Business Idea: West Philly Landscaping

Please, someone, jump on the opportunity that is small-scale landscaping in West Philly!

Everyone loves a pretty yard. I see people stop in front of flowers, smell and take pictures of blooms, kick around fallen cherry blossoms in the spring, and point out the unexpected–a sea of tulips, an old twisted spruce, banana palm trees, a lone iris.

But here’s the problem:

  • The yards aren’t big enough to justify the purchase of the all the tools you may need to revamp a yard. Especially if you’re a renter (and shouldn’t landlords take care of their properties?).
  • The yards aren’t big enough for an overgrown yard to look *that bad* so owners, landlords, and renters don’t make the effort.
  • Summer is hot. A lot of people would rather stay inside. Or perhaps they’re too busy. Or maybe they just don’t want to do yardwork.
  • A quick search for landscaping companies in the area takes you to big suburban outfits that will probably charge a lot of money. Where are smaller local companies?

It is mid-summer and every rowhome is ready to be weeded, maintained, and shored up. The sidewalks and retaining walls could use a good power wash. And the yards are small – 16 feet wide by 5-15 feet deep. Some even smaller depending on how much concrete has been poured over the years!

I did it 2 years ago and couldn’t keep up!

I was also doing a lot of larger projects like major plantings and maintenance and hauling. I even had a school as a commercial client and I hired two people part-time to help me out. When my “real job” client work picked up, I went back to my desk. The money was good but I wasn’t in a position to scale, and the employees weren’t interested in taking it over.

I used pictures of my own house as proof for clients and advertising on Facebook. Here is a before and after of my front and back yard at 51XX Catharine Street:

Here’s how I would start:

  1. Grab a wagon and few hand tools to do basic weeding and cleanup of small yards (buy or rent from West Philly Tool Library). Forget the hauling and big stuff for now–unless you have a truck and want to do more intense labor.
  2. Make sure you’re green–that will sell well here and it’s the right thing to do. Use the paper bags and take them to the organic compost recycling center in Fairmount. You can even pick up small amounts of mulch for FREE – enough to mulch a small yard.
  3. Go door-to-door with an estimate pad and come to the door ready with a number. Make it hard for them to say no. I’d find the balance between the value to them and a formula (say, $0.50 / sf for a basic cleanup). Leave the estimate slip with them or in the mailbox and make sure your contact info is on it. The neighborhood is so dense and walkable that you can hit a few blocks per day.
  4. Nail the first impression. Make the estimate slip look good. Dress like a landscaper – sturdy shoes and pants. Set up a quick landing page. Grab emails for a seasonal updates – rake leaves in the fall, plant bulbs in December for spring tulips, plant in the spring…
  5. Offer bundles (1x month for 3 months), add-on services like power washing, and check the property for other quick fixes. As I look out my window, I see a neighbor that needs their mailbox set – there’s $50 to dig a hole and dump some concrete.

Go for it!

This is a wide open market and people are looking. Check out neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor – people are constantly asking for recommendations, especially when seasons change. And it will only take 1 yes from a landlord who owns several properties or one of the apartment buildings that want a maintenance package for their properties.

I’m happy to talk more if you’re interested.

Mobile Device dependency

My smartphone is a curse and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Take the test to see if you have a problem relationship with your mobile device: CAGE Mobile Device

What’s your score?

Swap out “Mobile Device” with “Alcohol” and that’s the same test medical professionals use to screen for alcoholism. And look at the similarities:

I blame myself for lack of discipline, but this thing is addictive. Take the “nomophobia” quiz here.

Now What?

At one point I bought a piece of plastic shaped like an iPhone, except the upgraded version with “selfie” capability. It worked for awhile, then I forgot about it.

Now I’m doing 2 things: 
First, I changed my phone to greyscale. In iOS: settings > general > accessibility > display accommodations > color filters > toggle color filters on

Then, I moved all of my apps into the dock. I’m forced to use the search function to find anything, making my iPhone use more focused.

So far it’s working. My iPhone is now boring and hard to use.


“Don’t Break the Chain”

Jerry Seinfeld wanted to be better comic. Better comics have better jokes, and better jokes come from writing every day. To motivate himself to write everyday, he put a calendar on the wall and made a big red X each day he wrote jokes.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” – from Brad Isaac

I’ve used this technique to work out more, stop drinking, and to build other habits.

The only problem is that it’s hard to find a simple, dedicated calendar to track it on. First I used a little at-a-glance calendar to track things in 2014 (but I made it too complicated). Then, I made a dedicated one for 2016 and 2017.

This year I got tired of re-creating it every year to fit the correct dates/days. So here’s the evergreen DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN calendar in pdf and jpg:


Quick Ugly Housing = Future Affordable Housing?

Elan City Center Apartments Rendering (Greystar)

What it really looks like…

Is Raleigh getting ugly, or is it just me?

Raleigh is quickly looking like a second-tier replica city dictated by developer’s profit margins. All of our new housing developments are plywood wrapped in terrible materials; they’re poorly designed, unfriendly to the street, and, frankly, an eyesore.

Elan City Center could be one of those at Clark+Oberlin, on N Boylan, S Wilmington or N Person, by Trader Joe’s, or anywhere else in the country. It looks familiar because Greystar, a developer from Charleston, owns 44 complexes in Raleigh, Durham and the RTP alone, and they’re not the only developer in town. There are currently over 2,500 unit under construction in Downtown and Glenwood South.

The real problem is that none of these complexes offer affordable housing. With studios starting at $1,050, they have priced out singles making under $50,000 and couples making under $25,200 each (given a 25% income allowance for rent). How can the City of Raleigh champion itself as friendly and diverse at these prices?

My hope is that in 10 years–when the facades are tattered, plywood floors bowed, and amenities dingy–there will be so many units empty that the prices will drop. Finally, Raleigh will have affordable housing downtown–unless the developer razes the building for bigger profit margins.

This is the only reason why I am glad we are not building like the Capitol Apartments anymore.

Capital Apts_web
Capitol Apartments. Photo by

If the City of Raleigh wants downtown Raleigh and the surrounding neighborhoods to be a hub of creativity, diversity, and innovation, then it needs to start acting more like a benevolent developer + leader and less like a doormat. I suggest that they give the Appearance Commission real authority and require all new developments offer a percentage of their housing available to low-income families, similar to the Town of Chapel Hill.

“The Town shall encourage developers of residential developments of 5 or more units to (a) provide 15 percent of their units at prices affordable to low and moderate income households, (b) contribute in-lieu-fees, or (c) propose alternative measures so that the equivalent of 15 percent of their units will be available and affordable to low and moderate income households;”

Until then, we can only wait until poor design and quality works in favor of lower socio-economic groups.

P.S. lol at the stock images on the websites for these developments.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.58.48 PM


My NYE Wishes for Raleigh: A List


I think about Raleigh all the time. I want to make it better, I want to contribute, I want to provide services to encourage a thriving urban center. Here are some of my wishes for the New Year.

I wish for increased ridership on public transportation; dedicated bike lanes; attainable rents for startup businesses or discounted rents for the first 6 months; successful implementation of the Market and Exchange Plaza renovations; window displays in abandoned buildings; more interactive public art; a nighttime gathering space that isn’t centered around alcohol; cool playgrounds; politicians concerned with living wages, alternative transportation, and all things green; a great anchor tenant in 227 Fayetteville; a local grocer near my home; BIKE SHARING; a neighborhood cleanup; utilization of empty lots; shelters at bus stops–we’re bare to the elements; streets democratically oriented towards pedestrians and cyclists, not large personal vehicles with lonely riders; pedestrian scrambles on Fayetteville during the lunch rush; food trucks!; c’mon parklets!; affordable solutions for downtown living; Dorthea Dix to become a park; a bar in the basement of the Velvet Cloak; intersection repair, everywhere; mixed used buildings that haven’t been value engineered; a GOOD donut shop; light rail; and, as always, books, books, and more books.

Well, this list could go on but I’ve exhausted my supply for the night.

What do you want?

photo © Matt Robinson,

Notes of Civility

A letter on civility from Anton Chekhov to his older brother, a drunk painter and writer, from Letters of Note.

To my mind, civilized people ought to satisfy the following conditions:

1. They respect the individual and are therefore always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant. They do not throw a tantrum over a hammer or a lost eraser. When they move in with somebody, they do not act as if they were doing him a favor, and when they move out, they do not say, “How can anyone live with you!” They excuse noise and cold and overdone meat and witticisms and the presence of others in their homes.

2. Their compassion extends beyond beggars and cats. They are hurt even by things the naked eye can’t see. If for instance, Pyotr knows that his father and mother are turning gray and losing sleep over seeing their Pyotr so rarely (and seeing him drunk when he does turn up), then he rushes home to them and sends his vodka to the devil. They do not sleep nights the better to help the Polevayevs, help pay their brothers’ tuition, and keep their mother decently dressed.

3. They respect the property of others and therefore pay their debts.

4. They are candid and fear lies like the plague. They do not lie even about the most trivial matters. A lie insults the listener and debases him in the liar’s eyes. They don’t put on airs, they behave in the street as they do at home, and they do not try to dazzle their inferiors. They know how to keep their mouths shut and they do not force uninvited confidences on people. Out of respect for the ears of others they are more often silent than not.

5. They do not belittle themselves merely to arouse sympathy. They do not play on people’s heartstrings to get them to sigh and fuss over them. They do not say, “No one understands me!” or “I’ve squandered my talent on trifles!” because this smacks of a cheap effect and is vulgar, false and out-of-date.

6. They are not preoccupied with vain things. They are not taken in by such false jewels as friendships with celebrities, handshakes with drunken Plevako, ecstasy over the first person they happen to meet at the Salon de Varietes, popularity among the tavern crowd. They laugh when they hear, “I represent the press,” a phrase befitting only Rodzeviches and Levenbergs. When they have done a penny’s worth of work, they don’t try to make a hundred rubles out of it, and they don’t boast over being admitted to places closed to others. True talents always seek obscurity. They try to merge with the crowd and shun all ostentation. Krylov himself said that an empty barrel has more chance of being heard than a full one.

7. If they have talent, they respect it. They sacrifice comfort, women, wine and vanity to it. They are proud of their talent, and so they do not go out carousing with trade-school employees or Skvortsov’s guests, realizing that their calling lies in exerting an uplifting influence on them, not in living with them. What is more, they are fastidious.

8. They cultivate their aesthetic sensibilities. They cannot stand to fall asleep fully dressed, see a slit in the wall teeming with bedbugs, breathe rotten air, walk on a spittle-laden floor or eat off a kerosene stove. They try their best to tame and ennoble their sexual instinct… What they look for in a woman is not a bed partner or horse sweat, […] not the kind of intelligence that expresses itself in the ability to stage a fake pregnancy and tirelessly reel off lies. They—and especially the artists among them—require spontaneity, elegance, compassion, a woman who will be a mother… They don’t guzzle vodka on any old occasion, nor do they go around sniffing cupboards, for they know they are not swine. They drink only when they are free, if the opportunity happens to present itself. For they require a mens sana in corpore sano.

And so on. That’s how civilized people act. If you want to be civilized and not fall below the level of the milieu you belong to, it is not enough to read The Pickwick Papers and memorize a soliloquy from Faust. It is not enough to hail a cab and drive off to Yakimanka Street if all you’re going to do is bolt out again a week later.

You must work at it constantly, day and night. You must never stop reading, studying in depth, exercising your will. Every hour is precious.

Anton Chekhov

Thoughts on Passion and Creating

James Rhodes, a concert pianist, speaks on how creativity is “beaten into submission”, that we have allowed our daily tasks and the internet to dominate our lives. James asserts that we devote the extra time in our lives to doing something creative, whatever that may be. He goes on to describe his lifestyle as a concert pianist–it’s a great article.

However, as I browse the internet and bookstores, I come across multitudes of “help” articles guiding the reader to find their “passion”. I realize many people aren’t passionate about anything, cannot decide what they want create, or they are scared of criticism, but who isn’t?

I share my passions with others to hold myself responsible. My friends are excited for me and my projects–passion is contagious. I use their excitement as fuel; it is easier to create knowing I have some support, that my work will be well received. Even if it isn’t, at least I did it (what Seth Godin calls “shipping”).

Original Article: James Rhodes: ‘Find what you love and let it kill you’ from The Guardian

be an enthusiast

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”


Passion makes can make a good idea great.

“When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”

– Dr. Teresa Belton

Puerto Rico Trip + Lists

for the next week: 1 backpack, 0 laptops

What I packed:

Clothes: straw hat, vans hat, rain jacket, underwear, socks, bikini, board shorts, cut off shorts, edmund jeans, belt, blue polo, button down, blue sweater, 4 v-necks, 3 cutoff t-shirts, running shorts and shirt, nikes (these or these would have been better), and vans

Other: toothbrush and paste, sunscreen, shampoo, face wash, face lotion, 2 flashlights, deodorant, Dr. Brommers soap, hand sanitizer, chapstick, aloe, microfiber towel, sunglasses, 31-blade pocket knife, duct tape, matches, 2 notebooks and pens, cash, ID, credit card, AAA card, some type of e-reader with 100 “classics”, ipod shuffle, headphones, phone charger, ipod charger, e-reader charger (all to USB with USB to power), 3 S-clips, flex lock, Ibuprofen, band-aids and ointment, SIGG water bottle, small bag, smaller backpack — packed into big backpack.

Music (Artist-Album) on ipod shuffle (~300 songs): Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls, Beach House – Teen Dream, Ben Howard – Every Kingdom, Cat Power – Covers Record, Cat Power – Moon Pix, Des Ark – Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker, the Fugees – The Score, How to Dress Well – Love Remains, Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature, Jose Gonzalez – Veneer, Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, Kurt Vile – God is Saying This to You, Lykke Li – Youth Novel, Minus the Bear – Menos El Oso, Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antartica (Deluxe), The National – Boxer, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part, Phantogram – Eyelid Movies, Sharon Van Etten – Because I Was In Love, Toro y Moi – Causers of This, The Weeknd – House of Balloons, Wiz Khalifa – Rolling Papers (Deluxe)

The little black backpack will be full of the stuff I can’t take on a plane and checked-in.

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Knife in the Water (1962) movie stills

I recently watched my first Roman Polanski film, his debut, Knife in the WaterPolanski co-wrote and directed the 1962 film which takes places mainly on a boat featuring only 3 actors. A married couple pick up a young hitchhiker and invite him to spend the night aboard their boat. The film is tense and beautifully framed. The film received a 1963 Foreign Language Oscar nomination, the first Polish film in this category.

My favorite scene of the movie is when the camera is panning from the mast of the ship to show what each character is doing after getting settled. The wife is wo-manning the rudder, the husband is mapping the course, and the hitchhiker is napping. I immediately wanted to boat around the lakes of Poland. In a previous shot, the cameraman, while tied to the mast, forgot to attach the safety line to the camera and dropped it in the lake.

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Knife in the Water
I stitched the stills together to get a sense of their relation to one another. The still of the hitchhiker is rotated 180ª for continuity.

Screen shot 2013-03-04 at 9.29.09 PMThe waterways surrounding Gizycko.

Jose González’s Album Art

Jose González is an Argentinian classical guitarist from Sweden. I first heard of him when a friend covered “Heartbeats” in college. Because I download a lot of my music, I never see the album art. So, here it is; I love the consistency. The illustrations are as soft and complex as his music.

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A solution for small closets: an Open-Air Closet

I have a tiny closet and ran out of space long ago. The cheapest solution is hooks but it is ugly and in randomly placed holes from the previous tenants. I have thought about clothing racks but they are bulky and cold. Then I realized all my wooden hangers have swivel hooks and can hang parallel to the wall, or on the door. All I need are towel racks or even curtain rods…but what if it was an entire piece instead of a wall installations?

A bench with shoe storage would act as the counter balance for the back piece with two racks for hangers. If the back piece was odor and/or moisture-absorbing that would further enhance the functionality of the piece. In addition, this piece acts as a display for my clothing and shoes.

P.S. This is my 2nd Sketchup, the first being a side table from June.

Cabin Trip and Gear

This weekend I’m going to a 100+ year old cabin deep in the Piedmont wilderness with 8 close friends. It is heated by a big-bellied wood stove, lit by candles and gas lights and the outhouse is a 2-seater out back. I’ll be back Monday!

Here is the majority of the gear I’m bringing à la The Burning House.

8″ Bean Boots, camera, Camo Smoke, Sigg, Notebook, Sketchbook, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, 2 Tshirts, Raleigh Denim Nash jeans, homemade handkerchief, compass, flannel shirt, 31 blade Swiss Army knife, hunting knife, and hand axe.

Robert Capa, War Photographer


If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough – Robert Capa

Robert Capa documented 5 wars before stepping on a landmine in the French Indochina War, a precursor to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He first gained recognition in 1936 for a photograph taken during the Spanish Civil War, The Falling Man. His notoriety came during World War II, landing on the beaches of Normandy with the second wave on D-Day. Unlike the majority of troops landing on the beaches that day, Capa volunteered. He took well over 100 photographs but only 11 survived a lab accident. These photographs appeared in Life and became known as the “Magnificent Eleven“. He also covered the Second Sino-Japanese War, the liberation of Paris, post-war Soviet Union with John Stienbeck, the Arab invasion of Israel, and excursions with “Papa” Hemingway in Idaho.

His life is fascinating and if you want to read more about it, check out Blood and Champagne by Alex Kershaw or Slightly Out of Focusa memoir by Robert Capa.

The Falling Man


Hemingway after a car crash in London

Continue reading “Robert Capa, War Photographer”

Compare the 2012 Democratic and Republican Platforms

Amit Asaravala compiled the Democratic and Republican Party Platform documents into a fantastic comparative chart. I know it’s long, but if you have the time, read this! There is always more than one issue at stake when voting.

Make sure you’re registered to vote in your state; there are a lot of laws that might prevent you from casting your ballot this November.

I moved some less talked about–but very important–issues to the top and placed the rest after the jump.

2012 Democratic Party Platform 2012 Republican Party Platform
Source Document 2012-National-Platform.pdf 2012GOPPlatform.pdf
Foreign Policy: Foreign Aid [W]e will continue to respond to humanitarian crises around the globe. [p.29] Limiting foreign aid spending helps keep taxes lower, which frees more resources in the private and charitable sectors, whose giving tends to be more effective and efficient.[p.46]
Commerce: Minimum Wage We will raise the minimum wage, and index it to inflation. [p.10]
Education: Sex Education Democrats support evidence-based and age-appropriate sex education. [p.18] We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education….[p.36]
Environment: Climate Change We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change…. [p.20] We also call on Congress to take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations….[p.19]
Democrats pledge to continue showing international leadership on climate change, working toward an agreement to set emission limits in unison with other emerging powers. [p.21]

Continue reading “Compare the 2012 Democratic and Republican Platforms”

Django Unchained Trailer – Tarantino

ahh Tarantino’s “Southern” movie trailer has finally been released…another inventive soundtrack and cast including Jamie Foxx (much better than the rumored WIll Smith), Christoph Waltz (the Jew Hunter from Inglorious Bastards, who I predict to become a Tarantino regular) and Leonardo DiCaprio.

His thoughts:  “I wanted to explore something that really hasn’t been done, I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to,” via The Telegraph.

This will tide me over until Kill Bill Vol. 3 in (possibly) 2014 when the 10 year respite for The Bride and Beebe is up.. unless somehow he releases the Vega Brothers prequel in Amsterdam (possibly titled Double V Vega).  Who he will cast considering John Travolta and Michael Madsen are too old?

Joan of Arc’s Feast Day


Jehanne d’Arc, The Maid of Orléans

Born 1412  |  Burned 1431  |  Canonized 1920

Patron Saint of Soldiers, France and Me

One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.


Would M.C. Escher have become the artist he was if technology was what it is today?

Doubt it – this would have been shared on Instagram and Facebook instead of drawn and published.