How to Get Your Passport (for US citizens)

US Passport
US Passport

Note: I wrote this back in 2010. I think the fees might have increased, and I’m not sure if the links are all working now. Get the book, not the card. The card is useless. Oh yeah, now you have the option to get the 26-page or the 52-page version. I don’t think there’s a price difference, so just get the 52-page version. Trust me on this one.

I’ve been accused of writing too much before {by James}. If this page is too long, skip to the good stuff.

Ever wished you could just pack up and take a nice week or two in Europe, the Caribbean or even somewhere more exotic, like say… Tahiti? The good news is you can, because you live in a “free” country, in a modern society, and although you may not describe yourself this way, you truly are wealthy compared to most of the rest of the world. All you have to do is schedule your vacation, book a flight and you’re off!

Oh, no, wait, you can’t. You can’t leave the borders of this wonderful country because you’re too damn lazy to take a few extra steps and get a small document which allows access to virtually any place on earth.

Get your passport.

How to get a US passport for US citizens living in the US. Originally written for my friends in Northwest Arkansas.

Here’s the official web page that has all the details. I have meticulously combed through the details & pulled out the important stuff.
http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html

  • 2 passport photos
  • 1 copy, front & back, of Arkansas Driver’s license on standard 8-1/2 x 11 paper
  • Form DS-11, printed & filled out but DO NOT SIGN IT
  • certified birth certificate {with raised seal}

You can go to Walgreen’s to get your passport photos. Just walk in, say you need passport photos, and they will know what you’re talking about. They cost like 5 bucks or something.

You can get your driver’s license copied at Office Depot. There’s one by the Atlanta Bread in Rogers.
{You will also need to bring your driver’s license to the post office later.}

Oh yeah, print & fill out form DS-11 but DO NOT SIGN IT. you must sign it in front of the person at the post office that accepts your form. This is very important.

Oh, BTW, when filling out this form DO NOT SIGN IT YET. Just wanted to state that another time to make sure it got through.

How much will it cost?

There will be 2 fees:

  1. The first fee is the “application fee”, and is for your passport itself, and any check/money order should be made payable to “U.S. Department of State”.
  2. The second is the “execution fee”, it is for the acceptance facility, e.g. the post office.

Application Fee for adults: $110
Execution Fee: $25

These must be paid with 2 separate forms of payment. They don’t allow you to write one check for both fees.

I believe a money order will work as payment for both of these, you can go to the bank & purchase a money order for $110 and a separate one for $25.

It really shouldn’t take more than an afternoon or 2 to get all this stuff together & get to the post office. The hardest part would be getting the official birth certificate (with raised seal) if you don’t have one at home somewhere.

The Easy, Step-by-Step Version

  1. Find an official certified copy of your birth certificate with raised seal. Ask your parents if you don’t have one or don’t know.
  2. Go to Walgreen’s and get 2 passport photos.
  3. Go to Office Depot and get a front and back copy made of your Arkansas driver’s license {important that it is Arkansas}.
  4. Print and fill out this form, but DO NOT SIGN IT
  5. Purchase two money orders from your local bank. One should be for $110, and the other should be for $25.
  6. Take all these documents along with your Arkansas drivers license and money orders to the Bentonville post office. Rogers is just ghetto. Talk to the person at the front, tell them you want to apply for a passport, show them all your documents.

That’s it. You’re awesome.


Photo by bryansblog

Finally, some solid goals.

Sunset on a Highway in Alabama
Sunset on a Highway in Alabama

Feel like I’ve had a breakthrough tonight. Maybe it’s a combination of being alone for a few hours (INTJ – I charge up on being alone), or maybe it’s the slight lift that I got from the cup o’ tea that I had a little bit ago, but it’s starting to click.

For years, I’ve wanted to “travel the world” and be mobile, yet make an income at the same time. But it was so hard to envision without getting a time-consuming and draining customer support job.

Re-reading that last paragraph, makes it look like I haven’t traveled much. I’ve been to Europe 3 times, Asia twice, New Zealand twice, Canada 3x (spent a month in Quebec), Central/South America for 3 months… I’ve traveled a bit. But my bank account always goes down, and I’m not able to spend the time I want traveling, for as long as I’d like.

Since my eyestrain has gotten progressively worse over the past year, I’ve wanted less and less to spend any time in the computer, much less try my hand at getting a remote software development job. And reading over those job postings makes me want to vomit. Every time.

“Consulting” was the holy grail… the one thing I could do while traveling the world, keeping my eyesight and staying free. (Freedom is my highest value.)

I always wondered how they do it — I have a mentor who’s been traveling the world and consulting for near 10 years now — he can easily make $5-$10k in a month, no problem. Much more these days I’m sure.

Tonight I was reading over some of his old writing today, some articles from 5-6 years ago… then it clicked.

He talked about wanting to have a 10x return for his work… e.g. if he charged $75 per hour, then within a year, he wants that client to receive $750 worth of value for every hour they’ve paid him.

That’s it. That’s the secret to consulting — leaving people better off than if they’d never hired you to begin with. In his case, much better off. Another thing he mentioned — as he was calculating what he needed to meet his goals.

First, he calculated that he wanted to bring in $6000 per month. So he did some brief calculations:

$20 / hr for 300 hours. 75 hours per week. Too many hours.
$40 / hr for 150 hours. 37.5 hours per week. Still a lot of hours, esp. for consulting
$75 / hr for 80 hours… that’s 20 hours per week. That was plenty of time for him to work on other projects as well as meet his income goals.

That’s when it hit me – I don’t have to try and throw myself into building a business 100% of the time every single day. That’s why I’ve been burning out for a year. That’s also why I haven’t been able to stick with a goal. Jumping around, different goals, choosing what seems easiest at the time vs doing what I’m passionate about.

Building a business (which means I can leave and still get income) vs starting a service which requires me to work for continual income (consulting, coaching).

I can do both.

Finally, feel like I’m developing some solid goals… steps for reaching exactly what I want. Discovering that I can achieve what I want, because I’m finally starting to realize what that is.

At this point in my life, I want to be spending about 20 hours / week consulting, coaching, for income. Improving the lives of others and making sure that all my clients get at least a 2-4x return for their investment, if not much more. I’m shooting low now, as far as return goes. I will be satisfied if my current clients are getting 4x return, even a 2x. Because I know that as I improve, so will those results. A 10x return within a few months’ time isn’t out of the question — as long as I stay on a tight feedback loop with lots of iterations. And getting $150 in value for $75 is still a bargain.

I also want to be able to put another 10 – 15 hours per week into building a business, systems which run even without me there, or initially with minimal input from myself. I realize that it will take 100% input at first and that number will gradually decrease as the business improves.

I also want to invest time per week (another 10-15 hours) into developing myself. Learning languages, reading about history, business, negotiations, building skills.

This seems like a lot of time, but 2 hours a day is 14 hours per week. Between reading, learning language and cultural interaction, that would be a minimum number for me, for self-development.

So, official 1-year goals, to have achieved within 12 months from today:

* ~20 hours per week consulting
* 10-15 hours per week building a business
* 10-15 hours per week in self-development (includes language, skills, etc)
* $50k in the bank
* mobility (freedom to go wherever)
* started my business and have all business banking/credit set up

Nice-to-haves:

* Credit score above 780
* Semi-fluent in another language (which depends on where I’m at)
* Lamborghini parked in front of my mansion (well it would be nice to have)

Official Last Request(s)

A few days ago I was driving home from my usual after-midnight grocery shopping. (Side note: I wrote this 5 years ago.) After the stock CD player in my auto went out, I was forced to resort to my iPod and one of those tape-deck converters. I usually play my iPod on shuffle just to mix things up. Anyway, one of the awesomest songs ever came on, and as I was singing along at the top of my lungs, I realized I wanted this song to be played at my funeral. The song? Tarzan Boy by Baltimora.

And why not? Why do funerals have to be all sad & stuff, always playing those songs which make people cry as they remember the person’s life & how they’re in heaven or whatever. Screw that. Not at my funeral. My funeral had better be as crazy-go-nuts as my life. When people remember me, I want them to chuckle, shake their heads slightly and think “man, that was one crazy hardcore awesome motherfucker”. (Or something like that.)

It’s really just a cultural thing anyway. Some cultures really do have parties when people die. Real celebrations, not funerals where people say “we’re celebrating this person’s life”, but you know that’s kind of a lie, because if it really were a celebration everyone wouldn’t be wearing black and acting all sad & shit. Oh, which leads me to another rule: no black at my funeral. I’m serious.

I don’t know why an official-looking piece of paper with some signatures makes something more official than, say, a blog post. So this is my official request for songs to be played at my funeral. Here’s the list:

  1. Tarzan Boy by Baltimora
  2. Dragostea Din Tea by O-Zone
  3. Gummi Bears Theme Song – the one from the TV show “Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears”
  4. Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey – please not the Glee version (Steve Perry and/or Arnel Pineda will be fine)
  5. Deep Folk Song – Deep Forest
  6. Noonday Sun – Deep Forest
  7. Deep Blue Sea – Deep Forest
  8. Enya’s “A Day Without Rain” album – the whole album

As for song #1, please play the extended edition. It’s 6 minutes 8 seconds long and can be found on my Macbook (whichever Macbook I’m currently using at time of death). Yes, it will be a Macbook.

Given that I’ve spent most of my life in the United States, I will understand if the funeral is held there, but I consider it a slap in the face if it’s held in Oklahoma or Idaho. Also, if you regularly drink Budweiser of any type, have truck balls or a Browning buck sticker, or fancy the confederate flag, then you’re not invited.

Gratitude

An Abundance of Peaches
An Abundance of Peaches

Today I had 11 dollars to spend @ the Farmer’s Market. It was the perfect amount, because I planned to spend $7 on a 1/4 peck of peaches, and the remaining $4 on tomatoes. I was so grateful that I had exactly the right amount to purchase my peaches and tomatoes (black cherry and sungold, my favorites!).

Well, not only did I have enough, but my peach guy threw in some extras and gave me a $2 discount. (Yeah, I have a guy, for peaches.) Two whole dollars! I was then so grateful because I not only had an extra dollar to tip him (he’s a good peach guy), but I also had an extra dollar to tip one of the wonderful groups entertaining the market with their music.

It really did feel like I was having the most wonderful morning. I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I was walking around. And even though people were crowding around me, and it was harder to walk through the throng, it was ok. I felt more peaceful, because of the gratitude. Because it’s hard to feel both anger and gratitude at the same time.

photo credit: Liz West – peaches

Arabic Challenge Results

Well, my first Arabic conversation wasn’t a very long one, but it happened.

Here’s the result:

Basically, I’m saying to him, “Excuse me, do you speak Arabic?” to which he playfully responds, “No!”, and we both get a laugh out of it. There’s some more talk (in English), and a LOT of background noise too. The first 9 seconds covers the entire conversation. That’s it!

This was a fun challenge, and I’m glad I did it. I now have some working knowledge of the language and a (solid?) base from which to continue my Arabic learning.

I really wish I’d invested more time re-learning some lessons over again. I did this with lessons 1-4, but then time just got away from me. I also would have broken it up into 2 – 3 study times per day, e.g. morning, noon/early afternoon, and evening. I believe this would have helped my recall.I intentionally didn’t take notes, which would have helped also, but could have become a crutch.

Still can’t recommend highly-enough going with Pimsleur audio courses, especially to get up on a language fast. No, they don’t pay me, and I don’t have any affiliate links to any of their products. They’re just that effective, as long as you put in the work. (Of course you have do to that – you didn’t expect a magic bullet, did you?)

While I’m on the subject, I’m referring to the older-style Pimsleur courses, just the audio only. Not the new Pimsleur interactive software crap — that’s just them trying to copy Rosetta Stone. Oh yeah, don’t buy the Rosetta Stone software. It’s a waste of money, you get very little value for the cost of the software. I bought it once when learning Spanish. Never again.

One-Week Arabic Challenge

Arabic text. I have no idea what this says.
Arabic text. I have no idea what this says.

I’ve decided to learn Arabic in a week. The entire language. Plus the alphabet. Not really.

But it’s no secret that I’m a language nut. I want to be able to speak 17 languages.

Why Arabic?

Most Saturdays my wife and I make the drive from Bentonville to Fayetteville to buy fresh produce at the farmer’s market. That’s in Arkansas, for any non-local readers. We love the Fayetteville market. Fresh local veggies sold by the farmers themselves, live music from local musicians. Good people. It’s just a great vibe overall.

One of Fayetteville’s maybe not-so-well-kept secrets is the Petra Café. The proprietor is from Jordan, an Arab country, and just a couple days ago we had some fun discussing Jordan and the Arabic language.

The Challenge

I decided to challenge myself to learn as much as I could in one week and to come back next week and see how much we would be able to communicate, just in Arabic. I know almost nothing of Arabic, or any semitic language, so it’s all pretty new to me.

I’m posting this publicly so that I’ll have to go through with it. Next week I’ll be posting a video or audio file of my attempt to speak Arabic with a native speaker this coming Saturday. Sink or swim, succeed or fail, something will be posted. I’m not going to tell my Jordanian friend about the project, until after it’s done. My wife has agreed to secretly record our conversation.

It’s pretty exciting to think that I will be able to communicate in Arabic. My first conversation in any language is always exciting. Not long, but fun anyway. They’re usually no longer than a few polite exchanges.

It might seem difficult, learning to even communicate in a language that I don’t know at all within a week. But I have a secret weapon for quickly getting up to speed on most any major language… .

My Secret Weapon

Anytime someone asks me about language resources, I always point them to the Pimsleur Method audio courses, because they’re so good. It’s actually the best thing to use if you want to start speaking immediately and be understood in your target language. I’ve used it with success when learning both French and Dutch.

This week I will be investing around 30 minutes per day listening to the Pimsleur Eastern Arabic course. That’s mostly all I’ll be doing, maybe going over each lesson twice a day if I feel that I need the practice. I’ve picked up a couple books on how to write the Arabic alphabet, so I may go over those a little.

The Result?

To Be Continued…

The results are in! Check out the results of my Arabic challenge if you’re interested.

Photo by “Dr. Case”

How to Start Every Day Awesomely

Sunrise Over Lake

Another 5-year-old post, but I believe the principle still applies. Routines like this also build discipline, one of my most important virtues.

The last 3 days have started awesomely for me because I follow the steps outlined below.

This is a modified version of “How You Should Start Every Day For The Rest Of Your Life!” by Gary Halbert.

I don’t recommend his steps for a couple of reasons. First, he recommends consuming dairy products, which are poisonous to humans. It’s just that most of us don’t know it yet. Second, he tells us to “scarf” down food a couple of times, and I don’t think “scarfing” is an appropriate way to eat anything unless you’re a dog.

How to start every day awesomely:

1. Set your alarm clock to go off 10 minutes earlier than usual.
2. The first thing, after you get up, is to immediately remake your bed.
3. Go to the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of water and drink it all.
4. Go to the bathroom, take care of “business,” brush your teeth, wash the sleep out of your face and eyes and brush and comb your hair.
5. Next, put on some exercise clothes, but no shoes.
6. Leave the house immediately and take a 20-minute barefoot walk.
7. As soon as you get back, start cooking some steel-cut oats (1/4 cup uncooked). Eat them with 1/4 cup raw almonds, 2 TBSP ground flax seeds and 1/2 cup raisins.
8. Take a shower.
9. Dress in fresh, crisp clothes and go about your day.

10 Ideas to improve your site’s SEO

SEO
SEO

I wrote these ideas for a local photographer that I know, who was asking on Facebook about SEO for her website. But since I think they’re pretty generic, these could apply to just about anyone with a local business. So I’ll just share them on here for everyone, and point her to this post.

SEO is basically broken into 2 things:

1. How relevant is your site’s content to the people searching for it?

You improve this by optimizing your site – content and meta information (e.g. meta tags, internal links to other pages on your site, etc.)

2. How popular is your site? (Sites with the same relevance, but more popular = higher in Google results.) This means how many “backlinks” your site has, which is other people/websites linking back to yours.

You improve this by what’s called “link building”.


Anyway, without further ado, here’s a list of ideas that might help improve any site’s SE rankings.

  1. Ensure your keywords/phrases that you want to rank for are somewhere on your site. Bonus points if in your meta description and in an h1 tag on the page. Keyword phrases are what you type in to google when you want to find your site, e.g. "Northwest Arkansas Photographer", or "Portland Wedding Photography", or whatever. If you know your keywords, you can run a free report here for your site: https://juxseo.zoomshift.com/. But this report will only analyze your page content, not your ranking in the SERPs.

  2. Get lots of (legitimate) links from other sites back to your site. In the SEO industry, we call these "backlinks". The link text should be your keyword phrases mentioned in #1 above.

  3. Have profiles for your business on all social media sites and somehow integrate those with your site, or at least link back to your site.

  4. Make sure you have a responsive theme. This just means that your site is easy to read on a desktop and on a phone, iPad, tablets, etc. Google has started giving preference to sites which have responsive themes, and people viewing your site on mobile devices will appreciate it too.

  5. Make sure your site loads fast. (Google has indicated site loading speed is one of the signals that it uses to rank pages.) Large images/files can be hosted on a CDN. You can see https://moz.com/learn/seo/page-speed for more info.

  6. Make sure your business is registered w/Google business. This will help ensure you’re on the "map" that shows up in the results, and lets Google know you’re around.

  7. Add your site to Google webmaster tools.

  8. Make sure your robots.txt allows indexing (this is easy and can be done from Google webmaster tools).

  9. Create a sitemap for search engines if you don’t already have one.

  10. Are you publishing content to your site on a regular basis? If so, this would result in more frequent search engine visits.

  11. Another suggestion – submit articles to high-profile sites like medium.com & link back to your site

  12. Along the same lines, guest posting to other people’s sites (e.g. other photographers who get a lot of readers) helps, as you get a link back to your site (this is part of link building). All links back to your site are good as long as they’re genuine and not spammy.

Most SEO consultants/services will offer some suggestions like the above, they might do it for you, and they’ll probably deliver ranking and content reports as well. They’re probably just buying these white-label from moz.com, which is the de-facto authority (besides Google themselves) on SEO.

Of course, I’m probably forgetting some things, but this should cover the basics.

Ok, bye.

Photo by Steve Rotman

DIY hand-roasted coffee

Or… “that one time I hand-roasted coffee on the stove…”.

A couple of weeks ago, I was inspired by Jeff Goins’ post on how he basically “created” a coffee company in 48 hours. Since his site and email list are kinda aggressive on the marketing side, I’m not going to link to it. You can find it via Google if you want. (Jeff, if you’re reading this, no offense intended. And don’t hesitate to get in touch for ideas on how your marketing could be improved.)

Anyway, this is the video that he linked to, and I watched it myself. You can see that it’s so simple to roast your own green coffee by hand on the stove, if you happen to have some green coffee beans on hand. Which I did. 😉

Since I don’t have a copper pan, I used a wok instead, which transfers heat really well. Here are some images from the roasting process:

A couple minutes after starting
A couple minutes after starting
Getting yellow/brown
Getting yellow/brown
Now we're between light brown and dark brown
Now we’re between light brown and dark brown
About midway
About midway
Mostly dark
Mostly dark
Finished - Roasted!
Finished – Roasted!
Green vs Brown Coffee Beans
Green vs Brown Coffee Beans

Since we don’t have a coffee/spice grinder, I just used the Vitamix to grind it. It worked perfectly. The texture of the grind is about the same as the Gevalia ground coffee that you can purchase at many grocery stores.

It seems like so many things that we think are “complicated” or just “too hard” really aren’t. Not that anyone really thinks much about roasting coffee themselves.

I know what I used to think. Spending thousands of dollars on equipment. Probably a small building to house the roaster. Spending hundreds of dollars just having green coffee shipped in 100 LB bags. All that, just to be able to play at roasting coffee.

But that’s not the case at all. You can probably buy green coffee at your local coffee roastery, for the price of roasted coffee and some strange looks when you ask for it green.

As for the taste… it’s surprisingly good! It’s actually similar in taste to the Gevalia coffee that I mentioned earlier, as well. If you’re into trying new things, I recommend at least giving it a try.

How to Do Anything at All in Life

The Urban Ninja

Note: I originally wrote this in July 2010, 5 years ago, but never posted it. Five years! That’s crazy. Obviously a lot has changed since then, and I wish that I’d posted this waaay back then. But the point I was trying to make still holds true, even more now, since it’s like I was writing for myself. My future self. It’s like a time machine, but in reverse. Crazy, man.

Last weekend at American Rendezvous 2k10, I met another participant named Ozzi Quintero from Hawaii (originally from Venezuela). This guy was probably the most hardcore guy at the event, is responsible for Hawaii Parkour (aka HIpk), and has some videos on youtube. I was quite impressed with Ozzi’s abilities, (one of which includes a handstand initiated from a standing position without kicking himself up). He’s also got a well-built physique.

In short, Ozzi is awesome. But he wasn’t born awesome, he had to work for it. He had to work his ass off to develop the stability, balance, physique, etc. that makes him a great traceur. He has been in the proverbial trenches, spending time in the weight room, performing exercises to develop balance, quadrupedal movement, etc., and the awesomeness shows through as a result.

I’d like to be like Ozzi, but I wasn’t born with his genetics, so I can’t. It’s too bad.

Oh, wait — yes, I too can be awesome. And I will.

You Can Do It

One thing I hate is to hear someone say “man I wish I were… (thinner, richer, whatever..er)”, or “I want _____ more than anything in the world”, and then do nothing at all about it, nothing to improve his/her situation.

That person is lying to everyone, and probably most importantly, lying to (him|her)self. The fact is, if you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

Want to be thinner? Change your damn diet and start exercising. For me, becoming a vegan, getting serious about lifting weights and starting Parkour all at about the same time have completely changed my life. I’m not saying anyone should follow any particular diet or lifestyle, but eating McDonald’s, Sonic and even Subway (gasp!) ain’t gonna cut it if you’re fat and want to lose weight. In fact, you’ll probably have to stop eating out. Also, if you consume a lot of beer on weekends, that will have to go as well. It may seem like a drastic change, and indeed it is, but…

“No one will ever change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.”
— Jack Daniels

Want to be richer? Start researching how to be richer. Google it, click on some links. Follow links on those pages to other pages. Read the right books.

Wanna learn to play the guitar? Go to a music store, buy a basic guitar, and inquire about lessons. Even if the store doesn’t give lessons, they can point you to someone who can.

Or maybe you’d like to learn a new language? Take a look at Benny, he’s learned 7 and he’s still not finished. Go buy a book on your language of choice. Take classes at school/college/university. Ask a friend to help (nicely!). Check out the (free) resources on the net: check out livemocha.com or ielanguages.com.

But know that whatever it is you want to do, it’s not going to fall into your lap. Because…

“Nothing in this life that’s worth having comes easy.”
— Dr. Kelso

Make It Happen – Today

Much like Ozzi in the example above, you’ve got to put in the effort if you want to reach your goals. But if you really want to do it, you will. I promise. 😉

With the power of the internet, pretty much the entire knowledge of the world is at our fingertips. The old excuse “I don’t know how” is no longer valid.

So please, stop lying to me, everyone else, and above all, yourself. If you really want to do something, just go do it.

All the good things you want to do in your life have to be started in the next few hours, days or weeks. — Tom DeMarco

If you get nothing else out of this, please, take action on something today — whatever it is you want to do, no matter how big it is. Because if you don’t, you may never get around to it.

Stop merely living, start surviving. Go. Be. Do epic shit.

Photo by Tyson Cecka