Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Tips When Volunteering Abroad

The adventure of a lifetime might be closer than you think. With volunteer opportunities available across the globe you can volunteer on orchards in New Zealand, guest houses in Iceland and farms in Patagonia. 

I've done several short-term volunteer projects, such as helping out at schools and non-profits in developing countries, and they are very rewarding. Lately, though, I've been taking to a number of people who are looking at longer-term projects - that sounds pretty intriguing.

If you're considering volunteering abroad, here are some tips on how you can make sure you are prepared for whatever may come your way while helping others in a distant land.

Tip 1: Be Aware of All the Costs of Your Program

There are many “free” volunteer opportunities, but what this typically means is that it doesn't cost you an enrollment fee in order to volunteer. While some “free” opportunities will provide room, and some go as far as board, don't be surprised if you are required to pay for your own accommodations, food, and even transportation.

Work exchanges are similar to volunteer work, but you typically work for a company and are rewarded room and board for your work. This is the model of the popular WWOOF program which operates all over the globe. Remember, the amount you work in exchange for room and board depends on the host you set yourself up with.

Tip 2: Use Trusted Resources to Find Opportunities

Sites like,, and are all wonderful resources for you to find your international volunteer opportunity. lets you brows the globe for all the wwoofing opportunities in the world. have free webinars which you can watch on a variety of subjects which concern the process of volunteering abroad, as well as live sessions. has volunteer grants and scholarships you can apply for, as well as tips on crowd funding campaign. Help Exchange has many work exchange opportunities in places where WWOOF hasn't taken hold.

Tip 3: Invest in the Right Tech to Stay Connected to Loved Ones

When you volunteer abroad you might find yourself in a city, small town, or extremely remote area. Even if you get a cellphone in the country you visit, you might not have service in the town or village you find yourself in. You might consider a satellite phone. Satellite phones work anywhere in the world so you can always call for help, or get in touch with loved ones back home.

A laptop or tablet can make communications easier with loved ones as well. Even if you're in a remote area without internet, a computer or tablet can be helpful in your work with spread sheets, design tools, educational uses, and even for personal use when you're not working.

Tip 4: Make an Effort to Be a Good Ambassador

Remember, as a volunteer, you're still a representative of an organization or company. That's why you should take nice clothes. If you want the respect of the people you work for, work with, and represent, nice clothes can make you look official and in control of your situation.

If you plan to volunteer in a country you don't speak the language in, a phrasebook might come in handy. A smartphone can serve as such, but at times you may be in situations you rather not flash such an expensive item around. A phrasebook can help you get around and isn't a great loss if it gets damaged.

How Tracking Your Health and Fitness Improves Your Life

Over the years, I've gotten into the 'quantified self' world through fitness trackers. I used to go overboard with this stuff, but have settled into a zone where I use it to help motivate me, but don't obsess over it. I find that wearables and tracking help me to stay in better shape, but also help when it comes to focus at work. Seems like I'm not alone.

Over 75 percent of wearable technology users have seen improved business performance, according to a study by Salesforce. Additionally, a survey by the weight loss app Lose It! found that 60 percent of people on a weight loss program lose more weight if they pair their efforts with activity trackers.

Tracking what you do can boost your happiness and productivity by monitoring your actions. Becoming aware of your daily habits and how you do things gives you the opportunity to come up with new solutions to streamline and improve your life. Fortunately, wearable technology and monitoring apps can help the process. Here are some ways you can get started:

Hold Yourself Accountable

Regular physical activity helps release endorphins that interact with receptors in your brain to reduce pain. Endorphins are also responsible for flooding your brain with a positive feeling that's similar to morphine. However, the Center for Disease Control reports that only 49.2 percent of adults meet the physical activity guidelines for aerobic physical activity.

Hold yourself accountable by keeping track of your daily weight loss, health regimen and exercise routine with wearable technology and apps. Choose an option like the Moto 360 Black, so you can sync it to your smartphone and monitor your heart rate and how many steps you take each day. In addition to keeping track of your health stats, the Moto 360 offers coaching advice with spontaneous notifications throughout the day to keep you motivated to reach your fitness goals.

If you’re surprised by how little you move on a daily basis, work in a long walk on your lunch break or get up a half hour earlier for a morning jog. Next, turn your digital monitoring into an active goal to complete 10,000 steps a day and 30-minutes of active, heart-pumping exercise.

Stay Connected

Connect with your friends and family by creating a friendly competition that keeps you all on track for your health, happiness and productivity goals. Create weekly challenges to get moving with a prize in mind. PBS reports that belonging to a community gives people a sense of identity and connection to others. For your competition, set a goal to walk 12,000 steps or complete four hours of physical activity over the weekend. Use a fitness tracker like a Fitbit to see who reaches the goal first. Then, take the winner out for a healthy lunch.

Improve Performance

Wearable technology has already proven to increase productivity in the workforce. For example, Tesco grocery stores found the number of full-time employees needed to run a 40,000 square foot store dropped by 18 percent after introducing wearables. Workers could unload products and fulfill orders that were tracked and documented with a wearable device instead of relying on papers and clipboards. Wearables can help you be more productive both at work and at home. By getting your work done more efficiently, the need for you to work overtime decreases, giving you more time to be at home or to do the things you love.

Lately, my gadget habit has crept into cycling - I've got a couple of posts coming on some gear I've found to be very useful for cyclists. Stay tuned.

Book Review: Grit In Your Craw


Robert Luckadoo's book, "Grit In Your Craw" talks about "Eight Strengths You Can't Succeed Without" and it is a pretty good list:

  1. Diligence
  2. Tenacity
  3. Optimism
  4. Flexibility
  5. Discipline
  6. Resilience
  7. Confidence
  8. Purpose

Luckadoo makes the 8 topics "real" by sharing personal stories about what he's learned in each of these areas. His style is very readable, and he talks about things like his father's death when he was 12 years old and what he learned from his mother through the struggle to keep the family on track.

If you read a lot, like I do, many of the themes will sound familiar (the same is true of a lot of business-oriented books - different ways of articulating common subjects). In Luckadoo's case, I was surprised at how much his content resonated with me - his life has been filled with experiences very different from my own. For example, he was a NASCAR driver, a sports coach, and runs his own insurance agency - definitely not a stranger to trying different paths to success.

Each of the chapters does a nice job of explaining the concept through one or more entertaining stories, generally about things that Luckadoo's experienced. That makes a different to me, since it takes things out of the theoretical and gets the ideas into your head in a very visual way.

Luckadoo gives some practical advice along the way, which was very thought provoking. However, this isn't really a "how to" book - it is more of a set of stories to get you think about the things that contribute to (or detract from) your success.

This book is very well-suited for business leaders, entrepreneurs, or people who want to move to the next level with regard to their impact in business. It will help you think about - and be more deliberate about - how you lead, how you follow, and why you do what you do every day.

I'd love to see Luckadoo come out with a second edition with exercises to take readers through some deeper thinking about these 8 areas, as I think that kind of approach would be very helpful - especially for people who feel stuck in their current situation.

In any case, I enjoyed "Grit In Your Craw," and found it well worth the read.

eBike technology from Bosch - hands-on

A couple of weeks ago, Bosch eBike Systems brought an eBike out to me so I could try it out. What's an eBike, you ask? In technical terms, an eBike is a bicycle that has been augmented with an electrical assist that provides supplemental power while you pedal. In practical terms, it is an impressive tool to help you simplify your commuting or road cycling jaunts.

Bosch doesn't make the bikes - they make the "mid-drive" systems that are built into the bikes, so you can find different types, sizes and styles of bikes to fit your needs and preferences. You can find out more and locate a dealer near you at the Bosch eBike site. [Note: I receive no compensation or other consideration for this - just a free ride on an eBike].

Mount up...

I was riding a Haibike XDuro Trekking RX bike with Bosch Mid-Drive technology (provided by Cynergy E-Bikes, a local Portland company), and it was my first time riding an eBike. 

The bike looks a lot like a typical hybrid bike (built for road cycling, and off-road friendly), and I immediately noticed the weight - it was noticeably heavier than the bike I typically ride. That extra weight is because it has batteries on board, and the frame has been reinforced to handle the forces of the electrical assistance mechanism - the Bosch system is built in during the design of the bike, not bolted on afterward, so it is quite sturdy.  

Once on the bike, it rode and handled very well - it felt like a normal commuting bike, and it took no time at all to get acclimated (and it didn't feel very heavy from a rider's perspective). 

Becoming Superhuman

I rode for a couple of miles near downtown Portland, in a big loop along the Willamette River promenade, which gave me a chance to experiment on flat, straight sections as well as some good inclines, congested areas, and curves. The bike was a lot of fun to ride and I found myself thinking about what it would be like to own.

The real fun started when I turned on the eDrive -- I felt superhuman! It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you turn on the eDrive and the bike begins to surge forward, accelerate, and climb up challenging hills under the assistance of the eDrive.

The way Bosch's eDrive system works is by multiplying your power so every pound of pressure you exert on the pedals is amplified when it reaches the wheels. There are 5 modes:

  • Off:     no assistance from drive unit
  • Eco:    50% assistance from drive unit
  • Tour:    120% assistance from drive unit
  • Sport:    190% assistance from drive unit
  • Turbo:    275% assistance from drive unit

You can change modes on the fly, smoothly and without interrupting the ride. That means you can spend most of your time in Eco, but kick things into Turbo for a killer hill or to make up some time on the road when you're in a hurry.

When choosing modes, keep in mind that the more assistance you get from the eDrive, the faster you use up the battery's charge. For example, depending on conditions, the range in Turbo mode (highest assistance) is 20-40 miles. In Eco mode (least assistance) the range is 50-100 miles. The on-board control panel tells you how you're doing and estimates remaining range based on how you're using the bike.

These bikes do need to be recharged, as they don't recharge while you are riding. That said, they last quite a while - you should only have to charge the bike once or twice a week if you use it for commuting, and the recharge time is about 3 hours (you just plug the bike's charger into a normal household outlet). If you run out of power on the road, you won't be stranded - you can simply pedal it as you would a normal bike (though the additional weight may make pedaling a bit more difficult on hills without the power assist).

Who are eBikes suited for?

While anyone would enjoy this bike, it is ideally suited for commuters, as well as people who are less physically adept but want to ride in hilly terrain (or more easily keep up with more accomplished riders). Bosch says these systems are very popular with the 50 years and up crowd, since they like the physical assistance the bikes provide and typically have more disposable income to justify the extra cost (eBikes typically cost about $1500-2000 more than comparable, conventional bicycles).

Commuters will likely appreciate these bikes most - imagine riding 10 miles to work on an eBike and arriving at work without feeling like you need to take a shower; that is possible with the assistance of the eBike power drive. If you get the chance, stop by a local bike dealer who stocks eBikes, and give it a try - I think you'll be impressed.

Is Your Apple Watch's Crown Dial Getting Sticky? Don't Sweat It

I recently got an Apple Watch, and the other day I noticed the crown dial (aka the "little spinny knob thingy") was suddenly hard to rotate, and not very responsive to clicks. 

After a little thinking and experimenting, I remember that I'd been using the Watch to record workouts and it's been particularly hot in Portland lately. It seems that the minerals in my sweat were accumulating under the crown knob and making interfering with its proper operation.

Wash away your troubles

If this happens to you, the fix is easy. Simply rinse off the watch in warm (not hot) water with mild soap. Rinse the watch well and, while rinsing it, rotate the knob a bit to get the mineral crystals worked out of the mechanism.

I've done this a couple of times now, and it fixes the problem easily - in fact, since I have a sport band (the rubbery one) I think I'll just wear it in the shower to keep it clean. The watch is water-resistant and this kind of exposure should not be a problem. According to Apple:

Apple Watch is splash and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. The leather bands are not water resistant.

By the way, there are also articles from other sources discussing tests that indicate that the Apple Watch is even more water-resistant than Apple's claims indicate.