on bonzos and memory

 Geek, Reflection  Comments Off on on bonzos and memory
Mar 032016

After spontaneously singing to Jen at 3am recently, a song from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, I’m noticing some of the layers that assemble me, specifically, how my memory works. I’m also in a several day sprint where the evil disc jockey inside my head is playing a random stream of Bonzo music throughout the day and night. As I result, I am smiling at strangers as I silently hear The King of Scurf for the twentieth time while shopping for potatoes.

For those of you too young, or perhaps too sane to have been exposed to the Bonzos in the late 60’s and early ’70’s, I urge you to go to iTunes, where there is a large selection of their material. Or watch the Vivian Stanshell documentary on YouTube (the entire sound track is Bonzo stuff). Imagine early Monte Python, with great musical skills and a wide variety of instruments. It’s like Tom Lehrer, a random selection of good studio musicians and FireSign Theatre got stuffed in a studio for a week. I discovered the Bonzes in college, when I found a cut-out (remember those?) album for something like $4. “The History of the Bonzos” is a double album, and I tortured several sets of roommates playing bits of it. They were a theater act as well: inside the album is a photo of a bearded young English gent, in suspenders and a t-shirt, wailing away on a sax in one hand, holding up a thought-bubble sign over his head saying, “Wow, I’m really expressing myself!” Sure wish I’d gotten to see them live. imgres-2016-03-3-18-52.jpg

But the topic is memory, and I ponder how I can remember huge tracts of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, every Tom Lehrer and Spike Jones lyric, and so many Bonzos songs that I have not even heard in 35 years. How does my brain do that? I can’t even remember the name of a new co-worker five minutes after I’m introduced, yet this stuff lingers like a deep kiss.

Of course, there is a whole theory of neural encoding. The axons and peptides and neurotransmitters and ganglia and dendrites and god knows what complex mechanisms create mRNA and whatever, so my brain is polluted by a combination of chemical storage and interconnection that permanently maps The Intro and The Outro (“And Adolph Hitler on vibes!”) in my overstuffed skull. My psychology classes with the glorious Hans-Lukas Teuber, who studied brain function by looking at brain injuries for 50 years, should have taught me how memory works. By the way, Dr. Teuber is embedded in here too, he had the bushiest gray eyebrows of any person I’ve ever met, which he wielded like scimitars as he punctuated his lectures with them. According to Teuber, that memory alone is frozen in a interconnected chemical morass involving millions of cells in my head.

Then new research is appearing to suggest that there is a hereditary mechanism for memory, that phobias may be passed down through DNA from one generation to the next. At the very least, this opens the topic that memory is not a simple thing, mere encoding in our brain.

I have a different experience of memory, since I had startling encounters with Nancy for weeks after she passed away — and believe me, she had her memory. My grandmother visited my dreams and communicated some things the night she passed away on the other side of the country. I could be deluded, perhaps these things never happened. But memory must be far more than neurochemistry…how does memory travel without a body?

Maybe memories just exist, out there like archetypes, waiting for one of us to catch them, tune them in. Our brain could be more like a radio than a storage device, we can certainly step into archetypes that are not our own. Maybe there is no memory, there is only karma. Maybe it’s just a miracle, here for our shared and private delight, all the lyrics ever sung by the Bonzos are on my radio station.

And I would really like to know who is doing the tuning. Urban Spaceman just came on, and *I* didn’t do it.

 Posted by at 6:52 pm


 Geek, Reflection  Comments Off on ttitd
Sep 092015


Ah, That Thing In The Desert. I’ve been smiling and contemplating our seven days at Burning Man, wondering what can I say about such a well-photographed and commented event? It was my first time on the playa, and we had the good fortune to stay at VW Bus Camp, in Mz. Parker, the white Westfalia you see just right of center. It was also our longest trip in her, and there was much to enjoy about the camping as well as the event itself.

The Westy is a special blend of self-contained luxury and rawness, a cozy place to retreat for a drink when the wind whips up hours of dust storms, as we had on two of the days. It is also a comfortable, lockable base of operations, with remarkable carrying capacity. We were able to bring not only the big white shade structure, but a small table, camp chairs, a ladder to make it easier to put stuff on the roof rack, two bicycles, spare gas cans, and something like 28 gallons of water weighing a couple of hundred pounds. The load totaled over half a ton, including our food, wine, clothes, solar lighting and other gear. Add in a few hundred pounds of passengers, and Mz. Parker still carried all with that gracious glide over the land that every VW bus embodies. The bed was very comfortable with an extra layer of foam. Extra reflective insulation on the windows kept it temperate inside through 80-degree days and 35-degree nights. We cooked on the built-in stove, washed dishes in the sink, and evaporated the wash water out in the dry desert air, like everyone else there. In order to leave no footprint on the desert (and avoid making a muddy mess!) everything needs to come in with us and leave with us, so every bit of water we could evaporate made our return trip lighter.

The quality of our camp was astonishing. Most of the 35 other VW buses had been to Black Rock City multiple times before, in fact, VW Bus Camp has been around more than 25 years. I loved our neighbors, who were nearly all experienced burners, living varied, mature and interesting lives out in the world. Many in our camp are BRC Rangers, the local volunteer corps of law enforcement & universal assistance, and other types of volunteers. There were also county sheriffs and semi-military Bureau of Land Management types, carrying sidearms. Unfortunately there are people who will steal stuff, so every camp has it’s own vigilance and awareness of strangers. Indeed, someone nabbed my hydration pack, then was confronted by an alert camp-mate while trying to rip off a bicycle. Fortunately, my pack came back to me – nothing lost – but it’s a sobering reminder that any city of 65,000 will have criminals.

And then there is the artwork, the art cars, and the Temple.

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Here are a couple of short videos I took that give a flavor of the experience. Night time on the open playa…

…and the Temple burn on Sunday night, watched by perhaps 30,000 people in a huge ring.

The whole week was a sensory bath. Sound was ever-present, there were places to dance all over, and except for an hour around sunrise, we heard dub in the background all the time. People wore all kinds of cool, eclectic stuff, or perhaps nothing, so every journey was a sensual and visual delight. At night, every person and bike and vehicle was lit up, so that we could move without colliding in the pitch darkness.

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It is remarkable that so many people can come together, and generally bring kindness and sharing and fun to each other. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes this possible, and have come to some unexpected conclusions. On the surface, you see a lot of technology, LED lighting, solar power, all kinds of vehicles. But that is just the beginning.

First, there is nothing for sale except ice and coffee (at least officially!) All are encouraged to bring things to gift and share, so the community spirit is very strong, and we often greeted strangers and stopped to meet folks wherever they are and whatever they were doing. We got all kinds of cool surprises: camp stickers and magnets, food and drink, decorative clothing items. We gave away dinners and tequila and mechanical assistance and massages, traded email addresses and contact info, participated in great discussions with people that knew a lot, had great skill and experience. There is no internet or cell service, so many layers of modern life peeled away within hours of arrival. This is, after all, basically camping in an inhospitable place, so we felt essentially interdependent. Juicy.

Second, the speed limit for all vehicles is 5 mph, and other than the art cars, you either walk or bicycle everywhere. No driving. So the community is a throw-back to a time before automobiles, where a journey across the community takes a while, and it takes hours to go out on the playa to view the artwork. This means that most folks spend significant time locally, get to know their neighbors and neighboring camps, and tend to frequent the clubs and events and places to get a drink that are nearby. Our own camp ran The Leopard Lounge, a bamboo-sided bar and rest stop where anyone could stop by and get a shot of tequila and a foot massage, and I spent an hour or two there each day, offering what I could, and laughing and sipping with complete strangers.

Alkali dust is everywhere, and very hard on feet, hands, noses and eyes. We arrived on Tuesday last week, and had major afternoon dust storms on Wednesday and Thursday. Fortunately, we came prepared, taping our windows and vents shut, sealing up the Westy. We also came with Bag Balm (mostly lanolin, great for dry feet), eye drops, and vinegar to make soothing washes that neutralized the dust. I did repair work with the Balm on several folks whose feet were taking a beating from the playa, and enjoyed sharing something that was new to most. But the dust also forced us to huddle in our camp, rest, talk, and value times when we could go out and explore.

The combination of technology, free exchange, slow travel, and barren environment creates an ecologically sensitive, fertile, connected and creative space. Absolutely remarkable. Modern urban planning is attempting to do this by intermingling living space with businesses, like my own downtown Fairfax. However it just does not happen as long as everyone has a car, and needs to drive somewhere to work or dine or visit friends. I wonder what our lives would feel like if we could give up cars and money. It’s not going to happen without some horrible holocaust, but it was wonderful to drop into such a different world for a week. We will be back next year. With Mz. Parker. And I will be volunteering somehow, somewhere. I love that all our technology enables us to strip so much away and do this together. With ice and coffee.

 Posted by at 5:33 pm
Mar 152015


I backed a Kickstarter campaign over a year ago that just came to fruition with the release of The Wrecking Crew, a rockumentary movie about the group of LA session musicians in the ’60’s and ’70’s that played on more albums and songs than I can keep track of. I was able to watch the movie (finally!) yesterday, and it was worth the wait. It took Danny Tedesco something like 18 years to get the film together, partially to honor his father, Tommy Tedesco, who was a core member of the group. It’s a fine film, and a great tribute to everyone involved. Click on the pic to see the trailer. And you can watch it now on iTunes!

But there is something missing from the movie, something that crept out in the updates during the Kickstarter campaign. Danny interviewed many living members of the crew, not just the half-dozen who are the focus of the movie. Please allow me to share some of the most delightful clips on the Kickstarter website.

Leon Russell and Cher, the day he jumped onto his piano and told Phil Spector to fuck off


Don Peak, and the spontaneous creation of the opening to Marvin Gay’s Let’s Get It On. “…says, why don’t you make something up at the beginning?” Shivers down my spine.


Richard Carpenter, and the untold story of Close To You


Bill Medley, how You Lost That Loving Feeling became a baritone song


Jerry Fuller, how Travlelin’ Man very nearly ended up in the trash can, before Ricky Nelson turned it into a 6-million record hit


The making of Phil Spector’s Christmas Album


Don Randi, eating on the road with Frank Sinatra


So much fun stuff on the Intertubes. I don’t miss cable TV at all 🙂

 Posted by at 1:27 pm
Oct 162014

Ishikawa homer

Fireworks are detonating in San Francisco tonight, as the SF Giants win the National League Championship, and go to the World Series. WOOOO-HOOOOO! Let me make my feelings clear! It’s especially sweet that Travis Ishikawa’s homer ended the game. He has been a workhorse all year, and there is something perfect about him finding such a memorable and delightful place in the history books of the game.

But like all things, there is learning here. How ecstatic I feel, how delighted, going to sleep with a smile and anticipation of baseball next week with the Giants in the Series, the Ultimate Baseball Experience. First let me paint the depth of my attachment.

When I was 11 years old, in Tucson, Arizona, my soon-to-be-stepfather Leon saw my interest in crystal radios and offered to help me set up a 1932 Philco shortwave radio in my bedroom, stringing an antenna on the roof and connecting it to a good ground. One Sunday we accomplished the setup, and oh my god, I could play with this thing for hours listening to radio stations from Canada, Argentina, Russia, and the BBC in London. Meanwhile, I lived a thousand miles from the nearest professional baseball team, and the playground was pretty evenly divided between Dodgers and Giants fans. Sandy Koufax, Willy McCovey, Drysdale, Mays…the arguments were lively and fun.

And then I discovered that regular AM radio stations would “skip” off the ionosphere after sunset, and I could receive KNBR broadcasts of Giants games. The games would start at 7:05 (Arizona didn’t do daylight savings, so the time was the same in SF), but that was before summer sunsets. Around 7:30 in September, I and some friends would be in my bedroom, where I would turn on the bare radio chassis, watch the tubes warm up, and listen to the hiss at 680 kilohertz. Tuning around back and forth, we could tell there was a carrier signal, but could not hear anything else. And then about ten minutes after sunset, the magic would happen. “zzzzhhhshshhshshhhhh….and Mota is on first with one away. The pitcher winds up…and it’s a ball, high and outside…” The announcer would emerge from the white noise like an audio apparition, unheard one moment, crystal clear the next. We were enchanted more by the game of course, but in retrospect, I loved the way the Heaviside Layer (now I’m dating myself!) would enable long-distance communication on the medium wave bands. The oil-filled capacitors on this (35-year old radio, now 75 years old!) leaked a bit, so after an hour the chassis would start to smoke, and we would have to open the window to clear the smell. No matter, it was Giants Baseball.

(Little side note – a couple of years ago, a neighbor up in Lassen, who bought the summer cabin from my parents in 1994, told me that this radio was still in the rafters of the tool shed, pulled it out, and gave it to me. So I have it again, all 40 pounds of tubes and transformers, along with acorns and a half pound of dust in the chassis!)

Fast forward 45 years, and I’m still enchanted by the radio. Jon Miller and the crew at KNBR are fabulous announcers, and I prefer listening to their broadcast over going somewhere with a TV to watch. Tonight was awesome, a bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off 3-run homer to win the pennant. I am so happy on many levels, how they won, how classy the Cardinals were as an opposing team, who hit the homer. It’s a great game, baseball, and the Giants thread runs deep in my soul.

Which brings me to attachment, looking and what this is and why I let myself attach and ride the roller coaster of victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, at something so ephemeral. It is after all, just a game.

If we are here, to do great fulfilling things, to go on hero’s journeys, to take on practices or caregiving or success or failure or build families or create companies or travel and see everything we can find…well how wonderful is that? It’s all ephemeral, we cannot take any of it with us when we die. The wonderful game tonight, the winner and loser, will fade into memory just as everything else does.

But that does not invalidate the joy, which arises from desire. Incarnation is a gift, not a prison, and we get to experience the delight of embodiment as well as the pain of loss or change. I love the Giants, and that love and joy and sorrow when they lose and energy hanging with other fans, cheering and booing…well, it’s all wonderful as long as I don’t take it (or myself) too seriously. For me, one difference between attachment and desire is keeping a sense of humor about it.



 Posted by at 10:13 pm

unjunking the news

 Geek  Comments Off on unjunking the news
Feb 032014


Exploring some of my Buddhist connections this evening, I delighted upon the Facebook page for the king of Bhutan, His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk. And I immediately found out that one of the dzongs (‘fortress monasteries’) in Bhutan burned almost to the ground in 2012. I had no idea, even though I visited this place ten years ago. What a shock.


This photo from 2004 shows me blissfully unaware that the site will be gone in eight years. I’m as connected to the internet as anyone, an avid reader of news and tracker of things financial and spiritual and political. I read The Economist, I read other news sources from Europe. And I missed this. If you don’t already know, Bhutan was historically rather feudal, with the country broken into (I think) seven regions each ruled by a dzong until peacefully united under the Wangchuks some 110 years ago. This is one of the most important and largest buildings in the country, and it’s mostly wiped out. A World Trade Center loss for Bhutan. How did I not hear of it?

Here is an image of a prayer ceremony carried out a few days ago, on the site. Just look at the ruins. (And admire how these delightful people bring ritual to heal a wound, and create the possibility of reconstruction!)


It seems like third-world news is hard to find in our modern news streams. I certainly know this, it’s hard to find out details about massacres in Sudan, or Syria, or the latest clashes in Anwar Pradesh or the hinterlands of Pakistan. How many fields of poppies are planted in Afghanistan, how are the raw morphine sales funding the Taliban? What is really going on out there? What sources of news actually tell me things I want to know?

(And how much do I really want to know? We are culturally and historically evolved to live in villages, and until 150 years ago, mostly only knew of local events. I’m not sure it’s healthy to be aware of all the disastrous things happening every day all over the world. I really want to be selective, and receive a balance of positive and negative information.)

The Economist is a pretty good place to start. The writing is thoughtful, and topics are discussed with some depth and understanding and insight. It’s based in the UK, so the journalism is anything but sensational, and they tackle tough questions. Apparently CNN International is a good source too, on the strength of this single article about the fire. I’m going to start reading it more.

It’s ironic and telling that Facebook is actually quite a good news source, if you are selective in the pages you follow. King Wangchuk’s page is a wonderful find for me, as I love the country of Bhutan and want to keep current with events there. I get some information by following HH The Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and Kalu Rinpoché on Facebook – but the news is generally much more specific about their activities, not so much about world events. Blogs by some of my acquaintances are very good; I read insightful commentary by Jane Brunette, Steve Stern and others. Then there is fun stuff like local blogger Alex Castle, Laura Silverman (who I mentioned a few weeks ago), Jessie Wood (Lama Palden’s daughter)…

I digress. Perhaps I’m saying that I like to find curated news sources, and they often slide into more personal commentary – which I enjoy – but does not inform in the way I seek. The Huffington Post had promise, but is now so bloated with opinionated and sensationalistic junk that it’s hard to find the gems.

Have you got recommendations? Please add a comment or shoot me a note if you have a source for national and/or international news with thoughtful, balanced commentary!

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Jan 042014


I’ve got a not-so-secret secret…I have two motorcycles, not one. The black BMW R1100RSL has been my steady date for years, an utterly reliable bike that I’m commuting on several times a week now. She’s pretty modern, lots of power and rubber on the road, great suspension, and ABS brakes for those fun days when it rains. But she’s not my love, she’s just a date (carrying the metaphor too far, to be sure!)

The babe in my motorcycle heart is a 1979 BMW R100S, which I bought as a basket case in 1996 and completely tore down and rebuilt. The epic story is more-or-less encapsulated here, and there are photos of her here on this website. Originally equipped with a pair of loud Staintune racing mufflers, she earned the moniker “Mondo Decibels”. For a BMW, she has presence – not obnoxious Harley presence – something louder than the soft purr of a stock beemer. More recently, the mufflers were swapped to something a bit quieter, yet quite a bit louder than stock.

But the uncomfortable truth is, she has been silent for over two years.

I took the carburetors off this bike in 2011, sent them out for rebuilding, got them back…then Nancy became ill, and I have not installed them. My moto-babe has been sitting in the garage for 2-1/2 years, awaiting resurrection. It’s just another part of my life that I have not yet picked up and reclaimed. Now it’s time.

This morning dawned cool but sunny in Fairfax, and I have a completely uncommitted weekend. After liberal dosings of Kona coffee, I swept the driveway, pulled out the babe and tools and compressor and cleaning stuff and rebuilt carbs…and spent three hours putting them back on the bike. If you are a wrench, you know that carb refits are a PITA. Cables have to be adjusted just so, fittings snugged up, plus there is usually spooge (“motorcycle grime”) in the area to clean off: wire brushes, toothbrushes, ChemTool, Simple Green, or whatever it takes. I’ve been doing all those things. And my hands now look like the the “dud guy” from Mystery Date, if you are old enough to remember what that means.

But the babe is looking good. Cobwebs removed, tires back to proper pressure, gas tank drained and refilled with the fresh, high-octane real thing. Fresh oil. Battery on the charger all day. In a few hours, I’ll try to start her. There will probably be more issues, electrical connections to clean, etc. But tomorrow I expect to have her out on the back roads of Marin. It’s time.

 Posted by at 1:23 pm

total use

 Geek, Reflection  Comments Off on total use
Jul 272013


I’ve been seriously busy for the last month. I started a new job four weeks ago, and it’s requiring every bit of my skill, knowledge and experience. It’s exciting. The last time I did this, I built a house. That project demanded all of my drive and project management, decisiveness and heart. Now, I’m doing something professionally that requires all my knowledge, sensitivity, fearlessness, and humor.

Four weeks ago, I became the lead software architect for a company that is in the middle of a turnaround. There are a lot of assets, products with solid customer bases and capability. However, growth has been flat for several years, while competitors are flourishing in an expanding market. Most of upper management has been changed in the last seven months. We are now doing something remarkable and fun to bring all this capability to a new type of customer, using state-of-the-art web technologies.

The personal challenges are daunting. I haven’t coded in Java in years, there are entrenched ways of looking at things in this company that need to change, and I’m a little out of date on what can be done with the latest open source software products and frameworks. Plus I’m a new guy, I’ve only had a few weeks to meet dozens of new people, assess their capabilities, assess the massive store of technologies and products we are working with.

But I’ve done this before. I have a pretty good understanding of the customers and what they do with our products, what kind of capabilities they need. I’m good at seeing and communicating the overall picture, and this company is full of talented, intelligent and resourceful people who want to do the right thing, want to make it happen. There is a very cool idea here, and it’s happening.

I’m experiencing a feeling that is distantly familiar. It’s like the last few months of house building, when it’s all coming together. It’s like after a run or a bike ride or yoga, where my body feels fully alive, and my mind is clear. This is what we do, as engineers. Software starts to do something new, we see data moving in new and different ways, user interfaces look better and better. Everything is juicy, there is an undercurrent of excitement. As the pieces of the architecture become clearer, and as issues get resolved, my co-workers and I are getting glimpses of what we are creating, how it may fulfill needs in ways we cannot imagine.

Today, we demonstrated our first functioning software. We’re smiling at each other, going home on a Friday afternoon feeling excited at our progress. Indeed we should. I’ve only been here five weeks, and my team of seven engineers are beginning to pull in the same direction to deliver something that our customers will love. Hard to beat the feeling of accomplishment.

I’m well-used indeed. Such a great feeling, to bring it all.

 Posted by at 1:54 am
Mar 132013


I’m embarking on a new adventure, acquiring a vehicle that I’ve fantasized about for decades. A VW Westfalia camper. This has deep psychological implications, and I am indeed smiling away as I write about this. I have always loved the idea of having one, being able to take off on short notice to camp somewhere, anywhere really, without reservations or arrangements or permits. Something appeals deeply about being self-contained in a tidy mobile package.

In typical fashion, this has been a research project, which started a month ago. It all began when Jen and I got tickets to Burning Man this year, tickets which I may not be able to use because of a schedule conflict. However, we immediately started talking about how we could go there, how we would camp, and I mentioned my long-term love of Westfalias. It turns out to be a shared love, and we were off. I, being the geek that I am, immediately turned to the internet, and quickly flushed the two major sites for afficionados of the breed. There is a subculture of “westy” fans (born in the ’60’s), and just a few shops and websites that specialize in them. In case you don’t know, Westy’s have built in storage, sink, stove and refrigerator, with propane and water tanks, external power connectors, and a rear seat that folds down into a respectable bed. The top has a skylight, and pops up to create an upper sleeping area for two more people.

(If you want to share the geekyness, check out theSamba.com, GoWesty.com, and the BusLab in Berkeley, CA)

There are good years and not-so-good years for the Vanagon, upgrades available for engines, headlights, instruments, wheels, storage, electrical power, solar power, air conditioning…the list is endless, born of the passion that these people have embodied ever since the first 36-horsepower anemic air-cooled VW bus brought flower children across the country. We settled on a 1985-1991 Vanagon Westy, because it has good ground clearance, some personality (the newer Eurovans look like delivery vehicles) and functioning heating, refrigerator, and air conditioning. We both want one with a manual transmission, AC, a recent engine rebuild, and preferably white in color.

I found nice vans in Albuquerque, NM, Ketchem, ID, British Colombia, Dallas, TX, Half Moon Bay, CA, northern Washington, Georgia, right next door in Novato, and finally, the girl you see in the photo, who lives in Vancouver, WA. “Mz. Parker” has had a heart transplant, what is called a “Tiico conversion”, which installs a VW Jetta 4-cylinder motor instead of the somewhat flakey water-cooled boxer motor. Tiico is now defunct, but their work lives on, boosting power, reliability, durability and the mileage significantly. Her motor has 24K miles, her transmission was rebuilt 12K miles ago, there are upgrades to instruments, lighting, air conditioning and wheels. Plus she was repainted about 8 years ago, and is white with tinted windows. Plus a Yakima rack on top.

The CarFax report on her is interesting. She was titled in Indiana in 1988, then apparently ran into a train in Florida (!) a few months later. Obviously there wasn’t significant damage, as she has a clean title, but you’ve got to wonder what the story is behind that event. She came to Washington in 2003 with 150K miles on the odometer, changed owners in 2008, and is now about to land in our laps with 192K on the clock.

So we are off on an adventure, flying to Portland Saturday morning with sleeping bags, some tools, and a change of clothes. The plan is to visit my stepmom in Vancouver, and make it home by Sunday evening. I am excited and happy, both about the van and the adventure itself.

On a deeper level, this means a major change is happening in my vehicle collection. I will be selling Roy, my trusty Ford F150 work truck, for which I have been very grateful as he helped us build our house, then helped me move Nancy’s stuff out into the world. I also expect to sell Britt, my British Racing Green Mini Cooper. This will leave me with a BMW car, two BMW motorcycles, and Mz. Parker, all nice German technology, right where my heart is. I am, after all, an Engineer.


 Posted by at 4:06 pm

carrier switch

 Geek  Comments Off on carrier switch
Sep 142012


With all the hubbub about the new iPhone, I hate to feel like one of the herd and admit I’m getting one. But I am, it’s already ordered, and this will be my third iPhone. It’s a technology that has changed my life, and I am a big fan of Apple products, both the engineering and design.

Apple has had a huge impact on the technology industry, and on our lives in general. It’s an admirable company any way you look at it, and I have to laugh at all the pundits that complain about the similarity to prior generations, the new dock connector, the lack of (unproven) near-field communications, all the silly ways that people try to criticize the most remarkably successful product line in our lives. There is a very profound article that came out yesterday, written by the venerable M.G. Siegler, that I highly recommend. This is excellent depthful analysis and commentary. M.G., my hat is off to you, you are awesomely brilliant to reach in and find this insight.

I have two personal comments to make about the new iPhone. First, I observe that MANY of my friends (as well as myself) are coming off contract with their iPhone 3G’s and 4’s, and are intending to upgrade. There is a ton of pent-up demand, and this thing is gonna sell like hotcakes. I’m hanging onto my AAPL stock, which I fully expect to outperform the market for at least another six months.

But the deeper issue for me is about my carrier for more than a decade, AT&T. I’m deeply annoyed with them, and taking advantage of this new product to switch to Verizon. Many of my issues with AT&T are the same as others, frequent dropped calls and dead spots as I drive on major highways, no coverage at my house, very poor coverage up at our family cabin in Mill Creek, a crappy website that is slow and hard to use, long waits for tech support. They are a big company, and it shows. Like Lily Tomlin famously said nearly fifty years ago, “We don’t care, we don’t have to, we’re the phone company!”

The tipping point came earlier this year after Nancy passed away. AT&T refused to waive the early termination fee for her mobile phone contract, and let me drop her phone number from our family plan. Their excuse was that “she was not the primary number on the family plan”.

This is just bad customer relations. I am happily dropping my mobile service with them, do not use them for internet or anything else, and will refuse to do business with them for the rest of my life. And I’m spreading the word. All my friends with Verizon are happy with their coverage, and AT&T does more for Verizon and Sprint marketing than they do for themselves.

In two weeks, when I get my new phone, when I find the service is acceptable, when I find I can use it at home (where a new Verizon cell tower is being built soon) I’ll happily be ending my AT&T account. And switching cell phone numbers from my old one to Nancy’s old number. It’s a little way to memorialize her, and memorialize the reason why I’m dumping AT&T after twenty five years of service (starting with Cellular One in 1986).

 Posted by at 9:07 am
May 152012


Last week, I mentioned returning to my younger years. The honest truth is, I haven’t been ‘single’ since my mid-twenties, and in some weird way, I seem to need to reconnect to who I was then, in order to move forward. Let’s see, I had British and Italian sports cars, a Honda CB350 motorcycle…and discovered BMW’s. OMFG, fun vehicles that are well-engineered, where I don’t have to re-sync the carbs or fix some damn electrical connector on the way to work every week. I became a hard-core bimmerphile…

Some years ago, while we were building our home, I sold off my beloved BMW M cars to help pay bills. The years without a BMW (except my favorite, the old airhead) were tough, but I was driving the F150, cleaning our construction site and recycling stuff and hauling fixtures and lighting and equipment to keep costs down. In the mean time, we bought this nice white ’97 BMW 528i (which Nancy mostly drove) to help transport our parents. Last year, we added a Mini Cooper so I could economically commute. All so practical.

(And yes, the Mini is a hoot, a throwback to my days with Austin Healy Sprites. An awesome fun, 36mpg car.)

Then last summer, the head cracked on the 528i when Nancy was driving it. Engine trashed, not worth repairing. The white bimmer has sat neglected in front of our home ever since. I’ve honestly felt bad every day, seeing her there, forlorn, of course a reflection of how forlorn I’ve felt. Until last month, when I looked at her in her layer of dust, and decided she was my girl (vehicularly speaking, of course!)

So I’ve started turning her into a Q-car. Pardon me, I’m going to geek out here. The E39 BMW body is a simple, classy and compact vehicle with great handling, one of my favorite designs. The six-cylinder M52 motor is light, the weight balance is great, so this car is toss-able on twisty roads. Roomy for four, big trunk space, quiet and elegant.

Looking on craigslist.org, I immediately found a rare S52 motor from a wrecked BMW M3 for a good price. Recognizing this as a divine gift, I picked it up in my construction truck (“Roy”, the fabulous Ford F150), and brought it to my local shop for transplant. What’s an S52? Basically a drop-in replacement for the stock motor, but rated at 250+ hp. Same weight, so the car handles well, but lots more power.

Ok, this is good, she’s on the road and accelerates like Batman on steroids. But handling is not great. Shocks are worn, and it’s time to replace the tires anyway, so…I found a set of wheels on craigslist from a recent BMW 550i — 8.5” wide in the front and 9.5” in the rear. They are huge, with 275/35-18” low-profile tires, compared to the original 15” wheels. Three days ago, they were installed, and are absolutely the most rubber on the road that can be squeezed into this car without looking obsequious. But in the words of the immortal John D. MacDonald, she’d “roll you sick on a wet lawn”. Mama needs new shocks.


Ja, arrived last week, installed today. Bilstien HD’s, for the automotive cognoscenti. I’m suddenly driving a taut, Teutonic sedan with neck-compressing attitude at full throttle.

My younger self dreamed of ownership of glorious machines like Aston Martin’s, or even the BMW M1 circa 1979. I now have a quiet, unassuming-looking car that cost maybe five thousand bucks to bring back to life, and outperforms the dreams of my youth. Yes, the state of the art, 10 to 100x more expensive, is much better these days…it’s hard to beat a $100K Porsche. But there is a joy in taking a car that could be tossed into recycling, and doing the things needed to bring her back. It’s economical, and a fun “guy thing”. And such a great opportunity to build a dream. She’s mine.

The dream works on multiple levels. I am in a different personal vehicle now, moving through a new life. It’s no surprise that my outer vehicle, the car that I drive, has to change. So cool that it is my own choice, my own expression. The BMW brotherhood understands. The service guy I worked with today (Jeff, at Bavarian Professionals) said “How cool to have an S52 in an E39?”

Peeling another layer, I notice how my resurrection is through a more masculine gateway. I now find paths to deeper joy that are not all about my relationship with my partner. I used to take a thousand or three-thousand-mile motorcycle vacation each summer. I have two great bikes. Perhaps that is coming next. Perhaps I’m saying this to make sure it does.

 Posted by at 11:38 pm