Shift it yourself

manual shifting jaguar roadsterA shift has been under way for years in auto­mo­tive cul­ture — the move from man­ual trans­mis­sions to automatics.

At the Den­ver Auto Show, Jaguar was so proud of offer­ing a car with a man­ual trans­mis­sion that they plas­tered that fact on the door.

I made the shift myself about five years ago. I used to love man­ual trans­mis­sions. The old story was that you could squeeze more per­for­mance and fuel econ­omy out of your vehi­cle with a man­ual trans­mis­sion. Now it’s the oppo­site for many newer vehicles.

And there’s the draw­back of the pain of shift­ing in stop-and-go traf­fic. My last two years in Nairobi, Kenya taught me that it’s no fun to keep shift­ing over and over in heavy traf­fic (http://mypartofnairobi NULL.blogspot NULL.html). I almost vowed to never get a man­ual trans­mis­sion again.

Then again, if some­one offered me a new Mazda Miata (http://www NULL.longlivetheroad­ster with a man­ual for free, I would not turn them down.

Tip: One way to save fuel with an auto­matic trans­mis­sion is to pop it into neu­tral while going down a mild hill. (Use this tip at your own risk. Results may vary. Some users have been known to have increased blood pressure.)

What kind of light are you letting into your life?

tilesThe tiles in our bath­room change in color and shadow depth dur­ing the course of every day. In the same way, my mood changes, depend­ing on what is hap­pen­ing out­side of me.

My mood some­times changes due to inside forces. I let my response to events drag me down. Other times, I am in a strong place and am almost immune to dif­fi­cult situations.

But inside is affected by out­side. The voices I allow myself to hear affect the way I deal with life. If I’m always lis­ten­ing to neg­a­tiv­ity, I will tend to be neg­a­tive. Pos­i­tiv­ity leads to being positive.

But false mes­sages of either type never have a good effect. Truth is always the best thing, even if it hurts. (How­ever, we do not always need to tell every­one everything.)

Who are you lis­ten­ing to today?

Apple Watch review

Apple Watch on my wristNo, I don’t have one.

Yes, that’s my wrist that the Watch is sit­ting on.

So this is not a super-deep review, since I do not own one. But I will give you some first impres­sions, hav­ing spent about 90 min­utes in an intro­duc­tory work­shop at my local Apple Store, play­ing with one and try­ing sev­eral on.

Here are my ini­tial thoughts:

  • They’re nice. The feel and work­man­ship is as you might expect: top-notch. The vibra­tions that tell you things are not annoy­ing. If you had your set­tings at a level where you were get­ting taps more than once an hour, you might start to go crazy. The inter­face is very well thought out.
  • Costs: The $349* price of entry (Sport model) def­i­nitely makes it a lux­ury item. And then your style choices are lim­ited to the color of your watch (sil­ver or black) and the color of your Sport band. If you want more choices, you have to spend $549 for the Watch (mid­dle) model that lets you have a lot more  band choices.
  • Pre­tense: They can be less vis­i­ble than the old Apple white head­phones that told every­one you had an iPhone or an iPod. If you know what they look like, you can start to think about who has them and imag­ine their bud­gets. (I was amazed at the mom with her two teenagers who were part of my work­shop. The kids already both had Watches. When I asked why he got one, the boy said, “I just wanted one.”)
  • Bands: The Milanese Loop was amaz­ing for its sim­plic­ity and ease of use (add $100). The leather bands (add $100 or $200) seemed like step back­wards from the syn­thetic sport band. The Link Bracelet (add $400) was incred­i­ble. You can size it with­out going to a jew­eler. Hav­ing said all that, the only style I’d con­sider would be the Sport band (black case with black band, prob­a­bly). The oth­ers are just a lit­tle too glitzy for me.
  • Sizes: My wrists are tiny. The only one that would work for me would be the 38mm. The 42mm does have a lit­tle more breath­ing room for view­ing the screen, but it costs $50 more. (Casey Nei­s­tat described them as “girl size” and “boy size.” I disagree.)
  • Apps: Fit­ness seems to be the big one. If you aren’t inter­ested in track­ing your fit­ness, noti­fi­ca­tions for email and texts would be a big use, though habit­u­ally look­ing at your wrist might be just as annoy­ing to oth­ers as habit­u­ally look­ing at your phone. (A whole new level of, “I’m not pay­ing atten­tion to you,” might start becom­ing wide­spread.) Phone calls seem to be so lim­ited, due to issues like low audio vol­ume, that I can’t imag­ine many peo­ple doing calls more than a few sec­onds through their Watch. Maps are lim­ited but could be use­ful after you get used to the tiny inter­face. Music means pretty much a remote-control for your iTunes or Pan­dora. Pho­tos: The max­i­mum size for a photo is so small that I wouldn’t be spend­ing much time with that one. And any library of more than about 100 pho­tos prob­a­bly means a hard time ever find­ing the photo you want to show some­one. Oh yeah, and there’s the watch part. It’s super-easy to change its time-telling face between a vari­ety of cool time-keepers... and then mod­ify each one.
  • Teth­er­ing to your iPhone: A lot of peo­ple have hugely com­plained about this aspect. I don’t see it as any big deal, since my iPhone is always in my pocket, unless I’m at my desk or put­ter­ing around the house. And I like the idea of being away from mes­sages, so I’d feel free to leave my iPhone at home. You can lis­ten to a lim­ited music library (with blue­tooth head­phones) while you run or bike ride with­out an iPhone nearby.
  • The Edi­tion: Pay­ing $10,000+ is just absurd. It’s for peo­ple that zeros do not mat­ter. And for Den­ver res­i­dents, you’ll have to travel to Las Vegas to try one on.

Bot­tom line: Game-changer... 1) I think there are vast pos­si­bil­i­ties for how this will trans­form the way peo­ple relate to tech­nol­ogy. 2) Today’s Groupon email had fit­ness wrist­bands — and a series of Bre­itling lux­ury watches — for far less than half price. The lux­ury watch and fit­ness band mar­kets are changed for­ever. 3) Health pro­fes­sion­als are just begin­ning to imag­ine new worlds that will open up for mon­i­tor­ing and then respond­ing to health spheres.

None is on-order for me .... yet. I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out how to jus­tify the (not insignificant-to-me) expense.

* Apolo­gies to my friends out­side of the USA. You’ll need to go to your near­est Apple Store web­site to check pric­ing for your area.

For more info, visit Apple Watch on the web (http://www

Buy a pen now, to help others

writing with a Schneider penI love Schnei­der pens — the very best in the world. They’re made in Germany.

Stride (http://www NULL.strideinc is the com­pany that dis­trib­utes Schnei­der pens in the USA. Stride employs peo­ple with intel­lec­tual and phys­i­cal chal­lenges – allow­ing these indi­vid­u­als to learn and grow in a work­ing envi­ron­ment that is full of love and acceptance.

You can read the sto­ries of Peter (http://www NULL.strideinc NULL.pdf), Vic­tor (http://www NULL.strideinc NULL.pdf) and Vaden (http://www NULL.strideinc NULL.pdf) to see what a dif­fer­ence Stride has made in each of their lives.

Stride dis­trib­utes pens and doesn’t sell them directly to con­sumers. But you can buy them at Office Depot or Office Max. Until May 9th, Schnei­der pens are on sale for 30% off. And here’s where the story gets inter­est­ing – Office Depot/Max is hav­ing the sale to test the mar­ket. If Schnei­der pens don’t sell well, they will stop sell­ing them after the sale. So if you go out NOW and buy some of these amaz­ing pens, you will help the team at Stride.

If you pre­fer porous-tip pens (what used to be called “felt-tip”) or gel pens, Schnei­der has those also. And they’re excellent.

Ask the Office Depot/Max sales staff to help you find them – the Schnei­der pens may be tucked away in a back corner.

And then go back home to write a real let­ter, by hand, to some­one who could use a lit­tle extra love and acceptance.

- -

Reg­u­lar read­ers will have heard me talk about Schnei­der pens and Stride before. But I thought every­one should know about this sale!


Pickups, Cuba and freedom

Paul driving a big pickupAs I was dri­ving a big pickup, I reflected on free­dom. In Amer­ica, we have the free­dom to buy as large a vehi­cle as our bud­gets (or will­ing­ness to take on credit) will allow.

Very few peo­ple in Europe drive large vehi­cles, due to fuel costs, the nar­row­ness of roads and the dif­fi­culty of park­ing some­thing so long. But it goes deeper than that. Many Euro­peans would con­sider own­ing such a vehi­cle wasteful.

Fuel costs are high in Europe because gov­ern­ments (elected by peo­ple, in most cases) have added sub­stan­tial taxes to push peo­ple to smaller vehi­cles. It works.

Wired recently had an arti­cle about the least free coun­try on this planet (http://www NULL.wired, North Korea. Cit­i­zens there have no choice about which car to drive — nor do they have enough funds to buy any vehi­cle. The arti­cle explores the ideas of how for­mer North Kore­ans (now liv­ing in South Korea) are smug­gling in west­ern TV and movies to cre­ate a sense of dis­con­tent in view­ers’ minds. There’s no real evi­dence that it’s work­ing, though change could take time. China has had a major shift in the direc­tion of free­dom dur­ing the last 20 years. Cuba is open­ing up. Who knows what will happen.

With free­dom comes won­der­ful expe­ri­ences — and also garbage. The smug­gled USB dri­ves have shows that intro­duces view­ers to the best and worst aspects of west­ern cul­ture. The change agents feel like the worst shows might shock view­ers into some kind of awak­en­ing. As an Amer­i­can, I am ashamed about some of the ideas my coun­try spreads to the rest of the planet. But get­ting small glimpses of free­dom may spark a revolution.

Foot­note: Those of you who know me under­stand I would never buy a big pickup. I test drove one as a part of a pro­mo­tion at the Den­ver Auto Show. Inter­est­ingly, the new Ford F-150 with the small­est engine will have a greater impact on America’s fuel con­sump­tion than all the elec­tric Chevro­let Volts com­bined, due to sales volume.


A few weeks back, my car was in the shop for some body work. (An unfor­tu­nate acci­dent had occurred that meant some repairs were due.)

I took advan­tage of my insur­ance company’s con­nec­tion with Enter­prise Rentals (http://www NULL.enter­prise to get a quirky car to drive dur­ing the repairs — the Fiat 500L (http://www NULL.fia­tusa

Over­all, I enjoyed the car’s quirk­i­ness. (It had a few qual­ity issues, but that’s another story.)

fiat 500l drivers manualThe man­ual was com­pletely worth­less — a CD. When inserted into the car’s CD drive, it would not do any­thing except dis­play an error mes­sage. The only way to view the con­tents was to bring it home and put it into a com­puter with a CD slot. Then a pro­gram had to be installed to make it run!

What hap­pens when a dri­ver is 50 miles from nowhere and has a flat tire? The com­pres­sor in the back (no spare tire) had no instructions.

Fiat — please do a lit­tle more think­ing next time!

Creativity vs. Practicality

cabin-camperFort Collins is full of cre­ative peo­ple. I’d bet that your town is too.

My son Jay took this photo on one of the res­i­den­tial side streets of Fort Collins. I’m guess­ing that the owner of this Toy­ota uses his (or her) cabin-camper as daily trans­porta­tion. Obvi­ously, it’s not as prac­ti­cal as a bor­ing sedan for daily use. But it has a huge amount of char­ac­ter. The artist who made this dwelling/vehicle chose to favor cre­ativ­ity instead of practicality.

That’s what art is all about. The beau­ti­ful paint­ing that graces your wall is not prac­ti­cal. But it is, in a way — beauty feeds the soul. A healthy soul makes for a bet­ter func­tion­ing life. And that’s practical.

Apple Watch and intended sales

Back of iPhone showing apple logoI won­der how many peo­ple will walk into an Apple Store after April 24th and then find out that they need an iPhone for their desired new time­piece to function.

Yes, Apple will be sell­ing a fair num­ber of iPhones to Android peo­ple who must have the lat­est toy.

This is very clever on their part. Apple’s share of the smart­phone mar­ket has been slip­ping a lit­tle over the last few years. This strat­egy will maybe change that trend.

It’s the only prod­uct I know that has the same inter­nal mech­a­nism but varies in price from $349 to $17,000 — depend­ing on the shell. (My UK friends who are so inclined will pay between £299 and £13,500.) What a price to pay for appearances!

I have to admit that if it weren’t for a num­ber of un-planned-for recent nec­es­sary expen­di­tures, I would be very tempted to buy the base model, even though I don’t wear watches. (If I could afford it, I would start wear­ing an Apple Watch.)

Review: Better by Nature Coffee

Better by Nature coffeeIf you like smooth, non-bitter cof­fee, I have found your java nir­vana. Bet­ter by Nature pro­duces cof­fee through a unique process that results in a very smooth cup of coffee.

In non-scientific terms, the process uses mush­rooms to remove the bit­ter agents and impu­ri­ties, while leav­ing behind what coffee-lovers thrive on — great taste.

The vari­ety I tried was cre­ated from Costa Rican beans. I am not a wine-snobbery-terminology kind of per­son, so I can’t describe the flo­ral notes with under­tones of oak. Suf­fice it to say that if nor­mal cof­fee is too bit­ter for you unless you load it down with lots of milk and sugar, check this one out.

If you are inter­ested in giv­ing it a try, visit the Bet­ter by Nature web­site (http://www­ter­by­na­ture­foods

Dis­clo­sure: I was given this cof­fee as a free trial. I am thankful.

Sad to see them go

dead-signAnother local busi­ness died. After 31 years, Ara­pa­hoe Cyclery closed their doors. Mike and Greg were amaz­ing mechan­ics, nice guys, and a plea­sure to do busi­ness with.

What’s sad is that I didn’t get the oppor­tu­nity to say good­bye. Since we’re in the depths of snowy weather, I hadn’t been through their doors in a few months. I’m hop­ing I’ll run into one of them at some point, so I can share my pain at the loss.

Rather than go into a long rant about why it’s good to give busi­ness to your local inde­pen­dent shops, I’ll just ask you to try to do that when you can.

By the way, the sign is from the same plaza the bike shop was in. It was for an auto parts store that closed down within the last year. My hopes aren’t too high for the new fit­ness cen­ter that recently opened.