Category Archives: Opinion

Good bike locks

The Ultimate Guide to Ensuring That Your Bike Never Gets Stolen Again in Outside magazine explores the best bike lock options for finding your bike right where you left it. Here’re what I thought were the highlights.

The FBI claims 205,000 bicycles, worth maybe $80 million new, were stolen in 2015. Some say those numbers are conservative because bike theft is widely underreported.

In terms of packaging and strength, reputable U-locks are still the best single bike lock to purchase. They’re less fallible than virtually any other bike lock available. Bike theft is largely Darwinian: the strongest locks frequently survive.

Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit Mini is a U-lock that resembles a bank safe. Its hardened-steel shackle measures 18 millimeters in diameter, and its crossbar is as thick as a bratwurst. The shackle locks at both ends making it more resistant to prying/leveraged destruction and forces a thief to cut through both arms of the shackle to free a bike.But it’s heavy, nearly five pounds, as much as three full water bottles.

For everyday use, what I wanted something reassuringly sturdy but lighter, more versatile, and less expensive. Enter the Abus Granit Plus 640 ($100). The Abus locks also twice at each end of its 12-millimeter-diameter specially hardened shackle and has its locking mechanism set in the middle of the crossbar. The lockable area approximates the New York Mini’s, meaning a tight fit in terms of proper locking so there’s less room to slide in a prying tool. The Granit’s best quality: it weighs a slim 1.75 pounds.

In terms of value and convenience, the Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ is my top pick. It features an ingenious but unobtrusive second locking loop that makes the lock more versatile. The locking area of the main shackle is slightly more generous than those of the others I tried, your best parking option has a fatter anchoring point. The second locking loop provides the real magic. The main shackle threads through the second locking loop’s two rings. Use the second loop to secure a  chunky rear wheel. Or it can secure your (removed) front wheel. You can also leave the extra loop at home if it’s unnecessary for the day’s two-wheel journey.

The Knog Frankie is an outlier. The rubbery, lime-colored, cartoonish-looking cable lock is only about 28 inches long. But for only $27, you get a 14-ounce package with an incorporated (and thus unsnappable) lock that a thief, with only bolt cutters, will hate. I did. It took several minutes of my grunting effort to sever the thick and gummy silicone sheath, along with a six-millimeter braided-steel cable over a fiber core. Don’t ask the Frankie to fly solo, but as a minimalist second lock for running errands, the Knog felt reassuring.

The best balance of function, portability, versatility, and value came from combining the Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ with the Knog Frankie. In general, I’d feel secure employing that pair of locks anywhere, from errands to a lingering breakfast to a music festival.

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.

2035

crack walkerHere’s my excerpt of speculation about the year 2035. It’s based on trends people see who’re trying to alleviate the suffering among the world’s poor:

Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to debunk three pervasive myths about helping the poorest people:

“Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.”
“Foreign aid is a big waste.”
“Saving lives leads to overpopulation.”

These myths pop up at international conferences and social gatherings, reflecting a dim view of the future. It says the world isn’t improving but staying poor and sick, and getting overcrowded.

But the Gates make a case for the opposite – the world is getting better, and in two decades it’ll be better still, speculating that by 2035 there’ll be almost no poor countries in the world.

Most all countries will be what we now call lower-middle income or richer. Countries will learn from their most productive neighbors. And all countries can benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution. Their labor forces, buoyed by expanded education, will attract new investments.

But they think not all low-income countries will make it to middle-income status by 2035. A few countries will be held back by war, politics, or geography (landlocked nations in central Africa). And wealth inequality will still be a problem: There will be poor people in every region.

But most people will live in countries that are self-sufficient. Every nation in South America, Asia, and Central America (except maybe Haiti), and most in coastal Africa, will have joined the ranks of today’s middle- income nations. More than 70 percent of countries will have a higher per-person income than China does today. Nearly 90 percent will have a higher income than India does today.

It’ll be a remarkable achievement. Sixty years ago most countries in the world were poor. In the next two decades, desperately poor countries will become the exception rather than the rule. Billions of people will have been lifted out of extreme poverty. The idea that this will happen during our lifetime is simply amazing.

The few or the many?

Since the internet is basically a connection machine fostering interactions and access to many ideas and people, are the opinions of the few paid professional reviewers better than the consensus of the many who’re unpaid and ordinary?

Not too long ago, we looked for opinions in papers, magazines and on TV from professional reviewers.

The other day, I read an essay about whether or not professional reviewers are relevant anymore because there’re so many opinions on the internet.

Do you go see a movie  based on a professional reviewer’s opinion or will you give more attention to opinions of people you see as peers?

One problem with the opinion of the many is that the process can be corrupted and, if you find out, your confidence shaken. People want to help out friends and they usually want to go with what the other friends are doing.

Here’s one example of the system being gamed by a restaurant that was open for less than a year. By requesting and getting positive reviews, it rose to highest rated restaurant in Mexico on TripAdvisor.

The restaurant has since then been sold and the name changed. It was a good restaurant, but not the number one restaurant in Mexico. But someone visiting our town would have gotten an inaccurate opinion from the many because it had been compromised.

I guess it’s not unlike what many businesses do on the web to better their chances of getting a good search result on Google. It’s a cat and mouse game in which Google tries to stay ahead of the people trying to manipulate whatever parameter they think Google uses.

If the professional reviewer or opinion giver isn’t careful, their experience can be manipulated too. If a restaurant critic lets on that she’ll be dining at a certain restaurant, she’ll likely have a carefully orchestrated experience, probably different from the one she’d have from passing through as a regular customer.

It’s probably worthwhile using the opinions of both the few and the many, along with a little bit of common sense.

Good Godin

Here’re two distinct posts from Seth Godin about online business. What he has to say, as always, is insightful and true. These two posts relate to each other well, even though they weren’t posted together.

Each post below has been shortened by a few paragraphs to keep this post short, but you’ll get the gist of his ideas. You can click on the titles for the full versions, both posts are worth reading in full.

Monetizing digital attention

The most effective way to make a living from attention paid online is to earn trust, connect a tribe and then sell something that isn’t online. Attention is precious and trust even more so.

Many folks, though, would like to be able to deliver a digital ‘product’, an ebook or video or some other online good that they can produce at low cost and sell in volume. There’s a long history of brilliant writers and directors finding markets for their work using movies, books and other media that used to be new, and it would be gratifying if it could work here.

Unfortunately, most people do it wrong. They use a long sales pitch letter with highlighted boxes and fake testimonials. They make grandiose promises of secret riches or long-hidden techniques. And most disappointing to those that would build trust, they enlist a legion of affiliate salespeople, linking to one another and gaming search results or buying fake search ads.

The better way …the model is the same: it’s free to get started. So free, in fact, that most people who engage discover that all they need is the free stuff. Since the marginal cost of sharing these samples is free, it costs them nothing to add one more person to the ever-growing list of those that trust, that pay attention and that gladly give permission to their teacher.

The magic comes in because of the inevitable movement of the most motivated students from free to paid. Not because the teacher has to hold anything back to sell out of panic or greed, but because the committed student is happy and eager to pay.

The importance of going first

In more and more fields, the originator of the novel idea reaps an outsize share of the benefits. One reason is that it’s easier to gain attention quickly. Another is that once you gain attention and reputation, it’s easier to lock in permission and turn it into a foundation for your next project. And most of all, when attention is precious, earning that attention with innovation is priceless.

Yes, there are exceptions for those that bring service or price or reliability along to polish an existing idea. And there are certainly businesses that profit from taking over after the innovator, exhausted, gives up and moves on.

But given the choice, I’d say first is a better use of your talent.

 

What are your favorite sites?

Here’re 5 sites I check daily. They don’t have any connection to one another. I’m listing them in the order I think most people might “like to follow” to what “some people might find interesting sometimes.”

This post is related to one I wrote 6 weeks ago, “A Lot More,” addressing how I streamline my browsing by assigning sites to files I’ll visit  on an assigned day of the week (Monday through Friday) plus one file that I’ll check daily.

So these are 5 daily sites I think you might like too.

Kottke – Jason Kottke has been gleaning interesting stuff from all over the web for almost 15 years. From his About page: “…primarily written by Jason Kottke. The editorial direction of the site is all over the place but clusters around a pair of hand-wavy ideas: the liberal arts 2.0 and people are awesome.”

Seth Godin – From his Bio page: “Seth is the author of fourteen bestselling books that have changed the way people think about marketing, change and work. His books have been translated into more than 33 languages, and his ebooks are among the most popular ever published. His irrepressible speaking style and no-holds-barred blog have helped him create a large following around the world.” Seth blogs everyday and is at around 4,000 posts. Surprisingly, each post is worth a read.

Conditioning Research – This blog is written by a Scotsman, Chris Highcock. Chris’ posts are well-considered takes on, as his tagline says, “…interesting things about fitness, strength, diet and performance.” Food for thought.

Kool Tools – If you liked the “Whole Earth Catalog” you’ll like this site. Each day you can access new ideas and tools people submit. The submitter provides a short description of the tool and why they like it so much. The world is full of clever ideas and you’ll discover lots of ’em here.

From the tagline:  “A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. All reviews on are written by readers who have actually used the tool and others like it. Items can be either old or new as long as they are wonderful. Suggestions for tools much better than what is recommended here are always wanted.”

Seth Roberts –  Two Seths on one short blog list! This Seth is a psychology professor at Berkeley who tests his ideas about better living by using simple experiments on himself to find solution for sleep issues, acne, eating times… as his tagline says, “Personal Science, Self-Experimentation, Scientific Method.” Give this blog a chance, and something will capture your interest.

Start with Fun

Wired magazine asked eight futurists about how they spotted the future.

One of the futurists, Tim O’Reilly, tries to find out what interesting people are up to.

This is what he had to say about how he thinks future trends are generated:

The myth of innovation is that it starts with entrepreneurs, but it really starts with people having fun.

The Wright brothers weren’t trying to build an airline, they were saying, “Holy shit, do you think we could fly?”

The first kids who made snowboards, they just glued skis together and said, “Let’s try this!”

With the web, none of us thought there was money in it. People said, “This document came from halfway around the world. How awesome is that!”

It reminds me of what Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is the residue of wasted time.”

Directionally Accurate

It’s hard to make the right decision each time we have a choice.

If we try to be at least directionally accurate,  eventually things will turn out well.

How we view success in America seems to have come down to a directionally accurate fork in the road; a decision of either because or  despite.

Are some Americans rich and successful because they live in America? Or are they rich and successful despite living in America?

Most rich people aren’t hanging out at the spa all day nor are most non rich people hanging out in front of an open fire hydrant spraying water on a summer day.

The majority of successful and wealthy people in America work long and hard, often under stress.

But so do lots of other people and each is rewarded for how well their talents line up with what the marketplace values (at a certain time and place). Is a successful stock trader making 50 times more than a soldier deep in Afghanistan working 50 times harder?

Warren Buffett, the capitalist and Billionaire, has said:

“If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil … I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well — disproportionately well.”

Buffett thinks keeping huge amounts of money isn’t healthy for the American system and often speaks out for a more fair system.

Stephen King, the author, is also rich, and has this to say (which I’ve shortened):

“Nobody wants you to (apologize for being rich), Mitt (Romney). What some of us want, …is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible… but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.”

If you think the system we function in enables us to get where we’ve gotten then you’re probably keen to perpetuate  that system and maybe try to improve its fairness.

Or, if you think our success has little to do with the system we’re living in, you’ll likely try to stifle attempts at maintaining a system that aims to help more people to do better.

It’s important to be directionally accurate even if we don’t get some of the specifics right.

 

 

 

A Stationary Yacht

People like to compare themselves with others around them. Sometimes this part of human nature kicks in without helping  much and just adds stress.

For example, if you thought your life would be better if you could earn $10k more a year so that you’d be pulling in $85k. But if you did that only to find out everyone in your circle of friends made $90k that year you’d more than likely wind up feeling dissatisfied with your $85k! The only reason for your discomfort would be because your friends were making more even though you’d earlier thought $85k was the key to happiness.

And research shows that even if you didn’t make the amount you were shooting for, but you at least made more than your circle of friends you’d feel better about it.

This happens with houses too, the whole keeping up with the Jones thing. But now, probably driven by the current mortgage crisis, there seems to be a growing interest in our “footprint” on the Earth. One big way of reducing your footprint is to live in a smaller house. I think it’s an improvement over the McMansion trend of recent years. Some people are trying to live in the smallest house they can, instead of the biggest house they (can’t) afford.

It has a lot to do with marketing and the messengers. If Oprah, Brad, and Jeremy Lin start living in smaller digs the trend might really catch on.

Enter the stationary yacht. If we started calling small houses stationary yachts they’d sound cooler and imply more prestige. Maybe we could tap into our comparing and competitive nature by trying to outdo our circle of friends by buying smaller and cooler stationary yachts rather than larger and presumably cooler McMansions.

 

What You Get

Maybe you’ve picked up on this too. You notice a site that you like is using thinly veiled sales and marketing just below the surface while trying to present it as interesting information or a story from a trusted tribe member. Sometimes what you see isn’t what you get.

It might even be a mostly interesting story or information. But the issue here is the site’s lack of disclosure and  transparency about  trotting something out without saying what’s going on. The reader can’t know what’s going on behind the scenes unless he’s told.

Maybe it’s just a little digital backscratching, each writer is talking up the other one on their sites. That’s normal. I think we’re wired for reciprocity. It’s been baked-in over countless generations as a trust generating mechanism while living in small groups and is still with us.

But when there’s no disclosure, and you get a whiff of it, your trust in that site (or person really) is lessened. You wonder if the writer is being paid outright. Or is he being compensated in some other fashion for promoting something, doing it in the guise of telling you a story?

Monetizing a site isn’t a bad thing. But it needs to be explained or be obvious. If a story is told as just a story but it’s actually a paid-for story, the motive for telling that story changes.

The situation feels like the super PACs in politics. They’re trotted out as being separate from candidates when in practice they’re each connected to a candidate, but with lots of winks and crossed fingers behind backs, saying they’re not connected.