Tag Archives: kiva

2018: Do More

Usually I write up a little summary of the year just concluded, but in a lot of ways, 2017 was kind of ugly. So onto 2018 in which I have promised to “do more” – more time on self-care, more time writing, more time playing music and playing with the machinery of modern music (ie, pedals and amplifiers), more small scale direct investment (Lending Club, Kiva, Microventures) and more time with friends. The corollary to doing more is doing less — less time on LinkedIn and the derivative noise it generates, less time on Facebook, less time reading news or pseudo-news that reinforces what I think rather than challenging me to broaden my views.

A few things on the rough goal list: play in another recital, something more complex than 16 bars of bass solo. If Phish decide to really do Watkins Glen, I will check off “Winnebago” on the bucket list and glamp it for a long weekend. Clean out all of the orphaned gear and audio equipment in the basement and set up a proper place to play music and with music gear.

Jumper wire repair of a broken Boss TU-12H tuner

Here’s the first step along the path to fulfilling that goal – periodically I troll eBay looking for broken guitar pedals that may have some value if the repair seems simple enough. Smoke stains, scorch marks, or a loose pile of parts don’t get a second look, but I found a Boss TU-12H tuner that merited attention. It was marked “not working due to a broken circuit board” – a pedal injury akin to catching your finger in the car door. A dab of Gorilla Glue, and three jumper wires (the green wires in the picture) to cross the split in the corner of the PCB (with an assist from a service manual I found online, showing the single PCB layer in detail), and I have a working old school tuner.

The International Bank of Stern

I honestly forget who introduced me to Kiva — maybe my former co-worker Dr Jim, definitely one of the more socially minded people at Sun Microsystems in the pre-Oracle days. I just made my 140th Kiva loan, bringing my total notional amount to just shy of $4,000. With a 2017 resolution to do more social good and build bridges, I made a small donation to Kiva and topped off my account so that I was able to fund seven new loans today, primarily using the balance from previous repayments over the last six months.

Some interesting statistics, most taken from my private page, a few from my public lender profile:

  • Loans made: 140. Under 2% of them have run into payment delinquency, and less than 0.7% have defaulted.
  • Total amount loaned: $3,990 (this includes re-loaning funds that have been repaid). I’ve benefitted from six different promotions, and over the course of eight years as Kiva lender I’ve re-loaned each dollar about twelve times. That is a remarkably efficient velocity of money given the frequently retrograde payment, disbursement and records keeping mechanisms in play.
  • I’ve invited 26 people to Kiva and they have made an aggregate of 199 loans. More than half of the total I’ve invested in Kiva ($475 of the $770) has been in the form of gift cards – one of my favorite gifts to give for someone who has everything including elegance in giving their time and energy.
  • Of the $295 out of pocket I’ve invested in Kiva, about $25 has gone to currency loss and $25 to default. At about 0.7% each, those rates are less tha one-third of what you pay in credit card currency translation or the national average credit card default rate. In short, banking the unbanked is better business.
  • Demographics: 35 countries, 16 sectors, 64 field partners and 68% of loans to women. That’s what empowerment looks like – helping women start and grow their own businesses, with local partners interested in job creation and economic expansion rather than fees and interest rates.
  • If you’re wondering about that “International Bank” bit, it’s liberated from The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time which is an amazing introduction to the world of unbanked populations, microloans, and social impact.

    In this last batch of loans, I made sure I included a country in which I’d never made a loan before (Congo and Peru), and a segment I hadn’t funded (arts). Of course, I also made a few new loans in Rwanda, where I’ve seen excellent performance of the portfolio and have had a personal interest since our daughter spent a month in the hills teaching English. My investment strategy is simple: I am for loans that are under 12 months in duration (because it allows me to turn the funds over, and because I believe that limits the dynamic range of delinquency events). Look for field partners who have experience, low default rates, low currency risk, and make an about-market return on their funds (so they aren’t taking advantage of their local customers, but aren’t in the money losing business).

    High notional volume, low return, multi-party mutual funding — it’s the model that grew the American insurance businesses through the 1950s, and now it can grow small scale business opportunity. If you grew up in the Tri-State Area and remember Phil Rizzuto pitching for the Money Store, it’s that idea taken globally.

    2015 Gift Guide, Snowman Style

    I’ve slightly edited my gift guide for 2015, based on availability, practicality, and functionality. It’s what to get for people who have things, or for whom gift giving is remarkably hard, or who have unique tastes, or if you just want to elicit the massive exhalation upon gift wrap deconstruction.

    Jewelry For A Cause. It’s jewelry with a purpose, for a social movement, and it’s beautifully crafted. My favorite is the Caliber Collection, cuff links and bracelets made from bullet casings and destroyed guns taken off the streets, leaving the serial numbers as a bas-relief link between construction and destruction. Take the admonition to “beat swords into plowshares” and spur interesting conversation at work or a party. Be good and look good. (About $250).

    Schneider iPro Lens Kit. This is now my “go to” for concerts and just walking around new cities. Wide-angle, telephoto and macro lenses in a single carrying “tube” that slips into your pocket easily. (Yes, someone at a Phish show asked me what kind of pipe that was, and when I said it was for my iPhone, he said “Cool, a pipe for your phone”). Even if you eschew the phone-wielding crowd at shows (a camp to which I’m gravitating), it’s nice to be able to capture some landscape shots outdoors with a simple snap-on to the phone. You can buy the case (in case you upgrade or in my situation, lose, your phone) and keep the same lenses, or just buy specific lenses: iPro Lens System Trio Kit for iPhone 6 For $200 it fits the intermediate point between a vanilla iPhone and a full-size DSLR body (Between $180 and $300).

    Borrowlenses gift card. Let’s say the photo-nerd in your life won’t spring for that $5,000 piece of glass, but really wants to be able to get some high-quality shots on your next trip, or you want to use an extra wide aperature lens to shoot an event without having to invest the equivalent of 100 tickets in the process. Enter BorrowLenses, where you can rent a wide variety of photo gear for 3 days to a month. I’ve used this to get super telephoto lenses, or to audition gear before deciding what to buy (better to spend $180 on a weekend rental than be to annoyed with an $800 lens that isn’t quite as fast as you had hoped). Their gift certificates encourage experimentation, which is part of the fun of photography. You can now pick up your lenses at their retail locations in New York City and the San Francisco bay area, which saves on shipping and time. ($100 for something reasonable, but gift cards in any amount).

    Kiva gift card. Kiva is a microlending site – you make interest-free loans, $25 (or more) at a time, to the unbanked populations around the world. Whether it’s buying supplies for a bodega in Tanzania, or funding engine repair for a driver in South America, the aggregation of those $25 credits into $800-$5,000 short-term loans makes a difference. It’s not charity; it’s a continuous (over the course of tens of months) cycle of re-investment in people. I’ve given Kiva gift cards to people who seem to “have everything” and the reaction is usually quite positive. If the recipient wants to cash out after making one loan, at least you’ve made an epsilon economic improvement wrapped around a gift card. ($25 minimum, and a nice gift).

    Patreon. It’s easy to be a patron of the arts when you have millions laying around. If you have single dollars lounging electronically, direct them to people who are creating art and get a “behind the scenes” view of the process. For $5/month (on average), you get previews, interesting Q&A, and in some cases not-quite-public art. Create a PayPal account, fill it up with gift money, then direct your giftee to use it to support the arts. I’m a huge fan of Jeph Jacques and while I’ve purchased a variety of books and t-shirts from him, I’m kind of full up in those patterns. Supporting his Patreon gives me a bit more of my daily-Jeph-dosing including forays into music and other things that make his slightly left of center mind tick. ($60 is $5 a month for a year)

    Sonos Play:1 or Play:3. I outfitted the house with all Sonos gear this summer, and removed about 80 pounds (seriously!) of speakers, amplifiers, cables and mess. We have a Play:1 in the kitchen, and I use a play of SONOS PLAY:3 Smart Speaker
    in my office. Having music follow you around makes doing any sort of repetitive labor fun, whether it’s prep work in the kitchen or filing those expense reports with the four crumpled paper receipts from Taco Bell. Most important, it’s changed the way I listen to and discover music. I’m hearing subtle details I’ve missed before (that high-end percussive theme on “Promised Land:” glockenspiel!) and I’m able to create loudness from just about any source on the ‘net – radio, streaming services, or the whole family music library I’ve loaded onto a NAS drive in the basement. (About $200 for a single Play:1. $300 for a Play:3)

    Live Music, Now. Give someone a StubHub gift certificate, so they can see the live music (or sporting event) of their choice. I’m noticing that the premium over face on most tickets on StubHub is retreating back to something resembling a fair spread, and in some cases no worse than the collection of insane fees you’d pay to Ticketmaster or Telecharge. (Any amount supports your favorite artists)

    Live Music, Later. Very early in 2015 I started taking bass lessons after 30-plus years of wishing, thinking, procrastinating, and rationalizing my misunderstanding of the bass clef (old saxophone and clarinet players have this treble clef preference that took years to unwind). It’s one of the most fun things I’ve done. Find a studio that accepts adult students, and buy a month of lessons — it’s very important to find a teacher who likes the same music as your potential student, and whose styles mesh. In my case, a huge hat tip to Max at So I Heard Music in Millburn, who has taught me that so much of the music I love goes down in a minor key. (About $150 for a month)

    Meaningful Reading. My go-to is something personalized and signed by John Scalzi for the sci-fi fan on your list, but recently reading through the middle-aged Facebook lamentations of a kindler, simpler Long Beach Island made me think of Tales from an Endless Summer: A Novel of the Beach (A Cormorant Book). I’m also promoting high school classmate James Campion’s Shout It Out Loud: The Story of Kiss’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon. (Under $20)

    Strong Community Memberships. My personal new favorite is “Cash Or Trade,” a site that pairs fans sick of Ticketmaster fees and Stubhub market pricing to buy and sell tickets at face value. I’ve used it several times when my late spring Phish tour planning didn’t quite coincide with work or other obligations and I found myself needing to shuffle paper. A gold membership is $24 and is the best value for using the site, since you can get real time notification when new inventory arrives. Slightly more Phish-y and related is a donation to the Mockingbird Foundation, a non profit founded by Phish fans to support music education (see previous idea for music lessons; crowdsource this for someone you don’t know through Mbird). And finally, the Music Maker Foundation fights for the rights, recognition and remuneration of Southern musicians who have suffered poverty, poor contracts, and obscurity.

    The Snowman Shopping List: For The Person Who Has Everything

    What do you get for the nerd who has everything, or at least claims that she (or he) has everything she (or he) needs? I’ve compiled this list based on recommendations for gifts for “that special doctor” (who loves photography), “that special boss” (for whom you feel weird getting a gift, but deserves some recognition), and “that special kid” for whom an iTunes gift card seems so last decade.

    Here, then, is the Snowman Guide To Holiday Gift Giving For The Previously Well-Equipped:

    BorrowLenses gift cards. If your gift recipient loves toys, cameras, and playing with new camera gear, BorrowLenses is the best way to indulge their photographic fetishes. No matter what the body type, photography style, or time zone, BorrowLenses will let you rent anything from a super telephoto to a very wide aperture fisheye lens. You can’t buy the kind of nerd cred that comes from lugging a 30-inch, 22 pound telephoto around, especially when it comes in its own piece of hard sided luggage.

    Kiva Gift Cards Buy someone an Israel bond, and you spend $85 for them to get $100 in 10 years. Buy them $100 Kiva gift cards and they can have an immediate impact on 4 small businesses in any number of developing economies, right away. And then when those loans are paid back, they can loan the money out again and again. I’m a firm believer in direct action and small-scale, grass roots support, and Kiva delivers on both. Want a themed gift? Buy a copy of ” International Bank of Bob” and tuck the gift card note inside the front flap. It’s my new favorite for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs where I know the kid is getting a ton of monetary gifts, and for bosses who firmly believe in doing the right thing.

    A Long Now Salon Membership. The Long Now Foundation is the brain child of Danny Hillis and Steward Brand, and is the realization of the ideas in “Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility.” If your gift recipient thinks about sustainability, long-term impacts, and would have been at home in a French salon, it’s worth $96.

    Live music via StubHub. It’s unique, it makes the recipient feel less guilty about paying premium prices for pricey ducats, and there is no better way to support your favorite artists (and build some long-lasting memories) than to go see live music.

    An eBay gift card, letting the recipient buy something they wouldn’t normally find. Like the self-antonym “Music You Can’t Hear On The Radio” show, it’s a way to buy things you can’t buy (at least in your local big box store). If you know someone who always wanted, say, a vintage Lite Brite or game of Operation!, eBay is the shopping destination and you can provide the currency.

    Any of John Scalzi’s books, personalized for you. Scalzi is a sci-fi writer who is accessible by just about everybody. He’s funny. Scary funny. He’s prolific, generous with his time (via his blog) and he basically just does the right thing about just about every thing. For example, his signed books for the holiday support his local bookstore. So it’s taking his time and he’s making less per book that way but that’s kind of Scalzi in a nutshell. I frequently point to his Christmas stories because they make me cry. He always promotes independent artists’ work on his blog as the holidays approach. Pay it forward, and pay it back: support Scalzi because he is awesome and you should share in the awesomeness.

    Five Network Services You Need To Use

    Here are five network services that I use, consume, promote and on which I rely heavily. My affiliations with them are purely tangential (I’m on the board of the MIX, which does indirect business with kiva.org; and a friend works for Evernote) and this isn’t paid or promotional; I just felt like vamping on where I invest my modicum of work time, free time and money.

    Kiva Kiva is a microfinance funding service that aggregates small-scale lenders to provider sub-funding for microloans around the world. Kiva works with a variety of field partners who do the face-to-face work of finding borrowers, collecting payments, handling currency, default and delinquincy issues, and aggregating small sums into the $800-$8,000 dollar range that’s impactful. It’s not charity – you get paid back, and can repeat the loan cycle just as a bank would, but with your intellectual capital replacing fees and interest charges. For as little as $25 you can support a loan in places like Rwanda, Tajikistan, or Cambodia. I started with about $300 in funds, and have just made loan #64 – essentially I’ve reloaned the same funds nearly five times over, and along the way helped start a taxi business, retail stores, a bar and restaurant, and financed the construction of houses. There’s a new free trial offer available: sign up and you get your first $25 loan paid for by an anonymous donor. Where else will someone give you $25 to change the fortunes of a person halfway around the world? Click and loan.

    Kickstarter Kickstarter is the Small Business Administration and Facebook rolled into one – it’s the future of funding small businesses, the way America grew and innovated during the 20th century. If you’re looking for the next Hewlett and Packard garage, it’s likely being discussed, funded and promoted on Kickstarter. In the last year, I’ve funded a two print and electronic book editions of my favorite comics, the newest Renaissance CD, an independent movie about a mitzvah project, and my newest favorite, Devi Ever’s Console guitar effect box. The brilliance of Kickstarter is tying the crowdsourcing aspect of a Kiva with the notion of “early access” and rewards – if you back a project, you’re typically offered some extra swag with it; it’s the premium you receive for providing seed funding. So far I’m batting about 0.800 on projects that reached critical mass, and every funded project has delivered on the premium gifts (a nice baseball from the mitzvah movie and a signed poster from a King Tut City Gardens rockumentary). You may pay a premium for the swag, but you can say that you were there at the beginning.

    Yelp After our favorite restaurant in the Miami area (Chef Allen’s) closed, we needed to expand our culinary horizons during a recent short vacation. Yelp to the rescue: crowdsourced commentary on everything from car repair shops to charcuterie. You need to discount a bit and check the timeliness of some comments, but for a first order approximation to a real time dining guide, it’s hard to beat. I found my new favorite Indian buffet in Sunnyvale via Yelp – ‘nuf said.

    Dropbox. I work on at least two different computers a day, and when I’m editing a slide deck or book chapters, I frequently need to update my collaborators with the latest version of a file. Dropbox provides a free (for limited capacity) service that lets you sync folders between multiple machines, and share folders with multiple users. Whether it’s creating a family photo folder or a workflow for our book editing process, I use Dropbox at least a dozen times a week.

    Evernote. Evernote is the single service I use more than anything else excepting email. Think Dropbox for notes, except the notes can be organized into notebooks (folders), and contain text, images, links, or other media. See something you want to research later? Take a picture of it and stick it in a note. Suddenly remember something to add to the “to do” list while in a parking lot? Add it to the tally via the Evernote app for your phone. I use it for everything from meeting action items to lists of research ideas to upcoming events or future “to do” lists, with about 50 notes in flight at any time.