Random acts of kindness

Yesterday I did my part for Yahoo’s holiday kindness campaign, encouraging people to spread random acts of kindness; it didn’t go exactly as planned, but the end result was turned out great.

The deal was that a few selected volunteer employees would be reimbursed $100 for doing a random act of kindness, such as paying for people’s coffee in a coffee shop or tolls at a toll booth. Those are good things but I had my own criteria for what I wanted to do:

  • Support local businesses – put money back into my community instead of a national corporation coffer
  • Help those in need – give to people who could use help, not people already well off
  • Effect many people – instead of one-off that touches just one or two people, effect as many as possible
  • Allow for multipliers – let people pay it forward immediately, turn the initial $100 investment into more
  • Be personal – interact with other hu-mans and spread cheer, don’t just drop off supplies at a warehouse
  • Bonus – bonus points if it helps children or is green/eco friendly

My big idea was to go to a local grocery store, buy $100 of groceries and stand outside and encourage people to buy a can while shopping inside and match my cart, with all food being donated to the local food bank, or take a can of food for free and pay it forward later. I was excited, printed up a bunch of signs, got supplies, but long story short, I went to three grocery stores and they all shot me down. They didn’t seem to care that this would increase their store sales, and definitely didn’t care that it would spread kindness.

At that point I was feeling pretty frustrated and angry at corporations (even the ‘local’ grocery store had a corporate office!) and started driving home. On the way back I drove by Books Inc, a great local bookstore in Mountain View’s downtown and got an idea – I would pay for people’s books and encourage them to buy children’s books that I would bring to donate at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital where I volunteered for a few years. That idea still matched almost all of my criteria.

I chose people with smaller purchases, ~$15 or less so I could get many different people. At first people were suspicious. They wanted to know what the ‘catch’ was. After a little more explaining that it was all in the name of kindness, they suspicion always turned to surprise, joy and gratitude.

A few people would excitedly call over family members from other parts of the store, “Dad! C’mere! This guy just bought my books for me!” Or, “Tommy! Come over here, this nice man just bought your books, what do you say? Give him a high five”.

After I paid for a mother and daughter’s Hello Kitty calendar, they sort of wandered out of the store in a kindness daze, a few seconds later the daughter ran back in with arms open and said with a smile, “you deserve a hug” and then ran back out.

It was great when people chose to donate children’s books on the spot, they would go to the children’s section of the store and come back with their favorite childhood books and tell me why they loved them so much. Often times the cost of children’s books they bought to donate was more expensive than the initial book(s) I had bought in the first place. One lady came back with a really beautiful edition of Alice in Wonderland that any kid would love.

The employees at Books Inc got into the spirit too, they were all very curious yet supportive about what I was doing and helpful too, giving advice on books, shooting me an approving look to approach if a purchase was under $15, backing me up when customers thought I was trying to trick them somehow. Before I left, a couple employees had picked out handfuls of their favorite children’s books and bought them with their own money to hand to me. That was something I wasn’t expecting and was a very generous gesture. Big thanks to the fine folks at Books Inc in Mountain View that I met that day, Nadine, Doug, Ryan, Cindy and Tracy, ya’ll rock.

I purchased books for about 15 people in a 2 hour span and went over my $100 allotment by about $50 but was happy to do it. It was very gratifying to just give to people for the sake of being nice. Everyone would leave with these big happy smiles on their faces and I’m sure a few of them will continue the chain of kindness somehow later. The number of donated children’s books totaled 17, at a value of $200. It was great to spend $100 on people, make them happy and have them voluntarily give back $200 of personalized kindness in return. I’ll be dropping off the books at the hospital tomorrow where I’m sure they’ll be enjoyed by many.

Donated childrens books

It was a great experiment, one that I may try again soon just because it felt so good. I’d encourage you to try spreading kindness in your own way, you just might like it. Happy holidays!

around 3am this morning i was trying to get to sleep and i keep hearing these muffled yelps coming from somewhere. i thought it was cats that sometimes fight outside but i kept hearing it. after a few more it started sounding like “help”. there’s an old lady who lives in the unit underneath mine and im like, ugh, im sleepy. but i dont want this lady to die below me. so i go lie down on the floor and put my ear to the ground for a few minutes so i could make sure.

and sure enough, another “HAAALP!” comes from underneath, so i start yelling into the carpet. im like, “hello?”


“are you ok? do you need help?”

“im on the floor!”

“do you want me to call an ambulance?”

“i cant understand you!”

so im like, ok fine, it’s on now. i get up and go outside and walk downstairs and try to talk to her thru the window. she’s like way past 80 years old and her son who lives with her usually leaves for work around 1:30am, so i know she’s all alone. some neighbors are woken up by the commotion and we kinda talk thru the window. we cant see cuz of the blinds but in general it seems like she’s not deathly hurt, just not totally coherent and in need of some assistance.

“are you ok?”

*no answer*

*knock on window* “hello?”

“come on in!”

“i can’t, your door is locked. do you have someone we can call?”

*no answer*

“are you hurt? do you need help?”

“the light is on!”

so i’m like, fine. i call 911 and tell them whats up and call my apt manager (who never answers, this is no exception) and leave a message in case he can come by with a key.

911 sends police, ambulance and fire truck and the police dude takes it from there. he talks to the lady a little and then he takes the screen off the window to climb in. the window is a good 5 feet off the ground with an opening that’s pretty small. the police dude is like 6’3″ 250 so me and the neighbors are amused watching him try to squirm in.

apparently the lady fell trying to get to the bathroom and couldnt get up. the paramedics did their thing and decided to take her to the hospital as a precaution. i watched them wheel her into the back of the ambulance from my steps and i waved and she waved back and went “bye!” in her shrill old lady voice. it was kinda sweet. now i get to try to go back to sleep at 4:30am, secure in the knowledge that there will be no incapacitated old ladies trapped underneath my bedroom tonite. not on my watch.

I did it. It is done. After 4+ years of servitude, on July 11, 2008, I replaced my old cell phone for an iPhone 3G .

Back in the early 2000s I was still a bit of a cell phone snob. I didn’t believe people actually needed cell phones. People who used cell phones were just bad planners, I thought. I was a good planner. I was still waiting for the perfect device, one with voice, camera, mp3 playback, internet, memory for media and a color screen so I wouldn’t have to carry all those devices separately. The Handspring Visor Prism came close, but it was too clunky and so big it almost bordered on sidetalking.

The Toshiba VM4050 was one of the best phones out there in early 2004. It had a sturdy build, a decent camera, a colorful, high-quality screen, access to the web, and a clean and customizable interface. I got mine and I convinced several friends to get the same. Over the years I took over 3500 pictures with the onboard camera (50% up girl’s skirts), used the phone all over the country (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico), tethered it to my laptop on trips for desperate mobile internets and twirled, threw and abused it like dog’s favorite bone.

All the years and abuse were not kind. The charging port stopped working over a year ago. I took it to a Sprint store and they declared it unrepairable. I wasn’t ready to give up on it though. Having so many friends with the same phone paid off, as one accidentally broke the hinge and had to get a new phone. So he gave me his broken shell of a phone and I used it to charge the battery for my phone, swapping the batteries in and out every couple nights. When I went on trips, I would take both phones with me because I needed one to charge the other. It was ridiculous(ly cool).

Other things went wrong, I got water on the phone and the ringer volume buttons stopped working. That made for an embarrassing moment in a quiet theatre at Sundance. Specks of plastic were coming off the inside of the camera lens housing, depositing big black splotches in my pictures. And yet the phone soldiered on. I willed it to continue living. I was in control of the DNR papers and I said suscitate.

iphone 3gBut now it’s finally time to say goodbye. It was strange, even after buying the iPhone, I was still preferring to use the old phone (I have a bit of overlapping carrier contract). But that balance has pretty much shifted 180 now. The iPhone still isn’t the perfect convergence device I’ve been waiting for, but it’s getting there. I’ll post my impressions of the iPhone 3G on here soon. In the meantime, it’s about time to pull the plug on the trusty VM4050. Or rather, since the charge plug doesn’t work, stop swapping those stupid batteries.

A couple months ago I fractured 3 ribs while snowboarding in Tahoe. I’m not a breaky-bone type of person and not a beginner snowboarder, so this was new and exciting. It was my third run of the day and second run through the terrain park. I was hitting a jump and for whatever reason totally bailed in mid-air and came down with my board sideways to the mountain. Having your board sideways to the mountain is normally okay, except when you are travelling 15-20 mph and falling from an 8 ft height, then it is less okay.

I landed and the momentum carried all my weight forward, smashing my torso into the landing pack. I remember two or three hard bounces and then coming to a stop unable to catch my breath at all. I couldn’t inhale normally and was gasping for air like a goldfish on a snowy mountain. It was pretty cool but unfortunately wasn’t caught on tape, what a waste. I knew something was wrong, I was just hoping it wasn’t too bad like a punctured lung or something, because then I would have to cut down on my smokes. (I dont actually smoke)

Ski patrol slid me down the mountain on a stretcher, about an hour later in the clinic I still couldn’t catch my breath, an ambulance came to take me to the hospital and my blood pressure crashed on the way there and they had to stick an IV in each arm. There was some blood in my urine so they did a CT scan to check for any injured organs leaking out precious life force.

Luckily everything was fine except for the 3 jaggedy ribs, it could have been much worse. And I got a cool CD with pictures of my insides! Truly this is some witchcraft.

Now that I’m pretty much healed up and have gone through the whole process, I have advice to give fellow rib breakers who may follow in my rib steps.


  • Cough – It will definitely hurt, and don’t do it too often, but maybe 2-5 times a day, cough lightly. This will help keep your lungs clear of fluid and mucus. If you don’t cough, you’ll be susceptible to pneumonia, and you don’t want that.
  • Light shoulder exercises – the side of your body with broken ribs is going to be weak, rolling your shoulders and doing arm circles will help.
  • Breath deeply – my dad is all about these Chinese breathing exercises, and this one he told me to do seemed to help. Inhale, hold and exhale in a 1:4:3 ratio. That is, for every 1 second of inhaling, hold it in for 4 times that number, and exhale for 3 times that. Start with what you can do and work your way up. I started at 2, 8, 6 until I was back to normal. This will also help keep your lungs clear in conjunction with coughing. Do this as many times a day as you can.
  • Have friends bring food – your friends and family will take pity on you and offer to bring food to your house in order to keep you alive. You should graciously accept. Having food delivered to your lap is a wonderful thing.
  • Drink milk – the calcium will be good for your calcifying riblets.
  • Take the recovery slowly – I did almost nothing exerting for the first 5 weeks and took weeks 6-9 very cautiously. I think the later weeks in the recovery period are the most dangerous because mentally you think you are ready for the big kick boxing match when actually your ribs are still gluing themselves together.


  • Laugh or sneeze – Laughter is the best medicine, except when it jiggles your dangling rib bones. Stay away from your funny friends and funny movies for the first few weeks. I learned this the hard way. Sneezing will also be horrible for you. When you feel a sneeze coming on, tilt your head down and try to suppress it. If you must sneeze or cough, hold a pillow on your stomach and use it as a splint.
  • Use a rib belt – your doctor may give you a rib belt and it may seem helpful at first, kind of holding everything in place, but really all it’s doing is constricting your already labored breathing. I stopped using mine after the first night.
  • Go driving – depending on how many of your ribs have become useless, you should avoid driving. I tried to drive a couple times and it wasn’t very safe, as I couldn’t turn my body to check blind spots or merge onto the highway. Get your nice, sympathetic friends to take you places.
  • Sneeze in bed – I learned this the hard way and this isn’t on WebMD or someplace. Sneezing while laying horizontally still brought shooting pains in week 6, long after the normal pains diminished.
  • Go insane – the world needs you.

Good luck! Hopefully this will help some of you looking for treatment. I’m not a doctor but I play one on the Internet.

Hello Earth! Here’s my shiny new blog. I’d like for this place to serve as my little information deposit to the internets, to repay all those times when I searched for something, and another human had published something that was useful to me. Hu-mans: don’t count us out!

Having instant information at your fingertips is pretty amazing. I remember back in the early 90s when I would write down a list of things I wanted to learn about and then tediously look them up in reference books and periodicals during weekly trips to the library. And I walked to school in the rain, gas cost a nickel, and Teddy Roosevelt took the Panama Canal! In my day I tell you what…