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I’m on vacation in Mallorca

Sunken Sailboat on the coast of Mallorca

Sunken sailboat on the coast of Mallorca

In taking a proper vacation, I’m not planning on taking time to blog, so in the meantime, I thought I’d post a few photos. Photos are over on my SmugMug site. Check it out.

Are the windows broken out of your digital storefront?

Let’s say you have a retail shop on a moderately busy street. Cars drive by, pedestrians amble down the sidewalk and pass your door. It’s safe to say that only a small percentage of traffic on your street is on a mission to visit your shop – let’s say 5%. You’d probably like to attract some of the other 95% of passersby to stop in, maybe spend some money. People are drawn to places with some curb appeal: places that are well kept, clean windows, no weeds growing out of the cracks in the concrete, lit up signs, and so forth.

Your website isn’t in a neighborhood that attracts the bare minimum of window-shoppers. If you’re doing anything to drive visitors to your website, you’ll have some – even I get visitors to my website, and I’m not doing anything regularly to drive that traffic (yet). The same logic applies to websites as storefronts. Your website has the same ability to draw customers into your store – more actually. Unless you have a strong internet retail aspect to your website, the primary purpose is to drive people to your store to make a purchase.

Manage the curb appeal of your website.

  • Proofread! Make sure there are no spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors. If you can’t, find someone who can.
  • Make sure your links work. Whether you’re sending me to another site or asking me to contact you, it’s for a reason, make sure I can do it.
  • Eliminate anything that says “coming soon.” If your content isn’t ready, don’t build the page for it yet.
  • Keep it fresh and up to date. If your blog hasn’t been updated this decade, it’s time to take down the link.

Your website is your first impression – make it count. It can be a powerful tool to establish credibility. Make it work for you rather than against you.

 

 

And please, please, please, please, please don’t have it play any awful music.

 

Rivalries are supposed to be good things

Gophers – Badgers, Vikings – Packers, Red Sox – Yankees, Tom – Jerry

Rivalries are good things. They add intrigue. They create legends.

Rivalries bring out the best in people. They can push people to bring their best and elevate their best to entirely new levels. Unfortunately, they can also bring out the worst in people. I have seen way too much of the latter lately.

The Vikings had a pretty brutal year, and the Packers are Super Bowl bound, and over the course of the year, I watched a lot of smack talk bounce back and forth between fans of each team. Some of it got ugly. Some of it got inappropriate, and some of it seemed to attempt to go as far past the line as possible.

You can put me at the front of the line when it comes to enjoying a little smack talk leading up to, during, and after a game. For me, most of my interactions revolve around the Gophers, because they are my team. I bleed Maroon and Gold. I know the date of every matchup between the Gophers and the Badgers. Even if the Gophers called up a bunch of high school freshmen and the NCAA gave the entire Packers roster an eligibility exemption to play one game for the Badgers, I’d still bet a beer on the game with my buddy Pete – the same bet we’ve placed on everything from Men’s Hockey to Women’s Gymnastics. I would cheer fanatically for the entire game, until every one of our players got broken in half and carted off the field. There is nothing I want more than to see the Gophers beat the Badgers – no matter what the sport. I hate the Badgers.

The important distinction is that my hatred for the Badgers is fueled by my respect for them. I want them to win every game except when they play us. It makes the win mean a whole lot more. Why would I want them to be terrible? Where is the fun in beating a terrible team? Beating a rival is fun. Beating them when they are highly ranked or having a great season is even more fun. I want to see my team rise to the occasion, elevating their game to a new level to beat a rival. It is fun to watch my team play well, and even in blowout wins over bad teams, a good team can play terribly, only playing well enough to win.

Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m just old (I mean, I just turned 30!). I still think it’s classy when a head coach wears a suit on the sidelines. I think players that aren’t dressing for a game should do the same. And I think rivalries should be about teams and their respective fan bases as a whole, not about individual players or fans.

So here’s my call to you. Support your team. Put your heart and soul into it. Bleed their colors. Go nuts when they score. Go nuts when the get a big stop. Go even more nuts when they win. But do it with respect.

So on Sunday night, in Super Bowl XLV, go Pack.

It will make it that much sweeter when we stomp you next season.

The calmest I have ever felt

Airplanes were purpose built to pick you up in one place and take you to another. Get on in one city, plane takes off, plane flies, plane lands, get off in another city. That’s how planes work.

Somewhere along the line, though, someone thought, that looks like a nice plane, I think I’ll start the standard process, but then jump out from 12,000 feet and end up where I started.

Skydiving has been on my To Do List for a long time. I’ve never been particularly concerned about where I landed when I jumped out of a plane, but I’d always heard that New Zealand was famous for it. I had plans to do it when I was here two years ago, but a separated shoulder and a trip cut short had other plans for me. This time around, the cards fell into place, I had an opportunity to jump, and my impending arbitrarily important 30th birthday seemed like the perfect excuse to do it.

As part of the Trek Travel New Zealand trip, we build in one day that is a bit of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” day in Wanaka, and I had a couple guests that were keen to go skydiving in the adrenaline capitol of the world. As a good guide, my only option was to go with them, right?

One of my guests did his best to freak me out: “You don’t have a wife and kids back home do you?” “Do you have anyone that relies on your income?” “You realize you could die right? What do I do if you die?” “Just in case, where are the van keys?” but for whatever reason, I couldn’t be shaken.

I kept waiting for the butterflies in my stomach, but they never came. The only moment that they were threatening was after the plane before mine took off and I was left sitting with my co-guide Jake, and the chaotic scene that had surrounded us completely disappeared, leaving us in a slightly disorienting silence.

I suited up in my jumpsuit and harness, walked out to the plane, climbed aboard and watched the ground disappear, and sat in perfect peace. Airplanes have always been my happy place. In all my traveling, they have been the one place that time is completely mine. When I’m in a plane, I can’t be emailed (I have actively resisted in flight WiFi), can’t get a phone call or text message. I can read; I can listen to music; I can watch a movie; I can sleep; I can do whatever I want, and you can’t tell me to do something different. This flight was no different.

We took off, and I just looked out the window and watched the incredible scenery of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains unfold below me, completely calm. After a few minutes, we reached jumping altitude, and the door opened. Jake was the first one. I watched as everyone else pushed out into the cold air. I kept expecting to get freaked out at some point. Finally it was my turn to go, and I just slid into place, and out we went, following everyone else toward the ground.

After landing everyone was whooping and hollering, talking about what an incredible rush it was, talking about what the scariest part was, and I was just relaxed. I never got scared, but I never experienced the huge rush either. I was just calm. It was a level of calm that I’ve never experienced. It was incredible.

So there it is, checked off my list. I jumped out of an airplane, and I experienced a calm unlike any other.

 

Interesting and Passionate People

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting up with an old friend who I met in Christchurch the last time I was out here. We only met briefly, I haven’t seen her since, and to say that we’ve kept in touch over time would be a bit of an overstatement. Last night, we sat down for dinner and a couple of drinks and the conversation flowed endlessly, and that is because she is interesting and passionate.

One thing really differentiates interesting and passionate to me, they focus on the future. If you only talk about the past, you will eventually get bored with the conversation or even run out of things to talk about,  but if you focus on the future, you’ll never run out of things to say. Here is an example. We sat down, after not seeing each other for two years, and we spent approximately ten minutes catching up: My shoulder is better. I’m still working for Trek Travel. She is engaged. The earthquake was terrifying. Boom. Done. The rest of the night was spent talking about the future – what she has planned, what big ideas I have. Our stories built and evolved over the course of the night. She isn’t remotely involved in my plans, nor I in hers, but by the end of the night, my concepts had grown, snowballed off comments she made about my ideas, or grew just from repeating the plan out loud again.

It is a common thread I have found amongst the people I call my closest friends. They are all interesting and passionate. They may not be passionate about the same things I am passionate about, but the really great thing is that if someone is passionate about what they are saying, even if you weren’t remotely interested in the topic previously, you’ll be captivated by what they have to say. That common thread holds true both for the people who I have held closest to me for a long time, and for some of my new friends that I am most excited about having met in the last year.

Surround yourself with interesting and passionate people. You’ll be surprised how far they will take you.

Christchurch: a different experience

After a missed 6am alarm on Sunday, I miraculously woke up at 7am, exactly the time I was SUPPOSED to leave for the airport. Fortunately, I had finished packing absolutely everything the night before – a miracle, because usually I leave a few things for the morning before I leave. Exactly nine minutes after waking up, I was showered, dressed, and out the door. After a 3 hour flight to SFO, and NINE hour layover there, and then a 13+ hour flight to Auckland, and then a little puddle jump, I finally arrived in Christchurch. My flight from Minneapolis took off at 9:00 Sunday morning. My flight into Christchurch landed at 8:30 TUESDAY morning. That’s a long travel “day.”

I was fortunate enough to spend a good bit of time in New Zealand in the winter of 2008-2009 while getting my NZ Driver’s License. The bulk of that time was spent in Christchurch, so I was excited to get back and show my co-guide Jake around a city I was familiar with. Little did I know, I wasn’t returning to the Christchurch that I knew and loved. In September, Christchurch got hit with an earthquake of magnitude 7.1, centered very near downtown Christchurch. That’s a pretty mighty shake, and located in the center of a city as it was, you might expect a high death toll. Instead, the death toll was a remarkable zero. The quake hit at 4am, so the businesses and office buildings that took the bulk of the damage stood empty. There is not a high concentration of people actually living near downtown Christchurch, and those who do live largely in newer buildings, built to be a little more earthquake resistant.

While the death toll was zero, the number of people whose lives were altered dramatically is extremely high. Walking through Christchurch is like walking through some bizarre mix of a ghost town, a war zone, and a post-apocalyptic city. There are entire city blocks without an open business, where once there was a thriving economic zone. Chain link fences surround buildings, and signs on storefronts state “Do not approach this building. Significant structural damage.” When you peer though chain link fences you can see bookstores, music stores, clothing boutiques, and restaurants fully stocked, exactly as they were at the close of business in early September, where no one can shop, and the owners aren’t allowed in to move their inventory to a new location.

chain link and razor wire

Destroyed buildings behind a barrier of razor wire and chain link fence

A couple nights ago we wanted to go out for Indian food. I knew a great place. We headed that way… closed. We searched Google Maps for more. There were nine listings for Indian restaurants in downtown Christchurch. The first seven we went to were behind chain link fences. Last night we wanted to go to Winnie Bagoes, hands down my favorite place to get a pizza in Christchurch. Same story … closed. This time, the entire city block was encapsulated by one massive chain link fence. A great little bar district that I spent a lot of time at met the same fate. Same with Grind, a great little bike boutique that had a special place in my heart because they sold Surly Bikes.

cracked

Large cracks running through buildings are the norm in downtown Christchurch

Even more frustrating for some business owners than a sign that says “Do not approach… Significant structural damage” has to be the sign that says “Do not approach … awaiting inspection.” Here we are four months later and there are still businesses that may find out that their building is fine, and they’ve been missing out on months of business just waiting to see.

stairs to nowhere

Demolition has begun on this damaged building, leaving stairs to nowhere

Many homeowners find themselves in a similar situation. While I haven’t heard of anyone who is still waiting to find out if they can occupy their homes, but there are other hurdles in getting back to normal life. For those whose homes have been declared unlivable, the time to rebuild is 3-4 years or more, as there just aren’t enough contractors to go around. Disaster aid will pay rent for six months for those who have had to move out of their homes. At the end of that six month period, the homeowners will have to pay the mortgage on a home they can’t live in or sell AND pay for rent on top of that.

Even if a structural engineer has been by to declare a home sound to live in, the insurance adjuster probably hasn’t been by to start a claim, and until that happens, the small repairs can’t begin. For homeowners with minor damage such as cracked plaster or a few broken shingles, they have to stare at those constant reminders until the insurance company comes out, or face their claims being denied.

As if the damaged buildings and closed businesses weren’t enough of a reminder, Christchurch is still experiencing a few major aftershocks. One on December 26th shook the city hard. The wave was different from the big one in September, and many buildings that were unharmed in the big one cracked, shifted, and fell in that much smaller aftershock. The day after I arrived, a smaller 3.8 rattled the city, giving the ground a good shake and making a huge noise in the storage building I was in – shaking me a bit along as it went. It gave a context to what I was seeing as we walk through the city. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have been here in September, and then feeling these smaller tremors, with the momentary concern about whether this one is another big one, or just another reminder.

Everybody has a story about the earthquake. I would have expected people to be sick of talking about it by now, but everyone has graciously answered all of our questions about it (possibly because Kiwis LOVE to talk). Regardless of each person’s individual experience, there is one common thread through every story, reflecting the positive outlook of every Kiwi I have met: “We were so lucky. It could have been so much worse.”

 

#FollowFriday

Twitter: the ultimate “I don’t get it” social media. I’ve spoken to so many people have tried it, but quit or stopped posting because they didn’t “get it” – or who never bothered because they didn’t “get it.” I’ve tried to justify it to all of these people. I LOVE Twitter. It serves a multitude of purposes for me. However, there is a question that comes out of all of my explanations that has been hanging in the back of my head for a while. I know what I use Twitter for, and I know why I follow (or don’t follow) certain people, but why in the heck would anyone follow me?

So I ask you, why do you follow me?

What value to I add to your twitter feed?

There must be a reason you clicked the “follow” button in the first place, and a reason you haven’t gone back and clicked on “unfollow.” I’m curious what that is. If you’re interested in sharing, I’m interested in hearing.

Skullcandy Asym Review

About six months ago I ordered a set of Skullcandy Asym headphones. For logistical reasons they finally caught up with me in July. I’ve now given them a fair enough trial to form a pretty informed opinion on them.

Being headphones, it seems logical to start with their primary function, to deliver music to my ears. Sound quality is typical of mid-level skull candy. It’s good, but certainly not pro-level. An audiophile would scoff at them. Fortunately for me, I’m not an audiophile. I appreciate good sound, but don’t demand the best, especially when I’m out for a run or a ride. Compared to many cheap earbuds I have purchased, sound quality is considerably better, delivering a crisp, clear sound. They lack the lower end of the spectrum, but that is to be expected with nearly any earbud style headphone.  The more fair comparison is to other earbuds in the same category. I have tried sport and running specific buds from JVC, Sony, and Nike, and the Asyms easily surpass all of these on sound quality.

After delivering sound to my ears, the next goal of the Asyms is to stay put when I’m exercising, which is why I bought these in the first place. Unlike most sport specific buds that I have tried, the Asyms do not have any kind of plastic clip, or hinge, or any retention feature whatsoever. Instead the cable comes out of the top of the bud at an angle that creates a loop over the top of the ear. Compared to any clip, hinge, or molded plastic or rubber retention device which never seem to be quite the right size or shape, the cable on the Asyms forms a natural loop that provides just the right hold. I have used them now for road runs, long trail runs, and on my road bike. After an hour of running, when other headphones begin to lose their grip as things get sweaty, the Asyms stay put. Even on the gnarliest of trail runs, where I jumped off of rocks and bounced from one side of the trail to the other, they stayed exactly where I want them. On the bike, it was nice to be able to put on a pair of headphones without creating an intricate loop system around my helmet straps in a futile effort not to need to constantly readjust and replace the buds on the road. With the Asyms I just put them in, strapped on my helmet, and rode off, without thinking about them again. Wind noise was a bit of a factor, but due to their relatively flat profile, less annoying than with many headphones I have tried, either sport specific or not.

Depending upon where I am running or riding, I often go with one earbud out so I can hear what’s going on around me – for example, if a car is coming to run me down. On the bike, it’s not a problem to do this with the Asyms as I can just loop one side around the strap of my helmet a couple of times and everything stays put. Running with one bud in seems to be the Asym’s undoing though. Without fairly even tension on both cords, they require constant readjusting. I found similar problems if the cord got wrapped too far around my body. My remedy for this was to turn the volume down a little further than normal and run with both sides in. The only other slight issue I encountered is with cord length. The cord on the Asym is SUPER long. On one hand, this was great, because I could put my iPod in the pocket of my running shorts and it was long enough to not constantly dislodge the buds – no small feat for someone as tall as me. On the other hand, even on the bike I had to wrap the cord a couple times around my iPod before tucking it into my jersey pocket to keep it from getting tangled up. Running with my Nano in an armband required some magic to wrap and position the cord to prevent it from becoming completely unwieldy. I could imagine for someone shorter than me the cord could be a constant annoyance. My one recommendation for improvement would be a shorter cord accompanied by an extension, as you see with so many sport specific buds.

Long story short, after a long, frustrating – not to mention expensive – search for a running earbud that I was happy with, my search is over. I would recommend the Skullcandy Asyms to anyone who, like me, needs music as a distraction from the monotony of long, solo runs or rides on the road.

The “other” happiness in cup.

Happiness in a cup.