Sunday, August 31, 2008
For those of us who love to read, there's the constant need to decide just which books we're going to spend time with. Back in 2005, the Guardian found that more than two in every five people "follows the traditional method of choosing their reading; relying on recommendations from close family and friends."
If you'd like to consider alternative approaches, here are three options.
1. Merlin Mann has a number of questions he asks himself about a nonfiction book; the preferred answer to each would be "no." Some of the questions:
- Does the book’s index seem weak or does it not contain entries for the topic or person whom you most associate with the book’s theme or title?
- Does the book’s body or heading text suffer from careless or illegible typesetting? Does the book look like an unfinished government manual? Should the designer be horse-whipped for choosing a bold display face for body text?
- Have you already found erors and misspelings?
2. In The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, Steve Leven says, "To live your well-read life - at any age - it is essential to take your selection of books seriously." He advocates building a List of Candidates; this list is then used to build a Library of Candidates - the ones you actually buy (or borrow).
"Collecting titles and the actual books that complement your interests is essential preparation. Whether it's Beaujolais or business principles, orcas or orchids, seeking out the best books ever written on your subjects holds the keys to your kingdoms. Ask people who ought to know for their recommendations, and about the books that are available. It's really that simple, yet few people pursue their reading choices deliberately, let alone avidly, in this manner."
Leven also talks about "iffy advice from friends." He writes: "Having been let down a few times, I've since learned to ask friends why they like the book so much. If you don't know each other all that well, it's probably best to note their recommendation on your List of Candidates and wait. Perhaps you'll come across another friend who recommends it. ... The International Global Positioning System takes three satellites to fix a position and four satellites to fix it well. We might apply a similar concept to books that friends recommend."
3. Carrie likes to add some randomness into the mix. Over on Marginal Revolution, she writes: "In addition to all the normal ways of picking books, about once a month I go to the Book Nook (used book store) walk down aisles that are of interest to me, close my eyes and walk while running my fingers up and down the books until I stop at one randomly. Then I choose that one or either one to the side. If I've read them all, I go again. Crazy I know, but it's led me to read some great books I never would have picked up otherwise."
However you select your books, remember it's fine to stop reading one if you decide you don't like it!
[photo by jepoirrier / Jean-Etienne Poirrier]
Friday, August 29, 2008
"Confusion is the biggest enemy of good thinking. We try to do too many things at the same time. We look for information. We are affected by feelings. We seek new ideas and options. We have to be cautious. We want to find benefits. Those are a lot of things that need doing.
"Juggling with six balls at the same time is rather difficult. Tossing up one ball at a time is much easier. With the Six Hats method, we try to do only one thing at a time."
That's Edward de Bono, quoted from his book Six Thinking Hats - my latest reading. The book's been around for a long time - it was first published in 1985, and revised in 1999 - but it's a new discovery for me, and I was impressed.
Although de Bono is mostly advocating the method for work in groups, he also notes that it can help an individual. The basic idea is to get everyone in a group focused on one way of thinking at a time, for a limited time period. The six hats are:
White hat: Focus on just the facts. This one reminded me of the Fair Witness in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.
Red hat: Focus on emotions
Black hat: Focus on the negative, the possible problems
Yellow hat: Focus on the positive, the possible benefits
Green hat: Focus on new, creative ideas
The sixth hat, the blue hat, is a bit different - it's focused on thinking. What problem are we trying to solve? How is the thinking process going?
Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen wrote about de Bono recently, and pointed me to the following video where de Bono talks about the different hats. It's a nice introduction, but if you are at all interested, try reading the book. It's a quick read, and you can probably find it at a local library - I did!
What does an organizer give as a door prize when she speaks? That's always an interesting challenge, since the last thing I want to do is create clutter for someone else!
But I think I've found a winner. Other professional organizers had raved about the versatile Hecht of an Organizer, sold by organizer Linda Hecht (pronounced heck). Linda says that "it was not only designed to improve daily workflow for everyone, but to help support the environment by facilitating the use of recycled cardboard boxes, and the use of new boxes made from renewable material." So I decided to give it a try for the talk I gave yesterday.
I have to comment on my whole buying experience. I had a minor problem with the on-line ordering system, and called to report the problem. Linda returned my call very promptly, gave me a discount to make up for the problem, and made a separate trip to the post office, right away, to make sure I got the product in time. Fantastic customer service!
The Hecht of an Organizer ships flat - you have to assemble it. And I'm not good at assembly. But Linda provides such clear instructions that assembly was extremely easy.
And I must say that the people who did not win the doorprize were quite disappointed!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Problem #1: Clocks are meant to tell us the time, right? I'm always a bit surprised at the number of clocks that come out (including this one) that might be pretty or clever, but don't serve the basic function very well.
And then there's this one - the Dali clock.
And then there are the numerous clocks (such as this one) that just don't provide any hours on the clockface. Those might still work for you, but they aren't as easy to red as clocks that do provide the numbers (or at least some markers).
Problem #2: If the clock is an alarm clock, it needs to have easy-to-set controls - but some don't. As Mark Hurst writes about one such clock: "We've had digital alarm clocks as a technology for, what, 25 years? And a major company like Sony ... still hasn't figured out how to make it usable?"
But there are certainly plenty of well-designed clocks out there to chose from. While I can't vouch for how easy it is to set the alarm on any of these, they sure caught my eye.
Here's a simple clock which Retro To Go tells me was designed by Japanese designer Riki Watanabe when he was 92 years old! As the site points out, "That influenced the design, with the numbers intended to be visible for anyone with poor vision or looking from a distance." It's available from the MoMA Store.
Chaney Instrument makes a number of interesting clocks. The Set & Forget series is described this way: "In addition to automatically springing forward and falling back for Daylight Savings Time, digital clocks with Set & Forget automatically display the correct time from the moment you plug them in or install the batteries. They will continue to display the correct time even after power outages." (That's because they have battery back-up.)
The company also makes the Atomix clocks, which "wirelessly synchronize with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to daily confirming the time, these clocks automatically adjust for Daylight Saving Time and run up to two years on a single AA battery. No wires, no worries, and no more excuses for being late." That's one of the Atomix clocks above.
For something with a more unusual look, we have this cow clock made from recycled kitchen pieces - which manages to be both clever and legible. It's available from Uncommon Goods. [via this site] Don't want a cow? There's also a crab, an owl, a penguin, a tin man, and a reindeer (currently out of stock, but hopefully to return at Christmastime).
For more clocks by Mark Brown, see the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery.
Moving toward more artistic options, David Barclay makes a number of lovely clocks.
And finally, there's this stunner from Hubel Handcrafted Interiors.
7 Alarm Clocks for a Gentler Wake-Up Call
Clocky - For People Who Overuse the Snooze Button
Real Simple Treasure Trove! Funny Alarm Clocks!
Alarm Clocks: The Sacred and the Profane
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Nightstands and bookcase headboards provide convenient storage for books and magazines, the Kleenex box, your eyeglasses, and other essentials - but another option is the bedside caddy. The It's A Keeper bedside caddy above comes in three different colors. Update on Dec. 9, 2009: This product doesn't seem to be available any more
Talus Products Company makes two different bedside products: the bedside organizer (shown above) and the Sidekick bedside and sofa caddy.
Richard's Homewares makes this bedside caddy.
And KangaRoom makes the bedside saddle. Update on Dec. 9, 2009: This product seems to have been discontinued.
Want something other than basic solid colors? Over on Etsy, Munzies sells bedside caddies. (This one is a gift set; it includes a travel size tissue cover, a paperback book cover and two lavender sachets.) Update on Dec. 9, 2009: This Etsy store has closed.
Arlene's Bags has this bed caddy. Arlene makes everything herself; she has quite a choice of fabrics. Update on May 23, 2011: It seems Arlene doesn't make the bed caddy any more - it's no longer shown on her site.
And take a look at the bed caddies from Taffy Curry! Right now there are 24 choices.
The bed caddies shown above all have a flap which tucks under the mattress, with the bed caddy hanging down. (And some of them seem to be supporting a lot of weight, so I hope they stay in place OK. At least one person has had a problem with this.)
Bed Zak takes another approach and uses a metal frame; the pockets come up rather than hanging down. The company has copyrighted the pictures, so I can't include one here. Update on July 4, 2011: BedZak is now SlenderPockets.
Another alternative approach is to get sheets with the pockets sewn in! Take a look at NeatSheets, with optional side pockets on the fitted sheets. [via Apartment Therapy]
And if you're a do-it-yourself type of person, you can always make your own, as Katherine and Lynn did. Here's one pattern for a bed caddy - the caddy shown above.
Update on May 23, 2011: And here's more information on making your own bed caddy, courtesy of a reader.
Monday, August 25, 2008
As heard on NPR, on Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! (August 11 show):
The problem, you see, for alarm clock designers isn't waking people up - that's easy. The problem is making them want to get out of bed.For those who wanted to buy this alarm clock, I'm sorry - it appears to be a design only, not a production product.
So we're pleased to tell you about the new Wake n' Bacon alarm clock. You just put strips of frozen bacon in the Wake n' Bacon tray at night. Ten minutes before the alarm is due to go off in the morning, two halogen lamps get busy cooking your strips of hickory-smoked sin and releasing the aroma into the air.
And then, of course, you'll be woken up easily and painlessly by your dogs as they climb over your face to eat your alarm clock.
Related Post: 7 Alarm Clocks for a Gentler Wake-Up Call
Want to get motivated to tackle a decluttering project? Sometimes a deadline helps. That could be the date you told everyone you were having your garage sale, or it could be the date your company is arriving.
But another option is to take advantage of local events. The Lutheran church in my town has a big book sale every Labor Day weekend, and they are collecting books (and CDs and DVDs) now. Drop off is easy (it's local, and they have pretty long hours) and they take some books other places won't, like books with highlighting. So it's a great time for local people to tackle a book/CD/DVD decluttering project.
Similarly, Friends of the San Francisco Library runs a big book sale in September; that's another deadline someone could aim for.
And a number of cities by me have city-wide garage sales or flea markets; that's another way to pick a date and have a deadline to aim for.
Are there any events in your city that might inspire you to declutter?
[photo by jmgold / Jeremy Goldstein, whose Flickr profile speaks of his own challenges in sorting through the books.]
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I wandered into a local store (Earth Impact, on Main Street in Half Moon Bay, California) and saw this lovely photo album - so even though I wrote about photo albums recently, I got inspired to search out some more. This handmade album comes from This Is It Creations, which uses lokta and mulberry papers for the covers. The albums are said to have archival storage pages.
Over in the U.K., Natural Nkuku has photo albums on a clearance sale; there are four different styles. Here's the description of this album: "The cover of this photograph album is made from cotton which is hand dyed using natural vegetable colours. Each elephant is then embroidered onto the fabric. The utmost attention is paid to every detail and each Ele has its own individual character. The paper inside each photograph album is handmade from recycled pieces of cotton, creating a smooth luxurious texture that is perfect for holding photographs. Each album contains thin separation sheets made from banana skin."
Staying in the U.K., All Things Green has a selection of photo albums; this one is my favorite. It's "handmade in Bali, using recycled paper & lily leaves, include strings to hold the photos."
And here's yet another U.K. option - a recycled silk sari photo album! The pages are "thick, handmade Indian Khadda paper (made from 100% recycled cotton)."
Update on Oct. 28, 2010: Although this post features 2009 planners and calendars, most of the companies noted have 2011 versions available now; the links have been updated to point to the new products.
A reader question about calendars reminded me that the 2009 calendars are becoming available. Here are some out-of-the-ordinary ones that caught my eye.
Over on Etsy, Nakisha sells her Little White Rabbit calendar.
Also on Etsy, Sarah Pinto's planners are "hand-printed and bound on recycled paper with eco-friendly ink" - and made in San Francisco. She has a number of patterns, but I especially like the whale.
Also on Etsy, but only for those who of you who take their religion with a large dash of humor: the My Jesus Coloring Calendar. Update on Oct. 1, 2009: There's nothing for sale on this Etsy store right now, and no word as to what might be coming, and when.
Moving on, Papaya has a few calendars, but the Twelve Muses wall calendar is my favorite.
Island Art, which features Canadian artists, brings us this calendar with the art of Andy Everson.
Jnf Productions, based in France, brings us a number of calendars; here are just two. The company also has a number of school diaries, running from September 2008 through September 2009.
And finally, there's the FlyLady wall calendar. This one has no pretty or cute pictures - rather, the entire calendar space is used to provide big boxes to write in. (The penny shows you just how large the boxes are.) You can jazz the calendar up a bit with her sticker kits, or just buy the calendar. Note that this is a 17-month calendar, running from August 2008 to December 2009.
Paper Planners That (Almost) Make Me Wish I Used a Paper Planner
Calendars and Holidays
Four Calendars to Consider for 2008
Reader Question: Agendas for a Mom
Calendars from Pomegranate
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Frog-related storage - that's all I was looking for last night. And along the way I stumbled on bentwood boxes by the Native people of the Pacific Northwest. Wow!
The first box I found was the one shown above, by artist Dennis Allen. It's for sale from Arctic Raven Gallery for $980.
Which raises the point: Yes, most of these boxes are expensive - they are amazing works of art, not simply storage. But artist James Michels sells some of his painted (rather than carved) bentwood boxes on Etsy for $150. You can also see his work on his own web site, at Spirits of the North, Tribal Spirit Gallery, and at the Lattimer Gallery. The box above comes from Lattimer and costs CDN $400.
The Lattimer Gallery has bentwood boxes by a number of other artists, including Jim Charlie, Geoff Greene, Rod Smith, Steve Smith, and Chester Patrick. That's Steve Smith box above, with a price tag of CDN $700.
The Lattimer Gallery also has one of the less expensive pieces I've seen by Bruce Alfred. You can also see Alfred's work at Spirit Wrestler Gallery, Coastal Peoples Fine Art Gallery, Just Art Gallery, and Spirits of the West Coast Art Gallery. The box above comes from Coastal Peoples and costs CDN $1,400.
Coastal Peoples also carries bentwood boxes made by Joseph Campbell, Troy Bellrose, and Ken Humpherville, priced from CDN $800 and up. The most expensive is this lovely box from Humpherville, at CDN $3,700. You can also see Humperville's work at Stonington Gallery.
Taking another big step up in price, there's this box by Klatle-Bhi at the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver. Price? $8,500.
And topping them all, at $10,000, is this box by Walter Bennett at AlaskaNativeArtists.com. Click through to see some of the incredible detail on this box.
Finally, I just have to show you John Marston's work, from Alceringa Gallery. This bentwood box (and all the others they show by him) have been sold, this one for $9,000.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Closets isn't always the most exciting magazine - but the August edition sure caught my eye, with its focus on green closets.
First, a few statistics, from the magazine's survey of selected closet companies:
1. Of the companies surveyed, 42% say customers are inquiring about the greenness of the products.
2. However, only 17% said that customers asked about eco-friendly practices related to manufacturing and/or operations.
3. When asked about their use of green board products, 34% of the companies said they offer some sort of certified products.
So if someone wants a green closet company, where would they find one? Well, the magazine had a feature story on Eco-Nize, a northern Virginia company with both green products and green practices; that's one of the company's closets above. Noel Sweeney, the owner, emphasizes that because the company's costs are low - partly because it's an independent and pays no franchise fee - it can offer green products that are priced no higher than non-green products available elsewhere.
A number of other companies mention that they have green products available: Classy Closets, Closets for Life, and Valet Organizers [pdf] are just a few. Like Eco-Nize, they use composite wood panels (particleboard). An industry source says that "by their very nature, composite wood panels are among the greenest building materials available to consumers. They are produced from pre– and post–consumer recycled wood and wood residuals that would otherwise be wasted or end up in landfills, making exceptional use of our valuable wood resource. They take less energy to make than other building materials and produce fewer harmful by–products."
Others take a different approach. The Vermont Closet and Case Company advocates its all-wood products "from natural and renewable resources." The company says that it does not use "any of the harsh chemically produced fillers or laminates as found in other closet systems."
And then what about the larger issues of being an environmentally-friendly company: energy usage, recycling, and such? It's hard to find a closet company (other than Eco-Nize) that talks about such issues. But Portland Closet Company says it's "committed to being local and sustainable."
As with most green products and green companies, you'll want to do some research to see if what's being touted as green matches your values and expectations.
But it's nice to read this from one of the companies surveyed by Closets: "We owe it to the environment to manufacture in a responsible, renewable manner. It should not be a trend. It should be the way we do things."
Thursday, August 21, 2008
You know those half-dirty clothes - the ones that are clean enough to wear again? Where do you put them? Here are the most common answers.
1. On the floor.
2. Draped over the exercise equipment.
3. Back in the clothes closet. Some people have a specially-designated section of their closet for semi-dirty clothes. Other people wince at this approach.
4. In a specially-designated basket or drawer.
5. Draped over a chair designated for this purpose.
6. On a valet stand. That's sort of a variation on the chair option.
7. On hooks or peg racks on the back of the door, on the wall, or in the closet. That's what I do, personally.
8. On a freestanding coat rack.
9. On the valet from 659 Design, shown above. Quoting their web site: "This modern clothing valet was developed to prolong the life of my favorite jeans, while keeping my bedroom presentable. This piece is an alternative to the corner chair or bedroom floor strewn with lightly worn clothes. These articles are not suitable for mingling with your clean items, nor are they ready for the harsh environment of the wash and dry cycle." Prices range from $190 (a valet with two pegs) to $340 (a valet with five pegs).
One caution: Clothes moths and carpet beetles generally feed on animal products such as wool, suede, and silk - but "cotton, linen and synthetics heavily soiled with food stains or body oils may also be occasionally attacked." So don't go overboard with the clothes re-wearing!
For more reading:
Not clean, not yet dirty
Oh, Those Clean-Dirty Clothes
Washing Clothes Less
Multitasking is worse than a lie, says author Dave Crenshaw in his new book. He distinguishes between two types of multitasking:
1. Switchtasking - where you aren't really multitasking, but rather switching back and forth between two (or more) tasks - and becoming hugely inefficient in the process.
2. Background tasking - where you can indeed do two things at once, because one of them doesn't require mental effort.
But when people talk about being good multitaskers, they aren't referring to background tasking. Crenshaw provides a quick exercise to illustrate how inefficient switchtasking can be, and advice on how to break the habit. Much of that has to do with minimizing interruptions: from phone calls, e-mail, instant messaging, people walking into your office, etc.
Now, the ideas in here aren't really new. I first read about the importance of uninterrupted time in Peopleware, which was first published in 1987.
Another key point, the importance of giving people your undivided attention, reminds me of the Buddhist emphasis on mindfulness and the admonition from Ram Dass to "be here now."
And the ideas presented here are pretty simple; they could be conveyed in a short magazine article. As it is, they're presented in a 138-page book that measures 5.5 inches by 7.5 inches and costs $19.95 (if you pay list price). The concepts are presented in the form of a story of a consultant working with his client.
But if this book gets people to reconsider their penchant for multitasking, I'm all for it!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Maybe you like Ikea's products but you're in one of these situations:
- There's no Ikea near you.
- You're just not equipped to haul the stuff home.
And Ikea's shipping charges may not be your idea of reasonable. And waiting around for the delivery isn't a joy, either.
Well, there may be a local business designed to help! Here's a sampling of the services available.
ModerNash serves the residents of Nashville, Tennessee by picking up their orders from the Atlanta store and bringing them to Nashville. They'll also handle returns for you, and do assembly work if you wish. [via Springwise]
And a number of companies provide services to New York City residents. Ikea Delivery Alternative meets you at Ikea and takes you and your purchases back home. They also offer a service where they drive you to Ikea, too. Furniture assembly is also available. [via Apartment Therapy] Ikearun offers shop, deliver and assembly services to New York and New Jersey; they'll also handle purchases from Home Depot and Staples. And Ikea Delivery Service New York is a third option.
In the UK, Flatpack Brighton provides Ikea shopping, delivery and assembly services. East Midland Flatpack offers similar services, dealing with Ikea Nottingham. For London, there's CapitalFlatpack.
In Spain, Flatpaxia serves the Costa Brava and Costa Calida, providing Ikea shopping, delivery, and assembly services. Don Campo provides similar services in Andalucia.
And over in China, Kea was providing a shop-and-deliver service back in 2006.
Ikea: Love It or Hate It?
The Ikea Experience
[photo by pinkbelt / P.B. Rage]
Cynthia Friedlob from The Thoughtful Consumer has now commented on 50 different posts - and her comments are thoughtful (not a surprise!) and enlightening. Thanks, Cynthia!
And thank you to everyone who comments on the blog, or sends an e-mail. You help expand my thinking, let me know what's useful, and pose interesting questions that inspire new posts. It's always a delight to hear from you!
[Image: The first author picture shown on The Thoughtful Consumer, with this caption: The author is a rather private person.]
Posted by Jeri Dansky at 9:40 PM
Monday, August 18, 2008
Secretary desks come in a huge range of sizes and styles - and one place to see some of that range is Laurel Crown Furniture.
Leaman Place Furniture sells Amish handcrafted furniture - including a number of secretary desks.
And this is one of 22 secretary desks from Selva, headquartered in Italy.
Pierre Deux has this Louis XV secretary desk. (Please don't ask me what Louis XV furniture is; I'm taking their word for it!)
And this Louis XV secretaire comes from Brigitte Forestier, based in the Loire Valley.
For those who like painted furniture, Patina has some nice secretary desks.
Or you might prefer this painted secretary from the Jane Keltner Collections at Brighton Pavilion.
And here's a very different painted secretary from Decorative Crafts.
And for a simple but beautiful desk, there's the secretary from McKinnon Furniture.
For something not at all simple, there's this secretary from Lewis Mittman.
And finally, there's this interesting twist - a wall secretary desk from Maple Leaf WoodWorks.
Update on September 2, 2008: For more options, see this great collection of secretaries on Elle Decor. [via Apartment Therapy]
Back to School Series: Desks with Drawers
Back to School Series: Desks wit Hutches of Varying Heights