The Worst Advice Always Starts With “You Should…”

This past summer I did a post titled 4 Words I Don’t Like. Somehow I neglected to add the worse offender and that is the phrase “you should”. I have discovered that the absolute worst advice is always preceded by “you should”. People that use statements beginning with “you should” tend to be poor listeners and often dish out advice not as a way to help others but as a way to demonstrate they have superior knowledge and to get credit when the advice is executed.

When someone tells us what we should be doing or paying attention to, we can’t become defensive, because implied in the statement is that it is something we aren’t currently doing. Why aren’t you currently doing what you should be doing? I am FAR LESS receptive to advice when someone phrases it as something I should be doing.

As individuals if we sense we are being pushed into doing something that isn’t of our own freewill, we will sometimes reject even excellent advice. This is called counterwill. I was first exposed to the term counterwill in the excellent book Scattered Minds by Dr. Gabor Mate.

“Human beings have an ingrained opposition to any sense of being forced, an automatic resistance to coercion that my friend Gordon Neufeld has called “counterwill”. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding…”

Scattered Minds : A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder
Scattered Minds : A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder by Gabor Mate

Give Advice By Asking Questions

So how do you give advice without telling someone what they should be doing? The first thing to be aware of is that nobody knows more about what they should be doing that the individual being told what they should be doing. So it is arrogant to believe you know more than them. You might, but you can’t assume it.

Ask questions in a way that the person receiving the advice goes into problem solving mode. An ideal solution is if the person thinks they discovered the solution to their own problem. I love using the word curious. Learn more about the problem. Many times you discover they’ve already considered what you are thinking or your solution isn’t ideal.

Example – Wrong Approach

SUE: I want to be a chef. I think it would a lot of fun.

TOM: You should read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. The hours and hard work it takes to be a chef is tremendous.

This is bad, because Tom is assuming Sue hasn’t read his book recommendation and is unaware of the effort it takes to be a restaurant chef. Tom is also implying he knows more than Sue about becoming a chef, which could in turn make Sue defensive and less likely to pursue reading that book.

Example – Better Approach

SUE: I want to be a chef. I think it would a lot of fun.

TOM: What type of restaurant interests you most?

SUE: Something fancy. Maybe in New York City or San Francisco.

TOM: Do you have any chef role models?

SUE: I like a few of the ones on TV. Bobby Flay and the ones that compete on Iron Chef.

TOM: How about Anthony Bourdain?

SUE: That’s right. He was a chef before he did those travel shows.

TOM: He wrote a book about his experiences as a New York City chef.

SUE: He did? What was the title?

TOM: Kitchen Confidential. Really good book. I developed a greater respect for the level of work it takes to be a top chef.

SUE: Excellent. I am going to check that book out.

This is much better. Sue arrived at the decision to read Kitchen Confidential on her own. The questions also helped Tom learn more about Sue to determine if his advice was even valid. Had Sue said she wanted to open a sandwich shop or a bakery in a small town then the book recommendation wouldn’t have been relevant.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)
Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.) by Anthony Bourdain. 

“You Should Open a Coffee Shop.”

I would say that I’ve heard the above advice on average once a month for 15 years. It baffles me that people actually think that I haven’t thought about it ever and that nobody has ever suggested the same thing. For the record, I have zero desire to ever open a coffee shop.

I do find it bizarre that whenever someone develops an interest in some hobby, the immediate advice of everyone around them is to start a business monetizing that hobby. Having a hobby and running a business are two separate things.

Cafe Weekend

I love coffee, but the thought of leases, payroll, licenses, training employees and dealing with vendors holds no appeal to me. I’ll stick to running INeedCoffee, which has averaged thousands of visitors every day now for over 15 years. 

Last Words

People want to solve their own problems. They want to own their successes. They want to choose their own path. Ask questions. Learn from them. Telling them what they should do is not a way to help someone.

Back Pain, Quantified Self and My Trip

I am taking off for a week to Seattle and Portland, so I probably won’t be posting anything new until mid next week. I’ll be at Coffee Fest drinking massive amounts of espresso. Say hi if you see me.

futurama-coffee-house

I created two new BEST OF pages for the site.

  1. Back Pain
  2. Quantified Self 

Each page is a collection of what I consider the best posts on those topics. I also reorganized Fitness Insights, so the more important articles are now higher on the page.

This Morning in the Pressure Cooker Lab

Yesterday I raved about my latest hobby which the pressure cooker. This morning I decided to attempt a Vietnamese style chicken congee. I love this dish. Chicken, rice, broth, Thai basil, ginger and of course fish sauce. The perfect breakfast food. A million times better than oatmeal.

It came out very good, but I think I can make it better. Give me a week and I’ll have a recipe that will amaze and delight. :)

chicken congee

Version 1 of Vietnamese Chicken Congee. 

The Temperature Wimps of San Francisco 

I don’t get it.

I will never understand why men will step out of their houses wearing a jacket or coat when the temperature is in the mid 60s, when they know it will be sunny and 70 F in an hour or two. They trade a slight increase in comfort for increased discomfort later when the sun is beating down on them.

Homeless people wear coats all the time, because they have no home to put their coat inside. The rest of us have no excuse.

telegraph hill

Photo by Sam Agnew. Do you really need a jacket to walk this terrain in the summer?

If it sounds like I’ve written this post before, it is because I have.

Here is what I said in 2011:

Your body is fully capable of adapting to a wide range of temperatures. It wants to be challenged. Always living in 100% comfort does not provide the body with an opportunity to overcome a minor risk free stress. When baby your metabolism, you lose the resiliency that is your birthright. If you are always reaching for jacket and fear the cool breeze on your skin, how will you react when life throws you a major stressor?

I thought Seattle was bad in late spring and early summer. Seattle is hardened lumberjacks compared to San Francisco. Most weekends I arrive in the city early in the morning and explore. Of course I wear shorts. It has never been lower than 60 F when I arrive. Even if it were 50 F, I’d still wear shorts, as I will be walking a city with hills and both my body temperature and the outdoor temperature will rise. The last thing I want to do is lug a jacket around.

It is not just the tourists. I am everywhere. In fact, the tourists are less likely to wear a jacket.

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

We’ve all heard that quote. It is false and absurd. The coldest it gets in SF during the summer is the mid 50s F, which happens in the middle of the night. By the time the sun is up, the temperature has already begun moving towards 70 F.

You Don’t Need a Jacket

Not only is it not cold, but your body is fully capable of adapting to a wider range of temperatures, providing you allow it to happen. Like I said in my 2011 post. You aren’t just wearing a jacket because you are cold, you are cold because you are always wearing a jacket. Remove the jacket and let your metabolism do its job. You’ll be warm soon enough. And you won’t need to lug around that coat all day.

To quote myself:

When the body is exposed to colder temperatures, it learns to generate heat, provided you don’t interrupt that lesson.

4 Words I Don’t Like

Recently I was asked if there were any words I don’t like. Four words came to mind.

#1 Google (verb form, to search)

You will never hear me say “Google it”. Google does not equal search. It is one component of search, but not the only one. It is my default search engine at home, but I don’t start every search there. I search books on Amazon, movies on IMDB, history on Wikipedia, breaking news on Twitter, photos on Flickr and friends on Facebook. I could probably rattle off 20 more examples where I don’t start my search on Google.

I use the word search, because it has a broader and more accurate meaning than the verb form of Google. Mark Cuban did a good post on the change in search.

#2 Ink (verb form, business use)

I think it was the late 1990s when the business news started to use ink as a verb meaning “to sign”. It wasn’t good enough that Corporation X signed an agreement with Corporation Y. Now they had to ink a deal. I always found that odd and never cared for the word. Inked should be reserved for tattoo artists. I think using inked in business news is losing popularity.

#3 Busy

The word busy is not only overused when applied to most individuals, but it is also celebrated. People praise those that are always busy as if it were always a good thing. To quote Tim Ferriss:

Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

And if it is used repeatedly as an excuse for not engaging in social relationships, then it can come off as insulting.

busy

Busy by thesaltr

#4 Befriend

I don’t care for the word befriend, because it sounds sinister. Let me explain. The prefix “be” on a word often means “make”. It is the actions of one party to another. A person can belittle, berate or behead another person without their compliance. Yet the act of becoming friends can’t be thrust upon another. I can’t make you my friend. We collectively can become friends. I can try and befriend you, but there must be compliance. And because I know that I can’t force friendship, I will instead use the longer phrase “we became friends” because it sounds more accurate.

Other Words?

Did I make the case for any of my four words? Do you have any words you’d like to add to the dislike list?

You Missed the Point of My Comcast Post

Lifehacker recently featured my How to Deal With Comcast post. Although they walked away with the best path for getting your issue resolved, which I believe is going to Comcast in person, they failed to explain why it works. I didn’t read all the comments, but I read enough there, on this blog and elsewhere to know many missed the point.

The purpose of the post was about reframing the relationship between the customer and the customer service person as one based upon respect. It is not about what you are owed. It is about getting better customer service than other customers because your interaction with the customer service representative acknowledges that they are first and foremost a potential ally.

The reason I go to Comcast in person is so I can smile and greet the customer service representative with dignity. It easier for me to empathize with them and them with me if we see each other face to face. We are less connected on the phone and even less via chat. The strength of our connection increases the chance of a positive resolution.

For a moment set aside your frustrations with the corporation, be it Comcast or some other business. You may have been wronged and it may be obvious. When you interact with that customer service rep, they may have just been demeaned by another customer or the last ten customers. Show them respect. Get them on your side.

Good Service, Bad Service?

As consumers we like to label places as having good or bad service. I used to do the same thing. It is not a fair label. A place known for bad service probably doesn’t give bad service to every customer and a place known for good service isn’t likely to give good service 100% of the time. So it isn’t good versus bad, it is a probability. Our goal should be to increase our odds of receiving good service.

The area that I have the most experience in customer interactions is coffee shops. My goal is to get an excellent shot of espresso when I visit a cafe. My article on INeedCoffee titled Espresso as a Lottery Ticket has a section called Validate Yourself With the Barista. It covers ideas that I have implemented to get better espresso. The core lesson is the same as dealing with Comcast. Start by showing respect for them and the job they do. You don’t know how many surly customers they may have interacted with before you arrived. Respect reframes their attention in a positive direction.

barista

Photo by Matt Biddulph

But the Customer is Always Right!

Some of my critics will say that they shouldn’t have to do any of this. They are right. The business will meet their demands or they will take their money elsewhere. Good for you. Do it your way. Be upset. Take out your frustrations on the customer service rep and then when you are done doing that, ask for a manager. Write an angry letter. Get on Yelp and give them hell. And if you are still fired up, call your attorney.

That isn’t for me. I want our interaction to be win-win. I want both of us to be in a better place at the end of the interaction. Not only do I want my issue resolved, but I want the customer service rep to know they were able to provide good service to an appreciative customer.

And to the Comcast haters, let me tell you how my way worked. For 3.5 years I got so many discounts that I never paid the full price for my broadband service for more than a month. And when I am at coffee shops, I frequently get free espressos and even t-shirts.

Getting More

From the great book Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond:

Think of yourself as the least important person in the negotiation. You must do role reversal, putting yourself in their shoes and trying to put them in yours. Using power or leverage can ultimately destroy relationships and cause retaliation. To be ultimately more effective (and persuasive), you have to get people to want to do things.

Treat each customer interaction as a negotiation. Get them to want to deliver better customer service and you both will win.

Moving Again + Summer Blogging Break

On Tuesday I will be moving from Cupertino, CA to Emerald Hills, CA. There is a story why my roommates traded one huge house for another, but it isn’t important. Still the same general area.

My first week back in California I had great sleep and surge in productivity. But I feel that waning now.

So far the South Bay feels like a soulless parking lot of franchise retail spaces. Whole Foods, Target, Jamba Juice, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, etc. So boring. I miss the green of Seattle and its unique neighborhoods. Everything here is too polished and plastic.

I will be exploring San Francisco more, but so far the traffic has been ungodly.

Silicon Valley evening

Photo by Peter Thoeny

Over on INeedCoffee I put out a new coffee brewing article:

The Upside Down AeroPress Coffee Brewing Tutorial

Speaking of coffee, I have created a spreadsheet to track my coffee exploration of the SF Metro area. Tab 1 is places I want to visit, Tab 2 is my espresso scorecard.

http://tinyurl.com/sf-espresso

Anyway, I am feeling a little burned out on this blog right now. Maybe it is the heat, but I need to take a break for a week or two. I also need to get out the first newsletter, which is something I’ve been putting off. I also enrolled in MR University, which is an online economics school that I just discovered yesterday.

Leaving Seattle For a Few Months

Last fall I mentioned that I would be forced to move in mid 2014 due to the evictions. Well that time has arrived. The builders will start work on my apartment building on Tuesday. This means it is time for me to leave. The problem with moving now is that rents in Seattle are sky high due to strong demand and lagging supply.

In the next six months, 7,000 new rental units will hit the market in the most desirable neighborhoods of Seattle. And they are still building like mad. Low interest rates are like crack to builders. I expect at minimum they will build enough to match current demand, but more likely, if history is any guidance, they will overbuild and the upward trend of rents will correct and reverse. I cover my thoughts in the post Ballard Rents – Don’t Believe the Hype!

Because of all this, I think this is a good time to get out of town for a while.

While I was researching my next move, I got an offer to stay with friends in Silicon Valley for free. They have an extra room for 6 months and they know and trust me. They both have stressful jobs with high time commitments. Having someone to help out with household tasks is a plus for them and a sweet deal for me. Since I am a digital nomad, it doesn’t matter where I reside as long as I have a broadband connection.

I’ve been in Seattle since August 2007. It will be nice to explore the San Francisco area. Besides the great food, the Bay Area has one of the fastest growing specialty coffee scenes in America now. While away I will maintain a Seattle address.

After 6 months my plan is to return to Seattle in full negotiator mode to score a lease at a fair price.

Ritual Coffee

Photo by Ishwar

How to Remove a Podcast From Your iPod

For a long time, I have been unable to figure out how to remove a podcast from my iPod. I can delete episodes, but not remove the actual podcast. You’d think this would be something you could manage easily from iTunes, but nothing with iTunes is easy. I consider iTunes to be the second worst piece of software ever written. Adobe Shockwave Flash is first.

Anyway, it was a comment buried on a forum that finally answered this riddle. I decided to share what worked along with screen shots. Hopefully this post helps someone.

#1 Run Podcast Application

The list of My Podcasts will appear.

podcast iPod list

#2 Pull Down on the Screen With Finger

Doing this non-intuitive move will uncover the Edit button and the key to removing podcast. This is awful user interface design. Dear Apple, if you are going to be cool and bury the Edit button at the list level, at least offer a second method of deleting the podcast at the record level.

Pull down on screen

#3 Click Edit button in upper left

Doing this will place a red icon beside each podcast.

Click Edit Button

#4 Click the Red Icon of the podcast you wish to delete

Once the red circle is pressed a Delete button will appear. Press Delete and then the Done button at the top.

Delete Podcast iPod

That is it. Those zombie podcasts you unsubscribed to months ago can now be removed. The above screenshots are examples. I would never remove EconTalk.

I Love My Chromebook

A topic I never blog about is technology. I tend to avoid the latest and greatest gadgets. Let others beta test the first few versions. If the technology is stable and is still interesting beyond the hype phase, then and only then will I give it a look. For the most part I try to do more with less. This strategy has worked well for me.

Last winter a netbook I purchased back in 2009 was giving me fits. I tried several free operating systems and I could not get the sluggish device to connect to WIFI. After giving up, I looked into all the non desktop alternatives. Tablets, Kindles, Laptops and the Chromebooks.

After weeks of research, I decided to get the Acer C720 Chromebook. I got the low end model which has 16 GB hard disk space and just 2 GB of memory. It only costs $200. How well has it worked so far?

Acer C720 Chromebook (11.6-Inch, 2GB)
Acer C720 Chromebook (11.6-Inch, 2GB) (Amazon USA)

The Chromebook is wonderful. It is rocking fast, super light and has a long battery life. My one concern was if 2 GB of memory would be enough. It has been. I’ve had 15 tabs open on Chrome while streaming video without a pause. I talked with a tech worker that attended a demo hosted by a Chromebook rep. He was more than convinced that 2 GB was all you needed with the Chrome operating system.

For those unaware, the Chromebook is an operating system designed to work online that integrates well with Google applications such as GMail and Google Drive. Anything browser based can be done with the Chromebook. And in 2014, that is quite a bit. I use my desktop computer for installed applications such as SQL Server and Visual Studio. Pretty much everything else I do can be done from a browser or browser extension. There is even a version of Visual Studio now that runs inside a browser.

The Chromebook also has a built in video camera for video calls. However, you can’t use Skype. You’ll need to use Google Hangouts, which is kind of like Skype only it works a lot better.

I can’t say enough nice things about the Chromebook. For $200 you can’t beat the value. Penny for penny, the Acer Chromebook C720 is the BEST piece of technology I’ve ever owned. One last tip, don’t get the Acer C710. It is the same price, but it only has a 4 hour battery life, the C720 is twice that at 8.5 hours.

My Tribute to Radio’s Neil Rogers

One of the web projects I am involved with is the tribute site to radio legend Neil Rogers. You may not have heard of him, because he broadcasted from Miami and was never syndicated. People in the industry knew who he was and greatly respected him. Howard Stern wanted him for his Sirius channel and Phil Hendrie recently said this about Neil:

The best I ever worked with. And the greatest goddamned talent I ever heard.

You can read more about Neil on his Wikipedia page. Even though he often talked about politics or sports (mostly hockey), his show wasn’t like talk radio of today. He was an authentic stream-of-conscious broadcaster. He was funny. He was angry. He was real. Not every show was great, but when he was on, he was brilliant.

Neil Rogers broadcasted in Miami from 1976 to 2009 and died in late 2010.

Neil Rogers

Becoming A Fan of Neil

When I moved to the DC Metro area in 1998, I had an office job where I could not get a radio signal. We also couldn’t stream audio. So when I was home I searched the internet for shows to download that I could burn onto a CD and take to work with me. I recalled someone in Tampa telling me about this show in Miami that I would enjoy.

That was the Neil Rogers Show.

From his website, I was able to download shows from the archive. Even though I never lived in Miami, I became hooked. I loved his rants about local politics. He had a way of making boring topics entertaining. I listened to the show until late 2000. The show was becoming increasing focused on national politics, which I found less entertaining than what initially drew me to the show. So I stopped listening.

Classic Neil rant

Building an Online Presence

In 2011, I was poking around on the internet and learned that Neil had died. I found a The Neil Rogers Facebook group, which included a number of fans along with people that worked with Neil. I joined the group. Then I shared with the group that I still had one of those burned CDs I took with me to the office back in 1999. I had 60 full shows.

I sat up an account with a free file sharing service and soon others were downloading these shows. The Facebook group soon began discussing where we might get more audio. Neil had his own website called NeilRogers.com, which was ran by a man named Eric Harold out of Orlando. I guessed that if anyone had old shows, it would be him. He ran the site at least going back to 1997 and based off my assessment of his technical skills, he most definitely would have saved backup copies of all the Neil Rogers shows from the digital era (1997-2009).

Just when I was about to reach out to Eric, I discovered he had recently died. Young man too. I believe he was in his 40s. Eric was a one man operation. At this point I realized it was just a matter of time before the NeilRogers.com went dark. Servers need human intervention and they also need someone to pay the electric bill. Using a download program I was able to grab all the audio from the site, which were the bits he played. A few months later the site went dark. There was no backup name on the domain registration. No one knew anyone associated with Eric. To this day the data on that server or any backups remain lost.

While all this was going down, I created a quick one page website using Google Sites. It pointed to the Facebook group and where others could download the few shows we had recovered. Using archive.org, I was able to recover a few more hundred shows by pulling up snapshots of the official site from years ago. Then others started coming forth with saved shows. The archive was growing.

In April 2012, YouTube notified me that my uploads would no longer be restricted to 15 minutes. I could now upload unlimited length shows. This seemed too good to be true, so I tested it with some 3 hour Neil shows and it worked. Soon all the MP3s that had been recovered for download were uploaded to YouTube. Neil fans found the shows and joined the Facebook group. This connected us with others that had more audio to share and the project grew.

Google is a weird beast. For reasons I’ll never understand, they never indexed the Google Sites page, so I created the NeilRogers.org site. Over time, I got a Twitter, Google+, Flickr and Pinterest account for the site. The audio continued to come in and working closely with a man named John in Florida, who is skilled in working with tapes, the archive now holds over 1,700 Neil Rogers shows going back as far as 1987. Along the way, a few hundred other shows from other South Florida hosts were discovered and uploaded.

Neil Rogers as Pope

Lessons Learned

I’m not going to say much more about the show. You’ll either like or you won’t. The important lesson of this story is about how easy important data could be lost without a backup plan. We were able to save a large number of shows from a legendary broadcaster before they were lost forever. From the start I knew I didn’t want to make the same mistake Eric did. Every show is saved to multiple servers. There is a document shared with a core inner group that includes all account and password information.

If anything happens to a member of the core, there is a documented procedure in place. There is almost zero risk that these shows will ever be lost now.

Legacy

In the past year or so, over 1,000 new members have been added to the Facebook group. Almost 800 have subscribed to the YouTube channel, which had over 2.5 million minutes of audio listened to in 2013. As someone with both web and data mining experience, this has been a highly rewarding project for me. Friends, co-workers and fans of Neil have been highly appreciative of the audio restoration project.

An article about this project appeared on the front page of both the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald last weekend. Although the article was very positive, it was chock full of errors, which is one of the reasons I wrote this post.

neil rogers sun sentinel

If you are a fan of Neil Rogers and would like to share audio to the project, visit NeilRogers.org.

After the Election

Although I no longer consider myself political, I’ve always found it interesting to observe the behavior of the candidate or the supporters of an issue that loses post election. I’ve seen variations on two different responses.

  1. Our Bad – This is where the candidate or issue supporters acknowledge their loss in a dignified manner. They own the loss as their own, which is their failure to connect with voters.
  2. Your Bad – This response puts the blame on the voter for being ill informed or being tricked by the other side. They might blame big money or the press coverage for their loss. The underlying message is that voters were too stupid to make the correct decision..

I have a lot of respect for the Our Bad group, because they respect the voters. They own their loss. They learn and move on. Even if I didn’t vote for that issue or candidate, they often earn my respect and I’m more likely to be receptive to their cause in a future election.

I detest the Your Bad group. They don’t respect the will of the voters when the vote goes against them. To me they come off as condescending and elitist. They don’t own their loss. They look for excuses and blame the voters. It is never their lack of communicating the issue that is the fault. When a candidate or cause either directly or indirectly tells me that my vote was wasted, wrong or stupid then I am far less likely to be receptive to their issue in a future election.

I’m currently reading the chapter Confidently Adaptable in the book Die Empty by Todd Henry. Although this paragraph isn’t about elections, it applies perfectly.

A confident person is willing to work through communication issues without feeling threatened with regard to the core idea being communicated. An ego-inflated person shifts the blame for communication issues to the other party, and this asserts that the problem is clearly that they’s aren’t capable of understanding the issue properly.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day
Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

The takeaway message of  this post is greater than elections. When you’ve lost, accept the loss in a dignified manner. Move on. Learn from the loss. Come back better. Don’t blame the fans, referee or the other team.

Evicted

I’ve mentioned this offline to a few people, but I haven’t discussed it here. About three weeks ago I got an official notice from my apartment complex that I and every other tenant was going to be evicted. This summer our complex was sold and the new owners began doing construction on the outside of the building.

We expected that the new owners might increase the rent, but they have renovation plans that can’t be done with the tenant in place. Their plans are to turn our apartments into luxury apartments and if rumors are accurate increase the monthly rent by $500 or more.

lochhaven-construction

I’ve been living in this complex for 3 years. One lady has been here since 1968. There are many that have been here for a decade or more. This was one of the last remaining affordable places to live in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.

The economy is booming in Seattle and people are moving here from all over the world. The result is there are rental shortages in the most desirable neighborhoods. Currently there are many new apartment buildings under construction, but those units are not available yet, so the housing shortage is driving up rents.

The earliest I believe I could be evicted is January. The more likely scenario is March and perhaps as late as June. Some tenants are organizing to fight the developer. They might be successful, but I can’t assume they will do much more than delay the project and therefore evictions.

I’m not upset about the eviction. I don’t mind moving. I own very little and could probably be packed in a few hours. For me the greater question is where to move next? I don’t think I’ll be able to stay in Ballard. A new neighborhood is a new adventure. Where should I go?

Podcasts I Listen To (2013)

I was recently asked what podcasts I am listening to and I directed them to my 2012 list. Then I noticed that list is outdated already. Here are my top 10 podcasts for 2013.

  1. EconTalk (economics)
  2. Revolution Health Radio with Chris Kresser (health)
  3. NPR Planet Money (finance)
  4. Evil Sugar Radio (health)
  5. Alternative 80’s (music)
  6. Accidental Creative (productivity)
  7. The Market Ticker (finance)
  8. Freakonomics (finance)
  9. Adam Carolla Show  (comedy)
  10. House of Reggae (music)

podcast

EconTalk is by far the best podcast. Russ Roberts can take topics that seem dull on the surface and make them fascinating. Well at least to me. Economics provides a model of understanding the world that I believe applies to other disciplines, especially fitness and nutrition.

Recently I’ve been enjoying Evil Sugar Radio. Although I think they are often guilty of the same biases they accuse others as having, the show is a much needed healthy response to the food fear mongers.

Still ENTJ – Myers-Briggs 2013

Friday some friends and I were discussing the Myers-Briggs test. When I first took this personality test years ago I was INTJ, but in 2010 my results said I was ENTJ. I was curious to see if the 2010 test results held up or if anything else had changed, so I retook the test.

I’m still an ENTJ. This time I saved the numbers.

Extravert(11%) iNtuitive(62%) Thinking(25%) Judging(33%)

Explaining the different personality types is always a challenge, but the article What’s Your Animal Personality Type? actually makes it fun by matching your score with an animal. The ENTJ is the Lion.

Independent and logical thinkers who are also persuasive leaders, ENTJs are business-minded and ambitious. They refuse to allow any subjective emotion to enter into their decision-making process, and as a result they can be seen as callous and cold. But these fierce individuals tend to be highly effective, successful, and incredibly powerful. They are truly the kings of the proverbial jungle.

That ENTJ description doesn’t exactly ring true to me. I actually think I am more like the INTJ Octopus.

INTJs are independent types, wildly intelligent and creative — but rather un-interested in what anyone else is doing. They are often considered the most independent of all the personality types, and they work best when given freedom. They are acutely aware of their own intelligence, as well as what they don’t know, and their passion often lies in conceptualizing ideas and processing complex theories.

Maybe I’m somewhere in between.

MAS and Lion

Me and a real lion. Chiang Mai, Thailand 2009. 

How about you? What is your Myers-Briggs type and animal?

J Mascis Plays Nordstrom’s Shoe Department – Seattle – July 12, 2013

This past weekend in Seattle was the 25th anniversary (Silver Jubilee) of Sub Pop Records. On Thursday, I learned that a few bands were going to play a closed set on the tip of the Space Needle, which you could watch streaming online or archived later. My favorite band of all time is Dinosaur Jr and their frontman J Mascis was to be there.

Dinosaur Jr./J Mascis Throbblehead
Amazing what you can find on Amazon

My plan was to find the video and watch it sometime next week. Later that evening I learned J Mascis had a flight delay and missed the show. So Sub Pop announced he would be putting on a free show at noon on Friday at Nordstrom’s. My first thought was I read it wrong. Nordstroms sells clothes. It isn’t a concert venue. I had to be downtown that day anyway, so I decided to see if I was being pranked.

I showed up around 11:45 AM and less than 10 people were standing around the escalators. We all had questionable looks on our faces like maybe this might be a joke. I also thought maybe there was a better location in the store where he might play. Why would the 5th greatest guitarist in the world be playing the shoe department at Nordstroms?

Then more and more people starting showing up. J arrived a few minutes early, plugged it and started playing at Noon. For 30 minutes, he put on a perfect show.

j mascis nordstrom

J Mascis plays Nordstroms

He played:

  1. Listen to Me (solo)
  2. Get Me (Dinosaur Jr)
  3. Quest (Dinosaur Jr)
  4. Flying Cloud (Dinosaur Jr)
  5. Ammaring (J Mascis And The Fog song)
  6. Not You Again (Dinosaur Jr)
  7. Alone (Dinosaur Jr)

Setlist courtesy of setlist.fm

Video by Nordstrom

Only in Seattle would J Mascis stop by the shoe department of Nordstroms and jam for 30 minutes. I loved Darren’s mini review on Facebook

j-mascis-review

UPDATE: For those that missed this show, check out J Mascis at the Kennedy Center. He plays all the tunes he did at Nordstrom except Flying Cloud plus a few more.

When the Check Engine Light Comes On Part 2

This is a follow-up post to When the Check Engine Light Comes On. If you haven’t read that post, the short version is I learned how to read the engine codes thrown when the Check Engine light comes on in my car. Your mechanic will gladly charge you $85 to hook you up to “the computer” to see why your Check Engine light is on, but I wanted access to that data faster and I wanted to save some money.

Bluetooth OBD2 adapter and an Android App

I purchased the Soliport ELM 327 Bluetooth OBDII OBD2 Diagnostic Scanner on Amazon for $5 (now $11) plus shipping and I downloaded the free version of Torque for the Android. Once you have your phone connected, you can then get the $5 paid version which has more features.

ELM327-OBD2

 

Look under your steering wheel and you will see where the scanner plugs into. It looks like a printer port. Here is a photo of mine. VW was nice enough to use fuchsia so it stood out.

obd2-slot

Plug in the scanner there. 

installed

The OBD2 scanner is now plugged in.

The Amazon review by Mark from Oswego provides perfect directions on connecting the Torque app to your OBD2 adapter. Once you are connected, start your car and Torque. When the Check Engine comes on, go to Actions -> Show Logged Faults. You will see the error code being thrown by the engine along with a link to a web page explaining what the problem is.

Don’t you just love technology?

Now when the Check Engine light comes on, I can pull over to the side of the road and read the code. No need to schedule an appointment at the mechanic just to learn what the code is. I can learn the severity in real-time. I may end up at the mechanic, but I’ll have more information when I schedule that appointment. And if the code is related to prior work, it might be covered under a service guarantee.

My car has a spare tire, a jack, a first aid kit and now I have an OBD2 reader. The Torque app does a lot more that show fault codes. It collects A LOT of data points. I’ll save that discussion for another post.

When the Check Engine Light Comes On

This post is a departure from my usual topics, but I think what I learned this week will be of value to those with limited knowledge of how a car works. This post could save you a few hundred dollars.

Wednesday evening the Check Engine light came on in my car. I’m the original owner of my 2001 VW Golf TDI and that light has never turned on before. Considering I just spent $1500 in car repairs, a slight panic came over me. Since I was a few blocks from my mechanic, I pulled in and inquired. He said as long as the Check Engine light wasn’t flashing, it wasn’t critical. He also invited me to come back later so he could hook it up to the computer to see what the problem was.

I didn’t like the idea of spending $85 just to learn what my engine was trying to tell me. So I did a little research and learned that cars have something called an OBD-II connector that is usually located under the steering wheel. With a reader you can purchase on Amazon, you can read the codes yourself and even reset the light. Since 1996, the codes that are thrown have been standardized across all car manufacturers, so I don’t need a special reader for my VW. Any OBD-II reader will work.

I stopped in my local auto supply place thinking I was going to buy an auto scanner, but I was fortunate to learn they will loan you one for free. I handed them my drivers license and a credit card and they handed me the scanner. I found the port under my steering wheel, plugged it in, turned the key without starting, waited 20 seconds and the code popped up on the reader. I returned the device and they handed me a printout for my code.

I learned that one of my glow plugs might be having an issue. Having just read Auto Repair For Dummies, I knew that glow plugs are used to generate heat when starting a diesel engine. Having a non-working glowplug might make starting the engine in the winter difficult. Thankfully it is June. No more panic. I now have the luxury of researching this problem more or doing comparison shopping with mechanics. I even found this detailed tutorial on TDI Club outlining how to fix this problem should my car knowledge and confidence grow before winter arrives.

Auto Repair For Dummies
Auto Repair For Dummies by Deanna Sclar

Readers, Laptops, Android Apps

The more I looked into this, the more interested I got. Not only does Amazon sell readers, but eBay sells adapters that allow you to connect your car to your laptop. And I just learned this morning, you can buy a Bluetooth OBD2 adapter to talk to a $5 Android app called Torque Pro. Real time data. :)

I’ll be ordering an OBD2 Bluetooth device this week. The next time the Check Engine comes on, I’ll know what is wrong the moment it happens.

How To Deal With Comcast

Yesterday, I solved the mystery of how to deal with Comcast. For those unaware of Comcast, they provide high speed Internet services. Although there is some competition in Seattle, they are by far the biggest and fastest broadband provider in the area. The strength of Comcast is they provide an excellent service. My Internet speeds are extremely high and in the past four years, I’ve only had minutes of down time. Their installers are professional and they even do installs on Sundays.

The problem with Comcast is they continually lie about the price and terms of conditions of the package you sign up for. What they tell you on the phone is almost never what is reflected in your bill. If they tell you the install is free, you can bet they will charge you. If they are offering a 1 year deal, expect it to end in 6 or 9 months at which point they will start jacking up the price. Since most of the price negotiations take place on the phone, it is always your word against theirs.

I’m convinced the Comcast business model is to overcharge customers with the expectation that few will catch the error and to discourage those that catch the error by making the process of reversing charges so painful that you capitulate and pay the higher (not agreed upon) rate.

Now in a normal, non-oligopolistic market, customers wouldn’t put up with this dishonesty, but Comcast knows they have the best broadband service and most customers are unlikely to risk trying one of the new competitors. This means we need to get along with Comcast. But we also can’t roll over and let them overcharge us.

Never Use Chat

If you have a billing issue, do not use the chat service. On July 27th, I initiated a chat session to get a $20 “free” install charge reversed. What I thought would take minutes ended up taking 2 hours. By the time the session was over, I was furious and I wasn’t even sure the charge had been reversed.

The Phone is Better…But

I can be more charming on the phone than a chat session. The problem with the phone is they constantly move you from department to department having you repeat the same story and same account numbers. You can quickly lose your patience and it takes forever. I believe the business model of Comcast is to frustrate customers to the point where they accept being overcharged as a less painful option than getting their bill corrected.

A Better Idea

Yesterday, I noticed that my 1 year deal that I was promised six months ago ended. My new bill was now an additional $20 a month. After spending 10 minutes on hold and entering my account number and phone number twice, I got a better idea. I hung up the phone. I took out a notepad and wrote down all the information I could. Account numbers, bill prices by month and the date I was offered the deal. Then I put on a nice shirt and drove to the nearest Comcast customer service center.

Customer service centers are mostly for dropping off or changing modems and routers, but they can also handle billing issues. My plan was simple. I’d show them my notebook of data and then ask them if they could help me figure out why my bill went up in the middle of the 1 year plan they offered me.

I learned a trick from a friend. Use the word curious, even when you know the other party is wrong. You turn the other party away from a reflexive defensive stance into a problem solver on your behalf. When I pointed at my notebook to the June date and the text “1 year deal at $46.99″, I politely mentioned how I was curious why my bill increased. The rep immediately turned into a problem solver. Within 5 minutes, I had a credit back on my account and my account fixed for the next 6 months at the agreed upon rate. I also got to see the screen with proof that the change had happened, which is something you must trust happens when on the phone or chat.

A lesson I learned on my 1st day of kindergarten: smile and show documentation. Even when it is documentation you created yourself. 

If you count my drive time, it took just less than 30 minutes to resolve this issue, which is faster than many calls to them and certainly faster than the chat option. The best part is it wasn’t a stressful event. I fully expect Comcast to overcharge me again at some point. At which point, I’ll put a nice shirt and a smile and drive back over to their customer service center.

UPDATE (January 20, 2013)

I broke my own rule above about never doing chat. I had a Service Number from Comcast, so I assumed I could get a quick status report from the online chat session. Nope. After 30 minutes and being transferred 3 times, I was getting nowhere, so I disconnected and visited the Customer Service center in person. It was there I learned something very interesting. Comcast chat is National, but my account isn’t. It is considered West. The reps on chat can not see Service Numbers associated with West accounts. So, you can chat all day and you’ll be wasting your time.

The in-person Comcast rep told me to “never use chat“. When I responded “Because they can’t see the Service Numbers associated with my account?“, she repeated “never use chat” with emphasis on the word never. Calling is OK and showing up in person is also good, but never use chat. Thought I’d pass that tip off to others.

UPDATE (August 4, 2014)

I’ve written a new post in response to my critics. You Missed the Point of My Comcast Post.

Top 10 Blog Posts for 2012

With all the end of year Top 10 lists, I thought I’d assemble a Top 10 list for 2012 CriticalMAS posts. I’m going to use three metrics: page view, comments and those that I personally liked the best. Here goes.

#1 The Problem With Boot Camp Training

This was the most popular post I wrote in 2012. Getting linked to by Marks Daily Apple helped.

#2 Better Than Bulletproof Coffee

I didn’t want to write this post, but because I am both an active blogger on nutrition and run a popular coffee website, I got several emails asking my opinion on Bulletproof Coffee. Although many Paleo bloggers loved the taste of putting unsalted butter in their coffee, I didn’t. I also used this post as a way to expose home coffee roasting to the those interested in nutrition.

#3 Why Ice Cream is Better Than Protein Powder

This year I thought deeply about finding the best  post-workout food for ectomorphs trying to gaining muscle. I decided ice cream might be that perfect food. This is the post that started that discussion.

#4 Lower Risk Alternatives to the Barbell Back Squat

This was the sequel post to I No Longer Give a Squat About the Squat, which got almost an equal number of page views.

#5 Running Up That Hill – Spring Salvation For Tall People

I was inspired by the hill next to my apartment as a hack to pain free running for tall people.

#6 My 5 Part series on Exercise and Fat Loss

I think exercise is vastly over-rated as a tool for fat loss. Here are links to my 5 part series.

  1. Walking Didn’t Lean Me Out
  2. How Exercise Indirectly Kept me Fatter
  3. Fat Loss and the Case For Less Exercise
  4. Fat Loss and High Intensity Exercise
  5. Maximizing Fat Loss with Exercise

 #7 Help Me Fix My Neck and Shoulders

I threw out a question and got 47 comments. I am still working on a summary post. This will be a topic in 2013.

#8 My Gyro Obsession and The Meatball Solution

This was the most popular recipe for 2012.

#9 My Problem With “Eat Less Move More” and Part 2

An investor’s approach to understanding dietary failures.

#10 A Month Without Coffee (INeedCoffee

I summarized my coffee free experiment and several posts into an article which I published on INeedCoffee.

BONUS:  What John Gray Missed in Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice

The last post in a series of posts regarding the hormonal aspect to healthy relationships.

My Top 5 Songs of 2012

Even though the on air talent at KEXP was gushing about how wonderful 2012 was for music, I found the music this year to half as good as 2011 or 2010. With that in mind, I’ve decided to just do a TOP 5 list this year instead of a TOP 10.

#1 Simple Song by The Shins

I love this song and the especially the video.

http://youtu.be/FpsGcnLEZbk

#2 Watch the Corners by Dinosaur Jr.

A new release my all-time favorite band. What is not to love?

http://youtu.be/FpsGcnLEZbk

#3 Emmylou by First Aid Kit

Never thought a country sounding song would make my Top songs list, but this song is the perfect mix of dream pop and twang.

http://youtu.be/PC57z-oDPLs

#4 Blow Me (One Last Kiss) by P!nk

P!ink delivers another perfectly engineered dance pop song.

http://youtu.be/3jNlIGDRkvQ

#5 Capricornia by Allo Darlin’

My favorite song of the summer.

http://youtu.be/hGrnXEBq3QE

Bonus: What You Wanted by Seapony

OK maybe 5 songs wasn’t enough, I liked this dream pop song just as much as Capricornia. Score it as a Bonus or tied for #5.

http://youtu.be/D9Q9L5YnMp0

An Innocent Cleaning Project

I haven’t posted much recently. The reason is I started an innocent cleaning project and discovered discs containing files that had been lost to me for over 12 years. Lots of files. So instead of blogging, I’ve been spending many hours going through those files and archiving what I’ve found.

By next week, I should be far enough along in this project to return to blogging. I’ve got about 20 half-written blog posts that need my attention. One other thing I recently discovered is how easy it is to make pudding. As much as I love ice cream, homemade vanilla pudding right off the stove is even better.

DIY Standing Desk – The $22 IKEA Solution

Back in April, I built my own standing desk using boxes. It was a cheap hack, but it didn’t work for long, because the boxes began to warp after a week. Although I am still not convinced that a standing desk is superior to a sitting one, I was inspired by a link in the most recent Wired magazine. They highlighted a tutorial that explained how to build your own standing desk for just $22 using items found at IKEA.

I followed the instructions and now I have a standing desk. I’m pretty sure this one isn’t going to warp like my box solution. The only piece of information missing from the tutorial was the size of the wood screws. I made a lucky guess and selected #10 x 1-3/4. They fit perfectly. Below is a photo of the desk now. I may lower the keyboard stand.

TUTORIAL: A standing desk for $22

Standing Desk version 2.0

Podcasts I Listen To (2012)

Biohacks recently posted Podcasts I listen to. I thought it was a good idea for a post, so I’m going to list my favorites. I dated this post so I can update my list each year. I’m always mixing up the shows I listen to. Here are my top 10 podcasts in order.

  1. EconTalk  (economics)
  2. Bulletproof Executive Radio (health)
  3. NPR Planet Money (finance)
  4. Revolution Health Radio (health)
  5. Adam Carolla Show  (comedy)
  6. Freakonomics Radio (economics)
  7. The Market Ticker (finance)
  8. House of Reggae (music)
  9. Underground Wellness (health)
  10. Accidental Creative (productivity)

All these are available on iTunes.

I used to listen to more health podcasts, but once the content gets too repetitive, I move onto other shows. What are your some of your favorite podcasts?

Your Last Meal

A foodie friend of mine recently asked me a great question. What would you want for your last meal? I’ve thought about this for a while and I decided that if I died immediately after the meal, I would choose a Minnesota style pizza, a few bottles of Saison Dupont and a pint of Haagen Dazs 5 coffee ice cream.

Even though I’ve never been to Minnesota, my hometown of Columbus, Ohio had Donatos Pizza, which I now understand is considered Minnesota style. I learned that fact from Zayda Buddy, which is Minnesota style pizza place in my Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. The pizza is a thin crust with a focus on the toppings. It is cut in squares. Unlike the gross California style pizza, the crust keeps its composure when you bite into it. This also means it can hold more toppings. Sorry New York and Chicago, I prefer a crispier pizza. As for toppings, I’d probably get everything. It’s all good.

Photo by tony 

The reason I picked this for my last meal is that once all that gluten and alcohol hit my system, I will wish that I were dead. :) How about you? What would you pick for your last meal?

Who’s Your Daddy?

I saved this story for Father’s Day even though it happened a few months ago. The only background you need to know is that I don’t have any children. One day I was at the Fred Meyers grocery store checking out. Most of my order was already scanned and I was swiping my card into the payment system. There was nobody else behind me in line when the next customer pulled their cart into my lane.

The next customer was a frazzled mom with two children. The boy was probably 3 or 4 years old and the girl was maybe a year younger. What caught my eye immediately was how much these two kids looked like me and my younger sister when we were their age. The boy was full of energy and the girl appeared to be very tired. She was fighting to stay awake, but not for long.

MAS and sister

Me and my sister as kids.

As the cashier handed me my receipt, the boy stopped talking and wiggling. I looked over at him and now he was making direct eye contact with me. He had a look on his face like he knew me, but couldn’t place my name. He smiled at me. Then in a moment I’ll never forget, he pointed at me and began chanting “Daddy, Daddy”. This woke up his sister. She joined him and starting yelling “Daddy”. Other customers were now turning their attention toward our aisle. I stuffed the receipt in my bag and before mom could control the situation, I grabbed my groceries and escaped the store.

Distraction Diet 3

This post is an update on the September 2011 post Distraction Diet 2, along with some new ideas. Distraction Diets are about reducing the growing number of distractions in an always connected digital age. How did I do?

  1. Early Morning Reading – This continues to be a success. Other people like reading in the evening, I prefer the morning.
  2. No Stock Quote During Trading Hours – This has been a major success. In fact, I consume less financial news now than I have in many years.
  3. 2 Desktops – I still use the VirtuaWin program to divide my computer into 2 desktops (Work and Fun). I can get hours of uninterrupted work done by staying inside the Work desktop and following a rule not to launch distracting programs while there.
  4. Evening Disconnect – This hasn’t gone so well. I am still checking for email and messages past 9 PM on most nights. I could do a better job here.

Ideas 1-3 are going well and I plan to do better on Idea 4. I also have some new ideas.

Smarter Social Networking

Having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and now Pinterest can be a real time suck. This year I have stopped using Google Plus and Pinterest for myself. I still connect briefly to manage new links for the INeedCoffee account, but my personal connection to those two sites has ended. I might do a separate post on why I dislike Pinterest. Google Plus means well, but I grew tired of it quickly.

For Twitter, all my accounts automatically post links to new blog entries and I have an RSS feed that returns a search of when any of my accounts are mentioned. So my time on Twitter is minimal. For the most part I find that Twitter is a bunch of people talking with very few listening. The noise is deafening.

Facebook is the best social network, but you need a browser extension to make it that way. Once I installed and configured the FB Purity extension, the noise level on Facebook dropped considerably. I can block specific post types, change the font, hide ads and best of all block posts with certain keywords. I never see birthday posts or anything related to voting or local sports teams.

Click image for larger view of FB Purity settings.

I also moved this blog to its own Facebook page. I wanted to share links to my blog posts, but the majority of my friends may like me, but they don’t get this blog and the comments would often reflect that. This should save me time on Facebook too.

The Opposite of Distracted is Focused

Probably the greatest piece of advice I got from Tim Ferriss author of The 4-Hour Workweek was how it is important to define what is meaningful to you BEFORE you eliminate distractions. The reason is when you remove a distraction without defining what is important, you run the risk of filling it with a new distraction. So one of the main keys to eliminating distractions is becoming more focused on what is important to us.

After you’ve defined what is important, how does one go about increasing focus? Caffeine, meditation, exercise and memory games all come to mind.

I have a notebook that I pull down every so often where all I do is multiplication of 2 and 3 digit numbers. Instead of writing down every step, I use math tricks that force me to use my working memory to break up the steps and perform the calculation in my head. This it is tough at first, but you get faster over time.

Strengthening the connection between short-term and long-term memory will increase focus. As great as the Internet can be, the downside is our short term memories are constantly being filled and emptied with every mouse click. Nicholas Carr covers this in depth in the book The Shallows. I believe developing stronger focusing skills are a necessary component of any distraction diet.

NZT-48?

Before I end this post, I want to say that earlier this year I actually found a supplement that increases my ability to focus. I haven’t blogged about it, because I am highly skeptical of all supplements, but after months of testing, I can really tell the benefits. What is it? That will be the topic of my next post.

Internet Cooking and David Lynch Movies

Even though I am always checking out cookbooks from the library, the majority of ideas I get for cooking come from doing web searches. I get an idea, do a search and find a recipe. But I rarely just look at one version of a recipe. I scan a few. Then I look over the ingredients and using my best judgement move forward with a single recipe or usually some mental average of a few recipes.

For the past few years this strategy has worked very well for me. There seems to be a consensus on many recipes. However, now that I am focusing my cooking efforts on Indian food, I am seeing radically different recipes for the same dish. As a self taught cook this can be frustrating. How do I know which Tikki Masala recipe to use? Indian food tends to have more steps and more ingredients than most recipes. This means a greater probability of error as the recipes diverge. What to do?

David Lynch and Becoming a Better Cook

I am a fan of director David Lynch. Many of his films such as Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are not your standard stories. They are riddles. The more you examine each film, the more meaning you can pull from them.  But this process isn’t always easy. It took me a full day to figure out Lost Highway and even after I was done, I still missed elements.

When it came to films and literature, my ex-girlfriend was much smarter than me. After seeing me struggle with the meaning of Mulholland Drive, she explained it to me. When I asked her how she figured it out so fast, she told me her trick and I now use that trick for cooking.

She explained that the key to figuring out David Lynch movies was not to focus on the bizarre twists, but instead think about the elements in the story that are consistent and don’t change. What characters, locations and themes remain unchanged as the plot unfolds? Find that river of stability first and then the rest of the film starts to make sense.

That is exactly how I approach cooking. I don’t need to make sense out of every step or ingredient to make a dish taste excellent. As long as I zone in on the common themes in radically different recipes for a dish that I wish to make, I can be confident it will turn out good.

One dish that has been a source of frustration for me is Tikki Masala. If you look online, you will see 1,000 different ways to make this dish. In every prior attempt I’ve had with this dish, it has never turned out great. This week I conquered it by focusing in on just the common elements and it turned out amazing. My approach was more simple and used less ingredients than other recipes.

My guess is this method will appear as common sense to experienced cooks, but it helped me when I was learning how to cook on my own. Maybe it will help someone else.

Chicken Tikki Masala – I followed 80% of this recipe and improvised the other 20%.

Under the Keyboard

Today I did a task that I’ve been putting off for years. I cleaned my keyboard. Not the typical surface cleaning, but a proper full cleaning. In the past a keyboard would break long before it required a serious cleaning. Not anymore. I’ve had this one for probably 7 or 8 years.

First I unplugged the keyboard completely from the PC. Then I removed the keys gently and slowly using a butter knife. I placed them in a bowl with warm soapy water. I used Sal’s Suds. Look under the keys. Yuck!

While the keys were soaking, I first took a can of air and blasted the region. That removed about half the crud. The rest required Q-Tips and rubbing alcohol. According to HowToGeek, only use isopropyl alcohol.

Once the base is cleaned, start rinsing and drying the keys. Then you can put the keys back. To make this task easier, I recommend taking photos of the keyboard layout before you start removing keys. It makes things easier. If you fail to do this, there are sites with images of a PC keyboard layout. Of course this requires a 2nd computer with keys that aren’t soaking in a bucket.

Now my keyboard is brand new clean again. Good for another 7 years! :)

Do We Really Need WIFI While Donating Blood?

Maybe this is a Seattle thing, but everywhere I go I see this obsession with constantly being connected to the Internet. It is getting out of hand. I donate blood every 8 weeks and if you have an appointment it doesn’t take long. Today while donating, the guy next to me starts this monologue how they should offer WIFI for the people donating blood. Really?

You’ve got blood coming out of one arm for maybe 10 minutes. Is it really that important that must get online with your one free arm? Heaven forbid you should actually chat with your fellow donors or sit quietly alone with your thoughts. Must get online! I really hope the blood people dismiss this idea. The last thing we need are phlebotomists troubleshooting network connections while carrying needles and pints of blood.

This photo I took last Sunday has nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to share it. :)

Now a 1 Gallon Blood Donor in 2 States

Yesterday, I collected my 1 Gallon Donor pin after donating my 8th pint of premium grade B Positive. Now some lucky chap will soon have pig uterus coursing through his veins. Back in my Florida days, I donated a full gallon to that state. I like being able to help my fellow neighbors by donating blood. Either that or I’m doing it for selfish reasons. ;)

2-gallons-blood

(L) Florida 1 Gallon Pin, (R) Puget Sound 1 Gallon Pin

MacGyver Humidifier

During my trip to Ohio, I noticed an interesting pattern regarding my nighttime headaches. When I stayed with my mom, with the exception of the gluten poisoning night, I didn’t get headaches. When I stayed with my sister, I got headaches. My mom runs a humidifier in the house, whereas my sister doesn’t. Sounds like I just discovered my next test.

Before running out to buy a humidifier, I checked online to see if anyone had built their own. In the description of this video, there is a link to a homemade humidifier from 1918.

1918 Homemade Humidifier

1918 Homemade Humidifier

The premise is you hang a towel down into water. The water will wick up the towel. Air will pass through the towel and humidify the air. At least that is how I understand the theory. My room is very dry right right now. On Tuesday I had a brutal headache, so I decided to try my hand at this project.

MacGyver Humidifier

MacGyver Humidifier

I was skeptical it would work, but after about an hour I could feel the water making its way several inches up the towel. Pretty cool. I really hesitate to get excited, but I had amazing night of sleep last night. Testing will continue.

Getting Hit By a Car

On Saturday evening I was walking across a street in Capitol Hill inside the pedestrian walkway. A large white SUV came up from the side street towards me. It appeared the car was slowing as there was a Stop sign. But it didn’t. By the time I realized the car was going to run the Stop sign, I was already in front of it. I straight-armed the car so it wouldn’t hit my legs and run me over.

White SUV

I was hit by a white SUV. It looked a lot like a Ford Excursion.

At that point the car stopped. I was stunned that I got hit, but I appeared to be OK. For some odd reason I didn’t get upset or even say anything to the driver. Maybe I’m getting too forgiving in my old age. So I just continued walking down the sidewalk. The driver didn’t check on me and kept going.

About an hour later my arm started to get numb and sore. A friend suggested that I might want to go to the Emergency Room to have it checked out. I thought about spending hours in the ER on a Saturday night, paying for X-Rays and getting a script for painkillers, but decided I wasn’t that hurt and my body was fully capable of healing itself.

I went home and applied an ice pack to my arm for 20 minutes. I also knew how helpful the bone broth was towards healing my back injury, so I sipped on a large mug of that magical elixir. Then I slept for 8 hours. When I woke up I was fine, except for a bruise on the base of my hand where I made contact with the SUV.

My friend that suggested the ER to me asked if I would go to the hospital if I were shot. My response to her was: that would depend on where the bullet hit. :)

Fermentation Intervention?

I can’t stop making new vegetable ferments. I’ve ran out of jars and containers to hold the ferments. At this time, I have over 25 pounds of vegetables fermenting and I’m thinking about going out and acquiring more jars. I have too many ideas that I want to try out. I think it is time for an intervention. :)

Back row (L to R): Ghost Pepper Sauerkraut v2, 4 jars of Classic Sauerkraut

Front row: Killer Kimchi v3, “Peruvian style” Sauerkraut (R&D)

Super Mario and Star Wars in Post-It Notes (SEATTLE)

On Pike Street between 4th and 5th Avenue, if you look up to the 6th floor of the Filter building you will see a Super Mario display made entirely of Post-It notes. I heard about this in the news Friday and went down today to see for myself.

Here are some photos I took.

super mario seattle

Mario in Post-it Notes

Another building nearby paid tribute to Star Wars with Post-It Notes.

Star Wars Post-It Notes

4 Star Wars characters in Post-It Notes

Full Gallery with Original Photos – Feel free to use any picture you like for any reason. Just attribute by linking to this post.

Distraction Diet 2

Last year I announced that I was going on a Distraction Diet.

For the month of August, I am going to stay off Facebook and Twitter*, as I believe those are the two sites that are doing the most damage to my thinking. The design, whether conscious or not, exploits our primitive neural pathways to value current data above all else. Anyone that has spent anytime on these sites knows that the latest status update or Tweet is what our brains crave, but are almost always worthless bits of information. Instead of recognizing this, we keep pressing links and buttons like mice in a laboratory.

How did my Distraction Diet work out? I failed.

I can give up bread for two years, but I couldn’t make it a full week away from the social networks. I still have the same concerns about the distracting nature of social networking and email, so I’ve decided to take a more realistic approach to this problem. Shunning social networking for weeks or a month doesn’t solve the problem. It just pushes it to the future.

I decided to frame this problem like I did when I made the transition from 5-6 meals a day to embracing Intermittent Fasting. In early 2008, I would eat my first meal at 6 AM and my last snack close to 10 PM. My eating window was 18 hours. These days my eating window is usually between 8 and 12 hours. The result is food is no longer on my mind all the time. Now to apply that strategy to online behavior.

Early Morning Reading

For a few years now, when I wake up I do not turn on my computer. Instead I take time to read a book, usually about 60 to 90 minutes. Back when I was really into finance, I would jump out of bed, pop on the computer and read financial news and blogs before the opening bell (6:30 AM PT). Slamming coffee and consuming massive amounts of financial news before the sun rose eventually became too stressful.


Reading a book is a more peaceful way to start my morning than following the exploits about these two clowns. Photo by The IMF.

I also realized that once the computer was on, it was too difficult to read books. Pixels had a stronger pull than print. So I front-loaded my reading to take place before I even turned on my PC. This technique has been phenomenally successful for me. I’ve read more books in the past 3 years than the rest of my life combined.

No Stock Quotes During Trading Hours

I’m about 75% cured of my addiction to financial news. Unless you are actively trading, there really is no reason to drown yourself in endless financial media. For a few months now, I came up with a rule to help me further cure this addiction. I will not check any of the financial websites during trading hours. I used to check the indexes throughout the day. Now, I wait for trading to end and then peek at the closing numbers. So far this strategy is working great.

2 Desktops

Several months ago I installed a freeware program for my PC called VirtuaWin. With it I am able to create 2 desktops, although you could create more. For me, Desktop 1 is my FUN desktop. It is where my email, Netflix, Facebook and regular surfing take place. The wallpaper is a Seattle background. Desktop 2 has a desert background. It is my WORK desktop. Here is where I use SQL Server, Visual Studio and graphics programs.

After I catch up on my email and social networking on my FUN Desktop, I’ll “go to work” by switching over to my WORK desktop. Two different worlds. Even though I am just a hotkey away from the FUN desktop, it has worked. This program provides a mental separation that is helping me minimize distractions. I’m getting far more work done using this tool.

Evening Disconnect

Using the above strategies I would do fine until around 6 PM. Then I’d be mentally vulnerable to the distracting nature of email and social networking. Like a bug to the light, I’d keep peeking around for an update of some kind. The updates were rarely valuable, but occasionally I’d get drawn into responding to stressful email or discussion thread. Two weeks ago, I had a terrible night sleep because I got riled up over an email that I received minutes before heading to sleep.

The new strategy that I am now testing is that I turn off my email and disconnect from all social networking and discussion forums before 7 PM. Checking email right up until bedtime was making me too anxious. The last two weeks have been calm evenings and I am fighting the urge to check something, but it is working so far.

Other Ideas?

Do you have novel techniques for handling distractions that are working for you? Please share in the comments.

 

Half the Ideas in this Blog Are Probably Wrong

I just finished reading The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley. It is an excellent book on the economics of sex from a genetic point of view. I’m not going to review the book, others have done a better job than me. However, I loved a sentence that was put at the very end of the book.

Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong.

After 400 pages of detailed scientific writing, the author concedes that half of the conclusions he arrived at will end up being proven wrong. I love the spirit of throwing out new ideas and challenging old ones, knowing full well that you will proven wrong to some degree at some future date and being OK with it.

I used to believe cake was an awesome food. I was wrong.

The reason the sentence spoke to me was because last week someone called my attention to a blog post I wrote years ago that contradicted a recent post. That person was upset with my current opinion and decided to call me out on my inconsistencies.

I’m cool with admitting when I’m wrong. As new evidence emerges or as my understanding of a topic improves, I’ll change my opinion. Should I take down old posts or correct them? Probably not, because if I was wrong on certain points before, then odds are that I’m wrong on a few things right now.

Being Wrong is Liberating

Whenever I think back to the points in my life where I admitted that I was wrong, it was almost always followed by a surge in personal growth. I no longer care if I save face. I’d rather chalk things up as a learning experience and move on.

I’ve been wrong about politics, nutrition, fitness, finance and even relationships. I’m certain to be wrong in the future. Trying to stay true to former opinions is too exhausting. It is better to quickly admit errors and move forward.

A Little Bit of Gardening

Earlier this year, I was able to get a pea-patch at my apartment complex. It is a 4 foot by 4 foot area. I’m sort of flying blind, but Mother Nature is doing her job. Stuff is growing. I ate some of the Russian Kale today and I survived. :)

russian kale

strawberry

peas

Someone Has Been Messing With My Almond Butter

One of the reasons I go to Costco is to stock up on almond butter. Recently, they replaced the MaraNatha Creamy Almond Butter glass jars with plastic jars. I noticed the ounces were the same, so I assume the product inside the jar was unchanged. About two servings into the jar, it struck me just how creamy it was. It seemed almost watery.

I did some digging and discovered that the Costco version of the MaraNatha Creamy Almond Butter has been thinned out. The price is still the same, but you are getting less almond butter. The product sold on their corporate site and others appears to be the same. This may just be a Costco thing.

The glass jar version had 23 servings at 190 calories. This plastic jar version has 23 servings at 180 calories. Same price, less product.

The glass jar version. Happier times.

They removed 230 calories of almond butter from every jar. Now it is too creamy. Who is to blame? Costco or MaraNatha or both? I don’t know. What I do know is the taste of the product has suffered and I’ll be buying the fresh ground stuff from Central Market and Fred Meyer going forward.

Every month that goes by, Costco gives me one less reason to shop there.

UPDATE July 28, 2011: Today I received this comment from Ted.

I would prefer the glass jars too, however the product inside is identical, 180 calories per serving , same as it was in the last batch of glass jars I purchased. The ingredients are only almonds so there is no thinning out. I checked with the company and they confirmed this.

That didn’t sound right to me, since when I wrote my original almond butter post in June 2010, I used 190 calories in my calculations. Lucky for me, I saved a few older jars. What did I find? MarthaNatha did have 190 calories per serving, but they switched to the 180 calories (the thin version) prior to switching to plastic jars. It was only when the almond butter went to pastic jars did I taste the difference.

If MarthaNatha is claiming that the recipe for this product has not changed, then they are being dishonest. They thinned the product BEFORE they made the switch to plastic jars, but they did in fact thin their product. Look at the photo below.

Larger version of photo

Costco is not the guilty party. MaraNatha is to blame.

UPDATE August 1, 2011: MaraNatha is now selling “No Stir” Almond Butter in both Creamy and Crunchy. They are in glass jars and they use the original 190 calories per serving recipe.

Meeting Macho Man Randy Savage

Wrestler and Slim Jim spokesperson Randy Savage died today. When you live in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area, you will run into pro wrestlers. It must of been 1996 or 1997 when I first met Macho Man Randy Savage. In the post Meeting Hulk Hogan and Macho Man, I told the story of how I got the autograph below.

About a year later on a weekend night in Ybor City (Tampa’s historic district), I saw a mob of people surrounding someone moving down the street. My friend Jason was visiting and he was the first to see it Macho Man. We went down there and said hello. He was signing autographs, taking photos and being very cool with his fans.

RIP Randy Savage.

Macho Man

Testing Out a New Web Host

Moving a web site is never fun. I spent hours this morning fixing database issues and moving files from my old host to my new host. There will be problems. Moving almost 1,500 posts and over 3,000 comments is not easy task. If you see a problem – send me an email. Thank you!

An Overview of My 4 Winters in Seattle

After living in the perfect weather of San Diego for seven years, I moved up to Seattle in 2007. This is an overview of my four winters in Seattle.

2007-2008: Shock

From the December 1, 2007 post This Wasn’t in the Brochure:

Its snowing in Bellevue. I need to find a cheap flight to Central America. Now.

2008-2009: Fun

This was the Seattle Snowpocalypse year. I started cold weather training and I really enjoyed this winter.

2009-2010: What Winter?

I wisely left Seattle for a month and traveled to Southeast Asia. I returned tanned and spring arrived early.

2010-2011: Make it Stop!

This winter is too wet, too cold and too miserable. Snow is fun, cold rain sucks. I should have traveled. Thinking of San Diego.

Pike Market by me

Seattle Pig – Get Well Soon

Yesterday morning a taxi ran into Rachel the bronze pig at Pike Market. From MSNBC’s Taxi crashes into Pike Place Market pig statue (link now gone):

A taxi driver hit the gas when he was rear-ended nearby early Saturday and plowed into Rachel the Pig, a 550-pound, bronze piggy bank that has stood outside the market’s famous fish-throwing stand since 1986.

The crash knocked the pig off her concrete base, which will have to be repaired. Market officials say it will probably take a few days. The statue itself was also scratched up a bit.

Today I stopped by and saw this “get well soon” roadside. Someone even set down flowers. I love this city.

Here is photo of me with Rachel the Pig from 2008.

Happier Times …for the pig ;)

Not Responding to My Attackers

In this post I am going to explain why I didn’t defend myself or respond to my attackers on MetaFilter last Friday. If you don’t know what happened, read Tales From the Glitter Gym – The End. There is a book that I often refer to for moral guidance. It is not the Bible. It is The 48 Laws of Power.

The 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is wisdom from 3,000 years of history condensed into 48 laws. Some people believe this book is evil and ruthless, but I see it more as a set of guidelines into human behavior. I’d like to think I use it for good. Not every law will apply to every person.

The primary reason I didn’t try to defend myself is that I didn’t want my attackers to define the debate. By responding directly to them, I would have allowed them to frame the debate. No thank you.

Law #4 – Always say less than necessary.

Saying nothing to the MetaFilter forum was my response. A younger me would have been drawn into the battle. Not now.

Law #9 – Win through your actions, never through arguments.

I can’t argue that I’m a good guy that is concerned with issues of fitness and nutrition. All I can do is keep posting on the topics in a positive and empowering voice. If a few of the MetaFilter crowd clicks around this site they will find those entries. One of my attackers even gave me 2 great ideas for future posts (Cardiovascular Training and Persistence Hunting).

Law #22 – Use the surrender tactic: Transform weakness into power.

This law needs a little explaining. Basically it means that when you are severely outnumbered, never fight for honor’s sake. Instead you should surrender. This tactic also infuriates those who wish to draw you into battle. On Friday this site got almost 10,000 more page views than normal. I was outnumbered. Since I was planning on ending Tales From the Glitter Gym anyway, this was perfect opportunity to end the series and promote posts that are both “constructive and helpful”.

Tales From the Glitter Gym – The End

Today the site MetaFilter linked to my Tales From the Glitter Gym. The comments exploded and they were mostly negative. A few people got the humor, but the majority didn’t. It is not often in life when you get honest feedback from such a large number of people at once. Most of the people that I know personally like Tales From the Glitter Gym. They get that it is a joke, but without context I now can see how others could see some of them as being mean-spirited.

I’ve read all the comments and have decided there will be no more editions to Tales From the Glitter Gym. I was getting bored with it anyway. I’ll leave the rant writing to far more skilled authors such as Joe Queenan and TC Luoma. On topics of fitness and nutrition, I’d rather keep the tone on this blog 100% constructive and helpful.

From March 2000 to November 2004, I had my first blog. It was mostly just a bunch of smart ass comments about what happened in the news that day. People that knew me thought it was funny, but then I met a guy who told me I was nothing like my blog. He expected to meet an angry bitter person, but I wasn’t. I shutdown that blog and then relaunched in 2005 with a goal to be kinder. Tales From the Glitter Gym was the only hold over from my previous blog. It is time to end it now too.

My Top 10 Songs of 2010

I have fully embraced Seattle’s love for indie rock. Here are my top 10 songs for 2010.

#1 Yeahsayer – O.N.E – This tune sounds like indie rock meets early 1990s dance. Love it!

#2 Deerhunter – Helicopter – Hauntingly beautiful.

#3 Broken Bells – The High Road – It was hard to pick a favorite Broken Bells song. I love this lyrics of The High Road. Come on and get your overdose.

#4 Best Coast – When I’m With You – Modern girl surf rock.

#5 Fitz and the Tantrums – Money Grabber – I love classic soul from the early 1960s. This band does a brilliant job recreating that sound.

#6 Crystal Castles with Robert Smith – Not In Love – The next best thing to a new Cure song.

#7 Beach House – Walk in the Park – I love the keyboard melody in this song.

#8 Foals – Black Gold – It was so tough to pick a favorite track from this release. Spanish Sahara, Miami and Blue Blood are equally excellent.

#9 Broken Social Scene – World Sick – If it weren’t for the slow start this would have been much higher on my list. Skip ahead to the 1 minute mark.

#10 Enrique Iglesias – I Like It – Two years ago, all 10 songs on my 2008 Top 10 list were sugar-filled dance tracks. Now we are down to just one. Even though I rarely listen to dance music anymore, this song is catchy. What can I say? I Like It!

Which songs did you like this year? Did we share any in common or did I miss something?

Information Overload

In the last week I have stumbled upon so many great web sites full of content that I want to read. I have never been under this heavy of an information overload. I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out how to filter out the noise that I wasn’t prepared to mainline so much signal.

How do you deal with an overload of quality information? Any tips would be appreciated.

Photo overloaded: from the back by woowoowoo

My Brilliant Idea on Fixing Car Alarms

I’ve had this idea for over 15 years, but I’ve never actually written it down before. We all know the problem with car alarms. Nobody believes them. We find them annoying. They completely fail in their role to be a deterrent for car theft or vandalism.

The root of this problem is that every car alarm sounds the same and that sound is annoying. What is needed is a way to for every car owner to customize the sound of their alarm and then make that alarm embarrassing.

Let me provide an example. I would like my car alarm to blast the song Copacabana by Barry Manilow. It is a horrifically bad song and if it went off in a parking garage while some thug had just broken by window, EVERYONE would look over to see just who in the hell is blasting Copacabana. One of three things would happen:

  1. I would hear that awful song and know it was MY CAR in danger and go to it immediately to either report a crime or turn it off for going off without reason.
  2. Others would recognize the song as being dreadful and know something was potentially wrong.
  3. The thug would know that unlike traditional car alarms, he really is drawing attention to himself. That might be enough motivation to flee.

Photo by Alan Light

In my world, car owners would have a USB stick that would carry customizations that they could program on their home computer and then plug into their car. One of the customizations would be an audio file for their car alarm. And since there are no shortage of awful songs, customization is really possible.

Imagine someday in the future you are at the grocery store and over the intercom an employee says:

Attention shoppers, will the owner of the car blasting John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy please attend to your vehicle.

If any company would like to use this idea, go for it. You have my permission. I don’t need to be compensated. Just set my car up with Copacabana. :)

Moving to Ballard

My year up here in Northgate is coming to an end. I came very close to returning to Queen Anne, but at the last minute I decided to look at one more apartment in the Ballard neighborhood. I’ll be very close to the Ballard Locks.

Fixing Politics #1 – The Voter

I never talk about politics on this blog. I consider myself post-political. One day I’ll talk more about that. Not today though. Instead of complaining about the system, I’m here to offer my solutions.

Today’s episode is The Voter. We all know the problem. Voters are too dumb and are easily manipulated by negative ads. The problem as I see it is that many voters don’t understand how our government works. If every voter understood how our government worked, we would be far less likely to fall for attack ads or irrelevant facts. We would nominate and vote for better candidates. And as a result, we would get a better government.

My solution is that in order to vote a citizen must pass the US Citizenship test. We have to pass a drivers license test to drive on our roads. How about we spend an hour or two learning about how our government works before heading to the polling place? Understanding what it means to be a US Citizen shouldn’t be just for immigrants. I think it should be for everyone that wants to participate in the voting process.

Participation rate in elections would fall, but the citizens that care enough to study and pass the test would see the power of their vote increase. The political debate would get more civil, as politicians would know that voters collectively understand government A LOT BETTER than they used to.

If my solution were adopted we would see a mad rush by all political parties to educate the population on the Constitution and American history. Much better than the current scare tactics method. Wouldn’t that be a great thing?

If I Were The King of Costco

I love Costco. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. I used to be able to time my visits when it was less crowded. Not anymore. It is always packed. Short of building new stores, here are a few ideas I would implement if I were The King of Costco.

  1. Paint Directional Arrows on the Floor (like IKEA) – Getting all the carts moving in the same direction would greatly help the shopping flow. These carts are HUGE. Whenever someone turns their cart around and starts heading against the general flow, things lock up.
  2. Do Something About the Free Sample People – I can’t stand these free sample stations peddling cheap processed carbohydrates. Some ideas include having a bell ring that causes them to go into hiding once the store has reached a threshold. Or having them all moved to a single aisle. How about setting aside one day of week, like Wednesday, where the free sample people get the day off?
  3. Shopping Day For Men – Reserve one day of the week where Costco plays profanity laced rock and rap music. Not that I enjoy either, but I can tolerate it better than parents and old people. No free food. No coupons. No checks. Actually I’d love to see this across the retail sector. It’d be a huge hit.
  4. Sell Diesel Fuel – People that buy Costco memberships are value shoppers. So are those of us that bought diesel cars. Sell me some diesel!
  5. Bring Back the Coconut Milk – Now!

That is all. If you were The King of Costco, what changes would you make?

6 Reasons I Haven’t Been To Your Coffee Shop

Believe it or not I haven’t been to every coffee shop in Seattle. Nor do I plan to. Why not? Below are the 6 Reasons I Haven’t Been To Your Coffee Shop.

  1. Coffee Doesn’t Get Top Billing – I am much more likely to visit a coffee shop that serves food than a restaurant or cafe that serves good coffee. I’m here for the bean, not cupcakes or sandwiches.
  2. Not Disclosing Your Roaster – I avoid coffee shops that hide to fall to disclose their coffee roaster. Why hide that information from the customer? Be proud of your roaster. Show the sticker or at least mention them on your website. The coffee fan must assume the coffee is inferior when this information is hidden.
  3. Your Roaster Sucks – There are a few local roasters that I think are terrible. If you open a new cafe using one of these roasters, I will assume you know little about about coffee and I will avoid your business. If you need help choosing a roaster for your business, I can provide unbiased assistance.
  4. Stupid Name – Places that use stimulate adjectives in the name (EX: jitter, wired, buzz) almost always are terrible.
  5. Trying to Sell Franchises at the Cafe – There is one upstart coffee shop in Seattle that is doing this. I refuse to name them or try them. They seem sleazy.
  6. Give Me Time, Let Me Know or Invite Me – It may just be a matter of time before I get to a coffee shop. I may not know about the place. You can always invite me. Last year Caffe D’Arte invited me down and shared their different coffees.

How about you? Do you have any rules or red flags when it comes to trying out a new coffee shop?

This place violates rules #1 and #3 and thus I haven’t been there.

The Fall

If you are wondering how I have been able to read so many books in the past month, it is because I injured myself three weeks ago. Laying on a heating pad recovering is perfect for reading. When coming down from the stairs, my brand new sock hit the slick wooden floor and I went airborne crashing down into the stairs. I hit my head and my left lower back. My head was fine. My back wasn’t.

Below is an artist rendering.

Even though I am feeling much better, I am still in some pain. Driving (left turns) and getting out of the car is where I feel the most pain. Thankfully, I have recovered enough that I can do pull-ups, push-ups and even walk for miles.

Jousting at the Renaissance Fair

This past weekend I went to my first Renaissance Fair. It was so hot that day. I feel sorry for all the people that were dressed in full costumes. The highlight of the event was seeing an actual jousting event. My camera was being repaired so I was unable to take photos that day. Below is an artist rendering of the joust event. ;)

Gig Harbor Ren Faire – Photo set by cronewynd

Freeway Park in Seattle

There is a hidden park that almost nobody in Seattle knows about. It is called Freeway Park. It is downtown and above the I-5 freeway. I took this photo of cars driving north on the I-5 going underneath the park. The park has free WI-FI too. Have you been to Freeway Park?

Stocking Up On Almond Butter

Costco sells a 26oz container of Creamy Almond Butter for just $5.75. They last a year and hold 4,370 calories. Almond butter tastes better and is more nutritious than peanut butter. I bought three and will cycle through and replace them going forward. Perfect survival food. Nutritious, tasty, cheap and portable.

Life After XM Radio

After almost six years of listening to satellite radio, I gave it up and returned to regular old terrestrial radio earlier this year. If you want to know the reasons, read Why I Am Not Renewing My Sirius XM Radio Subscription. How am I holding up?

Here were the channels I most listened to on XM Radio and my new substitute.

XM Radio Channel
Seattle Solution
XMU 43 - Indie Rock90.3 FM
BPM 8189.5 FM
Real Jazz 7088.5 FM (when NPR isn't on)
Soul Town 60MP3s
1970s Pop104.5 FM (partially) and MP3s
Opie & Anthony, Ron & FezPodcasts

For the most part, I am pleased with the substitutes. KEXP 90.3 FM is a great station and as a result I listen to more indie rock these days. My biggest shock turned out not to be programming, but sound quality. I miss the higher quality sound of satellite radio. I am strongly considering getting HD Radio. Going from XM to FM is like going from FM to AM.

Note that this post is not an endorsement of XM Radio. They are a bunch of criminals. Read the 40+ comments on Filing Fraud Charges Against XM Radio before you sign up and hand them your credit card number.

Top 6 Reasons We Can’t Be Business Partners

I get asked frequently to help others on business projects. In recent years, I have started declining most offers. Although I have not learned the qualities of a good business partner, I have isolated a few qualities of poor ones.

  1. Failure To Respect My Time – If you are frequently late to meetings or scheduled phone calls, you do not respect my time. If you do not respect my time, you do not respect me. We can’t be partners.
  2. Unresponsive to Email – Email is my chosen form of communication. When you don’t respond to me, I assume you have better things to do. I’m placing more value in the partnership than you. We can’t be partners.
  3. Incomprehensible in Email – See The Email Rant. Email isn’t hard. If you haven’t figured it out by now, we can’t be partners.
  4. Telling Me What I “Should Do” - There is a local coffee guy that continually tells me what I should be doing with my websites. He doesn’t know 10% of what I know about websites. He is transparent in his desire to manipulate me for his interests. If you are quick to tell me what I should do, we can’t be partners.
  5. Always Busy – I have found the people that most often say they are busy are extremely poor at time management. The truly busy don’t sit around telling the world how busy they are. If you are frequently saying you are busy, we can’t be partners.
  6. Social Networking Parasite – I’ll post further on this topic later, but I have found those that spend the most time social networking are empty suits. No substance. We can’t be partners.

One day I will figure out what a good business partner looks like. Until then, I am perfectly content doing things on my own.

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Photo Glock 19 by KLaFaille

This past Saturday I finally got around to doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I went to a gun range and fired some pistols. Before heading to the range, I spent several hours doing classroom instruction from a certified NRA instructor. I should be getting my NRA Basic Pistol certification (or is it a card?) in the mail soon.

At the range, I fired two 9MM (Ruger and Glock), a 22 and a .40 caliber Glock. The 22 was too small for my hand, but I enjoyed the others. Someone recently asked me if there was any other reason besides weight lifting on why one would would do grip strength training. Shooting a .40 caliber Glock might be a reason. Maybe being able to close a 167.5 pound Captains of Crush single handed helped me handle that Glock? Couldn’t have hurt.

Near Heart Attack on the Freeway

This morning I made a lane change behind an 18 wheeler and looked up to see a man hanging from the back of a moving truck loaded with boxes. Just before I had a heart attack, I realized I was looking at a photo painted onto the back of a truck.

I should probably start wearing my glasses when I drive during rush hour. ;)

Tea MacGyver

This post has been moved from Coffee Hero. It was originally written on December 22, 2009.

Brewing loose leaf tea when your mug is too big for your steeper.

My Ideas on Fixing the Holiday Schedule

For the most part I like how the holidays are spread across the calendar, but if I were King for a day, I’d make the following changes.

MLK Day

I would change Martin Luther King Day to Civil Rights Day. There were lots of important historical figures that helped advance civil rights, not just MLK. Use this holiday to highlight 2 or 3 people each year. Make it an educational holiday. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a stupid concept, but every year it does draw attention to the new inductees. The problem with MLK Day is it only draws attention to MLK.

The holiday should be moved to the Monday after the Super Bowl. Mid January is too soon for a holiday after Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Plus it will give the sports announcers something else to discuss during their 12 hour pre-game show. A little history lesson for a captive audience.

April Fools Day

I think last week proved that every year is too much. I propose April Fools Day should only occur on odd years.

Easter

Easter is “…the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the vernal equinox.” As a result the date of Easter varies between March 22 and April 25. Too confusing. How able we settle on the first Sunday in April? Hope that isn’t blasphemous.

Presidents Day

More companies and schools celebrate MLK Day than Presidents Day. The reason is February is just too close to MLK Day. Since I pushed that to early February, I propose moving Presidents Day to mid October. This is the month that Americans are most likely to be paying attention to elections. Why not focus on past Presidents then?

March Madness Brackets

It has been years since I’ve seen a basketball game, but that hasn’t stopped me from developing my own methodology for completing the March Madness Brackets.

  1. Look for Ohio State and then pick them to win every single game.
  2. For every other match, pick the favorite. Since I know nothing about the other teams, I must assume that the majority of the rankings are correct.

Note that this strategy has never worked for me, but I figure I’m due. ;)

Photo Go, Bucks, Go by iampeas

Why I Am Not Renewing My Sirius XM Radio Subscription

I have been a paid subscriber of XM Radio since June 2004. For the most part I am very satisfied with the technology and programming. However, at the end of this month I will not be renewing. Sirius XM messed up. Here are the reasons I will be returning to terrestrial radio (AM/FM) in March.

  1. After XM and Sirius merged, they lowered the sound quality for online listeners and then had the gall to demand a higher monthly fee to get what was previously defined as part of the service. I paid for a 4 year renewal based off the high sound quality of their online offerings. After they lowered the bitrate, the music stations were unlistenable. Basically they went from near CD quality to AM radio quality.
  2. Poor customer relations. Channels were added and dropped and I never once got an email or letter. The only time I ever got an updated channel listing was when there was a bill. On a few occasions, I emailed stations asking what song they played at a certain time. Only once was any of my emails ever returned. Don’t ask your listeners to contact you if you have no intention of responding to them.
  3. The May 2007 suspension of Opie and Anthony for something a deranged homeless man said. The station is marked XL for explict language. That 30 day suspension was uncalled for and showed that XM Radio is a spineless company that cared more about the merger with Sirius than free speech.
  4. Call center in India is unprofessional. I have absolutely no problem with call centers in India. The majority of my experiences have been positive, but not with XM Radio. When I have called XM Radio, it takes forever to connect with someone. Once you get someone on the line, they have music blasting. I was able to overcome the Indian accent, but not with Snoop Dogg playing in the background.
  5. Call center in India deals with sensitive financial information. American laws protect my financial data on American soil. Although India has data protection laws, I do not feel comfortable that I am protected or have recourse if that trust is violated overseas. In other words, I will not be reading a credit card number to anyone that is not in America. Tech support, no problem. Financial transaction, no way.
  6. The most important reason is that XM Radio has fraudulently charged my credit card twice, lied to me and has not apologized or made peace with me. I was forced to cancel my credit card number and file fraud charges on them. The full details are on the post Filing Fraud Charges Against XM Radio.
  7. Seattle has at least three good commercial free radio stations on the FM dial. 88.5 has dance music, 89.5 has jazz when NPR isn’t on and 90.3 has a killer selection of indie music. There may be more good stations, but I haven’t ventured past 90.3.

There you have it Sirius XM. I predict your company will go into bankruptcy. When people like me that have been early supporters and die hard backers of your technology walk away angry – you have problems.

After you go through bankruptcy, fire Mel Karmazin, bring the call centers back to the States and emerge as a new company I might forgive you. Until that happens, you’re dead to me.

Healthcare and Price Discovery

Today I had a prescription filled. It costs me $50. When the pharmacist counseled me on the medication, he asked how much I paid. When he heard $50, he walked me out to one of the aisles and showed me my medication was available over the counter for half of what I paid. He helped me get a refund and I left happy that I saved $25. I was fortunate that the pharmacist cared to ask. I’m sure many others have overpaid.

That is the problem with medication. Everybody is paying a different price. The people using my health care plan are no doubt subsidizing the medicine costs for those on other plans. Want to solve the health care problems? Have everyone pay the same price for any medicine or health care procedure. Then require those prices be posted. Honest markets require transparent pricing.

For costs to drop in any marketplace, there must be efficient price discovery. Health care is such a mess because there is price obfuscation at every level. As long as you can hide costs as much as possible, the costs will not drop. They may not land on the person receiving treatment, but someone will end up paying.

Leaving Queen Anne

I love my Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne, but it is time to move soon. I’ve been given an opportunity to rent the bottom floor of a brand new house near Northgate. My living expenses will be half what I’m paying in Queen Anne. How long can I last in the suburbs? We will see.

Besides reduced living expenses the biggest upside to moving will be the larger brand new kitchen. I will not miss my little kitchen. I will miss Queen Anne though.

South 47 Farm and Corn Maze

If my Seattle peeps need a fun way to spend an afternoon with the family, head out to Redmond and visit the South 47 Farm. They have crops you can pick, animals to pet and a huge corn maze. They actually carved up a full maze covering 5.5 acres in a corn field. The maze has shortcuts, clues, hidden signs and many dead ends. Good times!

Don’t Waste Another Text Message On Me

I just setup a text message block on my phone. As a cell phone customer, I have two options:

  1. Buy an unlimited text plan, for which I’ll never use.
  2. Pay 20 cents to send and 20 cents to receive each text message.

The unlimited option is a total waste of money for me, which leaves option 2. I have no problem with paying 20 cents to send a text. My issue is that I have to pay to receive texts. For 20 cents, I can buy a banana. So everytime I get anidiotic text, it is like someone reaching into my kitchen window and stealing a banana.

Yeah I know, I’m an old man. I don’t IM either. I am not a fan of short burst communication. It is almost all noise with very little signal. Feel free to call me, email me or even write me a letter. I pick and choose the technologies that benefit and enrich my life. Texting is not one of them.

Urban Hike – 22.6 Mile Edition

I only intended to do a 5 mile hike today, but decided to take a few different turns and I ended up exploring a new section of Seattle. I didn’t know there was a beach with a diving board at Madison Park. This ended up being my longest hike to date by a hair. In February, I hiked 22.5769 miles. Today, I logged 22.5988 miles. I’m rounding that puppy up to 22.6!

This hike was much slower as I am no longer wearing shoes with cushioned heels. Unlike the hike in February, I experienced no back pain. However, my feet are tired. That is a fair trade off in my opinion.

urban-hike-22-p2

Blueberry Picking East of Seattle

If you head east of Seattle this time of the year, you will find many places that have a U-Pick-Em blueberry program. They hand you a bucket and you make your way out onto the farm to pick your own blueberries. When you are finished, they weight the blueberries and then charge you around $1.50 a pound.

I love blueberries, so last week I headed East to get my bounty.

Marketman at the Geldpress said he picked over 20 pounds of blueberries. I only got about 8 pounds and I had help. The night after picking blueberries, I had a dream where I kept picking more blueberries. If you have space in your freezer, seek out a blueberry farm and start picking.

My tip is to avoid the Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm. It is over picked at this point. If any of my fellow Seattle blueberry pickers are out there, post in the comments which farms you liked.

Is Twitter The Borg?

A few months ago I realized that Twitter could be The Borg. Star Trek has a long history of creating things before they become reality. Could it be that The Borg which debuted in 1989 predicted Twitter? Millions of status reports (tweets) are being sent to and from the Twitter servers (The Borg Queen). Every Twitter user seems to have a goal to recruit more Twitter users (assimilate).

I wasn’t the only one that noticed the similarities. Author John Battelle posted that Twitter was one step away from the Borg. From his January 26, 2009 post Twitter and The Borg:

Is Twitter the logical next step to a Borg hivemind? First books. Then blogs. Then Twitter. Then … Borg?

the-borg

He further writes:

What happens when Twitter shifts to real time? Could we handle it? Could it happen? A microconversation in our heads, on all the time? I’m not sure we could. It is, however, what the Borg is all about, no? The delta between individual and social closed to no more than a blink? Very sci fi. Hmmm.

I’m not a Star Trek guru, so I consulted the Wikipedia to see if my theory had any merit. That is when I stumbled on a fact that discredited my idea that Twitter could be The Borg. In the section on Characteristics (General Design), I found this fact.

Individual Borg rarely speak except in cases where such communication is necessary.

Twitter is clearly not The Borg.

My Two Reading Lists

I have two lists of books that I want to read. I’ve been successful with one and lazy with the other.

  1. Books I Own – The books I’ve purchased and sit on my shelf.
  2. Amazon List – I use the Amazon Wish List to keep track of all the books I want to read. That list is now 10 pages long and has 229 books on it. Using this list, I place holds on the books at the library. As I finish books, I delete them from the list.

The Books I Own never get read. They just get boxed and moved from place to place. I want to read them, but I always seem to have at least one of my library holds available for pick up. With the library books, I have 3 weeks to read it. Sometimes I’ll have 3 or 4 books out at a time. To avoid late fees, the books on my shelf will need to wait. The library books always seem to come first. The result is I never get around to the Books I Own.

I think I figured out a way to finally tackle the Books I Own. Donate them to the library and then place the books on hold. ;)

Guess Who Signed Up For The 2009 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon?

I didn’t mention this earlier, but I signed up for the 2009 Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon which took place this past Saturday. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. I am in still in retirement when it comes to running. I signed up as a medical volunteer for the race.

Medical volunteers arrived at 5:45 AM. We set up our station at the 14.3 mile marker and then waited for the injured to visit us. We waited and waited. Because the weather was so cool, we didn’t get any heat exhaustion cases. We had very few runners that needed assistance and I ended up spending a good amount of time across the street at Trabant Coffee. I’m so glad I encouraged them to open 3 hours early for the race.

Even though I now consider distance running to be bad for your health, I understand the runners high. Completing a marathon is a great life experience. Here are two ideas to improve your next marathon time.

  1. If your marathon time was greater than 5 hours, I can almost bet the farm your posture sucks. The most common feature with the “back of the pack” runners was not age, body type or sex, it was posture. It was lousy. Have someone watch you run. Fix your alignment and posture and your time will improve. With a 50 centimeter stride, you will take 84,000 strides in a marathon. Minor improvements in posture will really help your time. You’ll also feel better the next day and have a faster recovery.
  2. Here is some more motivation to run faster. The water cups you are handed as you run the race are filled prior to the start of the race using fire hydrants. Before the fire hydrant hose is turned off, lined trash containers are filled with water for easy refill access. On a hot day, the aid stations will refill from these containers. No problem, right? Not unless spectators start throwing trash in them. Notice the photo below. You can see the empty coffee cups. What you don’t see in this photo: a stick with Vasoline on it, gum and something a homeless dude put in there. If the race has warm weather, don’t be in the “back of the pack” or there might be something yucky in your water.

Here I am in front of our Medical Aid station.

Blue Marlin Sushi

I took a break from Ahi sushi and made sushi using Blue Marlin. Works just as well. Some of you have asked where I get the fish. Would you believe Costco? The trick is to only buy the stuff that was packed that day.

Seattle Peace Park – Sadako Saski

I walked past Seattle Peace Park and this statue on Friday. The statue is of Sadako Saski, who was a Japanese child victim that survived the Hiroshima bombing.

What is the story with the paper crane? From Wikipedia:

On August 3, 1955, Chizuko Hamamoto Sadako’s best friend came to the hospital to visit and cut a golden piece of paper into a square and folded it into a paper crane. At first Sadako didn’t understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold the story about the paper cranes. Inspired by the crane, she started folding them herself, spurred on by the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish. A popular version of the story is that she fell short of her goal of folding 1,000 cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her. This comes from the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Filing Fraud Charges Against XM Radio

If you would have asked me a few years ago who my favorite company was, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say XM Radio. Today I filed fraud charges against them. A few months ago I noticed a bad charge on my credit card. I called them up and they told me that they didn’t have any record of the charge. I informed Chase and the charge was removed.

Then another charge was placed on the card. I called XM Radio again. After a lot of investigation they discovered that they had tied another customer account to my credit card number. They tried to blame to Chase. I told them it was their fault. They admitted fault and then assured me the charge was removed while I was still on the phone. XM Radio also promised me no further fraudulent charges would occur and a supervisor would call me within 2 days to confirm everything had been cleared on their side.

After 5 days of not receiving that call, I called Chase. XM Radio lied to me twice. The fraudulent charge was not removed. At this point I knew XM Radio would continue to make fraudulent charges against my credit card, so I had to cancel my card and get another one issued with a new number.

If you are a customer of XM Radio (maybe Sirius too?) and you have a credit card on file, double check your statements to confirm they aren’t making fraudulent charges. I eagerly await the day XM Sirius goes bankrupt and is acquired by more competent management.

Follow Up Post: Why I Am Not Renewing My Sirius XM Radio Subscription

Stealing Electricity From the Office

Today’s Dilbert reminded me of one of my office stories.

Dilbert.com

One day I was walking back to the break room and I noticed a thick orange extension cord plugged into the wall. Someone had propped the back door open. Curious to see what was being charged, I followed the orange extension cord outside. It was an RV. A pretty good sized one too.

Turns out one of the employees was heading out on a weekend trip to the desert and thought it was a good idea to charge up his RV on the company dime. I hinted to the employee that it took guts to be so openly stealing electricity. Despite the fact California had gone through rate hikes and rolling blackouts, he didn’t seem to think charging up his RV was theft. It took all day to fully charge his vehicle.

That employee was eventually promoted to Vice President.

White Asparagus

When I saw white asparagus at the store, I thought it was the most bizarre thing. The cashier informed me that white asparagus is grown in buried dirt, so it receives no light. No light means it doesn’t turn green. Of course I had to try it and tell everyone.

I learned that I’m the last one to hear about white asparagus. Turns out this is old news. What can I say? It was new to me. Anyway, it tasted no different than green asparagus.

Broiled Lamb and White Asparagus

You Either Shut Up Or Get Cut Up

Last night I got the opportunity to watch a local live radio talk show. The show is called TBTL. Other than the show I watched last night, I’ve only heard two hours. It is different than the guy hot talk shows that I normally listen to (Opie & Anthony, Ron & Fez and Adam Carolla). The humor is more conversational and subtle. It has been over four years now since I abandoned AM/FM radio in favor of satellite programming. Hearing a local talk show again was a nice experience.

TBTL show in Seattle. Just kidding. This photo is RAF mobile radio station by Flickr user Adelaide Archivist

The hour I watched was a segment called Meet The Kates. They took three local Kates from different Seattle neighborhoods and an online Kate listener from LA and ran them through a personality test. They wanted to determine if girls named Kate have the same or unique personalities. I won’t give away the results (show link: April 15, 2009 8 PM- 9PM).

When I saw the great Bob Lassister do an hour of radio, I got to sit in studio. This time I was in a side room with the engineer and news guy. I witnessed how the radio spots were scheduled in real time and I was there when their news guy gave a vocal tips to an intern.

Move Called Off – Staying in Queen Anne

I changed my mind and accepted an offer to extend my lease for 6 months with a 5% reduction in rent. I’m sure I could have found a cheaper place, but my back injury made me reassess the move.

For almost a week when I should have been looking for new places, I could barely walk. Then when I could walk fine, I looked at a few units, but the pain flared up again. With only two weeks to find a new place and move myself (heavy couch), I decided it wasn’t wise to move at this time.

My place is fine and I love my neighborhood. I will count this as a minor victory. Just by asking my landlord to make a counter offer, I got a 3.5% increase in rent lowered to a 5% reduction. I also got the terms of the lease reduced from 12 months to 6 months. The monthly savings will pay for my cell phone and Netflix bills. Since I expect rents to continue to slide, by November I expect even lower rent or a better apartment for a similar amount.

If your lease is coming due, come armed with data and ask your landlord for a rate reduction. Even if you have no intention of moving, the worst they can say is no.

Updating the Moving Scorecard Again

When my building decided to raise my rent 3.5%, I let them know that they were in denial on the current state of the Seattle rental market. This is not 2008. Rents are falling everywhere in Seattle. I told my building that if they want to keep me, they would have to return with a lower offer.

Yesterday they came back to me with a 5% drop from my current rate. Not enough. I gave notice.

seattle-water

Once again I’ll be moving. The Moving Scorecard will soon reflect 19 addresses in 21 years.

Landlords are betting that the hassle of moving is enough to keep their good tenants from leaving. They are keeping rents above market rate. When it comes time to renew your lease, go to your landlord armed with data and tell them you expect a lower rate and that you will move if you have to. There are too many vacant units out there. Many are offering sweet deals to new tenants.

I’m going to start looking on Monday.

UPDATE (4/16/2009): Move called off. I accepted this offer.

Seattle Sunshine Traffic

When I lived in San Diego there was one traffic condition I dreaded. It was the first rain during rush hour after a long dry period. The rain would kick up dust and oil on the roads and they would have slick patches on them. Traffic would grind to halt and there would be accidents. And then I’d go to work and hear the chorus of voices about how Californians can’t drive in the rain.

seattle

Seattle has the opposite problem. We know how to drive in the rain. The situation that causes traffic problems is a beautiful sunny day after a long period of dreary weather. And if that day happens to fall on a weekend, then look out. Everyone comes out of hibernation and decides to go somewhere. Today was that day. Trying to go North this evening was a nightmare. Almost as bad as San Diego in the rain.