Wake up and face reality

Hastings video rentals in Santa Fe, NMVideo rental stores – they still exist in North America.

Earlier this summer, Heather and I drove down to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a short break. We decided to see a movie in the middle of the day, just because we could.  Nice.

The movie theater was in a dying mall. And even more dying than the mall was a Hastings store, providing books,  music – and video rentals. I won’t launch into why CDs are dying, bookstores are dying, and streaming video is the way to see a movie.

But I will talk about optimism. The owner of that mall – and even more so – the owner of Hastings – should cut their losses and sell now. It will be a loss to the community when they leave. If the owners can afford to provide that valuable service at a loss, more power to them. But how much do they really value providing that service?

Similarly, our local grocery store had a space with a local coffee shop and then a frozen yogurt stand. I knew from the moment they opened each little business that they were doomed to fail. Finally, they put in a Starbucks, and it seems to be doing well. That multinational chain has the resources to make a really nice shop – as well as huge brand recognition. The smaller coffee chain and the yogurt chain (or independent business owner) did not.

The final tale in this listing of doomed businesses is a new independent drive-through coffee shop on Broadway in Englewood, Colorado. The owners decided to build on the south-bound side of the street. Most people commuting to work from suburbia to downtown drive the other direction. When do people buy coffee? Morning, mostly. This small business will fail, sadly.


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, 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.


How the other half lives

price upon request description in Wall Street Journal articleI love the looney tunes 1% of the upper 1% lifestyle stuff in The Wall Street Journal. You know – articles comparing camel hair coats – the cheapest being $1,195 and the most expensive being $3,550.

I was quite amused recently to see “price upon request.” I know that phrase. It means, “If you don’t know the price range in which this object is priced, you shouldn’t ask.” Or better, “Unless you drove to the store in a new Bentley, don’t ask.”

I know, I know, there are some good people in the top 1% of the upper 1%. And some of them keep the wheels of society moving forward.

But others are making their zillions off the backs of people who can’t afford to stay in a one-bedroom apartment in the worst section of town on what their wages will cover.

My own sister-in-law has been working for a large company that has given her only about 10c more an hour reward for the several years she has faithfully served.

What amused me most about, “price upon request,” was that for some reason, The Wall Street Journal didn’t take the time to request the price.

So why do I write this kind of post about something I can’t change? I may be “full of sound and fury – signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare said in Macbeth. I understand that the top 1% of the upper 1% will never read this. I know that there is very little you or I can do to change the injustice of major corporation CEO salaries.

But I am amused at some aspects of that lifestyle. And you may be amused at some aspects of my lifestyle too.


One way to save millions of dollars

ford-lotAbout once a week for about a year, I rode my bicycle past this completely full car lot. All these cars cannot even be seen by the public from the dealership’s already ample lot. This is an overflow lot on a side street.

There are two reasons why this dealership has about $3,000,000 worth of trucks and cars constantly sitting in that lot: 1) They want buyers to be able to buy a purple model with or without a sunroof today and not go to another dealership; and 2) Ford essentially requires them to keep that much inventory through various arcane regulations.

Europe is not that way. You may have to schedule an appointment three days in advance to test drive the car you are considering. But that’s the system, and people are used to it.

One system is built upon instant gratification. The other system is built on high real estate values.

All I know is that this kind of American excess breaks my heart.

I took about 20 photos of this lot under various lighting conditions. Maybe someday I’ll create wallpaper or something with those pictures.


I’m just glad it exists

The Vertu Signature Touch smartphone costs $14,100. It’s incredible that such a thing even exists. But I’m glad.

Vertu Signature Touch featureIt’s comforting to know that a few people in the world can experience Vertu’s largest ever ruby button. (I am not sure what it controls – maybe the ejector seat?) And it’s reassuring that one craftsman carries each object d’art from start to finish. (Their signature is on the inside of the battery cover.) However, vegans would not be happy with the seaspray lizard skin and black alligator skin cases. Vertu’s “focus on performance extends to the range of stunning ringtones performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.”

I am not being sarcastic when I say that I’m glad that such a thing exists. Though I honestly think a $649 (£549) iPhone is better in almost every way,* the fact that people are willing to spend their excess funds on such an obsessed-over creation is amazing. Somehow the ultra-fringe is appealing to me. Though I would not want a Vertu Signature Touch, even if it were given to me, I’m glad it’s out there. I picture a Vertu craftsman working away in a dim-lit basement in the depths of rural England, smoking a Meerschaum, whilst listening to Benjamin Britten. It’s comforting.

* 1) I think the Apple OS ecosystem is better than the Vertu’s Android ecosystem. 2) Even though the per-unit expenses involved in the Vertu Signature Touch project are far more than that of the iPhone, the amount of development hours and design time that went into the iPhone is vastly more than what was invested in the Vertu. This is similar to why the navigation system on a Ferrari is not nearly as good as that of a luxury Toyota. 3) An object’s rarity does not automatically equal it being the best in its class.

If you want to learn more, you can download the brochure.


Intentionally blank

This page intentionally left blankWe’ve all received documents in the mail that have “This page intentionally left blank” printed on one side.

That’s a beautiful reflection of some of the things that are wrong with American culture. My guess is that some team of lawyers made a bunch of money through a successful lawsuit against a company that caused deep emotional harm to an individual because they didn’t know that one blank page in their mortgage documents was supposed to be blank.

All that toner.  All that time going through laser printers.  And all those happy lawyers.

(Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against lawyers. But sometimes it’s just too much.)


$550 or $15?

My oldest son is spending his summer working with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. He’s working on hiking trails in national parks in Colorado. A typical day involves using a large cross-cut saw to remove giant trees from many paths. (You can check out his adventures at their WordPress site.)

gore-tex jacket (detail)I’m not telling you this to brag about Jay, but rather to talk about breathable rain jackets. In the June 7, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal, an article about outdoor adventure gear features a jacket – the Arc’teryx Beta AR. I am sure that it is a totally amazing garment. However, H&M had a similar breathable waterproof jacket for $70. I went to my local H&M and bought it on an end-of-season closeout for $15.

I ask you – which is the better deal?

Jay will be using that $15 jacket all summer – far more than the average Arc’teryx Beta AR buyer will wear their finery during their whole lifetime.

There is an American tendency to buy far more than you need. I also fall prey to this thinking. Let’s fight it.

Footnote: I understand that it is more righteous to buy used clothing than to sponsor companies like H&M that use far-too-underpaid labor. Alas, I couldn’t find a good waterproof breathable jacket at any of our local used clothing outlets.


The value of retro

Crosley turntablesOld things can be good. And sometimes twenty-somethings recognize that.

Heather and I went to a folk music concert. The 27-year-old songwriter told of how he was so proud to have his latest recording on vinyl. Cassettes killed vinyl about 15 years before he was born. And yet vinyl records have made a comeback.

I took this photo in Urban Outfitters, a store that’s so cool I should not be allowed inside. The average customer is about 20 years old. They are not selling anything that plays digital music, as all their customers have smartphones that play digital music.

They are selling record players because there is something warm and friendly about listening to the pops and background noise that is integral to listening to a record. Playing vinyl requires involvement. You can only listen to 25 or 30 minutes of music, and then it’s time to get up to turn the record over (unless you have a record changer). It’s a good exercise to turn the record over. You must decide if you want to hear Side B or put on something completely different. Record album jackets (and sleeves) offer more accessible information than a downloaded PDF. When was the last time you looked at any song’s lyrics? Records often include all the lyrics of the album’s songs. And many purists will tell you that analog sound beats digital, hands down.

What retro thing do you enjoy?


Think about the box

electrical box artwork in fort collinsI don’t really want you to think about this box. I do want you to think about what it is.

Fort Collins, Colorado is a college town that consistently ranks as one of the USA’s top twenty cities. One of the reasons why it’s such a cool place to live is the city government. They are open to paintings on electrical switch boxes that would otherwise be a boring dull green.

This is a win-win situation. Artists get more visibility for their work. Everyone enjoys seeing color and creativity in unexpected places.

The application of this for you – what are some ways you can bring creativity to what would otherwise be boring? If you can think of a way, share it as a comment so others can be inspired.