Gotta love those algorithms

A message from Alexa on a Kindle screen: "Alexa, what should I read next?"

My Kindle served up this message last week: “Alexa, what should I read next?”

For some reason, that offended me. Why should I listen to what Alexa tells me about what I should be reading? Won’t I just be playing into the hands of Alexa’s father, Amazon?

But then I stepped back.

Spotify’s algorithms have done a fine job of serving up fresh music to me for a few years now. I’m a devoted fan of their “Discover Weekly” playlist, which provides new music to me based on the tunes I like. They don’t always get on-target… some of the bands and tunes have been a little too weird. And lately, they are serving up too much of the kind of music I enjoy. I like to find music that stretches my boundaries … but not too far.

So let’s ride those algorithms… but let go when it gets too choppy.

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Beautify our highways

a trailer with an empty back door vs. a trailer with a beautiful photo on the back door

We went on vacation – driving 2,245 miles to Idaho and back. (Some of those miles were around the state.)

Interstate Highway 80 is a major trucker’s route across the nation. As a result, we followed behind an abundance of 18-wheeler trucks/trailer combos. (We passed them when we were able.)

As I looked at the blank backsides of many a trailer, I thought what a better experience it would be to look at either beautiful photography or creative artwork.

Trucking companies – go for it! The first trucking company to hop on this idea will greatly improve their public perception.

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The Lure of Canvas

closeup of canvas fabric

The world has moved on from Canvas.

(And I do understand that Canvas is still the appropriate backing for an oil painting.)

Huckberry is a mostly-for-men retailer that often features cool retro clothing and objects of desire, targeted at males of my age and demographic.

Rarely am I willing to pay the premium for such luxury items, but it’s fun to look and sometimes dream.

This week,  Huckberry tried to sell me a $268 waxed canvas jacket. I love how the jacket changes with age to become even more desirable.

Alas, that price is not in my budget. Furthermore, Gore-Tex entered the clothing market 40-ish years ago and revolutionized outdoor clothing fabrics. A typical waterproof and breathable shell parka these days weighs about a third of what the Flint and Tender waxed canvas jacket does – and allows you to sweat less if you’re doing the required wood chopping exercises.

But there’s no Gore-Tex parka made that looks anything like a waxed canvas jacket!


The photo is courtesy of Larry George II and used under a Creative Commons license.

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I used to look forward to mail

home mailbox with one letter and junk mail

Mail these days consists of advertising and an occasional letter to our daughter who’s home from college this summer.

It used to be that our mailbox would include evidence of actual human contact. Now it’s only once every few weeks.

Oh – but I do enjoy my car magazines… but they’re dying away too.

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Our most precious resource

Apple Watch on a wrist, displaying just the time

Time.

I looked down at my Apple Watch and saw that the controls were blurred, since the designers decided to highlight the most important thing – time – instead of the many other possibilities it could have displayed.

We wear watches to measure time.

Whether it’s minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years, we all care about time:

  • How much time until our next meeting?
  • How much time until the show begins?
  • How much time until my prison sentence is finished?
  • How much time until our baby is born?
  • How much time until our flight leaves?
  • How much time until the start of the next semester?
  • How much time until our vacation begins?

Some of us measure our stocks. Some of us measure what’s in our bank accounts. Some of us measure how much water or electricity we’re using.

But all of us measure time, by far our most precious resource.

What will you do with your next hour, day, week, month or year?

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My new Porsche

Porsche 911

The very cheapest new Porsche 911 costs $101,200.

If you add…

  • Fancy wheels: $4,030
  • Fancy seats: $5,960
  • Fancy power addition to fancy seats: $3,830
  • Fancy leather-everywhere interior: $17,110
  • Fancy gauges and clock: $3,900
  • Fancy headlights: $2,470
  • Fancy stereo: $3,980
  • Fancy remote parking system: $6,950
  • Fancy carbon fiber roof: $3,890
  • Fancy aerodynamics kit: $8,710
  • Fancy paint protection kit: $2,760
  • Fancy door mirrors: $1,630
  • Fancy black window trim: $510
  • Fancy “Porsche” on door: $560
  • Fancy “911” on rear: $350
  • Fancy lid grille slats in same color as car: $720
  • Fancy tailpipes: $3,380
  • Fancy front axel lift system: $2,770
  • Fancy rear wiper: $370
  • Fancy cruise control and lane-keeping system: $3,020
  • Fancy heated leather steering wheel: $590
  • Fancy interior trim: $1,260
  • Fancy painted keys: $540
  • Fancy seat belts: $540
  • Fancy maintenance plan: $5,035
  • Fancy customized luggage: $6,323

…The final price comes to $201,271.


First: I did not get a new Porsche! I don’t have a used Porsche, either. Maybe when I get to heaven, my wheels will be from Stuttgart.

Second: This is an exercise to show you how crazy Porsche is when it comes to upgrades.

Third: If you add the costs of the options, it may not equal the total above. Porsche uses a different calculator than some people. 


Photo by Martin Katler on Unsplash. Used by permission via a Creative Commons license.

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Which car should I buy?

Gauges on the dashboard of a car

I’ve been into cars my whole life. If I could sell my long-gone childhood Hot Wheels collection, I’d be a rich man.

My idea of fun reading is a car magazine. I love learning about a vehicle’s performance, design, value, and how it stands up against the competition. As a result of a lifetime of study, I know a lot about cars. I may not be able to diagnose why your car won’t start, but I can tell you which vehicle is the best in the class you’re considering.

I’ve never formally been a car salesperson. But I’ve recommended cars to many friends over the years.

Here are some of my favorite tips…

  1. Skip the lease. If you buy a car, you’ll save a lot in the long run by buying a lesser model for the same as the lease payments for a fancier model. “But I’d have a monthly payment anyway,” is not a good argument when you consider where you’ll be at the end of the lease – having to start again compared to having a paid-for car. Better yet, keep driving your old beast and save up to pay cash.
  2. What’s your primary use? If you’re going to live in the mountains with serious snow to plow through every day for months, then all-wheel drive is a good option. If you spend the vast majority of your time driving around town and live in a place that gets snow, a good set of snow tires and front-wheel drive will get you to your destination 99% of the time.
  3. If you’re buying from Craigslist, be sure to take the vehicle you’re seriously considering to a reputable shop nearby to have a mechanic check it over. That could save you thousands in repair costs. The shop may turn up a serious problem you won’t see.
  4. Make sure it has a clean title. If the used vehicle you like has a salvage title, you’ll save upfront but you’ll never recoup the difference when you later try to sell it.
  5. Reliability makes a big difference five years down the road. Spend $10 on a month-long membership to Consumer Reports and find their ratings on the model you’re considering. You’ll discover, for example, that the Mazda CX-5 has much better ratings than the Hyundai Tucson.
  6. Make sure it runs on the lowest octane. 30¢ a gallon adds up to a lot of money over the course of a year. (If you’re considering an electric car, this obviously does not apply.)
  7. Finally, have fun. I’ve shared many practical considerations. But it’s worth spending a little more for a vehicle you’ll enjoy.

Disclaimers: I am not judging you if you lease your vehicle! And as with many things, do as I say, not as I do… one of our two vehicles has all-wheel drive. (The other, however, has front-wheel drive with snow tires – and it works great in the snow.)


The dashboard photo is courtesy of Claude Gabriel on Unsplash and is used with permission.

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BMW Stumbles

2021 BMW M4: before and after design suggestions

BMW decided to change the face of their vehicles. They went from subtle double-kidney grilles to massive gaping mouths. In their attempt to go for a menacing look, they went too far and landed on a face that not even a mother (or father) would love.

Car and Driver magazine agrees: “Do whatever it takes to ignore the new BMW M4’s toothy grille…”

Sometimes designers go too far on purpose to push the envelope. Over time, what was outrageous becomes acceptable.

I have to eat my words on Kia’s design decisions (see this post). Two years ago, when their Telluride large SUV came out, I thought it was quite ugly. Now I’m used to the look.

I’m not sure if I will ever get used to BMW’s new face.

So I did a little work in Photoshop on James Lipman’s photo and made the grille more the size that God intended. (See above.)


Let’s push the envelope, but not too far.

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Environmentalism – two steps forward and four back

bamboo forest

I love to do what I can to help our planet.

Recently, I’ve been hit with ads for bamboo toilet paper and paper towels on Instagram.

Another set of ads features an environmental advance hitting the world of laundry soap. You can buy soap for washing clothes that comes in sheets. Buying those prevents manufacturing and disposing of those giant plastic containers the soap comes in and shipping 80% of the product’s water to your local emporium.

But there are two serious problems with these products:

  1. Cost: they are way more expensive than most alternatives.
  2. Shipping: it’s a big environmental cost to ship those things one-by-one (or even two-by-two) to your door.

We bought a “make your own shampoo” kit from a small company recently. It came in a nice cardboard package with no plastic. It consisted of a small bar of soap that we broke up, melted over the stove, added water and shook vigorously.

The shampoo is nice – very silky, and it makes our hair nice and clean.

But it was shipped to the US distributor from New Zealand!

So the two principles of bad cost and worse shipping definitely applied.

I know that early adopters must help fund cultural change. But count me out, in these cases. When they finally hit the supermarkets, I’ll be 100% on-board.

For now, at least, we are buying cardboard boxes of powder laundry soap – you know, the way it used to be sold.


Footnotes:

  1. I wrote these posts on bamboo toilet paper: one and two.
  2. That lovely photo of a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan, is courtesy of Adam Dillon on Unsplash and is used with permission.
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Hidden details

Inside the cuff of a Lululemon shirt

My daughter loves Lululemon.

She worked at a Lululemon store for a few months over winter break and got the inside scoop on the Lululemon Life.

She has almost made more money buying used Lululemon apparel at the Goodwill and reselling on Poshmark than she made working at the Lululemon store. (Well, not really.)

During one of her Goodwill excursions, she discovered and very kindly bought me a long-sleeved Lululemon shirt at a fraction of the original price.

I like it.

After wearing the shirt about five times, I discovered words inside the cuffs!

“FIND YOUR FOCUS” was inside one sleeve and “LOOK INSIDE” graced the other. (And I just realized the double-entendre of “look inside.”)


What a great idea – giving customers a hidden feature to add a tiny bit of extra delight.

If you’re in business, think of ways to give hidden delight to your customers. You could convert a peripheral customer to a loyal fan. (Don’t worry – that’s not really going to happen for me with Lululemon.)


p.s. I thought it would be hilarious if Lululemon put “EXERCISE REALLY ISN’T THAT GREAT” inside one of its sleeves.

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