I’m sealing the time capsule

March 5, 2012

You know how you have some conversations that stick with you? They’re not always the ones you think will stick with you.

Well, back in early 2010 I had a conversation with a guy who had started a tech company — basically, he’d built some cool functionality where people could review products and share them in the social world. I was curious about what he was doing. But what surprised me was that he was essentially abandoning his site and moving everything to Facebook. I remember he said, “I can develop the coolest party favors in the world, but the trick is getting people to come to my party. Or I can take my party favors to the biggest party out there. And that’s Facebook.” Hmmm, I thought, why not do both?

But here I am a couple of years later with my withering blog, StuffandJunk. I’m proud of a lot of the stuff that’s on here. It really is a bit of a time capsule with interesting thoughts and ideas (at least to me). I just realize that it’s asking a lot for people to navigate here with any regularity. And I found my own habits beginning to change. I began thinking about Facebook as my own mini-blog. It’s a place I curate the things that I find interesting, usually with a short intro that gives my perspective or reaction. I really like the new Timeline feature on Facebook, because it’s even more blog-like. Facebook is fast, it’s easy, and the party is in full swing.

So thanks for visiting StuffandJunk. Maybe someday I’ll find a good reason to to dig this baby out of the ground and pop the seal. In the meantime, you can follow my day-to-day musings on Facebook. Twitter is a bit of an afterthought for me right now, but I tend to post business things there. I’m playing around with Pinterest. I’d given up on Google+, but then my daughter, passed right by Facebook without notice and added me to her circles (isn’t that interesting …?) So I’m paying a little more attention to Google+ and looking over her shoulder. Friend, follow or +1 me if you are so inclined.

Where did the time go?

December 10, 2010

At the beginning of January, 2010, almost 10 years to the day after selling our agency to DDB, I moved on.

I was excited to see how I would spend my days and only had a vague sense how it would be. But I was excited nonetheless.

I hadn’t had the kind of freedom, where anything was a possibility, since I left college. At the time, I was anxious to get into a career, and I hadn’t much enjoyed my “freedom.” So this time would be different. I promised myself to relish the opportunity.

I knew I would paint. I’d been an art major in college and had dived back into things when my kids were at napping age. (You can see what I’ve been up to at www.johnlivengood.com.) I wanted to start a web forum around sustainable home-building (www.ecomajority.com). I wanted to do some marketing/creative consulting, which I’ve been lucky enough to do with some friends old and new. But all of those goals shifted significantly when my wife, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. We’re on the homestretch of treatments now, and things are looking good. Of all the things that have filled my days, this was the most important. Obviously.

It has been a heck of a year and I’ve learned a few things.

First, being around home most of the time has many benefits. Being close to a refrigerator is not one of them.

Second, and though I’d heard this countless times, kids grow up quickly and will be gone before you know it. I will always look back at this time with an amazing appreciation for the amount of involvement I have been able to have with them. I also realized that they really don’t like to do homework, and if you’re not there to push on them, it often doesn’t get done.

Third, I can’t imagine being away from Ann, or the kids, while Ann was going through cancer treatments. Obviously a lot of people manage it — and the patients themselves often work all through their treatments. My hat is off to them. I feel really lucky that we were able to be together. Even growing closer.

Fourth, it’s good to have something you can get lost in — even at a moment’s notice. Last January, I decided to learn to play the guitar. I had taught myself how to play the bass over the years, but I knew nothing about chords or any kind of music theory.  I’ll write more about this, perhaps, but you can find part of my guitar odyssey at www.giftwrappedgibson.wordpress.com. My only regret is that I wish I’d learned to play earlier (or hadn’t given it up when my parents wanted me to learn when I was in elementary school). Being able to disappear into a song is a great escape — a great meditation. It has truly been one of my great creative joys over this past year.  And my family doesn’t seem to mind (too much) as I work on a song, over and over and over and over again.

I get asked fairly regularly what I’m up to. In the most simple form, the answer to that is all of the above. What’s next? I don’t know. It’s probably too much to say that I have a few irons in the fire. More accurately, I have a few irons next to the fire. Who knows if anything will come of them. Whatever I do next will need to be get the juices going. That’s a prerequisite. I’m lucky enough to have a nest egg and a pretty good gig.

Speaking of nest eggs …

The genius of Albert Brooks in “Lost in America.”


September 8, 2010

Why I started EcoMajority

April 30, 2010

For the better part of last year, I’d been kicking around a website — a community really — that allows homeowners, architects and contractors to build greener, more sustainable homes.  When I left DDB at the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to build it.

It is essentially a forum where people can share their knowledge, research and experience around the sustainable building process. As I’ve said before, there is little that is black and white about making “green” choices — everything is a thousand shades of gray. Add to that the difficulty of finding information and perspective, it’s no wonder that precious few people make sustainable choices — opting instead for the “tried and true.”  I hope that by building this community, we can change that.

Originally I wanted to do product reviews. I could have done that and spent tens of thousands of dollars. Instead I chose a path that would cost much less (in the hundreds of dollars) by using the Ning Network.  I’ve chosen more of a forum format where discussions can take place, helpful links, pictures and experience can be shared.  While I believe this idea is filling an important information gap, I want to prove that there is, in fact, a community that will find this helpful. We shall see. It’s the contributions the community makes to it that will make it live or die.

As you may have guessed, after much exploration, I decided to call the site EcoMajority. I landed on this after thinking about Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm.” While it is more about technology adoption, the lessons certainly apply.  It looks like this:

As opposed to Geoffrey Moore, I’m not so concerned with the “chasm” present among early adopters, but the power of the majority — the masses — when they decide to adopt new ways of doing things. The reality is that this market will really begin to take off when the majority not just begins considering these options for their homes, but when they actually begin to implement those changes. When the majority does this — the EcoMajority — good things will begin to happen. More innovation will happen. Production will rise, competition will increase and there will be more options from which to choose.  With that, prices will come down and people will buy more. And a positive feedback loop will emerge. And that will be good for the environment.

But there’s a lot between where I am today and that reality in my mind. First, I need a community. An active, engaged, contributing community willing to share their knowledge and experience. That’s you. And your many friends.  My contributions are not enough. So please feel free to pass this message along to your friends and colleagues with your endorsement. Blog about it, Tweet about it, tell your friends about it on Facebook.

Am I missing something about the iPad?

January 30, 2010

Apple just introduced the new iPad and everyone is comparing it to the Kindle to see how it matches up.  But what I’m not really seeing in the conversation is — for lack of a better term — total cost of use.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple. They have a lot — I mean a lot of my business. And I’m sure there will be a market for the iPad, but I don’t get how it stacks up for book lovers. At it’s most basic (Wi-Fi), it’s somewhat cost comparative with the Kindle DX. But if you want equivalent connectivity, you’re paying above and beyond that — up to $30/month. You can buy a lot of books/media for $360 a year. And they’re projecting many of the iPad’s books at $14.99 and up (compared to $9.99 or less for Kindle). That’s good for the publishing houses, and Apple, But it’s sure not good for the book-loving public. Prices just went up 50%.

UPDATE: April 2008. I’m fully admitting I wrote this post in haste. I like the iPad. I want one. But, what inspired this posts was the constant comparisons to the Kindle (which was probably heightened in Seattle’s Amazon-cognizant media). For serious, frequent book readers (all 12 of them), I don’t think it’s as good a device. But it is apparently very good at other things. As I read somewhere, it is a consumption device (not a creation device). And it’s very good at being that. Now I’m thinking I ought to wait for the 4G …

You say you’re not creative?

October 28, 2009

Owen skull&crossbonesWhether I’m talking with people about my work in advertising, or the painting I do for my own pleasure, the conversation often reaches the same point. In one way or another, people will tell me that they’re not creative at all.

It would be really easy to get on my soapbox at this point and talk about how pretty much all of us start off as creative kids, drawing and writing imaginative stories. But somehow we often lose that “skill.” Whether it’s our educational system, or kids’ peer groups, a lot of kids don’t stick with it. And like anything, if you’re not doing it often, you get rusty and that rust leads to a further lack of confidence.

Dead crowWhoops, what am I doing way up here? I must step down.

Anyway, I firmly believe that is not just about imagination, it’s about seeing — really observing — what is around you all day, everyday. There’s a beauty that we just don’t see — or worse, we take it for granted.  To really see it, you need to give your eye practice. You need to see in compositional terms. And one great way to do that is just to take a lot of photographs.

Grace blurI do. On the right side are pictures I’ve taken of my kids (I do this a lot because, well, they’re my kids. But also because I tend to paint portraits, so I like to look at how light plays across faces.) The crow was just a bit of road kill that I saw riding my bike home from work one day. I think it was worth getting off my bike for. You don’t need any good reason to take pictures. Take lots of them.

Which leads me to something that Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis is doing.  He’s taken the expression “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and turned it into a great iPhone app (the best “camera” iPhone app in my opinion, and I’ve used a lot of them), a book, and a web-based photography community.

Here’s Chase explaining it himself. Read more on his blog post.

I couldn’t have said it better myself (though I tried).

It can all change in the blink of an eye.

October 16, 2009

In the summer of 1987, I was not far out of college. Despite my accomlishement at interviewing at nearly every ad agency in Seattle, nobody would give me a job. So instead I hooked on as a writer on the client side. I knew that working at an agency was my ultimate goal, so I kept tabs on the comings and goings at various shops in town.

My Mom was a great lover of art and architecture. (Forgive the sharp right turn; it’s relevant.) She called me one day to see if I wanted to join her on a tour of downtown Seattle homes and condos. This was back in the day when Belltown was desolate — and actually living in downtown Seattle was still a bit of a novelty. Despite enjoying spending time with my Mom, I wasn’t too inclined. As bait, I’m sure, she told me that Mike Mogelgaard’s condo was on the tour. At that time, Mogelgaard and Associates was one Seattle’s hottest ad agency — and Mike was Seattle’s resident advertising bad boy. So I went on the tour.

I don’t remember much from that day. No idea how many condos we saw. But one memory is pretty clear — and while the detail may have fogged up in the ensuing years (decades!), the impression is crystal clear.

Leonard HaglerI remember walking into Mogelgaard’s bathroom and taped to the mirror was a newspaper picture. It was taken moments after Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their highly publicized title bout. I’m no boxing historian but this was a battle of the ages. Sugar Ray Leonard was on the last legs of his career and Hagler was the champion — widely awed and feared. Leonard, like a lot of fighters, wanted one more shot. He wanted to go out on top as the crowning point of his career. Nobody gave him much of a chance. in fact, if I recall correctly, people thought Hagler was going to simply annihilate Sugar Ray. But they would be wrong. Leonard shocked everyone. Most of all, Hagler.

The photo on Mogelgaard’s mirror showed Leonard with the belt around his waist and the crowd hoisting him onto their shoulders. The shot is from behind Hagler, and you can see him watching the crowning moment. This unbelievable glorious celebration that was supposed to be his. Everyone knew it would be Hagler’s moment to shine.

Only it wasn’t.

And as I recall, Mogelgaard had scrawled underneath the picture what I can only assume was a daily reminder to himself. “It can all change in the blink of an eye.”

I’ve never forgotten it. For me, there are many, many ways this has been instructive. Sure, there’s the most obvious interpretation. Don’t get overconfident because there’s always someone gunning for you.

But more and more I think about it in a slightly different context. This is a topsy turvy world we live in. “Expect the unexpected” is a cliche because it’s true. Probably now more true than ever. Think of all the things in life — or business — that you don’t see coming. Should you?

I suppose at that moment, standing in Mike Mogelgaard’s bathroom, I learned something not only about the advertising business, but about life.

Stay a step ahead. Never be surprised. Be ready.

We’re building a (green?) house, ed. 5: Demolish or deconstruct?

July 21, 2009

NOTE: Updates of this post can be found at EcoMajority, my web-based forum focused on sustainable home building.

This decision, it seems to me, is increasingly coming down to three things, in descending order. 1. Philosophy. 2. Timing. 3. Cost.

Essentially, if you’re going to take a house down, you need to decide how important it is to you that as much of those materials are reused and diverted from landfills.  That’s a value question, no doubt, but probably an easy one for most people dependent upon the next two issues, timing and cost.  Timing is a big factor because there’s no doubt that deconstructing will take more time if the deconstruction contractor really takes the time to preserve as much material as possible.

By way of example, here’s what happened on our project.  Ironically (and unfortunately for our neighbors), our house began deconstruction the same day that the house across the street began demolition. By the time I got home from work, the house across the street was gone. Nothing. On our house they were still busy removing windows and case work.While our neighbors were done in a day, our project was in the deconstruction phase for between two and three weeks. (In all fairness, though, there was no pressure on them to move faster because we were going to be delayed with the other sitework and foundation work that needed to happen — so deconstruction was slower than it probably needed to be.)

Time is money — that’s certainly true in construction. But in this particular phase, there are more things to consider than just straight estimates between the two options. In demolition, the cost of labor is low because the track hoe is doing all the heavy lifting, literally. You probably have one, maybe two days of equipment rental — so that’s cheaper. But you have the considerable expense of disposal fees.

On the deconstruction side, the house is literally taken apart piece by piece and either sold, or donated for reuse. If something is sold, you get the funds (or at least that’s how it worked with our contractor). And for everything that is donated, you get a tax write-off. (This can be tricky, make sure to check with your accountant or tax adviser — and make sure your donation is to through a charitable organization.)

BenninkFor us, the costs weren’t exactly a wash between the two choices — but it was pretty close. And at that stage we weren’t in a big hurry to move things along. So for us it was a clear choice that we should reuse and recycle as much as possible. For the most part, all that went into the landfill was old drywall, insulation, and old bug-infested logs that were used as part of the foundation.

Side note: I was talking to Dave Bennink of Re-Use Consulting when they were a couple of days into taking down our house. He mentioned that he needed to get to the store the current issue of Forbes Magazine had an article on him and his deconstruction practice in it.  Here’s the article.

We’re building a (green?) house, ed.4: To LEED or not?

July 14, 2009

NOTE: Updates of this post can be found at EcoMajority, my web-based forum focused on sustainable home building.

If you are going to build a green house, seems like you’d want some sort of gold star for the effort, right? That’s where I was coming from when we started our project. Of course — why not?

LEED, developed by the US Green Building Council, is the gold standard. What started out as a means of encouraging, measuring and verifying commercial building projects, it has since moved into residential construction projects as well. I won’t go into all of the details about LEED, but it’s a checklist-based system that offers guidance, consulting, and how to lessen you building’s impact on the environment and create a healthier home in the long term. You, your architect, your contractor and a LEED consultant work from checklists that guide you to better choices. And then an independent verification and your home becomes certified at whatever level it meets — I believe the levels are silver, gold and platinum.

Bottom line is I wasn’t big on going after gold stars in school, and evidently I haven’t changed much. We didn’t go down this road. Looking at it, LEED accreditation seemed expensive and cumbersome.  There was fees to pay, consultants to hire, and considerable extra time in project management that would be needed by our contractor in order to be in compliance. In the end, it seemed to me and my wife that what was important was our intention. We figured that with every decision along the way, we could look at our options, always ask the sustainability questions about the proposed materials, look at alternatives, and make the best decision we could, all things considered.

At the end of the project, I’m not sure we’ll be able to look back and defintitvely answer the question, “how green is your home?” But who cares? Building a green home is a thousand shades of gray. We’ve learned that, if nothing else. Some people could look at our project and be impressed with the decisions we made and the lengths we’ve gone to. Others could look at it and decide that we didn’t go far enough. (I suppose that’s why there’s a question mark after the “green” in the headline — ultimately this is subjective.)

If we were planning to turn around and sell the house, we might have made a different call so that we could have the LEED tools and certification to help us sell the house. But for us, all that really matters is that we’re satisfied with the decisions we made along the way. And we are.

We’re building a (green?) house, ed. 3: home site and design

July 9, 2009

NOTE: Updates of this post can be found at EcoMajority, my web-based forum focused on sustainable home building.

Once you decide you’re going to build a new house, the next question you face is multi-faceted, with long-term, far-reaching ramifications.  What kind of house are you going to build? How big should it be? Remodel, or all new construction? How should it sit on the site?

Big questions because if you don’t tear a building down, less goes into the landfill. And the bigger the house you build, the more materials that will be needed to go into it, and the more resources necessary to service it.  Where it’s located and how it’s positioned on the site will either allow you to make good use of the sun’s energy … or not.

The trend, of course, has been going in the wrong direction for the last couple of decades. I recently read a statistic that the average size for new home construction has grown by 20% over the last twenty years or so. I was shocked at that number — mostly because I couldn’t believe that the number wasn’t larger.  I walked through a home under construction recently that was probably just shy of 10,000 square feet. As I toured the home, I literally couldn’t imagine the purpose for the various rooms. Given the generosity of space, it was clear that Jon & Kate+8 (or Kate+8) weren’t moving in. I couldn’t help wondering how much the home would cost to heat in the winter, how much to repaint when the time came, and how much stuff you would need to fill a house of that size.  Eeesh.

Just to jump to the punchline, the house we are building adds up to just about 4000 square feet. It breaks down like this: our 4-bedroom house is 3100 square feet. Our art studio space and office space above and next to the garage add about another 900 square feet.  (It looks bigger in the wide angle pano shot).

A good sized house, no question about it. And a minor bone of contention as we worked with Lane Williams and Zeke Busch of Coop15 Architects. Lane is a big proponent economical and efficient use of space (check out the Coop15 blog posts on sustainable building). If I recall correctly, most of the home he designs are between 4000-5000 square feet — and trending downward. Given the technology boom in the NW and Microsoft wealth in our area, keeping custom-home sizes down has probably been a tough sell at times.

One of the question we lobbed back and forth was whether we really needed a guest room or not. We thought we did, and Lane politely questioned that. His solid reasoning was given the number of nights per year that you actually have guests, they could sleep in one of the kids’ bedrooms and our kids could double-up. Given that we’re on an island with ferry service, we wanted our guests not to feel rushed — and if they wanted to spend the night, that they would feel well accommodated. Though that may have added a 200+/- square feet, we felt strongly. So we have a guest room. But as we walk through the house (at this writing, nearly a month before move-in) a lot of the rooms seem on the small side. We are trusting our architect and believe that when we move in, we’ll have a Goldilocks moment and everything will feel just right. Lane has said that he’s never had a client come back to him 10 years later and tell him they wished the home were bigger — but he has had a number of clients who wish they’d been more restrained and built a smaller house.

Though we reused the existing foundation (for the part of the house that had a foundation) and the existing garage, there wasn’t much else that was usable for us. So we had to think about demolition and the filling of landfills — or deconstruction which takes significantly more time and, perhaps, more money. More on that in the next post.

Because we used the existing foundation, there were no choices to be made in regards to siting the house. It was what it was, which is one of the main reasons we bought where we did. Because of the western exposure, sun will help to warm the house significantly. And in the summer when the sun really beats through the windows, blinds and cross ventilization will help to keep things cool. Also critical to us was the fact that our site has unobstructed access to the southern sky — which means solar can be an option for us as well. More on that in another post as well.