credit cards

Not all credit cards suck.

“Don’t get a credit card, it will just ruin your life.”

I’ve heard that line, or something like it, since I was a teenager. I never was interested in credit cards, probably because of the scary stories I’d heard about them.

It’s probably that way for a lot of people. Either that, or they love the idea of spending money that they don’t even have (yet!) and just rack up so much debt they can literally feel it crushing down on them in later years. (And by literally, I mean figuratively).

I never really had a great understanding of it, but I’m learning a lot more about it these days. Mostly because it’s needed for just about anything you do.

Trying to get an apartment? Gotta pass a credit check (even if you offer to pay the entire lease upfront, in cash).

It’s ridiculous. But it’s how the system works, and when/if you can accept that, then you can start to understand their rules and play by them. Fortunately it’s not too difficult.

This is the American system anyway. I have no idea how it works in other countries.

How to Manage Your Credit Score

1. If you’ve never done this, go to and purchase the 3-score report. This will pull your credit score info from the 3 major Credit Reporting Bureaus, which are TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

Go to “reports -> printable” and save the report in PDF format on your computer or the cloud somewhere. Basically, you want to be able to access this months later if needed, and MyFICO doesn’t allow you to access it after one month. What a ridiculous shenanigan.

This will basically tell you everything about your credit history and how to fix and improve your credit score. Read over it thoroughly, because getting your credit in order is time well spent.

2. If you don’t currently have any credit, you: a) won’t be able to get a report from MyFICO, and b) need to work on building a credit score. One way to build a credit score is to get a secured credit card. Which basically means, you’re extending credit to yourself, but choosing to include a bank so that you can build a credit score. I recommend the US Bank Harley Davidson Visa card as a form of building credit if you have none. Just Google it and get started. It will require a minimum of $300 deposit. You can get this back when you cancel your account, and after you’ve built a credit score and opened up a normal (not-secured) credit card.

3. I would recommend ordering a single MyFICO credit report every 6 months, just to make sure you’re on the right track and not doing anything stupid to destroy your credit.

Photo Credit


low-lighting creates a great, cozy coffee house ambiance

low-lighting creates a great, cozy coffee house ambiance

The concept of “ambiance” (or ambience) isn’t very well understood by most Americans today, it seems. Google tells us that ambiance is defined as: the character and atmosphere of a place.

I’ve always stated that there are two main things which make up a place’s ambiance: 1) Lighting, and 2) Music. Art/décor have an effect on the mood of a place as well, but not as much as lighting and music.
A lot of people don’t seem to grasp that, at least in my experience.

For example, I’m currently staying at a friend’s house while he and his family are out of town for a few days. It’s been a great place to get away and just focus on getting things done. But the problem? He has no lamps in his house, at all. Only overhead lights. This totally kills any cozy ambiance that the place could have.

Actually, there is one lamp, but it’s in his 2-year-old’s room. (I turn it on anyway.)

And since it’s just after the winter solstice, the days are short and nights are long, meaning less natural light from the sun.

This is a nice house in a quiet neighborhood, perfect for getting away, and could have a *very* nice atmosphere, but it’s just so… bright. Almost harshly so. The over-bright lights just kill the mood. Ambiance is another way of saying the “mood” of a place.

If you’re trying to create a cozy ambiance at home, low-lit lighting is key (which is to say, dim lamps). Christmas lights and/or rope lights work great as well. Dim lamps along the walls always give a cozy feel to a place, like a pre-industrial revolution English pub. Oh yeah, and candles. Candles are the ultimate tool for creating just the perfect cozy mood/feel.

Of course, “ambiance” could apply to other moods, too. I just happen to like “cozy”. Discos/nightclubs have a different ambience. So do 50’s style diners. It’s all about lighting primarily, and music secondarily.

Just look around whenever you’re indoors. Look at the lighting and notice how it makes you feel. Is there any music playing? If yes, how does that fit in with the general feel & atmosphere of the place?

Restaurants understand this concept. Hotels and lodges have it down. Interior designers obviously understand this, but it seems like the average person doesn’t. But once you start paying attention, it’s hard not to miss.

Photo credit

The Living Light Culinary Arts Institute

Living Light logo

I never thought I’d actually fulfill the dream of going to culinary school, especially after adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle. But fast-forward to now and… here I am! I’m currently attending the Associate Chef and Instructor Training program at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, California.

It’s only been two weeks, but it’s been an amazing ride thus far. I’ve learned far more than I even thought possible, and still have two weeks left to go (one of which is dedicated to desserts!).

I’m even considering staying on another month to obtain the Raw Gourmet Chef certification and learn even more about recipe development, ethnic flavours, raw fusion, catering and even more about raw pastry arts.

It’s a very fast-paced, intense program which has kept my colleagues and me very busy for most of our entire time here. Yesterday was our first day off in two weeks! But it’s been a good busy-ness, and it should let up a lot after next week. Our group is also getting to know each other pretty well, and new friendships are being formed, which is always a good thing.

But enough talk, let’s get to the pictures!

My team and I made this Living Lasagna this week. Delicious and has the texture of real lasagna!

My team and I made this Living Lasagna this week. Delicious and has the texture of real lasagna!

Lemon tartlet that we made in class. We learned to style them especially for photography.

Lemon tartlet that we made in class. We learned to style them especially for photography.

Raw Dolmas with Zucchini Rice

Raw Dolmas with Zucchini Rice

I made these raw collard wraps at home

I made these raw collard wraps at home

And this one’s not exactly related to Living Light, but it is a part of my time here… my first king boletes ever!

I found my first king boletes  yesterday with some native Fort Braggians!

I found my first king boletes yesterday with some native Fort Braggians!

So that’s a short summary of what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks. It’s been difficult being without my wife, but it’s also the start of a time in my life which I’ll never forget. I’ll try and put up some pictures of my colleagues and I soon, if I can get around to it.

Bitcoin eliminates PCI compliance

I was just reading up on wrapping APIs and just came to another realization regarding Bitcoin. In a payment system using only Bitcoin, there is absolutely no need for PCI compliance. Zero. That’s right:

Bitcoin eliminates PCI compliance.

There’s no private data to store. No customer data exists that a criminal can then steal and rack up charges. Since Bitcoin payments are a push from the customer, instead of a pull from the merchant, there’s no need for any PCI compliance. Customer security is simply “baked in” to the protocol.

Think of how many millions (probably billions) of dollars are spent by large corporations every year, just to be PCI compliant. I know first-hand that the largest company in the world spends (at least) millions on PCI. There are yearly audits, infrastructure costs galore. All CC data must be encrypted. It’s a huge freaking hassle.

And forget about the small guys. There’s no way small businesses could ever hope to store CC data themselves (and be in compliance with PCI standards) — which is why they have to rely on companies like Stripe and Braintree to accept credit card payments.

I like Stripe and Braintree, but I like even more the fact that millions of dollars can be saved simply by using Bitcoin.

Things like this are what makes Bitcoin so amazing. This is just one example. Bitcoin takes everything we think we “know” about electronic payments and flips it on its head.

Here’s why Bitcoin will change the world…

As I’ve said before, a lot of people a lot smarter than me could explain Bitcoin a lot better than me… so I’ll leave it up to them.

Both of these videos feature Andreas Antonopoulos, a network and security professional and major Bitcoin evangelist.

Watch This First

The first clip is Andreas speaking at the Milwaukee Bitcoin meetup a couple of weeks ago. You can start watching at 47 minutes and 15 seconds (the link should take you there).

Edit: Ok, I can’t figure out how to the get damn player to start at exactly 47:15, so if it doesn’t take you there, just fast-forward to 47 minutes in.

I have also extracted the audio for anyone interested in just listening to it, which you can get here (trimmed to only include Andrea’s talk):

Watch This Second

Now that you’ve drunk some of the kool-aid, you’re ready for the second round. This one is more intense, and more exciting. You’ll be wanting to pour (fiat) money into Bitcoin after watching this one. This interview discusses the recent failure of a Bitcoin exchange known as MtGox, infamous for their incompetence.

It’s an hour and a half, and I suggest you watch the entire thing. It’s worth it, I promise.


I’ve refrained from posting about Bitcoin until now, mostly because I haven’t had time, which is to say that it hasn’t been prioritized. I have also refrained from posting because I’ve been considering a site re-design, and didn’t want to take the time to mess with it. But I’ve got too many thoughts which I need to get out, plus the “Twenty Fourteen” WordPress theme is pretty clean and simple. I like it. Anyway, here goes…

What is Bitcoin?

So many people have given explanations for this, and all of them a lot better than anything I could write here. According to Google:

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency introduced as open source software in 2009 by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto. It is a cryptocurrency, so-called because it uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money.

Bitcoin is protocol, a type of electronic money, a payment network, a distributed timestamp server (at it’s core), and much more. It’s an entire infrastructure, and it’s completely distributed and self-healing. I recommend reading the Bitcoin whitepaper if you’re completely new to Bitcoin if you haven’t read it. I promise it’s short.

Also, check out

Bitcoin is the future.

It’s a Libertarian’s dream, a crypto-nerd’s fantasy, and the great equalizer for the common people. Bitcoin is a payment network, a currency (if you want it to be) and a store of value (much better than those worthless paper notes in your wallet and in your bank accounts). Most people focus on the currency aspect of Bitcoin, and its value relative to the US dollar. It’s so much more than that…

Bitcoin can’t be seized (stolen).

Ok, that’s not entirely true. Bitcoin can be stolen (just as the FBI stole the Bitcoins owned by the operator of the Silk Road). But as long as you’ve taken appropriate security measures, your Bitcoin is safe in your hands. Or on your computer.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by attorney Mark Nestmann that I read yesterday. (You can read the article here.)

…cases like that of Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, who had the misfortune of being stopped by cops in Nebraska – a state where police get to keep what they seize. State troopers found bundles of currency totaling $124,700 in his car.

Police seized all the money, alleging that it was the proceeds of drug trafficking. Gonzolez tried to get it back in court but lost his case, despite the fact that police found no drugs, drug paraphernalia, or drug records connected to the cash. Nor was he ever accused of any crime. And the Nebraska cops kept it all, less a 20% commission paid to the feds for their assistance in prosecuting the case.

Mark then makes a case for opening a foreign bank account and stashing some of your savings there as a solution. Of course, Bitcoin makes this a non-issue. If the driver had instead been holding his $124k+ in Bitcoin, it simply could not have been seized (as long as he had secured his Bitcoin). Money in foreign banks, however, can be seized by the foreign government which regulates that bank, or by the bank itself, as we saw in Cyprus in April 2013.

Bitcoins are limited

There will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins in existence. Due to the mathematics and cryptography behind Bitcoin, they can’t be copied or created out of thin air. This is a good thing. Since Bitcoins can’t be conjured out of thin air (unlike US dollars, British pounds, Euros, etc.), they retain value.

Bitcoin is global

Bitcoin is global, can be used anywhere in the world, and has value anywhere in the world. Take Chile, for example. What’s the point of holding Chilean pesos if I ever get into a bind and need money here? Chile just elected a Socialist president — what’s to stop her government from dipping into your bank account, just like in Cyprus? The Chilean government can’t dip into your Bitcoins without your approval. They won’t even know you have Bitcoin unless you tell them.

A few predictions

It’s currently January of 2014. My predictions are thus:

  • Within the next 2-3 years, at least one other “developed” country will enact a Cyprus-style bail-in. Probably France. The US will eventually do it also, for the sake of “national security” of course.
  • With Bitcoin, there’s no more need for money transmitters (since that’s baked into Bitcoin by default). Western Union? Gone with the next 5 years. Maybe within 2-3, depending on how fast the world adopts crypto-currencies.


Bitcoin is the future. It will destroy banks. It will change the world. Crony-capitalism, in it’s current form, will be finished.

My Wife Has a Website

A few months ago my wife began her quest toward becoming a full-fledged web developer.

She’s now got a good basic understanding about computers in general, and today she set up her very own website (without any help from me!). The link to her site is here:

Needless to say, I’m very proud of her and wish her continued success on her long and rewarding journey.

Hardly Raw – Day 20

I’m tired of writing/editing in HTML, so I’ll probably move to a markdown-based blogging software in the near future. Here is some of the food that I remembered to log. It’s hardly raw anymore, but at least I’m still eating some salads every day.

Vegetarians in general get a reputation for eating only salads, and I’m not sure why. But raw, leafy greens are a great source of tons of nutrients, like iron. I didn’t eat many during my first year of veganism. I’m convinced of the benefits of leafy greens, so I doubt I’ll quit eating them anytime soon. I really should start eating more raw beets.

update (2013-10-05): Umm… yeah, I’m done with this (daily reporting of nutrition/exercise stats). It stopped being fun after about the first 10 days or so. It was a nice experiment, and I’m glad that Brittany and I are still incorporating more raw foods into our diet. I feel a lot better, but again, that might just be in my head.


  • English breakfast tea w/hemp mylk
  • 1 Brazil nut
  • oats
  • coffee
  • 1 large apple
  • hot pot
  • the standard mixed greens salad
  • Lady Grey tea w/4 ginger biscuits & some hemp mylk
  • creamy tomato soup
  • vegan red velvet cupcake
  • some kombucha

physical activity


Mostly Raw – Day 19


  • 1 Brazil nut
  • Irish breakfast tea w/splash of vanilla soy milk
  • rolled oats, flame raisins, coconut palm sugar, slivered blanched almonds, raw cacao nibs
  • coffee with a splash of vanilla soy milk
  • 1 large apple
  • mixed greens salad with vegan Parmesan cheeze and walnuts/pecans and some kind of vinaigrette
  • hot pot
  • Lady Grey tea with splash of vanilla soy milk and 4 ginger biscuits

physical activity


Mostly Raw – Day 18


  • 1 Brazil nut
  • English breakfast tea w/splash of almond milk
  • rolled oats, flame raisins, coconut palm sugar, raw sprouted almonds, raw cacao nibs, raw hulled buckwheat
  • coffee with a splash of vanilla soy milk
  • 1 large banana
  • red and green seedless grapes (it was the only kind available)
  • some apple slices
  • mixed-greens salad with pecans and walnuts, milled flax seed, vegan Parmesan cheeze and some vinaigrette
  • 1 cup hot chocolate
  • too much nasty fried vegan food from a vegan restaurant
  • 1 Blue Moon Pumpkin Harvest beer
  • Lady Grey tea w/splash of soy milk

physical activity


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