Brick House

When people wax nostalgic for a simpler past, I often think about the huge improvements in the years since that we too easily ignore. Sure, life would have been an adventure in the Old West, or a quiet pleasure at Thoreau’s Walden. But if you’ve been hospitalized or had major surgery at any prior point in your life, odds are pretty excellent that, in those good old days, you’d be dead.

Of course, there are smaller advances than antiseptic, anesthetized surgery that still make life better. Consider Rebrickable, a site I recently discovered, that would have changed my life as an eight-year-old.

If you’re a Lego-loving kid, you probably have a bin full of pieces that you can create from as you see fit. But you’re also dying for you parents to buy you the pirate ship kit, or a castle kit, so you can follow directions, step by step, to something way more awesome than you’d figure out on your own.

Enter Rebrickable, where you can log the Lego kits you already have, and then download a nearly infinite array of the instruction booklets from other Lego kits you can build from your existing collection of parts.

If you’re missing a couple pieces for a project you want to take on, no worries; directly from the site, vendors will bid for the chance to send you those missing parts, one-off, on the cheap. Building that AT-AT is within a week’s allowance’s reach, rather than a full birthday off.

Shorted

“My fashion advice, particularly to men wearing shorts: Ask yourself, ‘Could I make a living modeling these shorts?’ If the answer is no, then change your clothes. Put on a pair of pants.”
– Fran Lebowitz

[I don’t normally read Elle, but their interview of Leibowitz, from which this is pulled, isn’t to be missed.]

[[Also: “Of course, more people should wear overcoats than those damned down jackets. Please. Are you skiing, or are you walking across the street? If you’re not an arctic explorer, dress like a human being.”]]

Stick it To Me

Right now, the back of my MacBook Air looks like this:

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For less than $7, yours can, too. It’s a small thing, but it definitely brightens my day, and draws comments and compliments whenever I pull my laptop out.

In my experience, these seem to last three to four months before beginning to fray around the edges, though I suspect it’s largely dependent on how and where you cart around your laptop.

If you’re looking for other good ideas, this was the prior back, until a few weeks ago (also on Etsy):

3rd save

And, next up, we’re headed to this (on Etsy, too):

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In the words of Sammy Davis, Jr., I gotta be me.

New Week, New Start

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
– Thomas A. Edison

Make Time

“Sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day. Except when too busy. Then, sit for two hours.”
– Zen proverb

[Helpful tip for people who think they suck at meditation: download the Headspace app. I tried to pick up a meditation practice countless times in the past, and could never make myself sit for more than three or four minutes at a stretch, and then only intermittently. Headspace got me up to twenty minute chunks, and to a daily practice (at least a good chunk of the time).]

Razor’s Edge

As a contrarian, I’m a sucker for the idea that there’s a far better way to do some everyday thing, which everyone else is doing wrong. That’s why, a few months back, I ended up buying a safety razor.

For the rest of my life, like most other dudes I know, I’d purchased Gillette blade cartridges. Sure, I might use fancy handles I’d received as gifts, or apply a variety of shaving creams and lotions, sometimes with similarly gifted badger-hair brush. But, where the rubber hit the road – or, rather, the steel met the stubble – I was using whatever Walgreens was selling. From two blades to three, and then (reluctantly) to four a pop.

But over the past year, I’d increasingly seen articles and blog posts arguing that each of those additional blades made shaving a worse experience, not a better one. That, in fact, the best shave (especially for anyone curly-bearded as I am, and therefore prone to ingrown hairs) was also the simplest: a return to safety razors and single razor blades.

I actually owned a safety razor, my father’s ancient Parker 96R, buried deep in the back of a closet. So, with the relatively low cost of a pack of Feather Double-Edge Blades, I took the plunge.

Over the last few months, I haven’t had a single razor-induced ingrown hair. Though, conversely, I manage to cut the crap out of myself at least half of the time I shave, wandering post-shower with bits of bloody toilet paper stuck to my face. Admittedly, I tend to grow my beard in two- to three-week cycles, so I’ve really only shaved my entire face a half-dozen times in the past couple months, the rest of the time (and more successfully) simply shaping around the edges every few days. (Helpful note: nobody looks good with neck hair.)

Perhaps, with a few more months of intermittent practice, I’ll get the hang of carefully aligning a razor blade with the contours of my chink and cheeks, learning to balance between an angle too shallow to actually shear hair and one steep enough to nick skin. And, either way, I’m not giving up any time soon. I’m convinced that a safety razor is at least the better choice on paper, and I’m much too stubborn to give up on a good idea just because it leads to a bit of mess in real life.

Next Level Time

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
― Albert Einstein

[ed. note: Though I still echo the sentiment, it appears this commonly repeated quote isn’t Einstein at all, but rather a game of telephone from a different quote in a 1946 NY Times interview: “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” I suppose a good reminder that solving our own problems is a good first step, though our real goal should be to improve mankind as a whole. Heavy lift.]

Keep Going

“You will never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more chances there is of stubbing your toe, but the more chance you have of getting somewhere.”
— Charles F. Kettering

CrossFit Open

We’ve learned that harnessing the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sport or game yields an intensity that cannot be matched by other means. The late Col. Jeff Cooper observed, “the fear of sporting failure is worse than the fear of death.” It is our observation that men will die for points. Using whiteboards as scoreboards, keeping accurate scores and records, running a clock, and precisely defining the rules and standards for performance, we not only motivate unprecedented output, but derive both relative and absolute metrics at every workout.

– Greg Glassman

CrossFit Open, 3.2.1.go.

Soundscaped

Like many people, I tend to do my best works in ‘Goldilocks’ acoustic environments – not too quiet, not too loud, but just right. In college, for example, I never studied in the library, as I found the silence oppressive, and oddly distracting; I could never settle down to work. Conversely, I’ve long worked well in coffee shops, especially while listening to music through my own headphones just loud enough to somewhat muffle background noise.

But what kind of music? Anything with lyrics and I’m toast. As a trumpet player, most jazz, too, ends up sucking me into following the improvisations more than I intend. And any classical piece I’ve performed myself leads to my fingering the notes of the trumpet part along with the music.

So, instead, I tend to listen to a small number of albums, again and again. Keola Beemer’s White Mountain Journal, for example (much of which was used as score for Alexander Payne’s The Descendants), which iTunes tells me I’ve listened to north of 500 times.

Miraculously, I still like that album. As I still like the others on which I’ve been wearing off the grooves. But new, good choices are certainly a welcome change.

Which is why I was particularly happy to discover Focus@will, a music player serving up non-distracting background music while you work. You can choose from a slew of channels and energy levels, about a third of which I’m finding to be totally excellent for me.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. But if you, too, like to listen to music while you work, and would like to expand your listening repertoire to something less mind-numbing than albums on repeat, check it out. They have a 30 day free trial, so all you have to lose is an afternoon of sub-par productivity while you figure out if it’s a fit.