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.


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.


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.


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 -> 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.

Muir Volkswagen - 2

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.

Muir Volkswagen - 3

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.

Muir Volkswagen - 5

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.

Muir Volkswagen - 6

Muir Volkswagen - 4


Grosspop’s Theosophy

My grandfather (we called him by the German “Grosspop”) was an active Theosophist, and imparted wisdom from his readings to us boys every time we saw him. Theosophy was (is?) a sort of combined philosophy/religion that drew wisdom from all of the world’s religions, with a strong emphasis on reincarnation and positive thinking. “Ja Ja Scottie, every lifetime is just a stepping stone on the universal road – a thousand years is but a day of history” (read that to yourself in your thickest German immigrant voice).

Founded in 1875, it gained mild popularity in the U.S., and columns by theosophical writers appeared in pamphlets and newspapers all over the world. You don’t hear much about them anymore. We loved him dearly, though I think as kids we didn’t really know what to do with his musings.

On a recent visit to my parents’ house, my father handed down to me a scrapbook full of theosophical clippings Grosspop had gathered and saved over the years. I remember seeing Theosophy magazines around the house, but had never seen this scrapbook before. Honored to have this in the family; just wish I could have the opportunity to talk about Theosophy with him now, as an adult.


Open Message to Recruiters

Head_Hunters_Album Like many of my colleagues in the tech / web dev industry, my phone rings around 2-5 times per day with cold calls from recruiters wanting to convince me to leave the job where I am happily employed and move to some other job that they think I would be more suited to for some reason. Nowhere on the internet have I listed myself as being in need of work.

I struggle to find the best way to respond to these spammer/recruiters. My options are:

  • Politely explain that I’m not looking, thank you very much
  • Hang up without saying a thing
  • Try to explain why I think cold-calling people is unacceptable

I usually go for the last option, though I’m afraid I never seem to get through to them. For posterity, my argument is this:

When a marketer or recruiter calls a person without being invited to, they are a spammer – pure and simple. You (the recruiter) are stealing my time. If a person wants help from a recruiter, they will reach out for help looking for a job. There is no circumstance in which calling someone’s phone uninvited and for profit can be considered polite (or even acceptable).

Unlike email spam, phone spam steals our time. Refresher course on Kant’s Categorical Imperative:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

In other words, only do things in life that you would want everyone else to do in the same circumstance.

Ask yourself what would happen if every person who had something to sell was allowed to call everyone who has a telephone, at any time. No one would be able to get anything done, since our phones would never stop ringing. If you don’t think everyone should be able to cold-call everyone else, then no one should be able to do it.

“Ah,”  you respond, “But I’m different because I’m trying to help!”

Sorry – you’re not helping. If I had posted somewhere that I was looking for a job and needed help, then you would be helping. But with me gainfully employed, your relentless calls are nothing but a nuisance – one that gets more annoying every day.

If you are a recruiter who cold-calls people, please stop. Just stop. When we need help, we’ll reach out to you. As long as you are in the business of cold-calling, you’ll just continue to generate ill will.


Hi friends and family –

I started November by shaving my trademark goatee clean off, then starting in on an honest-to-goodness mustache.


Not a goatee – a real live ’stache! – to support the international Movember campaign, which raises awareness and money for men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer. You can read all about the campaign here:


With early detection, these types of cancer are usually preventable, or can be greatly mitigated. The key takeaway message is that men need to do *both* a physical examination and have a PSA (blood test) done. Please spread the word!

I’ve teamed up with a group of men from the Center for Investigative Reporting (Team CIR) to pool our fundraising efforts.


If you know someone who has been affected by one of these cancers, or would just like to help out (no pressure, seriously!) please consider making a small donation through my MoSpace page:


Thanks in advance!