Good service is as much about perception as it is about actually correcting issues.

A significant contributor to the world’s problems is disposable hard goods. The culture of creating solid, dependable products that have viable repair options has declined, leaving us with a surplus of short-term junk. Good products cost more up front and the total cost of ownership (TCO) is well lower.

Take this example: I buy a pair of cheap shoes for $65. They last 6 months, after which the shoemaker informs me that they’ll cost $120 to repair. I will not repair them — it doesn’t make sense to repair them at that price — so I buy a new pair and discard the old ones. My TCO is $130 per year.

I could have bought a good pair of shoes for $120. I’d spend $10 to have them shined and protected twice a year. After a year, I take them to the shoemaker for new soles and heels, $65. A year later, the shoemaker’s good worksmanship holds and I do a quick repair job with $1 worth of Crazy Glue. One more year goes by and I need new soles and heels again, $70 this time, due to inflation. By the end of the fourth year, I’ve spent $336, a $84-per-year TCO.

The better shoes cost me 65% less, even though I spent about twice as much up front. The long term costs are generally the same, regardless of up-front cost. To match the TCO of the $65 shoe, I’d have to spend $300 on the initial purchase. In this case, I’d also be walking around in $300 shoes, not $65 shoes.

You may argue that this works well for cars and shoes but less expensive goods aren’t the same. I would counter that I still have 2 Zippo lighters, $15 up front with $3 per year in lighter fluid, that have lasted me more years than I can remember.

How about computers? I’m writing this on a computer that cost me $3,000, seven years ago. I’ve put about $500 into it, mostly due to a $300 Viewsonic to replace the disposable Dell monitors that it came with. That’s about $500 a year and my friends are all jealous that my 7-year-old computer runs circles around the thing they bought last year. I run virtual machines with Windows 7 and Mac OS X simultaneously, in the background without degrading my ability to use the computer, each alone with more horsepower than a $700 laptop running the same OS.

So what happens when it breaks?

Zippo has a long-standing tradition of repairing their products for free. Their service model runs similar to this: “we made it, so we’re going to make sure it keeps running.” They don’t ask you why your lighter no longer produces flame before they fix it; they just fix it. They don’t ask you when you bought it then refer you to the Out Of Warranty Service Department for an estimate; they just fix it.

Similarly, my shoemaker’s eyes light up when I bring him expensive shoes to fix. He doesn’t charge me more. Often, the more expensive shoes cost less to fix because they were built to be fixed. I can see the disappointment in his eyes when I bring him the cheap shoes. He wants to help me, he wants to fix them for me; he knows that these shoes aren’t worth fixing. A small piece of my soul is lost, knowing that I’ve contributed to global decline brought about by ruthless consumerism. He gives me the perception of strong, qualified service: I know that he knows what he’s doing and I simply trust his opinion. I’m not afraid to let someone else drop off my shoes at the shoemaker: he’ll do what he needs to and charge me the correct amount when I pick them up. I trust his service.


Pumpkin Ratatouille

Thanksgiving with friends, I’m fashionably tardy in filling in what I’m bringing to the party. (Should I be surprised that we’re using a groupware spreadsheet to track this?) To atone for my delay, I volunteered to fill in the two remaining blank spots in addition to dinner rolls; they are, “appetizer,” and, “something pumpkin-y.” As follows:


Pumpkin Ratatouille

1 small pumpkin

1 large onion

2 bell peppers

4 roma tomatoes

2 small cloves garlic

1/2 bunch parsley

Olive oil, cooking oil, white wine, vinegar, salt, pepper

A note on the ingredients: they’re extremely variable. I couldn’t find pumpkin so I used butternut squash (yeah… I lied about that one, but did anyone really notice?). One pepper was old and soggy, the other was a poblano. Red onions would probably make this more colorful. Red wine would work. I used apple cider vinegar. This is a stew-like dish so be liberal in substitutions.

Cut the pumpkin in half and roast the halves for 30 minutes on broil. They should be browned and softened. Peel off the skin or cut it off with a potato peeler. Don’t burn your hands. Scoop out the seeds; discard them if you done’t want them for anything else. Once cleaned, dice it into one-inch cubes. Cut up the onion, peppers and tomatoes into one-inch pieces while you’re at it.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat some oil on low. I used my big, well-seasoned cast iron pan. I don’t cook with straight olive oil and I don’t cook with extra virgin oilve oil. I mixed cooking oil (vegetable, peanut, canola… whatever) with olive oil and butter. Saute the garlic and onions until the onions are translucent. Remove them and leave them in a large bowl.

Repeat this process for the peppers and tomatoes. You can use the same bowl, everything’s going to get mixed together. Repeat again for the pumpkin.

Once everything is well softened, lower the heat and put it all back in the skillet. Roughly chop half the parsley and add that in. Add the wine, a tiny bit of vinegar, as much sugar as you need to balance the sour flavor, and salt and pepper to taste. Let this cook for about half an hour or more. Add water if it starts to get dry.

Allow the whole thing to cool. Roughly chop the remaining parsley and stir it in. It tastes better the next day, simply refrigerate.

I served this at room temperature with dinner rolls. Depending on what part of the world you’re from, you may want it heated with toasted baguette. How many people it serves depends on how hungry they are and how they’re eating it. As an appetizer for 15 people who each brought, on average, 2 dishes to a potluck, half the batch was mostly eaten.




Dear world,

I am no longer fat. Perhaps I used to be but please allow me to remind you that you also used to be younger and less wise. These things have changed and in this case it was through concerted effort rather than the inevitable passage of time.

It took work and the product of gained wisdom, that I cannot be all things. Eating with reckless abandon was fun and fitting into tighter clothing is more fun. I made my choice then followed through with a plan.

To all who would, please stop talking about how I once was, lest I begin to recollect how you once were.