Why can’t I refill my plastic water bottle in my local supermarket?

Musing more on what else we can use plastic bottles for, I found myself wanting to refill my water bottle, not just while “communing” in a hostel, but while living in an apartment in Santiago. The tap water here is potable, but it tastes just awful. I spend money every day on plastic water bottles, and am starting to feel more than just a little guilty about it, especially since I’m pretty sure the generic garbage facility is not recycling them [update: I will soon be able to recycle them at a local Lider supermarket].

Why can’t I refill my bottle in my apartment building? Or better yet, at a local Lider supermarket? You can do almost everything else there – including pay your bills and use their lockers.


It seems like coin operated water dispensing machines like this one do actually clean the water, so they could be used in Mexico or Bolivia where they don’t just crave nicer tasting water #firstWorldProblems.

It also seems like they would be more environmentally friendly since they don’t waste any resources otherwise used to get plastic water bottles onto shelves, but I still need to investigate further.

coin operated soviet era automatic water dispenser-15
Here’s a coin operated water dispensers from Soviet Russia. Super cool.

If you are in the US, Whole Foods have a reverse osmosis water machine at $.35/gallon (about 3.7 litres). The only downside if you already have clean water in your apartment, is having to lug the reusable jugs home. In Canada there are cool 24 hour water refilling stations, like Rocky Ridge.

coin op web rock ridge
Rocky Ridge 24 Hour Water Refilling station

In Mexico, we had no choice. It was either that, or pay more to get it delivered.

Familiar sight in Mexico – collecting your water jug

But I don’t really need a 10-20 litre jug. At the moment I find myself buying 1.5 litre bottles as I need them, so if there were a coin operated water dispenser in my local Lider, I would just refill my bottle there instead.

I wonder does anyone have this in mind for Chile? It’s probably never going to happen – it costs so much to import equipment here that it would take forever to earn back the cost of the machine. It’s probably too niche a use case. But Mexico might be different.

Anyone know if this already happening there? If not, anyone want to start this as a side project with me? 😉  Importing coin operated water machines into Mexico? Lets do it!

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How to remove the doormat/nagging conflict from a relationship

woman doing housekeeping

Today I realized that I was a doormat in my relationship. He hated washing the dishes, so I washed them. He said he would clean the bathroom tomorrow, so I cleaned it. He left his dirty clothes on the ground, so I washed them while I was washing mine. I did it all thinking that it was what a cool woman did, keeping the peace. 

Cool women don’t nag their Significant Others. Cool women understand that men hate certain activities, and so it’s about finding what they do like to do, like cook the occasional pizza and make a huge mess, or code code code. Cool women see that it’s not worth fighting about the small stuff because they hate having arguments over so-called “stupid shit”. Cool women know that mundane activities are actually an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

My sister was definitely not a cool women. She was training her man so that he would follow orders. He was washing dishes, ironing clothes and mowing the lawn, instead of writing songs and practicing piano. She is so mean, I thought. He needs time to create. She is going to lose her man if she isn’t careful.

Where did I get these ideas from? Who was I? Why was I so fucking NICE? And where’s the balance between being a nagging bitch, and being a doormat? I cared about having a clean house and wished I didn’t. My SO just didn’t care and didn’t care that he didn’t. If he could use that cleaning time to code, why couldn’t I use the cleaning time to write?

My solution-vention? [Apart from breaking up and resolving never to get into a serious relationship with a man ever again…]

– Live separately a.k.a Simone de Beauvoir

– If that’s not possible, hire someone to clean the dishes, wash the laundry and mow the lawn. Because it’s not worth trying to find a balance. 

What do you think? Am I just falling in love with the wrong men? You can tell me. I can take it.

Update: Low cost safety device for solo travellers (male or female)

Wow. Guess what I just came across. The device of my dreams – on indiegogo. The BiiSafe buddy. This is like, super awesomely amazing. For 35 bucks (69 will be normal retail price) they’ve created what I wanted, but in a much niftier way – they’ve just used bluetooth in the device and let the phone do the tracking. Super cool.

BiiSafe buddy location tracking


How I find problems and invent solutions

inventions and inventors

It’s been over a month since I started this invention experiment and so far I’ve learned a LOT about myself, about the things I like to invent, and the way I like to invent things.

I learned that the majority of my inventions come from the “Why can’t I?” place – that angry, frustrated voice that questions my discomfort, or blind acceptance.

Why can’t I travel alone without worrying my family? Why can’t I take as many risks as a man when traveling alone?

Why do I have to hop up and down and get my clothes covered in yucky fluids when I need to change my underwear?

Why can’t I use the wifi of coffee shops nearby without buying something?

Why can’t I tell people I live in hostels without feeling uncomfortable?

I learned that I am motivated by Repeated Personal Experience, e.g I am easily motivated to invent under a solo female travel safety device when I am constantly confronted with the anger and frustration of traveling solo as a female, but as soon as I am living somewhere stable, I get demotivated.

I learned that I like designing apps, but I like to design both simple, and multipurpose solutions, which is difficult to achieve in an app context. They often need to target specific niche audiences and be solo purpose.

I learned that I get triggered by my surroundings, and that I can come up with different inventions by simply putting myself in a new situation.

I learned that many of the solutions to my current set of identifiable problems have already been invented, and that the bigger problem is often KNOWING about them, or CARING enough to spend money on them.

I also learned that I want to invent things that solve big problems, but I’m either living too perfect a life, or oblivious to the problems I deal with everyday. I need to dream bigger, look deeper, and challenge how easily I accept the status quo, if I am to cultivate anger and frustration for the more important problems.

How do you invent solutions to problems? How do you identify the problems you would like to solve? 

Tracking food allergies detective iPhone app

I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to wheat. Or at least intolerant of it. I don’t think I can handle dairy either. But I’m not sure. My symptoms are not bad enough to make it overwhelmingly obvious, so it’s only when I get acne breakouts, or crash out from tiredness, or experience bouts of bloating, that I remember I should probably figure it out. That or stop eating so much of it.

So last week I wanted to build an app to help me easily track things like what I’m eating and what I’m feeling. I actually found a really good app on my search, Food Allergy Detective, and even though I tried to redesign the interface to make it prettier and more fun to use, it turns out MY pain wasn’t big enough, and THEIR solution wasn’t bad enough for me to be motivated to continue.

food allergy detective app iphone

It was a lesson in knowing when to keep going with something, and when to just concede gracefully.

But it also made me aware of how many things I do a half assed job of tracking, like when I get my period, and what symptoms I experience, or how much I am spending, and how much I should be spending.

It would be nice to track activities without any explicit action required.

I have no problem tracking what I’m eating when I’ve just had a stomach ache, because I’m highly motivated to find the source. But a day passes, and the pain passes, and I forget. I have no incentive to track what I’m eating when I’m asymptomatic. The same can happen with tracking expenditure, or the dates of my period.

So what if there were a way to track things in the background, or what if it were more fun to track behaviour?

I wrote recently about the fertility tracking app, Glow, and they too are asking people to manually enter data, as are Clue, the app for tracking periods, and Insandouts app for tracking baby activities.

Some more intelligent tracking apps that come with a smart device that does the data entry automatically are the Mimo Baby Monitor for tracking your baby’s temperature, activity, and sleep; Propeller that collects data for asthma sufferers, so they can see how many puffs they’ve taken, as well as where and when; and OMSignal clothes that track your biometrics like heart rate and stress levels.

But what would be an automated way to track what we are eating? A device in our mouths? Or in our stomachs?

Maybe I’m crazy, but there is power in tracking. Feedback loops work:

…humans are self-regulating creatures, with a multitude of systems working to achieve homeostasis… Feedback loops are how we learn, whether we call it trial and error or course correction. In so many areas of life, we succeed when we have some sense of where we stand and some evaluation of our progress. Indeed, we tend to crave this sort of information; it’s something we viscerally want to know, good or bad. As Stanford’s Bandura put it, “People are proactive, aspiring organisms.” Feedback taps into those aspirations.”

If I knew that I was always tired after I ate dairy, then I might have more of an incentive to stop eating it. Or maybe not 😉

Are you good at tracking your behaviour manually? Do you have any cool apps that you recommend that motivate you when you feel demotivated? Would love to hear in the comments!

What’s the ideal living situation to meet new people? Hostel, hotel, commune?

This week I spent my solution-vention experiment time pondering on the idea of living.

Unless you are in a committed relationship, or family arrangement, I think apartment living is isolating and illogical. Student housing has it’s perks, but not when you aren’t a student anymore. Surfing couches is fun but it’s not a long term solution. No money is exchanged so you end up paying with your time.

apartment living meeting people

I want somewhere I can live with equals, who come and go as they please, where there is a good flow of new people, and a few long term residents who always welcome the newcomers.

The best option I’ve found so far is hostel living but it’s not always awesome. So much depends on the architecture, the city, the staff, the weather, the price, the facilities, and the particular set of people who happen to be there at the same time as you.

I meet people who have been living in hostels for 2 months, or 2 days. I meet people who stay in hostels even though they can afford hotels just because they want to meet people. But I rarely meet people like me: people who actually choose to stay in hostels in the city where they actually live.

It’s not the first time I feel like an anomaly, but for me there are so many benefits:

  • I don’t have to do laundry
  • I don’t have to buy breakfast
  • I don’t have to change my sheets
  • I don’t have to tidy up because I don’t have much stuff
  • I don’t have to clean the bathroom
  • I don’t have to clean up after parties
  • I don’t have to pay water, gas, gastos comunes, electricity, internet… on top of rent
  • I don’t have to make a commitment to a person, or a place, or pay for a bed when I’m not actually sleeping there.

But the main reason is because I like meeting people.

I feel like everything in my life should be designed, optimized in fact, for meeting people. It’s one of the reasons I am still an entrepreneur instead of working in a company. It’s one of the reasons I love to travel, and why I’ve been working on the projects I’ve been working on for the past 4 years.

Don’t get my wrong, I love friends, and I have amazing, wonderful friends, but a lot of my current friends are my friends because I met them in a hostel.

There’s something important to me about exchanging ideas with new people on a regular basis in general, regardless of whether or not you will end up calling each other “friends”.

This doesn’t mean I’m super social. In fact, it’s the opposite. That’s what’s awesome about hostels is that you meet people without even trying. It’s effortless. If I didn’t live in hostels, I might never meet new people.

Yet I don’t like the idea of living in a hostel. There is something distinctly ODD about telling people I am living in a hostel in the city where I live.

Hostels are built for foreigners, and for short term stays.

I end up feeling like a homeless vagrant, or a social outcast, probably because there are a fair amount of unstable versions of me: Alcoholics. Angry people. People who can’t fit into society. They end up in hostels. What does that say about me?

Plus there are only so many times you can have a conversation about which city tour the newcomers should go on.

free city tour santiago

Yet, there aren’t many other options for people like me. Communes, intentional communities, co-operative living arrangements, all seem to have complex rules or involve actually owning property. I understand if you want to live in one place forever, and settle down, it may make sense. But I just want there to be a “home/hostel” I can stay in, anywhere in the world where the focus is around community.

When I thought about a solution, it occurred to me I could build the perfect hostel, a hostel more focused on social, for people to meet new people. I could invite people to participate in activities so like making dinner or group trips.

But that sounded like way too much work.

So instead, I decided to create a solution using language. If there was a way to express what I do in a positive way, then I wouldn’t have to explain it as though I was an anomaly. And hostels could advertise that they are welcoming to people like me.

So my invention this week, is a way to explain what I am doing:

To Commune (verb): to choose to live around people 

So instead of I’m staying in a hostel, or I’m living in a hostel, I can say I’m communing in a hostel. 

What do you mean? You haven’t heard of communing? It’s when you choose to live around people your age who are open minded and traveling.

Are you living here? No, I’m communing here.

When did you arrive here? Oh, I’m communing here, so I’ve been here for 2 months.

Communing? Ya, living around people because it’s more fun than living alone.  

Where do you live? I’m communing right now at a hostel in Providencia.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions where I can “commune” more easily?

How using plastic water bottles can be something positive

Eco water bottle filling fanatics make me mad. There I was, buying lots of water in plastic bottles, thinking only of eliminating scary South American bacteria from my bowel movements, and now I feel plastic bottle guilt, all because I walked into an eco lodge, looking for a place to dispose of one of my empty plastic bottles.

I get it – refills are an awesome invention but SO MANY PEOPLE use plastic bottles! I’m not going to stop using them because one eco lodge made me feel guilty.

I feel like there must be more scalable ways to solve the problem.

Maybe by inventing cleaner, safer water sources in South America – or building wells like Charity Water.

Or by leasing clean, cold, filtered water machines to hostels and hotels so they can charge  a small amount for refills and make a profit.

Or – like we were teaching kids in a class recently – by inventing something cool and constructive to do with the plastic bottles, like make rafts, or these cool lamps I found in a restaurant in Cusco.

eco-plastic water bottle lamps cusco restaurant

I feel like too many eco solutions tap into guilt, instead of motivate by profit. Like it or not, money motivates people. Not just saving money as a consumer, but making money as say, a hostel owner.

Just as NY finds a roundabout way to employ the homeless by giving cash for the collection of plastic bottles, there must be lots of other cool projects with plastic bottles that mean I don’t have to feel guilty for using them, and I can invest that time and effort of refilling my bottle in more personally *meaningful* tasks.

What cool uses for plastic bottles have you seen? Do you feel guilty about buying/using them?