Apple Music

When I had a few minutes this morning I updated iOS to 8.4. I’ve been eager to try Apple Music, and today’s its debut. After the first 12 hours with Apple Music, Beats 1, and the overall experience I’m all in. I agree with Walt Mossberg that it’s the best streaming service I’ve tried, and the core human-curated streaming radio, playlists, and connect features are the key reasons for me.

Beats 1 has been fun so far too. Trent Reznor’s role in its creation is fascinating, particularly his idea that I read somewhere that Beats 1 is an experiment to see if it’s possible to create “monoculture” through global streaming radio in the age of algorithmic curation. Streamed Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden’s shows; it was cool to hear requests coming in from places like Estonia, and hearing Darden walk listeners through a set of New York borough-centric tracks.

In terms of pricing, it works out to 50 percent cheaper than Spotify in my case. I was on a $5/month Spotify subscription. On Apple Music I’m a part of family sharing, so my share drops to ~$2.50/month, and each family member gets their own streaming library, settings, etc.

If this is at all what the refreshed Apple TV subscription service looks like, it should be a revolutionary rather than evolutionary change.

In the bookstore

As of a few weeks ago, Conserving Mount Nittany is available in the Penn State Bookstore on campus, along with Nittany Valley Press’s The Legends of the Nittany Valley. It’s very meaningful for me to see this happen.

Not just because I wrote Conserving Mount Nittany. Not just because I want to see more people learn about Mount Nittany. Not just because I’m on The Nittany Valley Society board. It’s mostly meaningful to me because we didn’t make it happen.

Alex Koury graduated in May and will be teaching in Japan later this year, and was working on a class research and writing project. After searching for information about Mount Nittany online, he came across our books and made Mount Nittany the focus of his semester writing project, relying on three of our books as his source material.

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What started out for him as a routine class assignment turned into something more. And by the time he had turned in his final report, finished the class, and was set to graduate, he went into Penn State’s Bookstore and suggested they carry the copies of our books that are now available in the Local Interest section.

I’ve never met Alex Koury. I’ve never communicated with him. I learned about all of this through board conversation.

But the way these books became available in the Penn State Bookstore is a perfect example of The Nittany Valley Society’s mission. Set aside the rhetoric, the programming, the finances, etc, and determine whether the mission has changed a single person’s life in some way.

Alex’s semester project is a witness that our mission changed a part of his life, and his wanting to help others have a similar experience through easier access to the books he encountered is a great example of how to pay it forward.

I’m going to see if we can share his report on The Nittany Valley Society’s website. At some point later this year hopefully we can share that.

Family resiliency

In April, Centre Foundation brought in Tom Rogerson to keynote their Campbell Society luncheon. Tom is a family philanthropy adviser at Wilmington Trust, and a compelling speaker. I wasn’t there, but a friend recorded the talk for me and I sat down to listen to it recently.

Over the past two years I’ve helped kickstart four Centre Foundation funds: Nittany Valley Renaissance Fund, Novak Fellowship Fund, John Raynar Penn State Media Leadership Fund, and Shakely Family Conservation Fund. The first two are The Nittany Valley Society’s endowments, and the latter two are DAFs, or Donor Advised Funds.

I’m a fan of Centre Foundation, and am interested in learning about intentional approaches to family life, which is what Tom Rogerson addressed in his talk from the angle of governance and philanthropy.

A few things I took from his talk. First, on family culture. Specifically the idea that stronger families learn how to make decisions as a group. This can include lots of things, including a united family approach for decisions involving schooling, higher education, career, etc.

What Tom proposed a means to strengthen that sort of family culture involves family meetings, that could be paired with Thanksgiving or other annual events but that were distinct, involved decorum and were focused on leaving everyone having learned something or at least started on chewing something for further conversation. It can also involve family team building exercises, family philanthropy, and even a family literary program to teach family members over time about their own history and lessons from successes and failures over time. All of this is connected by the idea of fostering family resiliency and nurturing talent within the family.

Second, on family governance. Specifically the idea of defining success for the family as a whole. An example was one family’s definition: a healthy and united family, where individuals had high self esteem, built trust and communication through their relationships and through meaningful experiences.

When it came to family philanthropy as one facet of this, that involved a vision for what they wanted the family to look like down the road, and ultimately led to a committee within the family to engage in family philanthropy with a goal of group governance and transparent decision making that could avoid divided approaches that used limited charitable resources inefficiently or wastefully and at the same time could help avoid an unhealthy and divided family culture.

Third, on family philanthropy. Specifically by harnessing healthy family culture and governance to further strengthen relationships and decision making concerning charitable resources, no matter what size.

Tom cited DAFs as a way to approach family philanthropy using his own approach as an example that achieves not only the philanthropy component, but also the culture and governance component. DAFs are a way for families to determine and communicate their priorities as a group. He sets aside $5,000/year for his DAF, which is split so that each of his four kids gets to award $1,000 to a beneficiary. All four have to agree on a beneficiary for the final $1,000. This can be done with $5,000 or $500 or whatever. But he cites the “together piece” as the most valuable.

This is taken a step further, where he sets aside another $500 year that his brother matches. Then both their kids get together and as cousins agree where that $1,000 will go, contributing to communication, decision making, trust, and seeing results over time as a group. And because it’s done through the DAF vehicle, beneficiaries see the names of the children as donors rather than the parents.

It was a great talk, and leaves me with a lot to chew on. I think the connecting theme was family resiliency, and if each of us can figure out how to contribute to that, we’ll be building a much better society.

Big Spring Spirits

I visited Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte, PA tonight. It was Small Batch’s first gathering and it was a neat experience.

Small Batch is a new thing, a member group for young professionals and others looking for distinctive bar experiences outside the typical State College area bar filled with undergraduates.

We arrived at Big Spring at 7:45pm and entered the refurbished distillery that’s located in Bellefonte’s historic Match Factory. The first drink was on Small Batch, and I ordered the “Manhattan Bridge,” a lightly aged rum, neat.

After about 15 minutes the behind the scenes tour of Big Spring got started and we learned about the distillery process. Big Spring is unique in their approach to sourcing and infrastructure. All their ingredients are locally sourced within 25 miles, and their distillery is the first LEED certified distillery in the country.

It was amazing to hear from Kevin Lloyd that one barrel produces about 500 bottles of product. We also learned about the Takamine distilling process, created by the same man who brought the Cherry Blossom’s to the Capitol basin.

Kevin worked in analytical chemistry in State College for pharma before selling his company and going into semi-retirement. Big Spring is his next act. It’s worth a taste.

Chewing on Laudato Si

On Tuesday night I queued up Pope Francis’s Laudato Si and had Siri read it to me. It took about 90 minutes to get through the ~40,000 word encyclical, but it was nice to have it read to me even in Siri’s mechanistic voice.

Laudato Si is challenging because it demands engaging with creation and the environment in a much more comprehensive way than just through policy. Pope Francis explicitly calls for “attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems” and rejects anthropocentric and technological-utopian thinking as the solution to environmental crisis.

He calls for “a change in humanity” as the fundamental first step in resolving environmental problems and the inequalities related to access to energy and environmental resources. Here is an example of that approach:

It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.

When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Recognizing the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behaviour patterns, and the ways it grasps reality. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.

The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.

Pope Francis also cites Saint Francis: “The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” And he leans on Benedict XVI to stress the spiritual dimension: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.”

Laudato Si leaves me thinking about environmentalism in a much deeper way than I did before, so in that respect I’m already glad I read it.

Philadelphia islands

There’s a fascinating chapter in the history of Philadelphia concerning islands in the Delaware river. Smith and Windmill Islands were smack in the middle of the Delaware, I think a bit south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

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The islands were removed in the late 19th century apparently so larger ships would have an easier time navigating the river. Since their removal there’s also been a lingering desire in tiny quarters to bring islands back to the water. They’ve got an interesting history:

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The first record of the islands dates back to 1683, when two muddy mounds in the middle of the Delaware were first described. By the middle of the 18th Century, an octagonal Windmill was built on the northern end. Over the years, deposits from the river made the islands grow larger, fusing the two mounds into a single hunk of land. Wharves and a few little structures soon dotted the islands, and use of the island reached a point that a bridge was considered in 1820 that was ultimately never built.

In the mid 19th century, the islands were serving multiple functions. One section of Windmill Island became a well-known low-class pleasure spot, another section was a coal yard, and other areas were access points for multiple ferry companies (ferries were a little more popular back then). Smith Island was home to the appropriately-named Smith’s Hotel. Famous Philadelphian Jacob Ridgeway owned a couple of parcels there, as did the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads. There were even people who owned the sand bars that were only exposed when the river was at low tide.

Rotary

Chris Buchignani spoke to the State College Evening Rotary club last night at the Nittany Lion Inn. I was able to join him for his half hour talk introducing The Nittany Valley Society to two dozen Rotarians. After he distributed copies of Conserving Mount Nittany to everyone.

Rotary is fascinating. I know they vary depending on chapter and area. I’m only familiar with the State College Evening Rotary, and I know there are two other State College groups that meet, one in the morning and one at lunch. Rotary starts with the Pledge of Allegiance, a recitation of Rotary’s four way test, and a short prayer before going into chapter business and a speaker.

I’ve attended maybe five or six of the State College Evening Rotary’s meetings over the years. They’re good people, and it’s a great way to connect with the community in a way that’s not age segregated like happens with some groups.

I think of Rotary as a secular equivalent to Knights of Columbus. Fraternal and civic organizations that can bring people together. What might be useful is fewer young professional groups collecting young people together, and greater membership in Rotary and groups like it to intermingle people with age, experience, and relationships.

Charitable check-in

The Giving Institute recently released its Annual Report… This year’s study showed that charitable giving is steadily rising, realizing a 2.7% increase from last year. Giving by foundations also increased to an estimated 8.2%, a 2.5% increase from last year. 

Perhaps the most impressive finding was the report’s highlight of philanthropy in the religious sector. In 2014, Giving USA stated that religious giving had slightly declined. In 2015, the numbers are up, with giving to religious causes realizing a 2.5% increase in total. Overall, giving to religious organizations compromised 32% of all charitable contributions made within the last year, allowing religious contributions to reach their highest inflation-adjusted value ever at $144.90 billion.

Additional highlights from the 2015 Giving USA report included a 15.5% increase in giving by bequest, and a 13.7% increase in giving by corporations.

This is from an email that hit my inbox today from the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia

I wonder how much of the increase in corporate giving a result of charitable initiatives v. employee matching gifts. When looking at religious organizations, I wonder how much of that is churches v. NGO type organizations like Catholic Charities.

I created a Catholic Foundation donor advised fund with my family, and it’s something we want to grow in an intentional way, rather than through family bequests for instance. I haven’t figured out what a growth plan looks like yet, but the key goal will be expanding its appeal beyond family giving.

I’m interested in seeing more charitable donors do that sort of thing—creating donor advised endowed or nonendowed funds that can energize their friends, family, coworkers, community, etc. It makes charitable giving a more concrete and transparent activity than anonymous or bequest gifts, which is typically good for the mission you’re supporting.

Laudato Si

I haven’t made the time to read Pope Francis’s Laudato Si yet, but I’ve got it saved in Pocket and plan to tackle it at the end of the week. I’ll probably have Siri read it to me.

In the meantime, Fr. James Martin has a good overview of Laudato Si‘s main themes. From everything I’ve read about it so far, it seems great because it seems like Pope Francis is calling for a sort of personal conversion of heart on environmental matters that’s making people across the spectrum a bit uncomfortable.

I’ll write more about this when I’be read it, but in the meantime here’s an excerpt from Fr. Martin:

One of the greatest contributions of “Laudato Si” is that it offers what theologians call a “systematic” approach to an issue. First, he links all of us to creation: “We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it”. But our decisions, particularly about production and consumption, have an inevitable effect on the environment. Pope Francis links a “magical conception of the market,” which privileges profit over the impact on the poor, with the abuse of the environment. Needless to say, a heedless pursuit of money that sets aside the interests of the marginalized and leads to the ruination of the planet are connected. Early on, he points to St. Francis of Assisi, who shows how “inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace”. Far from offering a naïve condemnation of capitalism, Pope Francis provides an intelligent critique of the limits of the market, especially where it fails to provide for the poor. “Profit,” he says, “cannot be the sole criterion” of our decisions.

Summer

‘Tis seven o’clock on a summer’s eve,
And the summer’s sun is low,
An empty hammock beneath the trees,
In the sweetly scented evening breeze
Swings listlessly to and fro.

‘Tis eight o’clock and the sun is gone,
And the darkness grows apace,
In a hammock sits a maiden fair,
While seated near her in a chair
Is a youth with handsome face.

The clock strikes nine—but what is this?
In the gloom of the moonless night,
Two figures, which like one appear
Swing in the hammock,—hark and hear;
“Now Jack, who said you might?”

Bowdoin Orient