Work ethic

Hedonistic adaptation ensures that I continuously cycle back and forth between, “If this isn’t nice I don’t know what is!” and rage-quitting all my self-assigned should’s. Two things help temper my intemperance: Journalling provides me with some—albeit subjective—perspective, and reading about the reality of people’s actual lives and work ethics relaxes my self-criticism.

A truer answer would have been that he was fiercely private and deeply caring. He often let other people talk, entering a conversation with a single considered sentence. He didn’t smile unless he was really pleased, and his biggest laugh was a small chuckle. His eyes would squeeze shut and his head would tip back and after he chuckled, he would look at you with delight.

~ Alison Fairbrother from,

Without Internet cheating, I can’t name a single one of E. L. Doctorow’s works. But I have this diffuse idea that he is (was?) A Real Writer. Someone who got things written, and maybe had a few ideas worth sharing. Darn it if reading Fairbrother’s piece didn’t tug at the ‘ol heart strings, and I might have gotten something briefly stuck in the corner of one of my eyes.

But I came away with a recalibration: I now have this diffuse idea that he was A Real Writer, got things written, had a few ideas worth sharing, and it was made possible by his family and his work ethic.

(Also, maybe help this autodidact out by hitting reply and telling me one thing of Doctorow’s I must read.)


Human collaborators

And so we did the math, and it was really at the same time that I had lost [my idea] that she had gotten [her idea]. And we like to think that the idea jumped from my mind to hers during our little kiss that we had when we met. That’s our magical thinking around it. But it’s — there is no explanation for that other than the one that I’ve always abided by, which is that ideas are conscious and living, and they have will, and they have great desire to be made, and they spin through the cosmos, looking for human collaborators.

~ Elizabeth Gilbert from,

Obviously that’s not how any of it really works. But it is a sublime, inspiring idea! I know that if I focus (or worse, fixate) on where some idea came from it’s easy to lose the delight of the overall thing. This cosmic perspective from Gilbert reminds me to simply take things and run with them. If I can. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

If I can’t run with it, well, that’s okay too. It is simply okay. But, if I still need some self-convincing, that cosmic perspective gives me the comfort I need to let go.


I probably need to work on this

My life is always better when I treat myself as if I were someone I care about.

~ Hugh Hollowell from,

I’m really good at digging in and schlepping through the hard work. I’m really good at figuring out how to make three strange pieces fit together so these four people can make some progress on those five incompatible goals. Lift heavy things. Break a sweat. Get shit done. Go above and beyond. Get this letter to Garcia. Abuse English.

Know what I suck at? Treating myself as if I were someone I care about. Can I say, “no, thank you,” to some opportunity because I’m already overwhelmed? Can I take a nap in my hammock, without first spending significant time weighing the merits of giving in to passing out from exhaustion, versus just. work. a little. more. Can I choose to go do that fun thing with my friends, when my weekly plan says I should get some peak heart-rate workout time today? I’m often heard preaching about self-care, taking time to look back and think, “if this isn’t nice…” but, can I actually do those things?


Stingy with positive reinforcement

Here’s something I’ve noticed about myself: If I read something great, I’ll sometimes write a short comment like “This was amazing, you’re the best!” Then I’ll stare at it for 10 seconds and decide that posting it would be lame and humiliating, so I delete it go about my day. But on the rare occasions that I read something that triggers me, I get a strong feeling that I have important insights. Assuming that I’m not uniquely broken in this way, it explains a lot.

~ “Dynomight” from,

I too have this tendency. In recent years I’ve been actively working on my own version of “See something. Say something.” as part of my changes to achieve results. My version is that nice things must be said out loud. No more sitting on the positive thoughts; Yes, I need to squish my incessant critical commentary. Dial that down, please. But I also need to practice letting out the good stuff too. Nice shirt. Smooth movement. This food is delicious. It’s so insanely comfortable here. Thank you for making this come together. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.



(Part 73 of 73 in series, My Journey)

Don’t let ease tempt you. Don’t fall for its false promises. What you gain in ease, you lose in meaning. What you gain in ease, you lose in excellence.

~ Hugh MacLeod from,

This topic came up today in an outdoor Parkour class. Being outside, training, sweating, and overcoming challenges with friends old and new is always a treat. (“If this isn’t nice…“)


Maybe I should walk back?

As autumn settles in where I am, I’ve been looking ahead to winter with longer nights, brisk days, etc.. I also looked back at the shape I’ve been in in years past. I’m not lamenting, “if only I had my youth back.” Rather, just thinking about health, movement, and what would be the minimum effective dosage of some exercise to move me in the direction I want. (That DuckDuckGo link should make you wonder why a medical-sounding phrase is used most relating to exercise not medicine, and strength training in particular.)

Sometimes—by which I mean any time running comes up—I say that running is both the best thing for me, and the form of activity I hate most. Both of which are untrue. What’s actually best for me is zone-2 aerobic exercise and that’s sometimes what I get when I run. It’s best for me, because that is the main driver of base fitness until you get well up into being a competent athlete. But usually, being quite over-weight at the moment, any running drives my heart-rate above the surprisingly low/slow zone-2. The second part about hating it is also untrue. It turns out that one time—the one single day apparently—that I was ever in shape, I enjoyed running. I was walking, the weather was beautiful, and I had an irresistible urge to run, (and so I did.) But, literally, that happened once.

Anyway. It’ll suffice to say: I spent a few weeks recently thinking about going full-on nerd with zone-2 training. To do it right requires planning, scheduling, and—sources vary—between 150 to 180 minutes exercising each week. And warm-up and cool-down time are not included in those weekly times. Honestly, the deal-breaker was I’m seriously pissed at FitBit, (and their watches are useless without a FitBit account,) and I refuse to spend many-hundreds on an Apple watch. Also, my $30 Timex is nicer, for my definition of “nicer.”

My thinking continued, and eventually I thought: I should just walk back from Mordor.

…except this time I’m not going to bother trying to track the actual mileage. Just walk as many days as I can. Listen to some podcasts some of the time. And basically just stroll along thinking, “If this isn’t nice…


Last vestiges

It can be hard to say no. It means refusing someone, and often it means denying yourself instant gratification. The rewards of doing this are uncertain and less tangible. I call decisions like this “first-order negative, second-order positive.” Most people don’t take the time to think through the second-order effects of their choices. If they did, they’d realize that freedom comes from the ability to say no.

~ Shane Parrish from,

I think the “slavery” [to things, to money, to “more”] metaphor is inappropriate, but philosophers from Epictetus and earlier have been using it, so it’s entrenched. “Freedom” is mentioned in the pull-quote, and the metaphor also appears in the article. None the less, it connects a few different ideas together and gives good guidance if you’re new to the ideas. (Or if you could use a wee refresher.)

For me, the last vestiges of the yearning—as Wu Hsin put it—is the yearning for experiences. I am quite often restless. I often joke: “I do not idle well.” In my series on parkour-travel I even mentioned the idea of, when spare time exists, move towards the next scheduled-thing, and kill time there. I believe this yearning springs from my bias to action. As a counter-practice, I like to pause—often seemingly randomly—to remind myself: If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

That phrase can get tossed around lightly, but there’s deep wisdom in it. Once I understand that this is in fact nice, right now, then when I realize that I wasn’t—just then, in the moment—feeling how nice it is… then the second part of the phrase has power: I don’t know what is. Put another way:

If I know what is nice, then this is.


Who we are

The Stoics believed that, in the end, it’s not about what we do, it’s about who we are when we do it. They believed that anything you do well is noble, no matter how humble or impressive, as long as it’s the right thing. That greatness is up to you—it’s what you bring to everything you do.

~ Ryan Holiday from,

Depending on where you are on your own journey, this could be the greatest 25-item list you’ve ever seen, or it could be 24 items of hogwash. How great is that? For me, it’s the one about being kind to oneself which I need most to let sink in farther. Every absolute rule, every simple guideline, and every pithy virtue becomes problematic when taken to the extreme. It’s almost as if *gasp* life is complicated, and I’m a complex person.

I feel like I’m living in the negative. My life isn’t a passing timeline of “this is nice” punctuated with some stuff that qualifies as work, chores, and maintency-things. Instead, I feel like any time I’m in a span of “this is nice”, I’m on borrowed time. It’s is always “this is nice, but…” followed by something I feel I should be doing just as soon as I’m done loafing. It’s as if my personal demon is relaxing, just out of sight at the bar as I loaf here on the veranda, but still dutifully keeping track of exactly how long I’ve been loafing. I continuously feel like things will go better for me (in the way mobsters would say that) if I choose to stop loafing rather than waiting to see how long I can get away with it. That’s not healthy and thus my awareness of the need for self-kindness.


What actually is the problem

Every obstacle that we normally think of as a problem to be fixed … every “flaw” in ourselves or others that we judge as something to be fixed … what if we can pause, find stillness, and get curious instead of trying to fix?

~ Leo Babauta from,

Any day that Babauta gets me thinking is a good day. (If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.) I’ve gotten pretty durn good at the “pause”, and the “find stillness”, parts. I also believe I have the “wait but why” curiosity bit figured out, since it has always been with me. It’s that “trying to fix” part upon which I’m perpetually stuck. And I get “particularly stuck”— “particularly stuck” aren’t the right words… if I could find the right words or word, I would use it instead. “Ensnared” is close. Or, have you ever gotten caught by a single thorn while out walking or hiking? That one thorn isn’t going to do too much damage if you stop quickly. In an instant, that one thorn becomes the laser focus of all of my attention. I really feel like I should be able to find the right word to fix that sentence.

Well, that’s curious.


Inconsistent yet persistent

Tuline Kinaci is an all-around mover, a dancer, rock climber, traceusse and earned her degree in athletic training. In addition to her movement practices, Tuline is a certified authentic Tantra instructor, teaching holistic healing of body, mind, spirit and sex. Tuline considers herself a sex activist and is the founder of LoveCraft, a sexual coaching and empowerment collective.

Tantra was the obvious place to begin since we were surely going to end up talking about tantric sex. My fear was that most people’s—myself included—knowledge of Tantra would be something to do with the artist, Sting. We immediately agreed that leaving the world only knowing about “men in linen pants” would be a disservice. “Tantra means, literally, to weave light and sound with form, the light being visualizations of your chakras in your body, sound being chants that you’re making, and then the form being your body, your physical body. That’s it, in a nutshell. The way that often looks is meditating. The way a lot of people do that is they’ll meditate and then have sex; they’ll meditate during sex; they’ll meditate on their own without any sex. Yeah, that’s kind of that, which means nothing, right? It’s like a, ‘Cool, and then what?’ which is what got me into having a coach.” — ~ Tuline Kinaci from, ~4’40”


How does one take notes…

…when the goal isn’t to end up with a pile of notes?

There are many scenarios where, over time, I do want to end up with a collection of notes. This is straight forward; start taking notes, and keep them somewhere. Bonus points if you review them, or use them as reference, or do anything with them.

But what if I have a scenario where I want to “do a better job” but I don’t care at all about the notes themselves. Suppose you have a regularly scheduled recurring meeting, but you don’t need a historical collection of notes. In fact, suppose you don’t actually need notes, but you think: It would be nice to know what we did last time, so we can follow-up next time.

And so I’m thinking this would be easy. I’ll just have a pile of notes (physical, digital, whatever) and I’ll go through them and … wait, what, actually? Recopy them? gag, that’s tedious. How many do I keep? How long do I keep the old ones? Here’s what I came up with…

I’m working in a single digital document. I have a heading, “Ongoing,” at the top that has the big things we currently have on our radar. The list has some dates with notes; “Oct 2020 — started that big project” and similar things.

Next I have a heading, “Jan 5, 2022” with the date of our next scheduled meeting. When that meeting arrives, I start by doing something very weird: I add “9876543210” on the line below the heading. Then I take simple bullet-point notes under that heading. “We discussed the foo bazzle widget needs defranishizing,” and similar items. Before our meeting ends, I add a heading for the date of the NEXT meeting, ABOVE this meeting’s heading. This pushes the heading and notes down the page a bit.

Then I continue reading. The heading just below this meeting’s, is the date of our last meeting. Just below the heading is “9876543210”, which I put there when we had that meeting. I delete the “9” from the front. I read my notes from the meeting. I may even edit them. Sometimes things that were obvious then, don’t seem so obvious a week later.

Then I continue reading. The next heading is the one from two meetings ago. Just below it is “876543210” — think about that, if it’s not obvious that last week, I read this part and already removed the “9”. So this week, I remove the “8.” Read the notes.

I work my way down each of the historical dates. Snipping a lead number, off the front of the line after each heading. 7. 6. 5. etc.

At the very end of the document, I find a heading that is from 11 meetings ago. Below the heading is “0” — because I’ve looked at these notes 9, 8, 7, 6, etc deleting a digit each time. These notes are now quite old. In fact, they should be irrelevant after 11 meetings. If they are not, I figure out what I have to add to “Ongoing” (the very topmost heading)… or perhaps I put a note under the coming meetings heading (just below “Ongoing”.)

It sounds wonky, but it’s magic. One digital document, you can skim the entire thing right in any of the meetings. You can search in the document. I can be sure I’m not forgetting things, but I can be sure I’m not making a huge collection of crap I’m never going to look at again.

Care to guess where that delete-a-digit each time comes from? It’s an idea from book printing. When they used to set type (physical lead type in trays) they would put “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10” (or other orderings of the numbers) in the cover plate. Then print the book. What printing? This one is “1” Next printing? …they’d just chip off the “1” and print “2 3 4 5…” in the book… second printing. They still print those weird sequences of digits in digitally printed books. I believe this one is a second edition, 3rd printing…


Looking back

I’ve started thinking about a touch phrase for 2021. (2020’s was the superbly helpful, “Get less done.”) As part of the thinking, I was browsing the old blog, and wondered when I last missed a daily post. That turns out to be November 18, 2019. It’s simply a random day with nothing posted.

For a few weeks leading up to that 18th, there’s a post on each day. But October of 2019 is Swiss cheese—actually, it’s more hole than cheese. But early to mid 2019 things look mostly solidly-posted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I also know that in the very beginning of this blog I wasn’t even intending to post daily; In the beginning it was just a place for me to put things that I felt I needed some place to put. Unsurprisingly, character by character this blog was built like a drifting sand dune. In 2021 this blog will turn 10. Hello World was posted on August 13, 2011. If I continue, and I see no reason to stop, post number 3,000 should appear in late December 2021.

I bring this up because this time of year is traditionally a time for wrapping things up, and striking out anew, perhaps with a fresh start or a new commitment, into the new year. meh. That never works for me. But you know what has been working well—year-round, not just during this completely arbitrary calendar roll-over point—


Look back at some of the things you’ve accomplished or experienced and think: “Well if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Seriously. I’m not going to end this post on a, “but if you don’t like what you see…”. No.

Take some time during the arbitrary end-of-the-year machinations to look back and think:

Well if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.


40 knots in the freezing Atlantic

The point is, you’re basically this walking, lumbering habit machine. And these habits — a.k.a. your identity — have been built up over the course of decades of living and breathing, laughing and loving, succeeding and failing, and through the years, they have built up a cruising speed of 40 knots or so in the freezing Atlantic. And if you want to change them — that is, change your identity, how you perceive yourself or how you adapt to the world — well you better slam that steering wheel to the side and be ready to hit a couple icebergs, because ships this big don’t turn so well.

~ Mark Manson from,

I’ve been saying, “big ship, little rudder,” for a long time about my own attempts to change course. I’m certain I’m right about myself, but it’s reassuring to hear other people say they see this about themselves too. Wether or not Manson is your cup ‘o tea, it’s nice to hear things that confirm your assessment. “That looks like a shark, right? That’s a shark; we should get out of the water, right?”

The reason—not “one of the reasons”, but the actual, single, I’m-not-kidding, this is really why, reason—I tell the truth is that it helps other people form a good model of their world. Sound bonkers? …try this:

You know what it looks like, and/or sounds like, when a car is approaching along a roadway. You have a model of your world that, I hope, predicts that being struck by said car would be Very Bad. So you instinctively adjust your actions—get out of the way that is—when you see or hear a car approaching. That’s you using a model of reality; in this case a really good model that almost always works. Your model isn’t perfect: The driver could swerve to avoid you, and end up hitting you. In which case your model of the world has failed; you should have stood stationary, in the street to avoid being hit.

Where did you get that model?

What if I had arranged it so that every car you encountered as a child was driven by a confidant of mine. I had them all swerve to avoid you, and I taught you that cars will avoid you. You’d have a very different model! …and you’d agree I had done some SERIOUS lying to you!

Does my definition of True make sense now? I’ll say something if it will help you build a better model of the world. One can try this test on everything; it always works perfectly to tell you what is morally correct [in the context of speaking]. Anyway, I digress.

So I’ve been saying to myself, “big ship, small rudder,” and here I have an external bit of evidence from Manson that my model is correct. *shrugs* Sorry, this is what happens when you peek into my head.


Content-encoding gzip, plus HTTP range requests, equals bad mojo

This is going to be long. You’ve been warned.

Act 1: Wherein our hero is oblivious to the trouble

Years ago, early in the life of my podcast, someone waved their phone at me and said, “sometimes the podcast playback jumps back to the beginning, and then I cannot skip or scrub forward to resume where I was.” I shrugged. What’s one problem report for Google Podcasts on Android, particularly since this was early days for Google’s Podcasts app.



That’s interesting

In response to the question, “Do you think we can educate ourselves, that any one of us, at any time, can be educated in any subject that strikes our fancy?” Isaac Asimov responded:

The key words here are “that strikes our fancy.” There are some things that simply don’t strike my fancy, and I doubt that I can force myself to be educated in them. On the other hand, when there’s a subject I’m ferociously interested in, then it is easy for me to learn about it. I take it in gladly and cheerfully…

[What’s exciting is] the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.

~ Isaac Asimov, from “His Hopes for the Future (Part Two),”

To grasp a tiny portion of it.

I’ve never had any delusions of grandeur—ok, sure, fine. I probably did in my youth. But currently, I do not now have delusions of grandeur. I’m not trying to leave a grand legacy or solve something in math or physics that will earn me a place in the pantheon of science.

I want to enjoy a few simple things, I want to appreciate the fruit of a lot of hard work and luck. Lots of smiling would be nice. Playing with my friends would be cool. I want to make that, “huh,” sound more often; Do you know that sound? It’s that little puff of curiosity one emits when some bit of knowledge clicks into place, or you realize there’s a small patch of your thinking which isn’t as illuminated as you had thought. It’s often followed by, “that’s interesting.”

When is the last time you made that noise?


§7 – Exercise

(Part 7 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Exercise is not about weight loss.

Exercise builds physical ability and mental health.

For me, it began when I fell in love– with a bicycle.

The story of a boy and his bicycle

Long after college, way down in my downward death spiral, I bought a cheap mountain bicycle. Today, I don’t recall what possessed me to even want to buy a bike. I guess it just reminded me of the freedom I’d discovered when as a kid I first set out on a bicycle.

At the time, we were living in an apartment a short ride from a long park that followed a meandering creek. The park has long trails—some asphalt, some packed gravel—that follow the creek, and it has a few, short, side trails that almost resemble mountain biking.

I fell in love.

I fell in lust is probably more accurate.

I pedaled and pedaled. …and then I pedaled some more. …and then a lot more. I literally wore out that cheap, beautiful bike in the first summer.

During that summer we bought a mountain bike for my dad. He bought an hybrid bike for my mom. Then for a Christmas present, my parents and Tracy bought me a nicer bike. Whereas I was previously crazy about riding, with a new, better, lighter bike, I took things up several notches to addiction, and began riding the daylights out of everything.

I bought a “Mountain Biking Pennsylvania” book and started just heading out to ride trails from the book. Tracy bought a Cannondale when she changed jobs, and then things got out of hand—like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas out of hand. In the end, I was directly responsible for 27 people going to a particular bike shop and buying bikes because I kept trying to find someone who had the bicycling bug as bad as me.

I pedaled on into the seasons. I commuted the short 2 miles to and from my office in rain and snow. I had studded snow tires for the winter. I replaced bike parts as they wore out, and modified the bike more and more until the bike shop owner, (at this point, a good friend,) finally said, “You know, there are other bikes.” It had never occurred to me that I could own more than one bike. he looked at me like the simpleton I was, “Craig, some people have so many bikes, they hide the newest ones from their wives.”

Re-learning to move

The story continues of course. (The new bike is named Beelzebub, and is the first bike I’ve ever named.) But this article is about “exercise”, not about my affairs with bikes.

In the midst of it all, I understood that it was all partly the runner’s high aspect. But also knew that I simply felt better the more I rode those bikes. Sure my wrists got sore, and I became a menace in the local park zooming around and around like it somehow mattered in the grand scheme. But in the process, my body was changing.

Much later I learned that what I had done was change my identity; changed the way I saw myself. I became the sort of person who would get up early on weekends to drive an hour to ride a bike all over some trail because it was “Trail number ” in a book. I became the sort of person who learns about bikes, then learns about exercise, and then learns about glycogen storage in muscles.

At the very beginning of the bicycling epoch, I was building a lot of muscle. Well, a “lot” compared to the gelatinous blob of fat I had converted myself into after college. Muscle requires energy to build it and then some energy to maintain it. So in the beginning I got a small win on weight loss, just by adding muscle. As my daily caloric needs went way up, it halted the creeping weight gain.

Years later I learned that exercise is simply, generally healthy.

That sounds like a platitude, but it’s not: Even small amounts of exercise have out-sized benefits in your health and your daily mood. If I exercise just a little, (for example, 20 minutes of moderate walking,) then I sleep better that night, and every time I exercise I get a small psychological benefit.

The key point was the change in my mental health: Exercise made me feel better, and the better I felt, the more I wanted to exercise. Exercise didn’t make me lose weight: It improved my health, and I became the sort of person who weighs less. That sounds subtle, but it’s tremendously easier than trying to lose weight directly.

Compensatory adaptation

I changed my behavior (I added biking) and my body responded by adapting. (Compensatory adaptation from Ned Kock is a great, deep-dive.)

I added some muscle, changed some hormone levels and interactions, cleaned up some mitochondrial function, and other things improved. But soon (it was probably about a year) my body had adapted to where its new state worked well enough for the activities I was doing regularly. This is the famous plateau effect.

As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t realize this is what was happening (the plateau). I just bike bike bike bike biked all over everything. Meanwhile I was tracking things in my health journal, tweaking things here and there (sleep, moving dinner-time earlier, food choices, etc..)

How would you implement this intentionally? If you are even farther out of shape than I was at the start, I don’t suggest starting with biking. Walking is probably better, or maybe even swimming. Exactly what you do isn’t the point. It’s that you begin to exercise. Don’t to do in the sense that, “I have to go exercise now.” (This is why gym memberships generally don’t work as a New Year’s resolution.) Rather, you want to exercise just as something you do, and that will transform yourself into the type of person who exercises.

I am the type of person who…


25 years ago

25 years ago, on a Friday night, Tracy and I went on our first date.

There’s a wonderful, socially ackward story about me chickening out of the original plan, then a late-evening missed phone call, and an eventual midnight movie. If you ask us nicely, we’ll tell you our conflicting versions of the story. There even a bit of debate about the exact movie we saw; We’re pretty sure it was Silence of the Lambs. (Yes, we opted for a midnight showing for our first date. I’ll let that settle in for a few moments.) On the other hand, the movie might possibly have been a spectacularly horrible movie titled Warlock, which no one has ever heard of. So sometimes we tell the story with it being Silence of the Lambs and sometimes it’s Warlock. Long ago, I think we used to argue about this when we told the story… now, I can’t even remember which of us argued for which movie.

I digress.

Tracy is awesome, and I love her very much! We are still in love. …but, this isn’t a ‘Happy Anniversary!’ card addressed to Tracy.

I firmly believe that there’s no single perfect person for me. I am not a “special snowflake”. And if – as the old saying goes – Tracy “is one-in-a-million,” then she’s one of about 8,000 perfect people for me alive at this very moment.

What makes me special in some ways is the same thing that makes her special in some ways: We have both invested a large portion of our lives in each other. We’ve both spent 25 years working each on our own selves, and have continued sharing the improved versions with each other. The “institution” of marriage doesn’t magically make our relationship special; I, and she, made the relationship special by working on it.

25 years ago I was a totally different person. I was (just simply by definition) on some path through life. There was absolutely no way I could have selected the perfect person for me. I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know my future. I didn’t know how my path would evolve. How could I possibly pick someone who was compatible then, and would grow and change to remain compatible for 25 years.

In one sense, I was extremely lucky to find someone who turned out to be able to adapt and grow in some sort of way that somehow remained compatible with my ever-changing general insanity. But in another much more important sense, we both have spent huge amounts of time talking, arguing, discussing and growing together. So today, it’s not that the luck we had years ago was special or unique – because “humans meet” happens constantly every day – it’s that we somehow stood by that bit of common, every-day luck and worked on it for 25 years.

People change. People age. People get sick and die. Life moves ever forward. The love at age 20 is nothing like the love at age 40, or – as far as I can tell at this point – the love at age 80. (eg, Old Love.)

What matters most to me is that I continue to honestly work on who I am. Only by doing that work do I continue to be worthy of a relationship such as we’ve created so far.

Here’s to another 50 years! Huzzah!!


Scaf 101: Inside the clamps

(Part 4 of 13 in series, Scaf 101)

Remember when I said I’d start by explaining everything? Well, you should understand how the clamps work, so that you understand how to put them together. If you do it wrong, they wiggle loose and come apart surprisingly quickly.

Pro-tip: Scaf should be quiet! If you hear a rattle or tapping sound stop. Something is very loose — you probably forgot to tighten something. Or, you didn’t have things lined up correctly, then after the scaf is jostled a bit, things shift and voila! Loosey goosey. Learn to pay attention to your “scaf sense”. When your scaf sense tingles, stop and figure out what’s going on.

“omg Craig shut up already and let’s build something…” This is the last background information post. We’ll start building stuff in the next post. Please read this one carefully, this gets technical. But, if you understand this material, you’ll be a happy clamper later on.


On some of the clamps, you can actually insert the pipes too far. Usually, it’s the first pipe that you insert too far. In these pictures, the first shows the pipe inserted so far that the end of the pipe has bumped into the curved body of the clamp. That’s too far! You can see how the straight line of the side of the pipe looks out of whack. Tightening the screw will not fix this; although it will get tight. You will have two problems: 1) The overly inserted pipe might be in the way of some other pipe’s space, messing up alignment/lengths. 2) Things don’t turn out square/correct because when you start tightening everything else, this clamp is fighting the additional angle added by the mis-aligned pipe. If you get it right, your pipes make nice 90° (or 45° or whatever) angles.





Bear in mind that the problem comes up when you cannot really see the angle you’re making. You have to sort of feel that the pipe is inserted correctly, while holding a pipe up over your head, or holding three pipes at once and aligning the clamp. You’ll get the hang of it.

More depth

But wait, it’s worse. Next you have to be thinking about whether each pipe will interfere with the other pipes. So in the “RIGHT” photo above, the pipe is still inserted too far. Why? Well the pipe inserted from the bottom of the photo looks like it has enough room. But the pipe inserted from your point of view probably should go father into the body. Or maybe it shouldn’t; maybe all three pipes need to be equally inserted for this setup. My point being that you have to pay attention. First, pay attention to my assembly hints. Later, you’ll understand intuitively how “an extra pipe width here”, or “a half pipe width there”, adds up to make your assemblies fit, or not fit. If I have included a close-up photo that shows the ends of pipes inside a clamp, then I’m thinking the insertion depth is really important in that clamp. As we go farther along with these setups, I’ve assembled (and photographed) some mistakes on purpose, and I’ll show you how it ends up messing up the setup and how to correct it.


In machining, a “land” is the accurately machined part (of something) that some other thing is supposed to rest on. Pipe clamps are not machined (they are cast in molds) but they do have lands; the places where the clamp actually touches the pipe. In Kee Klamps, the lands are circumferential raised ridges on the interior of the clamp. Each set key presses on the pipe midway between the two lands; it’s like how you might press down on the middle of a board resting on two saw horses as you cut the end off. The set key is pressing in the middle, and instead of flat saw horses, the clamp has round ridges that cradle the other side of the pipe. Here are photos of some pipe lands:


Above: One land deep inside the clamp is easy to see. The other land is at the very face (closest to you in this view) of the clamp. (The already-inserted pipe is surely in far enough to be over both of its lands; in fact, it might be in so far as to hit the clamp body and cause that alignment problem discussed above.) When inserting a pipe in this view, the set screw will drive the pipe upward until it touches both lands, at the top of the photo.


Above: Lands are the extreme nearest and farthest sides of this clamp. Set screw is pressing from the right, so the pipe will touch the lands on the left. Also, the pipe will have to go all the way through (protruding slightly) on both sides of this clamp.

In the next photo is a similar clamp where the pipe is not through (upwards towards the viewer) far enough to reach the land at the top opening of the clamp. This pipe could wiggle loose. As it is now, tightening the screw will drive the pipe into the clamp body. It looks like the end of the pipe will touch the clamp body where the body is rounding from one side-out to the other side-out. There, the body is curved (convex) enabling the pipe end to wiggle; compared to the land (concave) at the pipe opening face which would cradle the pipe.


Next is just another shot of a clamp, its lands and the set screw on the bottom. Remember, you have to understand, and insert the pipes correctly when you cannot actually see what’s going on.


Once you get the feel for this, you’ll recognize when you have it right. The pipe will be loose in the clamp initially. As you tighten the screw, the pipe will move to the opposing side of the clamp. Ideally, if you have it all lined up right, it reaches the lands at the same time (or things are loose enough that the clamp pivots easily to bring the second land into contact). When you do it wrong, you get one land, and the pipe hits the clamp body or the mis-aligned clamp just torques against the screw-and-one-land. That’s a recipe for wiggling-loose.

At this point, you should see why you don’t simply stuff the pipes into the clamps as far as possible and then tighten the screws. It’s all about having sufficient insertion depth to reach the lands.

Next is a photo of “this looks good”. It’s a good sign when all the space is on the side with the screw, and you can see the pipe is flush up against the other side (i.e., against the land). What you cannot see, but have to feel, is whether the pipe “registered” (i.e. “found it’s correct location”) when the end of the pipe in the clamp was driven to its land.


One last item: Now that you know where the six lands in this clamp have to be, you understand how you could choose how far extra to insert the pipes. Any one of these three could be inserted (roughly) an extra half-pipe-width to occupy the central hollow of the body. Or, all three could be democratically not inserted beyond the interior land.


In the next photo, you should now have an “a-HAH!” moment about why the threaded pipe ends are a bad thing. (Which, we’re only dealing with because this is “getting started with scaf on the cheap.”)


I’ve drawn the red line parallel to the pipe’s side and offset a little so you can still see the pipe. I’ve drawn the orange line parallel to the threads (and offset a bit so you can see the threads.) Now, the pipe on the left could touch the inward land at the end of the pipe (because no taper). But the pipe on the right has it’s diameter reduced slightly by the thread cutting producing a tapered end. So if you put the threaded pipe in so the threads just reached the inward land then the pipe (or the clamp) will be pulled slightly on an angle as the pipe end has to be driven just a smidge farther to reach the land.

So it turns out that if you know this little detail you can do things like orient all the 3-foot pieces (which all have a thread on one end) the same way, and insert them all father into the clamp body so the unthreaded pipe body reaches the inward land. To do that you have to not insert some other pipe into the clamp and occupy the middle space. You’ll see an example of this in the first build. And this little trick about how to insert threaded ends just a little farther only makes sense once you understand lands and how the clamps work.

Look away, insanity ahead: So know you understand that pipe threads are bad for our scaf build. What to do? Easy, buy all your pipe by the bundle via freight without the threads. (Wee! …thousands of dollars.) Or, on the longer pieces where an inch doesn’t matter (you know, those 7-foot pipes Depot cut for you from 10-foot sticks) just cut the threads off the end of each pipe with a hacksaw. Or cut all the threads off all the pipe and deal with the fact that your scaf all has an inch missing here and there. Or, go full-on insanity mode, buy a lot of extra pipe from Depot, cut all your scaf pipe in perfect integral-foot sizes withOUT the threads, and recycle all the odd-sizes you end up with. (Bring the pipe home uncut, start with a 10-footer, cut off an inch, cut off a 7-footer, cut off a 2-footer, throw away the other few inches. etc. You can make a 9’10” stick, one-8-and-one-1, 7-and-2, 6-and-3, 5-and-4 if you’re willing to make a ZILLION hacksaw cuts.)


In the beginning, remembering which way to orient the 45° single outlet tees can be tricky (because they go onto different pipes at different times as you’re assembling). But beyond that, angle braces are actually pretty hard to assemble well.

Exercise: Let’s look at this photo and make some wild guesses about of what might be going on…


  • The set screw towards the bottom of the photo is snug. Gap is on the screw side. But probably not fully tightened because the screw seems to be a little proud (sticking out too far.) Opposing side of pipe has no gap, good.
  • No idea if the pipe is in so far that it’s hitting the other pipe, instead of resting in the inward land. Hmmm, would have to feel that as it was put together. WAIT… why is that screw so proud? Maybe the end of the pipe is hitting the upper pipe, that would twist the pipe clockwise, I can see the outside land is tight. Oh, the pipe is in too far. Or the pipe is being held by hand and that screw isn’t tight at all. Gah! …this is hopeless.
  • The upper screw seems to be not at all tight because the clamp is resting on the pipe (down toward the concrete.
  • IF the lower screw is tight, and IF the lower pipe is correctly landed, then the orientation of the angle brace is off; it needs to have it’s left end (out of the photo) moved clockwise. What? Why? …look at the alignment of the clamp at the very top edge and that side of the pipe. The whole clamp needs to rotate clockwise.

The best way to assemble these angles is to slide the clamps along their side pipes, and insert the brace pipe into both clamps at once. Then, get one end of the brace pipe on both lands (without inserting it so far that it hits the other side pipe in the tee), and tighten the screw moderately. Next, do the other end of the brace. Hopefully, you can still wiggle and shift the clamps on the side pipes, because you need to orient the brace so that both of the clamps will land correctly when you tighten the screws to lock them onto the side pipes. You will only be able to make all four lands on the side pipes touch if the corner is close to a 90° angle. Sometimes you land/clamp the ends onto the brace piece, only to discover that you can then not get the clamps to land perfectly on the side bars. But, if you get all eight lands to touch, you will have an insanely strong corner. Unfortunately, building good angle braces is something you just have to learn by doing.

Bam! You’re now a clampion. (What’s with the puns? I know, right!) But, as I sad at the very beginning, I wish someone had put all this together in one place when I started. Having read to this point, you have now just saved yourself about a year of “learning the hard way” about how to build with scaf.


Vault box build

These plans are for building a vault box. This is not easy. You’ll need some good circular saw skills, patience and a lot of labor. Read on!

The original, in case you have a hardcopy, is online at

Drop me an email: Comments, questions, and suggestions for improvements are welcome. Best of all would be if you sent me some photos of what you built, preferably a big group photo of you on them, or using them or whatever. My email is my first name, craig, at this domain. (Yes, this is a “.name” domain.)

(The original design of this project is still available at, How NOT to build a vault box.)