Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The evil pink Shrek - or Yoda?

Yes, I spotted the evil pink Shrek/Yoda on our way down to Texas for Christmas. Out in the middle of nowhere.

I was amazed to find graffiti on nearly every car of a very long freight train. It was exciting to see that kind of human creativity in the desolate windswept plains of west Texas.

It was also interesting to see other trains with every car looking factory fresh.

Graffiti is at its heart rebellious; most artists break the law when they whip out that spray can - particularly in the case of train car art. So I find it ironic that there is such conformity in the style of graffiti artists' work. The font selection is limited. The colors are of course limited to the palette available from the shelves of Home Depot's spray can section.

That same rebellion/conformity contrast can be seen in the Army. Many young people who enlist in the Service are some of the most rebellious people I have ever met. Yet they somehow long for the rules being ordered around provides.

By the way, happy new year! I'll be taking tomorrow off of blogging... so I'll see you next year!

ps I am back to Colorado now. I'm just sharing some of my non-Colorado time with you. (More stories to come.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Texas pride

childress texasSo yes, we went to Texas for Christmas. My mom, brother, one sister and a niece live there.

Texas is different than Colorado. We all know that. One huge way it is different than most places is what I call "Texas Nationalism". Many true Texans believe that Texas is the finest place on the planet. I may not totally agree, but it is certainly good to like where you live - and take pride in it. (One Texas anti-littering campaign a while back capitalized on that - something about how since a Texan takes such pride in their state, they should keep it clean.)

Evidence of Texas pride is seen in how frequently the state outline is displayed - VERY. And the Lone Star. Everywhere. (Part of this is the distinctive shape of the state, which easily becomes part of signage and all manner of logos. However, Colorado's state outline, the rectangle, is featured on all its street signs.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

What is it about kids and the cold?

Recently, my daughter Rachel, seven, was running around the back yard with a light jacket on, and it was 28 degrees (-2c).

So I was inside, huddled up next to a heater, with about five layers on. I guess the older you get, the colder you get.

By the way, she was hiding. This was the best pic I could get... probably better than a "real" shot.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas 2008! from paul merrill on Vimeo.

I'm taking a break for Christmas. I hope you have a great one!

I'll be back on Monday the 29th.

By the way, I put this on YouTube too - and Vimeo has the quality edge. And here's what it looks like on Viddler. And on Seesmic.

Yet ANOTHER Christmas treat for you

Go here for more incredible photos describing 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Christmas treat for you

My buddy Jon has an Advent Reader PDF for you, for free. Read the post and then download it at the end.

Be blessed.

A little Christmas treat for you

I love good running shoes, even though I'm not a runner. They're just comfy and light.

A new-to-me running shoe company hit the market not long ago: Newton. Check out their site - pretty fun.

I can't afford to buy you (or me) a pair, so this treat is just visual. Merry Christmas!

Also, go here for a pretty cool video from Nike.

The proud dad

Ben's practicing paid off.

He played piano with the Euclid Middle School Jazz band on the stage at Heritage High School last week. They were awesome! Considering their ages, I thought they played better than the lower of the two high school bands. The Band Director, Remus Vititus, is a wonderful teacher. The kids arose to the occasion under his instruction.

I already have my Christmas present.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Planned Obsolescence

Another consumer tip - though this time it has to do with expectations and not giving any advice.

As you buy that whatever, don't expect it to last. Case in point - our Toshiba DVD player bit the dust this month. It started just not playing DVDs. So now it's part of a landfill.

No DVD player will last forever. But we all expect those whatevers to last longer than they do!

So merry Christmas, y'all. Look for your joy in relationships - and not things.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Candy advice

chocolateAs you stock up on candy for your holiday events, please be aware that chocolate is not a given... some of the candy manufacturers have quietly started substituting "chocolatey" for chocolate. It's not the same thing. "Chocolatey" can mean anything - corn syrup, thickener and a little food coloring, if you will.

If you shop around a bit, you can probably get about the same amount of candy with the real thing, for a similar price. Jut look at the label!

By the way, Charleston Chew is one of the "chocolatey" food group.

Monday, December 15, 2008

6 things I'm grateful for

Carol passed a meme to me... what are six things I'm grateful for?

1. The amazing people who have been and are part of my life and the lives of my family. (My daughter Rachel is shown with her best friend Monia, who normally lives in Kenya. Apologies to Rachel - it's not a very flattering pic of her. She's beautiful.)

2. My family: a wonderful wife and three great kids.

3. A job working in a cause I believe in: The Seed Company.

4. Good health.

5. Great extended family.

6. Knowing the God loves me more than I can possibly imagine.

I won't pass this meme on, as I'm thinking most of my blogging buddies are burned out on having me pass memes their way. But if you want to carry this on, leave a comment. It's great to be thankful!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I can't smell

anosmiaI have the condition called "Anosmia". It's a blessing to enter a public restroom and not experience the wave of smell that hits most people. But then when my wife puts on some lovely perfume, I am blind to that thrill.

Here's an account of the condition.

I'm not totally nose-blind. Some days I can see light or dark. How did it happen? I had a really bad sinus infection when I was about ten. That was the end of smells for me.

A great gift idea!

Buy your significant other an Amazon gift card.

Here's the link.

You can spend anywhere between $5 and $5,000. And a great side benefit? Your truly will get 6% of what you spend - at no extra cost to you. So if you have enjoyed this humble blog in 2008, consider giving this little gift that will give twice.

Thank you & happy holidays! (Merry Christmas - or Happy Hannukah - or Splendid Kwanzaa.)

It's free, and you should do it

Last Sunday, we went to Wellshire Presbyterian Church. Heather's dad sings in the choir. They did their Christmas music service. It was great! Most of the singers and many of the musicians attended the many rehearsals and performed for no pay, whatsoever. They did it for love.

Part of Vivaldi's Gloria was on the program. It was exquisite and heavenly. Even if you don't believe in God, the opportunity for hearing such wonderful music for free comes around only once each year*.

I also moan the fact that WPC is one of the few churches in Denver that has traditional classical music as an integral part of its worship. (Our church doesn't.) Most people just don't care for it anymore, unless it's the background to a film. There's such depth there that you just can't get elsewhere. (And I'm a fan of some pretty wild indie rock music. So consider the source.)

My point? Carefully check your newspaper or local events website to see what's on at churches this weekend. You might be pleasantly surprised, if you go to one of the services.

*Caveat: If you live in a university town, check their music department - there is usually tons of great free stuff almost every night of the school year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A gift from Fiana

My niece Fiana did this artwork: "Music". She's about 3 years old.

Merry Christmas from Fiana!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The *real* story

"Gov. Rick Perry's office received a suspicious envelope today, with a white powder in or on it, but preliminary results show the substance was not harmful, a spokeswoman for the governor said."

Reality? An older woman got a little enthusiastic with the talcum powder she was using to freshen up, as she wrote the Gov. a fan letter.

It's worth the time

This little hole was bugging me. It bugged me for over a year. I finally spent five minutes and filled it in.

If I had done the job that when the hole first started bugging me, I would have saved countless little bugging thoughts. But I waited till I got around to it.

What little job have you been postponing - that if you just did it, you would make your life nicer? Don't even respond to this post - take that time to do that little job.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Guy Kawasaki and Alltop

alltopLiz Strauss has a great interview with Guy Kawasaki about Alltop - here.

If you already know about Guy or Alltop, you should read the interview. If you don't know Alltop, you should learn about what a great tool it is.

A smile for you

Remember this guy?

Just a small smile for your day.

Vectorize that image

Vector Magic is a new on-line image tracing tool. It's the first such on-line tool I have tried (excepting the Google Suite, which doesn't have anything like it). It works pretty good. I used the mug shot of yours truly as a trial. The top set shows the original image and VM's result. The lower set shows Adobe Illustrator's result. I didn't have time to experiment in Illustrator enough to get a good result; thus the diseased-skin look. That perhaps shows the value of the VM tool - you can get a quick easy decent result, and the pro aspect of Illustrator requires more experience and time spent tinkering.

Adobe Streamline was a stand-alone product that did this. Then Adobe integrated it into Illustrator.

Vector Magic "Tokens" are available to do one conversion at the rates of 5/$14 or 20/$48. You can also get unlimited access to do conversions for $7.95/mo or buy the desktop application for $295. (You get two free tokens when you join.)

Special thanks to my buddy Tom for the link.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Lose that idea

In 1956, the Webster's Dictionary came out with a great idea. Or so several people there thought - an "Assemble it yourself" dictionary! The idea was to somehow save costs. Maybe back then, the bindery process cost more than it does now.

Anyhow, I'd wager that they didn't sell very many. I happened upon a box full of never-assembled pages in Heather's parents' basement (as we were moving them to a smaller place last summer). They had inherited it from her grandparents. No one ever assembled the thing. And now it's going into a recycling bin.

Your takeaway? What idea have you been working on that should not see the light of day? Be ruthless and kill it off.

I have to mention our friends at GM. They lost $38 billion in 2007. Not enough people there were saying "no" to bad ideas. (By the way, Ford only lost $2.7 billion and Chrysler $3 billion in 2007.) And now it may be too late for them. Or at least it's too late for the how-ever-many thousands of motor industry employees who will lose jobs because their bosses didn't say no.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I couldn't have said it better myself

Check out Jon's post. I could say a lot of the same things about myself. (I can relate..)

Friday, December 05, 2008

The New Google Reader

google readerYes, Google has given a new face (and new functionality) to its Reader.

If you're not a user, go here to start. It's the best RSS reader I know. Or at least my favorite.

If you don't know what an RSS reader is, go here.

The weirdness of snow

Yesterday morning, it started snowing before the sun rose. It was a chilly 20 degrees F (-7c). So the funny thing is that it was sticking to the roads rather than to lawns. When it's warmer, the reverse is true.

You would need a degree in physics to explain why. (My buddy Rob could explain why, I'm sure.)

By the way, just for fun, I thought I'd show you the same scene at 5:10 pm. (The top shot was taken at 7:20 am.) The snow did end up sticking. And it's still cold in Denver.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Admission is free

Have you ever visited The International Toothpaste Museum?

There have been some recent additions, so it might be worth your time to visit again, if you have not been recently.

After all, we need clean teeth, no matter where we live.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We have no accent

Wherever I have lived in the world, people there think they have no accent.

When I moved to New England and started junior high, Bryan quickly became a new friend. His mom was born in Quebec and grew up speaking that brand of French. My dad was born in Waco, Texas and grew up speaking that brand of English.

I always thought his mom had a thick accent. He always thought my dad did. Both of us thought our parents had no accent whatsoever. It's all about perception - and exposure. We get so used to hearing or seeing something that we no longer hear or see it. (Or if we grew up hearing or seeing it, we may never know it's different than others' experiences.)

So just remember that if you think it looks like that, it may not look like that to others.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Don't buy that new TV

Notes before you read this post:

1. If you have cable TV, it won't be relevant for you.

2. If you just bought a new TV, enjoy it! This post is not designed to make you feel guilty.

So, the big push for this Christmas season from retailers and manufacturers is for you to buy a new TV. Part of their reasoning is that your current TV (if it's older than two or three years) will not work after February 17th.

Here's big news for you (if you haven't been reading the news much during the past year) - you can make your current TV work with a $10 box. The catch? You have to go here to apply for a $40 coupon and wait 3-6 weeks for it to come in the mail. Then you can go to almost any store that sells TVs to pick up a converter box at the (heavily) discounted price. Note that you have to apply for the coupon by Dec. 31!

So I would urge you to avoid the pull to buy that slick new TV. Your current TV will probably work just fine with a box.

p.s. I know this post will not be popular with those who want our economy to be stimulated by spending.

Monday, December 01, 2008

If you're into social media...

Look at my report on a recent conference here.

VW's mistake

brooke shieldsVW made a mistake. They are trying to sell a Chrysler as a VW. It's not. The vehicle in question? The Routan.

See this video to view a very lame Brooke Shields trying to sell you the minivan. It's a good example of bad social media*. The Routan is a Chrysler Town & Country.

Jamie Kitman, a writer for Automobile magazine states it is an, "epic stinker of a brainstorm..."

Avoid at all costs. If you gotta have one, just buy the Chrylser for $1,300 less. (Just buy a used Honda Odyssey instead.)

My prediction? They will sell 5.

* Disclaimer: the credits at the end were funny.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving break

turkeyHello dear readers.

I'm taking a few days break from blogging for Thanksgiving. (I'm thankful for you!)

I'll be back on Monday, December 1st.

Happy thanksgiving! If you're not in the USA, take a moment to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A new place to put it

pizza adsA rare thing happened in the Merrill household - on Halloween, we bought takeaway pizza for the evening meal.

A new spot for advertising showed its face to me - ads were pasted on the box. I'm very used to seeing self-promotional ads on pizza boxes, but this was a new one on me - a real estate concern was featured.

The takeaway for you? Though it is quite annoying to be surrounded by advertising in every possible nook and cranny of our lives, we need to be creative in how we get our message out. What are some creative ways you can communicate your message today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


pianoOur son Ben has made piano his instrument. He's the piano player for his middle school jazz band. The result is that I hear a few pieces over and over. Practice is essential to get it right. The fallout is that I get to hear those musical themes enough that they become part of my dreams at night.

I have a difficult time filtering music out of my consciousness. It's front-and-center, whether I like it or not.

What noise is there in your life and how do you deal with it?

Monday, November 24, 2008

You can make a difference

(In my small little world...)

If you do a Google search for "Paul Merrill" and see my stuff, just hit that little arrow next to the result to bump me to the top. (This is a new feature that debuted last week, and I think it only works if you are signed into your Google account - if you have one.)

If all of you do that, I will be at the top for all Google Paul Merrill searches all over the world.

Thanks for your love and support.

Friday, November 21, 2008

For the richest

tiffany&coWe have all heard a lot about the economic downturn and this newest recession.

I did want to remind you that some are not feeling any pain in their pocketbook. In last Sunday's Denver newspaper, there was a full-page ad for Tiffany & Co. They were advertising rings priced from $2,750 to $14,750.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why is it that we always want to be somewhere else?

We rarely wear "I'm here and I love it" t-shirts. In other words, when was the last time you saw an Alabama resident wearing an Alabama t-shirt in Alabama? Far more common would be an Alabama dweller sporting a t-shirt featuring New York City. Beach dwellers have t-shirts of the mountains.

At the Thin Air Summit conference, I saw a neighbor's computer desktop with a photo of her daughter on the beach. It was a great reminder of a fun family vacation. We'd prefer to look at those memories, rather than at what's outside our window, no matter how beautiful that view might be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fiercely monolingual

In the USA we speak one language. English.

Yes, in reality, there are literally thousands of language that are spoken in the States. But our governments recognize only one.

This is changing - I see more and more packaging that is in Spanish and English.

I would suggest that we should be open to more languages being OK here. It is just part of accepting other cultures.

(The envelope is a return from Canada - note the words on the label. I sent some goodies to some friends in Vancouver, and I forgot that they had moved. Anyhow, even though Vancouver has few French speakers, all of Canada is bi-lingual in the eyes of the government.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

5 photos

Jon Swanson tagged me. (5 things is the meme. 5 pictures is my particular assignment.)

From the top:

a) Littleton, Colorado - the sunset out our front door.

b) Grave marker in England.

c) Pancakes.

d) Reno, Nevada.

e) The 2003 Denver snowstorm - that's our picnic table!

I tag Eddie: 5 most memorable restaurant experiences. Marti: 5 most relaxing vacation moments. Barb: 5 best home-schooling moments. Richard: 5 best grandparent times. (All - don't feel like you have to participate.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

6 random things about me

1. I lived overseas for eight years.

2. I sang for Edward Kennedy, when I was in high school. (It was a choir tour. He met us on the steps of the Senate.)

3. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and reached the summit: 19,340 feet (5,895 meters).

4. My mother was an aerographer's mate in the Navy.

5. I had tickets to see Miles Davis, but it turned out to be the same weekend as my dad's funeral.

6. I wanted two kids and Heather wanted three. Heather won. I'm so glad, as Rachel has been part of our lives for the last seven years!

This is a meme from Richard. I'm not passing the baton, as I'm tagging a few friends tomorrow morning with a different meme.

Information: give them shishkabob

Information is like steak and shishkabob. In the old days, we were all used to sitting down for a big meal. Now everyone just eats snacks.

A week ago, I attended the Thin Air Summit conference. One of the major highlights was a keynote talk by Jeremiah Owyang, a luminary in social media (and beyond). He urged us, as communicators, to package the information we give into bite-sized chunks, so that the public can get our point quickly. Or at least we need to use newspaper-like hierarchy in saying our main point right up at the top - and then trickling down to the finer points.

This is true more for the Gen Y and Gen Z people, as they are so completely used to getting information that way. Digital immigrants, such as myself, don't mind a steak every once in a while.

Here is the slideshow of his talk. Here is a great summary by Carol Ross.

What are some of the ways you can make your information more digestible?

Friday, November 14, 2008

First snow of the season

It was lovely to wake up this morning to see snow falling. (You can watch here.)

The career I never did

In college I was a DJ. Back in those days, that meant I worked at a radio station and played records - as in vinyl.

It was great. I did the Friday morning shift - 6 to 9 am. I turned the transmitter on. It took about 20 minutes to warm up.

On Sunday afternoons, I played Christian rock with my buddy Craig (and later with John and Jeff). We interviewed all the stars that came through town. It was fun to meet Amy Grant, who was at the top of the charts back then.

So I never went in that career direction. Radio was fun but not how I wanted to spend my life. Also, I discovered that after I spent three hours playing all the music I loved, I got "music-ed out" - I didn't want to hear anything for a day or two. I decided that if I made my career out of something I loved that much, it would take the love out of it for me.

(The letter is from a radio station I applied to.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Helvetica, the shoe

adidas romHeather and I recently saw Helvetica, the movie. If you're a designer, it's sort of a must-see.

Heather's comment was that it reminded her of some of the reasons she fell in love with me - the quirkiness of the designers and their perspectives made her think of me.

My old Adidas Rom shoes made me think of Helvetica. They are a classic and timeless style.

Adidas no longer makes them anymore. Back in about 1985, I somehow knew they were going to be discontinued, so I bought about three pairs. The last pair is still going, though they are worn in places that sadly can't be repaired.

Adidas was originally a German company. Swiss design and German design are sometimes related. In the case of Helvetica, the type designer was Swiss, but he worked for a German company.

As to Helvetica, I must side with the designers who are bored with the typeface and pretty much ban it from any use.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sieze the day

concordeTime magazine came with a luxury living supplement recently. I love those sorts of things, maybe for the vicarious pleasure they bring.

Some of the luxuries mentioned are so far from my reality that they are laughable. (A crocodile men's bag from Dolce & Gabbana for a mere $45,695 - that has a waiting list of those wanting to buy it?! And then there were the $5,400 casual driving shoes.)

Famous industrial designer Karim Rasid said flying on a Concorde jet was his best travel experience - three weeks before they ended service in 2003. While we lived in England, we could have flown on a Concorde for a short hop from London to Finland for (almost) cheap. We didn't. So I will never get to fly on the Concorde.

People are way more important than flying on a Concorde. Some people will only be in our lives for a short time. What person do you need to spend time with that you may never be able to again?

Photo courtesy of Air France.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just a little perspective

In the spirit of blogging and those who don't blog, I'm blogging for my friend Tracey, who works with disabled children in Kenya (among other things). She recently wrote:

"I was able to take Mark to a clinic today for his clubbed foot that has been swollen. I was definitely the only white person within miles and did not do very well waiting for hours in line ... until a guy came to stand next to me and he had no legs, so he was actually kneeling with plastic cups on his knees. I felt so convicted that I was irritated about waiting in line to see the doctor when this guy probably traveled a great distance to get into the clinic. God is always ready to show me things when I least expect it!"

(By the way, the lady shown works with Tracy and is with one of the disabled kids.)