December 31, 2006

What started in the East will finish in the West.

This was 2006, a momentous year that saw me celebrate a Steelers Super Bowl victory only to leave the first full-time job I've ever taken months later and arrive in the city whose team the Steelers defeated. Seattle is home to my aunt and uncle who married in 1986; their wedding was the last I had attended until I visited Kutztown, Pennsylvania for my grade-school friend Jeremy's in July. Seattle is also home to my nursery-school sweetheart Andrea, who I hadn't seen since 1987 -- but the Internet can transcend any boundary and we met for the first time since the Reagan administration.

Besides the one-way flight I boarded from Pittsburgh to Seattle in late May, this was a big year for travel. I spent the first week of May in Israel on Kibbutz Givat Brenner with my cousins, and they're expecting me to come back very soon. This was also a year to see old friends in Providence, Austin, Tel Aviv, and Seattle -- and in the last three cities I was meeting someone I had never seen face-to-face before.

The Plans For 2006

My last New Year's Eve entry listed a few things I planned for this year: give more money and things away (done), travel more (done), be nicer (not really done; I skipped town instead), and be selfless (i.e. install a new CMS and write about something other than myself; sort of done).

This year the Union Project opened up at the corner of N. Negley Ave. and Stanton Ave. in Pittsburgh, within easy walking distance of where I was living at the time. A former Baptist Church, volunteers restored and beautified the property inside and out by turning it into a community center with a small cafe. Before I left Pittsburgh, I donated several of my larger household items to the center, including a computer and my stereo system.

This was also the year I developed an interest in microfinance, the provision of financial services in small amounts to people who would not normally be able to get loans or bank accounts. I started with Kiva, which facilitates loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations, and later tried Prosper, which lends to Americans in need of cash and which pays interest to lenders. My four Kiva loans are all on track to be paid back in their short terms (between eight and 14 months). Two of my Prosper loans have already been paid back in full, another 10 are being repaid on three-year schedules, and one borrower is more than a month late on his last payment. Microlenders are advised to make many small loans to anticipate exactly this contingency, though I find it interesting that none of my third-world borrowers have missed a payment yet.

For 2007

Next year: keep the 2006 resolutions, add a few more.

Discover My New City

It's been six months since I moved to Seattle, and while I've seen a lot, there's still a lot I have yet to do. Two years ago when I visited Seattle as a tourist (writing "I would love to try living and working in Seattle" in response) I saw many of the obligatory city landmarks and the natural sights west and east of town. At some point I'd like to ride the Seattle Center Monorail (if it stays running long enough), see a Seattle SuperSonics game before they leave town forever, visit the Mariners' minor-league ballparks in Tacoma (the AAA Rainiers) and Everett (the single-A AquaSox), and tour more of the neighborhoods around town, especially in the southern parts of town. Locals laugh at me for saying this, but I'd like to visit a local Native American casino once -- they're promoted constantly, and it could be an interesting day trip.

Cut the Car Loose

I've had my VW New Beetle for over six years and it's served me well in that time. However, my employer gives me a free bus pass and I commute by bus or on foot five days a week. That leaves at most two days a week when my car is in use. Meanwhile I still have to pay for parking, insurance, maintenance, and other fees for having a car, and the car's only depreciating in value. Meanwhile, the city of Seattle is running a promotion called One Less Car: give up your car in favor of mass transit and FlexCar for a month or two, and receive some FlexCar credit for doing so. Sell or donate your car and get even more credit for six months. I did the math and I think I can make this work for me. More on that in the new year.

Cut Cable

Much like my car, my cable box was sitting unused most days. I found myself watching fewer and fewer new TV shows, and I can subscribe to sporting events on-line or watch them at a bar and still save money over what Comcast was charging me. I returned my crash-prone cable box ("powered by Microsoft," it boasted) to Comcast yesterday and I plan to replace it with a next-revision Mac mini or a little Windows Media Center box. With all the DRM annoyances that plague both Apple's and other video stores, BitTorrent and/or a Netflix subscription seem more enticing by the day.

Keep Giving Back

I resolved to give 5% of my income to charities this year and I did that. Next year I hope to match that or, if someone rents my house in Pittsburgh, outdo myself.

Happy 2007, everyone!