December 2015

Continuing Thoughts On Personal Uniforms

Back in 2010 I wrote about my attraction to personal uniforms. Effectively a simple set of clothing that can be replicated and worn every day, ideally eliminating the “what am I wearing today” decisions first thing in the morning. Just grab the same thing everyday and go.

In the initial post I designated 3 core principles:

  1. Replicable
  2. Mix-matchable
  3. Travel friendly

I’ve been playing with this idea for the better part of the last 10 years, on again and off again, though it’s getting to the point where I find off again frustrating and it stresses me out to the point of inaction more often than I want to admit, so on again is my preference these days and I’ve been actively getting rid of things that don’t fit the bill. Over those years the specific items I choose, as well as what exactly those core principles are have changed and evolved and I thought it might be useful to track it on GitHub so I’ve created a page there with some info that I’ll add to as time goes on, and anyone is welcome to fork or suggest changes to.

My current thinking is that a personal uniform should be replicable by definition so having that as a principle doesn’t make a lot of sense. And for me, mix-matchable is resolved in a single solid color. So, circa December 2015 the principles are:

  1. Primarily Black only – YMMV on this one, but I have to finally admit that when I get things of other colors they never get worn.
  2. No blatant branding – Again, maybe it’s because I designed shirts for so long, but anything I have with graphics pretty much collects dust and I shouldn’t add to that.
  3. No impulse buys, research everything ahead of time – On occasion when I’m swayed by something in a store that I hadn’t known about or considered previously and I’m convinced to buy it, very often I’ll go home and research it and then end up feeling the need to “upgrade it” to something else. When in fact, I should have just researched and bought the thing I wanted first, or taken that extra time and decided against it entirely.
  4. Travel friendly (light, compact, packable) – This is more or less important to people based on their travel schedule, but I fly over 100,000 miles a year so it’s pretty important to me. If something will get wrinkled and messed up, or takes up half my suitcase, it’s probably not the best choice.
  5. Multi season friendly – I’m committing to layering vs single temp items. Base layers, Mid layers, shells, etc. This also helps with the previous packing/travel note as more than once I’m going from hot to cold, wet to dry in the same trip.

Brands I’m liking right now for this include Outlier, Acronym, ExOfficio, Rapha and Patagonia. I’ll list out some specific items from these companies on the GitHub page in the coming days.

Making Pictures

I talked m friend Harper into buying a ridiculous camera and his payback was to ask me to come up with some photography tips. It’s no secret that I take the occasional photo but I’m not sure I consider myself someone overflowing with advice on the subject. That said, I jotted down a few things that came to mind and thought I’d post them here for future reference. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.

  1. The world has no shortage of fast and crappy photos, so I try not to add to that. I’m not always successful, but it’s something I keep in mind.
  2. In 2012 I wrote about why I like shooting with film  and while obviously now I have started shooting primarily digital I try to keep a lot of those ideas in mind. Anyone can shoot 10 million pictures and find a good one in there, but I don’t think that’s really something to be proud of and I think the notion that “good photography is all about good editing” is crap.
  3. I used to think of my photography as documenting things and now I think of it as trying to create something – which is a subtle difference but a difference none the less.
  4. I try to think about “the obvious shot” – that is, if 20 other photographers were standing where I am would they all take the same photo? If so then I try not to take it.
  5. Obviously everyone has their own voice so to speak, and my photos kind of run the gamut, but I tend to think my strongest work is when I catch little personal moments .
  6. I try NOT to process photos just after I’ve taken them, because I’m too close to them and my memory of the event clouds my objective view of the photo. If I can wait a week or a month to go back and look at them, then I more often judge photos based on the photo itself, and that helps me in thinking about what photos to take in the future.
  7. I carry my camera everywhere and try to have it in hand ready to shoot at every moment. I might not even take a photo all day, but some of the most amazing photos I know I missed was because my camera was in my bag at the time. So I’m quicker at getting the thing I want when I
  8. Look at a lot of photos. I went to a class on photography once and the best thing I took away from it was to look at a shit ton of photos, pick the few that jump out at you and then try and figure out why. Find photographers or subjects that resonate with you and it’ll tell you something about what you are looking for.


I’m lucky enough to live in a city with multiple, excellent choices for health care and even more fortunate that I’m able to afford them. I say that because when I first moved to this city and started visiting doctors I quickly learned that there are two kinds of doctors in Los Angeles. Ones who accept insurance and ones who have decided that rather than spend time fighting with insurance companies they’d rather spend time with their patients so they don’t. Specifically, and repeatedly, a number of doctors I found in town told me this – “Insurances companies don’t want me spending more than 10 minutes with my patients, and I can’t do my job to the best of my abilities in only 10 minutes so I don’t take insurance and then I get to spend as much time with my patients as I think is needed.” My pediatrician, my ENT, My sports medicine doctor, my dentist – all told me similar stories. They went to school to learn how to practice medicine and when 20-30 years down that career path an insurance company notified them that they could no longer spend the time with their patients that they felt they needed to they cut the insurance companies out of the equation.

But this was all up front so I knew what I was getting into. I set up a recurring transfer with my bank so that each month I’d put X dollars into a specific savings account that I knew was just for doctor visits. This certainly would have been useless if I was hit by a bus, but as a relatively healthy active guy in his mid-30’s (at the time) it covered the bases for what I needed quite well, and when I needed it I felt that I got the best health care I possibly could. My doctors were thoughtful and caring and took time to give me choices, explaining the potential outcomes of every potential route. This was a starkly different feeling I’d ever gotten from a doctor previously where I’d always felt rushed in and out, and prescribed some course of treatment without any understanding what or why. Of course, now I understood why, those doctors were trying to meet the demands of the insurance companies.

Skip ahead to 2015. I’m now legally mandated to buy health insurance and as noted by many others the low premiums translate into massive deductibles. And to be clear “low premium” is still a few hundred dollars a month. It’s about the same as I used to squirrel away in my health savings account. Which I still have to do by the way, because my doctors still don’t accept insurance. So I could dump them and go to another doctor who does accept insurance and then it would balance out right? Wrong. Because until I hit that giant deductible I’m still paying out of pocket. So where as before I was paying out of pocket for health care, now I’m paying out of pocket for health care and health insurance that I can’t take advantage of unless I get super sick.

Earlier this year I had to make an emergency room run late one Sunday night. Whew, I thought. At least that health insurance wouldn’t be a total waste. A few months and bills later and the end result works out to basically I pay $6,000 and my health insurance pays $200. Because it turns out they don’t cover 99% of anything done in an emergency room. This is on top of the now twice as much as I used to have to spend every month on health costs.

And again, I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford it. But lots of people aren’t. People are forced to have insurance but still can’t afford to go to the doctor. This is a mess. Single payer is still seems like the only reasonable solution.

Riding Trains

I sent out a newsletter today and in it linked to a story I found about people who fall asleep on other people’s shoulders on trains in Tokyo. I mentioned I’d seen the same thing happen many times and recounted a not entirely dissimilar experience of my own years ago. I remembered writing about it at the time but I looked around and couldn’t find what I’d written anywhere. Moments ago I remembered a long forgotten blog I set up and made one single post on back in August, 2007 – and it was the post about the train. As I’ve already lost that once, I thought it would be worth it to repost the story here for future reference. For context, at the time I was working through how to write and tell stories that weren’t entirely from my perspective and weren’t entirely based in fact. So this is that.

The platform at the Jiyugaoka station was packed with people waiting for the next train, an express going towards Yokohama. Suits. Salary men. A few school kids and ladies who all seemed to have some sort of shopping bag with them. He’s seen this scene several times in the last week and blends right in the best of his ability. Headphones in place blocking out the noise of the tracks and book in hand to occupy the time between stations. The train arrives and everyone boards. It’s not as crowded as he expected it to be, but still very much standing room only. He’s reading Pattern Recognition and is a little freaked out that all of the places Cayce visits in Tokyo he also saw, though a day in advance of reading about them. Patterns for sure.

People get on, people get off. Somewhere near Kikuna a seat opens up and he takes it, careful not to take up any more room that absolutely needed. It’s next to the wall and he slides right in. Everyone sitting is doing the same thing – arms and shoulders tucked in tight, attention focused on a book or mobile device. No one looks around, no eyes ever meet. The further away from Tokyo they get the more the ratio of people getting off the train beats out those getting on. About the same time he notices that there are only 3-4 people still standing he notices her. He’s been sitting next to her the entire time, either that or he sat down next to someone else who go up at some point without him noticing. It’s possible because he’s been sucked in by Gibson at this point, but doubts it. She’s on his right, the wall is on his left.

Another stop and more people get off. For the first time on this trip there are vacant seats, and no one left standing. Another stop and more people exit for whatever destination they are off to. She’s still pressed tight against him and he stops thinking about the footage, and wonders how long until she slides away from him. More people get off, vacating more seats but she doesn’t move. He looks at her but she doesn’t return the glance. Her hair is long and black, though barely concealing a set of white iPod earbuds. He sees the nano she’s holding but can’t see the screen, not as if he could read it anyway. It’s the pink model. He smiles and turns back to his book wondering what she’s listening to. The Jesus and Mary Chain are pumping through his own sound isolating plugs. They are good and he can’t even hear the train which says a lot.

“I get an electric shock from you”

He almost jumps when she touches his hand, but doesn’t. He jumps inside, but it doesn’t register outside. He realizes he’s been holding the book with his left hand and let his right drop down near his leg on the seat. She’s done the same with opposite hands and her fingers had just brushed the back of his hand. He didn’t know if it was an accident, her eyes still fixated on something else, some other direction, not him. But her hand doesn’t pull away. She moves it closer. The backs of their hands are touching when their fingers start to merge. Another stop, more people getting off the train, no one new gets on.

“And there’s something going on inside”

He’s still staring at the book but hasn’t read a single word in what seems like an hour. The only thing he’s aware of at all is the two fingers pushed in next to his pinky and ring finger. She hasn’t looked but there’s no way she’s unaware of it. Another station, another stop. There’s no one else on their bench but she hasn’t moved away at all. The doors close and he grabs her hand. It was a bold move, the first thing that couldn’t be brushed off as accidental. She doesn’t pull away. She keeps her hand there, she never looks.

“Yeah, the world could die in pain, And I wouldn’t feel no shame”

They are definitely holding hands. She’s never looked at him, not that he’s been aware of. He’s never seen her eyes. She hasn’t looked. He’s trying not to. The last other person gets off the train leaving them completely alone. He looks at her but she keeps looking the other direction. He turns back the book which he’s completely lost interest in and feels her squeeze his hand just the slightest bit. She still hasn’t looked. He realizes that this is equally the sweetest and strangest moment he’s shared with anyone in possibly years when the train reaches it’s final stop. She lets go of his hand, puts her iPod into her bag, stands up and walks off the train. She never looks at him. He watches her walk out the door, down the platform to the escalator towards some random exit. She never looks back. He doesn’t follow. He sits there and listens to the song. The train doesn’t move.

“Makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky”

Most of this never happened.