Apr 24

I must be running to something

We started a community-driven 5k series this evening. This required running a 5K. Just right out of the gate, first night of the series, they expect you to run.

Well I’ve got news for them. This was my fifth run of the entire calendar year (and one of those other four was with a suitcase and backpack in tow) and it looked like it. Critically, it felt like it.

The good news is that there are three or four more events in the series during which I can redeem myself and shave a good, solid, 15 seconds off the incredible slow time I offered tonight. But, hey, at least it hurt a lot!

The problem — as ever with running — is that I don’t enjoy it to the degree that I want to do it enough to get back to aging-guy-average. But that’s what it will take to challenge the guy who’s 20 years my junior and making it look easy. This problem isn’t going to solve itself, I suppose.

These sorts of problems often don’t.

It occurs to me that the easiest way to solve that problem is to simply steal that guy’s sneakers.

Here’s another look at the blooms on the lovely purple-leaf sand cherry (prunus x cistena). Enjoy them before they are going.

We really should be engineering a bush or tree that flowers throughout the growing season. Do we have those already? A lab should make them if not. I would have them installed as borders surrounding the property, so that they could be admired from every vantage point.

More signs of life. This is going to go from a pile of sticks to a hydrangea in about the same amount of time it took for me to run 5 kilometers.

Those things really are remarkable. Hard rains and heat and then more hard rains got to them last year. But they just keep growing merrily along. This year we may even prune them on time.

This is our last video from California.

I’m just kidding, there’s still at least a week of nice stuff to work through. But this is the last of the big views.

This is the Bixby Bridge, built in 1932, and the northernmost part of our trip.

Before this bridge was built, Big Sur residents were particularly isolated in the winter. The Old Coast Road a dozen miles away was often closed. This bridge, the longest concrete arch span in the state and, at the time, the highest single-span in the world, came in under budget.


How did they build this bridge in the 1930s? Aliens. But how did those 1930s aliens do it?

Construction took 15 months, beating the two-lane highway, itself an 18-year project, by a half decade. More than 300,000 board feet of Douglas fir timber was used to support the arch during construction. It took two months to construct the falsework alone.

They excavated 4,700 cubic yards of earth and rock and more than 300 tons of reinforcing steel were shipped in by train and narrow one-lane roads. They chose cement because it looked better and was more durable in the elements. That decision required 45,000 sacks of cement, zipped across the river canyon on cable and slings.

The arch ribs are five feet thick at the deck and nine feet thick where they join the towers at their base. The arches are four and one-half feet wide.

In our next videos, we’ll see some more aquatic creatures. It’ll be beautiful, great fun. Come back tomorrow to check it out.

And if anybody complains about their running sneakers disappearing, I have a perfectly sound alibi.

Apr 24

Mediated transference

There is a time in preparing every good presentation when you have the thing well in hand. You’ve practiced it and studied the timing. You’ve considered every angle worth considering, and discard a few that were, honestly, not worth the neurological effort. And so you put it aside.

That’s where I was earlier today, and then some other ideas came to mind.

And those other ideas? When they come in, they are the worst, especially if they’re the best. This is surely why some people throw slide decks together. Better to mumble and stumble through these things, reading text as you go, than be burdened by ideas late in the cycle.

But the presentation I am presenting tomorrow must be presented with some clarity and efficiency and interest. So there is practice and re-practice and new ideas. Always the new ideas. And somewhere in the third or fourth round of practice you get the best version of the presentation.

No one but the cat and my office walls heard that version.

If there was a hall of fame for rhetorical flourish and pithy points uttered to an empty room, I would be a shoo-in candidate.

But enough about my day.

We quickly turn again to We Learn Wednesdays, and this, the 31st installment and the 52nd marker in the effort. You remember this one. I ride my bike around the county seeking out historical markers. I shot this last December in a stockpiling effort to keep the feature active during the indoor season — and I think I’m now out of that stockpile.

This is … well, you can read the signs.

Near the end of the 18th century three men, Col. Robert G. Johnson and Dr. James Van Meter and Dr. Robert Hunter Van Meter, brothers, decided the area needed a Presbyterian church. Johnson was raised Episcopal in a nearby town, but found the style of the church to be too ritualistic and ornate for his tastes. In that same town were the Van Meters, men held in high regard.

In the early years, the Episcopals had no clergy, so they invited Presbyterian ministers to preach for them. That was the arrangement between 1809 until 1820, but they were predestined to go separate ways. The 17th Article of the Church of England, the one about predestination, was at the root of it. The Presbies wanted their own church building. So, on a Tuesday morning, March 6th, 1821, the morning after James Monroe was inaugurated for his second administration down in Washington, they laid the cornerstone to their first building.

Johnson donated the land and he and the brothers Van Meter covered much of the cost of the building. The congregation expanded in 1835, and then started work on this building in July of 1854, just a few days after George Eastman, the inventor of the Kodak camera, was born in New York.

After about three years of work, including moving the bell from the old church to the new, the building was opened.

(Eventually, the bell went to the fire department.)

The church has a Hook and Hasting two manual, fifteen rank pipe organ. It was built in 1878 and installed in 1879 by the Boston firm. Air for the organ was supplied by hand pumping until 1902, when a water-driven motor was installed. They upgraded the organ again, to electricity, in 1912.

As for the men, we’ve met Robert Johnson before. He was the slave owner, historian, horticulturalist, judge and soldier, the guy with the apocryphal story about tomatoes. He died four years before this building went up. Neither of the Van Meters saw it, either.

Scottish immigrant John McArthur Jr. was the architect, a prominent figure from Philadelphia. He would later design the landmark Philadelphia City Hall, then the tallest occupied building in the world. While many of his works have been demolished, at least a dozen or so still exist.

McArthur learned his craft from a man named Thomas Ustick Walter, the fourth architect of the U.S. Capitol, who redesigned the dome and created the office wings. He would have been there the day Monroe was inaugurated, when the first cornerstone of this congregation’s first church was laid. And while his student was overseeing the construction design of this church, he was also working on his own church in Philadelphia.

Architects must keep busy. Shame so many of them don’t see the fruits of their labors. McArthur could have seen this church, but he did not live to see his masterpiece, the Philadelphia City Hall completed. He died, at 66, in 1890. The city hall was finally finished in 1910.

Now the only thing I have to do to tie this up is to find a photo from Eastman of any of these buildings. Or a letter from the Van Meter family to the Kodak people.

Wouldn’t that be a neat solution?

Failing that, how about this. Robert Van Meter and Robert Johnson, two of the founders of this church are each buried not far away, but I only just discovered that. I’ve seen the church where James Van Meter is buried. I showed it to you last September.

You can learn so much on a bike ride.

We’ll see another great marker next week. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Today’s dose of relaxation is right here. Enjoy the zen of the California coastline. This place is so remarkable, and so ubiquitious, that there weren’t even signs offering a name. There are road signs on the Pacific Coast Highway that offer you a spot to pull over and soak in the beauty. The signs say Vista Views. And so that’s the name of this place. But, man, it needs a real name. This was majestic.


Elsewhere, a little slow motion of the water coming right up to your toes. If you feel the water in your socks it is likely because I felt the water in my socks and that’s called mediated transference, which, is not a thing, not in this way, not until just now, because I made it up.

Makes sense, I am a media professional steeped in the study of media effects. But look at all of that water sliding on in!


How long do you figure those rocks have sat there, waiting out time and wind and the water for their fate?

I have, I think, two more slow motion videos from this trip. But there are plenty of other Relax Enjoy Repeat videos still to come, not to worry.

We’re getting pretty good at dragging things out around here, aren’t we?

Mar 24

Midway through another one

It will take some doing, but the next week and a half will be busy and productive. There’s a lot of grading and class prep and things of that sort to get to. It started yesterday, with the grading of midterm exams. That was a full afternoon. But it does not end there, no.

This is the week where I found two mistakes in my planning of the semester. Every class has something due this week, meaning I have to grade … everything. It’s a real first world problem, yes, I know. It is also the second time I’ve had this problem this term.

The issue becomes one of pacing. The goal is to get all of this week’s assignments completed this week. The challenge is to give myself time to do all of that, but also to let each little piece breathe. Read and critique and evaluate a handful of stories, take a break to clear the mind, and then come at it a new.

If I pace it right, I’ll get through everything Friday night. Maybe Saturday.

And next time I plan out a semester calendar, this will definitely be top of mind.

Let’s go back to California! Here’s a nice meditative video from the Pacific Coast. Enjoy a minute on me.

Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.

Here’s another slow motion video from Spooner’s Cove, as well.


Maybe I’m the only one amused by the slow motion waves, but there’s only nine more of them to go.

Time for this week’s installment of We Learn Wednesdays. This is our 30th installment and the 51st marker in the effort. The effort is riding my bike around the county to find the historical markers. I shot this last December in a stockpiling effort in the hopes of being able to stretch them out until I could ride outside again in the spring — which will surely happen just any day now …

(It’s been 48-52 and damp and gray for days and that meteorological condition is no longer novel.)

Over in Salem, they mark the old Star Hall Corner.

Site of Star Hall, demolished in 1898 for the building of City National Bank. Legend has it—if you step on the star, you will always come back to Salem. Rededicated Aug. 24, 1996

Founded in 1888, City National Bank was swallowed up in a merger in 1984. It’s just one bank, but I wonder how that paralleled the fortunes of the town. Today that bank looks empty, and there’s no sign giving hints of what may have been recently happening inside. You can still see an ATM in a side foyer, though.

It’s an important intersection in the town. In earlier, lively days, this was a choice corner, Jones Corner. There was a clothing store there and around it there were stores, warehouses, tailor shops, shoe shops and more. A man named Ashton ran the clothes shop, he had a big star as part of his outdoor signage. The star became iconic, and, overtime, Jones Corner became Star Corner. You can see it here.

A floor or two above the street was the social club, Star Hall. Dances and parties abounded. See and be seen. But social connections gave way to bigger financial opportunities, of course. Apparently, the City Council and the bank developer agreed to take the star from that sign and marked the spot.

The commemoration has been there longer than the club existed, I suppose. The rededicated marker, too. Anyway, here’s the star.

Just before I saw Star Corner a panhandler wandered over to ask for five bucks. I told her I did not have the money. Didn’t even have my wallet, as I was dressed in cycling clothes that day. She went on about her way and I thought, Five bucks? Street-level inflation!

It’s a struggling area. Across the street are a pair of century-old buildings that were rehabbed a decade ago as apartments. The hope was that they would help re-energize the historic district. It’s close. You can tell. Part of being close is that it’s also close to falling back on harder times again.

I wonder if anyone has considered adding a social club.

Next week’s marker will take us to a beautiful church building. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Mar 24

The most wide-ranging Wednesday post in a while

This evening I watched a man in a custom suit and sneakers talk about his life’s work, listened as he painted a picture that he thinks everyone is out to get him, that money is everything and that having a life is secondary to having work. It would have been disconcerting if it didn’t come off as sadly insecure.

It’s one thing to be driven. To have gotten, undeniably, indisputably, to where you want to be and still come off that way, it seemed difficult, in the day-to-day. I could be wrong. The guy had on a great suit. It fit him, and the rest of the vibe.

Where as I was wearing shoes that look good, but don’t exactly treat my feet well. I like them, but there better not be a lot of walking around in them. And I’m secure enough about my feet to be able to say that.

It is not a phrase I use. It’s not one I think of often. If I were trying to sum up a person, or a presentation, or an attitude, it’s just not a descriptor I reach for. But at one point during the talk it slipped out of my mouth, under my breath, to no one in particular. At the end of the talk, as everyone stood to leave, the strangers in front of me stood and looked back and we all made eye contact, as you do. One gentleman said, “He seems very insecure.”

Also, I’ve become a huge proponent of having a life and an identity away from the office. One day I’ll even make one!

Right now I’m too busy watching things bloom, and waiting for it to get just a little bit warmer. But instead of a steady, constant, climb of mercury, we are stuck in this middle ground of 48 degrees. We are stuck in that time of relative temperatures. Six, seven weeks ago, you’d take 48 degrees, and you’d be pleased with it. But now, somehow, the body knows better. It isn’t supposed to be 48 degrees anymore. The rational mind has known this for some time, but now the body has gotten wise.

That’s when the impatience really kicks in.

But the budding and flowering things don’t seem to mind. The magnolia liliiflora is getting ready to put on a show.

It’s a small tree, basically, because the Overambitious Shrub Lobby got to the policy makers. It’s from China, though it’s often called Japanese. And, as you can tell, it will offer many, many blooms before the leaf buds open.

It is a slow growing thing, about six inches a year or so.

Makes you wonder if we cut it back too far last fall.

I guess we’ll find out in two or four years.

Here’s another video from last week’s visit to California. Here, the waves are rolling in on William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach. Just across the highway and well up the hill is the Hearst Castle. They’re rather fond of the old media magnate. Gave him a nice, quite, beach too.


The Hearst family owned it all, until they gave it to the state in the 1950s.

We were only there for a short while, of course, but it looks like there’s a lot to enjoy there.

Once again it’s time for We Learn Wednesdays. Today’s is our 29th installment, and I don’t know why I’m still counting that. Anyway, I ride my bike around the county to find the historical markers via bike. Good way to see things, and it’s amusing to take pictures of sometimes important old places in funny clothes. This is the 50th marker in that effort, and I shot this one last December in a stockpiling effort.

The stockpile should last until it gets warm, and I can put some road miles in my legs. But I digress.

I digress because I have nothing.

Here’s the building.

And here’s the marker.

It’s gone on sale again just this week. It’s seemed to have been off and on the market a lot in the last several years. It’s been a mixed use rental for the last decade or so. And the building, according to property records, was built in 1888.

The web will not tell me what makes this place deserving of being on the historic register. You’d think the historic register people would put that on a site themselves. The historic register people do not.

Next week, we’ll learn a tiny bit of a long-gone social club. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Sometimes you run across a good obituary. Obituaries are a celebration of the living, we were taught in J-school, and sometimes the obit writers remember that. It takes a great skill to write a quality obituary, though some of them do come easier than other, prepackaged with magic or memoirs or flacks as they are. A remarkable person, a life well-lived. All of it is found in this one:

As a teenager, Mr. Greenfield was Maximilian Grünfeld, a skinny Jewish prisoner whose job was to wash the clothes of Nazi guards at the concentration camp. In the laundry room one day, he accidentally ripped the collar of a guard’s shirt. The man whipped Max in response, then hurled the garment back at the boy.

After a fellow prisoner taught Max how to sew, he mended the collar, but then decided to keep the shirt, sliding it under the striped shirt of his prison uniform.

The garment transformed his life. Other prisoners thought it signified that Max enjoyed special privileges. Guards allowed him to roam around the grounds of Auschwitz, and when he worked at a hospital kitchen, they assumed that he was authorized to take extra food.

Max ripped another guard’s uniform. This time, it was deliberate. He was creating a clandestine wardrobe that would help him survive the Holocaust.

“The day I first wore that shirt,” Mr. Greenfield wrote seven decades later, “was the day I learned clothes possess power.”

At every turn the obituary gets better and better, and you don’t say that about a lot of newspaper copy. It’s one of the best obits I’ve ever read. And is, without a doubt, the most memorable piece I’ve ever read in a fashion section. Give it a try.

Mar 24

Monterey, the aquarium, more of the coastline

The wake up crew. The morning zoo. The neighborhood watch. The welcoming committee. The hungry ungulates.

Whatever you call them, they’ve been out there waiting for us, three days in a row now.

The apartment we’re in, the people who rented us the place through tomorrow, they go out and feed the deer (there are five in this bunch) every morning. And the turkeys. They’re wild animals, free to come and go and go and go, but they know to take advantage of a sure and dependable thing like breakfast.

Today we went to Monterey, which is to the north, which means a bit more time in the car, which means we stopped at a vista point every now and again.

Click to embiggen.

It sure is beautiful. And the towns are just far enough apart that you can feel a delightful isolation in between them. A rugged independence takes hold. We got out of a rental Toyota at that vista, but when we turned around the SUV had turned into a Conestoga.

You wonder about this feeling. Can you have similar concepts closer to home? The separation and the solitude that comes with that? Is it a function of being somewhere else? Not knowing the roads? Being on a little vacation? Is it the hills? Is it just the west?

It works, whatever it is.

Though, to me, I think, and I probably always will think, that it has something to do with how the hills tumble into the ocean. How every curve of coastline can feel a little bit different because of the specific geology. It’s the new rugged country because it is new, and rugged, geographically speaking. It’s still being worn down by waves and wind. And we are here for a very small part of that.

Whereas, when I see the ocean today, or the Gu’f back home, it’s never a surprise. Once upon a time those oceans came well in, and we have a great flatness, the gradual coast to the coast. Here, as we drove two hours north today, it was mountains to my right, and ocean to my left.

Or it should have been, but for rock slides. This required a detour. A substantial, scenic detour. The scenic detour was worth seeing, too.

We had lunch on Cannery Row, a place made important because of their mid-20th century sardine trade, a place made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel (and some other artisans, too, but let’s stick with Steinbeck). In a generation or two, the fishermen had exhausted the location fish populations. Now it exists as … a tourist destination.

You wish Steinbeck were still around to give that a run. But that’s only because you haven’t read “Sweet Thursday.” This is how he opened it.

When the war came to Monterey and to Cannery Row everybody fought it more or less, in one way or another. When hostilities ceased everyone had his wounds.

The canneries themselves fought the war by getting the limit taken off fish and catching them all. It was done for patriotic reasons, but that didn’t bring the fish back. As with the oysters in Alice, “They’d eaten every one.” It was the same noble impulse that stripped the forests of the West and right now is pumping water out of California’s earth faster than it can rain back in. When the desert comes, people will be sad; just as Cannery Row was sad when all the pilchards were caught and canned and eaten. The pearl-gray canneries of corrugated iron were silent and a pacing watchman was their only life. The street that once roared with trucks was quiet and empty.

For Monterey, it was self defense, turning what was into a place that looked back on what was. And down here, on Cannery Row, they’ve made it welcoming, and quite, and familiar, just like every other tourist zone you’ve experienced.

At one end is the well-regarded Monterey Aquarium.

Have you ever seen a person that looks like someone you know? Only, you have the feeling they look familiar, but you can’t put the suggestion in your mind with the person in your eyes? We all have that feeling from time-to-time.

Have you ever had that experience with an animal?

It’s a lovely aquarium. I have the feeling that the newer ones probably took in places like this and said, “These are the ones we need to improve on,” and were successful in doing so. And, for the older ones then, it’s hard to upgrade, because where do you move the sharks for three years while you’re rebuilding to keep up with Atlanta?

Monterey’s aquarium boasts 600 different species of animals and plants, and they bring in the water fresh from Monterey Bay, which is just outside. They take their ecological message seriously and they do a nice job keeping children engaged.

And, oh look, here’s a ray swimming by.

Children, the ones wowed by this, the ones who have this day stick with them forever, they have to be the intended audience of this entire production. A handful of children who have been in this aquarium in the last 40 years have been inspired and become conservationists, botanists, ecologists or marine biologists. Some kid will have the best shot of fixing the things their ancestors messed up, and it could all have started in a place like this. Whether the kid, the scientist she becomes, remembers that, that has to be the primary goal.

Now, if only they’d figure out some failproof, tamperproof, idiotproof, leakproof, fishproof way to let guests feed the fish.

Have you ever seen a white sturgeon? These are ancient fish. Time forgot them, but here they are, hoping we overlook what’s left of them, too.

They are characterized by these bony plates, can typically grow 5- or 6-feet long and it isn’t uncommon for them to live into their 30s. The oldest was estimated to be 104. The heaviest have weighed in at 1,390 pounds, with some estimated much larger. A late 20th century study brought the average sample weight down, fishermen have noticed, too.

Overfished to near extinction by the early 1900s, today their biggest challenges seem to be poaching (for caviar), pollution, low rivers and dams, which can impact their migratory patterns. (Fish ladders are usually designed for smaller fish like salmon.) They seem to be doing OK in other parts of the world, but endangered at least in this region.

And now for something much more colorful.

Even in an aquarium, anemone are fascinating.

The Monterey Aquarium went big on jellyfish. It was a decision that does not disappoint.

Somewhere around there, or the spotted comb jellyfish, I devised the next several weeks of plans for videos. It should be wonderful.

This is the spotted comb jellyfish. There are others. You’ll see videos.

This is from the Monterey Aquarium’s deck. There are seals out there, lounging on buoys, and otters at play in the bay. And, according to Smith’s newly formed rule of Ecology, any place that makes their tools of discovery freely available is in it for the right reasons.

After the aquarium we sought out more of these dramatic Pacific coast views. We were not disappointed.

Click to embiggen.

The sea cares not for your notions of time. It is doing it’s job here, and it will do so no matter the temperature it reaches, or the crap we put into it. Right here, that job is wearing these stones down rocks, and pulverizing the rocks into pebbles, and rubbing the pebbles into a coarse sand.

Thing is, the sea has many jobs. Not just the ones that make the pretty views or the dramatic waves. And do you see that rock that just juts into the left margin of the shot here?

A dude took his three young children over the minimal security line and out onto the rock, right over the ocean. I must be getting older. That seemed an unwise choice not worth the risk, or the sea spray.

Same cove, but from the opposite side.

Click to embiggen.

In between those two points there’s a small place built for observation. It’s a nice spot. Not the nicest one the local authorities could have chosen. A dude with a tripod and a serious look on his face found that spot right away and stayed there for an hour. No, it was not me.

So, instead, I took photos of the photo taker. I was going for a silhouette here, but, staring into the sun as I was, it was just a guess. Didn’t work the way I planned, but it worked perfectly.

Another view of the same cove, and perhaps this is the second-most intriguing part of the Pacific coast always is to me. You don’t have to go far, even in the same place, to get a radically different view. Again, the Gu’f and the First Coast of my youth and the shore I can visit today are lovely, sandy, and not so young and spry as all of this.

Which is probably something I thought about writing while we considering locations for future publicity shots.

I will never not find this fascinating. Here is the land and the hills which make it and the stuffwhichgrowsonitandTHEREISTHEOCEAN.

This is the Bixby Bridge, built in 1932, and the furthest part north of our trip. Just a few miles up the road the Pacific Coast Highway is closed because of snow or mud or locusts or the ghost of Nixon or persistent hippies or whatever is afflicting California this time of year.

Before then, Wikipedia tells me, Big Sur residents were particularly isolated in the winter. The Old Coast Road a dozen miles away was often closed. This bridge, the longest concrete arch span in the state and, at- the time, the highest single-span in the world, came in under budget, at $199,861. The inflation calculator says that’s $4,527,158 in modern money. Seismic upgrades in the 1990s cost much more, and it’s apparently still not up to modern spec there.

Click to embiggen.

A person once in charge of the land trust around this area called it “the most spectacular meeting of ocean and land in the entire United States.” That person might have been biased, but that person might have also been right?

It’s a fine view, and some of you might receive a Christmas card with this image on it later this year.

As ever, the tortured photography student in me — I took two classes in college, one under a prominent Civil Rights Era photojournalist and another under a Harvard architectural photographer — is always thinking about lines and motion. Particularly in new and exciting places.

This is seldom a problem, of course, until it finds me standing in the road on blind curves in the middle of nowhere.

This is the Bixby Bridge from the reverse side. It’s gorgeous. It’s glorious. How did they do it in the 1930s? Aliens. But how did those 1930s aliens do it?

Construction began on August 24, 1931, and was completed October 15, 1932, beating the two-lane highway, itself an 18-year project, by a half decade. In between, over 300,000 board feet of Douglas fir timber was used to support the arch during construction. It took two months to construct the falsework alone.

The  aliens  work crews excavated 4,700 cubic yards of earth and rock and more than 300 tons of reinforcing steel were shipped in by train and narrow one-lane roads. They chose cement for a few reasons. It looked better. It was more durable in the elements to steel and the cost savings could be paid out to the workers. (And this is how you know it was done in the Great Depression.) That decision required 45,000 sacks of cement, which started going in place in late November. They zipped it across the river canyon on cable and slings.

Today, the arch ribs are five feet thick at the deck and nine feet thick where they join the towers at their base. The arches are four and one-half feet wide. All of this, Wikipedia confidently tells me, means that the bridge was designed to support more than six times its intended load. (Good thing, too, it’s a heavy traffic area these days.)

It turns out that these two large, vertical buttresses on either side of the arch aren’t necessary. It is not clear to me if that includes the 6X wiggle-room design tolerance or not.

We didn’t drive over it. None of this was my concern.

Sure is something though, isn’t it?

Tomorrow, we turn south, for Burbank, and a work conference. It will be fun, but not as fun as all of this.