December 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 47,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

I photographed my first microconfluence today. You may be familiar with the Degree Confluence Project, where people take photos of  the meeting point of lines of latitude and longitude along with the story of finding it.

Charlie Loyd created the microconfluence because he wanted to take part, but all the full degree confluences near him had already been photographed. Microconfluence points (if I’m understanding him correctly) are at the meeting points of 1/100s of latitude and longitude, which are something like 2/3 mile apart. (Distances vary, of course, because the grid is on a curved surface.)

The degree confluences near Joshua Tree have also already been photographed, so I also liked the idea of microconfluences. (Plus, it reminds me of Ethan Mitchell’s blog about finding state border confluences.) Charlie was kind enough to make me a web-based app for it, so I knew one was a few blocks away. I was out on my dirt bike today and found it. I used a different app, called Altimeter, because I pay for phone and data by the datum (and pay way less per month because of it) :


Then I realized that Charlie was talking about decimal coordinates, not the “minute-second” coordinates that Altimeter uses. Luckily, it turns out that microconfluences with minute coordinates divisible by three are also decimal microconfluences. This is from Maps With Me:


And here’s the piece of dirt. The tire track on the left is the west edge of Border Avenue, a bit north of Two Mile Road. The little bush is a creosote.  Anti-climactic, you say? Maybe I should mark the spot with a monument of some sort.


Family friend Robert Spoeker died last week.  I knew him to be an intelligent, witty, and very gentle man. I’ll always appreciate the friendship he showed my dad, and I imagine as the years go by I’ll primarily remember him by how he lived, but right now I’m thinking mostly about how he died. He decided it was time, stopped eating, and spent his last few days at home in his own bed, with my dad and a hospice nurse keeping watch. By all accounts he was peaceful and clear about what he wanted throughout. No doctors, no hospital, no emergency. I didn’t know we could still die like that, and I’m moved each time I remember.  I hope, when it is my time, that I can be as graceful.

Robert in 2011, far right

Here’s how my dad described it:

Robert made a very classy transition. His housekeeper called me Wednesday, saying he was refusing food and wouldn’t/couldn’t get out of bed. She was freaked and wanted to call 911. Robert and I had had the conversation about this, and I told her to sit tight. When I got over, I could see that he had started the transition. I questioned him about his wishes once again (actually several times), and he said he was fine as he was. He wouldn’t take any food and little water, and was very definite about his wishes.
Over the course of the next several days several family members came over to say goodbye. My youngest son’s fiancee is an ER nurse, and when she saw him, she took his vital signs (with his permission) and he was normal. She said that even if we sent him to ER, they would just give him some tests and discharge him. 
Over the next day, I read Sar Bachan poetry to him. I had never read it before, I just found the book on his shelf. It’s beauty really struck me. That, and the Master’s photo, seemed to brighten up his lucid moments quite a bit. Finally, he asked me to stop reading, as if he was too busy inside to be bothered even with Sar Bachan, or any other external communication. After that, he seemed to be aware of me, but was non-communicative. 
On Saturday, we called a friend who was a hospice nurse. I didn’t know what to do when the time came. She was a neighbor/friend, and was very sympathetic. She came up to his house on her day off unnoficially, and looked at him, and said that he had only a day or 2 left. We went over to the closed hospice office in a windstorm and signed him up (he had years ago given me power of attourney to make healthcare decisions when he was not able). That was very good luck because they didn’t interfere with him at all, but took care of the aftermath beautifully. They even sent over a bag of morphine for him on Saturday night, which, of course, I didn’t give to him  because he was managing his process perfectly well, with no complaints (I did think about taking some myself- but didn’t). I went to sleep Saturday night on the couch at 12:30. He was breathing a bit heavily and sighing when he breathed out. I woke up very alert at 6:30 SundayAM, went in, and he was gone. He looked very much at peace.
I am humbled to have been with him and witnessed it all.


My family celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday this year instead of Thursday, so I spent Thanksgiving day giving money away and buying Christmas gifts–a great way to do it! This is the first holiday season in my life that I’ve begun with a solidly-above-the-poverty-line income. It’s a whole different experience. I’ve given to charities before, of course, but always with a little mental wrestling over each gift. This year I could make a list of everyone I really wanted to support, send each some money, and it just felt fun. Here’s my list so far:

The Long Now Foundation: I got on to these folks through their really, really good Seminars About Long Term Thinking. They see our culture’s “pathologically short attention span” and have a mission to “foster long-term responsibility.”

Mojave Desert Land Trust: These folks really caught my attention when they managed to purchase (save, really) a large and beautiful swath of desert on the western edge of Joshua Tree, surely the next to fall to big box stores as Yucca Valley slouches east. It made me so happy. They focus on land conservation and stewardship around here, including wildlife corridors.

Rocky Mountain Institute: Amory Lovins has been a hero of mine since I saw him speak at the University of Oregon ten years ago–to this day one of the most inspiring lectures I’ve seen. (Here’s a TED Talk.) He started RMI with the vision “a world thriving, verdant, and secure, for all, for ever,” and the mission “to drive the efficient and restorative use of resources.”

Wikimedia: I use Wikipedia almost every day, and so do you, probably.

Chicago Public Media: WBEZ in Chicago, which produces at least two of my regular podcasts, This American Life (in-depth news, great stories) and Sound Opinions (music news & reviews). I can’t quite tell if they also produce Planet Money (economics-related stories and explanations), another of my regulars… they seem to be associated with This American Life, so I threw in some extra money for it.

New York Public Radio: Mostly for Radiolab, which makes science-related podcasts.

KCRW: Probably the best radio station in the world. I have cut myself off from the daily news cycle in the interest of staying sane, but I still listen to a lot of KCRW. Their music programs are great, and they produce Left, Right, & Center, the only political show I listen to intentionally these days.

The Human Food Project: These folks are going after large-scale microbiome base rates in various populations. They have an open source project going called American Gut where you can join and get your gut microbiome sequenced and compared to the others involved.

Mil-Tree: A local military/civilian integration and healing project based on the work of Ed Tick. Their Art of War show was one of the most moving things I witnessed this year.