, common-sense perspective on it. Skip to 20 minutes & 20 seconds through the end of the audio clip, below the video:

‪#‎immigration‬ ‪#‎bordercrossing‬ ‪#‎usa‬ ‪#‎America‬ ‪#‎Mexico‬ ‪#‎bernie2016‬‪#‎trump2016‬ ‪#‎hillary2016‬ ‪#‎jeb2016‬

Making America great again (honestly, I feel pretty privileged to live here currently) should involve MORE love, tolerance, and solutions for common folk to live happier, more productive lives. Not more racism, sexism, classism, and media-driven political drama.

Wake up and smell the coffee, America.

Thoughts on Christianity



I might still consider myself Christian if I didn’t have such a problem affiliating myself with all the bigotry, sexism, homophobia, intolerance and hate-spreading. So maybe I still am, but I’m a different kind of Christian. The kind who doesn’t believe in the “virgin birth,” or in “rising from the dead,” or in “loving your neighbor as yourself” but still spreading hate toward specific groups with whom I don’t agree or consider myself “better than.”

Yes, I see the hypocrisy here. I do think I’m a better person than a lot of traditional Christians. Because I believe in choice, and love, and acceptance, and not bullying people, and death with dignity, and the ability to abort a fetus if it’s not yet a child, and not caring what people think or do as long as it doesn’t negatively effect me or those I love. So be it. This is who I am, take me or leave me, Jesus.

Another tweet for the road:

Shared experience

Of my many goals in life, none are quite so clear to me as the goal of creating strong relationships through shared experience. While I certainly have my moments, even my days when I’d like to escape to a nice cabin on the side of a river in a mountainous wilderness,  the vast majority of my life I’d rather share with others. To me, experiences hold an unquestionable stature over material things. While I like unboxing a new gadget as much as the next guy, I could probably care less about doing that unboxing by myself. With experiences, in particular, consider the high value of shared experience over all other things.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around, does it make a sound? If no one’s around, does it matter? Who will care, who will have the memory of the tree standing in the first place to realize the difference, now it’s fallen? The tree might as well have never fallen, or have always been on the ground. And while “the one that got away” stories can be entertaining, a lone witness to an event carries less credibility and holds nothing in his mind save for his own justification and memory of an event or moment. Maybe a tree was a dull example, but what if it’s coming upon a newborn baby fawn stumbling around for the first time. What if it’s the relief you feel when you finally learn your family is safe from a threat. What if it’s sampling the freshly-mixed pumpkin pie filling you’ve just spent the last hour making in preparation for the harvest festival tomorrow. What if it’s… (fill in the blank).

Self-serving justification

Why do we so often prefer, or even crave, to experience moments or events with others? Why, in 2015, do we feel the need to broadcast every little thing we do with photos, geographical location markers, and time stamps? I believe, although it’s sometimes over the internet, it allows others a glimpse into our own experience, our world. A tiny glimpse. When we see that sunset and say to ourselves, “this is awesome,” the ability to share that experience with someone (in person or digitally) feeds the small voice in our heads that provides verification of our own opinion and perception. Twelve people like my photo? That’s twelve people who agree with me. I was right. That sunset really must have been awesome. My cousin is grinning like an idiot too? That model rocket launch must have been just as impressive as it seemed from my perspective. I’m glad we could see that happen together. My sister gets choked up thinking about Mr. Webster’s passing, though we haven’t seen him in years? Yeah, he really did have an impact on both of our childhoods. Etc.

Shared experience as bond

While digital justification of experience doesn’t seem to serve any sort of long-lasting bond formation, in-person shared experiences are certainly one of the foundation blocks on which a strong bond is built between two people. Through time and moments together comes repetition of that justification; granted, a similar viewpoint toward events or moments is most likely needed to strengthen that bond.

Why I wrote this

This post is a stepping-stone in my personal quest to figure out what makes me happy, in the general sense. While I don’t necessarily like to decide on absolutes (“X and Y make me happy, while Z will never”), I’m hoping to learn to guide myself in more defined directions toward greater overall happiness. While many things contribute to my happiness, I believe that putting more time, effort, and money into relationships and experiences rather than the purchase of things will ultimately result in my own greater overall happiness, and hopefully that spreads to the people who spend time with me as well.

Life goal: Be happy, and strive to contribute to my friends’ and partners’ happiness through shared experience.


Disclaimer: Ice may be cold.

Disclaimers shouldn’t exist, because:

• First and foremost: People don’t read them, therefore, they shouldn’t exist. See: iTunes.
• Your product is overall a failure, therefore, it requires a disclaimer; that circumstance should be avoided, and the disclaimer shouldn’t exist.
• Something is wrong with whatever you’re advertising. Fix it. The disclaimer is like a roadsign that says “pot hole” or “bump.” Fix the problem.
• You can’t obtain simplicity in your message; shorten it. There should be no need for a disclaimer.

Even “Caution: Contents may be hot” shouldn’t exist. It only does because something is wrong with our legal system, allowing idiots to claim lack of common-sense and thereby sue the pants off people who don’t tell them things they should pick up on through common knowledge, for example, that coffee that comes in an opaque styrofoam cup could possibly be warmer than room-temperature.

Not with that attitude, it won’t.

The conundrum of the placebo effect and the concept of “mind over matter.”

My sister recently told me she’d bitten her lip. I eagerly recommended an over-the-counter gel that I’d used to treat the same thing; the gel worked well for me. Or seemed to.

“I don’t think that stuff actually does anything,” she replied with a frown.

My first thought was “Not with that attitude, it won’t.” Personally, I can’t stand when people say that, but the active ingredients of the medicine contain relatively large percentages of elements that sound convincing, so why wouldn’t it help? I responded with a shrug instead; my advice had been unsolicited in the first place.

Many studies have shown that when given placebos, a percentage of people within a focus group react as if they’d been exposed to the real thing, the non-placebo. That fascinates me. I feel armed with the knowledge that the placebos can produce real results, the knowledge that a sugar pill could have the same effect as a medicinal pill, all because of the human psyche.

Mind over matter.
Sheer force of will.
Perception is more relevant than reality.
Nothing is impossible unless you believe it is.
Think positive.

I realize this all sounds like a lot of wishy-washy nonsense, and belief certainly has its limits (I’m not about to jump off a mountain and will myself to float). But the knowledge that the placebo effect has been proven to work could, in theory, be enough to overcome an ailment by willing oneself to heal. Why must the placebo effect rely on one’s obliviousness to the placebo itself?


Photo courtesy of The Stocks > Pexels.







Socks the cat enjoys shoulder-perching.

I’ve been alive for 24 years, 5 months and 23 days. I live in Vermont, design and build things inside and outside my workplace, I’m starting a podcast with some friends, I tweet too much, and recently started learning west-coast swing. I am not famous, but Dan Savage retweeted me once and I once had coffee with Chip Kidd. He was strange.

That’s me. I’ll be using this blog as a catch-all for anything I think could provide you value.