Water Reservoirs in CA

Custom Google Map I built in about 5 minutes with Google Maps Engine, in the midst of a Google for Media workshop for journalists in SF.

Numbers to right of markers represents the percent of capacity for each reservoir. Marker point hues are proportional to the percentage.

Grosspop’s Theosophy

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

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

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


How To Create iTunes Smart Playlists with Implied Criteria

If you’re not using Smart Playlists in iTunes, you should be. Whether you want to create simple query-backed playlists like “1920s Jazz” or “Funk and Soul”, Smart Playlists give you the ability to treat your iTunes music collection like an actual database. The beauty part is that Smart Playlists update themselves in real time as conditions change in your iTunes database.

A common/favorite Smart Playlist is the invaluable “Unplayed” list which lets you make sure you’ve heard everything in your collection at least once. To create an Unplayed list, just use the criteria “Plays is less than 1″:


In my case, I’m also excluding all Podcasts and Voice Memos – I’m interested in Music here.

But it gets more interesting (and more fun) than that.
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Displaying Django User Messages with Angular.js

Django’s Messages framework is an elegant workhorse, and I’ve never built a Django site that didn’t use it for displaying success/failure/info messages to users after certain actions are taken (like logging in successfully or adding an item to a cart).

But wouldn’t it be cool if you could use that functionality client-side, delivering user messages to be processed as JSON data rather than statically outputting messages to generated HTML? On a recent project, I needed to do this because Varnish caching doesn’t let you mark page fragments as non-cacheable, so statically generated messages were not an option. But there are all sorts of reasons you might want to handle Django Messages client-side.


Here’s how to accomplish the job in a really lightweight way, without the need for a full-blown REST API app like Django Rest Framework or Tastypie, and with Angular.js (which is, IMO, the best of the current crop of JavaScript application frameworks).
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Inside the Black Box (Metamorphosis)

Metamorphosis_by_Almacan You learned in grade school that a caterpillar metamorphoses into a moth or butterfly. But what would you find if you were to cut open a chrysalis during that transformational stage? Would you find a half-caterpillar/half-butterfly hybrid? It’s a black box — you don’t know. Caterpillar goes in, butterfly comes out. We don’t ask what happens in between.

But we should.

What you would actually find would be little more than snot – a milky white mucous, with a few dark specs floating in it. The caterpillar dissolves itself into goo, and the cells of the goo reconstitute themselves into a moth or butterfly.

So what happens to the “personhood” of the being inside? Does one creature die while another is reborn, growing out of the mulch of its former self? Does the butterfly have any “memory” of the caterpillar it was? Here’s the really mind-blowing part: Scientists have figured out how to train a caterpillar (via subtle electric shocks) to turn and walk the opposite direction when a certain smell is introduced into their environment. When they later tested for the same learned ability in metamorphosed butterflies and moths, they found a 70% memory retention rate, which had lasted right through the goo phase. Turns out those little specks in the goo are clusters of brain cells, which save memories and then reproduce in the new being.

Monarch_chrysalis1 The biological weirdness continues: If we peel off the skin of a dead caterpillar, we find proto wings, laying in wait. They never emerge on the caterpillar itself, but when the rest of the insect dissolves to goo, the proto-wings cling to the walls of the chrysalis, and then attach themselves to the newly formed butterfly and continue their evolution. The caterpillar starts them, the butterfly finishes them.

The whole process is as spiritual as it is philosophical as it is scientific. Is there anything stranger or more magical in nature? (rhetorical question). Over dinner, as our family discussed this process, we wondered why it isn’t taught in grade school. Why do we just get the black box (input –> output) version? Always look behind the curtain.

Image above: Metamorphosis by Almacan

Inspired by this week’s “Black Box” episode of the always amazing Radiolab.

Miles’ First Poetry Slam

Felt so proud (and awed) by Miles at the New Years Day poetry slam when he pulled this out of his back pocket – not the usual kid/dada stuff he’s usually attracted to, but an honest-to-goodness heartfelt original poem, full of existential questioning. Forgot to record on NY day, so we re-created the reading at home yesterday so he could earn his Writer badge on DIY.org.