Monthly Archives: June 2009

To Serve

I’m still immature and am slightly fascinated by monetary success, and was thrilled when I first read about this simple measure of success a while back.

It’s pretty much an easy way to see WHY a person (or organization) has a certain amount of wealth.

Simply look at a person or organization and ask: Who do they serve?

Look at what they do for other people and how many people they serve. Almost immediately it becomes apparent.

It breaks down like this:
Serve few + not valuable work = Little money
Serve few + valuable work = Good money
Serve few + very valuable work = Lots of money

Serve lots + not valuable work = Little money
Serve lots + valuable work = Good money
Serve lots + very valuable work = Lots of money

If you’re a numbers person you can make into a simple mathematic function:
People Served = a
Value of Service = b
Success = c

a X b = c

If you want ‘c‘ to be higher, you just have to increase ‘a‘ or ‘b‘ (or both).

Perhaps it’s easiest to demonstrate with real life examples:

The guy making your burger at McDonald’s:
Makes little money.
He performs a job almost any person can quickly learn. If he cannot show up, someone can easily replace him. Serves one organization and doesn’t serve much.

Cardiac Surgeon:
Makes good money.
Goes through over a decade of grueling medical training to be prepared for any circumstance that arises in their specialty. They serve relatively few people in the grand scheme of things, but they serve those individuals A LOT (he can either save you or kill you). Can he be replaced? Yes. However there are relatively few cardiac surgeons in the general population, so it’s very difficult. This means if someone is particularly “good” amongst their peers they could make quite sizable sums of money for their premium service. Serves few but serves them a lot.


Elton John:
Makes lots of money.
Provides a small amount of service (entertaining them is still serving them) to a large amount of people. Has a unique style, voice and persona that’s nearly impossible to duplicate. Serves a little but serves a lot of people.


Google:
Makes lots of money.
Here’s a fun one. Google serves A LOT of people (billions) and provides them a lot of service. Almost everything they offer is free, and it’s almost always a few grades better than competing services that charge money. They provide lots of service to lots of people. It’s no wonder they will make lots of money.

  • So who do you serve?
  • How much value are you providing them?

I bet your answers will clearly reflect your income. For fun, take a look at everyone around you and calculate their incomes using this method. Pretty cool huh?

Since you know this, you can now improve your own outcome (c) by improving one or both of those areas.

a X b = c

Motivations – The Seinfeld Calendar

I remember reading a Zig Ziglar quote that said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

That made me laugh out loud!

I used to put all sorts of post-it notes on my bathroom mirror and on my walls but in the last year or so I haven’t done that. I’ve always put little post-its on my computer monitor, but those quickly fade into the background. In fact until I wrote this I forgot I even had one on the monitor AS I TYPE!

Perhaps something I look at for 10+ hours a day isn’t the best place for a reminder as it fades into the background so quickly.

About a year ago I read every book I could find on Jerry Seinfeld, and one of the keys to his success was his small, but extremely consistent generation of new comedic content. Everyone interviewed said, “Jerry was the only comic I knew who wrote new material every single day.”

There was a passage of him talking about his method (Don’t quote this as I’m reciting it from memory):

I take one of those giant year-long calendars and post it on the wall. If I write new material that day, at the end of the day I put a big, red “X” over that day.

He goes on to explain that after you have a long streak of X’s marking the last few months, you don’t want to break the streak by not writing that day. This way he is motivated to write everyday, and pretty soon it just becomes a natural habit…and I’m sure a lot easier too.

This “Seinfeld Calendar” can easily be applied to any task you want to perform daily.

First order of business: apply it to my life.

Step 1.) Buy a big damn calendar. Office Depot. Check.

Step 2.) Define what I want to put an “X” on each day for. This took longer than expected. I had no idea what I wanted to do everyday! It has to be something you’re dead serious about performing EVERY DAY no matter how tired or busy you are.

After jotting down some possibilities I came upon the realization that I’m great at making challenging to-do lists, but can be a bit of a slug trying to complete them. What good is a daily to-do list if not completed daily?

So my personal “X” for the day is if I fully completed my pre-defined to-do list.

I of course append different things to that requirement in my mind like “Did I do valuable work today?” but then things get too subjective. A simple, concrete, singular goal will be best.

So here is the “Seinfeld Calendar” I hung in my room. When I wake up in bed it’s the first thing I see.

I put small quotes here and there on the calendar for fun. I started this calendar on June 1st, 2009 and I’ve done a decent job, but not consistent of knocking out full to-do lists everyday. Out of 26 days so far in June I’ve missed my goal 8 days. Most of those are weekends (which I still make to-do lists for), but there are several weekdays which are completely inexcusable.

However I’m getting better. Those blank spaces piss me off. They make me think, “What was I possibly doing that in the long run could’ve been more helpful than completing all my work for the day?”

**Update: 4 Month Update here.

Should I Give Money To Homeless People?

You’re driving in your car, come to a stoplight and see someone holding a sign on the side of the road asking for money. Should you give them money?

That decision is totally up to you, it’s your money.

Here’s what I think:
After doing my Homeless Experiment I got to know more about homeless habits, even more so than when I did the Bottled Water Experiment.

There are several ways bums commonly make money:

  • Flying a sign: Holding a sign on the side of the road.
  • Panhandling: Walking around at gas stations, streets, busy parks, supermarkets etc. and asking people for money.
  • Random Hustles: Washing windshields at stoplights, pointing out parking spots and other relatively useless services.

Different areas, climates and populations promote or discourage different types of efforts.

This time I experienced a part of Austin, TX. called Riverside as well as the Downtown area. Riverside bums camp out in the woods or live under a bridge. To get food they dumpster dive, panhandle (aka walking around at gas stations or supermarket asking people) or fly signs. People often give food.

For food the Downtown homeless population simply goes to one of many free soup kitchens or organizations that provide free meals. I was VERY well fed when pretending to be homeless in downtown Austin. For extra money they may panhandle for a short while, or they can go to a day labor center and get a manual labor job for the day (although almost none actually do this).

For the most part food seems to be easily available (at least here in Austin) no matter where you go.

So if food is taken care of, where does that money you give bums go? I’d say less than 20% goes to food, and most goes to drugs and alcohol (from what I saw, mainly beer).

After observing the lifestyle many of these people lead, I feel relatively little sympathy, and don’t particularly feel like giving them any money.



So should you give them money?
In short, my answer is: NO.

Why I won’t give:

  • It supports bums standing on street corners begging or panhandling all over the place, and I don’t like that.
  • It almost all goes towards alcohol.
  • There are usually plenty of places to go for a meal.
  • It’s usually only the chronically homeless that stand outside flying signs or panhandling for money.
  • Most “real” homeless people who have temporarily fallen on hard times rarely ask for money in any of these ways.

So those are some of my reasons. It’s very obvious that many people DO give, it’s an economic truth that if no one gave, they wouldn’t be out there trying for very long.

However if YOU decide to give away YOUR money, that’s your personal decision. A lot of people will even voluntarily buy bums cigarettes or beer. Once again, that’s a personal decision.

I especially hate giving money to bums downtown in my area, because I found out just how easy it was to get a free meal, plenty of food and even temporary jobs.

The Homeless Experiment In Pictures

Though it’d be interesting to visually see the transformation from Neville Medhora to Neville the Bum and back:


How I normally dress. Everyday.


12 days of no shaving


17 days of no shaving. Hair is starting to get a little out of control.


My new invention: Lightweight homeless signs


A few hours before starting


Putting on my best “pity pose” face


I’m sure my Mom wasn’t happy that her first born was sleeping under a bridge.


Home sweet bridge!


Does YOUR house have a river running through it, an aviary, garden, plenty of fresh air, large backyard and a million dollar roof?!


My room.


Black Mike sleeping on his mattress.


The bum just bumming around


After brushing my teeth in the public library bathroom


Kicking of the Homeless Drinking Experiment


Waking up from the aftermath trying to clean my clothes.


Hungover + Broken slab of concrete = bed


Was it comfortable? Hell no! Did I get bitten up by ants? Yes.


I’m now a trained street fighter


I often didn’t know what time it was or what I looked like.


This is what I looked like right before I stepped back into my house after 5 days.


First order of business back home, discard of EVERYTHING.


2nd order of business: SHOWER


I was VERY happy to take a proper shower


Even though I kind of liked the beard, 3rd order of business was to shave


All smooth again!


Back to normal. I look 5 years younger and 10 years less mature.

Did I develop more sympathy for the homeless = Not really.

Did I learn much = Yes.

Glad I did it = Yes.

Do I plan on doing this again = Nope.

Do I understand why people get trapped in homelessness: Yes.

Will I donate to the homeless community = Already did, probably not much more for now.

If you had to change one thing about the homeless shelter, what would it be = Have Earl Nightingale playing on repeat (link):

Homeless Donations

For the Homeless Experiment I ended up leaching off some public services for a few days to see what homeless life was like. In all honesty I don’t feel like giving much back (I was much more enthused to donate a computer to the library than I am to give to the homeless shelters), but something tells me I should at least replace what I took.

Therefore I think there’s three places I should donate back to:

The ARCH of Austin:
I stayed here for a night in “The Penthouse”, got to take a shower and was fed a meal. I don’t like how they’ve put a homeless shelter right in the heart of the Downtown Entertainment District, but I do like the services provided. If someone were to actually want to get out of homelessness, the ARCH provides everything you need to live for a while at no costs….thus giving you valuable time to get back on your feet.

The ARCH has an online donation page, so I just pledged $30 as a donation through PayPal.

Caritas of Austin:
I ate here several times through this experiment and also took extra food to survive on. They let me in, no questions asked, allowed me to take as much food as wanted and were very kind to everyone. I also crashed one of their fundraiser events a while ago, so I suppose some small donation is well deserved for this organization.

Their basic function to serve meals to the needy is fulfilled, however their success at consistently serving good meals to anyone in need almost makes some people feel entitled to this service. However I’m guessing those feeling entitled are a small majority…it was mainly some of the obvious drug addicts. Almost everyone else there very much appreciated the valuable community service they provide.

Caritas has a donation page where you can donate online and select a particular service to send the money to. I donated $30 to the Community Kitchen which I ate meals from.

Black Mike:
This is the guy I met under the bridge my first day out and my last day out. Mike is actually quite intelligent, able bodied and yet still homeless. He is the kind of guy who makes you want to say, “WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB YOU BUM!?”

I spent the most time with Black Mike and was amazed by how much he read. He loves reading fantasy novels…big, giant 500+ page fantasy novels that have over 10 series of books in them. He enthusiastically told me elaborate stories about blue dragon eggs, faraway fantasy lands and a bunch of other crap I didn’t care about….but he really loved that stuff.

I asked him, “Well you’re smart, imaginative and have a lot of free time, why don’t you write your own fantasy novel?”

He was almost floored by the question.

I quickly realized in his world people rarely highlight his better qualities or give him motivation to move beyond his current state. The people he begs from don’t, the other bums on Riverside don’t. I started hounding him on this line of questioning because I think it could actually help him.

Imagine this: A homeless guy whose been to the penitentiary and ended up living under a bridge for years becomes a fantasy novel author….now THAT’S a success story to tell! He could milk that story for all it’s worth to gain notoriety and therefore gain exposure for any books he writes.

I actually do not support him living under a bridge and begging for money to buy beer with day after day. Therefore I will not give him money and I will not give him beer (although that’d be a great gift to almost any bum on the street).

So here’s what I’m going to donate to Black Mike:

  • Before I went home I left him my sleeping bag, jeans, extra socks, poncho and sweater hoodie.
  • A plastic storage container to store/organize his stuff. All his stuff is collectively dumped into a cardboard box with no top. Raccoons and cats routinely get into it. This should help curb that.
  • A book on how to write science fiction. The book is actually called, “How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead” and has a lot of information that he could use to at least ATTEMPT becoming some sort of writer.
  • A composition journal (the kind I almost always carry with me).
  • Two Zebra pens (my favorite pens).

So monetarily-wise I’m not giving him much back, my total bill for all this stuff (sans the old stuff I left him) was around $35 (book was most expensive), but I think if he takes some advice and tries to get a novel off the ground it could have some long-lasting impact on him….much more than a couple of bucks would. Perhaps he won’t become a best selling author (although you never know), but at least if he takes on writing as a serious hobby it could somehow lead to a better and more fulfilling life.

I can’t say I’d be willing to help walk him through all the steps, but I’ll have given him the encouragement and tools to make it happen. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

So tomorrow afternoon I’m going to swing by the ole bridge and give him this stuff:

This should even out what I’ve taken from the world for this experience.

Analogy

Like most crazy/new/different things in life this is generally the pattern:

  1. Come up with an idea or something you want to do
  2. Most people think it’s crazy, silly or just “eeh”
  3. You start doing it
  4. For a while it’s just you without much support
  5. Turns out what you’re doing is pretty cool
  6. People starting joining you
  7. More people join you
  8. Your success starts to compound on itself

Perfect and hilarious example, this video (which has been buzzing around the net after it was on front page Digg):

Dumpster Diving

Ever see someone (most likely a homeless person) take a peek inside a garbage dumpster and pull something out? That’s called dumpster diving.

Even all the bums I met during my Homeless Experiment call it that. I personally think that’s a gross name, I’d preferably euphemize the name and call it “Alley Fishing” or “Refuse Rumbling” to give it a more appetizing sound.

Anyhow, it’s a more common practice than I expected amongst the chronically homeless. I thought this was a practice relegated to only the bummiest of bums, but it’s not, and I see why.

Let’s say there’s a Dominoe’s Pizza store somewhere. A person never picks up their pizza and now the pizza doesn’t have a customer to eat it. What do you think happens to that pizza? Well 99% of the time it gets thrown out.

Later on around 10pm the pizza shop is getting ready to shut down. What do you think happens to all the left over pizzas? Employees may take some home, but the majority gets thrown out (enforced by health code laws) into the dumpster behind the store.

Now let’s say you’re REALLY HUNGRY and had no other food, and you see an employee dump four hot pizzas (still fully boxed) into the top of the dumpster. The pizzas are resting neatly on top of a stack of discarded cardboard, and they’re right within your reach. Would you reach in and grab the pizzas?

I believe most humans would depending on their hunger level.

Now think about a busy fast food restaurant such as Wendy’s. Literally hundreds of burgers, fries, orders of mashed potatoes, chicken nuggets etc. get thrown out every day. Whenever an order is wrong, a person got ketchup and didn’t want it or if they just made too many cheeseburgers for lunch, this all must legally be thrown out. Where does it go? Usually into a big food bag then later thrown into the dumpster behind the store.

Imagine you’re hungry and find a giant bag full of food (most of which is still hot) resting in a dumpster. I hate to say it, but that’s pretty tempting.

I actually very much sympathize with George in this clip:

I learned in my short time pretending to be homeless that dumpster diving is one of the most lucrative forms of scavenging for food.

You can either panhandle or fly a sign for hours and make between $5 and $20 to buy food or simply take a quick peek into several dumpsters and hit the jackpot (then you can use the money to buy beer). In the Riverside area where I stayed under a bridge, there are about 20+ eating establishments (most of them fast food) within less than a 5 minute walk away. Most of them are literally 50 paces away.

At the right times you can find large quantities of still hot, still wrapped food floating near the top of the dumpster…”Like an angel” as George Costanza described it. There is so much food from this type of scavenging that a lot of the bums have preferences of what types of food they go for! One guy told me he loves Chinese food so he rummages through those restaurants most often. Another guy loves the pizza, so he goes behind CiCi’s Pizza Buffet and Pizza Hut (buffet places throw out HELLA food).

So did I do it during this experiment? No.
However when I was eating Ritz crackers with packaged tuna for dinner and Mike was eating a medley of Wendy’s burgers, mashed potatoes and Popeye’s Chicken, it makes me wonder.

Homeless Drinking

From ALL my dealings with homeless people (especially the ones you see flying signs on the road), there’s always some element of alcohol involved. I was further confirmed in this “fact” during this homeless experiment.

From hanging out with the Riverside bums (which is comprised entirely of people who have been homeless for long periods of time) you quickly learn that LIFE IS ABOUT BEER.

It almost sounds funny, but it’s absolutely true. Nearly every action they take is geared towards scoring money to buy beer, getting people to buy them beer, or just flat out stealing it.

Certain people definitely also use other drugs, but I’ve not seen enough of that evidence with my own two eyes to know (nor would I want to be present when it’s taking place). However by far the prevailing intoxicant of choice is beer (or malt liquor which is like strong beer).

If you ever want to COMPLETELY MAKE A BUM’S DAY….give him a 6, 12 or 24 pack of beer. I’ve already proved food in easy to come by if you ask for it or know where to go, so when you see a bum asking for money, it’s usually going to something such as beer, cigarettes or drugs. Sure some of it goes to buy food, but I’d say a larger portion goes directly to the brew master.

NOTE: This is pretty true at least in Austin from what I’ve seen.

Now most “normal” homeless people are not asking for money on the street. These people are not necessarily categorized into this hardcore drinking group. The chronically homeless are what I’m talking about.

———-

I already figured alcohol was a good escape and way to pass the day by if you’re homeless, and I wanted to test this by my homeless drinking experiment. The experiment consisted of me having a full day of nothing to do and a full bottle of straight bourbon. I was trying to see why alcohol is such an attractive commodity when living on the streets….and well, it just sounded like a lot of fun :-)

Here is some of what I wrote in the experiment:

SO imagine you’re one of the homeless people living Downtown or on Riverside. Your food needs are taken care of by either grifting for a few hours or going to a homeless shelter and getting food. You don’t work, you don’t do much of anything….so what can help pass all that time?

Drinking and drugs of course!

On any given day a homeless person whose food/water/shelter are taken care of probably has about 10-12 free hours of the day. That’s a lot of time when you’re doing NOTHING….and doing nothing can be excruciating if you do NOTHING all day long, everyday.

Did it help pass the day? ABSOLUTELY! Were there repercussions? Yes. I explain them in my Drinking Experiment Results.

———————

SO CAN YOU BLAME THEM? I mean, billions of people on this planet enjoy a good drink now and then, so what’s the harm? I think what’s socially acceptable is going out, having a good time and using alcohol to enhance your good time….it shouldn’t be needed. What’s not socially acceptable is to escape your boredom and problems in life through alcohol. That’s where it starts to get dangerous.

I’ll soon discuss if I think giving money to homeless people is acceptable.

Few Thoughts

Well the Homeless Experiment is finally done, I’m back home where I fully showered, shaved and got a haircut.

Here’s what I looked like right before I entered the house:


(Look how disgusting my shirt got)

Feels pretty good to get out of those old, stinky clothes! Some recent observations:

Viewed humans as more of a species than people:
Typically you view humans as much different than animals because of how we live, but when homeless it became more and more apparent that we are strikingly similar.

For example, when staying under the bridge all I could really do was watch several families of birds that nested under the bridge.

As I watched them I realized they’re not much different than I was at the moment. The birds would scrounge around for food for a little while, stop when they had their fill, then go back to their little nests they built out of whatever they could find.

During the time I was (pretending to be) homeless I would do…..well, basically the exact same thing as the birds and all the other animals. Instead of small branches as a nest, I used cardboard and a sleeping bag.

—————————————–

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
This ties in with the above. I noticed when homeless my mind thought about completely different things as opposed to a normal member of society. I realized I wasn’t really thinking about anything. My mind was for the most part devoid of deep or interesting thoughts.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs popped up in my head and I realized how much further down the scale I had placed myself by living this homeless experience.

Normally I think of ways to improve myself, have fun, short/medium/long goals and ways to overall improve my life for myself and others that will depend on me in the future.

When I was homeless I thought about where my next meal was coming from, if I had enough water to last through the night and where I would sleep. The thought process rarely got beyond those simple questions.

This was a true testament to the validity Maslow’s theory. I didn’t particularly care about anything above that first rung because that first rung wasn’t completely fulfilled at all times.

—————————————–

Day to Day Living and lack of long-term thinking:
This ties in with the Maslow observation….that since my priorities were set on the basic necessities of life, hardly any head was paid to long-term thoughts. I could see this in the people who are truly homeless…they had no goal or long-term plan for themselves.

I’m not saying everyone needs a step-by-step plan…but at least a vague map of where you want to end up is important (well, actually we all invariably end up at the same destination)!

This observation may play one of the many small factors that keeps some people in a perpetual state of homelessness.

Ahhh, feels great to be back home!

Got back home, immediately through everything I was wearing (shoes and
all) into the trash. Took two showers and am enjoying my newly shaven
face. I was starting to forget what I looked like!