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Author: Paul | Shiny Bits of Life

England. And the Queen.

An English crossing guard lady toy

Queen Elizabeth II died a few days ago. You know that.

She was very well loved across the world. I read several well-crafted reflections by both English citizens and Americans about what a wonderful lady she was. Besides being the sovereign of a country for more years than most people live, she was able to ride the balance between leadership and humility. She commanded respect by her character and not by requesting it from her subjects.

So what does a crossing guard toy have to do with the Queen? In some ways, very little. But in other ways, she reflects some of the best parts of English culture. Ms. Lollipop Lady (as it says on the back of her coat in small print) commands respect, though she may not be the fiercest presence you could imagine at a street crossing.

And the Queen reflects consistent branding in England. Around 25 years ago, crossing guards all across England had the same uniform. Likewise, the queen was part of the brand of the English Empire. Her visage appears on currency and postage stamps of several countries. Slowly, Charles will replace the Queen on both money and letters. Sad.


So when I heard about Elizabeth’s passing, I was sad. I know less about Charles. And I promise you, his aura won’t outshine that of his mum.

What a wonderful lady she was.

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How to solve global warming

nightime skyline with office lights on

Global warming, whether you believe in it or not, is bad.

Or you can say we’re just in a big swing of climate change that will correct itself someday, somehow.

In either case, we can do a little bit here and there to make a difference about the increasing temperatures of our globe.

One small thing that wouldn’t be hard – turn off those lights in downtown offices.

A big plus to this happening is that the coal-fired power plants could run at less capacity at night.

It wouldn’t be that hard to accomplish…

All offices would have motion detector light switches that would turn the lights off between 7 pm and 5 am. If someone were actually working at night, they would just move and the lights would stay on for another hour.

The federal, state and local governments would pass this as a law, giving businesses a year’s advance notice.

Light switch creation and installation businesses would be funded by … well, I came up with the rest and will leave that idea up to you.


The photo was shot by Jörg Angeli and is used under a Creative Commons license.

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Covid, national parks and the death of reason

an empty parking lot in a us forest service park

Ah, the weekend – a great time to go experience the outdoors!

We drove about 90 minutes from our suburban Denver home to a beautiful high-altitude US Forest Service park above Boulder.

When we arrived at the gate, the park ranger asked, “Do you have a reservation?”

“No.”

Could we buy a park pass there, like in the good old days? No.

The park ranger told us, “If you drive downhill about 20 minutes, you might get enough cell coverage to go on the website to buy a pass.”

Insanity.

We tried. The website had such bad usability and loaded so slowly that it was impossible to buy the necessary pass.

Two weeks later, we went to a different park to enjoy a hike. This was part of the state parks system.

Foiled again. The same exact thing happened – a different website and a different system, but we were again not able to buy a pass.

The first park’s ranger explained that this was a new system put in place since Covid.

Fail.


The photo above shows that apparently others were foiled in their attempts to enter the park… the final parking lot at the trailhead was completely empty.

In the end, that first weekend, we hitched a ride from the park entrance to the trailhead with a couple who knew the system and had a pass beforehand. On the second weekend, we found a decent hike just off a main road.

So we did get to hike, but it was an exercise just to find trails we could use.

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Such a waste

label of discarded Starbucks Christmas coffee

Every May across the USA, students exit their dorms and apartments and return to their ancestral parental homes.

They leave behind a ton of stuff.

My daughter moved out of her college dorm room for the last time in May. As we were hauling her stuff down to the car, she pointed out the “grab anything you want” pile.

One student had thrown out their Christmas coffee beans. The package was almost full.

Another left a perfectly good Apple USB-C charger.

I grabbed the beans because even though they were not fresh, they would supplement my coffee mixture for a good number of mornings. And I knew I could use the charger somewhere.

We also bolstered our snack stash for the journey home.

That was just the tip of the iceberg.

We didn’t need a couch, and none of the clothing fit my style.


Multiply this by 5,300* and you can imagine the number of truckloads going to landfills – tons and tons of valuable stuff just wasted.

An environmentally-aware entrepreneur could prevent that waste by creating organizations to intercept discarded goods before they enter landfills.


* That is the approximate number of colleges and universities across the USA.

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It happens.

bird poop on car hood

Occasionally, here at Shiny Bits of Life World Headquarters, we must deal with things that aren’t very shiny.

Sometimes things just happen that cause a loss of time, energy, money and/or relationships.

A very small pain hit my car the other day. (Do cars feel pain?)

I had taken the car for some brake work to a local repair shop. When I came to pick it up, there were tar-like splotches across the hood and roof. A flock of birds had perched on the tree above my car and left their mark.

It took me about an hour of hard scrubbing to remove the birds’ artwork.

Why? What was the purpose of that event?

I will never know.

My pain – or my car’s pain – is so minor compared to what many people face. But here are a few responses that helped me.

  1. I was thankful that it was such a minor incident. One hour of scrubbing is a small drop in the pond of my life.
  2. I was thankful that I have a car that could receive the birds’ offerings.
  3. Letting my negative feelings toward the unseen flock of birds pass through my mind as quickly as possible minimized my pain.

Here’s a rhetorical question (since few people comment on blogs anymore)… what have you found that has helped you deal with bad stuff that just happens?

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For Mac users only

Apple Time Machine backup progress bar

If you use a Mac, you need to get an external hard drive and make it into a Time Machine.

The Time Machine system is a great way to back up your computer without needing the cloud. And you won’t have to pay Apple for iCloud+.

This is great insurance if your Mac dies or gets stolen. If you’ve ever had a computer die without a backup, you know that is not an experience you want to repeat. With a recent Time Machine backup, you can buy another Mac and recreate the experience of your old Mac fairly easily.

I don’t use my Mac that much, since my work computer is a Windows machine. But I still backup my Mac every few weeks. And as you can see from the photo above, there are a lot of changes the Time Machine system picks up that I don’t even know about.

As of this writing, you can pick up a decent external hard drive for about $60. Time Machine is free and built into the Mac operating system. In 20 months, your drive is paid for, if you compare that expense to the iCloud plan that is large enough for most computers.

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Shameful package design

two pill bottles - one empty and one full

Glucosamine is a health supplement that supposedly helps with range of motion and joint pain. So I’ve used it for years.

The problem is that it’s expensive. So I usually wait for BOGO deals (buy one, get one free).

I recently got that deal with two bottles of Osteo Bi-Flex.

After I got home, I discovered that both bottles were less than half full! So I combined them and still had room left in the bottle.

Shameful…

  1. The consumer thinks they’re getting more than they actually are.
  2. The product takes twice as much shelf space.
  3. The product takes twice as much space in a truck on its way to the store.
  4. The consumer pays for twice as much packaging.
  5. Twice as much plastic is being manufactured from crude oil.
  6. Twice as many bottles are likely thrown away or possibly recycled – and trucked to the dump or recycling center.

Come on, companies – wake up and stop wasting our resources!

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Sloppy is not OK

Snippet from an Acura TLX ad
Acura TLX ad: original version

Acura spent a lot of money on a print ad for their new TLX. And it was very poorly done.

The basic design is OK, but the details are super sloppy.

I was compelled to dissect the ad and reassemble it. If you look closely, you will see the differences. The original ad is at the top, and the fixed version is at the end of this post.

  1. The worst design element is the poorly spaced TLX logo. There’s a typographic principle of visual spacing vs. linear spacing. The original ad has the same distance between the bottom line of each letter. I moved the letters where they are in good visual relationship to each other, instead.
  2. Repeating “Type S” three times did nothing but make the page full to the brim with visual elements. White space is a design principle that when used correctly lets each element “breathe.” An analogy is sand on a beach vs. a grain of sand on a black countertop… you’ll never see an individual grain of sand on a beach.
  3. The little arrow with Japanese characters? Meaningless. They add nothing.
  4. The little arrow at the bottom of the page? Meaningless. It adds nothing.
  5. The fine print at the bottom on the original makes the page unbalanced. I moved it over to the right to balance out “precision crafted performance.”

I wish the ad had been precision crafted.


Acura TLX ad: fixed version

(By the way, sloppy IS OK when it’s it’s on purpose, like riding your mountain bike through the mud.)

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Those coveted sneakers

When I was six years old, Red Ball Jets came out with the coolest sneakers ever. They were totally black except for the little red ball on the heel label.

I wanted some so bad that even though the store didn’t have my size, I was willing to get a pair that was way too big – just so that I could be cool.

That sense of cool was internal. I don’t remember any of my friends having a pair.

Many years later, I finally got my all-black sneakers.

This pair is even cooler. They are made from almost 100% recycled materials. It’s surprising how much they look like my childhood favorite shoes.


Rewards (sometimes) come to those who wait.

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Musicians are strong

James Taylor's album cover

In 1985, James Taylor wrote a song about being a star in the music business. One part always struck me: “Perfect strangers … pay good money to hear Fire and Rain again … And again and again.”

It’s 26 years later. He has sung Fire and Rain countless times since.

I can’t imagine the pain of singing a hit song over and over. And over and over.

I guess you just numb yourself to the experience.


Two months ago, I saw one of my recent favorite bands live. A few of their songs stuck in my head since then. I played them enough times that I had to stop.

I followed their tour on Instagram. Compared to pre-Covid times, it was a short tour – about fifty performances over a few months. But they must have gotten tired of singing their songs every night. Forty years from now? I can’t imagine…

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