Aunt Gerry, Reading MAD Magazine

Enjoying all of the nostalgia around MAD Magazine, and the bummer of it closing down last week. In a weird way, I learned a lot about the world around me as a young teen reading MAD (including how to disco dance by kicking your feet up in the air above your head, which I actually did at my first dance, thanks MAD!) Anyway, this was my dear Aunt Gerry, reading issue 79 (June 1963) at the hairdresser. Family heirloom.

Regress

Fun fact: Jimmy Carter got the U.S. started on conversion to the metric system, but didn’t have time to finish. Then Reagan came along and pulled the plug on us matching the rest of the world in sensible measurements. We coulda been there by now. Carter also installed solar panels on the white house, then Reagan moved in and pulled ’em off. Progress vs. regress, ’twas ever thus.

Someone else’s tweet: “All our refusal to adopt the metric system has done is make our products more expensive at home and massively less desirable in foreign countries. But yeah, let’s keep measuring shit by how many barley-corns can fit on the King’s finger. For freedom. “

At least our currency system is metric.

Chernobyl

The one thing an OFF button should never do is make things worse. But the boron control rods designed to regulate the nuclear reaction in Soviet RNKB reactors had a fatal flow – to save money, they were tipped with graphite rather than boron. Under certain insane conditions, when all water is already removed, this has the effect of briefly mushrooming heat levels, leading to catastrophic failure. But why had the water been removed at Chernobyl? Because a party apparatchik was obsessed with completing a test to earn a commendation. And because some of the plant operators were barely trained.

Technical flaw combined with human hubris combined with penny pinching. Anyway, CHERNOBYL on HBO is now over, but will remain available forever. Everything this graphic says is true. Don’t look for a pro- or anti-nuke docudrama — it’s not that. Just one of the most important true stories of the last century. So good.

Morro Bay Lighthouse Century

A summer of hard bicycle training finally paid off! I had done several metric century (65 mile) rides over the past decade, but both of my previous full century attempts had been thwarted. Two years ago, I overtrained and developed a tendon problem behind the knee that could have resulted in serious/permanent damage if I had pressed on. Then the next year, an illness in the family resulted in a logistical problem that forced me to do yet another metric.

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This year, I wasn’t going to be stopped. Started serious training in the spring, ramping up slowly from 25 miles to 40, then 65, then a couple of 75 mile days toward the end of summer. Also focused on elevation, tackling both Mt. Tam and Mt. Diablo in August and September.

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Started to learn more about the importance of sodium and electrolyte replacement too, trying half of the ride supplement packets on the market. And I introduced a weekly time trial into the mix, doing exactly the same 8-mile, 1000-ft sprint after work twice a week.

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Continue reading “Morro Bay Lighthouse Century”

Sheldon the Corn Snake

We raised a gorgeous orange/yellow corn snake up from a 6″ pup to a 4′ adult reptile in about three years. Sheldon, named after the character from The Big Bang Theory, became a reliable companion in our family, coming out occasionally to wander through our fingers, and often to consume mice and rats. We’ve let him move on to another family now, but he’ll always have a warm place in our hearts for our cold-blooded friend!

More images in the Flickr Set

Notes on Organizing Digital Image Collections

I’ve spent the past few months going through and organizing my entire iPhoto -> Photos.app collection. It’s been a tedious but wonderful process. I’ve come to a few conclusions:

Snoopy mud flats

  • Everyone is sitting on tens of thousands of digital images.
  • No one can find a damn thing in that giant pile.
  • If you can’t find it five or ten years from now you may as well have not taken it in the first place.
  • The time to deal with your images is the day you shot them.
  • Delete the duds. Bad exposure. Out of focus. Not the best of the set. Delete delete delete. Delete heaps and you’ll still have more keepers than you’ll ever be able to enjoy. Don’t be a hoarder.
  • For the keepers, the key is findability.
    • Image titles. Album titles. Faces. Keywords. Doesn’t matter. Just make sure one or more keyword exists for search.
    • When adding titles, imagine a future version of yourself searching for this image.
  • Be disciplined. The longer you wait, the more daunting the task.
  • Chip away. Do it now.

How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive

Adjusting your own valves will not only change your relationship with your car, it will change your  relationship with yourself.

Muir Volkswagen - 1 - CoverThis book kind of changed my life. In the early 90s, I spent all my money in the world on a 1974 air-cooled VW Squareback, similar to the one I grew up in. A few weeks later, cylinder #3 seized up (cyl. 3 was famous for that). While I was kind of freaking out, my Harley-riding/building housemate calmly urged me to “Quit complaining. Drop the engine and fix the damn thing.”

That sounded impossible at the time, but what choice did I have? Went and got a copy of John Muir’s classic How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot and got lost in its pages for a week. With its Robert Crumb-style drawings and groovy prose style, it sucked me into a world of mechanical competence I previously couldn’t have imagined for myself.

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What astounded me about the process was the power of incremental demystification. It’s not until you remove the valve cover and see for yourself how the throw rods connect to the rocker arms connect to the valve springs that you have that “Ah ha!” moment, and all of the mystery of internal combustion suddenly starts to make sense. Every part you remove strips away one more layer of skin from the onion, revealing previous mysteries as simple mechanical truths. It’s an amazing experience.

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The process of fixing that car ushered in a few years of wrenching around for fun – first on the Squareback, and later on a 1964 bus that became the love of my life. I don’t do that anymore – I never took it beyond the simple mechanics of the air-cooled engine and into modern computer-controlled stuff. But the sense of empowerment that came from having gone through it lasted my entire life.

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For my 50th birthday, bought myself a used copy of the original book, and have been leafing through it at random, reliving great memories from that period of my life. So grateful.

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