Ways of Building

I’ve been designing and building drawers and a sleeping platform in the back of the truck as a fun little project and wanted to try to get some more organic shapes in my plywood cases – so I started to experiment with template routing. I want to have a warm, dry place to sleep for winter alpine starts in the mountains. One side of the truck bed will be a drawer on 36″ locking drawer slides, the other side is a countertop with 4 cubbies below to store things.

I have 3 routers. A small Rigid trim router that’s great for putting a radius on a corner or routing out a small area (I used it to last to create an opening for an electrical box in a portico I built), a Bosch 1617 fixed and plunge base router, and a Triton 2 1/4 horsepower router that I keep mounted in the router table. I used the Triton last to make tongue and groove from clear fir to repair a floor in our old house before we sold it last October.

I was looking forward to using a template guide from the Bosch, but when I got the tool set up and turned it on, I immediately smelled burning and realized the motor was about to catch fire. The smell of a burning electrical motor is unique – and terrible. I turned it off and on again, and realized the Bosch was dead.

The trim router isn’t powerful enough to cut a template so I had to disassemble the Triton from below the router table. It’s been mounted in the table for the last 8 years and have never used it as a handheld. I was pleasantly surprised. The Triton came with a set of template guides and centering bushing (so that the collet can be centered in the guide and the bit doesn’t spin into the guide).

Routing using a template guide is the like having a CNC machine. Using the template and accounting for the thickness of the guide (1/8″ in my case), any shape can be reproduced exactly. I found that using a track saw (I use a cordless Makita) I can plunge cut any size opening and use that as a guide for the router.

Left case that will hold a 36″ drawer. The top is on piano hinges so that with the tailgate closed I can access anything inside.
Opening for the storage area around the wheel wells – driver’s side. I used 4 pieces of 1/8″ x 1″ aluminum to fabricate tabs that a lid sits on. They’re screwed in from the bottom on each side of the opening.
Attached with piano hinges affording a way to open the top of the case to access anything inside. I used furniture screws and t-nuts to attach the top to the case. The drawer can be disassembled and removed when I need to do truck stuff.

As I was driving back from Mt. Hood after skiing with my daughter I realized how young our civilization is – thinking about how we’ve built the environment from raw materials, extracting resources in the simplest way possible. We build houses from dimensional lumber – 1 step away from a tree. We mix lime and cement and rock to make concrete to build roads and bridges. Our manipulation of the natural world is clumsy and basic, it leads to the ugliness you see in the built environment. In the future, my hope is that we learn to merge with the natural world, using materials at a more atomic level – to build in a simpler, more elegant way. That’s what I mean by young – we’re just infants trying to brute force our will on the world. It’s a losing strategy.

Waiting for snow

I’m beginning to feel the pull of snowy mountains and sunshine. In the meantime, I’ve been staying busy. Someday I’ll write about what it’s like being at a seed stage tech startup. It’s not for everyone, but I really like it – maybe it’s the controlled chaos. Kind of an oxymoron – but it describes the experience well.

Someone on the internet wrote yesterday, “I’ve been getting ready to go on a run… for 4 days.” Haha. That’s how I feel about writing. I have a few minutes between meetings and thought I’d drop some recent projects.

My last post was about the stone wall… so here are some pictures of the wall completed. This is going to be a multi-season project. Next in the queue for this project is to anchor the opposite posts into the newly poured concrete wall, and then begin to build the portico. I’m imagining the interior roof of the portico in tongue and groove cedar, with a blown glass light at the apex. I’ll need to do some electrical work to make that happen. I also want the entryway to have a steel gate – I haven’t designed this yet, but picked up a small welder a few months ago and will weld + powder coat the gate from mild steel. The front of the gate will consist of simple Bauhaus inspired geometric shapes… I might need to borrow a plasma cutter to build what I have in mind.

The two posts are supported by the concrete piers set below the frost line. I think in hindsight I would have set a few courses and then poured footers for the posts. The wall will outlive me and maybe the next owner of the house will pick a few favorite stones as I have.

In the shop I needed to build a few pieces of furniture. A built-in cabinet for … Lego storage. Surprisingly I was able to match the 1930’s moulding. The base moulding needed to be built-up from multiple pieces to match.

Few books, primary Lego storage.

And a kitchen island. I like how this project turned out. It’s not yet finished (paint), but the construction is finished. Baltic birch panels with poplar face frame. The interior shelves are torsion boxes to support the weight of canned goods.

The countertop is 2 inch butcher block maple reclaimed from a restaurant that I found on Craigslist.

A pot rack or floating shelves – not sure which, will be installed above the island. I have some nice pieces of cherry remaining from a bench project that I may use for floating shelves.

That’s a quick summary of the past few months… Oh almost forgot. I also had a rack fabricated for my truck. It’s the same style of popular racks right now… for a fraction of the price. I found CAD plans online, made some tweaks and then had it laser cut from 1/4″ aluminum. The 2 sides are laser cut, the rails (across the roof) are 8020 extruded aluminum. The rack feet are 2×3 tubular steel that I cut with the angle grinder and then drilled for fittings on the drill press. I had a minor snafu with hardware as I initially used standard metric hardware, but after a few rains realized it was rusting and changed everything out to stainless steel. It turned out better than I anticipated.

Back from the laser cutter.
Painted in flat black and mounted to the shell.

My to-do list never ends, here are some upcoming projects:

  • Finish the portico
  • build out a lightweight, removable climbing dirtbag setup in the back of the truck so I can sleep at the trailhead for alpine starts. Not sure if I should try to get sophisticated with 8020 extruded aluminum or just use birch plywood (most likely)
  • stone retaining wall in the yard. I want to use bigger stones, so I may need to find a way to get a mechanical advantage to move 2-man stones – maybe a winch/comealong or hi-lift jack contraption.
  • more landscaping

**Caveat: if we have a good winter, all projects are on hold for climbing + skiing 🙂


I went back in the house and changed out of my worn out trail running shoes that I use for dog walks and put on my work boots. I thought it prudent as I had never used a gas-powered concrete saw and the little sticker on the handle indicated eye protection, ear protection, steel-toed boots.

I have a project that I’m really excited to move forward. We decamped from our Craftsman Bungalow last November to a newer (1915 vs. 1930) English Tudor and the previous homeowner was a general contractor. Most of this tile work is impeccable, electrical work lacking, and he devoted little to no attention to landscaping. The lot is surrounded by a low wall built from dry-stacked volcanic rock. I’ve been slowly disassembling it and giving rocks away on Craigslist. When the weather begins to cool off, I’ll rent a backhoe and grade the lot so that I can create a little outside garden to sit and drink my morning coffee and watch the world go by… but there is a project ahead of that one.

The previous owner finished the basement and created a separate entrance to the house. It’s convenient and currently the only entry / exit we use. A dilapidated pergola was erected over the door and when the driveway concrete was poured, decided not to repair the exposed foundation wall, but instead built a stone flower planter to hide it from view. The flower planter is now disassembled and I need to repair the exposed foundation wall.

On Sunday when I should have been running, after I pulled down the pergola and use the reciprocating saw to cut down the concrete bolts holding it in place, I found myself kitted up and maneuvering a Hilti concrete saw so that I could square off the driveway where the planter had been. The current plan is to pour a new footer against the existing foundation, pour an additional 2 sonotube footers as bases for 6×6 posts and build a new portico over the entrance door.

I was amazed how easily the saw cut through the 6 inch concrete lab. And shocked when I put the saw down flat, stepped away to remove some of the newly cut concrete and out of the corner of my eye, watched the saw begin to slowly rotate. Lesson – don’t ever take your (safety glass covered) eye off of a spinning blade.

Part 3 of this project will be to excavate for a low stone mortared wall and gate that I’ll build beside the door. More and more I realize that if I wasn’t designing software, I would be a stonemason. I think it’s the combination of skill and labor that attracts me. Breaking rocks to build something beautiful. It’s very appealing. And as for the weekend long run, as is most often the case, when I’m out laboring, my sophisticated sport watch tells me that “Recovery is delayed because of high activity”.


Spotify served up a playlist built from my interest graph.. and demographic data, etc. etc. And Midnight Rider by Allman Brothers Band was piped into my ear holes, and I remembered…

In 1993 I was 20 years old and worked at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD as “security”. Allman Brothers Band played and I worked backstage. I was literally standing off to viewers right on stage for the whole concert. It was amazing. A list of [some] concerts I remember seeing (in no particular order):

Hall & Oates with my mom

Aimee Mann at Merriweather Post Pavilion (I think I was working)

Steve Miller Band at Merriweather Post Pavilion (I think I was working, but was in the grass on the hill not working)

REM – some stadium somewhere

Lollapalooza #1 (in Atlanta) (Ice-T sang with his metal band Body Count), Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Violent Femmes, Nine inch Nails.

HFStival (x2 or x3?) (A DC music festival at RFK stadium: Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc etc). It was incredible.

Soul Coughing – in Fells Point, Baltimore. Wild night I don’t really remember.

Mike Doughty at Wonder Ballroom in Portland. He’s a poet, what can I say.

The Decemberists at McMenamins Kennedy School

DJ Shadow at Wonder Ballroom in Portland

Bruce Hornsby, Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts. I think this was my first grown up concert. Good seats, drinking wine listening to Wynton Marsalis in the summer.

Skankin’ Pickle – some bar in Baltimore. A friend of mine was really into Ska at the time.

Martin Garrix in Las Vegas.

DJ Snake in Las Vegas.

And who would I want to see in concert now… Future Islands is on my list. Maybe Olivia Rodrigo with my daughter.

Right Now

As we enter the beginning of the end of Covid in the US, I find myself returning to a simple thought throughout my day. It’s this: “This is the best that things are ever going to be”. When I’m talking to my children, taking my dogs for a walk, finishing my day of work.

I guess it can have many interpretations, but for me the phrase is synonymous with being present, enjoying this moment. Not the expectation of some future or regret for some past. It’s an expression of gratitude. I find it extremely powerful — maybe it’s the combined weight of relief from the past year, or just reaching some maturity and acceptance of my place in the world. I’m not sure what comes next, but I’m grateful for right now and the people in my life.

Product Design Modes

I’ve been kicking around this idea of modes for the design for software products. Primarily from a designer’s perspective when considering different market segments. In particular the distinction between designing for consumer applications vs designing for enterprise applications. There’s a massive distinction in approach that can be distilled down to a simple concept.

In consumer software the designer is focusing on engagement, stickiness, and ultimately behavior change. In consumer applications you can triangulate on various metrics – DAU’s, MAU’s, etc. to gauge whether or not the design is succeeding.

There was a great talk by the head of product from Metromile at the first Amplitude conference a couple of years ago in SF. The topic was product growth and the design of virtuous acquisition loops. The small behavioral nudges that can be designed to move a user toward conversion. These can be planned and deliberately designed to keep progress moving toward conversion (whatever that is for the particular product).

In enterprise software, all that goes out the window. Distinct from a consumer audience (large), daily usage of an enterprise product tends to be much smaller. The buyer and the user are more often than not different personas. The buyer may not understand the capabilities of the product, but is making a buying decision on behalf of the user. And most importantly, the user has no choice – they are unable *not* to use the product if there is a corporate mandate. Depending on the domain, the product may be complex. This creates challenges for product design.

Task flows are repetitive, there isn’t much of an opportunity to do multivariate testing as the test pool is smaller, and the overall motivation for users within the product is much different. Complete a task and move on.

All of this changes the goals of building products for an enterprise audience. In my experience this can be distilled down to a simple but important distinction. The goal of building software for the enterprise is to educate the user in best practices and to show how the product allows the user to accomplish those goals – and then exit the product. It’s not uncommon for a high “time on task” metric to be associated with confusion about what the user should do.

This places a greater emphasis on the information architecture of the product and how the product helps the user establish a mental model that guides them to making efficient decisions that lead to action.

How does this manifest within a product and product design? In a few ways:

  • Guided onboarding
  • Contextual help
  • Tooltips
  • Data dictionaries

The product should aim to educate while guiding the user through a workflow of good decisions with clear actions and end states.

Happy Runner, Happy Life

I’m reading The Happy Runner and part of the book is about gaining some clarity on your personal running Why’s. This is what I came up with in 30 minutes. I reserve the right to edit at any point in the future.

Why do I run at all? I run because I like to get out into the forest on the trails. I like being close to the trees and to nature. The air is cleaner, it’s quiet, there usually aren’t many people. I like running to explore new places. I like running when I travel – I can see more of a new place on my feet. I like to learn routes in new cities. There’s some discovery appeal. The idea of serendipity. I’m open to the unexpected. I like to run uphill a lot. Mostly in the mountains. I don’t like running downhill fast because I’m scared I’m going to get hurt. When I was a kid I was running into our apartment in Berlin and slipped on a metal grate and fractured my ankle, then I used a pair of my sister’s crutches and proceeded to fall down a flight of stairs, fracturing the other ankle. I wheeled around in a wheelchair before I could hobble and scoot across the floor to get around. The final reason that I run is because my mom has multiple sclerosis. I’m terrified that some day I won’t be able to be active and so it’s a reminder of my own fragility and mortality. Running is freedom. I feel great after I run, like the world is full of possibilities and that thing that was so heavy on my mind before I went running is just a mild annoyance.

Why do I run each day? I’m mostly constrained by work and family obligations. If I have the time, I’ll typically seize the opportunity to go for a run. If I’ve been on my feet all day working (physical work, like in the shop or in the garden) I may not go for a run – on those days I get nearly as many steps as a 10K or longer just walking up and down stairs and around the house. I find it relatively easy to get out the door, I don’t ever dread going for a run. More often I’ll get to the farthest point out on my run and maybe take a brief pause to recognize that I’ve come halfway and savor the way home. If I had the time, I would run every day, but some days I have meetings or just a short window between responsibilities. In my 20’s I made a vow to myself to never run for less than 45 minutes. I’ve only broken that when I’ve gone running with my children or racing a 5k… wait… or a 10k 🙂

Why am I racing at all? I’m not right now. Ultra running events feel more like group runs, which I can muster only occasionally. I’m concentrating really hard when I’m trail running – it’s meditative. I’ve raced shorter trail races in the past and really enjoyed the tight pack running through the forest at high speed. It’s exhilarating. But I don’t enjoy it more than going for a long run in the woods by myself. In order to race longer, 50k – 100 miler, it takes more time and planning. I would rather listen to my body and run when, where and how I feel than following a training regimen. I planned to race a marathon in July 2019, but overtrained between cycling and increasing my running mileage. I didn’t have the foundation to do a hard 30 mile ride followed by a hard 20 mile run the next day.

Why do I have long term goals? This one is super tough. I’m sorry to say that I don’t right now. The past 3 years after running my first and only 100 miler I have only tried to be consistent – consistently balancing 20-30 miles / week + family obligations. I’ve tried to be overall mountain strong by lifting weights in addition to cycling about 40 miles per week. I feel as if I’ve been in maintenance mode. I climbed a bit more, Mt. Rainier in July 2018 and a few days ice climbing in Ouray in February 2019. I completed (partially) my goal of riding my bike from Portland to Mt Hood, then climbing and skiing it. This one may warrant a do over, but it was my second attempt and I got much further than the first attempt (I climbed and skied from Illumination Rock). Overall, the future plan is the problem I’m working on. I’d like to race a 100 miler (now that I know I can go the distance). And I’d like to do some multi-day linkups in the PNW. I also have climbing goals for the coming season for which a strong aerobic base and strength training will help. There’s one goal I can think of that’s been rattling around my brain for a while. I want to run the Zane Gray 100K in Arizona.

The book is great. First part is all about getting into the right mindset to have a long running career. It’s good. I just set a calendar reminder to register for Zane Gray 😉

The New Timer

I just finished reading Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. It resonated on so many levels: his East Coast Catholic school upbringing, blue collar family life among others. When I was in college I took an American Literature course that included a reading of The Grapes of Wrath.

Springsteen’s album, The Ghost of Tom Joad is the soundtrack to the novel. As powerful as Steinbeck’s writing is about the American experience during the dust bowl 1930’s, Springsteen’s modern take in songs like Sinaloa Cowboys and Across the Border bring it straight to present (late 90’s anyway) and draw the parallels to Mexican immigration of today. That album is one of his best. He writes quite a bit about his move to more social justice topics. I have a whole new respect for him as a writer.

Here are a few passages from the book that moved me.

Back east we usually experience the freedom that comes with a good snowstorm. No work, no school, the world shutting its big mouth for a while, the dirty streets covered over in virgin white, like all the missteps you’ve taken have been erased by nature. You can’t run; you can only sit. You open your door on a trackless world, your old path, your history, momentarily covered over by a landscape of forgiveness, a place where something new might happen.

In this life (and there is only one), you make your choices, you take your stand and you awaken from the youthful spell of “immortality” and its eternal present. You walk away from the nether land of adolescence. You name the things beyond your work that will give your life its context, meaning . . . and the clock starts. You walk, now, not just at your partner’s side, but alongside your own mortal self. You fight to hold on to your newfound blessings while confronting your nihilism, your destructive desire to leave it all in ruins.

In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back.

You simply can’t stop imagining other worlds, other loves, other places than the one you are comfortably settled in at any given moment, the one holding all your treasures. Those treasures can seem so easily made gray by the vast, open and barren spaces of the creative mind. Of course, there is but one life. Nobody likes that . . . but there’s just one. And we’re lucky to have it. God bless us and have mercy on us that we may have the understanding and the abilities to live it . . . and know that “possibility of everything” . . . is just “nothing” dressed up in a monkey suit . . . and I’d had the best monkey suit in town.

Those whose love we wanted but could not get, we emulate. It is dangerous but it makes us feel closer, gives us an illusion of the intimacy we never had. It stakes our claim upon that which was rightfully ours but denied.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t you run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
And it’s alright with me

B. Springsteen, Thunder Road, 1975

You’re not wrong

Through the open window the cicadas reached a crescendo, crashed, and slowly began their chorus again. The drapes billowed and waved, the humid air rustling the pages of a calendar pinned to the wall in the kitchen.

He sat on the couch in silence studying the texture of the wall, leaning back into the armrest.

“I should go.” he said. The truth as a tangible, concrete idea, existing as a platform upon which all things in the universe reside, waiting for words to be layered upon it. 

He thought of a summer long ago when he was a boy, fireflies blinking on and off at tree line. The smell of fresh cut grass and the cool wash cool of air sailing down the mountains at dusk. The world was magic and inexplicable.

Suddenly he felt his toes in his shoes, glanced down at the floor, then to the clock.  He had already stood up to leave, then felt the gravity of the furniture holding him down. Versions of ourselves have embarked on infinite timelines, consciousness is choosing which story to tell.

PCT to Mt Hood

I was up and out by 4:30 on Sunday to get to Bridge of the Gods and scope out the PCT as it climbs out of the Gorge and makes its way to Mt Hood. I think this area is prime for a longer link up with a short overnighter along the way.

Dry Creek Falls

Dry Creek Falls was running and I paused to take some pictures before continuing the run. The trail was mostly runnable with a few rocky scree traverses, all very power-hikable.

Hello little friend

At around 3 miles I came to the intersection of Herman Creek Cutoff trail and the PCT. From here the PCT climbs steadily. I hit my turnaround time a little after 8am and 6.5 miles and then turned and booked it back down and to the car at Bridge of the Gods.

Burns from the Eagle Creek fire. The understory is coming back.

I took one bottle of Cytomax and 1.5 liters of water in a hydration pack in the Ultimate Direction FKT vest. Super comfy vest and the kit I’ll mostly likely be able to carry a bivy and tarp in to fastpack through to Timberline.

Table Mountain… I think.

I drank the Cytomax and a few sips of water… I ate when I got back to the car and didn’t feel like stopping from Dry Creek to the car (all downhill) .

Not the place to fall here. Very steep and a long way down.

These sections are also part of Christof Teucher’s Hatfield loops. Those are definitely on the punch list for this summer and fall.