We need help — some of the time

car exhausts from 3 different cars

Some praise the idea of increased rules. Others tout the benefits of self-regulation.

I argue for somewhere in the middle.

I am old enough to remember cities before the era of car emissions laws… a brown layer of thick haze covered the skyline on most days.

Today, new passenger vehicles are 98–99% cleaner in what comes out of tailpipes compared to vehicles from the 1960s (source). That change would not have happened without government regulation.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the ridiculous state of health care in the USA. Because of government regulations (and also private litigation), it takes months to pay a single doctor’s bill. And it’s nearly impossible to find out the real cost of a simple procedure because of added complications from the insurance industry.

Why does government involvement in one area yield good results in one area and bad results in another? I’m not sure.

One end of the spectrum says groups have no wisdom. The other end says the individual has no wisdom.

Both are incorrect. Groups and individuals have wisdom — some of the time. And some individuals have no wisdom, just as some groups have no wisdom.

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Feeling guilty on a Saturday

No one else was home.

That meant I could stream the crazy music I enjoy, at volume, without bothering anyone.

And then I started to feel guilty.

Not about the music I was listening to…  but about the luxury of being able to listen to music in a house with no shared walls.

I remembered living in Kenya — when I felt guilty about having a microwave oven, knowing that it represented about ten times the average monthly wage of many around me.

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The tip of the iceberg

my family - part

We know so little about the people around us.

Even though I live with my wife and daughter, I realized that I know so little about their day-to-day lives.

Rachel is a junior in high school. I am not sitting in class with her, listening to teachers talk about math concepts that I have forgotten a long time ago. I am not in the school cafeteria during her 15-minute lunch with friends. I’m not in her Bible study when her girlfriends open up about life struggles.

Heather works in an office about 5 minutes from me. But I’ve only visited her office once. I hear tales of the joys and challenges that each day brings, but I’m not in the room when she discusses the latest design challenge of the big project that she’s tackling. I’m not at the chili cookoff with her colleagues.

My two sons, Jay and Ben, have rich and full lives too. And so does everyone I work with, hang out with and know from the past chapters of life.


My challenge to myself is to ask those around me a question that will uncover something I don’t know already. (And there’s a lot.)

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Injured

crashing on the street

A few weeks ago, I took a tumble off my bike. The road repair crews had put caution tape between the cones along one of the roads on my way to work — that wasn’t there the week before. I didn’t see the tape until I was too close. I slammed my brakes and went head-over-heels.

A guardian angel lady saw me tumble and quickly pulled over. She crammed my bicycle into the back seat and took me home, in spite of how I was such a bloody mess.

Through a miracle, I was able to get my teeth fixed that morning at a nearby dentist. Through another miracle, my dental insurance covered the vast majority of this unplanned expense.

Good as new!

Not quite. My face was a melange of scars for the next week. The aches and pains still live on — for a little while, at least.

That incident reminded me that nearly anything can happen to us. And that we’re fragile.

People all around us are injured. We may not see their scars. But we should treat them with love and care, just like that guardian angel lady treated me.

We never know if someone in our daily lives is about to break. The stress of life might be more than they can handle.

A little love and care can go a long way toward their healing. And we’ll feel better for having made a difference in their life.

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Older and wiser? Or just different?

This is a guest post by my brother, Bill Merrill. Thanks, Bill!

I thought this was appropriate as we all approach the start of a new year.


There is a common pair of related expressions that “youth is wasted on the young” and “with age comes wisdom.” I’ve had occasion to reflect on these and other ideas about aging as I’ve hit a milestone year. It’s fun to compare how I looked at things as a younger man versus the current “me.”

Younger Me: I’m hungry! I think I’ll get a pizza!
Current Me: I’m hungry. I’d love to get a pizza, but calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium…I’ll grab some baby carrots instead. Ugh.

Younger Me: Look at that slow driver up there! He’s obviously not in a hurry to get anywhere. He’s delaying my busy schedule! He must be at least 80 years old!
Current Me: Look at that “kid” driver darting in and out of traffic. How reckless! Would it hurt him to just slow down a little? Safer, too. (But I still go right at the speed limit vs. 10 mph under. I’m not that old yet!)

Younger Me: Frank Sinatra? Who would ever want to listen to that boring old guy singing? I’m putting on Led Zep instead!
Current Me: Mmm, listen to the nuance in Sinatra’s voice as he cradles the lyrics to “Angel Eyes,” and the string arrangements by Nelson Riddle are marvelous. How delightful! (But I still like Led Zep, and some contemporary music.)

Younger Me (settling down to read a book): Well, I see that Isaac Asimov has a new non-fiction book out on exploring the Moon. I think I’ll stick to the action in his science fiction novels.
Current Me: Wow! That nonfiction book Asimov wrote in the ‘70s on the Solar System was accessible and fascinating! Next up, the latest historical nonfiction by Eric Larson (although I still like a good SF novel from time to time…)

These changes in perspective are examples of how my attitudes towards various aspects of life have shifted as I have gotten older. I generally don’t look at the past with regrets, but instead, enjoy moments of nostalgia. I don’t see much point in saying, “if I knew then what I know now…” (aside from some investment advice), but I do wish I my younger self could have “stopped and smelled the roses” more often! (Ha! There’s another old saying that was more profound than it seemed!)

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Forgiveness

It happened during my college years. We were great friends, and then our relationship ended because of a situation I did not create.

Only this week, I realized I had not forgiven him.

Since that forgiveness, I have not experienced a huge weight being lifted.

That change in my heart did not change our relationship. (I can’t reach him. He’s not on Facebook nor LinkedIn. I even spent some time on one of those pay-to-see-someone’s-profile sites and couldn’t find him.)

But at least I’ve made peace with my own heart over what happened.

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And that’s why I ride

sidewalk in the autumn, greenwood village, colorado

I took this iPhone photo during my bike ride home, the other day. It was just after 5 pm.

November 4th marks the autumn time change. My ride home will require lots of lights and reflectorized everything.

But until then, I’ll enjoy the ride.

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Drawn to texture

a sea of toys at a charity shop

I love patterns.

Tha artistic side of my brain loves how zooming out on a sea of similar things creates a montage of uniformity with vast contrasts.

If you’ve looked at the masthead of this website, you’ll see a set of patterns that I found interesting. (Click on “Shiny Bits of Life” at the top. Then hit the refresh button on your web browser to see them all.)

Life is a montage of experiences and memories. They pile up and build a texture of thoughts and actions that make up who we are.


Footnote: I took this photo at a local charity shop. Sadly, these toys will mostly eventually end up in a landfill.

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What is beautiful?

Dandelions are not beautiful. Or that’s what someone decided a while back.

America spends tens of millions of dollars eradicating this lovely flower from their blandly uniform green lawns.

I’m an American. My family doesn’t spend very much getting them out of our lawn, but we do prefer uniform green blandness. (I have been known to pick the little flowers and throw them in the street — not a very effective method for preventing them from returning.)

Apparently, it’s not just an American obsession. They are also considered weeds in England, Australia and Denmark — to name just a few other cultures that categorize them as a nuisance.

Even the post-flower seed blooms are amazing — uniform spheres of light fluffy helicopters, each waiting to be carried by the wind onto a neighbor’s yard. Ikea took inspiration from this stage of the plant to create their Maskros lamp.

The dandelion’s medicinal qualities are so many that one must venture to at least the third page of Google results until it’s possible to find any reference to them being weeds. (The French word is pissenlit.)

But who decided that dandelions are ugly? Maybe it’s the spiky green leaves — when the English word is translated from sort-of French, the word literally means “teeth of lions.”

Or maybe the flowers blooming so fast and growing taller than the grass around them offends people who appreciate consistency and visual homogeneity.

I vote for a law requiring that dandelions will forever be considered beautiful.

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Filling my mind with good

I’ve decided to stop listening to the news.

Another day brings another crazy action by our president or news of a fresh terrorist act.

It was not doing me any good to learn of another bad thing happening.

(I’m not making this a 100% rule… I am willing to learn what’s happening, but I don’t necessarily need to know the details. And part of my job requires me to be on top of what’s up, at least locally.)

Instead, I’m trying to focus on good things:

  • When I ride my bicycle on some local trails, I benefit from the work of trails maintenance people who evened out many of the dips and jolts between concrete slabs. (See photo above.)
  • I live in a town where it’s possible to ride my bike to work.
  • There’s easy access to health care here. My daughter and son were attacked by poison oak recently, and they were able to easily get treatment. We paid cash (no insurance involved), and it was just $40 for each visit.
  • I live in a country where I can visit the church of my choice freely and not worry about government officials arresting me.
  • I have a warm and dry place to live.
  • My family is healthy (now that poison oak is almost history).
  • I have a job that I love.

I could go on. And should.


The idea of focusing on the good is not my own. I give credit to another Paul — see here.

And Austin Kleon agrees.

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