Asia’s Rise

Such a sad headline, “Billionaires Fall on Harder Times“. Tucked in the article though is a telling factoid:

“The billionaire population in the U.S. grew by only five last year to 538, but that was offset by Asia, which is creating one billionaire every three days led by China.”

Meanwhile, a Chinese car and battery maker has invested $750 million in mass transit. More specifically, monorail.

BN-QG487_cbyd10_GR_20161014000646.jpgThe company says, “. . . building a monorail system requires only a fifth of the capital expenditure of a metro line and a third of the construction time.”

What Home Buyers Get Wrong

Six months on in the new crib, I’m ready to educate my brother who is allegedly studying design. This is for him, but I’ve been posting so infrequently of late, feel free to eavesdrop. Bro, just send a check for whatever you think my insights are worth.

Home buyers focus too narrowly on total square feet, too often thinking the bigger the better. We moved to a slightly smaller home, but it feels larger because we regularly use much more of the total area. In other words, there’s no wasted space. And even though there’s less total square footage, the kitchen is quite a bit larger. The beauty of the kitchen layout is you can open every drawer and the dishwasher and the refrigerator and still have two-three feet all around. No more sucking everything in when moving the silverware from the dishwasher to the drawer. In fact, now there’s nothing stopping me from packing on an extra 40-50 lbs this winter.

Our new master bathroom is about 60% the size of our former one. And it’s perfect. That other 40% was wasted space for the purpose of what, a slightly higher sales price? The new one has just enough room to do everything comfortably, and when it comes time to clean, it’s a breeze because damn near everything is in reach.

Homebuyers don’t realize small things make a big difference. Especially when combined together. Case in point, dimmable lights. Mercy me, how did I live in an on-off world all those years? There’s nothing like entering the bathroom at 5:30a, flipping the switch, and being met by a faint pre-dawn-like light. Same when preparing to retire at night. There’s nothing like brushing one’s teeth under a faint post-sunset-like glimmer. Every light should be dimmable.

Another lesson. You can’t put a value on genuine quiet, and on natural beauty, and on the edifying result of the two combined.

Another lesson. You can’t have genuine quiet and natural beauty without sacrificing some community. There are always trade-offs. Long time readers of the humble blog will know I value community. Is sacrificing some community worth the return in quiet, natural beauty, peace? Stay tuned, time will tell.

What else do home buyers get wrong?


The Lure of Technology

Last week at the U, two adherents of The Maker Movement tried convincing an audience that letting young students create tech-based products is a panacea for improved schooling. Students are making small robots that can bowl they enthused and ties that light up when a room darkens. And someday, they intimated, they’ll build a frig that will notify you or the grocery store when you’re almost out of milk.

Like tele-evangelists, the two speakers said they weren’t advocating for technology for technology’s sake, but that’s exactly what I took away from their altogether uninspiring examples.

Seventy-five percent of what young and old technologists produce is unadulterated gimmickry. Another 24 percent makes life a tad more convenient, which shouldn’t necessarily be mistaken with “better”. When I opened my refrigerator this morning, I saw that I was out of milk. We sold our previous house without photos from overhead.

One percent of technological innovation fundamentally improves the quality of people’s lives. My friend who makes educational apps for autistic children is a one-percenter.

No one has made an app or device that helps me communicate better with my wife. Despite the Maker Movement and related Technological Revolution, I still say and do stupid things that upset her. More generally, where’s the technology that ameliorates gender, racial, political, economic, religious differences? The technology that creates improved interpersonal relationships, and kinder, more caring communities?

I’m not holding my breath.




Nostalgia’s Lure

The move is 95% complete, meaning apart from my fancy pants $10 pen and running gloves, I can find most things most of the time. It also means I’m piecing my routines back together, including the morning green tea latte and the evening viewing of Grand Design.

Taking stock of everything we own has inspired lots of thinking. In particular, taking stock of our photographs and related mementos of people and experiences. I can’t help but wonder, why are we so insistent on taking, storing, framing, and otherwise archiving so many pictures? More simply, why does the past have such a hold on us?

Positive psychologists keep telling us that meaningful relationships with family and friends is the key to happiness. I wonder, do the seemingly endless images, photographs, and related memorabilia of people from our past, whether alive or not, constitute some sort of community? I’d be more inclined to think that they represent some sort of social capital, if we looked at them and talked about them with some regularity, but we don’t because we have way too many. Most of them are out of sight and mind all of the time.

And I wonder if there’s an opportunity cost to nostalgia for the past. I’ve wondered this for at least 15 years, about the time I started going to my childrens’ recitals and school plays. Inevitably, many of my peers arrived armed with tri-pods and the smallest, newest video players, working hard to record the events to the best of their abilities. Sometimes I thought those events were pretty grueling live, and couldn’t imagine gathering friends and family to watch them again at a later date. Watching legions of amateur videographers made me wonder if you can be fully present when in “recording” or “documenting” mode?

There’s also an opportunity cost to the ease of digital storage today. An author of a recently released book states that U.S. citizens take more pictures in two minutes than were taken by everyone in the world in the 19th century. The end result, is endless hours of video and tens of thousands of images that make any one minute of video or any particular image much less valuable. We’re left with no needles, just digital haystacks.

I’m always skeptical of wildly popular trends, and mindfulness is getting close to qualifying, but I’m down with it because it’s main emphasis is on being fully present, meaning not living in the past or future, which of course sounds much easier than it is. What if we were to delete some of our images we haven’t looked at for years or chuck entire photo albums from the 1980s? Could it help us be more mindful, more present with those we will interact with today?

Ultimately, I suspect our penchant for photography and videography are manifestations of our fear of being alone and of dying someday. If I’m right, as we age, those impulses will intensify. But taking more pictures won’t extend our lives, so I’m going to swim against the status quo current. I’m going to take fewer pictures to both appreciate them more and be more mindful.

I’m not trying to convince you to join me in taking and storing fewer pictures. Like a lot of what I write, I could have this all wrong. Maybe my minimalist tendencies are getting the best of me. Maybe you’ll end up convincing me that I need to stop with the incessant questions and get a lot more snap happy.


Survey Scourge

scourge—noun. 1. a whip or lash, especially for the infliction of punishment. 2. a person or thing that administers punishment or criticism. 3. a Donald Trump-like cause of affliction or calamity.

Dear Every Business I Frequent,
Scratch that.
Dear Every For-Profit and Non-Profit With Which I Interact,
Scratch that.
Dear Every Entity En Todo El Mundo,
     I’m sick and tired of your stupid surveys. And I think I speak for every other human on the face of the Earth. You may think information is the lifeblood of your organization, but your surveys are so impersonal, they’re worthless. You should plant several trees to make amends and then have your heads examined for placing any faith in the feedback you receive.
     My vote for “most stupid use” of surveys goes to Olympia Honda whose service techs say, “If you can’t give me a ‘5’ for exemplary on every item, please let me know because I have to get perfect scores.” I don’t blame the techs, it’s the suits who should have their MBA’s revoked and then be tarred and feathered.
    If you REALLY want to know what I think about your service department, restaurant, product, organization, ASK me some open-ended questions. Then pay me for my time. Otherwise, knock that shit off.
Sincerely yours,

I’m an Idiot

Effective leaders mix humility, kindness, and composure, in what may be thought of quite simply, as “human decency”.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. The one candidate displaying the most decency is in last place. And it appears as if most Democratic primary voters do not share my opinion either. The Democratic candidate exhibiting the most humility, kindness, and composure is losing that race too.

I can’t help but conclude, I’m an idiot.

I also believe life in the United States has improved over the last seven years—fewer people are destitute around the world, GLBT citizens are enjoying new civil rights, more people are working and have health insurance, our environmental ethic is stronger, we’re opting for diplomacy over conventional warfare, the stock market has more than doubled in value, and everything has worked out beautifully on Downton Abbey.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. Apparently, the frontrunner’s success is the result of deep-seated, widespread anger at the state of things. In their view, we don’t win anymore. Who cares about people in other places, traditional marriage and religious liberty are under constant attack, socialized medicine means worsening quality of care, and who cares about the stock market when there’s not any savings to invest. If only “W” could have had a third and fourth term.

My whacked out thinking is probably the result of my white, male, well-to-do privilege trifecta. In the interest of going along to get along, maybe I should get more angry, think more negatively, and support the most brash candidate possible, human decency be damned.