Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dishes

While washing dishes I remembered a story from Thich Nhat Hanh which is called "Washing Dishes". I thought about it because it wasn't just the dishes I was thinking about, literally and figuratively.

Literally, I was trying to find a podcast episode to listen to while washing, as well as thinking about what to do afterward. Figuratively, I've been doing the same thing in other activities—relegating the thing being done to the smallest corner of consciousness I could fit it into so that I could use the other space to think about something else. Yes, I know it doesn't work, but it happens all the time.

Thich Nhat Hanh's story is about focusing on washing dishes in order to live in the moment—to really live by being conscious of the thing you're doing in that moment. It's good advice, but it's not an aspiration of mine. Only in cases of frustration—of having missed some detail or felt squeezed by the pressure of trying to fit too many things in at once—do I think about it, but by then it's too late, and the moment has passed. As he puts it: "I will be constantly dragged into the future, miss out on life altogether, and never able to live in the present moment."

The other day at work I had my work headset on one ear monitoring a meeting, headphones on the other ear listening to a class, and, for reasons that are unclear to me, occasionally flipping through my phone or opening a browser window. What a waste. It would have been just as useful to lay on the floor and do nothing. At least it would have been relaxing.

Maybe it should be an aspiration, at least a minor one—to try one thing a day and and have that One Thing be the only thing being done, thought about, etc. Maybe I'm not interested enough in doing it as an all day every day practice, but just slowing things done for a moment sounds beneficial.

Wrong way

Let me tell you how this started—it was a typical Wikipedia rabbit hole. I was looking at the page for Broadway (Manhattan) for a previous post (Traces). Then I followed a link to List of ticker-tape parades in New York City. While I was scrolling through that list, I came across this entry:

August 5 – Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan following flight from New York City to Ireland (he was scheduled to fly to California).

What? I can't believe I've never heard about this story in aviation.

I don't have any more information than what's available in that page on Wikipedia, so you can go there and get a fuller set of details. The short story is: he built his own plane (he was also a mechanic on Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis), he applied repeatedly for a flight clearance to fly from New York to Ireland but was repeatedly rejected, he "mistakenly" flew from New York to Ireland on a flight plan that was supposed to take him to California.

There's a man after my own heart.

Given my line of work, that's a funny thing to say. In systems engineering, a great deal of my job involves making sure the thing that was built matches what the customer wanted, what the requirements spec says, what the test plan says, etc. You really have to work hard to drive out expected and unexpected problems. In that context—making things that the public will fly in, making things that will fly above the public—there's really no tolerance for surprises. As it should be. We have our forums for developing wild new ideas in aerospace, but there's a palpable tension between production (making things the same way every time) and prototyping (making something new once). It's a different approach, and it really takes a different kind of person for each.

But: here's to the troublemakers—some of them, at least. It's a hair's breadth between feats of bravery and feats of stupidity. It's a hair's breadth (in the mind of the beholder) between knowing you can do something and thinking that you know how to do something. Like jazz (or at least like my marginal understanding of jazz), you need to have the talent, know the forms, and put in the work for deviation to become progress. Sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

His plane was due to be shown at an event in Chino in July 2020, but that got canceled. Just looking at the photo of that plane makes my throat tighten up a little. Over the Atlantic in that lagwagon? Oof.


One more thing—Frank Zappa wanted to have his say about deviation from the norm:

Traces

Trailhead: Richard Campanella. Electric Avenue: New Orleans' own Champs-Elysees was once extraordinary -- and could be again. New Orleans Times-Picayune (2018-06-10). (Courtesy of Rob Walker's The Art of Noticing newsletter, #61: Hunting for Feelings)

Go ahead and read that article and come back. I'll wait right here.

...

OK. A secret pastime of mine is paying attention to places where old bridges, roads, and railroad tracks show their haunted remains in the current scenery. It's almost an obsession to look at satellite images and see where railroad tracks used to be—that diagonal line of trees cutting across otherwise square cornfields, swooping into a small town, the 45-degree diagonal bending at the last moment as it intersects the town and matches up to the street grid.

In real life, there was the gully across the street from where I grew up in St. David where the railroad used to branch off the main line and go to the coal mines.

And there's the place in Lewistown where the railroad branched off the main line and crossed Main Street near the high school, and connected to some other line that must have gone into downtown and on toward Cuba—anyway, wherever the ends went, the middle used to cut across the edge of our yard. And at camp there were the remnants of old County Line Road, between Knox and Fulton Counties, now partially underwater since the dam for Lake Roberts was installed in the 1970s. (Bonus points if you ever found the remnants of the house on the east side, near Horseshoe Bend.) And the hulking grain elevators that you can see, a dozen at a time across the glacier-scraped middle of Illinois, giving away the shape of old rail networks that no longer exist. And there are the old mining roads and trails that I explored in Panamint.

Panamint City, Surprise Canyon Road ("Road")

I could wear you out with examples of old roads and bridge pylons and on and on. But it's not just the remnants themselves, but the remnants of design decisions that sprung up around them. In that New Orleans article, it mentions how the old canal and railroad still exist, not in their original forms (they're long gone), but in the shape of the neighborhoods around them, in the long empty stretch to the river where they used to lie, in the names of places that survive.

Here's another example: Tanner Howard. Native American routes: the ancient trails hidden in Chicago’s grid system. The Guardian (2019-01-17).

And in Manhattan, Broadway, which meanders against the grain of the rest of the island's grid, was once the Wickquasgeck Trail, where it was once a sensible route across swampy land.

Some traces weren't on the land, and their remains are getting smaller and smaller, forever and ever, amen.

So many of the reasons that things were built have since buried or lost or burnt or rebuilt or unbuilt, but their influence remains. I wonder about that from two sides. (1) Do the old roads tell us something that we're missing? We can knock down any hill or fill in any swamp now—we have the tools and we have the talent, etc. It's not quite Chesterton's Fence, since the fences are long gone, just the bend in the road where the fence used to be. (2) What are we—what am I—building today that will shape the layout of the future? Are we being good ancestors? (See also: The Long Now Foundation.)

I don't know if I'm the only one with this habit of finding the traces of old things in the current. It's not like I chose the habit, it chose me. There are people like Sarah Parcak whose literal job is searching for traces of old things from space—so maybe I chose the wrong career path.

Suck it up and take the L

For several months in the US we've been treated ("treated") to the inevitable conclusion of what happens when you don't teach your children how to lose with dignity. Growing up playing sports, you get to see countless examples of the good and the bad when it comes to winning and losing--in yourself, in your teammates, in your opponents, in the superathletes who compete on TV.

We're often over-sported here in the US, I think, and the concepts of winning and losing in zero sum games bleed too much into the rest of life where outcomes are more complex than a mark in the W or L column. But up to some threshold the lessons learned are good ones. Respect the game. Respect your opponent. Respect the officials. Respect the supporters. Prepare well. Execute well. Win with humility. Lose with dignity.

Everyone who steps into the arena will lose, eventually. Over time, nobody bats 1.000, nobody shoots 100%. How a person handles a loss is a test of, and an insight into, their character.

You know the type: at the end of the game it's always the ref's fault, the other team cheated, the field was bad, the ball was wrong, the weather was unkind, something got injured, etc. Each of those things happens frequently enough, but never always, rarely in combination. And when they do, the probability is unlikely that they occurred in a game in which the players did not commit their own errors themselves. And when they do, it's up to you how you respond to it.

In sports, in life, sometimes you have to suck it up and take the loss. Acknowledge the loss, congratulate the winner, thank the supporters, and prepare for the next match. If you're not tough enough to lose with dignity, you're not tough enough to win.


And away we go:

Good writing would make work so much better

Trailhead: Juan Pablo Buriticá, The future of work is written, Increment, Issue 15 (2020-11)

As engineers, I offer you this: We’ve learned how to measure the effectiveness of the communication networks we’ve built. We know and manage latency, throughput, packet loss, and retransmission of our communication infrastructure. So, what’s the latency of status updates? How can we improve it without people being constantly on their email or on Slack? Are we losing packets as we pass around meeting notes? Is there a better way to compress transcripts without losing the quality of the message? We’ve already solved many of these problems in distributed systems of computers—perhaps we could help solve them in systems of people. But not by trying to engineer our way to a place where asynchronous messages or writing replaces other human interaction.

To decide, to move on; to move on, perchance to forget; ay, there's the rub. With apologies to Shakespeare, etc.

Even in the best of times at work: meetings are had, decisions are made, work is done, decisions are forgotten, work continues, meetings are reprised, work is redone, and round and round and round we spin. It's frustrating, and exponentially so as more people are added to a team.

Writing things down is a solution that dampens the spin— small "s" solution, not the Solution. Bad writing is still bad writing. Good writing that can't be found on the server is wasted effort. Difficult writing tools are crimes. And, besides, one of the commandments of agile that Moses brought back from the mountain was to rank working code over comprehensive documentation, which is translated as all but an invitation to ditch writing altogether.

You can—and should—work with people to improve their writing skills. Clear ideas written clearly are indispensable. But without a culture (read: staff) to handle editing and knowledge management properly, the effort of writing is wasted, and a team reverts back to the old problems of lost information, but with a new resistance to the next scheme to improve it.

I enjoy writing things down, so I often absorb some of the work roles that call for that—meeting notes, guides to software tools, re-descriptions of processes (I mean, process documentation is its own description, but it's often written as if the purpose of the thing was to pass an audit, not for the end-user to actually be able to understand and use the thing, rant rant rant). But more than just writing things down, I'm a fanatic about making the outcome digestible by whoever might have to use it later, and about organizing the information so it can be found, and about linking the information to other information (give me an installation of MediaWiki at work and I will rule the world), and about constructing the information so that you can run a script over it and mash it up with other information. It rarely (read: never) works as elegantly as I wish it would, but there is no reaching the final goal anyway, only approaching it until the environment changes or the project is over.

Anyway—too much abstraction here. The teams that can write, that know to organize the writing, that maintain the writing (as infrastructure or as a stream), that respect writing, are the ones who are going to rule in the distributed work world. A steady diet of teleconferences and emails doesn't seem to be cutting it.

I don't know for sure. I'm relatively new to it (ten months in now) and there are millions of test cases out there to examine. Maybe it makes more sense to consider the teams who are working remotely well, and whether effective writing is a positive differentiator.

It's back

After years out away, the Captain's Newsletter is back. Here's the first one: v2020-W53. It incorporates some elements from the old Week in Review posts, which I was intending to convert into the newsletter sometime anyway. Well, we're converted. You should subscribe. I don't think I'll post them all here in the open on the site—let them be a Special Treat for anyone with a finger heavy enough to push that subscribe button. See you next Sunday.

Onward: 2021

I don't do New Year's resolutions, per se, but I do start the year by writing down some things that I would like to finish or accomplish by the end of the year. I like these opportunities for regular ceremonies, to pause for a moment at the end of one revolution about the sun before setting off on the next one. I try not to take it too seriously, but I also want to keep myself oriented in some direction—or directions, honestly, as I still haven't learned how to focus like a laser on anything. So be it.

I'm not even sure if "goal" is the right word here. Some things are like goals, some things are just like projects that I'd like to complete. Some things are ongoing things—where the "goal" isn't to finish, but to keep going. Goal is a good enough word to get going.

My assumption, not knowing much of anything,—how much can you know when you've been spending 99% of the time in your own house for almost a year?—is that people are really going to lean into the new year this year. Right? After an ugly year, who doesn't want to have a beautiful year? After a year of limitations, who doesn't want to break out? It's going to be like the endurance runs I used to do, where everyone blasts off from the starting line—but it's a long, long race, and it's a race that doesn't reward fast starts, only finishes. Fast starts are, for the majority of us, the first step to an early exit.

Don't despair. I'll lay out here the things I'm planning to work on. And if you're out there and you're planning to work on something as well, let me know. One of my favorite things about endurance running was that everyone—even though we were all competitors—was on the same team. If someone passed you, you'd tell them to get after it. If you pass someone walking, you'd encourage them to get going again. It mattered. It didn't matter. Racing is silly. We all signed up for it knowing that much. But it was also serious, and we arrived at the starting line with the finish line in our minds, ready to do what it takes to get there. I don't know why. It doesn't stand up to analysis. 

I still organize the things I do in my life in terms of curricula. (Here's a version of it from 2018: Buffet problem.) I've simplified it somewhat, and although it's not yet simple enough, it's the boat I'm going to sail into 2021:

  1. Chinese curriculum: learning how to speak Chinese
  2. Home curriculum: making things (either building or cooking)
  3. Physical curriculum: running and strength training
  4. Learning curriculum: learning new skills, for work or for fun
  5. Project plan: all of the other things that I like to do that don't really fit neatly into the other categories

Here's what I'm planning to do in 2021:

  1. [Project plan] Post every day on this site.
  2. [Project plan] Publish The Captain's Newsletter every week.
  3. [Home] Perform a regional food showcase every month.
  4. [Learning] Complete PMI-ACP certification. (Q1)
  5. [Project plan] Create a working flashcard app on zhwotd.com. (Q3)
  6. [Chinese] Complete HSK Level IV certification. (Q3)
  7. [Physical] Top 5 in the Wildwood Trail Marathon. (Q4)

That's all. That's enough. Each one is fairly small, I think—nothing there that's explicitly going to change the world. But to do any of them requires some discipline. After 2020, what I want more than anything is to keep moving. Onward. Some of them are for me (the running race, the agile cert), but some of them are meant to build connections (daily posts, the newsletter, cooking at home). None of them are completely new—they're all variations or extensions of things I've been working on. The overarching goal is that it's better to be better—not for the sake of "self improvement", but it's just more interesting to get to the top of that next hill and see what everything looks like from there.


Here's a small pile of links that I found that I thought were at least somewhat relevant:

Marginal pandemic superpower

I've never read a comic book. My understanding of comic hero superpowers, absorbed through movies and other pop culture, is that there is an upside and a downside to them.

My pandemic superpower is that I can tolerate boredom--self-imposed boredom, at least--for an excruciatingly long time. Years of staring out of the windows of cars, buses, and trains, and of going on long walks and runs, has prepared me to survive in this never ending state of waiting. (I would have preferred the case where society-at-large did what needed to be done to make the wait shorter, but here we are.)

The downside that I haven't learned how to mitigate yet is that being able to hide out forever inside yourself is a net negative for others who know you, who depend on you. I'm thinking about that as 2021 rolls in.

A trip to Ghana

Yesterday we took a trip to Ghana.

Not literally—or even close, really—but we did the best we could from home.

My wife had an idea that we should play a game: pick a country, at random, and then take a trip there—sort of take a trip there. We could cook the food, find music and movies and pictures, learn about the place—do whatever we could do without, well, taking a trip there.

I picked a number (47). She compared it to a list of countries. 47 turned out to be Ghana. OK. I don't know anything about Ghana. Really—nothing.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. This kind of game could have been really cheesy or shallow. But with the right balance—believing that you could find some meaningful information about a place without believing that what you found was totally representative of the place, or even marginally representative, or maybe even right because how can you tell without any real insight?—it could be a chance to learn a little something.

Here's what we cooked:

Lime rice

Okra soup

Here's how it turned out for us:

(What "we" cooked... my job was to look up history and culture, but I only ate the food, I didn't cook it.)

And so: a bullet list of small things I collected while learning more about Ghana:

  • High point: 885m (Mt. Afadja)
  • Low point: half of Ghana under 150m
  • Lake Bosumtwi is a large lake in an old meteor crater (W)
  • 7 national parks (W)
  • Highlife music
  • Kente cloth (W) (GI)
  • Khofi Annan – UN Secretary General (1997-2006), 2001 Nobel Peace Prize
  • Languages:
    • Official: English
    • 11 government sponsored: Akuapem Twi, Asante Twi, Fante, Dagaare, Dagbanli, Dangme, Ga, Nzema, Gonja, and Kasem

(That's a quick list. I was asked to make slides... yikes. Next time I'm going to get in front of it and make a quick web page.)

Look at this list of Ghana history at BBC:  Ghana country profile. You might think that Ghana's history mostly consisted of European countries. Even at first glance that seems wrong. Given only an hour to dig around, I modified it to be something like this:

  • ~1000-2000 BCE – Kintampo Complex, migrants from western Sudan
  • 300 BCE – Ghana empire (unrelated namesake, northwest of current country)
  • 1000s – Dagomba states (Northern region)
  • 1482 - Portuguese arrive and begin trading in gold, ivory and timber with various Akan states.
  • ~1500 - Gã people arrive in Accra
  • 1500s - Slave trade: Slavery overtakes gold as the main export in the region.
  • 1600s - Dutch, English, Danish, and Swedish settlers arrive
  • 1670s – Asante Empire
  • 1874 - The Gold Coast is officially proclaimed a British crown colony.
  • 6 March 1957 - Independence: Ghana becomes first sub-Saharan African colony to declare independence (video of the ceremony)

(That's not great, or complete, but if you're going to do a historical timeline about Ghana, or anywhere, you really should pay attention to the lens that you look at it through.)

And a few videos:

Ghana vs. USA in the 2010 World Cup

Deutsche Welle: People, trading, and markets in Ghana

Lists of 40

What kinds of lists are these? Favorite? Best of? Sort of. This is a companion piece to 40, so it's more about meaningfulness and inside jokes and covering a range of experiences and places over 40 years. Order doesn't mean much outside of the first few. Nothing is fixed in place.

(Note (2020-12-22): This is still incomplete. It took a lot longer than I expected to think of all these things. And I still haven't got all the notes and commentary done yet, which is the Heart of the thing. So, in the meantime, here are the lists without explanation.)

Constraints: one song per artist; one movie per director; one book per author.

Or, on a map: Lists of 40.

< photos | songs | movies | books | eats | drinks | places | drives | albums | events >

40 photos

(This is the one I wanted to get done the most, but I discovered I hadn't posted quite a lot of my favorites to Flickr yet, and many were still sitting on a backup drive. So, in the meantime, check out this album until I bring things over here.)

< photos | songs | movies | books | eats | drinks | places | drives | albums | events >

40 songs

1. Tom Waits, Long Way HomeOrphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (2006)Listen: I could fill this entire list with Tom Waits songs. I could make a separate 40 Tom Waits songs list and still sweat about what I had to leave out. This one I like because it nicely captures some of the pressures and frictions of settling down after rambling.

2. Gill Landry, The Ballad of Lawless SoirezThe Ballad of Lawless Soirez (2007)This song, on the other hand, is just about rambling and rambling and rambling. "Sometimes I'm lost / Sometimes I'm driven / Sometimes I know not where to roam."

3. Finite Element, The Beauty of LiesThe Beauty of Lies (2003)Sunil did a nice job composing this one--I think it was the best one he wrote for Finite Element. I should rip that EP and post it here, but in the meantime, here's a version of it from when we played on WEFT sessions in 2003.

4. The Drones, Howl at the Moon? (?)Drones groupie, here--I might have attended more of their shows than anone not in the band. I remember hearing this one early on, and I know where it came from, and it captured some raw feelings in a jar, and you can feel it.

5. Fugazi, Bad Mouth13 Songs (1989)Picking one Fugazi song is hard, but I'll pick this one as an ode against complacency and self-muting. More: You can't be what you were.

6. The Dismemberment Plan, The Ice of BostonThe Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (1997)When I am king, this will become the kingdom's official New Year's song. Extra bonus points for the diversion into deconstructing Gladys Knight and the Pips. Bonus points for knowing a bunch of painful ridiculous things about myself I'd rather not admit to right now. "Ellen and Ben" would have been my song of choice in college, but it doesn't have the same resonance for me today.

7. The Flaming Lips, Waitin' for SupermanThe Soft Bulletin (1999)I listened to this song and this album pretty much nonstop for a year while I was living in Houston in 2008-2009.

8. Ha Ha Tonka, St. Nick on the Fourth with a FervorBuckle in the Bible Belt (2007)Missouri's Finest. This song rattled around my head for 20+ hours while I was running the Ozark Trail 100 in 2013. It was a sort of gage to measure my exhaustion--as the race dragged on, the lyrics would begin to shift and blur into nonsense in my head.

9. Johnny Cash, HurtAmerican IV: The Man Comes Around (2003)Some songs are done so well as a cover that they don't belong ("belong") to the person who wrote them anymore. More: A million miles away.

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Higgs Boson BluesPush the Sky Away (2013)More thoughts about this one: Can you feel my heart beat?. Narrowly beat out "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!".

11. Morphine, Free LoveYes (1995)Free love? Don't bank on it, baby.

12. Andrew Bird, TenuousnessNoble Beast (2009)

13. Operation Ivy, Gonna Find YouEnergy (1989)

14. Seven Foot Politic, Do Ya SwingSka: The Third Wave, Vol. 3 (1997)

15. The White Stripes, Hotel YorbaWhite Blood Cells (2001)As sung by Erin D at the World Café in Normal, Illinois in the early 2000s.

16. Pixies, Where Is My Mind?Surfer Rosa (1988)

17. Townes  van Zandt, Pancho and LeftyThe Late Great Townes Van Zandt (1972)Heartworn Highways

18. R.E.M., So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)Reckoning (1984)Also: Feeling Gravity's Pull

19. Actionslacks, Annie OakleyNever Never Shake Baby (2002)

20. Del the Funky Homosapien, Check it OooutNo Need for Alarm (1993)I did not realize that Del was the rapper in Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz

21. Bob Dylan, Tangled up in BlueBlood on the Tracks (1975)Also: Isis; It's All Over Now; Maggie's Farm; Mobile, ...

22. Ugly Casanova, Smoke Like RibbonsSharpen Your Teeth (2002)

23. Less Than Jake, This Is Going NowhereLosers, Kings, and Things We Don't Understand (1995)

24. Ween, Waving My Dick in the WindThe Mollusk (1997)

25. Golden Earring, Radar LoveMoontan (1973)This is the sort of song that one should listen to while riding in a red Chevy Nova.

26. Bob Schneider, The Other SideSongs Sung and Played on Guitar at the Same Time (1998)

27. Mark Knopfler, Song for Sonny ListonShangri-La (2004)

28. Frank Turner, One Foot Before the OtherEngland Keep My Bones (2011)

29. The Poets of Caterwaul, DulcineaShort Fiction (2005)

30. The Beatles, Rocky RaccoonWhite Album (1968)As sung by Dayvo in the health office.

31. Les Savy Fav, I.C. TimerEmor: Rome Upside Down (2000)

32. Cake, JoleneMotorcade of Generosity (1994)

33. Weezer, Surf Wax AmericaWeezer (1994)

34. Tom Petty, Crawling Back to YouWildflowers (1994)

35. Radiohead, AirbagOK Computer (1997)Also: Fake Plastic Trees

36. Beck, DebraMidnite Vultures (1999)

37. Belle and Sebastian, Piazza, New York CatcherDear Catastrophe Waitress (2003)

38. 董小姐, 宋冬野摩登天空 (海外版) (2013)

39. The Hot Club of Cowtown, It Stops with MeDev'lish Mary & Ghost Train (2000)

40. Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Irish WhiskeyKids on the Street (1996)

< photos | songs | movies | books | eats | drinks | places | drives | albums | events >

40 movies

1. The Big LebowskiDirected by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (1998)I hated this movie the first time I saw it. What was the point? The plot? It's been my favorite since the second time I saw it. The Dude just wants his rug back.

2. Pulp Fiction Directed by Quentin Tarantino (1994)I could watch this one on repeat.

3. Jiro Dreams of SushiDirected by David Gelb (2011)A documentary about single-minded devotion. I'm glad there are people like that out in the world, although I wouldn't want to be one myself.

4. Blazing SaddlesDirected by Mel Brooks (1974)It must be a lot of fun to be Mel Brooks.

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindDirected by Michel Gondry (2004)I like movies that aren't that easy to digest. This one is easy enough to understand, but you still have to sort out those feelings of oscillating back-and-forth between wanting memories to disappear and wanting to keep them forever.

6. Office SpaceDirected by Mike Judge (1999)If you watch this movie while you're in school, it's a comedy; if you watch this movie when you're in the workforce, it's a tragedy.

7. Bicycle DreamsDirected by Stephen Auerbach (2009)This documentary helped get me pumped up for Western States in 2012. I don't think it's for everyone--it's for the Seekers.

8. There Will Be BloodDirected by Paul Thomas Anderson (2007)You could turn the sound down on this movie and could still hear the persistent, malignant pulse.

9. TrainspottingDirected by Danny Boyle (1996)

10. Steve Jobs: The Lost InterviewDirected by Paul Sen (2012)

11. MallratsDirected by Kevin Smith (1995)

12. Monty Python and the Holy GrailDirected by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones (1975)

13. MementoDirected by Christopher Nolan (2000)

14. The Breakfast ClubDirected by John Hughes (1985)

15. Full Metal JacketDirected by Stanley Kubrick (1987)

16. The GooniesDirected by Richard Donner (1985)

17. Apocalypse NowDirected by Francis Ford Coppola (1979)

18. Into the WildDirected by Sean Penn (2007)

19. Sunset Blvd.Directed by Billy Wilder (1950)

20. SennaDirected by Asif Kapadia (2010)

21. PrimerDirected by Shane Carruth (2004)

22. Blade RunnerDirected by Ridley Scott (1982)

23. Good Will HuntingDirected by Gus Van Sant (1997)

24. Ferris Bueller's Day OffDirected by ()

25. Groundhog DayDirected by Harold Ramis (1993)

26. The Wolf of Wall StreetDirected by Martin Scorsese (2013)

27. Airplane!Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker (1980)

28. Back to the FutureDirected by Robert Zemeckis (1985)

29. Say AnythingDirected by Cameron Crowe (1989)

30. Being John MalkovichDirected by Spike Jonze (1999)

31. SwingersDirected by Doug Liman (1996)

32. Wayne's WorldDirected by Penelope Spheeris (1992)

33. ChinatownDirected by Roman Polanski (1974)

34. Roma Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (2018)

35. Tommy BoyDirected by Peter Segal (1995)

36. Requiem for a DreamDirected by Darren Aronofsky (2000)

37. A Christmas StoryDirected by Bob Clark (1983)

38. Beerfest Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (2006)

39. Kuch Kuch Hota HaiDirected by Karan Johar (1998)Guilty pleasure. Sorry not sorry.

40. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes BackDirected by Irvin Kershner (1980)

< photos | songs | movies | books | eats | drinks | places | drives | albums | events >

40 books

1. Cat's CradleKurt Vonnegut (1963)I still remember the feeling of reading this book for the first time, of flipping what turned out to be the last page and not believing it could be the last page, of wondering if someone ripped out the last pages because surely it didn't end like that. If you see me writing short sentences like jabs, that's the Vonnegut talking.

2. Desert SolitaireEdward Abbey (1968)Mike R sent me a copy of this book while I was out in Mojave in 2005, and it was the best-timed… anything I've ever received. I have bought so many copies of this book and have given them all away.

3. Born Standing Up: A Comic's LifeSteve Martin (2008)This sounds like ironic praise, but funnyman Steve Martin was very serious about his work. Favorite memoir.

4. National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our UniverseRoy Gallant and Margaret Sedeen (1980)This book opened a lot of doors in my head. I wore out the first copy I had when I was in grade school.

5. Voyager Tales: Personal Views of the Grand TourDavid Swift (1997)This is a beautiful idea: interviews with people involved with the Voyager program, from the program managers and technical leads all the way to do the secretaries and janitors of JPL.

6. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never SeenChristopher McDougall (2009)Picked this one up because I heard it was written by someone who was dealing with a running injury, then it went to my head and I got into endurance running.

7. Into the WildJon Krakauer (1996)This book saved my life. Good for Krakauer for admiring McCandless' ideals without unnecessarily making him a hero.

8. Spoon River AnthologyEdgar Lee Masters (1915)Live, from the cemetery in the backyard, it's Edgar Lee Masters airing the dirty laundry of the dead people in your hometown to help cure you of the thought that small towns are morally incorruptible by nature.

9. The Waste LandsStephen King (1991)

10. Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar ModuleTom Kelly (2001)

11. The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck (1939)

12. Life on the MississippiMark Twain (1883)

13. Death Valley and the Amargosa: A Land of IllusionRichard Lingenfelter (1987)

14. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72Hunter S. Thompson (1973)

15. A Place for Me in the WorldMission Hill School (2012)

16. A Confederacy of DuncesJohn Kennedy Toole (1980)

17. How We Are HungryDave Eggers (2005)

18. Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace (1996)

19. DuneFrank Herbert (1965)

20. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early DaysJessica Livingston (2001)

21. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century IndiaWilliam Dalrymple (2002)

22. The Desert YearJoseph Wood Krutch (1952)

23. Catch-22Joseph Heller (1961)

24. Orbital MechanicsJohn Prussing and Bruce Conway (1993)

25. The Brothers KaramazovFyodor Dostoyevsky (1879)

26. The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu XunLu Xun (2009)

27. The Burning Plain and Other StoriesJuan Rulfo (1950)

28. A Canticle for LeibowitzWalter Miller (1959)

29. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailBill Bryson (1998)

30. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious CharacterRichard Feynman (1985)

31. The Third PolicemanFlann O'Brien (1967)

32. The Ground Beneath Her FeetSalman Rushdie (1999)

33. Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to FactoryPeter Hessler (2009)

34. Cooked: A Natural History of TransformationMichael Pollan (2013)

35. Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in SpaceflightDavid Mindell (2008)

36. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have FailedJames Scott (1998)

37. One Hundred Years of SolitudeGabriel García Márquez (1967)

38. Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String QuarterbackGeorge Plimpton (1966)

39. Sometimes a Great NotionKen Kesey (1964)

40. Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of LanguageDouglas Hofstadter (1997)

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40 eats

1. Saturday pizza nightSt. David, ILEveryone should have a regular ceremony. This was ours growing up.

2. Halfway House CafeSanta Clarita, CAI love diners. The worse, the better. I went here so many times during the two years I was traveling to Sylmar for work--breakfast and coffee or beer on a Sunday morning. This one is out in the dust on the Sierra Highway, halfway between Los Angeles and Mojave. Discerning movie aficionados might recognize it as the the location of the dance scene in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

3. Courier CaféUrbana, ILWhenever I go back to U of I, I try to stop in here and get something to eat. Off-campus, low-key.

4. Paul Bunyan pancakes in the morningIngersoll Scout Reservation, ILI've ate hundreds but made thousands of them.

5. 金海餐廳 (Fortune No. 1)Monterey Park, CAThis was where we went on so many Saturday mornings when we lived in Burbank. Tianjin people. Super straightforward. Cash only. You don't really need the menu, you're going to get the 煎饼馃子 and 油条 and 豆腐脑.

6. Sushi KomasaLos Angeles, CAWorth the wait in line to sit there at the counter and watch the dishes being made.

7. La Roma PizzaAbingdon, ILHow did pizza this good land in Abingdon? This was a Special Treat while working at camp, except for times when it was closed when they went back to the old country.

8. Porto's Bakery & CaféBurbank, CAHuge line, always. Ridiculously inexpensive. So many pastries behind the glass waiting for you to select them.

9. Mother's RestaurantNew Orleans, LA

10. A cart selling golgappasAmbala, Haryana, India

11. Kusum Roll'sKolkata, West Bengal, India

12. Food Truck FridayTower Grove Park, St. Louis, MO

13. (donkey burger)Baoding, Hebei, China

14. Perkins Restaurant & BakeryPeoria, IL

15. Owl CafePlatteville, WI

16. Way Station Coffee ShopSanta Clarita, CA

17. Steve's Pizza PalacePlatteville, WI

18. Taqueria RossySan José del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico

19. Avanti's Italian RestaurantPeoria, IL

20. Lady M Cake BoutiqueBeverly Hills, CA

21. 煎饼馃子 (jiānbingguǒzi), from a stall in 南鑼鼓巷 (nánluógǔxiàng)Beijing, China

22. CobblestonesLowell, MA

23. Mercat de la BoqueriaBarcelona, Spain

24. Cate Zone Chinese CaféUniversity City, MO

25. Four Sisters Owl DinerLowell, MA

26. (Chilaquiles)Houston, TX

27. Las Guacamayas Sucursal ChamizalSan José del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico

28. iNDOSt. Louis, MO

29. Billy Goat TavernChicago, IL

30. Place Broglie Strasbourg, France

31. Mercato di TestaccioRome, Italy

32. Osteria del CastelloVerbania, Italy

33. Tomato Joe's PizzaSanta Clarita, CA

34. The HibachiKailua, HI

35. ToloacheNew York, NY

36. Charlie Vergo's RendezvousMemphis, TN

37. Mercado Buenos AiresGranada Hills, CA

38. Tony Packo'sToledo, OH

39. Malibu SeafoodMalibu, CA

40. Pita InnSkokie, IL

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40 drinks

1. Murphy's PubChampaign, ILWhenever I pass near U of I, this place sucks me back in like a gravity well. Frankly, it did that while we were at school as well.

2. Charlesville Vineyard & WinerySte. Genevieve, MOWe have it Too Good to have places that make beer like this around us in Missouri, and to know the owners, and to know the people who go there.

3. Brew'd Awakening CoffehausLowell, MAJust a short walk over the canal from where I was living to go and drink and sit and scheme. Bascially every weekend morning, and many weekend mornings during Unemployed Fun Time.

4. Chaumette Vineyards & WinerySte. Genevieve, MOI'm not even bumping this up the list because I met my wife there.

5. IBC Root BeerIngersoll Scout Reservation, ILA tradition out at Horseshoe Bend since the Dawn of Time.

6. Rose & Crown British RestaurantSanta Clarita, CAWhen I was going out to Sylmar for work every two weeks for two years, I stayed at the same hotel in Santa Clarita, and at least once a week would haul myself across The 5 to sit here with British beers and talk with the owner and family and read requirement specs at the bar.

7. Hannam's Dairy DreamCanton, ILThis place is a fixture in memory--somewhere along the lines of a definition of what it means to be summer.

8. Planet Porter, Boulder Beer CompanyBoulder, COThis is the best beer in the universe… except that they stopped making it in 2013, argh. Tastes like dirt, in a good way.

9. Anheuser-Busch BrewerySt. Louis, MO

10. Molly's Pub and Restaurant ShebeenNew York, NY

11. Green Tea GardenCalifornia City, CA

12. The Worthen HouseLowell, MA

13. Buckhart TavernBuckhart, IL

14. Espresso Royale Urbana, IL

15. Richard's on MainPeoria, IL

16. ?Cadaques, Spain

17. Spotted Cow, New Glarus Brewing CompanyNew Glarus, WISpotted Cow

18. Dan's CafeWashington, DC

19. Elysian BarSeattle, WA

20. White Horse InnChampaign, IL

21. Gritty McDuff's Brew PubFreeport, ME

22. (tea shop, Church St.)Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

23. The Coffee GalleryAltadena, CA

24. Harry's TinajaAlpine, TX

25. Spoetzl BreweryShiner, TX

26. Southern Sun Pub & BreweryBoulder, CO

27. ?Cadaques, Spain

28. Earthbound BrewingSt. Louis, MO

29. Tulsa Bike BarTulsa, OK

30. Cherry Street Restaurant & BarGalesburg, IL

31. Azienda Agricola Savignola PaolinaGreve in Chianti, Florence, Italy

32. Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and BierhallSt. Louis, MO

33. Portsmouth BreweryPortsmouth, NH

34. The Poop DeckHermosa Beach, CA

35. La Cosecha Coffee RoastersMaplewood, MO

36. Lake Agnes Tea HouseLake Louise, Alberta, Canada

37. Outpost TavernWebster, TX

38. Starbucks Reserve RoasterySeattle, WA

39. Crazy Harry's BarWinnetka, CA

40. The People's RepublikCambridge, MA

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40 places

1. Corkscrew PeakDeath Valley National Park, CACorkscrew Peak is my spirit animal. I've been up there four times, a different way each time. It's not that hard to get to from the highway. Much of it is a slog across broken rock wash, but if you love to look at the big dry ugly, this is for you.

2. Guadalupe PeakGuadalupe Mountains National Park, TXEasily among the best advice I've ever received is from a park ranger in January 2005 who suggested that I hike to the top in the dark and watch the sun rise.

3. Panamint CityDeath Valley National Park, CATo get here, you've really got to want to get here. The drive up the open part of Surprise Canyon Road is hard. The walk up what used to be the rest of Surprise Canyon Road, before it got washed out and the old mining town abandoned is hard. But it's such a cool place. Among my life's accomplishments: fixing the burro damage to the plumbing at the Panamint Hilton.

4. Beaver BendIngersoll Scout Reservation, ILA 90-degree bend in the Cedar Creek. Accessible by foot or, if you're lucky and there was enough but not too much rain in the spring, with a kayak and a dozen campers.

5. Asirgarh FortBurhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, IndiaThis is my favorite place that I visited in India. Well off the path in Madhya Pradesh--a huge fort up in the hills. A little spooky.

6. Smithsonian National Air and Space MuseumWashington, DCSo many beautiful flying machines--it never gets old.

7. Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute (826 Boston)Roxbury, MATutoring at 826 Boston kept me sane for three years. Long live the 826 centers.

8. Elephant TuskBig Bend National Park, TXThis was fairly hard to get to the bottom of, then really hard to get to the top of, and then even harder to get off of and back to camp before the sun ran out. To the top of the tusk.

9. Hurricane shelterCollege Station, TXWhen Hurricane Ike ran into Houston in 2008, I was going to just stay put in the apartment like an idiot. But I got lucky that I knew a college classmate in College Station and I ran away up there for a week or week-and-a-half. A million thanks for that. Almost makes you wish for more hurricanes.

10. Ajanta CavesAjanta, Maharashtra, India

11. Little Bighorn National Battlefield MonumentCrow Agency, MT

12. Rock GardenChandigarh, India

13. HampiHampi, Karnataka, India

14. Boott MillsLowell, MA

15. Sylmar Recreation CenterSylmar, CA

16. Half DomeYosemite National Park, CA

17. Gingee FortGingee, Tamil Nadu, India

18. Mission Evaluation Room (MER)Building 45, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

19. Petrified ForestTheodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

20. Kolob ArchZion National Park, UT

21. Kumbhalgarh FortKumbhalgarh, Rajasthan, India

22. Dickson Mounds State MuseumLewistown, IL

23. Foyer de l'Étudiant Catholique F.E.C.Strasbourg, France

24. Lost Palms OasisJoshua Tree National Park, CA

25. Odeen #1Santa Clarita Woodlands Park, CA

26. Captain Jack's Stronghold Lava Beds National Monument, CA

27. Architectural ArtifactsChicago, IL

28. HulunbuirHulunbuir, Inner Mongolia, China

29. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical GardensSan Marino, CA

30. Yelapa BeachYelapa, Jalisco, Mexico

31. Stax Museum of American Soul MusicMemphis, TN

32. Vellore Institute of TechnologyVellore, Tamil Nadu, India

33. St. Peter's BasilicaVatican City

34. Bernadotte BridgeBernadotte, IL

35. Bodie State Historic ParkBodie, CA

36. Ziyuan buildingShanghai, China

37. 親不孝通り (Oyafukodori, the Street of Wayward Children)Fukuoka, Japan

38. Le BréventChamonix-Mont-Blanc, France

39. Motilal Nehru National Institute of TechnologyAllahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India

40. Hermosa BeachHermosa Beach, CA

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40 drives

(incomplete)

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40 albums

(incomplete)

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40 events

(incomplete)

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