Monthly Archives: March 2016

Complicating the simple

Photo_Dec_13_4_59_03_AM_1_1024x1024What do lip balm, wallets, and a bar of soap share in common? These days, they each show up sometimes as poorly designed forms of products that are already simple and work well. It’s complicating the simple.

Lip balm in the capped, twist-up, round tube applicator (like Chap Stick) is easy and quick to use. The twist-off top, toothpaste tube that needs squeezing (think Carmex in a tube) is both harder and slower to use. What’s really a step backwards are the lip balms in tins and plastic eggy shapes require using your finger as an applicator. What’s up with that?

Then there’re credit card holder style wallets. You need to tri-fold bills to cram ’em in with the cards that are already crammed in there. Is that really an advance over a thin bi-fold wallet? The bi-fold wallet is quick and easy to use and you can easily see all your dough.

And finally, bar soap in the shower. Why replace a simple invention with a more expensive and less efficient plastic bottle of liquid soap. Using liquid shower soap even winds up wasting water since you need extra time and steps to wash each area of your body.

I guess these steps backwards stem from our desire for something different and from advertising that creates a need where no need existed before. But actually simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.

Yvon Chouinard is trying

skybigYvon Chouinard is trying to do the right thing. He’s the reluctant businessman who started, and still owns, the Patagonia clothing company. But his real concern is what’s happening to the Earth.

Some good quotes:

Well, the reason why we won’t face up to our problems with the environment is that we’re the problem. It’s not the corporations out there, it’s not the governments, it’s us. We’re the ones telling the corporations to make more stuff, and make it as cheap and as disposable as possible. We’re not citizens anymore. We’re consumers. That’s what we’re called. It’s just like being an alcoholic and being in denial that you’re an alcoholic. We’re in denial that each and every one of us is the problem. And until we face up to that, nothing’s going to happen. So, there’s a movement for simplifying your life: purchase less stuff, own a few things that are very high quality that last a long time, and that are multifunctional.”

What they don’t realize is that I’m not in the business to make clothes. I’m not in the business to make more money for myself, for Christ’s sake. This is the reason Patagonia exists — to put into action the recommendations I read about in books to avoid environmental collapse. That’s the reason I’m in business — to try to clean up our own act, and try to influence other companies to do the right thing, and try to influence our customers to do the right thing. So we’re not going to change. They can go buy from somewhere else if they don’t like it.

In my own life, I’m trying to simplify everything, which is the hardest thing you can try to do. It’s so easy to complicate your life, it’s so hard to simplify it. We’re constantly being pulled toward complexity rather than simplicity. And I think that’s really wrong. I fight that all the time. But it has to start with each and every one of us to make change in our lives. It’s up to each individual to lead an examined life.

Forget about the end result. It means nothing. The end result is we die. What matters is the process. The process is everything.

…it’s always been difficult for us to lead an examined life as a corporation. I’ve always felt like a company has the responsibility to not wait for the government to tell it what to do, or to wait for the consumer to tell it what to do, but as soon as it finds out it’s doing something wrong, stop doing it.

I knew Man was doomed when I realized that his strongest inclination was toward ever-increasing homogeneity—which goes completely against Nature. Nature moves toward ever-increasing diversity. Diversity is Nature’s strength. Nature loves diversity.

Adversity is what causes organisms to change and adapt. It’s the catalyst for evolution. Take away adversity and evolution stops. And what do you have then? Devolution: America.

I say the last 10 percent of the way to perfection takes so much of your life that it isn’t worth the effort. This overzealous attitude is what creates religious fanatics, body Nazis, and athletes who are exceedingly dull to converse with.

In surfing there are very few ways to cheat. Tow-in surfing was one way to cheat, but that’s passé now. So I think it’s the purest sport there is, and the most difficult too. I don’t know of any other sport that’s more difficult than surfing.

I’d much rather design and sell products so good and unique that they have no competition.

The more you know, the less you need.

You learn that how you got there was what’s important. Not what you accomplished.

The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex. What’s important is leading an examined life.

Going back to a simpler life based on living by sufficiency rather than excess is not a step backward.


sapiensA long time ago I worked on the Space Shuttle program. We had weekly meetings using overhead projectors in a darkened meeting room.

During one of these meetings while looking around the room at the older guys, it dawned on me that they’d all worked on the Apollo program. It was a prideful recognition – here was my tribe and they’d put men on the moon.

I didn’t know them really. I guessed that they were probably putting in their time until they retired. A few of them were star performers and the others more likely drones. But they were all Sapiens and had contributed to something big.

Here’s what stirred up that memory. I’ve been reading a book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. The book is about how we, Homo Sapiens, came to dominate the planet, for better or worse.

Along the way, he covers our brother and sisters in the genus “Homo” who didn’t make it, but live on, in a small way, because researchers are finding that all  non-Africans have a little bit of Neanderthal DNA.

The same is true for the genes of Denisovan Man. Denisovan genes have been found in modern Sapiens too.

Sapiens left Africa around 70,000 years ago and covered a lot of ground. Researchers suspect that Neanderthals and Denisovans weren’t the only extinct members of the Homo genus we interbred with.

Sapiens the book knits together the pieces of our ancestry that are becoming clearer with new research techniques.

It’s a fascinating story of evolution about early timid humanlike creatures who morphed into the most dominating creature on the earth.  It’s story well told.

Sex Ed

Cadillac de Ville, 1964

How many times do people have sex without producing a baby? It depends, but generally the answer is a lot. Maybe a thousand times to the one time resulting in a baby. And most people act like they’d have more sex if were available. Otherwise, the porn and romance (novel) industries would be much smaller.

Countries with lower quality Sex Ed tend to have more unwanted pregnancies. In Mexico, for example, I see lots of teens become pregnant earlier than I imagine they’d really like to. I’m not certain what the Sex Ed is like in Mexico, but my Mexican friends have told me it’s very limited.

I’m more acquainted with what happens in the US where “Reproductive education”often is the stand in for real “Sex education.” Someone said the way Sex Ed is usually taught in the US is like teaching “How an internal combustion engine works” and calling it “Driver’s Ed.” You’ll get a feel for how a car engine works, but you won’t know about stopping, signaling,  or any of the concepts you need to actually drive a car.

In a Gallup pole on happiness, there’re questions concerning a person’s perceived freedom to make life choices. Having kids before you want kids is one big factor restricting someone’s life choices.

The US recently finished 13th in the ranking of happiest nations. I’d bet that Americans who had kids because they didn’t get proper sex education wind up with a more negative outlook about their lives, and help to drive down the ranking for the US.


pressureYou’re not slacking off if you put your well being first.

During preflight safety demonstrations, flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else. You’re not much use to someone else if you’re compromised too.

Most of do it or have done it, skipping meals until a project is done, staying up late then getting up early, saying you’ll do some exercise later.

It’s too bad that lots of people treat their well being as a sort of reward for something else they’re working on. People often don’t realize they’re short changing themselves, taking care of yourself shouldn’t be seen as a reward. It’s part of the process of being well which might help you better do those other things.


The eating window

t-boneIt’s possible to measure fasting in hours rather than days. Maybe we should start calling it time spent without eating. Or even turn it around by just focusing on the time when you’re eating, instead of the time you’re not eating.

I’m not sure what’s the best way to reframe fasting. But the way we frame something is important. Most people think of fasting as not eating anything for a long time, probably imagining Jesus in the desert for 40 days, or protesting prisoners not eating until their demands are met.

Who cares? Right now not too many people care. But there’s growing evidence that we should care. Eating less frequently during the day (or possibly fasting every now and then during the month) could have real health benefits. If it turns out that a little  fasting is good for you, but calling it fasting will make it a harder sell.

Think about this, Mark Mattson who’s a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging eats during a six hour window in the evening (not eating for 16 to 18 hours a day is called intermittent fasting). He’s considered a leader in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms, one of the most highly cited neuroscientist in the world.

“His Laboratory showed that intermittent fasting has profound beneficial effects on the body and brain including: 1) Improved glucose regulation; 2) Loss of abdominal fat with maintenance of muscle mass; 3) Reduced blood pressure and heart rate, and increased heart rate variability (similar to what occurs in trained endurance athletes; 4) Improved learning and memory and motor function; 5) Protection of neurons in the brain against dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and Huntington’s disease. He further discovered that intermittent fasting is beneficial for health because it imposes a challenge to cells, and those cells respond adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and resist disease.” according to the NYT.

Intermittent fasting isn’t mainstream (yet). But as the evidence that it’s good for us accumulates and is reframed, it might get some traction.

Compressing time

abandoned bldg being grown overWe see old buildings, visit museums with ancient artifacts, and read about eventful moments in history, and usually feel the things and events from the past are so removed from our lives today. Then you read something linking us to the past:

“Private Mose Triplett was 19 when the Civil War ended in 1865. Later in life, he married a woman 50 years younger than him and, in 1930, they had a daughter Irene. Irene Triplett is now in her mid-eighties (in 2014) and gets a monthly benefit check from US Department of Veterans Affairs for her father’s service so many years before.”

It’s a link to a time we can’t really imagine. But there it is. A connection to our current time from two centuries ago.

More small gestures

violet1We live close to the hospital, and Sunday morning a friend came by to borrow money. His wife was being treated at the hospital for a scorpion sting on her wrist.

While he was back at the hospital, another friend came by with some eggs to make breakfast with. I’d offered to make us breakfast if he brought eggs over.

After the anti-venom was paid for, my friend and his wife stopped by to tell us about it. By that time my wife had gotten home from her errand and the six of us had a nice impromptu Sunday morning visit.

Every day each of us has the possibility of experiencing a few little moments or gestures that resonant with us. We might hear something interesting or funny, or sometimes it’s an experience we might share with a friend or even alone.

Our lives build up as these small gestures and moments accumulate. They’re the events that actually stand out in our memories, more than the ones you’d imagine, like jobs, graduations, and weddings. Looking back, people focus on the granular aspects of their lives more than the big events you’d think you’d see from afar.

I clipped out part of an article several years ago that struck home. All I have is the clipping, the magazine and it’s author are lost in my marshy memory, sorry. The back story concerned a writing program for older people.

The program seemed to help them to better deal with aging. Participants ranged from violinists to bricklayers and from cowboys to doctors. The author said what struck her is what older people chose to write about.

She said, “No one regardless of what they did for a living, ever writes about their jobs, or their weddings, or the birth of their children, or the war, things that many people would assume most older folks would write about.” She said “they write about the relationships and the very small gestures that have made them human.”

I guess this rang true to me at the time as well as now. It was something I’d noticed and suspected was true. It was reassuring to hear it from someone with experience with a large pool of people.

This is my 500th post, with echoes from my first post, “Small Gestures.”