Friday, October 18, 2013

Use Fewer Paper Towels

I attended the TedX Buffalo conference earlier this week. While I was blown away by some of the brilliant local speakers, I also really enjoyed some of the Ted talk videos that we were shown. This one stuck with me as something really worth sharing. It's short and sweet, but it features a really simple change we can all make in our every day lives to make a remarkable impact. All you need to do is reduce the amount of paper towels you use to dry your hands. Here's how:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Best in Crowdfunding: October 2013

The True Cost

The major issue that I've come to care the most about over the past year is the fast fashion industry. I'd already started seeking out more eco-friendly apparel, when the Rana Plaza collapse happened in Bangladesh, killing over 1,100 garment factory workers. It was then that I realized that there was something even more important that the eco-friendliness of my clothes: their human-friendliness. Since then, I've completely changed the way I shop for clothing. I talk about fast fashion to anyone who will listen, and am constantly encouraging my friends and family to make better shopping choices. It's so important to educate people about the fast fashion industry, and its affect not only on the treatment of factory workers, but on the environment as well. This filmmaker is working to do just that. I hope you'll watch the trailer, below, and support this project.
Campaign Goal: $75,000
Deadline: November 11
Platform: Kickstarter

You and Who makes the "Goodest T-Shirt Ever!"

I can barely contain my excitement about this campaign! You and Who, a Buffalo-based t-shirt company has been around for a few years now. Their shirts are designed by some really talented artists from all over the country. For every shirt they sell, they donate another one to an organization in the artist's city. Until now, their shirts have been manufactured overseas. Founder Dan Gigante was really affected, much like I was, by the tragic garment factory collapse that occurred in Bangladesh earlier this year. He decided to make a major change and to start working with domestic manufacturers. This campaign will help him make that happen. It's no secret that I'm skeptical of the Buy-One-Give-One business model, but You and Who is definitely an exception! They are a great company doing wonderful things, and I'm proud to say that I know Dan personally. I'm thrilled about this project, because it's educating people about garment factory working conditions, and because it's coming from a Buffalo company! Contribute now to help prevent more garment factory tragedies, and get some really awesome t-shirts in the process
Campaign Goal: $25,000
Deadline: November 11
Platform: IndieGoGo

Conscious Step: Socks That Solve Social Problems

Here's another fashion-related project that is pretty great. The creators behind this one just want you to buy some socks. When you do, the proceeds will go to the cause associated with the sock design you choose. Causes include providing clean water to school children in Nepal, and planting trees in Ghana. The sock designs are all really fun, and of course I absolutely love the fact that they're manufactured in fair trade conditions. They're going to make some really unique gifts for the wonderful men in my life this holiday season!
Campaign Goal: $20,000
Deadline: November 7
Platform: IndieGoGo

Proceeds from Conscious Steps socks will benefit a variety of causes.

Give to Kenya's Wildlife Foundation

This project addresses a very complex situation arising in and around Nairobi, Kenya. It is a rapidly developing city, surrounded by poor farming families. Land development is forcing wildlife to share space with livestock farmers. The farmers, who depend on their livestock to feed their families, kill predators like lions and leopards. Meanwhile, they're selling portions of their land to developers, usually to pay tuition costs for their children. So the land for the wildlife is getting smaller and smaller, and poor families are still struggling to both feed and educate their children. The Wildlife Foundation has come up with a great solution through the Conservation Lease Program. They ask farmers and landowners not to sell their land to developers, or to kill predators like big cats. In exchange, the farmers receive a stipend that they may spend as they choose. Most often, the money is spent on education. It's a win-win-win. Farmers get to keep their land, wildlife is safe, and children receive an education.
Campaign Goal: $50,000
Deadline: November 13
Platform: IndieGoGo

The conservation lease program protects wildlife like lions.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Get a Free Education Online

I've said before and I'll say again that I believe the most important element in making the world better is education. A more educated global population can work together to develop solutions to the world's major problems. I also think that an educated person is more understanding, accepting, and compassionate towards others. It's wonderful that we live in a time when information is so accessible. There a lot of wonderful sites popping up around the internet that offer access to education courses. I encourage you to take a class. Learn something that will help make the world better, like how to knit a hat for someone in a homeless shelter, how to help slow climate change, how to write a grant for your favorite non-profit, or how to change the world.

Academic Earth
This site has a wide range of university-level courses including business, literature, mathematics, and more. I like that all of the video lectures are available immediately, so you don't have to wait for a class to be live and they don't disappear when a course is over. Some users might miss the interaction that you get with participating along with other students while a course is happening. My favorite parts of this site are the curated playlists featuring video lectures mix-and-matched from multiple courses, and the "video electives" featuring some really interesting topics.

The Amazings
Learning from our elders is the concept behind the Amazings. The site offers classes on craft techniques such as felting, knitting, and hair styling, all presented by teachers with "years of experience." The classes are not free, but are pretty affordable, and your first class is half off.

Canvas Network
Canvas has a lot of really great course offerings from schools around the country. Offerings include courses on business, writing, social media, education, and more.

Course Buffet
This site is great because it pulls courses in from a variety of sites, and categorizes them into subject groups similar to the way courses are organized by major universities. So if you want to focus on world history, there is a list of suggested courses from around the internet there waiting for you. A lot like a course catalog.

Coursera is my favorite of all the education sites, possibly because it was the first one I ever used. My experiences with it are what prompted me to seek out similar sites and ultimately to develop this list. Students are encouraged to participate in class forums while they experience lecture videos and course work. Content stops being available after the course ends. I'm especially looking forward to an upcoming course on the music of the Beatles!

If you're interested in learning some fine arts techniques such as water colors or drawing, you can check out CraftArtEdu. They also have some crafting classes like jewelry making, polymer clay, etc. Not all of their classes are free, but some are

This site offers a variety of classes on crafts such as jewelry-making, fine arts, cooking, and more. The classes vary in both time commitment and cost, but they do offer some free mini-courses.

This is a great resource for homeowners or handymen/women who want to learn how to do certain home-improvement projects. There are also some great tutorials on gardening, automotive, crafts, and green living.

edX was created by Harvard and MIT. A lot of the courses on the site are offered through the founding schools and their colleagues. They offer a really great selection of higher education courses. Students are give the option to either audit the class, or to actually try for a certificate of completion.

GCF LearnFree
The Goodwill Community Foundation created this wonderful resource for the under-served community. It's perfect for anyone who wants to learn basic computer and internet skills, improve their English, or write a resume.

Khan Academy
The Khan Academy is a registered not-for-profit organization with a mission of helping people learn. Specifically, most of the video tutorials are to help people learn pre-university level math. The founder, Salman Khan, did a Ted Talk about how he got started. To say I struggled in math would be a massive understatement. I really wish that this had been around when I was in high school. Here the video:

Learn That
Learn that offers video tutorials on a lot of business and technology topics.
Lynda is actually not a free site, but they do offer a free 10-day trial. The courses available on the site are mostly design, development, and other tech-related fields.

Mind Picnic
This site isn't as well organized as some of the others, and the source of some of the course content is a little ambiguous, but it does seem to have some interesting lessons, including a lot of language courses (Italian, German, Russian, French, etc.) which, I've noticed, aren't available on a lot of the other sites. They don't seem to be complete courses, but are broken down into more manageable lessons.

This is an Australian-based site that offers a variety of university-level courses.

Novo features a lot of free courses, most of which seem to be in the fields of business and finance. They have a special course track for entrepreneurs.
Saylor is a great site if you want access to courses in the basics, like English composition, or calculus. They have a lot of courses for university level, as well as K-12 and professional development courses.

This is a robust site that features video tutorials and classes, mostly about design. Topics include advertising, music, publishing, film, food, and much much more.

Most of the courses available on Udacity are for web developers and the tech sector.

Help Others Get Access to Education

Even more important than these wonderful free course offerings is actually being able to access them. I hope you'll support these efforts towards global education, and seek out other ways to give education access to those who don't have it.

A Human Right
Today, the internet plays a huge role not just in the global education system, but almost every aspect of modern life. Communities without internet access are at a huge disadvantage. A Human Right is a non-profit organization working to bring access to those without, all around the world. Here's a quick video by founder Kosta Grammatis about why it is so important to get internet access to anyone without. Click here to donate to A Human Right.

This is a really great site that connects those in need with potential lenders. You can browse through borrowers to find individuals who need assistance paying for their education. Most of the loans are small, and they ask lenders to pay only in $25 increments.

Library for All
Library for all started as a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of building digital library of ebooks and other learning materials, and providing access via low-cost ereaders to communities in need around the world. Thankfully, the campaign was successful and the organization is on its way to fulfilling that mission. You can help by clicking here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Celebrate Socktober by Giving Back!

You probably know who Kid President is. His videos encourage viewers to "be awesome" by being good to others. Many of them have gone viral, and been viewed by millions of people. This month, he's asking everyone to participate in "Socktober" by gathering socks and other items for our local homeless shelters. I'll let him tell you more:

You can learn more about Socktober by clicking here, and you can click here to watch more Kid President videos! I seriously love this kid.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Get the Fluoride Out!

Up until recently, I fully believed in the benefits of fluoride and the fluoridation of tap water. Having had issues with cavities throughout my life, I thought I needed to get a lot of it. I made sure the water filters I used did not get the fluoride out, because I really believed that I needed it. So I was pretty surprised when I came across a blog post about the danger fluoride. I was skeptical, and assumed that the controversial post was written to attract readership. A quick online search proved me wrong.

It turns out that fluoride is NOT all it's cracked up to be. Not only is it NOT beneficial, but some studies show that it may cause serious health issues including arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, bone cancer, poor brain development in children, and more!

In order for fluoride to have any positive effect on our teeth, it would have to come in direct contact with teeth rather than be ingested. So the fluoridation of tap water is pretty useless. But even dental fluoride treatments are harmful! Even though it isn't swallowed, the body can absorb the fluoride through the mouth and gums, and it can do damage to the body, and even the teeth. I actually suffer from dental fluorosis. I have little white spots on my front teeth that, though most people probably don't even notice them, I have been self-conscious about for my whole life. To learn that these were caused by harmful and unnecessary fluoride treatments and possibly exacerbated by water fluoridation is pretty enraging!

Image courtesy of

If you have a little bit of time and want to learn more about how the fluoridation of water became a regular practice, and why it's harmful, this video is really informative and eye opening. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.

One person in Buffalo has taken it upon himself to put an end to the fluoridation of Buffalo's water. He's created an online petition that you can sign, urging lawmakers to get their harmful fluoride out of our drinking water! I encourage everyone to sign the petition, and more importantly, to educate yourself about how fluoride can effect your health.

If you're not from Buffalo, you can click here find out if the tap water in your region is fluoridated. You can also sign this petition, urging congress to end water fluoridation in America.

There are steps you can take to lessen your intake of fluoride. Avoid certain foods and beverages, and shop for organic produce. Fluoride is commonly used in pesticides on commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Stop buying dental care products with fluoride. Toms of Maine offers a number of fluoride-free toothpastes, as do a number of other natural brands. You can even make your own toothpaste! There are even steps you can take to detoxify fluoride from your body using certain dietary supplements. Check out the recommended reading, below, for details. Unfortunately, most water filters (like Pur and Brita) do not get the fluoride out of tap water. But there are filters available that do!

Further Reading