The Great Pen Purge – Week 4 of 2014

Great experience last week with the Vanishing Point, Vortex, and Tactile Turn. The Space Pen was a dud to be sure, so that pen will probably be tossed into the bottom of the supply bin, maybe even donated. In the lineup this week we take on a Pelikan theme, and I've selected the following:

Pen Selection for Week 04 2014

From left to right we have a Pelikan M800, Pelikan M400, Koh-i-Noor 5311 5.6 mm clutch pencil, and a Sheaffer Targa rollerball. The M800 was my second major purchase for my pen collection, after an Omas Hi-Tec, and it is truly an amazing pen. I've had it sitting idle for a really long time, I suppose because I'm reluctant to carry it around, and I'm glad that my weekly forced rotations inspired me to pick it up.

The M400 was a treat for myself after I finished a week long software training session for content administrators at Harvard. I got the pen at a good price before Swisher went out of business, and it is fun because it has an oblique nib.

The Koh-i-Noor pencil continues my fascination with using clutch pencils as pens, and this 5311 is absolutely lovely. It is a tank, durable and extremely solid, and the body is smooth and somehow natural in spite of it being some form of plastic or resin. The tip has small grooves in it, and your fingers find there way there when writing, and while I'm guessing that part of the design was intended for sketching it works extremely well for writing.

And the good old Targa. Really love those pens as a reflection of where they came from in pen history, that 1970s streamlined and elegant sort of thing, and they are well balanced for writing. At one point I chased down the official Sheaffer refills for this pen, and I still have one in the bin, but those refills tend to smudge and feather and are generally hit or miss. I have a hacked refill in there now, a Uni-Ball I think, and it is lovely.

And so off we go with the new week!

The Great Pen Purge - Week 3 of 2014

Totally behind on my post this week so I'm pushing through tonight to get it done. Maybe I'm holding on to fond memories of last week when I was absolutely amazed by the Pilot Kakuno and wonderfully surprised by my fake Dunhill. Oh, and the Waterman Commando was stellar too. The lineup for this week includes a Fisher Space Pen (found in a parking lot all dented up), a Tactile Turn Z, a Vanishing Point, and a Pilot Vortex.

Pens for Week 3 2014

I fixed up the Space Pen and added a retro clip, but I must say I absolutely hate the refills. For some reason they all seem to write like they have chalk in the ink, and honestly who needs to write upside down or in the rain or in space? The Tactile Turn Z has a hack grip overlay I'm trying out, so I'll see if I like that. The Vanishing Point is lovely and is using the remainder of the Kakuno refill from last week (yay), and the Vortex is simply AWESOME. If I had to pick five pens that are incredible but totally overlooked I'd put the Vortex at the top of the list because it is fun, well made, and balanced. Plus it writes extremely well. Here I have the rather unique chocolate color, one I picked up in Paris.

Tactile Turn Z Pen Hack

So I'm at work today and I look over at a standard issue Pilot pen and a thought occurs to me. What if I added a slide on grip to my Tactile Turn Z pen? Before we get started let me say that I absolutely love the pen the way it is, the design and the balance and the durability. I have a small blemish in the finish near the grip area, and I started running ideas through my head on how to adapt that area of the pen to hack it a bit and see if I could try out some modifications. Note that these changes result in absolutely no impact to the pen at all -- they are removable changes that rely on friction, pressure, and fit. I tossed on the Pilot grip just as a test (as shown in the photo below), but this would definitely not be my go-to hack.

Tactile Turn Z Pen Hack

My thinking is to try out very thin covers/sections that would not affect the diameter of the barrel too much. The barrel is already a great size, so any form of cover would be added for color or grip comfort. Some ideas on things I will try in the days ahead:

  • Shrink wrap tubing
  • O-rings
  • Embroidery floss

I'll post more images if I continue on with this idea!

Follow Up!

Turns out I didn't like the girth of the blue grip, which I pretty much expected. Image below shows the same concept with embroidery floss. I did the wrap fairly quickly just to see how it would come out, and this is exactly what I was after in terms of the feel. Super thin, so the barrel diameter doesn't really change, and the vast array of colors of embroidery floss open up interesting color combinations.

Tactile Turn Z Pen with Embroidery Floss

Not sure if I'll keep it for the long term, but it adds an organic feel to the pen, so it is sort of a cool combination of technical precision and the natural world.

Yet Another Follow Up!

Still at it. Shown below is the idea of rolling on a number of o-rings. In this case the inner diameter is just right, and the outer diameter is pretty good if a bit much:

Tactile Turn Z O-Ring Grip

So, 3/8" inner diameter seems to be spot on. I didn't put on as many as I wanted because I only had a partial package of o-rings, so I'll look around and see if any other options like this will work. Kind of reminds me of the Michael's FatBoy pens and how they blend rubber grips in with the solid aluminum barrels.

CMS Implementation Pitfalls

Over the years I've read a number of very good pitfall lists for CMS implementations, and after 17+ years in the business I figure the karma cart has come around and it is time for me to contribute to the topic.

Overthinking automation for the content migration

To be sure, automation has a place in content migration for any CMS implementation. In days gone by we often saw initial implementations of CMS solutions, but today almost all CMS implementations are replatform projects in which content is migrated from one CMS to another. The existence of structured content, combined with large volumes of content, seems to demand automated migration, but that is certainly not always the case.

Each CMS stores and manages content differently in terms of granularity and metadata, and inevitably the attribute set for content in a new CMS will have new attributes (specific to the CMS itself), some common attributes, and custom attributes that need to be created. Automation is often valuable when the content is more like data, with extreme granularity and strong typing. Short strings, lookup values, numbers, dates, and other such information is ideal for either a) automated migration or b) integration between the new CMS and an external data source.

Content that is more unstructured, such as articles, pages, images, videos, and comments, is highly dependent on both the content structure and the template designs for the new CMS, and with this type of content a manual migration approach is often the better option. If the very sound guideline of migrating no more than 20-45% of existing content into a new CMS is followed (which is an excellent rule), then the overall amount of content to be ported is reduced from the start. Then, considering that the combination of new content structures and a new template engine will require a fair bit of content adjustment and tweaking to get things looking just right, the manual migration approach is more efficient in the end than to try and write code for automated transfer.

A CMS implementation will typically require both automated and manual content migration. The important pitfall to avoid is to think only one is needed, or that the two approaches can't be used in combination.

Starting content audits too late

Assuming the amount of content will be reduced by half for any CMS implementation (the guideline that you should not port more than 20-45% of your content to a new environment), getting started early with a detailed content audit is critical. The overall body of existing content must be known, and all the metadata for the content must be known as well. In addition to the core content information you'll need to know the connections to the business side of things -- who owns the content, how it is generated and published, and how it is reviewed and approved. It is quite common for a large percentage of business owners to have inherited content from others, and if the content has been around for a while the business owners may not even be aware that they are owners.

So, a detailed content inventory must be established and mapped to business owners, and those business owners must be aware of what they own so that they can make decisions on what content stays, what content goes, and what content needs to be revised.

Not planning for incremental cutovers

Most websites and portals driven by CMS platforms are past their first generation, either because the CMS platform has gone through major upgrades or the site/portal has been replatformed from one CMS to another. Given the complexity of content, the highly integrated nature of CMS platforms, omni-channel publishing, high availability requirements, and  many other similar constraints, it is very prudent to design a cutover approach in which sections of a CMS can be turned on in a phased approach. Most environments today simply have too many variables to control to pull off a "big bang" launch of a CMS in which an existing production environment is built out and tested on a new CMS and launched via a cutover.

Consider instead doing things like standing up DAM functionality first, or setting up a forward proxy to split traffic between legacy and new environments. A bit of solid initial planning in this area can greatly reduce cost and risk while getting a new CMS solution up and running faster.

Engaging content authors too late in an implementation

All CMS platforms approach authoring and publishing differently, and while features such as preview, version control, local formatting, and tagging may look the same on paper they can be very different in terms of how they feel to an author. Authors are not focused on exploring the myriad features and functions of a CMS; rather, they are focused on getting content written, staged, reviewed, and published. Over time all content authors develop tips and tricks to get comfortable with the tools they use, and introducing a new CMS platform is a major change. It takes time for content authors to acclimate to a new CMS, and in many cases they can offer valuable insight and feedback to help bolster and validate requirements.

All CMS platforms in use today are pre-built frameworks that can be put into use in test environments very quickly. Content authors should be brought onto the implementation team very early on to let them adjust and to get their valuable feedback.

Not training content authors and developers on core functionality for the new CMS

In some cases CMS vendors will gather requirements and identify scenarios and then build out a base solution as part of an implementation project. The thinking often goes like this -- content authors and developers don't want to see the "vanilla" version of a CMS, nor is it a good idea to expose them to an experience with the new CMS that won't be the "real" one they will see. The very real pitfall in this thinking is that it doesn't let content authors and developers see into the breadth and the design of the CMS, so down the road in the implementation they will be unable to distinguish quickly between core features and custom features.

The suggestion for this pitfall is to conduct full training for content authors and developers so that they understand how the new CMS platform was built. Given this knowledge they will be much more capable of making design decisions for the new CMS, and they will be able to solve problems using process/configuration changes instead of custom development. And, when new features/functions are available in the new CMS, they will be aware of the expanded functionality and can take it into account when solving for the business requirements.

Taking a "lift-and-shift" approach to the content migration

Implementing a new CMS is very complex, and a common line of thinking specific to the content migration goes like this -- we have a lot of content, but we don't have time to sort it all out now, so we'll move it all into the new CMS and sort it out after the cutover. We'll build new templates that mimic the current site design, and shortly after the cutover we'll swap out the templates to show the new design.

This logic rarely, if ever, plays out successfully on implementation projects. First of all it throws out the notion that content targeted for migration should be cut in half from the start. Beyond that it ignores the delicate and complicated interplay between content and publishing templates, how the visual look of content is not simply a function of the template design. Publishing requires templates and the source content to be sure, but it also requires attribute configuration, information architecture, security, navigation, SEO/SEM indexing, and targeting/personalization.

The reality is that "lift-and-shift" migrations bring a significant amount of messy configuration elements with them into a new CMS, and the time it takes to reproduce a visual display of an existing site is far more work than it would seem. Plus, a site has to be tested in two major phases, one for each set of templates (existing "mirror" design and the new design). Far better to get content organized from the start to avoid the complexity and risk of this type of content migration.

Treating beta as a process, not a product

Make no mistake -- running a new CMS in beta is a product management exercise, not just a phase in an implementation project. You have a set of requirements and scenarios to test and validate, and you need end-to-end feedback loops to take in comments and corrections and to push new code frequently. A successful beta of a new CMS solution must account for infrastructure, hardware, system integration, services, and the assumption (from the user's perspective) is that feedback will be reviewed and used to update/improve the product.

Running a beta is part of an implementation project to be sure, but it can't be viewed as a period of time (weeks or months) in which the new CMS runs for the purpose of collecting feedback. The test results and feedback must be reviewed on a regular basis to validate or adjust requirements, and then additional development/QA cycles are needed to push updates to the beta environment. This is fundamentally a product management exercise.

Letting developers over-customize based on programming language bias

All CMS platforms are built on established programming languages. The most common languages for CMS platforms include Java, .NET, PHP, and Python. It is very common for developers to start working with a new CMS, and because the CMS was built with conventions or design choices that seem unusual the developers gravitate toward custom code and whatever their comfort zone might be. It is true that CMS platforms have imperfections in their design, and that some features might be faster to build out with custom code than by leveraging the framework of the CMS.

Custom code gets very dangerous very quickly for a few reasons. First, CMS platforms are extremely complex, and the skills needed to write custom code for them (modules, add-ons, extensions, etc.) require a deep understanding of the CMS design. Second, custom code requires unit, integration, and regression testing. If features in a CMS are built out using configuration options then the testing is already done for the most part and you can focus on functional testing. Introducing custom code brings with it the need for more robust testing to ensure the new code won't cause major issues. Third, custom code always poses a challenge for upgrades, and CMS platforms are upgraded frequently, often multiple times a year.

To be sure custom code is often needed when building out a CMS solution. The pitfall to avoid is jumping in too quickly with custom code to try and build functionality in a smarter, better way. All good CMS platforms have been proven out and tested across hundreds, if not thousands of implementations, and vendors typically have very rich knowledge bases with problems/solution archives. Leveraging the core CMS design and functionality is the best approach for minimizing risk and ensuring viable support in the years ahead.

Marketo's Big Coloring Book is AWESOME

Heading into the Christmas season this past December I came across Marketo's Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book, and after it got me laughing I flipped through it again and started playing around with the sections. The buzzwords were easy to find (and accurate), and I was tempted to cut out clothes and play Dress Up a Marketer but didn't get to it, at least not yet. Marketo Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book

Then it was on to Conference Matching, and I learned about the big conferences and their strange logos. Sorry to see that Content Marketing World is in Cleveland. From there I went to the Book Match-Up, and I read through ALL of the following:

  • The NOW Revolution | Amber Naslund
  • YOUTILITY | Jay Baer
  • Likeable Business | Dave Kerpen
  • Purple Cow | Seth Godin
  • Optimize | Lee Odden
  • UN-Marketing | Scott Stratten
  • The Referral Engine | John Jantsch
  • Content Rules | Ann Handley
  • Fascinate | Sally Hogshead
  • Crush It! | Gary Vaynerchuk

All interesting books, maybe with the exception of Fascinate (creepy) and Crush It! (overly optimistic and irritating). So, this post is basically a shout out to Marketo to say you had a great concept and it was fun and I learned quite a bit. Well done!

The Great Pen Purge - Week 2 of 2014

I faithfully performed my weekly pen swap yesterday and I'm feeling better about tossing out ink. The tradeoff is that the pens get flushed on a more regular basis, so that is good, and I'm thinking I can port converters from one pen to the next when possible, and that will help too. On then to the selection for the week: Pen Selection for Week 2 2014

From left to right we have a Michael's Fat Boy Comet, a faux Dunhill rollerball, an old Waterman Commando, and a new Pilot Kakuno. The Comet is big fun, though I can't write with it for too long due to the weight and it is hard to take into meetings because I'd have to explain away my pen addiction. The Dunhill is a fake from China, ordered up to see what kinds of things they produce, and I guess the pen works well enough though I'm guessing balance gets lost. The real Dunhill pens are probably much more balanced, with better finishes, etc. The Commando is a near perfect pen, probably much like a lot of Waterman pens, in that it is balanced and writes wonderfully. It has a small crack near the top of the cap, which I repaired and buffed out, and after tanking it up it is writing with great ink flow and a smooth feel. At one time I was on the hunt for more Commando fountain pens, but then I decided to just enjoy this one.

The Pilot Kakuno is the real surprise for $15. Wow. It is fun, solid, writes like a dream, and has that awesome smiley face on the nib. Can't wait to pick up another one of these to save in the collection. At the risk of firing up a holy war I'd say that the Kakuno is better than the Lamy Safari and a bit cheaper. No clip, but Pilot was smart enough to give it a hex shape and the little nub that keeps it from rolling on flat surfaces.

Looking back on last week I had fun with the Think and the Jinhao but did not use them much because I was dealing with the broken Bexley clutch pencil. For some idiotic reason I've decided I really like 5.6 mm clutch pencils, just not as pencils. Or, rather, I like them when sketching but find the crazy big 5.6 mm lead useful for anything other than sketching. Given that the 5.6 mm size can accommodate almost any refill, I've made it a quest to come up with a fast, flexible, and efficient way of adapting refills to fit a 5.6 mm clutch pencil.

I've tried all sorts of methods, the latest being with epoxy and outer tube forms, but none of them seem to work quite right. I'm certainly not an engineer, so any suggestions on how to add a beveled tip to a refill, with the correct outer diameter of 5.6 mm, would certainly be appreciated. Though the solution below looks clumsy it actually works extremely well and is probably the best solution going:

5.6 mm Clutch Pencil Conversion

Take a refill and wrap the tip with embroidery floss until you get the right diameter built up (just have some 5.6 mm lead handy to check as you go). Soak the floss with super glue and let it dry. If you want a more polished finish you can sand the floss down a bit and put on a coat of clear nail polish. And, since embroidery floss comes in so many colors, you could easily match the tips to the ink color.

Insane, yes I know, but remember that my goal is to purge all the stuff I've got and not load up more. A 5.6 mm clutch pencil serves a lot of purposes, from sketching beer labels to using up whatever random refills I have sitting around, and generally the use of a clutch pencil is a whole lot more rewarding than whatever cheap disposable pen the refill came in to begin with.


The Great Pen Purge - Week 1 of 2014

Staying on task with the goal of purging the pen and ink stock, and today I forced myself to flush the pens in use (the two TWSBI 540s) and load up new ones. Here is the set for use this week: Pen Selection - Week 01 2014

From left to right we have the Bexley clutch pencil, a Monteverde tool pen, a big Jinhao, and a Think Glacier. The Bexley pencil has always been a favorite of mine, though never as a pencil because I could not find a way to sharpen the massive 5.6mm lead. I have another one of these clutch pencils, and I'm using it with my sketching stuff where it makes more sense. What I've figured out is a way to hack almost any refill to fit with the Bexley, and the trick is to build up a diameter near the point that is a) small enough to fit inside the pencil, b) big enough to not poke out when fully retracted, and c) short enough in length so that the refill fits inside the pencil. These pencils shipped with a ballpoint insert, but I always thought they were dumb in that they did not retract. Not much sense in having a ballpoint that is perpetually exposed, plus I prefer gel refills whenever I can fit them in.

The approach for crafting the inserts is to wrap a some metal HVAC tape to get the right diameter, then shave in a steep bevel near the tip, then cover the HVAC tape with shrink wrap tubing to give it a more polished look. The HVAC tape is pretty amazing in that it shapes well, so the whole business of shaving in a bevel works great because the tape is so dense. I've been on the lookout for some way to have pre-fab adapters for various refills, but I've managed to get good at crafting the tape/tubing versions, so I guess I'll just run on skill at this point. The goal is to use up the inventory I've got, and it is MUCH more enjoyable to use the refills in the Bexley clutch pencil as opposed to the cheap plastic pens from whence the refills came.

OK. So that was a bit of a long treatise on the Bexley conversions. I also have the Monteverde pen, which seems to be on sale everywhere, and it is just OK for me. It takes the D1 refills, the short metal tube ones, and generally it is tough to find ones that are smooth and enjoyable. I guess the overall heft and quality of the pen is fine, but I like to be able to hack refills, and there isn't much you can do with a D1. The Monteverde refill has a fat and rather inconsistent line, but I won't go stocking up on D1 refills to try and improve the writing experience for this one. I found a Hi-Tec C refill in the D1 size, and that was really tempting, but the theme here is to purge.

The huge Jinhao is fun and it writes very well, so not at all bad for $10 or whatever I paid for it. I saw that Goulet is selling these pens now, so I guess they are shifting into the mainstream a bit.

And last the Think, which is just a solid and fun pen. That one was already tanked, and I've got it setup as an eyedropper filler, so we will see if I make a dent in the ink supply this week.

When I flushed the TWSBI 540s I was depressed because a hairline crack in my blue 540 resulted in the metal sleeve popping out. Ugh. Luckily I had a spare barrel that I requested when I first saw the crack, and so I reset the whole damn thing and greased it up and put it away. I really like that TWSBI provides spare parts, but they should offer something like five parts for $5 and I'd buy up a bunch of stuff. I don't mind dealing with the cracking as long as I have spare parts.

OK then. A parting shot below of the clutch pencil refills I whipped up. I think they look pretty good in the pencil once the shrink wrap tubing is trimmed near the point.

Bexley Clutch Pencil Ink Refills


Fun with Cement and DIY Weights

I'm a bit obsessed with trying to make things myself if I can, not in a crazy way but more in the spirit of trying to use materials I already have, or ones I could pick up quickly. To be sure there are some things still on the "working" list, such as sharpening hand saws and grinding/smoothing fountain pen nibs, so there are times I go off the ledge. I mean really -- a saw vise, triangular files, a saw set, and the tricky angular magic it takes to sharpen a saw? And then you have the differences between rip saws, crosscut saws, back saws, etc. For sure, then, I have my strange days. One thing I really like to do, though, is to make my own weights. For some reason I don't like the idea of buying weights, and you can't beat the price when you consider $5 bags of concrete and an endless stream of stuff that can be turned into weights. If you've never mixed up concrete before, or you think it requires a wheelbarrow and shovel and all sorts of equipment, you'll be glad to know it is totally, utterly simple.

You start with ready mix concrete, a small Rubbermaid type container, and a hand trowel. And you can be sure almost any items similar to these will work fine. You pour out some dry mix, add water sparingly, a bit at a time until you get that thick, shiny mix, and you are set to go. Start filling up whatever containers you have prepared.

Yesterday I decided to use two Trader Joe's coffee cans and a plastic peanut butter jar. Not sure how I'll use these yet, maybe for various aerobic workouts, but finding uses is easy enough, and the different sizes give different weights. Here are the containers right after I filled them:

Showing the containers right after I filled them with concrete.

I poked a few small holes in the bottom to let excess water drain out, and I scraped (screeded) the tops flat so that I could glue the lids back on once the cement has hardened. No worries about the stuff that falls outside of the containers since it will just brush off when dry.

Shown below are the containers when cleaned up and drying. I'll let them harden up for a few days then cap them off to seal up  the concrete so that nothing ever crumbles out. Note the previous fun I've had with flower pots, steel pipe, and an old shipping tube! Just be sure to drill holes and insert nails into any pipe so that the pipe doesn't slide out of the concrete.

A collection of various cement weights made at home.

Hope someone out there finds this useful. The weights are easy to make, and you get the added skill of being able to whip up batches of concrete for patching sidewalks, foundations, and other such things.


Thoughts on Work Passion

Over the holiday I read through a long list of social media and marketing books to catch up, sharpen the proverbial saw, be on my game, yadda yadda. Overall the books have been good and center on the same core themes of being honest and transparent, embracing social media, going with hub-and-spoke publishing (mostly from a blog), and generating good, fresh, useful content. Today I skimmed Gary Vaynerchuk's "Crush It!" and was somewhat amazed that the small volume contains pretty much all the hype, horrible philosophy, and empty logic I've come to detest over the years. Wake up every day and leap out of bed and into your clothes and work work work because you love it SO much! Don't love it? Something is wrong with you. Monetize all of your interactions! Need something to drink mom? That will cost you a quarter. You too can make a billion dollars! And it is easier if your dad hands over the family liquor store business as a starting point.

Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk

The thing is this -- "passion" exists in a thousand forms, and the measures of success are often not money, followers, power, prestige, and on down the line. We are not all sellers of the Sham-Wow. In fact, were it to be the case that all of business was a big infomercial with loud, hyper-passionate people, exploding heads would surely become a reality.

I suppose this post is for me and anyone who views struggle as more real and more valuable than passion. Passion is analogous to the brief stops on the mountain peaks as you make your way up and down, up and down, over and over again. For some reason all of this makes me think of the Thoreau quote, when he is talking about finding God and realizing that you only catch him in glimpses, and usually not where you are looking:

''Let God alone if need be. Methinks, if I loved him more, I should keep him—I should keep myself rather—at a more respectful distance. It is not when I am going to meet him, but when I am just turning away and leaving him alone, that I discover that God is. I say, God. I am not sure that that is the name. You will know whom I mean.''

Passion is right there with happiness in the category of things that are by-products and not the primary thing for which you search. I got to Page 9 in Vaynerchuk's book and was utterly turned off by the comment "skills are cheap, passion is priceless." Oh how simplistic and silly. Skills and passion go together, and most of the time skill building is a long, arduous process with plenty of moments that aren't whiz-bang fun. Give me someone with solid skills anytime on a plane or at a cocktail party, because conversation is bound to be far more interesting than talking about how to make a billion dollars or how to monetize mowing my lawn. I get all of that nonsense from SkyMall.


Writing Revolution 2014 - The Purge Begins!

Well, I've sure been here before -- sitting back and looking at all my pens, pencils, ink, refills, etc., and telling myself it is high time to purge and push through all the stuff I've compiled and accumulated. Funny how easy it is to get into the Depression Era mindset where you create proverbial jars of buttons and nails all over the place for use in the future. Over the years I've made the transition from storage to on-demand, and I must say the on-demand world is infinitely more enjoyable. We are all on the planet for a short time, a very short time, and the less time I spend moving files around on backup devices the better. All those years of curating and organizing MP3s, backing them up and moving them around, copying from drives to computers to iPods, and now I just use Spotify. Best $10 a month I've ever spent. But pens and pencils are a bit different. As with my use of media -- looking for ways to actually listen to music, or watch videos, or enjoy photos -- I want to use and enjoy pens and pencils. The measure of success with writing should be consumption, and I think the core psychological premise is quite solid:

  1. Write a lot and enjoy writing as well as whatever I'm writing with
  2. Get the brain-hand-writing connection that typing doesn't provide
  3. Cycle through a set of pens/pencils each week
  4. Track progress as I use up ink, refills, lead, and pencils

The concept in all this will be to choose FOUR writing implements a week, whip up a blog post to keep myself on schedule, and review the process as I go. The weekly set will be as follows:

  • 2 fountain pens
  • 2 ballpoints or rollerballs
  • whatever pencils I want to use

The starting set for this week is shown below, chosen mostly because the TWSBIs were tanked already and I just got the EIMIM pen from Will Hodges last week.

Week 52 2013 Pen Set

From left to right we have the EIMIM Y (, a Pentel Ergonomix Wing Grip, a blue TWSBI 540, and a clear TWSBI 540. I don't think the Ergonimix are being made anymore, and honestly they are a bit wacky in their configuration options, but it is still a pretty damn cool pen. Styling is detailed and the pen ships with a crazy fine ballpoint that makes you feel like you are a scientist or an explorer.

As for pencils, I'm giving myself the freedom to use those up as much as I like. I have a great love of pencils and the act of writing and watching pencils get shorter and return to the earth, and I've setup an empty whiskey bottle to store stubs as I work through my stock of pencils.


Pencil Stub Bottle

To go with this bottle I have a super fun extender from JetPens that will let me use the pencils until they are down to nothing. Extreme to be sure, but I splurged this year and bought 24 Blackwing pencils, so I want to get all I can out of them.

OK then. On to the big fun. Let's see where all this goes!


Why Microsoft will always fail at collaboration

This story could be told a hundred times over, but this week I seemed to move a step forward in the classic cycle and have now moved on to Acceptance. I accept that Microsoft will forever be terrible at collaboration, no matter how many products they upgrade or tweak or mash together to build yet another Studio 23 back lot Dr. Zhivago snow scene fabrication of an environment someone could actually use. I used to be angry and depressed, but I'm past all that now. Let's move on to the case study. Since the Microsoft world is so vast we'll need to take a philosophical approach and define terms. Get focused. Be clear and precise in our representative sample of the larger problem. A flicker of the pure forms on the cave walls, as it were. Here are my starting assumptions:

  • The functionality in Microsoft Project rocks. No other solution, be it proprietary or open source or SaaS, has the whiz bang algorithms in Project.
  • Project plans need to be shared. They need to be collaborative documents. They need weekly TLC to remain useful and up to date.
  • We live in the internet age, and no matter how swanky desktop software may be, it must be able to connect to the internet in some form or fashion.

And thus we begin the story. It started two weeks ago when I built out a project plan and thought hmmm, it would be nice to get this up on our team SharePoint site for review and general communication. Ah, but the SharePoint instance is 2007. So sad long time. Google a bit. SharePoint Designer hacks (ahem, that would be Frontpage in 70s disco clothing for those who missed the great re-purposing of Frontpage) and template tweaks. No thanks. No support for group tasks. Forget it.

But I'm in luck! The SharePoint instance is due to be upgraded in two weeks. Score! And then even better, probably because I had the dates wrong, it was upgraded in ONE week. Outstanding. Now I've got 2010.

Oh, but so sad long time again! I have Microsoft Project 2010 Standard. No option to sync with a SharePoint site. Google some more. I'm guessing I need Microsoft Project Professional 2010, because, you know, the options to connect to servers and other Borg-like interfaces cost a lot and Microsoft needs to stay in business. Can't find any clear direction on whether or not I need Professional -- don't have time to slog through the endless and marginally useful documentation -- but I'm not new to this game. I have the installer for Professional handy and so I run it.

Success! The option is there. And, because I know the game, I've had my target list built for a while in SharePoint. Off I go to synchronize. Or maybe not. Errors and errors and errors. SharePoint site not available? Sure it is. Don't have permission? Sure I do. I'm an admin. And some other inane bullet I can't remember. I go home because I'm tired of the same routine.

Next day I give it one more shot, and by chance (and I mean that literally) I stumble across a comment at the tail end of some dude's blog post about putting in the base site URL, not the full path to the list. Hence the need for the second droplist when setting up the sync. OK, OK, so I made it past that hurdle. I'm still forging ahead since I see these activities as one-time problems, not problems I'd have to deal with on a regular basis. And so the sync goes through and it looks pretty good and I'm happy. Could be my project collaboration solution after all. Shut everything down. Go have lunch.

And I'm back. And so are the errors.

SharePoint Sync Error

This time the problem is your proverbial show stopper. I can deal with one-time oddities, but stuff like this makes work unpredictable, and I absolutely can't deal with unpredictability in a highly collaborative environment.

Closure and Namaste

And now for the wrap-up, and I hope this reads like the parent-to-teenager conversation it is meant to be. It is true, Microsoft, that you have outstanding desktop software, with rich features that other companies can't hope to match. The trouble when it comes to the way we work today is that we're always connected, on multiple devices, and highly collaborative. I have a project plan that I need to share with a good 20-30 people. Hardly any of them have Project installed, and if they do they probably don't know how to use it. They certainly haven't mastered the Cirque du Soleil art of printing project plans. So I'm left in the "hit by the bus" role in which only I, with the installed copy of Project Professional 2010, the URL to the SharePoint site, and the hard-won knowledge about the sync configuration, can make any real updates. What do I do with the binary? Push that up to SharePoint too? What if someone edits the file? Oh, but all this is moot because right out of the gate I can't sync the plan and I'm getting errors.

It is death by a thousand cuts. For each setting, oddity, license requirement, version requirement, and Google-driven "ah ha" revelation we are driven away from usability and collaboration, and the solutions we are trying to build become brittle. In my dream world I'd have a project plan and I'd sync it up to a SharePoint site. People on the team would view it and make updates as needed. The tasks would be tasks and we could all track progress against them. Add comments. And whenever needed I'd sync back to Project for the powerhouse features. Like the reports. Which are buggy and unruly by the way, and which only seem to spin out options that are 3 pages or 158 pages long.

So today I'll tear down my project task list in SharePoint and go back to my desktop copy and to generating PDF versions for people on the team. So sad long time.

Guider Rajan overhaul

Lately I've been interested in Indian fountain pens, and the first one I bought was a Guider Rajan. Well, I think that is the brand/model at any rate. There was Guider, then Varuna ... hard to make out what all is going on over in India with product lines. At any rate, here is the first pen I worked with:

The first thing to mention about this pen is that it needed work. The cap part, above the clip, was cemented on askew and there was a ridge, and that was rather messy. I sanded the cap until all the seams were flush, then I polished it all out.

Next up was the clip, which was wobbly at the insertion point. Also let in a whole lot of air, which I didn't really want since the cap already has a vent hole. I taped up the cap, dripped some Gorilla Glue super glue up there, and sucked it into the gap. A few times around for this routine and that part was sealed up.

On next to the nib, which did not pass my first litmus test -- having the nib aligned with the feed. Ugh. I so hate when the nib and feed are not aligned. I let this go for a time, tinkered with smoothing out the nib, and then somewhere along the way the tines just sort of folded over. Hard to explain, but I think the nib was just junk. OK then.

Swapped it out with an old Sheaffer nib I had, but that one never did it for me really. Wrote fine, but I wasn't feeling the love. I had a spare TWSBI nib, and I liked the idea of putting in a SILVER nib as opposed to gold. better fit with the clip.

I knocked out the nib and feed yet again -- the saving grace of an eyedropper filler since you don't have to monkey with friction fit sections -- and then I filed it out to accept the TWSBI feed. I could have used the feed that came with the pen, which for the record is like a mile long, but I thought it better to shift up to a "standard" size with the TWSBI feed.

At this point I quit tinkering -- the pen writes wonderfully, and the somewhat vague TWSBI nib design doesn't make me feel like I have a frankenpen built with odd parts. That was the vibe I got from the Sheaffer nib.

I have another pen on order, so we'll see how that one comes through. With options to buy German nibs, I'm OK with getting the bodies and doing some slight repair work to get the pens where I want them. More posts to follow as I explore the interesting world of hand crafted pens from India!

And just to finish things off, one last shot of the TWSBI nib.

Review of Jinhao fountain pens

So for a long time I've stuck with the classic fountain pens, Sheaffer and Parker and Waterman and the others. I'd seen the thousands of Jinhao fountain pens on eBay, and I always assumed they were junk, or at least poor quality. How in the world could they sell fountain pens from China for around $5 to $10 USD, including shipping? I decided to follow one of my own main mantras, "think for yourself," and I ordered a few. Why not? I picked up four of them for around $20. It took a long time for them to make their way to the U.S., between 3-5 weeks, but tracking information is provided, and once in a while I can sit back and drink a beer and see if a shipment has cleared through San Francisco. That is the key gateway, after which I can get excited about the arrival.

The long and short of what follows is that I was quite surprised by these pens. They are solid and balanced, with plenty of brass, and generally speaking they write very well right out of the box. If you forget any sort of stigma of a pen from China, these pens totally rock as daily writers. Read on for my experience with these pens.

General Thoughts

The Jinhao pens pass my quick litmus test of quality for the following reasons:

  • Weight is good
  • Finishes are excellent
  • Clips are tight
  • Nibs are artistic and sprung properly 90% of the time
  • Converters are included
  • Caps clip on securely
Note that prior to using these pens I flushed them all out with water and a little bit of Formula 409. Always a good idea to flush new fountain pens to get off any oils or residue from manufacturing.

Jinhao x450

The first pens I bought were the x450 series, and overall they may be my favorite.

I bought the medium and bold nibs, and I'm not sure I see a huge difference other than all the Jinhao pens I bought seem to write in the M/B range without being too wet and messy. To be honest I've come to prefer this because more metal on the paper generally results in smoother writing. I like fine nibs, but on lower-end pens fine nibs can be a gamble.

The x450 is, for me, the best value for the money. Good weight, a large nib, and some nice finger grips on the section. Sort of like mixing the comfort of a school pen with something more swanky.

Jinhao x750

Next up was the Jinhao x750. I like this one as well, though the style is a bit tame. At a whopping $2 more than the x450 I can't see much of a difference. The section is smooth and the lines are clean. A good writer. Just doesn't excite me very much. Note that on this one I had to run an X-acto blade down the slit once to increase the ink flow a bit. Nothing uncommon with new pens -- many of them have the tines too tight. After that it wrote great.

Jinhao x250

I guess the x250 would be on the low end of the scale at like $5. Again, not much difference in quality that I can see. I like these because they have the cool section ribbing. Balance is good, and the color/style selection is good. The nibs are smaller than on the x450 and x750, but not by a whole lot. These are closer to the #5 size, and I prefer the bigger nibs.

I had the most trouble with these, though still not much. The black one was pretty much good to go and works well. The golden one had a bum nib, with tines misaligned and a pit in one of the iridium balls. I aligned the tines, used a buffing wheel to work out most of the pit, and now it is a great writer. That one has a vacuum of some sort when posting the cap -- I have to twist it a few times to secure it in place -- but that isn't too bad. The black one posts fine. Not sure what is up with the tolerances that makes one of them hard to post.

The Springer Moment

Overall I'm extremely impressed with these pens and would recommend them to anyone wanting to try out fountain pens, or just to have durable daily writers. I find it comical that you could go into an office supply store and pay $5 to $10 on a junk disposable pen, or a boring Parker Jotter, or those pseudo-cool Tul things in OfficeMax. These pens give you a thousand times more value for the money, and they have matching rollerballs in almost every case. Plus I have to hand it to them for quality control. All but one of the pens had smooth nibs and great ink flow from the start. That is somewhat amazing in a world where around 50% of lower-level pens have poorly sprung nibs.

Treadmill Granny and Rooms without Views

In New Jersey this week. It was all a blur with the 6 AM flight and the meetings and whatnot, and I was challenged yet again by the cosmic forces when the TV in my $260/night hotel room was not working. I called the desk, they sent up an engineer, and I took off for the fitness center. Let us branch off to that while the engineer does his work on the TV. I get to the fitness center and have to take a detour through the spa due to some construction, and the spa was weird, all the dark little rooms with the massage tables and the low lighting. A whole lot like a club, just without the lap dancers. I passed a guy in his spa robe, and that is always weird. Men -- spa robes are always disturbing. Try not to pass by other dudes when you are at a spa, for whatever you may be at a spa for.

So I get setup on a treadmill and clean up the paper towels and plastic cup (with lipstick marks) from the previous exercise-ee, and I see an older lady working up one of those elderly cold sweats in her space blanket outfit. Could this be Judy from the Jupiter 2 in her old age? I guess the space suits have their benefits, but come on -- the place has a spa with saunas.

Grandma from Mars

Even though I know the treadmill codes for turning closed captions on and off (hold down the UP buttons for volume and channel until the menu comes up), I've largely moved over to watching Netflix on my phone, which comes in astoundingly well over a 3G connection. I actually built a foam support to move the phone up and over the treadmill display, but that beauty is the stuff of another post.

Decided to watch "Apocalypto" because you need action on a treadmill, and I was surprised at what a snore this movie is. Not bad mind you, but surely too politically correct in its overly clad natives and with too much drama between the energetic club bashing scenes. And how about those translations -- like tribal utterances to formal British English from 1890. "I say tribal leader, you were smashingly good with your cricket bat when whomping those overzealous neighboring tribesmen. Good show, Akulamon!"

So I run, and by the time I am done I am the last person in the place. Everyone else seemed to come in at 6 PM, iPods and velcro straps and workout clothes and water bottles and all, and exit by 6:20 PM. That doesn't work for me -- I need to be wiped out enough to sit through the commercials and reruns on HBO, TBS, AMC, and the lot of them. Hence the longer runs.

I go down and explore the spa area in an effort to get to a sauna that actually has heat. I wait in the spa lobby and a woman there points out the beautiful cupcakes that are actually soap. Super. I get directions to the locker room, and I'm thrilled to find a sauna with real wood and decent heat. I start to sweat it up, and I can hear two old dudes talking while getting dressed after their workouts. Apparently you can sign up to this "fitness center" with some kind of membership, and they lament the reduced membership price and how the riff-raff have started invading their space. Towels left all over and whatnot. General slobbery. Come on -- this is a HOTEL. And the economy sucks. They should be glad they are in a place where picking towels up off the floor is a skill executed with cat-like swiftness by almost everyone in the place. Moving on then.

I go back up to my room, and a chair is moved and the TV looks the same, so I shower and wait. Nothing. Turn the TV off and on. Now it works, so I'm happy. 20 minutes later it flickers and goes off, so I call the nice woman at the desk. Up comes the engineer, and he tells me he will give it a "hard boot" by unplugging it for a minute. Good Lord. That fix never works in software, so I'm pretty damn sure nothing will come of this bonnie idea. He offers a free pay-per-view movie of my choice, so super, I pick one and start to watch. But again, this is a HOTEL. Not like I want to enjoy great cinema while I try not to get my dinner of peanut butter, bagels, and granola on the white bedspreads.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later the screen flickers and goes out. I call the front desk. Change rooms? Sure, what the hell. I had zero confidence in the engineer short of swapping out the TV for a different one, and really all I wanted was access to the HDMI port. I'm willing to dismantle swanky wood frames around TVs once during a given stay, but that is it. Anything else is past the point of diminishing return.

I move to a room a few doors down, and as a final lick of comedy the porter (sent up to help me move, but he just gives me the new room keys) asks me if I think it could be the remote. Really? Yes, Brian, I think that when my TV goes out every 20 minutes after not touching the remote that it is, in fact, the remote. Somehow the unidentified, invisible goo on the remote buttons does a slow, timed release until some magic combination of button pushes sends a signal to the TV and tells it to play dead, flicker, and fall over.

So there I finish, in the new room, with a working TV. The first TV had access to the input selection, and the second one does not. I could have run HDMI to the first TV but only for 20 minute increments. With the second TV I get all the bad cable I want but no access to the HDMI from my computer. Yet another week of travel fun, but I remain undaunted.


Monday and it started with an early flight to Austin. I got to the gate, American this time, and it was overloaded with three flights. For over an hour I listened to them droning on about Minneapolis and Cleveland and some new flight attendant who was in the airport and "probably meeting with management," and amazingly the entire Austin flight boarded without anyone ever saying the word "Austin." God's honest truth. Sixty people slipped in quietly behind me and at the tail end I heard "final boarding call for Austin." So on I went. A flight attendant does her thing and then gets into her jump seat as we prepare for takeoff, and she asks if I know a guy named Paul with the same last name as me. Nope. "Well," she says, "he is an extremely talented musician in California near where I live. So sad though. He is full of cancer. And only 40 or 45. Probably closer to 40. And he has kids."

Jesus. Nice chipper start to a Monday. Once in flight I got to enjoy her sign language skills as she tried to help an elderly Indian couple to my right. Two cups of hot tea. She gets the attention of her colleague way up front, and up go the hands. Two fingers. Hands in T-shape. Two fingers. Hands in T-shape. Thank God the other idiot figured it out, because I was about to yell the order down the aisle before I got hit up with another terminal illness story.

I got to the room, the Radisson this week, and I was glad to see that the TV was a) accessible and b) equipped with HDMI ports. Two weeks ago in New Jersey it was success when I took the swanky wooden frame off to get at the HDMI port. The input button on the remote actually worked, so I was in luck. The next week, at the same hotel, I could not change the input after the same wooden frame removal operation. Foiled. Had to start packing the universal remote after that.

Then it was San Francisco, and there I had to remove a black plastic cover to get at the TV ports. Laughably the TV had every type of port except HDMI, so I was screwed there too. Progressive California, and somehow they get flat panel TVs with no HDMI ports. All of this in my quest to not have to deal with hotel cable and the nonsense of "reality" shows, all flavors of pawn, Deadliest Catch, Deadliest Loggers, Dirt Loggers, Mouse Hunters, L.A. Ink, Toledo Ink. You get the idea.

This week I have a wonderful little TV with accessible ports and a working input button. The TV is a bit out of reach for the cable from the desk, but no worries there. At least I can stream high-quality shows like "Troll 2" instead of watching the latest episode of "Shameless" for the 20th time. Goes to show the level of hotel TV when I'd prefer "Troll 2" to regular shows. I'm a big fan of the librarian vampire with the green frosted cake. NILBOG!

Back to work I guess. I'm going to enjoy the small pleasure that is my hotel desk chair. It is at the right level for the desk, and it doesn't drop 1/4" every 15 minutes. Almost makes the arabica blend gourmet roast coffee seem real.

Consulting Plan for 2012

So for the past year I've been pretty deep into content management and collaboration strategy, and over the past month or so I've really locked in on an idea that I'm energized about. I'm into my 15th year of consulting, and by now I've been in over 75 companies and have seen a lot of the same problems over and over. These days, far more than in the good old dot com days, problems are generally not technology problems. More and more they are people problems, or more specifically, challenges in which you need to build comprehensive plans to build and launch content management and collaboration solutions. All of the Forrester and Harvard Business Review articles are really starting to come true at this point, that the boundaries of company walls are breaking down and the focus is on projects and teams. We are managing ourselves as brands, and things like companies and geographies matter less and less.

For me the interesting part in all this is defining strategies that will work, and for a strategy to work it has to be focused more on people than on technology when it comes to content management and collaboration. The key elements are as follows:

  • Game Theory
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Organizational Change Management

Only when you integrate these elements into your strategy will you have a chance at success. Really it comes down to a few simple questions around new or expanded solutions, all of which take some form of "why should I bother using XYZ?" Fail to sell on that point and you won't have much hope of implementing change and innovation, because you'll have no adoption.

The diagram below is a quick summary of where I'm headed over the next year:


All of this may seem obvious, but I can tell you it is an area of solution development that is sorely lacking when it comes to a lot of consulting work these days. It takes a lot of effort, and a different sort of effort, to think about motivation and behavior, the reasons why people use one solution and not another.

And so begins my new personal development plan going into 2012, to expand core consulting methodologies for content and collaboration solutions and start to build strategies that really work, not just idealistic recommendations in a pretty PowerPoint deck.

The Joy of Macros and Queries

So it is 2011 and I find myself whipping out all sorts of queries and macros to take care of all my office automation needs, and I find it sort of funny given that many early days in consulting were spent falling asleep on an Access 2.0 book. I'm glad I have the skills to be sure, and they pay off in the form of being able to squeeze all the value out of content and data, yet at the same time I lament the unchanged state of office documents, office suites, and the way people handle them. I've come to understand that the core problem is really very simple and it goes like this:

The real value in information isn't in the information itself. It is in the relationships between information.

Word documents are a headache because you can't reuse content chunks and weave in data, and Word documents aren't reports. You can't spin lots of permutations without a whole lot of manual labor.

And Excel, the backbone of data handling for countless organizations. Who hasn't dealt with the endless challenges of stuffing all sorts of things into the column/row format only to format it heavily, turn it into a report, and then realize sorting and grouping and calculations don't work. Then there are the master works of all the people who formerly loved cell phone cases that would swivel horizontally on the belt clip. Yes, you know you are out there. Big sheets, lots of spot calculations, obscure references to lookups and values on other sheets. Touch one thing the wrong way, Indiana Jones, and poison darts fly at your head.

Fun with macros

To all you young turks out there let me toss out the idea that the relationships are golden. Learn to love data, because it is really cool when liberated and not strapped down into a cell by 42 formatting attributes. Like I heard on a TED talk -- data is the soil in which this generation will grow ideas and innovate.

To all my colleagues who have loved their spreadsheets too long, well,  let it go my friends. Just shoot Old Yeller in the head and let's move on.

Back from Governor Dodge

Back from a camping trip out at Governor Dodge State Park and it was grand, with great friends and perfect weather. Mel was cooking and blowing us away as usual, and I'm sure her comments and photos will beat anything I can post up here. Behind me is all the camping gear, which I'll sort out and stow and clean up a bit, then get ready for the fun return to work tomorrow. A trip to Hole in the Wall after dinner now that the fall stretch is here, the fade of summer into fall and winter, and then we all go hibernate for a while. Must press on and finish Littell's "The Lonely Ones" before the end of the month, and I still have some 300 pages to go.

One thought to end with, a question to our friends in Wisconsin. What is up with the gaper's block? Three major incidents, two on the exact same stretch of road near Madison, and there was NOTHING to see. Some guy changing a tire. Another guy whose bike may have fallen off the rack on the back of his car. Seriously -- press on and go looking later on YouTube. Took us an extra 1.5 hours to get home thanks to all this, but we can't really be upset about it. You do have New Glarus after all!

Back from vacation

Back from vacation and I had a great surprise -- a woodworking book and a great note from Ron Nelson. There is something peaceful about the weeks following a vacation, not all boo hoo sadness and that sort of thing. No, it is more like reflection, a time when you think and plan a bit for the next round. This time for me was all about camping. I'd built a new roof rack, out of solid oak this time, and I encourage everyone with a plane and a saw and a weekend to craft a car roof rack. Why pay $200 as an entry fee into the "now I must buy expensive accessories for every item to be ported" club? Oh, and you want locks?? That is $50 more. Ha. Just bolt the thing down and see if the perps come prepared with a deep 5/8" socket and a Crescent wrench. Like they would want it anyhow.

So I got back and started to clean up and get organized. Stowed the rods and reels and cleaned up my tackle box. Aired out the ponchos and packed up the Thule roof top bag (which I love by the way -- the smart solution to the whole rack/storage thing). Meandered around the web and bought a nice, smallish fixed blade knife and some good old 550 cord. Researched how to tie knots for tent guy lines so that I dispense with those annoying plastic things that have already started breaking.

I also went out and bought an old school Coleman propane lantern. I have a nifty little fluorescent one, and for a moment I was in the marketing tractor beam of the bigger fluorescent ones, but I just can't believe that they throw enough light, or the right quality light, and who the heck can preview these lanterns in the blackness of night?

Plus there is something nice about the fat propane tanks and how they screw into everything. And they get hot. Doesn't that fend off bugs, at least a little? Well, that is all part of the meditation phase I guess, being stuck with one foot in the next generation and the other foot in my own experience growing up. It is a wonderful place in history really, to be standing right smack on the dividing line between computers and computers with the INTERNET. Two vastly different worlds.

And so I sit on the deck decompressing, wireless with the laptop, listening to the hiss of the gas burning hot in the lantern. I think about a Kindle and how I'll probably get one soon, but I have stacks and stacks of books to get through yet.

One of my professors gave the memorable advice that until you get to the point you can recite poetry from memory it will never really be with you, and he was dead on about that. One great drawback to the internet age is that we lapse into thinking we can lookup anything on demand, so we go wide and shallow instead of deep. I think about the great satisfaction of tying knots -- just a few that I know, but I KNOW them -- and how those skills keep us in touch with our past. A month ago I pruned limbs off a tree in the back yard and remembered how to tie a Swiss seat from the army days to keep myself safe. Whatever it may be that serves as the touchpoint. A beloved old pocket knife, like the Barlow one that belonged to my dad. The worn cast iron skillet. The Mitchell reel, still working like a truck after 35 years. Nice to have these things in life.