My 2019 Everyday Carry (EDC)

Everyday carry. EDC. It’s a term used by ex-military folks to describe items carried on a daily basis, and it evokes images of concealed-carry handguns, MOLLE packs, and anything else tactical or tacti-cool.

That said, the term EDC is gaining more prominence among those of us who are not ex-mil and even among those of us who are not particularly tacti-cool. If you think about it, we all have our own EDC, even if we don’t call it that.

Gents, you need only check your pockets. And ladies, you need only look in your purses. Whatever you can pull out is EDC. It’s stuff you carry around with you every day.

Thanks to some good Black Friday deals, I’m upgrading my EDC for 2020, but I wanted to share what I’ve carried on my person for 2019. In fact, not much has changed in my loadout over the past couple years because it’s served me so well.

Keychain

Keeping keys together with carabiners.

I bought a rather inexpensive carabiner keychain on Amazon many moons ago. It works great for me because I have to carry a lot of keys. It’s not the slimmest thing in my pocket, but it’s not bulky either. I’d prefer something slimmer, but I really can’t do anything about the number of keys I carry, so I’m living with this for now. I do like the ability to quickly clip and unclip my truck keys on the main carabiner, and quickly take off keys as needed.

Multitool

Possibly the most versatile of my EDC items.

Clipped to my keychain is a Leatherman Micra multitool. This little guy is perhaps the most-useful item I carry on my person every day. He’s come in handy hundreds of times, from opening packages to tightening screws to trimming and filing my fingernails. I’ve even used the tweezers to remove bee stingers.

I received my first Micra for Christmas over a decade ago, and carried it everywhere I could. I lost it sometime during college and missed it so much that I bought another one within a week.

There’s a lot to like about the Micra, but a few features I think are under-appreciated are the engraved ruler (Imperial and international units) on the frame and the fingernail file. No, it’s not a Swiss Army knife, but it’s got what I need. And, assuming I don’t lose it, I know it’ll last me a good, long time.

Wallet

My Flowfold wallet, just a little rough around the edges.

I got tired of cheap leather or faux leather wallets falling apart every couple years, so I upgraded to this one from Flowfold several years ago. It’s made out of sailcloth, which means it’s durable and water-resistant. As a testament to its design, it looks the same today as it did the day I bought it, aside from the creases earned during its natural life. It even floats! (No, I have not tested that!)

It’s not the most stylish thing out there, but it’s arguably one of the most functional. I can stuff more than a dozen credit cards into it (and no, I don’t have a dozen credit cards either) and a load of bills, and it keeps asking for more. I try to keep it slim though, because it fits better in my pants. It also has RFID protection, which helps keep my cards safe from fraud. Never a bad thing.

PocketMonkey

You’ve heard of putting a tiger in your tank? Well, now you can put a monkey in your pocket.

This is a new addition to my EDC, and one I haven’t had to use yet. I bought a PocketMonkey for my dad for his birthday, and didn’t realize the order came with a second one. So, I did what any reasonable man would do and slipped the second one into my wallet.

This little gadget is the size of a credit card but can do a lot. It’ll open bottles, tighten screws and bolts, and even help you wind your earbuds. You can combine it with a credit card to make a makeshift phone stand (though in my experience, use a card you don’t mind getting scratched up).

Funny story: I forgot this was in my wallet when I went to Europe this year, and it made it through airport security in America, the EU, and Britain (the ultra-secure London Heathrow airport) without so much as a batted eyelash. While it is actually TSA-compliant, I don’t know if I’d try my luck again. But that’s information to keep in your back pocket (pun intended).

Phone

It may not be the newest or most attractive thing out there, but it’s tough and it works. Complete with finger smudges on the screen!

Okay, yeah, we all carry phones, so this one’s mostly a given. But I have to extol my LG Escape 3 for being such a trooper for the three years I’ve owned it.

Despite its storage being almost full, it’s still snappy and reliable and it doesn’t even feel like it’s aged. It’s endured temperatures as high as 110° F and as low as -8° F and been with me everywhere from airplanes to camping trips. I don’t see any reason to upgrade until it gives up!

My philosophy on a lot of things, especially on technology, and on phone-buying in particular, is that it’s best to buy something that’s going to last you for a long time. I know that sounds strange given that I was an IT troubleshooter in a former life and that I’ve written a book about computers, but hear me out.

Companies like Apple plan obsolescence into their phones so that you’re forced to buy a new one every few years. That’s how they make money. Plus, they market things as being “new” and “updated” (they are to an extent)—but that doesn’t mean that your phone is automatically old and outmoded.

Buy a good phone, take care of it (meaning don’t drop it in the toilet), and it should last you a long time. Don’t hop on the “latest apps and features” bandwagon and you’ll save yourself a lot of money and needless stress.

Didn’t mean to step on my soapbox, but I felt like that was an appropriate place to air my opinion. Onwards!

Knife

Smith & Wesson make a fine “urban survival” knife for only $20.

Okay, now we’re finally getting to something that’s real EDC, right? Knives!

My EDC knife of choice has been something with a glass-breaker and a seatbelt cutter, simply because I live in a more urban environment and I’m more likely to need to cut a seatbelt than I am a piece of rope. I like that such a knife enables me to rescue myself or someone else from a car wreck, though hopefully I’ll never have to.

I started the year with an M-Tech knife that my dad gave me for Christmas a few years ago, but the clip broke off and the spring mechanism wore out. I replaced it with the closest thing I could find at The Knife Shoppe, which was a Smith & Wesson 1st Response. It looks and feels solid, and I like the grippy scales. It’s sharp enough for my needs—the toughest thing I do with it is cut apart cardboard boxes before recycling them. And I really like the thumbscrew for opening the blade.

I used to carry this knife in my back pocket, which is where most Texans carry their blades of choice. Next year, I’m planning to keep this one exclusively in my vehicle as a rescue knife and carry something else on my person. Stay tuned….

Watch

I’m amazed that Casio can make G-Shocks as tough as they are at the prices they sell them.

This year, I started a (small) watch collection and I can see how easy it is to spend a lot of money on timepieces. As mentioned, I’m all about buying for life, and I’d rather buy quality than quantity, so my collection will remain a small one of superb pieces.

In an era of smartwatches, there is still no replacement for a quality wristwatch. While the smartwatch you’re wearing will be obsolete in a couple years (meaning you’ll have to buy another one), a well-made wristwatch can last you a lifetime. And I don’t think even the most stylish smartwatch can rival the elegance of an analog timepiece.

My go-to, everyday watch is my G-Shock GA1000 Gravitymaster Twin Sensor. (I just call it my G-Shock!) I bought it last year for a pittance and it’s been nothing but tough and timely. I could probably write a whole essay about how much I like my G-Shock, but instead of boring you, I’ll just summarize the main points:

  • Analog and digital timekeeping (meaning it has hour, minute, and second hands as well as a digital display)
  • World-time mode for tracking time in other time zones
  • Chronograph, timer, and alarm functions
  • Long-lasting lume (I can read it in pitch black eight hours after light exposure)
  • Built-in digital compass and temperature sensor (very handy when outdoors)
  • Tough as nails and reliable as heck
  • Antimicrobial and comfortable watch strap
  • Water-resistant up to 20 bars (200 meters)

It’s big, almost too big for my smallish wrist, but I wouldn’t change anything about it. I dig the overall look, especially the aviation-inspired design of the mode dial.

Maybe someday I’ll acquire a G-Shock with an altimeter, if only for the cool factor of having an altimeter and barometer strapped to my wrist. Also, this model requires a battery change every two or three years depending on usage, while others are solar-powered. As with most things, you pay more to get more, but I’m very happy with my G-Shock and I don’t know anyone who has ever been unhappy with theirs.

Backpack

Still in great condition five years later, but you can see it’s been around the block a few times.

I’ve been carrying this SwissGear backpack for over five years and it’s a tank. I know I’ve had to carry fifty-plus pounds of books and gear around during college, and this bag didn’t complain in the slightest. The stitching is rock-solid all around, especially on the straps. The zippers may require coercion when the bag is stuffed, but they don’t break!

Given, there are some things I don’t like about it: When loaded up, it looks bulky and can cause achy shoulders. (I wish it at least had a chest strap, if not a waist strap, to place the weight on the back rather than the shoulders.) It’s also not the most stylish backpack out there. But it holds a lot, keeps stuff dry, and shows very few signs of wear after I’ve worn it all over the place.

Due to changing needs (I’m no longer schlepping textbooks around campus), next year I’m switching to a messenger bag for EDC, so I’m retiring this backpack from active duty. That said, I’m still keeping it for that odd occasion that I need (or prefer) a rugged and reliable backpack.

Kindle

You can see I’ve got A.J. Baime’s Go Like Hell queued up. After seeing Ford V Ferrari, it’s worth a second read.

I never know when I might have some down time to dive into a book. Sure, I could read on my phone or carry a tablet for greater versatility, but I prefer the e-ink display of my Kindle Paperwhite. It’s more like a real book and much easier on my eyes—not to mention that it won’t distract me with notifications or tempt me to spend my time surfing the Web.

My Kindle Paperwhite has 4 GB of storage, which I’ve heard equates to somewhere around one-thousand books. It has a backlit touchscreen for reading in the dark, though I find the backlight hard on my eyes sometimes. My first Kindle didn’t have a touchscreen—buttons only—and it could be a pain to navigate, so I think the touchscreen on this one is one of this model’s greatest features. I like that I can use my finger to highlight words to get immediate definitions; it’s also great for books like War and Peace where the language changes a lot, because you can highlight words and phrases for translation.

I just have a relatively inexpensive faux leather case for my Kindle. There are fancier ones, yes, but this one provides adequate protection. I’m also unwilling to pay a lot for a case for something that I may upgrade a few years down the road.

I’ve loaded my Kindle with a small library of books, so I never worry about being bored anymore. I don’t know that I’ll ever get through them all, but to quote The Sun Also Rises, isn’t it pretty to think so?

Book

He’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.

Even though I have a veritable library on my Kindle, I always try to have a real, physical book with me—a paperback, if possible. There will never be a replacement for reading words on paper and flipping pages.

The kind of book I carry varies from week to week. One week it might be a work of fiction; the next it might be history or philosophy. I do own several books, but more often than not I patronize the local library for books to tote around. I check out a book, and if I like what I read, I may then buy it—shelving space permitting.

Lunch bag

Fortunately, the stains are on the backside!

I’ve used this bag well for several years now, at least since I started college. My mom bought it for me from The Container Store way back when. It fits decently inside my SwissGear backpack and keeps food cold. What more could you want from a lunch bag?

Unfortunately, this bag has some irremovable stains, so I’m also going to retire it from active duty at the end of the year. Also, since I’m upgrading my EDC pack to a messenger bag, I’m planning to upgrading my lunch bag/pail. Stay tuned on this one, too.

Earbuds

My brother’s old EarPods are my current pair of ‘phones.

Did you know that wired earbuds are old-fashioned now? No? Well, apparently they are. Wireless rechargeable earbuds are where it’s at.

I don’t have a beef with wireless, but I like the convenience of a pair with wires. And my phone still has the standard 1/8″ (3.5 mm) audio jack (unlike the new iPhones!), so it makes sense to keep using them. These used to be my brother’s, but he gave them to me when he upgraded (because his phone is one of the new iPhones that doesn’t have the audio jack!).

I don’t plug in and tune out much, but when I do, I use these. They sound good; they’re neither too trebly nor too bassy. And they have a built-in microphone for taking calls, a feature I don’t use very much but find convenient nevertheless.

I grew up listening to music cranked through my dad’s old Technics hi-fi stereo, and I’m convinced that the only real way to listen to music is through this kind of system, because you don’t just hear it—you also feel it in your body. But since it’s impractical to carry a big stereo around and impolite to blast your music for all to hear, these earbuds do the trick.

Pens

A handful of pens, with a drawing pencil, a mechanical pencil, and a Sharpie to boot.

What’s more embarrassing than needing to write something down but not having a pen? (Yes, lots of things, but this is pretty bad, too.)

I’ll admit that I don’t carry a pen on my person, so I don’t always have one readily available. The exception is that sometimes, when I’m wearing a jacket, I have a pen in one of the pockets. But I always have a writing utensil in my bag.

I’d say most of the pens in my arsenal fall into the category of finders-keepers, rescued from uncertain fates on classroom floors and in lecture halls. I’m not particularly attached to any of them, but none of them are bad pens, either. They’re standard fare, they get the job done, and I won’t be sad if I loan one to somebody and they don’t give it back.

To this point I’ve not carried any special or tactical pens. I have a $10 tactical pen that looks deadly but doesn’t write worth a flip—so I don’t carry it. A lot of people swear by Fisher space pens, so that may be something I acquire next year.

First Aid

Unused and unopened, thankfully.

A couple years ago, I took a Red Cross first-aid class because I wanted to learn the basics of first aid and CPR. After the class, I decided to buy a mini first aid kit and a CPR breathing barrier—better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. Thankfully, I’ve not needed to use either so far. They’re both lightweight and compact enough to carry around and almost, but not quite, forget about.

Gideon’s Bible

Did you know they could make Bibles this small? Well, they do have to take out most of the Old Testament, but this is perfect for sharing God’s Word with someone.

I’ve got Bibles on my phone and my Kindle, but this one doesn’t need batteries.

For those that don’t know, the Gideons are an organization composed of Christian men who distribute Bibles free of charge. They’re the ones who place Bibles in hotel room drawers. They hand out these small orange Bibles at public schools (at least in my state, where it’s not a crime or politically incorrect to do so), and that’s where I acquired this one.

I carry it for two reasons: One, to read in the event that I can’t use or don’t have my phone or Kindle; and two, to give to someone else who needs it more than I do. And should I give it away, I’ll just acquire another one for the same two reasons.

Planner

Planner and pen to keep me on task.

I’m big on having to-do lists and keeping track of appointments. I do place reminders in my phone calendar, but I prefer a planner for ease of use. And, like the Gideon’s Bible, this doesn’t run on batteries.

If I have something I need to do on a specific day, I’ll write it down in my planner. Every night before bed, I’ll go over the next day’s to-dos and objectives, and make note of anything I didn’t get done that current day. Rarely do I get everything done in one day, so I also aim to take care of the “leftovers” first on the next day.

I bought this planner for $1.99 at my local Half Price Books. In the past, I’ve used 5″ x 8″ planners but I thought I’d try this smaller format this year. It’s okay, but I like having more space to write and take notes, so next year I’m going back to a larger one.

Flashlight

This Nitecore P12 is about 5.5″ long and 1″ in diameter.

I have two very bright, tactical flashlights. The first is a Nitecore P12 that is longer and looks more like something a law enforcement officer would carry. The second is a less-menacing Soonfire (Chinese knock-off of Surefire) that I picked up before my trip to Europe. Each is good in its own right, and both have a max output of 1000 lumens.

I like the Nitecore because it’s big and bright. It feels good to hold, with enough weight to have substance but not so much that it’s heavy. It has four brightness settings and is powered by two rechargeable batteries. My first one disappeared somewhere and has likely (hopefully) been found by a happy new owner. I bought a second because I like the design so much.

This Soonfire E11 is 4.3″ long and 1″ in diameter, just a wee bit shorter than the Nitecore.

The Soonfire has a different set of uses and features. It’s shorter than the Nitecore and is a gunmetal gray rather than a tactical black. It has five brightness settings plus two strobe modes. I bought it specifically for traveling, and it’s made it through American, British, and European airport security with no problems. It’s also rechargeable via USB, which means I can use the same cable to charge my phone, tablet, and this flashlight. That’s brilliant (pun maybe intended).

Which one I carry depends on what I’m doing that day. Normally I’ll carry the Nitecore simply because it’s what I’m used to. But the Soonfire is easier to pocket and takes up less space in a bag, so I may reach for it when I need to carry it in my pants pocket rather than a bag.

Computer Glasses

These glasses have saved my eyes. No kidding. Gunnar didn’t even pay me to write that.

A new addition for this year, I bought these glasses from Gunnar, a company that specializes in eyewear for computer users and gamers. I’ve always had problems with bright light and especially with light from monitors and TVs. My optometrist didn’t think that these would do me any good, but let me tell you that my experience has proven otherwise.

I tried using blue-light filters on my computers, but they only helped a bit. I’ve also followed the 20-20-20 rule: “Every twenty minutes that you’re in front of a monitor, take twenty seconds to look at something that’s twenty feet away.” That also helped, but didn’t solve the problem.

I figured there wasn’t much to lose, so I ordered a pair of prescription Gunnars with the amber lens tint. On the first full day I used them, I noticed an immediate difference. No eye strain, no dry eyes, no headaches. No more staying off the computer after work because I simply couldn’t stand looking at a screen anymore. No more avoiding watching TV with my family.

These are the real deal, and you can quote me. I’m not even paid to write this; I’m just amazed and thankful that someone designed this product. They are now an essential and permanent part of my EDC.


And that’s it! It seems like a lot when it’s written out, but I’m so used to carrying it around every day that I don’t even think about it—that is, until I create a list like this and start revising my loadout.

What about you? What’s an indispensable part of your EDC? Do you think I should add anything to my list?

Two Weeks Abroad: What I Learned

Prague, a very fairy tale-esque city (in the Grimm-est sense).

Nearly six weeks ago, I boarded an airplane bound for Europe where I would spend my first time abroad, living out of two bags for two weeks. This was the fulfillment of a life goal (older people call them bucket-list items!) I had had since I started learning German in high school—to visit Germany and, more generally, Europe. Even though I was over two years out of formal German education and my language skills were not what they used to be, this trip happened at the right time, in the fullness of time.

First, a bit of a backstory: I had started monitoring airfare through a subscription-based service called Scott’s Cheap Flights, and I quickly learned that it’s always cheaper to travel during off seasons or “shoulder seasons” in your destination of choice. For Europe, this means visiting during spring or fall, not during the peak tourist seasons of summer and winter. (Why would you want to be very hot or very cold while surrounded by thousands of other tourists anyway?)

In March, I got my first taste of shoulder-season airfare: round-trip tickets to Amsterdam for the fall in the $500 range. I spent too much time debating whether to spring on the deal or not that the deal eluded me, much like how an animal eludes a hunter if the hunter hesitates. Eli Wallach said it best in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot! Don’t talk!”

Fortunately for me, another deal came around in May: $600 round-trip to Prague on American Airlines, my preferred airline. This time I sprang, and sealed the deal. I had about five months to prepare for my first trip overseas—which also happened to be my first solo trip, too.

I spent quite a bit of time reading travel books and travel blogs so I could know what to expect from wandering around alone in a foreign country. But there’s no replacement for first-hand knowledge, so even though I had equipped myself, I still had to go and experience.

I could write another travel blog post about the top ten things to do in Munich or Berlin, but that’s not very unique, and it’s not what I like to do. Instead, I want to enumerate, if possible, the big things I learned from this trip. Whether you’re planning a trip or are a seasoned traveler, I hope you enjoy this list and take something away.

A beautiful house and flower arrangement in the quaint Bavarian town of Oberammergau.

1. Look like you know where you’re at, even if you have no clue.

It’s very easy to look like a tourist. Simply buy a guidebook and stand in the middle of a city square while paging through said guidebook, looking confused as you’re trying to figure out where the heck you are.

Although I consulted Rick Steves’ excellent book, Europe Through the Back Door, I left it at home. Instead, I made notes on my phone about how to get from place to place, which busses and trains to take to get to various places, and good restaurants in each city. I loaded my phone with maps of public transportation routes for all the cities I would be in; this way, I could consult them on the fly without rummaging in my daypack for a map.

This is a really good way to look more like a local—or at least someone who’s not a tourist. Everyone has their head in their smartphone these days, and it’s a lot less conspicuous to consult your phone for information than it is to whip out a guidebook and flip through pages like a madman. If you’re using your phone, the people around you don’t know whether you’re checking a map or checking social media.

Why is this important? Because, especially in large tourist destinations, con artists and thieves prey on unwitting tourists. Someone may come up and ask if they can “help” you, only to demand money for their “services” once they’ve “helped” you. Pickpockets can take advantage of you while you’re distracted. (More on this in a minute.)

So, look like you’re not lost, even if you are. And if you are lost, approach someone for directions—don’t let them approach you. In my experience, Europeans are more to themselves than Americans are (especially here in the South and Southwest), and they don’t readily offer help to visitors. But if you ask, most are happy (or at least obliging) to assist you.

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate at sunrise, before all the tourists flock to it.

2. Keep moving.

In a crisis, the first thing you want to do is “get off the X,” to use CIA terminology. In travel, you want to do the same.

This goes along with the previous point about looking like you know where you’re at. If you’re trying to get from Wenceslas Square to the Charles Bridge, don’t just stand around and try to figure it out. Start moving somewhere, and correct if necessary. (In Europe especially, lots of attractions are in a city’s center or old town, and are so close to each other that a slight course correction won’t ruin your day.)

Staying in one place for too long can attract attention of thieves and con artists. If you need to stay put, find a bench to sit on or go into a restaurant. Preferably, hang out in an area where police or security guards are on patrol. Keep all your belongings in sight and by your side at all times.

A shot through one of the garden paths of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.

3. Be suspicious of everyone (in a good way).

Most people do not want to rob you, and even fewer want to kill you. But you want to be aware that, as a foreigner and a tourist, you are automatically a high-value target for seedy individuals.

I have no problem with dropping coins in a beggar’s hat. What I do have a problem with is giving money to people who approach me—especially if they invade my personal space.

This happened to me in Bratislava in a Metro station. As I was walking through, a man came seemingly out of nowhere and nearly stood chest-to-chest with me. He muttered something in Slovak—I knew it was money he wanted—but I brushed him aside and kept moving forward. If I had stopped, even to try to understand him, he could have had a partner somewhere behind me try to pull my wallet.

Yes, it seems rude, and yes, it seems heartless, but you’ve got to look out for yourself first. If you’re going to take a guilt trip for not giving to an audacious individual, drop a few coins in a beggar’s hat.

Bratislava Castle in Bratislava, Slovakia.

4. Equip yourself with knowledge.

Do you tip or not in Germany? What about in Austria? The Czech Republic? And if you do tip, how much is appropriate?

It’s questions like these that stump a lot of foreigners and can lead to some cultural faux pas. Fortunately, there are hundreds of answers to these kinds of questions online, and any good guidebook will contain this kind of information as well.

Don’t be that guy (or gal). Brush up on cultural norms before you leave and you can be confident that you’ll be more like a local and less like a tourist. Plus, the locals will like you more, and you’ll gain a better appreciation for local customs.

(Since I’m sure you’re wondering, the answer to the tipping question is that no, you do not have to tip in these countries because the “tip” is rolled into the purchase price, so what you see on the menu is what you pay. However, it’s a courtesy and a convenience to round the price up to the nearest whole Euro, or higher if the service was exceptional. I, for one, much prefer this method to the American tipping system.)

Another shot of Prague by night, taken from the Charles Bridge.

5. Carry at least one change of socks and underwear in your personal item.

My trip started on a bit of a sour note when American Airlines forced me to check my bag on the first leg of my trip. The 757 ran out of overhead bin space, so I handed my bag off to the gate attendant at the jetway. Unfortunately, due to my bag being mislabeled and a flight delay that led to a tight connection, my bag did not get checked through to Prague, my final destination. That meant I landed in the Prague airport with only the clothes on my back and the few personal belongings in my personal item. What a way to start a trip, eh?

I bought a few articles from H&M and got by until I got my bag back—three days later—but my trip would have been a lot less hectic had I at least had a few things in my mini backpack. I’ve talked to other travelers who have run into similar situations and they all agree to carry at least extra socks and underwear, if not a complete change of clothes, in your personal item.

Sometimes you stumble across lovely views, like this one in Oberschleißheim outside of Munich.

6. Most people are helpful.

I arrived in Prague without a functioning cell phone because my international SIM card was in my lost bag. As a result, I had no way of contacting the manager of the apartment I was staying at.

Fortunately, I managed to communicate my predicament to a tenant in the apartment building. Overcoming the language barrier, I asked her to call the manager and, long story short, help me get checked in. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but a good experience in the end. The lady was very kind and genuinely wanted to help me out. I thanked her in broken Czech as best I could, and then she stayed with me and talked to me in broken English while we waited on the apartment manager to arrive.

I think that most people are willing to help those in need, even if there’s nothing in it for them. Actually, there is something in it for them—the good feeling of helping another human being. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, and pay it forward by helping a fellow traveler or a foreigner in your own town.

The Deutscher Dom and the TV tower behind it. Grand designs if I ever saw any.

7. Avoid big crowds, but also avoid being alone.

As with most things in life, a balance must be struck. In terms of travel, I found it important to strike a balance between the crowds of tourists and the lonely side-streets of major cities.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with either situation, but both have inherent risks. In a crowd, it’s easier to get jostled around and lose something or be pickpocketed. I remember one instance in Munich where a gentleman bumped into a passer-by and unknowingly dropped the glasses he was holding in his hand. I and a few other pedestrians stopped him and gave him his glasses back.

When you’re all alone, especially if you’re traveling solo or in a small group, you feel isolated and could become a target for beggars and thieves. If you’re unfamiliar with the locale, you could be walking into a seedy area that you’d best avoid. I remember turning down one desolate side-street in Prague where a guy appeared to be cat-calling both women and men. Needless to say, I doubled back and found a different route.

If possible, hang out in places where there are groups of people, but not crowds. Don’t let people get too close to you, but don’t get isolated either. And, as before, be aware of places where police and security are—and aren’t.

If you think this photo of Schönbrunn Palace is beautiful, it’s even more beautiful in person.

8. Have at least a two-hour layover between flights.

I had a two-hour layover in Philadelphia, which I thought would give me plenty of time to eat dinner and chill out before my overnight flight to Prague. And it would have, had my flight to Philly not been delayed.

A thirty-minute delay due to a lack of cabin crew turned into an hour-long delay on the Dallas tarmac, as Philly was experiencing bad weather and our flight had essentially missed its arrival window for a gate. Altogether, I had about thirty minutes to deplane and traverse two terminals to make my next flight.

It turned out that my flight to Prague got delayed due to maintenance, so I did have time to eat and decompress a bit. Lesson learned: If you have to change planes, having at least a two-hour layover allows time for flight delays and other incidents.

Just a typical street in Bratislava’s old town. Note the lack of tourists!

9. Carry a flashlight and a money belt.

A good flashlight serves as both a means of light and as a weapon. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it for the latter, but let me explain.

I own two “tactical” flashlights. One is a Nitecore that looks like something a SWAT officer would wear on his belt, and the other is a Soonfire (probably a Chinese knock-off brand) that I bought expressly for this trip. Both put out extremely bright beams (the Soonfire can illuminate at up to 1000 lumens), far more than your average flashlight does.

The Soonfire flashlight (probably a knock-off) that I bought in a pinch.

The Soonfire is smaller and looks less tactical, and I assumed (correctly) that it wouldn’t arouse any suspicion from airport security in any airport. When sightseeing, I could slip it in my pants pocket comfortably and inconspicuously. It also is rechargeable via USB, so I didn’t need to bring any special charge cables or buy batteries; I could use the same cable I use for my phone.

It came in very handy when staying at the apartment in Prague, which had no exterior or hallway lighting (until you found the hall light switch, that is). I also used it a few times to check that none of my belongings had fallen under beds, and when digging through my bag inside a darkened airplane.

The flashlight doubles as a weapon in two ways. Firstly, its beam on the highest setting can temporarily blind an assailant. All it takes is a flash in the eyes, and an attacker will be reeling backwards in disorientation, giving you enough time to fight or flee. Secondly, should you need to fight, you can use the butt of the flashlight as a blunt weapon, or similar to a kubaton. This gives even those of us who are relatively unskilled in hand-to-hand combat an advantage—a strike to the temple or sternum with this will incapacitate even the strongest neer-do-wells.

Next, the money belt. I learned this tip from Rick Steves, and it turned out to be a good one: Buy a money belt with RFID (radio-frequency identification) protection and wear it underneath your pants. Place items you don’t want to lose, such as a passport, credit cards, and cash, in the belt and leave the belt there all day.

The Venture 4th money belt with RFID-blocking design. A great buy.

The money belt is pickpocket-proof and after a while you’ll forget you have it on. Keep the cash and cards you need access to throughout the day in your normal wallet. Yes, your normal wallet is still fair game for thieves, but you don’t want to be digging into your waistband every time you need to pay for something.

For guys, you can place your wallet in the front pocket of your pants for added security. Or, you can just carry loose cash in your pocket and dispense with the wallet altogether. In this case, a money clip might be a good idea.

For gals, carry a purse or handbag by all means, but you should still have a money belt with your essentials just in case your purse gets lost, stolen, or pickpocketed. If you’re not wearing a skirt or dress, you too can slip some cash for the day into your front pants pocket, which makes it easier to retrieve.

Flowers decorating the streets in Wittenberg, Germany.

10. Learn the basics of the local language.

Learn the basics of reading, writing, speaking, and listening to the local language. Yes, many people speak English, but not all do. In general, the more rural the locale, the fewer people that know English.

I recommend using apps like Duolingo or Mango Languages to learn the basics. I had no problem in Germany and Austria (because I know German at an intermediate level), but ran into language barriers left and right in the Czech Republic. If only I had spent more time learning some Czech words and phrases, I wouldn’t have had these problems.

My one souvenir: A Graf Zeppelin watch purchased from the Deutsches Museum. It was meant to be.

11. Pay with cash.

Other countries are not like North America—not everyone accepts credit cards! Yes, hotels and most dining establishments will, but you can’t expect the family-run trinket shop to have a card reader at the checkout counter.

My advice—and I also learned this from Rick Steves—is to pay with cash. You can either acquire foreign currency through a bank before you leave for your trip, or visit an ATM when you arrive. I went the ATM route and never had any issues.

Always use ATMs that are secure. Local banks will have ATMs inside their establishments that are monitored by CCTV cameras, whether on the street or at the train station. I avoid using ATMs that are just along the sidewalk, as you don’t know who could be surveilling you or whether the ATM has been skimmed.

If you can, use a debit card with low or zero foreign ATM fees. If you can’t, withdraw enough cash to make your ATM fee negligible. This also prevents you from having to make multiple trips to the ATM throughout your stay.

Don’t travel without a credit card and debit card, but always carry cash with you. Spend down any extra cash before you return home, as you will likely have a hard time converting it back when you arrive. Airport currency exchange kiosks are notorious for giving terrible rates.

Breakfast in England: Truffled toast at Heathrow.

12. Carry reminders of home and stay in touch.

In the olden days, soldiers off to war would carry photos of their wives, girlfriends, and families. They’d write letters when they had down time. The modern equivalent is having photos of loved ones on your phone and calling or FaceTime-ing when you’re both awake.

I found traveling alone to be an awesome experience that I think everyone should have, but it did get lonely at times. To combat this, I stayed in contact with friends and family back home through Google Hangouts, and was able to call and text this way. I’d put on my favorite music in my hotel room to remind myself of home, or check local news websites just to see what was going on back in Dallas.


Hopefully these tips equip you and inspire you to get out there and have some adventures. Benjamin Franklin noted that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the Boy Scouts advise us to be prepared, so take these things to heart and get prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally for travel. That way, you can travel more carefree and enjoy the moment!

Yours truly at the fairy-tale castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein in Hohenschwangau, Germany.

The 2019 Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show

Airshows are a tradition in my family, and every year we make our best effort to attend the annual one at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth. With Fort Worth being home of two major aerospace and defense companies—Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin—their products feature prominently in both static displays as well as in the live performances. And that also means that many other squadrons, units, and other organizations send planes out for the big event every October.

I enjoy taking good photos. I’m no expert, far from it, but I’d like to think I know how to frame a shot and polish the end product just a bit. So to give you a taste of airshow excitement (especially if you’ve never been to one before), here are the best photos from the day.

Mig 17 vs. Ferrari. Which would you rather be in?
A different kind of fire truck.
Former Red Bull Air Race pilot Kevin Coleman.
An F-16 Viper pilot showing us how it’s done.
Viper Moon?
David Martin and Mike Gallaway.
The one-of-a-kind Yak-110: two Russian Yak-55 aerobatic planes conjoined at the wing, with a rocket added for good measure. Why not?
The F-22 Raptor with afterburners on.
Bombs away!
The U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight. From left to right, top to bottom: A-1 Skyraider, F-22 Raptor, F-16 Viper, and P-51 Mustang.
The new Bell V-280 making its airshow debut!
And it wouldn’t be an airshow without the Blue Angels to wow the crowd.

If you enjoyed these photos, find an airshow near you and go when the opportunity comes around!

A Letter to Myself, Age 23

Tomorrow marks another trip around the sun for me. This time I’ll be twenty-four years old. That’s kind of a cool number: 24 hours in a day, 24 elders before Christ’s throne (Rev. 4:4)—and growing up, Jeff Gordon was my favorite NASCAR driver in his #24 DuPont Chevrolet.

As I thought back on the past year, I realized how much I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned, and how far I’ve come. I’ll be honest: Age 23 was a tough, trying year. I asked myself questions I never thought I’d ask because I felt things I never thought I’d feel. (Welcome to the real world.)

But I came through the darkness back into the light. I am in a much better state of mind as the meter rolls over once again. And I’d like to think I learned some things along the way.

As a way of recollecting, I decided to write my 23-year-old self a letter. It’s the letter I probably wouldn’t have expected at the time, yet it contains everything I would need to know to get through this rough patch of life.

And instead of journaling it and tucking it away to get musty on a shelf, I am writing it publicly in the hopes that perhaps it will help you, too.

Without further ado, here it is.

Dear Matthew,

Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished so far. You’ve worked so hard to be where you are today, and now you’re starting to enjoy the fruits of your labor after all these years. Having a job and a stable income, with some spending money to boot, is a birthday present all on its own!

For your birthday, I want to give you something more important than money, and that is wisdom. Not just any wisdom, but some lessons I’ve learned that you’ll do well to keep in mind as you go through this next year.

You see, for better or for worse, you’re about to enter what is going to be the darkest time of your life so far. I don’t mean to scare you, but I’m not going to sugar-coat it, either. I know you’d rather have someone tell it to you straight. I know—I do, too.

But you’re not going to go into this blindly. I’m not going to tell you everything that you’re going to experience, but I am going to tell you what I’ve learned after coming out on the other side. This is by no means the ultimate guide to life, but I think it’s the guide you’re going to need for this season that God’s about to allow you to be in.

The first thing you’re going to feel is a sense of helplessness. Even though you’re well-off financially, you’re going to feel that your life—your career, your future—is out of your control. You’re going to feel like someone else—a man, The Man—is running your life. You’re going to feel trapped in a job you don’t want to be in, doing things you don’t want to be doing. And being the independent-minded individual you are, you’re not going to like that feeling. You’re not going to like it at all.

As a result of this helplessness, you’re going to start feeling that God has abandoned you. You’re going to call out to Him—cry out to Him on many an occasion—and you’re not going to hear an answer. It’s going to make you question your life and your faith up to this point. You’re going to start to wonder whether He led you to a stream of water that’s suddenly dried up—and now He’s nowhere to be found.

To quote a Styx song, you are going to feel like a man in the wilderness.

The good news is, there’s hope—both in this life and in the next. You confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that guarantees you eternal life with him. Just remember that one day, all this pain is going to be washed away, and he will dry every tear from every eye.

“That’s great to know,” you’re going to say, “but I’m still living in my earthly body! I’m dealing with problems in this life, not the afterlife!”

And you’re right. So let me offer you what I’ve learned from the wilderness so that you can survive it, too.

First, the question is not whether God has abandoned you, but whether you have abandoned Him. I’m not going to speculate—you know where you need some work. Start by getting on your knees and rededicating yourself to Him. Do this daily, every morning right when you get out of bed. He wants to be number one in your life, so put Him first—and don’t even have anything else on the list.

Second, understand that life is full of pain and suffering. You don’t need to look very far to see this. It’s a result of The Fall, of sin entering the world and corrupting God’s very good creation. Until Christ returns and sets things right, this is a fact of life.

Along that line, don’t try to find some deep meaning in life except for God. Nothing else will satisfy. It might fill you up for a bit and make you feel good inside, but before long it will leave you feeling empty and depressed—longing for more, for something else. The wisest man in the world said so himself: “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!”

But that same wisest man also said that to fear God and keep His commandments is the end of all things. In other words, that’s the meaning of life—of every life, including yours. Fear God and keep His commandments. This is the duty of all mankind.

Outside of that—listen to your emotions. If you feel strongly about something in your heart, pay attention to whatever it is. Especially if you feel it in your solar plexus—what one might call your “heart of hearts”.

But be sure to use some logic and reason before you go off and make a decision based on emotions alone. You could make a serious mistake and derail your life—your job, your career, your future—for years to come.

The exception is a “gut feeling”. If you feel something deep in the pit of your stomach, regardless of what it is, follow that instinct. It’s the strangest thing, but you’ve got to do it.

Now, aside from that, you need to strive for optimization in all four aspects of your life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Being sick or out-of-shape in one will start to affect the others, and your whole well-being will deteriorate.

Exercise consistently. You don’t have to work out every day; two or three times a week will do. But be sure to push yourself so you can become stronger. Don’t stagnate—that’s a great way to become mediocre in any aspect of your life. And the neat thing about working out is that it stimulates the other aspects of your life. It’s also a natural stress-reliever!

Do things that mentally stimulate you. Read books—you enjoy doing that anyway, so carve out time to read. But be sure to read books that you enjoy, or that edify you in some way. If you don’t like book, stop reading it! There’s no law that says you have to finish it!

Oh, and keep your German skills sharp. You never know when they may come in handy. In fact, consider working on another language in your spare time. You’ve wanted to pick up some French—maybe even Koine Greek or Ancient Hebrew—so why not start now? There’s no better time than today.

In terms of emotions, one of the most powerful things you can do is to choose to be a glass-half-full person. Yes, you can choose to be positive. The lenses that you wear determine how you perceive the world. And you live in a vibrant, colorful, bountiful world that God has given mankind dominion over! Celebrate that! Celebrate life every day! Celebrate all the possibilities that you have!

Also, surround yourself with positive people as much as possible. That’s not to say that you should cut negative people out of your life completely—sometimes that’s not feasible, and even if it is, it’d be pretty rude to do so. But you have to look out for your own emotional well-being, and if that means spending less time with people who drag you down, then so be it.

On the flip-side, always be an encourager. Listen to those who, like you, are walking through the wilderness. Remember that each of us is fighting our own battle of survival every day. Have mercy and compassion, and show the love of Christ to everyone you encounter.

And I’ve already addressed the spiritual aspect somewhat. Pray every day, read the Bible every day, and obey the Lord’s commands. Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.

In all things, strive for balance. Strike a balance between work and play. Strike a balance between producing and consuming. Strike a balance between order and chaos. (Have one foot firmly planted on the shore of order while you dip your toes into the sea of chaos!)

Take things one day at a time. Live for the day while keeping an eye on the future. Again, strike a balance—between today and tomorrow.

Remember that you have only one life, and that there’s a unique place for you in the grand scheme of things. So, while I don’t advise you to make rash decisions, if you feel like you’re the square peg trying to fit into the round hole—make a change! Do something different! Take a step, even a small one, towards what you think you were made to do.

I’ll wind this long-winded letter up by saying that you’ve always navigated through life by finding out what you don’t like to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. On the cusp of age twenty-four, I still haven’t found that “one thing” I love to do above all else. You may never. And that’s okay. As long as you can find pleasure in your work, your play, and your people, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. In fact, if you can manage that, you’re already a wealthy man!

Oh, one last thing: Never let go of your dreams. They are what drive you when you’re down. I happen to believe that they’re uniquely yours, given to you by God Himself. Keep that boyish gleam in your eye, that roguish smile on your face, and don’t chastise yourself if you catch yourself looking out the window and thinking about what could be. Do what you can to make those dreams reality. Follow them, even if it will take years to get to the end of the trail. It’s better to wonder “What if I hadn’t?” (which you won’t) than to wonder “What if I had?”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I think this is enough for you to chew on and digest over the coming year. You’re young and you’ve got a big, bright future ahead of you. (Look at all that you’ve accomplished already!) Just don’t let a few black clouds obscure those silver linings.

Stand firm,

Matthew

Don’t Judge People by Their Titles

Back in high school, I was a member of my school’s Christian organization. Every Tuesday at lunch, we met in Gym B to hear a local pastor or church leader give a mini-sermon or devotional. Usually these sessions focused on a topic relevant to high-schoolers, but sometimes we had studies in other areas (such as other religions and apologetics).

I was one of a small handful of guys who volunteered to be “sound guy.” Every other Tuesday, I had the privilege of leaving class ten minutes before lunch to set up the small soundboard, microphones, and dual PA speakers for our little worship band and the speaker du jour. This also meant that I got to meet a lot of the speakers as I was setting up or taking down the equipment.

One Tuesday meeting in my sophomore year drew a larger-than-normal crowd. A prominent religious leader was coming to our humble campus to speak about the Book of Revelation. Everyone was excited. I was excited, not so much because of the gentleman’s prestige, but because I looked forward to hearing what such a studied, esteemed man had to say about one of my favorite books in the Bible to study. And I was running sound that day, so I’d get to meet him—and maybe even discuss Revelation with him a bit!

I remember him being escorted from the front office into the gym by a couple students on the leadership team. He stood around and talked to our group president and some of the other officers as I sound-checked the praise band. Once I finished setting up, I excused myself for a minute so I could introduce myself to our honored guest.

“Hi, my name is Matthew,” I said, extending my hand. “It’s great to meet you!”

He shook my hand and said likewise. I then asked him a question about prophecy being fulfilled in Revelation—something I had heard that linked the popes to the seven kings (cf. Revelation 17), and admittedly I can’t quite remember what the question was.

What I do remember was his answer.

This esteemed leader smirked, scoffed, and used an ad hominem against the man who purported the theory I asked about. “Most of us scholars don’t regard him as reliable because he gets drunk.” And that was that.

I sat through the meeting and listened to his talk on Revelation, elementary as it was, but at that point most of what he said was lost on me. I didn’t feel much respect for him based on the way he’d dismantled my question without even answering it.

I may have asked a dumb question, but he treated it like one. Instead of enlightening my ignorance, he widened the gap between his knowledge and mine. And in doing so, he not only espoused his pride—he lost a potential fan.

Remember, this is a distinguished man in the Baptist denomination. This is a man revered both by Christian academics and by laypeople. And I’m in no way trying to denigrate him wrongly.

But I feel like a got a glimpse into that man’s true soul that day, when I asked him that question. That may be a glimpse that few people have had—I don’t know. But that glimpse told me, despite all his titles and accomplishments, that he was inauthentic.

Imagine my surprise when, last year, evidence emerged stating that this faith leader may have defended sexual abusers in the church. And even this week, more evidence—that he very likely swept sexual abuse claims against a specific pastor under the rug and tried to dumb down the accusations—came to light.

Now, I don’t harbor ill will towards this man for what he said to me that Tuesday in Gym B. Nor do I wish that he be accused of covering up sexual abuse and dragged through the mud as part of the ongoing #MeToo movement. But the sad fact is, judging him by the thirty-second interaction we had, I feel like these accusations fall in line with his character.

This taught me an important life lesson: We should not judge by titles and “reputations,” but by actions and words.

Diplomas and lofty titles look great in an email signature, but what about the soul of the man behind the desk? It’s great that everyone else esteems so-and-so—but does that mean you should, too?

I can give another example, one I can smile and laugh at in retrospect.

I took my first business class in college with a tenured professor—I’ll call her Dr. Brisk. Dr. Brisk not only had her Ph.D, but a long list of managerial jobs at some big-name companies in the Metroplex.

She seemed like a decent lady, fairly approachable after class if I had questions, but something didn’t quite sit right with me about her. I started getting the same feeling of inauthenticity that I got from the faith leader years before.

All went well in Dr. Brisk’s class until the final exam, which she decided would be online since it was the end of the semester, she was busy, we students were busy, et cetera. Admittedly, I did not study as hard for her exam as I did for others, because I had tougher classes to deal with an I already had an A in hers. But study I did, and I sat down at the library computer feeling reasonably confident in my ability to maintain that A.

At the end of the test, I was very surprised to see that I had scored a low B. Being that it was an online test (and perhaps Dr. Brisk did not configure it the way she wanted to), I got to see my answers contrasted against the correct answers. Some I could tell I legitimately missed, but there were others I was sure I answered correctly.

I realized that some of the questions (about 10%) had wrong answers listed as right ones. I knew that because many of the questions came right out of the study guides in the textbook. I took screenshots of the answers in question (no pun intended), attached them to an email, and sent them off to Dr. Brisk.

Imagine my surprise when Dr. Brisk wrote back and asked how I had been able to see the correct answers at the end of the exam. (“Because you set the test up that way, lady!”) I asked if I could have the points for the questions I missed. She said no, because the questions were programmed correctly.

I then sent an email to the head of the department and explained the situation. He wrote me a polite email explaining that the three of us (me, Dr. Brisk, and himself) would have to sit down together to discuss remediation, if any could be done. By this point, she had given out our final grades (my A downgraded to a B), and it would apparently take more effort to reverse that B to an A once the final grade posted.

I could tell from the email chain that neither Dr. Brisk nor her boss wanted to deal with me, a freshman with a cause. And frankly, I didn’t want to deal with them either. I just wanted credit for the erroneous questions so I could have my A.

In the end, I dropped it. Maybe it could have gone somewhere had I stuck to my guns. But no one else in the class complained (did they review their answers?) and this lady had tenure. It felt like it would be me against the network of good ol’ boys (and girls).

To contrast these experiences, I’ve had many great professors with Ph.Ds who genuinely cared about their students and listened to their concerns. I’ve run into the same situation before, where questions aren’t entered correctly in online tests, and the professor promptly fixed them or awarded credit when I brought it up.

I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing some really great pastors and youth leaders, many of whom I met during my time as “sound guy,” and later as group co-president. These men (yes, they are mostly, if not all, men) genuinely cared about the high-schoolers they came to speak to, and it was evident. They answered questions and prayed with students. They came back multiple times to shepherd the flock or water the seeds.

So I don’t have a jaded view of every big-wig with lots of titles, accomplishments, and work experience. I just have the ability to look past that and into their soul to see who they really are.

Jesus taught that we should not judge by appearances, but by right judgment (John 7:24). There are a lot of people these days who, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, strut their sophistication and lord it over other people. They act like nothing can touch them.

Many “plebeians” look up to these people as celebrities (or as celebrities in their respective fields) and place them on pedestals. “He’s my hero!” they might say. “I want to be like him!”

But do you really? Do you want your soul to become like theirs? Do you want to have status and success at the cost of truth and authenticity?

That’s why we all need to start judging rightly. If there’s one thing that the #MeToo movement has shown, it’s that people our society lauds are quickly cast down from grace. If people had rightly judged these wicked men and women years and years ago, we wouldn’t be in this ongoing mess.

And it doesn’t just apply to sexual harassment. Look at things in the business world like Enron and Bernie Madoff. Look at things in the realm of politics like the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s or, more recently, Operation Fast and Furious.

Once you start looking past titles and stop putting people on pedestals, your eyes open. And they open very wide. You start seeing into a person’s true self rather than the façade he wears. You start to see whether she really cares.

And you start to think for yourself by taking a solid step away from the powers of mass media and groupthink.

So, my petition to you, my rallying cry to us all, is this: “Let us judge rightly.” Not by prestige, not by empty words, not by virtue-signaling actions. Let us judge by testing integrity, by examining things said or done in private, and by not idolizing anyone.

And may truth and justice prevail.

The Ultimate Guide to Applying for Jobs Online

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A couple years ago, as I wrapped up my undergraduate degree, I started applying for jobs with local companies. I quickly realized that many of the jobs I was interested in required different résumés, some required cover letters, and nearly all had a unique application process. Soon I found myself with a dozen copies of my résumé, a half-dozen cover letters, and a version control nightmare on my hands.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way for you! Applying for a job can be stressful enough as it is, right? I went through the fire and learned the lessons, so I’ll share the top tips I have for submitting job applications to any company.

First, Get Organized

If you’re applying for a lot of jobs and have a folder with different versions of your résumé and various cover letters, it’s going to be hard to keep track of which is which. That’s why the first thing you need to do is to create a folder hierarchy.

I suggest creating a folder in your Documents folder titled “Job Applications” or something similar. Pick a title that you’ll remember best—one you won’t have to go hunting for.

Within that folder, create a subfolder for each company you’re applying at. For example, you might have a folder titled “Apple” and one titled “Google”. (Shoot for the moon, right?)

Finally, within each company folder, create yet another folder for each job you’re applying for at the company. You could have “UX Developer” and “Test Engineer” within the “Google” folder.

Within each job folder is where you’ll store the résumé, cover letter, and any other documents or information you will submit in the application. This hierarchical structure makes it easy to navigate to the exact documents you need when editing or uploading. You don’t want to upload your Apple cover letter to your Google job application—that would not be too good.

Get Your Documents in Order

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Once you have your folder hierarchy created, you can start working on your documents. If you already have a résumé, CV, or cover letter, copy it into the specific job folder and get to work. If not, start working on a new file and make sure to save it in the folder for the specific job you’re applying for.

When you save a file, your computer automatically updates the date information for the file. This makes it easy to sort by date and see when you last edited the file—which is very handy if you have multiple copies of the same file, or different versions.

To make it even easier to identify, I suggest appending the date information to the end of the filename, like this: “Matthew_Baker_Resume_08-19-19.docx”. When you make updates to the file, update the filename too.

Since I mentioned filenames, I’ll give you my tips on how to name your files. First, name your file what you want the recipient to see when he or she downloads it. This is pretty obvious—but make the filenames look as professional as the documents themselves do. To me, and probably to most hiring managers, a filename capitalized like a title looks more professional than all lowercase (“Matthew Baker Resume” vs. “matthew baker resume”).

Second, keep it simple. Don’t use “Matthew Baker Quality Engineer Associate Resume”. That’s overkill. The hiring manager knows which job you’re applying for, and your résumé should reflect that. Plus, you’ve created a folder hierarchy, so you don’t have to be this specific with the filename because the file itself sits inside the job folder.

Third, I recommend using underscores instead of spaces. Some computer systems don’t play well with filenames that have spaces in them. This is becoming less and less common, but since this is a job you’re applying for, I suggest you play it safe. Use “Matthew_Baker_Resume” instead of “Matthew Baker Resume”.

Whether you’re using Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, or another word processor to create your documents, you need to submit final copies in PDF format. I cannot emphasize this enough. A PDF (Portable Document Format) file preserves all your formatting so that what the recipient sees is 99.99% guaranteed to match what you see.

Generating a PDF file is easy. All you need to do is click the File button in your word processor’s menu and look for an option like “Save As…”, “Export”, or “Export to PDF”. Double-check that the file will be in the .pdf format. If you mess up, that’s fine. Just go through the steps again and make sure you’ve selected the right format. If you need help, do a Google search for “How to export a PDF file in [your word processor]”.

If you submit a Word document or other a file in another word processor file format, there’s no guarantee that the recipient will see what you do. I’ve opened Word documents that probably looked great on the creator’s screen but looked hideous on mine: messed-up formatting, missing fonts, and more. Sometimes, the recipient may not even be able to open the file format you send!

Hopefully I’ve driven this point home. Even if the company’s job submittal tool accepts files in formats like .doc and .docx, send a PDF (.pdf). It comes across as more professional (to me, sending a Word document is like sending a draft), and you can rest assured that what the hiring manager sees is what you saw when you created it.

Submitting All the Stuff

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

All right, you’ve got your folders in order, and your files ready to go! Now all that’s left is to submit all the documents and turn in that application!

Before starting the online application, make sure you have all the information you need in order to complete it in one sitting. Many companies offer the ability for you to save an application in process, but in my experience this doesn’t always work. If it’s an incredibly long and thorough application, you may have no choice but to save your work and come back later.

Otherwise, if you have all the information on-hand, you can knock the application out in one sitting and save yourself the hassle of stopping to get more information, throw together another document, and come back later to wrap up. I realize not every company lists what they expect you to submit up-front, and that’s why this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. It just makes life easier if you can do it this way.

If the company has any browser requirements or recommendations for submitting online, follow them! If you use the wrong browser, it might crash mid-application and then you might have to start all over! Just download the right browser and do it the right way—at least then you’ll have reason to complain to the company’s IT department if something goes haywire.

If the company doesn’t list browser recommendations, go with Mozilla Firefox. In my experience, it’s the best all-around browser, and the large majority of sites work well with it.

You may also have to enable pop-ups in your browser when completing the application. If the company doesn’t provide instructions on how to do this, do a Google search for “How to enable pop-ups in [your browser]”. If possible, consult the browser’s official website.

Once you’ve got all your information together and you’ve got the right browser loaded up, go ahead and breeze through the application! Double-check all information you input into forms before you advance to the next page. Make sure you upload your résumé or CV in the correct place. (Don’t upload your résumé as your cover letter, or vice versa!)

If possible, at the end of the application, do a final check that all information you entered and uploaded is correct. Then fire that application off, sit back, and wait for that interview!

Bonus: General Job-Application Tips

Overdelivering (some might say overachieving) is something I pride myself on. If you’re reading this post because you need to apply for a job online, great. But why not stick around a bit longer for some general tips for job applications and interviews?

I’ve picked up a lot of tips along the way, sifted through them, and separated the wheat from the chaff. Here are some of the best ones.

For your résumé or CV:

  • Use bullet points to highlight your talents, responsibilities, etc.
  • For less-experienced applicants, stick to one page
  • For applicants with 10+ years of experience and/or lots of past jobs, two pages is fine
  • Use numbers when possible (e.g., “Supported 50 clients…”)

For your cover letter:

  • Almost always stick to one page
  • Less is more—talk about important stuff, but save some things for your interview
  • Keep sentences short; this makes them easier to understand
  • Keep paragraphs short; this makes them easier to read
  • Address the letter to the hiring manager, if you know his or her name
  • Include the job title and requisition number at the top of the page

For all documents:

  • Use consistent design/formatting across documents (e.g. header, font choice, font size)
  • Use two fonts maximum
  • If using two fonts, opt for a sans-serif font for headers and a serif font for the main text body (e.g., pair Arial with Times New Roman)
  • Use strong, action verbs (e.g., managed, performed, developed)
  • Avoid weaker verbs (e.g., helped, assisted, aided)—be assertive and take credit for your accomplishments!
  • Avoid passive voice (e.g., don’t use “Changes were made…”; use “I made changes…”)
  • Use parallelism in writing (e.g., “I woke up, got out of bed, and dragged a comb across my head.” All the verbs are in the simple past tense. Bonus points if you catch the reference.)

For interviews (these tips came from a presentation I gave to high-school students interviewing for internships):

  • When asked a question, don’t be afraid to ask for a minute to think before answering
    • A good interviewer will realize that behavioral and experiential questions require thoughtSilence can be awkward, but only if you let it beA more thoughtful answer is a better answer!
  • Smile!
    • Whether in person or over the phone, smiling will reflect in your toneSmiling communicates interest and eagerness to the interviewer
  • Speak at a “Goldilocks” speed
    • Not too fast, not too slow, but just rightEnunciate your wordsThis prevents the interviewer from asking you to repeat yourselfIt also showcases your speaking skills!
  • Eliminate filler words
    • Um, uh, well, like, you know, I mean, okay, so, actually, basically
    • This makes you sound smarter and appear more thoughtful!
  • Maintain eye contact with your interviewer
    • Don’t look away the whole time
    • Don’t stare!
    • This establishes rapport
  • In a face-to-face interview, mirror your interviewer’s posture
    • This establishes rapport
  • When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, ask questions!
    • Be prepared with two or three questions ready to ask
    • Ask questions that you think of during the interview
    • Asking questions shows interest in the company and the position

Conclusion

That’s a lot of info, right? Hopefully you find it useful, because applying for a job doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. In fact, if you get your ducks in a row, you can easily knock out a handful of applications in an hour!

As always, thanks for reading. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to drop me a note below. And if you have any additional tips you think your fellow readers would benefit from, please feel free to share in the comments!


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1548894625.jpg

What if I told you that you could quickly and easily learn how your computer or smartphone works?

What if I told you that troubleshooting your technology can be easy and painless?

Well, now I’m telling you! My book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in everyday English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to.

It teaches you about the basic components without getting too technical, so you can become more computer-literate.

It walks you through simple steps to fixing common computer problems, so you can get back to using your computer instead of struggling with it.

It explains how to easily solve issues such as sluggish performance and virus infections, so you can keep your computer running smoothly—instead of running out to buy a new one.

And… it includes over 30 full-color pictures, so you can actually see what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent a great majority of my life solving computer problems (and I’m only in my twenties!), and I studied IT in college partly for this reason. I’ve helped kids, seniors, and everyone in between… and now I want to help you.

This book contains all the “secrets” I use to solve computer problems… secrets that everyone can use, including you.

Imagine feeling confident that you can solve your own tech problems without calling your tech-savvy friend, child, or grandchild. Imagine quickly feeling at home with software or apps you’ve never used before.

With How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, you will!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on Amazon in all regions for Kindle and in paperback. Why not pick up a copy today and start becoming comfortable with computers?

P.S. If you opt for the paperback version, you can also get the Kindle version for only $0.99 more and read wherever you go on your smartphone, tablet, or Kindle e-reader. Also, be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book.

My Education: American Public, Private, and Homeschooling Compared

I consider myself fortunate to be one of the few people in America, and perhaps in the world, to have attended the three major kinds of schools: public school, private school, and homeschool.

It all started around at age four, when my parents enrolled me in preschool at our church. I remember looking at all the books on the classroom bookshelf. They fascinated me. Some of them had words, which I couldn’t read!

Mom picked me up from preschool one day, and I remember making this statement to her: “Mom, I want to learn how to read.”

So, Mom started teaching me how to read when I was four years old. Evidently I made great progress, even though I don’t remember all the details. Instead of enrolling me in kindergarten, she started teaching me first-grade material at home. That meant I started “real school” one year before my friends did. And so my educational journey began.

In this article, I’m chronicling my educational experiences in American schools. This is subjective, and by no means comprehensive. I know others have had far different experiences from my own. Yet I try to be objective in my analysis of the pros and cons for each.

I didn’t include any pictures today, because a) I didn’t have any relevant ones on-hand to use, and b) I couldn’t find any good, fair-use ones instead. Also, I think they would distract from the gist of the article, which is to, well, educate. It’s not that pictures aren’t important, but they’re just not always relevant. I’m not going to add photos just for the sake of adding photos.

Now, let me educate you a bit about American education.

Homeschooling

I really enjoyed being homeschooled. Even as a young boy, it taught me how to think for myself and depend on only myself for getting work done.

A typical homeschooling day involved Mom going over the previous day’s assignments with me, then teaching me a bit, and then giving me new assignments for the current day. I would then hit the books, solve math problems, write essays, or do whatever I needed to do that day.

Often, I would learn what I needed to learn and get my schoolwork done by noon. I had all afternoon free to do other things: read other books, build LEGOs, or play video games (moderated by Mom, of course). And yet I learned at the same rate as my peers who spent all day in public elementary school. Many times, I learned faster.

In other words, homeschooling allowed Mom to tailor the curriculum and teaching/learning styles to best fit me.

Homeschooling allowed me to learn about things and do projects that my peers in public school didn’t. For example, equipped with a World Book Encyclopedia CD-ROM (this was before Wikipedia was in vogue), I would research ancient Greece and Rome. I would take care of a bonsai tree as part of a report on Japanese culture. And I would start learning Spanish thanks to Rosetta Stone (also on CD-ROM). As part of religious education, I read the Bible cover-to-cover and studied the tenets of other belief systems. I did all these things and more before I was twelve years old.

Another beauty of homeschooling was the flexibility. When my grandfather passed away in May 2008, my mom, brother, and I spent most of the summer living with my grandmother. We had to help her get acclimated to living alone. Homeschooling got put on hold for a bit, but I could continue learning over the summer. (There’s not much else to do in Wichita Falls, TX, when it’s over 100º F outside.) I read Around the World in Eighty Days for the first time, and my first book on how computers worked. (And now I’ve written my own book on computers to help the average Joe and Jane!)

One downside of homeschooling can be the lack of socialization. Some groups of homeschoolers come together every week so their kids can play and learn together, so that helps. Still, homeschooled children get much less socialization than their public-school peers do.

Depending on how you look at it, this could be either good or bad. In my case, because I wasn’t around other kids as much, I learned to think for myself, and I became pretty resistant to peer pressure. Yet that also meant that I was, and probably still am, a social anomaly because I was raised and educated outside of the “normal” social sphere. But hey, I’ll take being unique and authentic over conforming to social norms any day.

Another downside to homeschooling is that parents who homeschool may not have the technical expertise required to teach high-school subjects. For example, my mom could teach me pre-algebra and basic science just fine, but there was no way she would be able to teach me pre-calculus or physics.

Some homeschool groups mitigate this by having a parent, who is an expert in a specific area, teach multiple kids in a class. An example might be a homeschool father, who is an engineer by trade, teaching a calculus class for homeschool kids.

I took homeschool math classes at my local community college. (As an eighth-grader, I felt really sophisticated when I told my friends I took geometry in college!) That helped me tremendously because I had hit a wall trying to learn algebra on my own, and Mom couldn’t help me over the hurdles. It also got me around some more homeschoolers and into a classroom setting, better preparing me to transition into…

Public School

Mom homeschooled me and my brother until we finished our eighth- and sixth-grade years, respectively. At that point, our parents decided that we needed more socialization with our peers and teachers more equipped to teach us advanced concepts.

So, we wrapped up schooling at home, each got a diploma for graduating into this next phase of life, and prepared ourselves for the transition.

I remember meeting with the high-school counselor as I prepared to integrate into public high school. He helped me enroll in the classes I needed to take; he also signed me up for a math competency test so I could take advanced geometry instead of algebra (since I’d already taken algebra in my homeschool years).

I also, at Mom’s urging, tried out for the jazz band. I played guitar, had played for a little over a year, and didn’t think I was anywhere near good enough to play in a jazz band. Yet I got the sheet music and started learning etudes so I could try out.

On the last day of school, the summer before my freshman year, Mom drove me up to the school to try out. I walked into the empty band hall with my guitar case in one hand and my cheap Marshall amplifier in the other. I plugged in, got out my music, and played it for the jazz band director.

To my surprise, I passed the audition! Turns out, they didn’t have a guitar player at all, so I made the first (highest) band. And I played in jazz band all four years of high school.

So, I began high school by taking advanced classes, playing in the jazz band, and navigating a school of over 3,000 people. (Everything’s bigger in Texas!) Thankfully, I had a few friends at the school, and I made new friends, so I socialized quickly and found my place.

Public high school gave me opportunities that I would not have had anywhere else. For instance, my friends and I built a website for the 2013 National History Day competition and got to compete nationally in Washington, D.C.! I was also co-president of the school’s Christian organization for a year and a member of the National Honor Society service group.

I also got to explore other interests, such as computer science and German. I found that I was a decent programmer, while learning German awakened an interest in the language—and all languages—that I would never have had if I stuck with Rosetta Stone Spanish at home! I doubt I would ever have learned to program on my own, and I likely never would have thought to learn German on my own, either. (I had the choice of Spanish, French, German, or Latin. I opted for German because I am 1/8th German—my great-great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Wittenberg.)

I took mostly advanced classes (called Advanced Placement, or AP) in high school, which helped prepare me for the rigors of college. They also allowed me greater freedom of study than the “regular” classes would have. In that respect, public school wasn’t too different from home school—just a different environment.

Of course, there were several things I didn’t like about public school. For one, when I did have to take a “regular” class, I was usually bored. The teachers had to teach well below my learning capacity. This was because the material had to be easy enough for the other students to learn and pass the class.

This is part of the fallacious idea in many American public schools that kids just need to pass tests and move up to the next grade and out of the school system. The blame often rests on the teacher’s shoulders if the student isn’t being successful in her class. It’s a shame that it is that way, but it’s true.

Another thing I didn’t like about the public school system was standardized testing. Every spring, we had to take a test mandated by the state of Texas so someone in the Texas Education Agency could plot us out as data points on a chart.

The tests were easy, sure, but annoying. And, unfortunately, teachers had to teach their students not what was important to learn, but what their students needed to know in order to pass the test and make them, the teachers, look good. I didn’t have to deal with this so much in AP classes, but I did experience it a bit. That’s just another way the public school system is messed up.

And finally, I hated the lack of respect that students showed teachers, and the disdain for learning in general. Most kids came to school, did the bare minimum, and left. They had so much more potential, but they were in an environment where all they had to do was get a C to pass and then move on.

Not all kids were like this, and not all were disrespectful, but many were. Again, this wasn’t the case in AP classes very often, but it definitely was in the “regular” classes. And that was one reason I tried to stay in all the AP classes, because I didn’t want to be drug down with that crowd.

That’s not to mention the fights, threats, graffiti, bullying, drug use, and more that went on every day. Thankfully, I stayed away from most of that, but it was in the environment. No wonder people have noticed correlations between how high schools and prisons are constructed.

(My parents and other Baby Boomers will tell you that it was not always that way. If you misbehaved in class or bombed a math test, you either had to deal with the wrath of the principal, the wrath of your father, or both. Rarely was it the teacher’s fault—it was your fault. And, when disciplining misbehavior, both typically had paddles.)

If I sat and thought long enough, I could come up with a dozen more things I liked and disliked about public school, and American public education in general. But these are the main things that come to mind, and they’re enough for the purposes of this article.

And that leads into the typical alternative to public school, which is…

Private School

I’ll admit, I don’t have nearly as much experience in private school as I do in public school or in being homeschooled. However, I’ll discuss what I experienced during my limited time there, things I liked, and things I disliked (mostly disliked). Some details come from friends who spent their entire youths in private schools.

Mom enrolled me in some private school classes from second grade through fourth grade, and again in eighth grade. She intended these classes to supplement my homeschool education. I took extracurricular subjects like music, physical education (PE), art, and writing. I also took science and history classes there for a couple years.

What did I like about private school? Well, classes were small, because the school had fewer students than a public school does. That allowed teachers more time to work with students one-on-one—never a bad thing, in my opinion.

I enjoyed my art and music classes. I got exposed early to some of the great artists and composers throughout history, and developed an appreciation for art in general. (How many second-graders learn that Tchaikovsky wrote The Nutcracker or that Van Gogh painted The Starry Night?) I also improved my art skills, though sadly I’ve let them go to the wayside since then!

What did I not like about private school? Mainly the strictness and uniformity. Uniforms, haircut regulations, and so on. Being that it was a Christian prep school, it was very legalistic. Some kids may not mind that, but I did. I liked to wear my hair longer and thicker, and got reprimanded for it a couple times—but I didn’t care. Then again, I don’t care much for legalism, period.

The legalism didn’t prevent bad behavior, either. The boys, who were supposed to be “model young men,” were just as bad as—or worse than—boys in public school. Because it was a smaller school, I was more privy to their antics than I was in high school, where I could choose to associate with a more even-keeled group of guys. One memorable instance involved someone writing nasty words on the bathroom wall, day after day, with their filth… and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Lastly, because the private school was so small, it offered limited extracurricular opportunities or advanced classes. It had no band or orchestra. I could not have studied German in private school, and I don’t think I could have studied computer science, either. Demand was not high enough, and no teachers on staff could teach these subjects.

In Retrospect

Looking back on my life, I’m blessed and thankful that I received the education I did. I’m grateful to live in the United States, specifically in the great state of Texas, where parents still have the freedom to decide how their children receive education.

None of these three types of schooling are inherently better than the others. They’re just different. Where one is lacking, another compensates. There is no perfect, or even best, option.

I would not change anything about my education journey. I’m thankful I started out in homeschooling because I learned to be self-reliant, to prioritize, and to work dutifully. I was responsible for my own success, Not the state, not the school, not my friends—just me. Put simply, I learned how to be autodidactic. I learned how to teach myself.

I’m also grateful I got to attend public high school. It afforded me many great opportunities I would not have had if I kept being homeschooled. And, it helped me better prepare for college by taking college-level classes in a high-school environment. I also learned how to help others learn, and effective ways to teach material by tutoring friends.

Private school was all right, and I can see its benefits since it can provide a more focused, higher-caliber, classical-oriented education. I wouldn’t want to go back, though. I can (and have, and did) provide myself a classical education on my own.

How will I educate my future kids? I’m not sure yet. Who knows what the future landscape of education will look like?

What I do know is, I will ensure my kids understand that it’s their responsibility to learn, not the teacher’s responsibility to make them learn. If they attend public school, I will be very involved in school events, as well as ensure that they learn outside the classroom. If they are homeschooled, I will ensure they are learning the things they need to know to prepare them for life in the “real world,” and also spend enough time with other kids so they become well-rounded and sociable.

I almost certainly will not send them to a private school, however. Those are overrated!

Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d like to hear your thoughts, and different perspectives are always good. Thanks for reading!


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1548894625.jpg

What if I told you that you could quickly and easily learn how your computer or smartphone works?

What if I told you that troubleshooting your technology can be easy and painless?

Well, now I’m telling you! My book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in everyday English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to.

It teaches you about the basic components without getting too technical, so you can become more computer-literate.

It walks you through simple steps to fixing common computer problems, so you can get back to using your computer instead of struggling with it.

It explains how to easily solve issues such as sluggish performance and virus infections, so you can keep your computer running smoothly—instead of running out to buy a new one.

And… it includes over 30 full-color pictures, so you can actually see what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent a great majority of my life solving computer problems (and I’m only in my twenties!), and I studied IT in college partly for this reason. I’ve helped kids, seniors, and everyone in between… and now I want to help you.

This book contains all the “secrets” I use to solve computer problems… secrets that everyone can use, including you.

Imagine feeling confident that you can solve your own tech problems without calling your tech-savvy friend, child, or grandchild. Imagine quickly feeling at home with software or apps you’ve never used before.

With How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, you will!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on Amazon in all regions for Kindle and in paperback. Why not pick up a copy today and start becoming comfortable with computers?

P.S. If you opt for the paperback version, you can also get the Kindle version for only $0.99 more and read wherever you go on your smartphone, tablet, or Kindle e-reader. Also, be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book.

In the Wake of Three Shootings

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

My heart sank on Saturday when I saw reports of another mass murder—this time in El Paso. My heart sinks every time I hear of a shooting, but this one hit close to home. After all, Texas is my home.

Then I woke up Sunday morning to learn of another mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. Once again, my heart sank.

And this comes hot on the heels of another mass murder in Gilroy, California last weekend.

It’s enough to make one stop and ask a question: What’s going on here?

I’ll tell you what makes me sad and then mad about these shootings. First and foremost, people die. In most cases, they’re defenseless and shot senselessly. Many times, children die. Lives are cut short.

Second, the mainstream media immediately politicizes (polarizes) the narrative and jumps to conclusions. Forget just mourning with the victims and letting people internalize what happened, much less waiting for reports from the front lines. Everything has to fit the preconceived narrative, whether that’s liberal, conservative, or something else. The philosophy is, “If it doesn’t fit the narrative, don’t report it.” Or worse.

Third, the talking heads who immediately start calling for gun bans, gun control, and gun whatever.

You might be wondering, “Why do calls for gun control make you mad, Matthew? Isn’t that a sensible thing to do?”

No, it’s not, because it’s ignoring so many other factors.

I once saw an analysis of four countries’ gun laws and gun violence statistics: Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United States. Here is the essence of that analysis:

  • Japan: Low gun availability, very low gun violence.
  • Mexico: Low gun availability, very high gun violence.
  • The U.S.: High gun availability, very high gun violence.
  • Switzerland: High gun availability, very low gun violence.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

People like to point to gun ownership as the cause of these mass murders. They then demand “gun control” to prevent future mass murders. But that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Switzerland, until recently, had very free gun laws. Every citizen is required to serve in the military, issued a firearm, and then allowed to keep that firearm upon honorable discharge. Consequently, most Swiss households owned guns.

Yet you don’t hear about mass shootings in Switzerland. Ever.

Contrast that to Mexico, the complete opposite. Mexico has strict gun control laws that should prevent even the cartels from owning them, and yet people get shot and killed every day, even in touristy places like Cancún.

Within the United States, one need only look at Chicago, a city with strict gun control laws, to see how well gun control is working out. Chicago banned handguns from 1982 to 2010—at which time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the ban unconstitutional. During that period, 59% of all murders in the city were committed with handguns. From 2003 to 2010, that figure jumped to 71%.

Gun control worked pretty well for the Windy City, then, huh?

Here’s another piece of data: There are approximately 393 million guns owned by civilians in the United States alone. That’s 1.2 guns for every American citizen.

If guns were the problem, we’d sure as heck know it by now. We’d be seeing shootings on an even more massive scale.

These facts are not intended to diminish gun violence in any way. Gun violence is tragic. Any loss of life is tragic. There’s no argument there.

But realize that guns are just a means to an end. Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City using fertilizer. Terrorists on 9/11 used airplanes. The Boston Marathon bombers used a pressure cooker.

My point is this: Guns are not the problem. Guns never were the problem.

So, what is?

Mental health or instability? Radicalization? Social isolation?

Race-baiting politicians? Brainwashing? Mind control?

The “Deep State” or the “New World Order”?

Far-fetched, you say? Maybe not entirely. But you have to ask yourself these things and do some digging. Rarely does the “official story” match up with all the facts.

Frankly, I don’t know the answer to why. I wish I did. And until I do, or at least think I do, I’m going to keep looking.

But even if I did, the sad fact is that most people will not think beyond what appears to be the immediate solution: ban guns.

Banning alcohol worked so well in the 1920s that they had to pass the 21st Amendment to overturn the 18th.

What makes anyone think that guns would be any different?

And, I hate to say this, but mass murders make me more in favor of the 2nd Amendment than I was before. I want to have a gun on my person if a bad guy starts shooting at me.

And in the current state of our nation, being shot at has become less and less far-fetched of an idea.

I hope this short article has prompted you to think. Ask yourself these questions. Does it really make sense, what these political talking heads are demanding?

Or are they just pushing a narrative?

Pray for the victims of these attacks and their families, pray for our nation, and pray for our world. May God bless our leaders with wisdom and discernment as they grapple with these tough issues. May our nation get to the root causes of these issues so that innocent people can safely go about their lives without fear of being shot.

And may Truth prevail.


Sources and further reading

Guns in Other Countries — Gun Facts: http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/guns-in-other-countries/

Estimating Global Civilian-Held Firearms Numbers — Small Arms Survey: http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/T-Briefing-Papers/SAS-BP-Civilian-Firearms-Numbers.pdf

Gun Control — Just Facts: https://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp

Is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Still Worth Reading?

My personal copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, sitting on my desk.
My personal copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, sitting on my desk.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like to read. And anyone who knows me really well knows that I like to read on self-improvement.

Even though I read a lot, I rarely write reviews. Sometimes that’s because I need time to internalize a book’s message. Other times it’s because a book underwhelmed me, and I don’t like to leave a critical review.

Then occasionally, a book comes along that impresses me so much that I can’t help but write about it. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those, as is War and Peace.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is also one of those books.

I had known about this book for a while. My mom likes to use the phrase “win friends and influence people” (even though she’s never read the book herself), so you could say I grew up hearing about it a lot. I don’t know anyone else who has read this book, though.

After reading many self-improvement and “soft skills” books over the past five years, I decided to read this classic. I found that many other self-improvement books, while meaning well, fell flat to some extent. They lacked something. I hoped that, because this book has stood the test of time (80 years in print and millions of copies sold), it would contain whatever it is that those other books don’t have.

For context, I am an extraverted introvert. I enjoy being around people in small groups and in small doses, but have to retreat to solitude at the end of the day to recharge. I’m not socially incompetent, but I’ve always felt I had subpar social skills, even among those within my “inner circle”.

I was blessed to get a college job that forced me to improve my social skills and deal with people more, mostly over the phone and via email. My boss kindly coached me in ways to improve my communication, and over time I developed a sense of “how to say things best”. I practiced these “tactics” over and over, and I began to see that people almost always responded positively and predictively to them. Pretty soon, these skills became second nature, and now I’ll forever use them without thinking twice about it.

I say all that because I waded into How to Win Friends and Influence People with at least some sense of how to win friends and influence people. Still, I figured there was plenty more that I didn’t know.

Boy, was I right.

Carnegie is a rags-to-riches kind of guy from a little farm in northwest Missouri. Read his story in the book.

First of all, if you are organized and methodical like myself, this book is for you. Carnegie simplifies and codifies the basics of human behavior. You can flip to the last page in each part and read the rules for winning friends, leadership, etc. Review these often!

Second, for each rule, Carnegie provides a plethora of stories from real people. This isn’t some theoretical psychological ivory-tower talk. People have tested and proven this stuff, time and time again. Read their stories to learn how they did it and how you can do it, too. (Note: The latest editions contain some updated anecdotes that are more relevant for today’s readers.)

Third, the sections are short. You could read one rule a day and put it into practice. Or you could read a whole section. I did both as I devoured this book.

As I read, I found myself making mental notes: “Hmm, that’s interesting. I need to try that out.” Or, “I think I already do a pretty good job of this.” Or sometimes, “Oh! So that’s why people act that way!”

So, if you’ve read this far in my review, I bet you’re wondering whether it has helped me.

Well, I read this book in about two weeks, giving myself plenty of time to digest each section. I needed to think about how to best put the rules into practice in my everyday life, whether at work, home, or elsewhere. I just finished the book a few days ago, so I haven’t had a chance to put everything into practice yet.

That said… I’m already seeing positive results.

I sat down with my old boss a couple weeks ago with a business proposition for him. I didn’t even do much of the talking. I let him talk about his business, life, and so on. I asked a few questions here and there because I wanted to see things from his point of view, and nodded with interest as I listened to his answers.

By the end of our meeting, and with little pushback on his part, he accepted my proposition. And all I had to do was listen with interest and let him do the talking.

Given, we’ve known each other for a while and have a high degree of trust in each other, so I’ll give another example.

At a friend’s wedding, I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen since high school. I’m not a Type-A personality, but I took control of each conversation and started by asking them how they were doing, what they were doing, and so on. I don’t like to talk much anyway, so all I had to do was stand, smile, and listen. Some of them went on and on and on… because they felt like I cared about what they were saying. And I did.

The end result? Reconnected with old friends, who lamented the fact that I had to leave early. (We would’ve partied all night!) I gave one guy a compliment and it hit him like a fly ball out to left field! He and I had never been super close, so it was the last thing he expected to come out of my mouth. The surprise on his face was priceless.

But what was even better was the fact that, by employing these rules, I drummed up conversations with people I’d never met before. I had some fantastic conversations with some fantastic people: an attractive young lady who (like me) stood alone at the reception, several of my friends’ parents, other guests…. Breaking the ice and establishing rapport was a piece of wedding cake.

I’ve even noticed a change in myself. Smiling more has improved my outlook on life. I feel more in control of things that happen at work. I can better gauge others’ expectations and meet them. I’m not afraid to sit down with my manager and discuss a problem.

I feel more in control of life in general. I feel more confident. And confidence is contagious in the best way possible, folks.

To answer the question this article poses, yes—How to Win Friends and Influence People is absolutely still worth reading.

Why? Because even though times change, people remain the same. Human behavior is the same across the ages—just pick up any history book and see for yourself. People twenty, two-hundred, and two-thousand years ago responded to social cues the same way they respond today.

If you want to improve your social success, read this book. Read it, and be diligent in putting its principles into practice. That’s the only way you’ll ever be able to improve. Knowledge isn’t power, but applied knowledge is.

There is a key, though: You must be genuine in your interactions with other people. Smile from the heart. Nod in affirmation. Try to see the world through their eyes. If you do… even if you do it imperfectly… you will win friends and influence people.

I have. So let’s see you do it, too.

Buy your copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People today.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1548894625.jpg

What if I told you that you could quickly and easily learn how your computer or smartphone works?

What if I told you that troubleshooting your technology can be easy and painless?

Well, now I’m telling you! My book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in everyday English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to.

It teaches you about the basic components without getting too technical, so you can become more computer-literate.

It walks you through simple steps to fixing common computer problems, so you can get back to using your computer instead of struggling with it.

It explains how to easily solve issues such as sluggish performance and virus infections, so you can keep your computer running smoothly—instead of running out to buy a new one.

And… it includes over 30 full-color pictures, so you can actually see what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent a great majority of my life solving computer problems (and I’m only in my twenties!), and I studied IT in college partly for this reason. I’ve helped kids, seniors, and everyone in between… and now I want to help you.

This book contains all the “secrets” I use to solve computer problems… secrets that everyone can use, including you.

Imagine feeling confident that you can solve your own tech problems without calling your tech-savvy friend, child, or grandchild. Imagine quickly feeling at home with software or apps you’ve never used before.

With How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, you will!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on Amazon in all regions for Kindle and in paperback. Why not pick up a copy today and start becoming comfortable with computers?

P.S. If you opt for the paperback version, you can also get the Kindle version for only $0.99 more and read wherever you go on your smartphone, tablet, or Kindle e-reader. Also, be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book.

They Won the Wage Battle… But They Lost the Work War

The red fist of socialism.

The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

Margaret Thatcher

Today, FoxNews reported that Bernie Sanders finally gave in to his campaign staffers’ clamoring for a $15 minimum wage. A victory for the common man, right?

Actually, quite the opposite.

Because of the hiked minimum wage, Sanders’s campaign cut its staffers hours. That means they’re not making any more than they did before. That means they’re not going to be nearly as effective in their work to get Sanders nominated.

And I think this could mean doom for Sanders’s campaign, and for the socialist movement in general.

Talk about feeling the burn. (Or is it Bern?)

To be fair to the staffers, they didn’t say anything about maintaining a 40-hour workweek. I guess they assumed that would be the case.

It’s basic supply and demand. There is no demand to justify staffers being paid $15 an hour. Therefore, when an outside entity violates the natural balance by placing a price floor on minimum wage, the supply is forced to decrease.

After all, Sanders’s campaign would go belly-up if it was forced to keep all its staffers, well, on staff at $15 an hour for 40 hours each week. They’d have to solicit more donations, probably from rich people (the same ones they hate and want to tax to death), in order to stay alive.

In this case, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Socialism just got schooled.

We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.

Adolf Hitler

I’m shooting from the hip here. I don’t get political on this site very often. Yet I don’t see this as politics.

I see socialism and the “gimme” mentality as a great evil that imperils not only the U.S., but the world. I see it as a broader global, social issue that could (and likely will) inevitably lead to totalitarian regimes that mimic Venezuela at best and Stalin’s Soviet Union at worst.

Here are some cold, hard facts to be learned from Sanders and his staffers:

  1. Some jobs just aren’t worth $15/hour.
  2. If the minimum wage is increased, employers will be forced to reduce the workforce or working hours in order to keep profits in the black.
  3. Get ready for computers and robots to replace minimum-wage workers—because they work minimum-wage jobs for free. And they don’t complain or form unions, either.

And here’s three more tough truths for good measure:

  1. Life is hard, and you aren’t owed anything. In fact, life is downright cruel. And you shouldn’t trust anyone, especially not the government, to take care of you. You’re fortunate to wake up and live in one of the best times in history in the greatest country on the earth. You have a relatively comfortable life because of people who worked hard thousands of years before you to bring humanity to its current state. You have opportunities people halfway around the world could only dream of.
  2. Instead of clamoring for a higher minimum wage, get out there and learn some skills that will make you more money. The more value you provide to others, the more money you will receive as a result. Anyone can flip burgers or solicit. Not everyone can sell homes, repair faulty wiring, or manage investments. Very few can win Oscars, perform to 10,000 people, or start world-changing companies. The more value you provide to others, the more money you will receive as a result.
  3. Socialism does not work. It runs counter to human nature that God created in all of us. It discourages innovation and hard work by punishing the high achievers. It encourages complacency because those at the bottom aren’t compensated according to the value they provide. There is no incentive for them to work harder if big government is always taking care of them. (If you want evidence of socialism not working, I need only point to Venezuela.)

Socialism states that you owe me something simply because I exist. Capitalism, by contrast, results in a sort of reality-forced altruism: I may not want to help you, I may dislike you, but if I don’t give you a product or service you want, I will starve. Voluntary exchange is more moral than forced redistribution.

Ben Shapiro

You may say that selfishness is wrong, but at the end of the day, we’re all selfish. Even the most selfless things we do, we do because we want something out of them—whether because we want the feeling of well-being that comes from doing them, because we want to avoid the guilt we’ll feel if we don’t do them, or because we want to look good in our peers’ eyes. Socialism violates this natural human behavior of operating selfishly.

Once people understand very basic economics and human behavior… socialism will become a footnote of history.

And now, I’ll step down from my soapbox. For now.

But first, I’ll leave you with a haunting quote.

The goal of socialism is communism.

Vladimir Lenin