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Category Archives: Thoughts

Suburban creep

I enjoy traveling. And I like living the suburban life. But when I travel, I don’t want to visit suburbia.

Recently we traveled to New York City, and while visiting the borough of Queens, I was struck by how suburbia is encroaching on the character of places like this. Next to the row housing and tenaments is a brand new CVS store (with parking!). Alongside the subway tracks, street-front delis, and bagel shops are Home Depot and Best Buy.

Is it just me, or is it getting harder and harder to find places with pure character and original vintage? What’s next – Starbucks in Philly’s Independence Hall?  Walmart at the bottom of Niagara Falls? A mall next to the Alamo? Oh wait, that already exists…

While modern outfits like these are sometimes convenient to have, they drain the appeal of visiting a place that’s supposed to be a getaway – different from home.

After all, I could save a lot of time and money by going to the Target down the road instead of the one on the volcano of Hawaii’s Big Island.

On one side is the housing you’d expect in Queens, NY…

…and on the other side is a CVS store tucked under the elevated tracks of the subway.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Random, Thoughts, Travel

 

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Mini-random journeys

Happy observations, profound thoughts, minor annoyances, pleasant surprises…

  1. A poppyseed bagel should lose its bakery card if all the seeds fall off when you’re slicing it.
  2. It’s such an unexpected treat when the shopping cart you pull off the line doesn’t thump every two feet or violently pull to one side.
  3. When in doubt, reboot.
  4. How is it that if you still have a Barack Obama bumper sticker on your car you’re “naive,” but if you still have a Rick Perry sticker you’re “loyal”?
  5. Starbucks and dark chocolate are proof that God loves us.
  6. 50% of statistics can made to say anything 90% of the time.

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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Random, Thoughts

 

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Reasons to avoid talking on the phone

It’s ironic that the device I use the most is also the one I can’t stand using. At least part of it.

Today I made airline reservations and was forced to call Delta to speak to an actual human. Four times. The first representative couldn’t help me so she transferred me to another department. But we got cut off, so I had to call back and re-explain the issue to someone I knew couldn’t help. The second rep gave me the number to call directly to the online support desk. So I did, but unfortunately she gave me the number to Delta’s internal IT service desk. For employees. Call #3 fail. Finally the fourth call was the charm and a supervisor was able to override whatever systems were creating the havoc to begin with.

This issue is a microcosm of why I hate talking on the phone. But it’s more than that. I will do almost anything to avoid talking on the phone. Here are a few reasons why…

  1. The delay. Incredible that cell phone providers haven’t improved this. After 20 years, callers still stammer through pauses between speakers and then end up talking over each other because neither party hears the other. This timing problem makes having a normal conversation so difficult.
  2. The abyss. Don’t call me and stay on the line unnecessarily without saying anything. Get to the point. Time’s a wastin! And it’s disrespectful to take up someone’s time for nothing.
  3. The clueless helper. How many customer phone reps does it take to change a lightbulb? The reason I avoid calling to speak with someone like the plague is that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing, if they can even grasp my issue from their call center in India or South America. It’s just so much easier to fix it yourself online.
  4. The bad timing. Inevitably the phone starts vibrating when you can least get to it. When your arms are full of grocery bags; when you’re running late to drop off the kids; or in general when you can’t be bothered. Yet you can’t NOT answer the phone because you never know what emergency lies on the other end.

There are so many reasons why, but before you think I’m some sort if grumpy curmudgeon, read what The Oatmeal says on the subject. They sum it up better than I can…

 

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Random, Thoughts, Uncategorized

 

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No monkeying around: My 10-year-old has a blog

My 10-year-old “baby” boy is blogging. This is the new normal.

I don’t know if should be worried or proud.

But one thing’s for sure…the kid’s got initiative.

See, somewhere he heard that certain species of monkeys are endangered. In his research, he found the World Wildlife Fund website and discovered their adoption program. For $50 you can select an animal species to adopt and WWF sends you a certificate with photos and info about the actual animal you select in the wild. The money goes to conservation, habitat preservation, and supporting the long-term survival of the species.

He has chosen to save the monkeys.

And he’s not stopping at one. He wants to raise $100 to adopt two animals.

And in less than two hours today he had his own blog on WordPress (with a little help from Dad, but not much)! As of this writing, he has already collected $33.11.

So visit his site at bensavesthemonkeys.wordpress.com and consider donating to his cause.* He has pledged to keep his site updated with his fundraising progress, and if you give money, he will send you a copy of the adoption certificate.

*Secure donations can be made with credit cards made through Dad’s PayPal account.

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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Family, Random, Thoughts

 

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Who would make your starting 5? Here’s mine.

This week marked the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamerlain’s indelible 100-point game. So in honor of this unmatched feat, I’m taking a look at the best players of all time; or rather, the best in my lifetime. Since I wasn’t around to see the Archibalds, Russells, and Havlicek’s of the world, I’m limiting my study to the last 40-something years.

My criteria are simple – the best players at their position since 1970. I’m picking a starting 5 and a backup at each position. As with any ranking list, it’s totally subjective and there are reasonable alternatives, but that’s OK. Take a look at my picks and then tell me who would make your team in the comments.

Here’s my team…

— POINT GUARD —

Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Los Angeles Lakers 1979-1991, 1996

The point guard: Magic Johnson.

I needed some convincing to put Magic in the starting point guard spot. For some reason the guy just seems a little fakey to me, but after further reflection, the choice was obvious. Nobody had more charisma, leadership and “magic” than Earvin. He could play all five positions. He was the leader on a team of stars, invented the no-look pass, and his numbers simply speak for themselves.

Career accomplishments:

Close second: Jason Kidd.

— SHOOTING GUARD —

Michael Jordan
Chicago Bulls 1984-1998, Washington Wizards 2001-2003

The shooting guard: Michael Jordan.

Volumes have been written about this legend, so there’s not much more I can add. I remember watching him on TV and thinking to myself that no one will ever be as great. Then while working for the Spurs, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing MJ in a post-game locker room interview during his comeback/farewell tour with Washington. I’ll never forget it. The greatest player of all time. End of story.

Career accomplishments:

Close second: Kobe Bryant.

— POWER FORWARD —

Tim Duncan
San Antonio Spurs 1993-present

The power forward: Tim Duncan.

Maybe a homer call here, but it’s hard to put anyone else in the same class as The Big Fundamental. His skills and quickness have diminished now to the point that it’s almost hard to remember how dominant the guy was in his prime. But keep in mind that it took Tim’s arrival in San Antonio to put another great player, David Robinson, over the top to a championship. With the best footwork of any big man ever, Duncan is also the most unassuming anti-star, and best overall team player — which makes this an easy call.

Career accomplishments:

Close second: Charles Barkley.

— SMALL FORWARD —

Larry Bird
Boston Celtics 1979 – 1992

The small forward: Larry Bird.

Larry Legend was literally awesome — and awe-inspiring — to watch. Perhaps the best passer in history, and without a doubt the best clutch shooter in history. At the end of the game, there was no one you wanted to have the ball more than Bird. As a 76ers fan growing up, I dreaded Celtics games because Boston always dominated the matchup. Sporting a weird looking set shot, he had a killer instinct, knowing exactly when to step on the opponent’s throat.

Career accomplishments:

Close second: Julius Erving.

— CENTER —

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Bucks 1969-1975, Los Angeles Lakers – 1975 – 1989

The center: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The all-time leading scorer with an unfathomable 38,387 points, he won six championships on two teams. Invented the unblockable “sky hook,” making him virtually unguardable in the post. He earned an incredible 19 all-star appearances and was MVP of the league six times.

Career accomplishments:

Close second: Shaquille O’Neal.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Random, Sports, Thoughts

 

Why Amazon is becoming the real best buy

Like all red-blooded American consumers, I receive 5-7 packages a week from Amazon.

Wait, what? You don’t?

OK, I admit I have an Amazon addiction. But I can stop anytime, I swear. See, for $80 a year with Amazon’s Prime service, I get free 2-day shipping and pay no sales tax on most orders. Prime also gives you free access to Amazon’s video streaming content, but the selection is lame so that’s not really a consideration.

Best Buy

Amazon's Showroom: Best Buy.

Amazon warehouse

One of Amazon's warehouses: where the real magic happens.

What’s happening in retail is interesting, and it’s making the national big box stores sweat bullets. Physical stores, which spend millions in bricks and mortar, inventory, staff, and advertising, have essentially become Amazon’s showroom.

Best Buy’s impending death has been frequently documented. Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Kohl’s are also feeling the pinch. After all, who doesn’t like going to squeeze the Charmin in person, scanning the bar code with the Amazon iPhone app, and then buying it for an average of 11% less with one click?

So what can stores do to combat this momentum?

1) Beat Amazon on price. This one is difficult. Since most of these stores deal largely in commodities, profit margins are already razor-thin. Some retailers are experimenting with in-store discounts by using their special financing deals. Target, for example, gives you 5% off for using their Red card, which is simply a debit card tied to your bank account.

2) Provide other services that can’t be matched online. It’s still more convenient to get your computer serviced at a local store than shipping it to some unknown location. And stores that combine experiences such as eating and shopping (Ikea, Costco), or groceries and electronics (Super Target), for example, make it more tempting to shop locally. Moreover, immediacy is still an advantage. Two-day shipping is not same day delivery. When you gotta have it now, nothing online will do.

3) Create exclusive products. The box stores could develop strategic product lines that are unique to their stores. While this may work for some consumers who care most about features, many are more motivated by price and are likely to forgo the latest product features in lieu of a cheaper overall price tag.

That’s about the best advice I’ve got for the big box retailers. Not an easy proposition, obviously. But it is an interesting study in modern capitalism. What do you think? Are there other things retail stores can do to survive? Or are you already an Amazon addict like me?

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Business, Random, Thoughts

 

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A snowboarding primer for skiers

I’ve been skiing for about 20 years so I consider myself a pretty decent skier. I usually eat blue slopes for breakfast and occasionally shred some black diamonds with moguls. So when our 10-year-old son begged us to take him snowboarding this year, I figured it would be an easy transition.

Boy, was I wrong!

The first thing you need to know is that snowboarding and skiing are two totally different things. The muscles are different. The technique is different. About the only similarity is that you’re sliding down a snow-covered mountain. Where skiing is about coordination and rhythm, snowboarding is all balance and footwork. Snowboarding is to skiing what rugby is to touch football.

And here’s the proof, a quick video of our first snowboarding trip…

So if you’re an experienced skier interested in making the leap to a board, let me break it down for you…

Equipment
Boots: Ski boots are extremely rigid, hard plastic shoes that transfer every subtle movement to the ski. Snowboard boots are more flexible shoes that lace up like heavy duty mountain hiking boots. Ski boots are storm troopers to snowboard boots’ Michelin man. Advantage: Snowboarding.

Bindings: Skis are designed to have your boots snap into place, and release when you twist or fall. Snowboards require your feet to be strapped in without releasing upon wipeouts. It’s a somewhat awkward movement to have your lead foot strapped in while your back foot is loose. This is necessary when getting on and off the lifts and for moving along flat landings. In addition, on skis, you exit the chair lift and immediately start down the hill. Snowboarding requires you to literally sit on the snow to strap your other foot to the board after the lift. Every time. Advantage: Skiing.

Boards/Skis: Obviously skiing uses two skis and two poles, which makes carrying and walking in those boots really challenging. Skis are also heavier than snowboards. Carrying a snowboard is easily done by holding the flat side next to your body and grabbing the board right under the top binding. Advantage: Snowboarding.

Technique
Downhill: The act of skiing involves basically aiming your feet in parallel, and turning in in a big ‘S’ pattern. As you get more advanced you can point straight down and grab your edges into the snow to slow down. It’s closer to standing and leaning, while you traverse the mountain. Because both feet are on a single board in snowboarding, the same method doesn’t translate. Instead, balance is the whole thing. You either lift your toes to dig your heels into the snow, or lift your heels to slow and turn, depending on which way you’re facing. But dig too deeply either way and you’re going down hard. Advantage: Skiing.

Lifts: As I mentioned, snowboarding is tougher to get on chair lifts, because you have to unstrap your back foot and slide into place. At the top, you still have only one foot in, so you have to get off the lift and get yourself out of the way before finding a place to sit and strap the other foot. In skiing it can sometimes be difficult to move yourself into position for the lift, but not having to adjust or unstrap every time, makes it more efficient. Advantage: Skiing.

Overall
Most skiers I talked to said they had a rough time trying to snowboard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. Both sports are fun and have their pros and cons. Overall, it just depends what you want to do and what you enjoy. Just know that ability in one doesn’t automatically translate to the other. Advantage: You decide!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Family, Thoughts, Travel

 

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