Worried About Toilet Paper? Take a Breath and Look at The Big Picture

Did I ever tell you about my time in Pakistan and the guy whose job it was to scoop shit out of a port-a-john?

In 2005, I was on deployment in the western pacific and I got to be part of a multi-national military effort providing disaster relief to Pakistan. Devastating earthquakes had rocked the country, and the US was tasked with leading the relief effort. As a very junior officer at the time, this was quite an opportunity for me not only to travel to another country, but to spend about four months living with a group of people who hadn’t had Americans in their country for a few decades.

People who lived a very different way of life than my cushy American upbringing.

Not only did the joint efforts help with food, supplies, temporary housing (many homes in northern Pakistan were built in to the hillsides and thus destroyed), but we also brought out and deployed Army and Marine hospital units. We even had one or two full-blown MASH units that provided surgical care, trauma centers, dental care, and more.

I remember at one point people bringing reports and commentary back from those field hospitals. Many of the people they were seeing and treating said they had NEVER received care like this. Nor even had the option for care like this.

Before these MASH hospitals…before the world’s disaster relief efforts came to town…before the earthquake, many of these Pakistanis had never even seen a dentist, a pediatrician, or a doctor period.

This earthquake was estimated to have killed over 70,000 people and left close to 4 million homeless.

Think about that. And we have these MASH units ready to go in our backyard.

The Big Picture

image via wikipedia

Step back and take a look at your house, community, city, state, country…compared to other parts of the world. Don’t just look at other “advanced” countries. Remember there are “emerging” and “developing” countries as well.

For this report we grouped countries into three economic categories: “advanced,” “emerging” and “developing.” These categories are fairly common in specialized and popular discussions and are helpful for analyzing how public attitudes vary with economic circumstances. However, no single, agreed upon scheme exists for placing countries into these three categories. For example, even the World Bank and International Monetary Fund do not always agree on how to categorize economies.

—Pew Research

Take a quick look at this 2019 report from the United Nations. It lists the various country classifications with slightly different terms but the same concepts. There are large parts of this world that aren’t worried about the local store running out of toilet paper.

They just want to be able to eat with a roof over their head.

Or get paid to scoop shit out of a port-a-john.

Back to that Deployment

I wasn’t exaggerating about that. The local contractors that were hired when I first showed up outside of Islamabad, helped with some basic facility support. We were essentially camping out for a few months next to an ad hoc airport. We had the military tents, gear, and people…and they provided things like port-a-johns, water supply, some transportation, etc.

One day I was sitting, eating an MRE, and saw a gentlemen with a large ladle looking thing…almost like a shovel but the end was larger, flatter, rounder. Then I saw him start scooping shit…out of the portable outhouses we had been using.

This contractor didn’t have large trucks that could suck all that stuff up in to the back to later dispose of it at a treatment facility. These guys had to scoop the shit out before they got all the rest of the blackwater out!

Needless to say I lost my appetite for that MRE.

That give you a different outlook on your toilet paper tensions?


Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

I have always appreciated the perspective that being in the military gives me. For some reason, I don’t talk much about my work here. Most likely because I normally see this site (and my past websites) as an avenue for me to express myself and my interests outside of work.

However, I would be doing a disservice to those who read this to pretend that my work is not a big part of who I am. I got to college, met my wife, and have a career…all because of the US Navy.

I have taken courses on leadership, ethics, thermodynamics (unfortunately), constitutional law, engineering, joint military operations, and national security. Leaders throughout my career have taught me humility, selfless service, hard work, sacrifice, harder work, and core values of “honor, courage, and commitment”.

Take Comfort in Your Leadership

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I am writing to my fellow Americans, but I hope that this can speak to those beyond our nation’s boarders. Yesterday I wrote about companies that are closing up but still paying employees, three days ago there was an Italian opera singer who serenaded his neighbors, professional photographers are giving away their paid courses for free, and so much more!

I can only assume that if you a re reading this, you probably don’t have it that bad.

YES – doing what you can to prevent further COVID 19 spread is important.

YES – take your local authorities seriously

YES – do your part

But please, step back….look at the big picture….and know that you are ok.

I trust our leaders have our best interests at heart and I know (for a fact) that they are working around the clock to make sure that people are taken care of. Those leaders that taught me how to lead, to serve, to be a man of honor…many of them are retired and work in government now. As a collective, our representatives and leaders will help us through this and we will be ok.

And please, don’t sweat the toilet paper.

At least you’re not scooping shit out of a port-a-john.

This was first posted over on Medium. If you like these longer form posts, you can get early access to them by becoming a Patron for $1 a month.

COVID-19 Secondary Effect: Reduced Air Pollution Due to Reduced Global Activity

Never would have thought about this kind of secondary effect…

Kottke.org found an interesting article with a different look at the secondary effects of COVID-19:

Stanford professor Marshall Burke, who does research on the social and economic impacts of environmental change, wrote a post about how the decrease in economic activity in China due to COVID-19 quarantine and other countermeasures resulted in a significant drop in air pollution, which Burke estimates will save more lives than deaths caused by COVID-19.

And his conclusion is not that viral pandemics are a net positive for the world (you will see people naively arguing this, siding a little too closely with a snapping Thanos for my comfort) but that situations like this remind us, as Burke summarized on Twitter: “the way our economies operate absent pandemics has massive hidden health costs”:

Not something I would have ever thought of.

Decrease in Economic Activity Due to COVID-19 Reduced Air Pollution and Saved Lives

GoPro Hero 7 for only $250

Of course I paid almost double this for my Hero 6 back when I bought it…

This is insanely cheap…renewed by the Amazon Renewed program so you have a good guarantee there. I vlogged with my Hero 6 at the beach a couple years ago and it was amazing.

Amazon Renewed Program

The Battles Within

Exploring your call of the wild…

Travel writer Tynan wrote a great article a while back that feels like he plucked it right out of my brain. As someone who still has a passion to climb as much as I can, yet can’t, there is always a push and pull balancing act that I bet almost everyone deals with in life. Tynan gives a good analogy.

A wild horse is a beautiful thing on its own, but isn’t very useful to a person. To create a symbiotic relationship with the horse, the owner must break the horse, training it to give up some of its wild instincts and replace them with conditioned responses.

I rode a horse a few weeks ago in Chile. She was generally well behaved, but had her quirks. Sometimes, riding along in the desert, there would be a tasty looking shrub. If we were walking slowly enough, she would stop and eat it. I’d have to yank on the reins to prevent her from doing it, but that didn’t stop her from trying again next time.

It feels like my brain is the same way. I train it over and over again, but it’s never completely broken. There are battles that I fight every single day, knowing that winning doesn’t mean eliminating those battles entirely, but just winning them more often than not.

I too never feel like I truly win that ever present war with my brain, but maybe I do win most of the battles day by day. In past years my wife has understood that “call of the wild” for me and would graciously take the kiddos for a week or so and say “Just go climb”. I’ve been able to take trips to climb Half Dome, El Cap, Leaning Tower, and other lesser known climbs.

While it has been a while since I’ve been able to climb, that call is still there. Today I encourage you to explore your own Battles Within.

I Want to Go To…Switzerland (info and travel checklist)

[UPDATED 15 March 2020]
First travel post is a place I’ve wanted to go since I was 12…

I have a decent list of places that I’d like to travel and, with my work, I have had the opportunity to travel a fair amount, but not nearly as much as I’d like to.

Along those lines, I am going to start writing about some of these places and what places there are to see, things to do, recommendations on places to stay…a checklist of sorts.

I plan on keeping these info checklists updated as I come across new and useful bits of info…for both myself and for you if you want to bookmark these posts. (I will also create a new navigation category where they can all be found together)

Hope you enjoy!


I’ve wanted to travel here since I was 12. This was probably my first ever “place I want to travel to” type place. Not sure how that came to be, but it did.

1. Google it

The natural first step right? Yup, mine too. Here’s what you get

Not a bad place to start!
Not a bad place to start!

Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country, home to numerous lakes, villages and the high peaks of the Alps. Its cities contain medieval quarters, with landmarks like capital Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower and Lucerne’s wooden chapel bridge. The country is also known for its ski resorts and hiking trails. Banking and finance are key industries, and Swiss watches and chocolate are world renowned.

2. Write down what YOU want to do

This is where the fun stuff comes in. I’m more interested in the outdoorsy attractions (Swiss Alps anyone?) so I’ll list a few of those here.

Grindelwald: Village in Switzerland

Grindelwald, a village in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, is a popular gateway for the Jungfrau Region, with skiing in winter and hiking in summer. It’s also a base for mountain-climbing ascents up the iconic north face of Eiger Mountain. Gletscherschlucht, a glacial gorge just outside Grindelwald, features paths with interpretive signage, waterfalls and striated limestone walls.

Getting to see and hike around the Eiger would be a huge check in the box for me.

Lauterbrunnen: Village in Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen is a municipality in the Swiss Alps. It encompasses the village of Lauterbrunnen, set in a valley featuring rocky cliffs and the roaring, 300m-­high Staubbach Falls. Nearby, the glacial waters of Trümmelbach Falls gush through mountain crevices past viewing platforms. A cable car runs from Stechelberg village to Schilthorn mountain, for views over the Bernese Alps.

Ever since I first saw a picture of that valley…I knew that one day I’d see it for myself. It reminds me of Yosemite Valley but with an actual village in it. (Yosemite Village sort of counts…but only park employees live there)

Honestly, there’s so much content out there that covers hiking that can be done in Switzerland. So I’m going to put a link list below for you…and for future me.

Note on the above links: Many of them go to sites that may offer services…but I see them as pages that give me the ideas so I can set my hiking trips up for free.

The famous Glacier Express is free for Swiss Travel Pass holders. You only need to purchase a seat reservation.
The famous Glacier Express is free for Swiss Travel Pass holders. You only need to purchase a seat reservation.

3. Build Your Checklist

I don’t have to abide by checklists, but I’ve found I forget a lot less if I use them. Especially when it comes to remembering random interesting tidbits I want to look up later.


  • When will you go?
    • As much as I love the summer months, I hate crowds almost as much. My anniversary is in February and when we honeymooned over in Europe right after, we had almost no crowds anywhere because it was the off season. It was glorious and much less stress.
  • How long?
    • I’m going to assume 2 weeks for fun
    • Flights from Buffalo (close to me) are about $700 to Zurich…not bad
      • If you fly out of a big hub like NYC, you can get tickets for about $400-$500
  • Mode of Transport
    • Rental Car or Public Transport: This is a toss up depending on what you want to do. I’ve done both and most often prefer public transport. I don’t mind driving European cars on the other side of the road, but the peace of mind in just hoping on a train can’t be beat.
    • Swiss Travel Pass: This seems to be the way to go.
      • Here’s a quick bit on that from MySwissAlps.com
      • The Swiss Travel Pass is a perfect fit if:

        • you have planned a lot of traveling. You’ll save money as point to point tickets are more expensive;
        • you prefer ticketless traveling. You don’t need to buy tickets for each trip;
        • your plans are not set in stone or you want to be flexible. The Swiss Travel Pass allows spontaneous trips at no extra cost;
        • you stay 15 days or less.

Where to Go?

I already mentioned a few of the places I’d like to go…and your own list will most likely differ from mine. Here’s mine anyways:

  • Hike around the Swiss Alps (ie. the Eiger, the Matterhorn, Jungfrau, etc)
  • Ride to the Highest Railway Station in Europe
  • Grindelwald village
  • Visit/tour Bern (the capital)
  • Visit Zurich (I remember doing a paper on the International Criminal Court so if I could visit that, that would be cool)
  • Do a hut to hut hiking tour
  • (place holder for more…ha!)

This post will be updated as I come across other ideas, good websites, or places to go. I hope that this has helped and if you’ve made it this far…enjoy this gorgeous video of the classic Glacier Express.

Reader Input

15 March 2020

Not long after I posted this, I got a message over on Tumblr with some good info:

Hey there, just saw your post you wanna come to Switzerland? Here is a link to the Swiss online hiking maps(free)

I marked out a nice hut to sleep in near Grindelwald. I have to say normally February is still too snowy to plan for big hikes in the mountains. Depending on the area you should think of bringing skis! Grindelwald is a beautiful place but it’s not like you don’t meet any people there. If you want real outdoor with not seeing people Graubünden or Valais is the better choice to be in the mountains.

There is definitely no issue about driving on the wrong side of the road…it’s not England. 😉 You are right Switzerland is incredible with public transport you can get almost anywhere and you have the scenic advantage of being able to take in the sights! Also they always run on time. :p

I hope you will enjoy your trip to Switzerland when it happens, and let me know if you decide to visit Magic Woods 😉    [Note: this is a climbing spot]

Best time for hiking long hikes high up is in autumn. Then you have most options open. if you have any questions, just ask away.

Somewheresomewhen (Tumblr blog)

Thank you!!