The useless balcony

the traffic on East Belleview Avenue

Across the street from my office is a relatively expensive apartment building.

We’re not talking NYC levels — but the rent is similar for one of those Greenwood Village 2-bedroom apartments to that of a suburban Denver 3-bedroom house.

Yes, there’s location — I could walk to work if I lived there.

But I am not questioning the residents’ decisions to live there — I can understand some of the charms.

Rather I’m questioning the residents who choose to put patio furniture on their small balconies. You see, there’s a steady flow of traffic during all waking hours. Noise and diesel fumes are part of the experience a resident would enjoy by sitting on their balcony for a glass of wine at sunset.

What’s different about watching and listening to waves crashing on the beach? Those sounds also ebb-and-flow. Water flows past your feet, just as compact utility vehicles do along East Belleview Avenue.

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Plan a-h-e-a-d

worn-out street name letters on a sidewalk

Reminder to self… plan ahead.

At one intersection in downtown Denver, what were once beautiful street names are rendered in sunken brass letters.

As you can tell, most of the numbers either got stolen or simply knocked off through wear-and-tear.

The solution would have been for the street-name sign creators to have made the letters about three times deeper, so the surrounding concrete could have more firmly held onto the letters. Or for the letters to be made of a different material that would wear at exactly the same rate as the surrounding concrete.

But they were thinking the concrete was sticky enough and permanent enough to hold the letters in place for years to come.

No.


The obvious analogy is for me and you to build our efforts and things to last.

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Go backwards — drive a manual

6-speed manual transmission

It happened very quickly.

Jay, my oldest son, was shopping for a newer car to replace his dying (and uncool) Toyota Corolla. He invited me to look at a car he was considering. I drooled, and he yawned. The car was just not his style — but it did fit my age group rather well.

Heather, Rachel and I played around with the idea of replacing our Honda Fit that year-older German car — with very little difference between each sale price. Our discussion turned into action… within a week, the title was signed over to us.

But it has a manual transmission.

A few years back, I said that I’d probably not get another car with a manual — you know, it’s just too much work in any stop-and-go commute.

But the car was so nice. The previous owner had maintained it meticulously and kept complete service records. “Only Mobil 1 for oil changes.” I could tell he was not lying, judging by the condition of every part of the car.

After a few weeks of driving, I realize that the extra effort of shifting has faded into the background. I love it.

Don’t say, “never again.”

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Hiking etiquette

backpack with bluetooth speaker

A peaceful hike up a mountain trail. Birds chirping, wind lightly touching treetops, the soft thump of your boots touching the rock face.

The music of Drake suddenly starts entering the wilderness… a faster hiker is sharing his music with everyone via his bluetooth speaker and smartphone.

Serenity is gone.

Please friends, when you go hiking, leave your bluetooth speaker at home. Not everyone may enjoy your favorite music. There’s this little invention called headphones…

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A simple way to make a difference — with paper towels

paper towel hanging from an automatic dispenser

It’s super simple to use less resources.

Many times when I visit the men’s room in my office building, I hear men get two or three paper towels from the automatic dispenser.

It’s very easy to dry your hands with just one towel. Use every corner of the towel and dry each part of your hands more than once.

And think of that savings multiplied by once or twice a day times however many days you work a year… that is a lot of paper.

The saving is more than just paper. There’s the total cost of consumption to consider.

And you will be saving your property management company money that they will not have to spend on more paper towels.

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Chinese companies need help with branding

chinese backpack names

Have you ever noticed that Amazon sells lots of cheap stuff with weird brand names?

These goods are shipped from China to you (sometimes direct) without any help from American marketing experts.

Look at the backpacks that were featured in the top eight results from a search on Amazon for “packable backpack”:

  • Zomake
  • Neekfox
  • Venture Pal
  • Hikpro

Only one of those brands would even get close to appealing to an American: Venture Pal. But even the word “pal” is not part of American English anymore. None of those outdoor equipment brands are as attractive to American consumers as:

  • North Face
  • Osprey
  • Herschel
  • Patagonia

Admittedly, several of those known brands have a lot of equity — years of making quality products. But they evoke the untamed destinations, rugged adventure, or at least a feeling of quality.

And the Chinese brands are often very good value for the money. They may even be made in the same factories as the big brands. But those companies are cutting themselves out of a lot of profit that could be realized if they had better branding.


My recommendation to companies that produce products like Hikpro (“hick-pro”) and Neekfox (what?!) — simply hire a group of American teenagers. They can come up with a better unique name within 20 minutes of brainstorming than five hours spent by a team of Chinese nationals sitting in a room in Shenzhen.

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The ultimate commuter vehicle

Fuji Sanibel bicycle

I recently took the plunge and bought my first new bicycle since eighth grade.

Electric.

Though many consider electric bicycles “cheating” (when they zip past regular bikes on a trail), I had many reasons for venturing into this new category of cycles.

  1. In October-ish, my office is moving from 7.2 miles one-way to 11.4 miles one-way. The difference in my regular bicycling commute will be roughly another 40 minutes out of my day. A commute on this bike is close to the time of driving. And with the typically bad traffic along the new route, the electric bike might actually be faster!
  2. Every time I ride the electric bike rather than drive, I’m preventing a significant amount of pollution. (I plan to ride as many days as I can.)
  3. It’s still exercise… the motor won’t go unless you are pedaling. (It’s a “pedal assist” bike.) Even though it doesn’t provide as much exercise as a commute on my road bike, I am still getting way more exercise than I would be behind the wheel of my small automobile.
  4. It’s a lot cheaper to charge the battery than pay for gas (once you factor out the cost of the bike).
  5. Upkeep expenses will be undoubtedly less than for any of our cars.
  6. It can only go 20 miles per hour, so it’s pretty safe.
  7. 50% of the bikes sold in Belgium are electric (source). They must know something.
  8. Ironically, the frame color is very similar to that of my road bike, which I had custom painted a million years ago.
  9. It was a super good deal, via Performance Bicycles — like less than half of what most electric bikes go for.
  10. It’s fun.
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Life is short

best cat ever

This morning, our beloved kitty went to “the happy hunting grounds,” as my dad used to call heaven for cats and dogs.

Floof was the best cat ever.

So as I write this with tears in my eyes, I share with you these few little things:

  1. Be thankful for those around you. I am very thankful for the eleven brief years we had with Floof.
  2. Show love to those around you, because you don’t know how long they will be part of your life.
  3. Don’t take your own life — you will leave lots of pain behind for those who survive.

If you want to make a donation to the pet rescue organization where we found Floof, the Denver Dumb Friends League is a worthy group. Or give to the pet rescue organization in the town of your choice. Thanks.

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Abundance

a Victrola collection from an open house home tour

We love open houses. Visiting a home that’s for sale reveals a lot about the people selling the home. Their lives are on display for guests to see.

Some homes are time capsules — nothing has been changed for twenty years or more. Other homes have been cleaned up and fitted with the latest accessories and appliances so they could be in almost any community of the same demographic in another part of America.


Our latest open house visit was to an immaculate farmhouse that was never a real farmhouse. The owners recreated a country home in the heart of suburbia. The matron of the home had impeccable taste — every room was perfect.

The Victrola room seemed a little excessive to me. Though the collection was small, each of these music players was not functional in the face of today’s entertainment landscape.

But that wasn’t the point. The owners most likely enjoyed the beauty of their hand-crafted machines and the era they represented.


Then I had to reflect on my own collections. Many would say that I have too many small toy cars or pairs of headphones. But at least I don’t have a room dedicated to any collection — like the Victrola museum.

Collecting things can be fun or reach a compulsive addiction level.

Collections are a good way to enjoy human creativity through variety and also experience the spectrum of form and function.

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Very cool new Schneider pens

Schneider LinkIt! pen set

A new concept in drawing and writing has arrived on the shelves of Walmart — the Schneider LinkIt! pen set.

You can take any two pens and snap them together to make a handy two-sided two-color pen. Mix-and-match is the name of the game — they easily snap apart too.

Another cool thing about these pens is that they are BioBased. Schneider has introduced the first fineliner and felt tip pens on the market made of bio-based materials. The plastic is produced from renewable raw materials — agricultural by-products such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, or microbiota. The LinkIt! has 88% bio-based plastics, as certified by DINCERTCO, an independent certification body of DIN German Institute for Standardization.

Like all Schneider pens, they are super-high quality. The tips are very durable and smooth-writing. Colors are bright. Each 16-pen set has 8 thin-tip pens and 8 broad-point pens.

Schneider LinkIt! pen set

Writing a personal letter with multiple colors adds variety and interest. (I wrote my sister and her family in Belgium a few days back — definitely more fun than normal blue or black ink.)


Schneider has a contest that you should enter. If you buy a set of Schneider LinkIt! pens from Walmart and take a photo, you might win $80 worth of Schneider pens!

  • Details on the contest: here
  • First check the list of Walmart stores that carry these pens: here
  • The contest expires June 30th.
  • Note that you may have to look a bit to find the pen set. (Apparently, Walmart has put them high on the shelves.)

If there is not a Walmart near you, you can buy them from Amazon.


My favorite part of buying Schneider pens is that the US distributor is Stride, a New Mexico-based company that employs several people in the special needs spectrum. I love this report that tells some of the story:

Stride Inc., featured on KOB-TV

So when you buy Schneider pens, not only do you get the best pens made on this planet, you will benefit a company that brings new life to many with special needs.


Finally, a secret tip: you can buy Parker- and Cross-compatible Schneider refills for your favorite fancy pens and have much better performance than the factory refills. Passion4Pens is my favorite source.

Disclosure: Stride provided the pen set for my review, and my unbiased opinion is that the pens are great. But I get nothing from the sale of these pens other than the satisfaction of knowing that you have benefited a great company and are writing with excellent pens.

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