We’re building a (green?) house, ed. 2

July 8, 2009

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

The house project is going well. We’re just less than a month from move-in.  As things wind down, and most (if not all) of our material choices have been made, I’m having a chance to reflect a little bit on our goals from the very beginning of the project and where we find ourselves now.

There were a number of things that caused us to up-root from Queen Anne and move to Bainbridge Island, but I’ll save most of those reasons for another post. One of our main goals was to build as sustainable a house as we could manage. To do that, we knew we would need to balance aesthetics, costs and practicality.

What I hope to do over the next several weeks/months, is to review how we did. But the bottom line is it was a ridiculously hard process. I kept thinking to myself how hard it is to be green. There are few, if any, decisions that are clear and simple.  And finding products and information — even with the amazing power of the Web — often fell between futile and simply a waste of time. Admittedly, I am not a green-building expert. I’m just someone who has built or remodeled a few homes. My wife was an architectural designer for more than a decade. We like this stuff, but that didn’t make it any easier.  (By the way, I have some ideas for how making green choices could be made easier in the future but I’ll save that, too, for a future post.)

Purists may say we copped out on some of our choices. Pragmatists may say that we were highly idealistic, and overspent in some areas and in some ways.  Both are probably true.  I’m hoping that others might learn something based on our decisions — not because they were the “right” decisions from a green perspective (because certainly many weren’t), but because of how and why we arrived where we did.

Stay tuned. I’ll probably tackle decisions in roughly the order they came up in the design and development process.

A tale of Zappos, Twitter and the Future

April 1, 2009

Let me tell you a story, and it all starts with me needing to replace an old pair of my favorite boots that were literally falling apart. And if you squint your eyes even a little bit, I think you might just see a big part of the future of marketing.

Given what’s happening in this country right now, it’s only reasonable to be purposeful about any purchase decision. So, as I was headed out the door one morning, I said to my wife, “Hey, I think I’m going to order a new pair of Blundstones from Zappos today.” My wife, Ann, who orders a good percentage of our kids’ shoes from Zappos, informed me that if I ordered by 10am, I’d have them the next day. So I ordered … hopeful. And five days later, my boots had still not arrived.

Though this order was my first with Zappos, I was disappointed. I wanted my boots. So on my way to work one morning, I Tweeted this (by the way, follow me on Twitter):


I had heard that Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos was active on Twitter and I wrote this as much as a test to see if they would respond, how quickly and in what way. The threat of Endless, Amazon’s shoe store, was an extra worm on the hook. Well, within about an hour, I got a notice that I’m being “followed” on Twitter by Tony. Yes, the CEO.

By the way, to “follow” someone on Twitter is something akin to “friending” someone on Facebook. If you aren’t familiar with Facebook, the rest of this post is going to read like total nonsense. I forgive you if you quit reading now. Some of you may ask why I’m being so basic about these technologies. Reality is Facebook has about 175 million users and I know a lot of smart friends — and marketers — who are not among those 175 million.  And I think I just heard that Twitter is at something like 7 million. That means a lot of people who could use the background info. Pardon this aside if you are not one of them).

Within an hour, I got a message from Tony telling me my boots should arrive that day. To make a long story short, we exchanged “tweets” that day and eventually emails about the source of my frustration and ways I thought they might improve their customer experience.

Zappos has built a reputation as a service company that just happens to sell shoes. How did that happen? I think that’s the moral of the story. Tony and his team monitor in real time what people are saying about them on Twitter and in the blogosphere (it probably won’t take long for them to find this post). Is that marketing? Certainly not in the traditional sense, but it’s working.

Direct Marketers have spent the better part of the last two decades talking about “1to1” marketing, and “customer relationship marketing” (CRM), but it always seemed to me that it was still essentially one way dialogue. Yes, marketers have access to a lot of rich data and laser/digital technology allows marketers to do some amazing “personalization.” But in the end, it is still essentially a company talking at a customer or prospect and only becomes two way if the customer/prospect chooses to respond to the query — usually to buy something.

Well, with the advent of newer digital technologies (like Twitter, for example) the customer really is in the driver’s seat.  They’re starting these conversations every minute of every day.  The smartest, most progressive companies are finding ways to engage and respond — and win the hearts and minds of people along the way.

Which path are you on?

Trying to get a little perspective

March 25, 2009

Since Grace was born just over 10 years ago, I’ve been writing letters to her.  And when her brother, Owen, was born, I began writing letters to him, too.  At first it was about every four months or so — then about every six months.  I don’t actually send the letters, I save them in a book for when they are adults.  I suppose it’s like keeping a journal about both of them, but the idea of writing in it all the time is daunting.  But this way, I can look back over the most recent months and muse about Halloween costumes, lost teeth, and the crazy drawing only kids can come up with.

But here we are in the midst of economic turbulance (catastrophe?) unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  So I find it strange that in those 12 months, I haven’t written any letters to my kids.

Intellectually, I realize it’s probably amazing material.  If I were Grace or Owen reading these letters 20 years from now, I’d really want to know what we were coping with in these times and how it touched us as a family, as well as our community.  But somehow I fear that I don’t have enough perspective.  My mood swings with the news of the day.  I listen to Kai Risdal sparingly on NPR because he bums me out.  I feel good when the market is up (like yesterday) and morose when in drops (which it did today, yet somehow I don’t feel too bad because it was up so much yesterday).  The implications of monthly unemployment numbers weigh heavily on me.

I want to chronicle this interesting, scary, daunting — and hopefully reformative — time for my kids, but I’m afraid I’d look back on anything I write as being overly melodramatic.

And maybe I should just get over it.

Cool wine widget

March 19, 2009

If you like wine, check out this widget from for American Winery. It was developed by Qponix — run by a couple of friends of mine from Whitman College and operating right out of our favorite rock in the middle of the Puget Sound … Bainbridge Island.

Curious to hear what you think.

[clearspring_widget title=”AmericanWinery.com Wine Finder” wid=”497971f19d8c68ba” pid=”49c152fdc5c5ff8f” width=”160″ height=”320″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

My friend Michael shoots

March 18, 2009

the-ferryman-cometh-copy1Practically every morning I ride the ferry over to Seattle with my friend and co-worker, Michael Nalley. Fairly often, he’s on his computer massaging a photo he’s taken recently. I often watch with amazements as he does this. Why? because I see a lot of the same things he does (Bainbridge Island ain’t that big, and several of his photos are things I’ve seen many, many times). The truth is that he sees them and captures them in a way that makes me see them again in a new way. That may not be the exact definition of “art” but it works for me.

Check out his work at www.michaelnalleyphotography.com.

We’re building a (green?) house, ed. 1

February 16, 2009

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


Almost exactly two years ago, my wife and I got a wild hair.

For years, we thought about moving to Bainbridge Island. But then we stopped thinking about it and actually closed on a piece of property on Wing Point. That single decision was catalyst for many decisions that would change our lives and those of our children. And save the economic crisis our country in stumbling through, we haven’t spent a lot of time looking back.

To move forward, we needed to sell our house in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood — our community throughout our entire marriage — as well as sell our vacation house which we had literally built from the ground up.  We had a few goals:

  1. We wanted to build a house that was all that we loved about our vacation home, but one we could live in every day. That meant an environment where our kids could run (more or less) free. It meant  having a studio space for both Ann and her metalwork, and for me and my painting and other shenanigans. And it meant having room for our friends and family to come and hang out with us — whether for dinner or a week.
  2. We like to build things, and this time we wanted to build a modern-ish house.
  3. We wanted to build a house that was as environmentally responsible and sustainable as we felt we could reasonably do. (I could, and probably will, write many more posts about this aspect of the project.  Suffice it to say, this is not as clear-cut or as easy as one would think.)
  4. We wanted to simplify our lives, even if that meant just going from two residences to one. Naturally, there would be less to think about, and certainly fewer costs in maintaining two homes.

To make a two-year-old story considerably shorter, within just a few months of purchasing the property, we began the design process, choosing Lane William’s Coop15. There were very specific design constraints given that it was a remodel (albeit one that went down to the foundation). We eventually came up with the design you see at the top of this post.

In Fall 2007/Winter 2008 (can’t remember which), we chose our contractor, Smallwood Construction. And in June of 2008 we began deconstruction (not demolition) a process I wrote about in my work blog — which predated “stuffandjunk” and you can read here.

For reasons — actually reason, singular — that isn’t worth going into, we didn’t get going in earnest until August/September. And we hope to move in at the end of July 2009.

Over the course of the coming weeks and months, I’ll write some other posts and share some pictures.  I’ll try to explain the joy with which we look forward to our new home and the discoveries we’ve made along the way.  I’ll also try to honestly share some of the compromises we’ve had to make, the shortcomings in the process and our goals, and even the anguish of building while the economy is cratering. But who are we to complain?

Here are a couple of pictures taken recently.



Statistics, visualized

February 11, 2009

I wrote a recent post about a visualization of the rate at which Wal-Mart and Target stores have opened over the last several years.

Well, this is on a similar theme — bringing statistical information to life, visually.  Seattle photographer/artist Chris Jordan has an amazing series of works called “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait.”  In it, he brings to life America’s consumption habits (among other things) in a way that really stops you cold.

This shot from the exhibition shows two million plastic beverage bottles — the amount used in the united states every five minutes.


Can’t see the bottles?  Seriously, check out the images — including close-ups — at Chris Jordan’s site.

Pondering Wal-Mart (and Target, for that matter)

February 10, 2009

I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last month pondering phenomenon of Wal-Mart, its growth and its enormous reach.  I’m not going to say why. Sometimes things in advertising must remain confidential because it is SO DARNED IMPORTANT.

Nevertheless, as I toiled with my colleague from Los Angeles, Jefferson Burruss, he showed me something really interesting about Wal-Mart.  Check this out, it’s by the folks at FlowingData and maps the growth of Wal-Mart over the years.

walmart-mapNow, just for shits and giggles, let’s take a look at Target and how it grew.  Take a look here.  I just think it’s interesting how these companies have taken off. The rate of growth is different, for sure, but so is the geography.  Probably explains a lot about why these  brands are perceived differently in different parts of the country — and by different demographics.

Oh, there are a lot of things we could talk about with these tow companies, but I’m going to skip that and just marvel at the growth stories illustrated here.

Shooting with your iPhone

February 9, 2009

img_0221Perusing my Twitter feed one day, I noticed a blog post by Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis.  While Chase is a gifted photographer and we had just shot a campaign with him for one of DDB Seattle’s client Chateau Ste. Michelle, this particular post was not about anything too high-end in terms of photography.

No, it’s about getting great shots from your iPhone and you can read it here.  There are a few tips (hold the camera with both hands, press the shutter release and then compose your shot– and release when you are ready), and a few suggestions for handy ap downloads.  It’s definitely worth the read if you’re taking photos with an iPhone.

My Chariot

February 9, 2009

img_0184About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about this cool bike thing I’d heard about.  It’s called the Xtracycle and I got mine up and rolling in no time.  I basically took an old bike — a Trek Singletrack circa 1990-ish — and bolted this extender on the back.

img_0181Well, I ride it to work just about every day. Here on Bainbridge Island, I end up riding it to the ferry where I walk on and then just walk the few blocks to work.  Where I’m living right now, my commute takes me on a trail through the woods, then on some back rodes, past my kids’ elementary school, down the hill and through downtown Winslow, and then on down to the ferry dock. Probably something like five miles or so.  It’s great.

But while I thought the Xtracycle would allow me to pick up a few bags of groceries on the way home from work, I have found that that situation as been exceedingly rare. What I have found is that I don’t have to really worry about what I take to and from work.  It all fits.  And none of it needs to fit on my back.  It all rides low and steady right next to the back wheels.

Thus, the only downside.  I find myself carry too much up and down the hills of Bainbridge Island — only because I can.  But you couldn’t get me to trade in my Xtracycle for anything.