Welcome to the game: Churning Credit Cards

Stack'o'cards

“This is just my life now.”

After returning from Cuba, Lisa and I got thinking about where our next adventure was going to be to. Of course, we want to do a better job of building wealth, but it sucks to forfeit travel opportunities to do that. If only there were a way to keep on traveling, yet not spend any money… 

I’m not really sure when or how it happened, but I know that I came into contact with an amazing website resource, ThePointsGuy, who led me to embark on a massive self-study project that took hours and days and weeks of learning. By the time I was done, though, I think I had completely figured out my new obsession—credit card churning. The goal is to earn as many credit card points as possible and put those towards traveling to awesome places around the world. I learned a ton about how to master this game, and I want to share those lessons to both help anyone reading this and review myself on how the whole process works.

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Bailando-ing across Cuba: Summer 2017

Narcos on NetflixWeirdly enough, it started towards the end of a pretty intense Narcos binge. “Lisa, we should go to Colombia! Wouldn’t you want to visit Medellin? Check out Pablo Escobar’s old stomping grounds?” We were looking for a place to visit as a follow-up to our epic trip to Iceland, and by all accounts, Colombia’s a beautiful and fascinating country to visit. Maybe this was “the chosen one”.

So I fired up the old KAYAK Explore website and started plugging in flight information from our nearby SFO, and lo and behold, round trip flights looked like they’d only be $400-ish. Not bad, but hey, nearby Panama was even cheaper, at around $300 or so.

And then my heart. Because right above the largest island in the Caribbean was a surprisingly low number. For a not-horrible-amount-of-money, I could cross off my #1 travel bucket list location: Havana, Cuba.

Lisa was awesome about giving the green light, and yada yada yada, hours after President 45 informed Americans that he’d be “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba“, Lisa and I boarded a flight for a week of exploring Havana and Trinidad, Cuba.

Oh, yeah, and we filmed it again.

#cometothelandoftheiceandsnow: Summering in Iceland = trip of a lifetime

After we moved back to the States 2 years ago, we haven’t had a huge opportunity to travel internationally like we did when we lived in Taiwan. In March, Lisa and I led our school’s mission trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and while it was a very enjoyable trip, it definitely was a work thing, back to a place we’d been before, and not exactly the type of traveling I was hoping to get in. And the bug wasn’t squashed at all—”We gotta go somewhere.”

So when an article online hinted that WOW Airlines, a low-cost 1 Icelandic carrier, was adding direct flights from San Francisco to Reykjavik to their repertoire, we jumped at the opportunity to add the Nordic country to our travel list. A few months and a couple of dollars later, we had a plan to do Iceland’s Ring Road 2 in less than a week. Thanks to a short delay from the aforementioned WOW Airlines 3, that itinerary got squeezed down a bit more to 5½ days. It would be a mad-dash on the road, but were dead-set to make it work.

Luckily, it turned out that we were able to accomplish the trip of a lifetime, seeing waterfalls, glaciers, volcanos, geysers, hot pots, churches, sheep, humpback whales, and one flat tire. Since we were there during the longest days of the year, the sun never set on us 4, so we regularly pulled 20-hour days, stopping often to take pictures, fly my drone, hike around, and experience the most breathtaking nature I’ve ever been privileged to explore. Since we’ve made it home, not a day has gone by that I haven’t fondly thought back on the week we spent up north and giggled at how blessed we were to see what we saw and do what we did.

For inquiring minds, we took pretty darn good notes of all the places in Iceland we explored, pinning them all to a master Google Map that we utilized on the Ring Road the entire trip. Below, you can click on the sites, where we have more details on the trip, where we went, where I flew, and our daily itinerary.

A few months back, Lisa and I saw a great YouTube video by Dax Shepherd and Kristen Bell, where they essentially did a lip dub of their entire trip to the Dark Continent with Toto’s class “Africa”.

Lisa and I got such a kick out of that that we decided we’d be doing something similar for our Iceland trip. After much planning, filming, and editing, we present the Led Zeppelin-themed music video of our trip to the land of the ice and snow:

Also, since I took my drone along all the way there and was able to film much more than made it into the music video, here’s an additional video of just flight footage:

It’s so great to have had the chance to experience Iceland, and while we’re sad that the trip has come and gone so quickly, we’re excited to begin working on whatever our next adventure will be!

Notes:

  1. Low cost is no joke. For just over US$1,000, we picked up 2 round-trip tickets to Iceland. Of course, that didn’t include additional charges for seats, checked baggage, carry-on baggage, or even a cup of water on the plane itself. Southwest Airlines this ain’t.
  2. FYI: On every itinerary we found online, the Ring Road was a 16-hour loop that was suggested to take at least 10-30 days to do justice to. 16 hours? We’re Midwesterners—we can bang out an 8-hour-drive without any effort! No problem! Here’s what we didn’t fully realize—every 15 minutes on the Ring Road, you see something that you have to stop and gape at for 2-3 hours. We drove every day, all day, and we averaged accomplishing only 3 hours gross on the road each day. Amazing.
  3. Oh WOW, how you disappointed me… Our departure from SFO was first delayed by 24 hours, then an additional 3 as we sat at the airport and waited on what turned out to be an all-white charter plane with a no-name crew to “serve” our plane, then an additional 3 hours just for our luggage to get taken off the plane. Luckily, our flight back to SFO was only delayed 3 hours, with one extra hour sitting at the gate while our flight crew just didn’t show up until 15 minutes after takeoff was scheduled. #WOWfail indeed.
  4. We experienced maybe 1-2 hours of dark enough sky that you couldn’t easily read a paperback book without a flashlight.
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#WorstToFirst #WorstToNotWorst Classroom Decor

Last year, I can remember at least 3 times being visited in my classroom by my principal, who glared around my room at its bare walls and muttered “This classroom depresses me.” 1

So this summer, I spent a little bit of time 2 working on coming up with SOME better way to get my room to my liking, and a few weeks ago, I started working on making some changes to it. The biggest was switching the orientation of the room from LONG to WIDE, adjusting the projector and whiteboard accordingly, and adding in a ginormous map to one of the walls. Also, with the assistance of my amazing wife, we got a couple of cool new paint jobs to make life a little bit easier for yours truly. Check out what we did!

I’m super happy with what I’ve got in so far, and there are still a few things to do:

  • Mount a new Samsung 2.1 wireless soundbar that I picked up from Groupon for only *muffled voice that sounded vaguely like “$120″* so my classroom can have decent sound without running all kinds of cords all over the place.
  • Decorate the heck out of those bulletin boards to start out fresh.
  • Figure out something long and skinny I can put on top of my whiteboard—perhaps a timeline?
  • Put up my handsome “Romeo & Juliet” poster from Litographs.
  • Put up my custom-designed “Double your rate of failure” poster. 3
  • Waiting on a package from China 4 with a secret weapon for my classroom—Tweet-sized/themed “I Can” statements that will live on my wall all the time and be marked as which ones we’ll be using that day. More on this to come…

However, aside from those couple of jobs, I’m jazzed about what I had! I don’t know that my principal will be able to wander into my room and just be floored by what thing we did, but I know that at least I went from easily the worst in the school to a couple of spots better than that

Notes:

  1. Noted.
  2. And money… Oh, the money…
  3. … that seems to be taking forever to get here. FYI: If you have the choice to print pictures online, avoid Artscow.com. Cheap pictures that are apparently good quality, but they clearly take the slowboat from China the long way around the globe.
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Jon Stewart’s final thoughts, or “Here’s what you need to do now”

From Jon Stewart’s last Daily Show, his “graduation speech” on what he wants needs us to know when he’s gone—how to cut through the bullshit.

Bullshit is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit. Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. Or at the very least innocuous. “Oh, what a beautiful baby. I’m sure he’ll grow into that head.” That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social contract fertilizer and keeps people from making each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit, your premeditated institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshit-talkers.

[It] comes in three basic flavors:

One, making bad things sound like good things. Organic all-natural cupcakes. Because “factory-made sugar oatmeal balls” doesn’t sell. Patriot Act – because “Are You Scared Enough To Let Me Look At All Your Phone Records Act” doesn’t sell. So whenever something is titled “freedom, fairness, family, health, America,” take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.

Number two, the second way, hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit… But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement, so i’ll just click “agree” even if it grants Apple prima nocta with my spouse…

And finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshiters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. “We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything.” We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns.

Now, the good news is this: Bullshiters have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an “I Spy” of bullshit. I say to you tonight, friends, the best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.

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Should schools teach about morality and democracy?

***UPDATE: Something is kind of weird about the poll plugin I used for this blog, so on fixing it, I accidently deleted the previous poll answers (Only 2 for “Yes they should teach both”). FYI, for this poll plugin, you click the answer you want, and it WILL record. If it doesn’t show up, refresh the page and it will be there.***

Earlier today, I was reading an article I found via Twitter about if schools should teach morality and democracy. The author, Stanford Education Professor Eamonn Callan, recently did a Q&A where he explored the idea a bit. It’s a great piece overall 1, but this one section in particular really struck me as valuable:

Can the nation be mobilized to address the problem of climate change? How can good (much less equal) educational opportunities be made available to the millions of American children who currently do not have them?  Will we be able to contain the threat of terrorism without a steady erosion of civil liberties? How can the international influence of America be used to keep faith with democratic values in a world where they are commonly under threat or violently opposed? Although the priority of items on the list might be contested, what does not admit reasonable disagreement is this: without a public that deliberates about such questions thoughtfully, our political future in coming decades is likely to be bleak.

I’m typing this piece now as an important era in my own life has ended—Jon Stewart’s running of “The Daily Show”. I’ve literally watched all but maybe a dozen episodes of this program since he has been running it 2, and for that reason, his absence is going to be a big deal in my own life. I’m thinking, then, too, of the younger generation, who won’t have such an important voice in world events to look to—what are they going to do? Is it worth it for our schools to try to fill in more education about the BIG issues?

So I put the question out to you, blog community: Should schools teach about morality and democracy?

Yes, they should teach democracy.
2 Vote
Yes, they should teach morality.
0 Vote
Yes, they should teach both morality and democracy.
1 Vote
No, schools should not be the institution to teach morality and/or democracy.
0 Vote

Notes:

  1. And short, giving it Short-Attention-Span credo as well.
  2. I’m also only 30 years old, and Stewart’s been at this for 16 or 17 years now. That means that from my rip young early-teen years, this guy had/has been as influential of a force in my political and ideological leanings as anyone, arguably more than family, friends, and teachers. My point is that JStew isn’t just a funny guy to me—he’s kinda family at this point.
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What Inspires Me: Louis CK

***Warning: The below video has some NSFW language, but I believe its big thesis makes it well worth it.***

Louis CK is one of my favorite comedians of all time. He’s brilliant, uncouth, controversial, and incredibly inventive. That last quality in particular was one that I grew to appreciate after watching the above video. Louis has taken a cue from the great George Carlin in not just reusing stand-up material from year-to-year, but in totally reinventing his act every year. He’s constantly starting from square one, not only resting on the laurels of his previous stand up specials and performances.

For some reason, stand-up comedians absolutely inspire me, especially as a teacher 1, who, to some extent, is a daily “performer” 2. From year-to-year, it makes sense that I’d keep my curriculum the same or hone it down to the best possible iteration of it, but Louis inspires me to keep it fresh, both to myself and to my students. From my last years in Taiwan, where thing became so repetitive that I hardly had to prep for each class, I’ve had to find ways to twist what I do, and I think taking a cue from this brilliant funny-man can/will help me better reach all my students.

Notes:

  1. I’m SUCH a planner person—I’m absolutely averse to being impulsive or off-the-cuff at all—so seeing someone who appears to be just casually having a monologue (but clearly has rehearsed what they’re saying) is absolutely enthralling to me.
  2. I know that it’s constantly preached to put the students first, not the teacher, which I totally agree with, but one of my strength of my own teaching is me and my own personality which I use to hype up and direct my students.
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