Kevin's Insight on Products, Service and Information – Analytical & Reflective Thinking – Sifting through the News, Business Propaganda & Rhetoric – What's Really Happening

Why Didn’t I Listen To My Wife?

Why Didn’t I Listen To My Wife?

My wife wanted to hire a contractor to refinish our stairs, the gateway between our 1st and 2nd floor. The job was going to cost about $1,500. There was old, white carpeting dividing the stained wooden stairs from left to right. We peeked under the car…

How To Avoid Getting Killed On A Bicycle

How To Avoid Getting Killed On A Bicycle

indexRecently, the NYTimes.com published an article on a young woman who lost her life bicycling in Seattle. Being a cycling advocate, that quickly piqued my interest – according to the article, 726 cyclists lost their lives in the States in 2012. That article also stated that flying was much safer than cycling. In fact, there were no commercial airplane accidents in the U.S. in 2012.  

That got me thinking, if my nephew or niece asked me about my 40 years of bicycling experience or how I would protect myself, what would I say? Would suggestions or insight might I provide them that may help protect them as they bicycle either in the urban jungle or on rural roads. Is it possible that my experience as a cyclist may actually help improve their safety as younger riders? To that end, I decided to list some key things that may not only improve bicycling safety but overall improve transportation.

 

My advice to those who bicycle is as follows:

1. Assume that you are basically invisible to motorists and you need to always be aware of the environment around you.

2. When cars pass you, assume you have disappeared in their mind. This means, anticipate those motorists who immediately turn in front of you once they’ve passed you. Your speed can determine whether or not you can stop in time. 

3. Never wear head phones or do any audio listening as your ears are a key sensory protection while on the bike. 

4. Always wear yellow, it is the brightest color and makes you more visible.

5. Look around a lot, pay attention to motorists and pedestrians as they may not be paying attention to you. Additionally, that movement, especially in dark conditions makes you more visible.

6. Equip your bicycle with front and blinking lights. Blinking lights make you more visible, the blinking makes it clear that you are a bicycle. For your safety, equip the bike with a strong headlight to help you see the road and its surroundings.  

7. Look for people in parked cars (as they are not looking for you) to avoid being doored (especially on a busy street).  

8. Be courteous and a defensive cyclist at all times. Don’t make this political if you are wronged. You’ll never win a battle against a heavy steel contraption barreling down the road.  

9. Don’t get competitive about “beating your best time” home. Safety is always more important than competitive games you may conjure up in your mind to get home quickly. 

10. Don’t put your guard down when using bike lanes in the city. You still need to watch for trucks, cars and pedestrians.  

11. Respect traffic lights as much (if not more) than motorists. Ignoring stop signs or traffic lights is a dangerous precedent and sets a poor example for cycling.  

12. Learn your roads so you can watch out for potholes, park cars (where drivers frequently come and go), knowing where pedestrians typically cross. Become more familiar with your environment helps you anticipate potential issues.

13. Use hand signals on a bicycle, regardless of what motorists do or don’t do with their directionals. You’re setting a good example and also conveying to motorists that you are a confident and competent cyclist.  

14. Never daydream while cycling. Focus on transporting yourself safely from Point A to Point B.

15. Wear a reflective helmet and reflective clothing whenever possible.  

16. Be careful about toeclips or click-on bike shoes. Yes, they improve the amount of energy being transferred from each pedal revolution to the distance traveled but you can’t “tie yourself up,” especially during urban cycling which can potentially cause you to lose control of your bike. 

17. Making eye contact with motorists conveys you notice them and are paying attention to their moves.  

18. Regularly test your brakes to ensure they are functioning correctly. This safeguard can certainly make a difference in city traffic or on wet roads.  

19. Regardless of all these tips and safeguards, you’ll still need good luck and fortune while traversing the urban jungle and rural roads. Safe traveling indeed!

TRIP ADVISOR CITY GUIDES – MONTREAL

TRIP ADVISOR CITY GUIDES – MONTREAL

rdTopLaurel_L_TMBefore I begin, my wife suggested that I give this software a trial – I was initially resistant although I did realize our week long trip to Montreal was days away and didn’t have any other mobile alternatives.
It took some effort and trial and error work, however, I was overall pleased with the software after getting out of my comfort zone and giving it a try. There are a number of significant cities, or perhaps the largest, where you can download the City Guide. Categories include Europe, North America, Central and South America, Asia, Australia, Middle East and Africa. Europe has the most significant cities with 31 although North America (which includes Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto in Canada and Playa del Carmen in Mexico) and U.S. cities closely follow with 26.
After downloading the software, I added my destination (Montreal) to help me prepare for the trip. Once you settle in, you can search the target city by restaurants, hotels, attractions, nightlife, shopping and tours (tickets). Once you choose any of those items, the app is smart enough to ask you if your search should include the entire city or a given neighborhood. When I select the neighborhood of Old Montreal, a list of these restaurants appear to include overall rankings from Montreal even though just the neighborhood results appeared. The price range was included along with comments and rankings and the link provides additional information, if necessary. Two invaluable features includes the distance from my current location and the option, ‘Point Me There,’ which displays a large arrow on the screen to the correct direction. As a pedestrian, the ‘Point Me There’ feature is critical when my destination was within 1 kilometer or so. Another feature worth mentioning is the map — this supports the other directional features and by providing street names and intersections, give visitors another option to help get around the city.
After doing some basic searches on a hotel or restaurant, you can filter Montreal (the city) or Old Montreal (neighborhood) by price, either $, $$, $$$, or $$$$. If you’re price conscious and want a specific cuisine, you can also add another variable of ‘Search by Cuisine’ so while on the go, you drill down to get a pretty good idea what you’re searching for.
Being in a foreign country and even though the beautiful country of Canada is just to our north, I was unsure how our mobile data plan was going to cost. Therefore, my wife and I were quite careful with the amount of data we used. Much to my surprise, I learned most of these TripAdvisor features, including, Point Me There, or the distance from my destination did not use data. Again, a very pleasant surprise.
This app helped me gain quick feedback regarding a hotel, tourist attraction, shopping or restaurant. This may be more useful when travelers are on “the go” and need information fast. If you have more time to plan and acquire information, reading comments can supplement a rating. In my opinion, seeing 30 or so comments on a museum, shopping, or a restaurant, it typically will provide enough sampling information to acquire a good idea behind the product or service.
Regarding Montreal’s metro, TripAdvisor listed all the stations throughout the core of the urban area. To locate a given metro station, you could click on the nearest metro station and be pointed in that direction. It gave specific directions – whether there were more than one station nearby. Invaluable feature when weary or in a hurry to get from one point of the city to another without having to rely on a taxi.
TripAdvisor maps are designed to be used before or during travel although some mobile users may have some challenges clearly seeing the screen. For example, using an iPhone 5, that screen didn’t quite provide the amount of real estate in which to view the map. Regardless of how much one will “zoom in” on the map, some mobile users might see it a challenge to solely rely on that feature when maneuvering the city. As a working solution, I picked up a detailed map of Montreal to supplement the TripAdvisor map display. Having both of these tools was a “win-win” in my book – a mix of the old and new school and allowed me to alternative back and forth to leverage the most effective tool at the time to get the job done.
I can’t say the TripAdvisor tool was completely intuitive or the easiest tool to use. It takes some time to get the feel of how it’s designed so I became somewhat familiar with it prior to my trip. By using it in Montreal, I was exposed to some if not all the features – the tool will definitely be used again and I would definitely say, customer centric. Spending any more than a few days in a new city, learning the basics of this app would be time well spent. In fact, with our trip planned to Columbus, Ohio, in October, I’m reviewing some of the key tourist sites according to the past visitors who took the time to rate and possibly comment.
Airline Drama – To Recline or Not to Recline?

Airline Drama – To Recline or Not to Recline?

According to the NY Times article, there was a recent disturbance on a flight from Newark to Denver where a woman was unable to recline her seat. Another flier who sat directly behind her had installed the Knee Defender, a $21.95 device on her seat preventing her from reclining. After a heated argument and the inability for her to recline, she threw water on this individual. Both were escorted off the plane in Chicago.

This NY Times article, written by Josh Barro, argues in favor of reclining. His premise, by purchasing a flight ticket, you are not only paying for your seat, you’re paying for a certain amount of space and part of that space is having the ability to recline your seat, regardless of the size or height of the person who sits behind you. The author also suggests, in lieu of any potential confrontation about this matter, a key option is to explain the situation to the flight attendant and possibly get one of those parties to move. Of course, with many flights running at capacity of near capacity, having someone move is not always an option.

The author also suggests that women are less likely to recline which should indicate men are more likely to do so. Ironically, this situation involved a woman wanting to recline. For what it’s worth, my last two flights involved two women reclining their seat in front of me without asking if that would be OK.

From my perspective, I will never recline my seat if someone is sitting behind me. That’s just me – perhaps my empathy kicks in and as my close friends know, when this occurs to me, I’m not smiling so it’s not something I’d subject others too.

In today’s world, as anyone would have noticed if they’ve flown recently, the incredible thing about coach is you barely have enough legroom. It’s just manageable and with those travelers who do recline their seats when they can, those impacted can be quite inconvenienced. Forget about trying to do any work on a computer or effectively manage a newspaper. Perhaps carry on magazines which may be all you can do.

So who’s at fault? Both parties were escorted off the airplane for disorderly conduct. I thought that was a bit over the top although that’s getting off topic. Where should the focus lie? On the airlines? Years ago, reclining your seat was less of an issue when you had more legroom. To maximize profits, airlines are continuing to search for every manageable way to make money on each flight – sometimes these methods may border on the unmanageable. With less legroom than ever, many airlines have never adjusted or changed their seat reclining policy.

Instead of turning your anger towards the airlines, where I believe the blame should lie, customers may eventually argue with one another about this controversial habit. I know, I know, the airlines will be glad to sit on the sidelines and let both sides of this issue hack it out through social media. Haven’t the airlines created this pressure cooker? If those Knee Defenders are becoming more common, even though they are forbidden on most, if not all airlines, should not the presences of these devices indicate to the airlines the need to be more proactive in mitigating future issues? Is not the solution to create more legroom for all passengers to mitigate the inconvenience? Or, if no legroom is available, prevent the seats from reclining?

Will something serious have to occur before these airlines will make significant space improvements while flying?

Slate.com 0

Airline Drama – To Recline or Not to Recline?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/upshot/dont-want-me-to-recline-my-airline-seat-you-can-pay-me.html?src=me&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Most%20Emailed&pgtype=article&abt=0002&abg=0 According to the NY Times article, there was a recent disturbance on a flight from Newark to Denver where a woman was unable to...

Good Service at Libertyville Toyota

Good Service at Libertyville Toyota

Libertyville Toyota (image courtesy of Fox Lake Toyota) I’ve been patronizing Libertyville Toyota since we bought our ’97 Camry one year after that car was made. I’ve been exposed to the sales and service department a number of times. Speaking of sales, it may depend on the time of year or time of month but they may be willing to deal. Of course, it also depends on the salesperson.

When it comes to service, I certainly appreciate their service department waiting area. With free coffee and donuts during early hours, most waiting customers have difficulty not partaking – especially the donuts. Later in the day, popcorn is on the menu. Not the healthiest but sometimes it’s OK to splurge. Late in the afternoon and if luck is on your side, fresh coffee is available. 

Free Wi-Fi is available and they’ve had Wi-Fi so long I can’t remember when it wasn’t available. If you tire of looking at a computer screen or your mobile device, the Chicago Tribune and Daily Herald are scattered about and may provide a diversion. Their service hours are until 9 pm, for those folks who work outside the area, many are appreciative of those longer hours.

Early on Wednesday, our 2014 Toyota Corolla displayed a Trac Off message that didn’t go away, even after following some troubleshooting steps from the owner’s manual. Time to call the service department. I was able to get an appointment later in the afternoon and Garrett Munson handled my service work. 

Unfortunately, there were a lot of codes to review and the car would not be available until the following day. Rather than waiting for a potential of hours and hours and with very little hesitation, Garrett offered to get me home by one of his drivers and said he’d call later that night. He called shortly after 8 pm and said they’d need another day to review. He called me the following afternoon to say the car was ready, however, they could take care of the 5,000 mile maintenance and if so, they’d need another hour or so. Because it was convenient for me, I agreed and later picked up the car. 

I appreciated his explanation of the issue – he likened it to a computer – you have software and hardware and sometimes there’s an issue with the hardware. If it’s not functioning properly or the software is not effectively communicating, a “flash” or a software update is needed. After the software update, they kept it over night, drove it a number of times to ensure it was functioning properly. 

Prior to my first appointment, the car would not start and after talking over the codes with Garrett, he recommended calling a tow truck. Surprisingly, moments later, it started so I quickly called him back and he promptly cancelled the tow truck. I appreciated his service oriented approach and flexibility. 

I’ve dealt with Garrett before and he’s always displayed a nice and friendly demeanor. I’ve had other technicians who may talk down to you and ramble endlessly about car mechanics, however, Garrett would not qualify for that category. Customer centric? Absolutely.

Paris and Gnats…

Paris and Gnats…

PARIS AND GNATS
Some time ago, I spent about a week in Paris. A wonderful city and one that I viewed was more beautiful in person than in pictures, if that is possible. Besides the occasional communication challenges, the only issue I confronted were some of these pesky and obnoxious street vendors who would congregate around the touristy areas: Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur, Champs-Élysées, Notre-Dame, and the Louvre. Often, they would pester and harass gullible tourist to buy mini Eiffel Tour trinkets, carved wooden elephants or other mementos from Paris.

Many of these pesky vendors I would consider gnats, those who get close too close to your face (and violate your personal space without realizing it) and would not take ‘no’ for an answer, determined to sell any of their wares to tourists for a few euros.

You hear stories or experience these African men approach you quite aggressively at the base of the Sacre Coeur and want to trade bracelets or trinkets for money frustration may set in as you just want to enjoy the sights and sounds of the area and take in its Roman and Byzantine architecture. Often, they would surround you and offer you a bracelet for free as they slyly tie it to your wrist only to demand money once it’s part of you.

These hagglers and pesky merchants often pounce on prospective tourists and consumers like flies on horse dung from a romantic horse and buggy ride around the Place de la Concorde. Kind of like Pavlov’s Dogs, as soon as unsuspecting tourists arrive, some of these pesky merchants often do most anything to get a sale.

If you hang around the Champs-Élysées, you can see them in action. The observant visitor could quickly catch on to their game, especially around the world’s most popular street. It appears a well organized business some work in a group, one or two may be on lookout while a few may violate your personal space in order to get you to notice their inventory. These gnats certainly can distinguish tourists from Parisians so they zoom in on their target like mosquitoes searching for blood. I’ve read many of them display their wares (or do you prefer junk) on a blanket or sheet without the necessary permits and visas and when they’re about to be confronted by un agent de police, they grab their cord that collapses the blanket, including their wares and flee. Once un agent de police leave, they reappear like roaches with an absence of light. After seeing their game, I was quite skeptical about patronizing many of these street vendors.

Standing in line to visit the Eiffel Tower, I’m approached by a young women who is dressed like a gypsy who asks me if I speak English. Her approach is of desperation as she sticks a clipboard in my face so I can quickly relate to her apparent plight. She conveys a situation where she’s destitute and unable to support herself. This is not the Declaration of Independence or a Living Will, just enough copy to produce pity, but more important, your euros (I bet they’d take American dollars or the English Pound for that matter). There are many of these women around such a beautiful area. A newbie might show pity for them and give them some money – especially a tourist who realizes how fortunate they are to visit such a beautiful city. In my mind, there’s only one thing worst than a charity that spends most, if not all their donations on administrative costs without considerable results. It’s people who fake a plight in an attempt to swindle money from tourists.

Unfortunately, our family arrived at the Eiffel Tower late morning and by that time, the lines up to the top of Paris’ famous landmarks was about two hours. So what do tourists do besides purchase water and snacks at the local kiosks while slowly shuffling their feet towards the entrance? Act as sitting ducks for these young women with clipboards and a penchant for trying to swindle some of your money?

Do un agent de police turn a blind eye to such behavior? Having spent almost a week in France’s capital, not once did I see any police question these street vendors or ask for their permits. I’d assume these gypsy women who harassed me at the Eiffel Tower make it a regular task of harassing other tourists on when the opportunity presents itself – would it be too difficult infiltrate the area with plain clothes officers who could arrest and interrogate such individuals?

I read over the last few years that Paris receives 60 to 70 million visitors annually. That trend has steadily increased over the years. If so, are these issues too trivial and insignificant for the police to worry about? Perhaps they turn a blind eye to such a thing unless it becomes a major issue? 

During the World Cup of 2014, France made it to the quarterfinals before losing to Germany, 1-0. Using tongue and cheek with my wife, I mentioned that we might have a good time to visit some of the touristy spots in Paris, while these street vendors or gnats on the Champs-Élysées and Sacré-Cœur take a break from such behavior and catch the game I know they love.

10 Reason Why I Would Not Buy Junk from Street Vendors…

  1. It is junk
  2. The street vendors are too aggressive and dress badly
  3. It is junk
  4. I don’t like gnats figuratively or literally
  5. It is junk
  6. It is overpriced
  7. It is junk
  8. Memories of Paris will be in the digital and personal memory form
  9. It is junk
  10. I’m afraid custom’s officials in the United States might target my bag for review and harass me for buying such junk in Paris from those aggressive street vendors
Hello, This is Scott for Scott’s

Hello, This is Scott for Scott’s

This is Scott for Scott's

Over the last year or two, Scott’s Lawn Care company has hired Phil McKee of Glasgow, Scotland to help pitch their products to those lawn owners who perhaps want a lawn of envy. Phil is from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and indeed Phil has the perfect Scottish accent to help sell this fertilizer stuff by connecting a Scot named Scott to Scott’s. He’s helping to convince those newbie suburban dads who may not know the difference between a drop spreader and a rotating one, what it takes to have a beautiful lawn.

Having this approach by Scott’s appears to be new, some of their ads in the past were quite plain, less personable and homogenous. Having their new spunky spokesman, Scott, definitely adds more personality to the brand. He’s smart, gregarious, honest looking and a great partner to improve the beauty of your greenscape up a few notches. With the cutest accent, red hair and a fair complexion, is he not perfect for the job? If so, with his fair complexion, he may recommend you do the majority of your yard work early in the morning to help protect your skin.

Will your neighbors not love you if you don’t use chemical fertilizer on your lawn? I guess it doesn’t matter which chemicals are dumped from which chemical provider as the reliance of lawn fertilizer is quite typical in suburbia. If you don’t, there may be love lost between you and your neighbors as those dandelions that are supposed to shrivel up and go away after some applications may remain and a wind from any direction will spread those nasty seeds onto those lawns that could be easily treated by the 4 Step program. Scott has an important question about your grass. You don’t want to be the only neighbor on your street with an inferior lawn so take my advice and follow the Four Step program by Scott’s. You know, first you address crabgrass in Step 1, and other weeds (although difficult to find on various Scott’s websites what those other weeds are) in the early spring. In late spring or early summer, the focus should be on eliminating dandelions and other broadleaf weeds – Step 2. Step 3 occurs late summer and Step 4 might be late fall. If you look at the chemical compositions of Step 3 and 4 (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), there’s very little difference.I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes watch too much sports. That means I’ve seen these more times than I care to count. So, once you have consistently eliminated all crabgrass, dandelions and broadleaf weeds and have a lush and thick lawn, when will they have an honest dialogue about the potential damage to our water supply and ultimately, our drinking water?

I will give this company all the four leaf clovers that I find in my lawn in between my crabgrass for developing the 4 Step Lawn Care. They are keeping it simple for consumers. As the winter winds down and the last of the snow goes away, you begin with Step 1. Add each additional step as summer flashing before our eyes and then don’t forget the last application before winter is upon us for too many months to count. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4. You’re only responsibility is to feed that green monster every so often once the snow melts.

Thinking critically, having said the 4 Step program to promote a million dollar lawn, what credibility does Scott contain, seeing how he’s from Scotland. Being from Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois, does Scott really know what’s best for our lawns? If you’re from Georgia or Tennessee, how different is that climate from the rainy and cool climate of Glasgow? Should that come into play? You’re dealing with different growing seasons and different types of grass and soil conditions so there are several things to consider.

Is it merely because of his wonderful accent and poised demeanor that we automatically buy in to what he’s selling?

Getting back to different regions and soil types, perhaps Scott’s should customize and develop a specific fertilizer for specific regions and soil types?

A few other questions that might come into play when it comes to caring for your lawn. Do you mow? High or low in summer? Do you aerate every year or other year? Do you bag or mulch your grass clippings, thereby adding nitrogen back into the soil, reducing the need to fertilize so frequently.

One last thing…So I do an Internet search on “should I fertilize my lawn?” and the first thing that appears is Scott’s website not answering my question so it’s not a question of ‘it’ but ‘when’ one should fertilize your lawn. It’s not even an ad. Perhaps there’s a lot of $$$ in pedaling chemicals to those consumers who will merely bite the bullet and fork over a lot of dough this may mean Scott’s can hire expensive SEO kings and champions will know how to get the best rating even without advertising.

One more thing: Another search was listed as ‘Is it necessary to fertilize your lawn’? Guess which website was on the top of the list of about 4,780,000 results (0.52 seconds).

Good news, if I search ‘fertilize lawn’ there Scotts website is second on the list but the first non-ad. The top on the list is an ad for good lawns using Scott’s fertilizer.