The Week in Pictures

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Both Kelly and I came down with colds this week. It takes superhuman effort on my part to string words together into sentences when I’m feeling well. With a cold I run an even greater risk of committing grave grammatical and punctuation errors. So rather than write, I decided to shuffle out of the house yesterday and take a few pictures. Above is the view from our front porch.

mallow

The Malva parviflora is back which means that we’ve had some rain this year. I take this as a hopeful sign even though we’re not out of the drought in Southern California.

little library

Our neighbor Jennie Cook (a guest on episode 50 of our podcast) put up a Little Free Library in her parkway a few years ago. It’s been a huge success. I’ve gotten rid of and acquired quite a few books and sometimes I just stroll down to look at what oddball things have shown up.

cactus

One street over a neighbor has a huge stand of this common cactus that I, sadly, don’t know the name of (if you do, please leave a comment).

succulents

A relative sent Kelly a get well bouquet of succulents that now lives on our front steps.

Once I stop swigging DayQuil, Root Simple will be back with our regularly scheduled programming.

On the Vulnerabilities of Combination Locks

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Back in December, just a few days after Kelly came home from the hospital, I went to the gym for a badly needed workout. I put my wallet and car keys in a small set of lockers located on the weight room floor. Those lockers (pictured above) have a built-in combo lock where you can set the combo yourself. Unfortunately something went wrong. When I went back to retrieve my belongings the combo I had set did not work. I asked a staff member to find the master key to open the locker. He informed me that the boss had it and that he wouldn’t be back until after the holidays. I panicked. How would I get by without my keys, credit card and driver’s license? Then I remembered an idle afternoon back in the summer when I attempted to learn how to crack combo locks.

The efforts of that afternoon paid off. After around five minutes of practice on the other lockers I figured out how to open the lock and I manged to retrieve my belongings.

Combo locks all work the same way. The internal mechanism has three or four wheels that must align to open the lock. More expensive combo locks have false gates to make them harder to crack. The cheap built-in locks at the gym had no false gates. Opening the lock was as easy as turning the numbers until I felt a subtle resistance. The process reminded me of playing a musical instrument. All it takes is a little finger dexterity and practice.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ve got a couple of options for opening a combo lock:

  • With a shim:

  • With some math:

Both the shim and the “math” methods take practice. I have not been able to open the lock I’ve been practicing on with either of these techniques. Of course, the easiest method is just to pry open a locker with a screwdriver or crowbar. And many locks can also be defeated by drilling them.

Lastly, let’s say you have an open combo lock but have forgotten the combo. You can figure it out by peering into the opening:

In addition to adding a James Bond villain skill to your mental toolkit, consider this post as a warning. Don’t leave valuables in a gym locker. I could have easily opened the other lockers, pulled out wallets, copied down credit card numbers and put the wallets back. My fellow gym goers would not have known anything was wrong until their credit card bills arrived.

Kepler’s Snowflakes

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In honor of the 12th and final day of Christmas, I offer an illustration from Johannes Kepler’s ponderings on the origins of the snowflake. Too poor to buy a Christmas gift for a friend, Kepler penned an essay instead, “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake” (Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula). The short pamphlet, written in 1611, begins with Kepler crossing the Charles Bridge in Prague and noticing a snowflake land on his jacket. He goes on to ponder the geometry via a detour into Neoplatonism. Thus was born the first work of crystallography. If only we could replace the commercialism of the season with well crafted essays!

Hope you are all staying warm or cool (hello Australia!).

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Happy New Year 2017!

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Happy New Year everyone!

I thought I’d first let you know how Kelly is doing. Recovering from open heart surgery, even for a young healthy person like Kelly takes time. Leaving the house for more than an hour is still a great effort. She’s not up for blogging just yet but we hope to record a podcast soon so that she can tell the story of her aortic misadventure.

Speaking of the podcast, I want to thank Eric Rochow of Garden Fork for recording an episode of the Root Simple podcast that I will put up tomorrow. The podcast features an interview with a very gifted photographer named Babs Perkins.

As for New Years resolutions, after trying both publicly announced resolutions (a big mistake) and privately held resolutions (also unsuccessful), I’ve decided to forgo the idea altogether in favor of a vague notion of just staying positive, grateful and keeping a sense of humor about life. We have a lot to be thankful for, in particular Kelly’s recovery and being surrounded by many kind and compassionate people including you, our dear readers.

Do you have plans for 2017? What would you like to accomplish this year?

A Season of Light in Darkness

portrait of kelly and erik

Christmas morning in Los Angeles

Erik and I want to send you all gifts of love and light at this, the darkest time of year. Whatever you celebrate with your friends and family, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or Competitive Pie Gorging, we wish you all the very best.

I wanted to take this moment to thank you all for your love and prayers since my aortic dissection on November 25th. (It’s been a whole month already? Time flies when you’re on narcotics!)  I feel like I have been held aloft by love all this while, and have been humbled, amazed and moved to tears by the kindness shown to me by everyone, from complete strangers, from surprising quarters, from my nearest and dearest. My survival of this event is a miracle, flat out. And I don’t know how to process that, except to live forward in deep gratitude.

It is not easy for me to write yet–the brain moves slowly and protests at too much labor. I’ve wanted to tell my story here, because so many people want to know more about what happened to me, but I’ve realized it might be a while before I can write that much. However, I can talk, so Erik and I will be doing a podcast about our adventure very soon.

But I wanted to share one thing here and now, partly because I know many people don’t like to listen to podcasts, and partly because it is perhaps the most important lesson I learned in all this, and it seems particularly relevant during the holiday season, when we gather with our friends and relatives.

On Black Friday, in the emergency room, when they figured out what was going on with me, the atmosphere became suddenly very grim indeed. The surgeons told me I would be operated on as soon as they could prep the room, and that it was basically the most serious surgery that could be done and that I may not survive it. After they left, the sweet nurse in pink scrubs who’d been with me all night said to me, with tears in her eyes, “Honey, I’ve been a nurse for a long time and…well, you need to call your loved ones. Now.”

Okay, so imagine being in this position. Imagine having to call your mom and tell her, in roundabout terms, that you might be dying soon. You may not see her again. To be sure, many are not even granted that much grace before dying, but my point here is that there are no words. Words are simply inadequate in moments like this. I don’t know who can summon eloquence in a crisis, and “I love you”, however true, seems hollow and of cold comfort when you think it may be your last time saying it, and it must somehow hold the entire weight of your regard for that person.

So the lesson here is to live every day like you are dying, so no words are necessary when the end comes, and those you love will know very well that they were loved fiercely every day that you drew breath. Never let them doubt it.

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