Monthly Archives: June 2015

Liquid soap

soap collectionIf I was funnier, there’s probably a whole stand up comedy routine in a bottle of liquid soap.

Can you imagine life without a bar of soap?  There’d be soap, but only as a liquid.

Next, imagine that someone came up with the idea of soap in the form of a bar. You’d be able to clean yourself faster and easier, plus it’d be cheaper and with less packaging. It’d be progress.

I don’t remember when the push for using liquid body soaps happened, maybe 25 years ago? I do remember seeing ads for liquid body soaps and started noticing it more often in showers. When you actually use it in the shower, you have to stop washing and squeeze out a new dollop for each area of your body that you’re washing.

The picture of bar soap above isn’t enticing. But advertising works. What else explains why some people would switch from a simple, easy to use product, to buying a similar product that’s more expensive and takes longer to use?

Hotels really play into this mindset. They provide small bottles of exclusive looking soap,  making people feel as if they’re in a special place. Somehow liquid soap is perceived as a luxury item. But it still does the same thing bar soap does, but takes more of your time to use it.

Sometimes different isn’t better. It’s change, but it’s not progress.


Watching what you eat

kitchen colorfulPeople generally want to lose weight along with getting fitter. What they really want is to change their shape.

In my experience, they often gain a bit of weight as they build muscle mass. And they generally hang on to some of their stubborn belly fat. My advice is that they need to alter what they eat, mainly cutting way back on sweets and processed foods. That’s what works.

Here’re some highlights from a recent NYT article covering recent research indicating that exercise is less effective than diet if you just want to loss weight.

Unfortunately, exercising seems to excite us much more than eating less does.

… exercise improves outcomes in many domains. But that huge upside doesn’t seem to necessarily apply to weight loss… the added weight-loss benefit from activity was small.

Far too many people complain that there’s just no time to cook or prepare a healthful, home-cooked meal. If they’d spend just half the time they do exercising trying to make a difference in the kitchen, they’d most likely see much better results.

I also don’t mean to make it seem that weight loss with diet is easy and exercise is hard. They’re both hard. The challenge of a slowing metabolism, and the desire to eat more, occurs in both exercise and diet change, although dietary change still works better than exercise.

So if you’re keen to lose weight focus more on how you eat more than what you do for exercise.

The Green Pope Surprise

a few small areasIt looks like Pope Francis is a “Green” Pope.

While the world’s largest Christian organization, the Catholic church, still has its heels dug in resisting many currently accepted ideas like women’s rights, contraception, and the like, the Pope is firmly coming out for the environment.

Coincidently in my last post, I said we need a charismatic spokesperson (or people) to get the public behind protecting the planet. So I was surprised and happy to see the Pope suddenly (to me at least) announcing an appeal to protect the environment that’s broadly addressed to “every person” who lives on Earth. Many non-Catholics respect Pope Francis, so his push to protect our environment will have traction outside of his flock, I hope.

Francis’s appeal is directed more to the first world where most of the causes of climate change originate. It’s hard to predict what effect Francis will have on the debate over climate change, especially in the U.S., where there’s strong resistance to climate change science.

In more rural Mexico were I live, I’m often surprised to see pictures of Pope John Paul still hanging in houses and businesses. Some Catholics are a little behind the times, but hopefully there’ll be some trickle down effect.

Francis and his organization are leapfrogging to the forefront of efforts to help the environment after decades of turning a blind eye to environmental degradation in the Christian West.

If you’re trying to lick honey off a thorn, it becomes more pleasant if you’re focusing on the honey rather than the thorn, I hope the Pope can sell it well.

The Modern Family Effect

genieThe rate of change in the world seems to be speeding up.

How does change in the US occur these days? There’s growing acceptance for reasonable things that just a few years ago weren’t even on the table, ideas such as gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, fixing excessive incarceration, and more.

The changes in attitudes probably result from many sources. For example, consider gay marriage. I think the wildly popular TV show, Modern Family was a factor in the pivot to acceptance.

The show presents a gay couple as just an unremarkable part of an extended family beset by funny situations. Societal bottlenecks open more when “others” become “people like us.” People lead and governments follow when enough people come around. But there’s no predicting how long it takes for the obvious to become apparent.

I wonder about what’ll happen about bigger, global issues, like pollution and overpopulation.

Even though the universe is immense, we’re on a tiny particle orbiting a sun that’s traveling among a hundred billion suns in our galaxy which is just one of a billion other galaxies that we know of.

We’re latecomers in a vast, very old evolving drama. It’s unlikely the universe was set up as a sandbox that’s just for us. Disturbing a very old complicated system is a bad idea because we can’t completely understand the logic that it’s following.

When there weren’t many people it was hard to disturb the system. Not any more. Instead of leaving the system more or less alone to function as it has been doing, we’re polluting it and disrupting the ancient complicated system we depend on.

It’s hard for most people to accept, so it’s a waste of time trying to persuade them to do things differently. The best thing to do is find a messenger who people relate to; someone whose  charisma draws other people in. You want someone to think,”People like us do things this way.” Something like a “Modern Family” did.

The right messenger can pitch the failing system of potholes, bumps, and cracks as a path, an adventure. Get people thinking “People like us need to do something about this.”

People like buying stuff more than saving. Maybe fixing global issues can be reframed from “saving the planet” to “spending to buy a cool place to live.”

Reoccurring Ideas

carrotsArtists usually acknowledge borrowing or even stealing ideas. It sounds better to say “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Who had the original idea? It’s hard to know because we’ve been “flattering” each other forever.

Maybe there are just very few new ideas. Is it important that an idea’s current iteration came without an awareness of an earlier form or it’s just a recasting of an earlier idea,if the impact or relevance is still there? An attribution is mainly of interest to academically minded folk or someone impressed by the fame of the originator.

Here’s what got me thinking about this. These are some quotes I noticed in my clippings file, a file of ideas I like and jotted down. I noticed they share a common thread about what works in life.

Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle d. 322 BC

Be as you wish to seem. – Socrates d. 399 BC

Make your fighting stance your everyday stance. –  14th Century Japanese martial artist

Celebrate what you want to see more of. – Tom Peters

Excellence gets rewarded. – unknown

How aware would a 14th century Japanese martial artist have been about a Greek philosopher’s ideas from more than a thousand years before? And who, if anyone, was on the radar of Aristotle during his time? Socrates probably knew Aristotle’s work.

Is it borrowing, stealing, flattering, or just hard won knowledge? Hard to know.

Spending time

bird hunterDoing something that really interests you usually results in a more enjoyable life. But some people are in such hot pursuit of the next shiny thing they  wind up like a tea bag that’s steeped too long.

It seems to me that they could, after reaching the freedom from having to work, might instead focus on enjoying their time.

Years ago, I saw an interview with the director George Lucas. The one thing that I was struck by was how low tech and sort of “retro” feeling his home was. That wasn’t the focus of the interview, but I felt like here was a guy with inexhaustible wealth who chose to have a rotary dial phone in his office.

Maybe it’s that Lucas enjoys his wealth in a way few wealthy people seem to, which is to be unrushed. I don’t really remember the details of the interview because I was so surprised at the tranquillity of his life, instead of its opulence.

What’s the best way to spend your time? I might put in some play time, reading time, and exercise time. Some long walks with my wife and our dog. Maybe include work that matters to me and that helps others. Continual learning, and time alone to meditate are probably good ideas. There’s not much about increasing life’s speed and trying to cram more in.

How’s this for artful simplicity? I heard Richard Branson claim, “The truth is, so long as you’ve got a kitchen which has space for a sofa, and a bedroom, and a partner that you love, you don’t necessarily need the add-ons in life.”

A bit further down the food chain, the travel writer Pico Iyer eventually opted out of his successful fast track career in New York to live in a quiet neighborhood in Japan with his wife where he’s able live a much less connected life with more stillness between his travels.

Of course, everyone’s idea of how to best spend time is different. Here’s how a turn-of-the-century Danish aristocrat liked to spend his time.

“He got up at four and set out on foot to hunt black grouse, wood grouse, woodcock, and snipe. At eleven he met his friends, who had also been out hunting alone all morning. They converged “at one of these babbling brooks,” he wrote. “Take a quick dip, relax with a schnapps and a sandwich, stretch out, have a smoke, take a nap or just rest, and then sit around and chat until three. Then I hunt some more until sundown, bathe again, put on white tie and tails to keep up appearances, eat a huge dinner, smoke a cigar and sleep like a log.”

micro stories

coke graphicSome scientists may think about the world as a dynamic mess of jiggling atoms, but for most people the world is made up of stories.

While you’re waiting for something to load from the internet, there’s usually one of two things you’ll see while you wait.

Sometimes there’s a continuous ticker showing the ever increasing percentage as the page loads.

Ay other times while waiting for a page to load on your computer, you’re sometimes told a little story as the time passes. That story is told with little phrases like “we’re preparing,” “it’s loading,” “we’re working on it,” and “we’re almost done,” after which the page opens for you.

Which one do you prefer? I prefer the little story about what’s happening, probably because people relate to stories.

Does it spark joy?

cool pattern on a potAlfred Hitchcock said, “Movies are like real life but with the boring parts cut out.” What things are you dragging along in your life that don’t serve you anymore? Why hang on to those things?

I just finished a book about decluttering called “The life-changing magic of tidying up” by Marie Kondo. It’s hard to believe there’s enough advice on decluttering to fill a book, but there is.

Kondo is an expert at helping people declutter their homes and there’s a three-month waiting list for her help.

Her book covers her experiences and the techniques that she uses to help people streamline their accumulated stuff.

Her central technique is determining whether or not something “sparks joy.” If it does, keep it. Otherwise out it goes. When you hold something it should be bringing you surprise and delight, not a gotcha feeling arising from having to store and manage that thing.

According to Kondo sorting through your stuff should be treated as a one time event (a celebration of sorts) after which your decision making will be refined enough to prevent another build up of stuff that doesn’t spark joy in you.  “Why? Because tidying is not the purpose of life.” she says.

There’s an important hierarchy for sorting. She insists that the easiest stuff to get rid of be tackled first – your clothes. You need to save the hardest, photos, for last. Her reasoning is that you’ll be strengthening your decision making ability by following a particular order: clothes, books, papers, random stuff, sentimental possessions, and photos.

Another clever part of Kondo’s decluttering technique is bringing everything in a category, say clothes, to one spot in your house before deciding what stays or goes. In other words, don’t do your sorting room by room. All the clothes must be in one location.

She has other tips to make decluttering more successful. Do it alone, especially don’t let your Mom be there. Another is using black plastic bags for the discarded stuff to discourage “re-evaluating.”

This book is a great place to start when you’re ready to declutter your life. One of her client realized that, “Letting go is more important than adding.”

If simplicity really is the highest form of sophistication, start by getting rid of the boring parts.