HWM at the GAMH

Obligatory crappy iPhone photo from attending a show.

One of my favorites: Hot Water Music at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last night, celebrating their 30th anniversary.

Some questions will never have answers

Earlier today, we found out someone near and dear to us took their own life.

Like countless friends and family who remain behind after this happens, we’re left with more questions than answers and it’s especially painful to know that our questions will never have answers.

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? Or can’t be helped? You often hear advice that says, “Hey, if you’re thinking of harming yourself, just talk to someone! 988!”

As if it’s as simple as that.

We would sometimes hear them say, “Someday, I’m going to kill myself.

We obviously said, “No! You don’t need to do that! We’re here for you! How can we help you? You can call us any time, any place. Whatever you need, we’re here for you!

Their response was always a variation of “Hah, that’s so sweet. You don’t worry about me.

And yet. Here we are. No note. No goodbye. No reason. No nothing.

We’re left with nothing but our own confusion, grief, and anger.

Exploring Mount St. Helens blast zone using Google Earth

May 18th marked the 44th anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Over on Threads, someone started an account that posted pseudo-realtime updates leading up to the eruption and its aftermath. It’s been really fascinating to follow and it stoked my interest in learning more about the eruption (no surprise, given my past geology background, eh?).

Like most things that I start digging into, I ended up finding  a book!

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson. It details events surrounding the eruption and explores how a number of victims ended up around the mountain on the fateful Sunday morning. Reading it sent me down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia entries, USGS reports and Google Earth sleuthing…

In the summer of 2009, I visited Johnston Ridge Observatory and was able to see the volcano first hand (see image below). Johnston Ridge Observatory is located on the site of the Coldwater II observation post — where volcanologist David Johnston famously radioed his last words before the lateral blast swept over the ridge, destroying his encampment (Johnston’s body was never found): “Vancouver, Vancouver! This is it!”

Source: Me

The lateral blast, the result of a M5.1 earthquake that triggered the largest landslide in recorded history (sheering 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain), sent a violent pyroclastic blast northward, scouring the landscape for miles. You can still see the results of the blast to this day.

When we visited in 2009 — 29 years after the blast, evidence of the lateral blast was evident in obvious signs of tree fall (below image) — gigantic trees snapped over in the direction of the blast as if they were toothpicks.

Source: Me

Johnston Ridge (and the site of the Coldwater II Observation Post) sit about 5 miles from the Mount St. Helens. Looking out over this grand vista, your sense of scale is completely messed up. The mountain is so huge that it looks like you can reach out and touch it — you swear to yourself that it’s just right there, a short hop and skip away.

“I’m going to go on a quick hike to the volcano. I’ll be back by lunchtime,” you say.

Everyone else: “lol”

The shockwave and pyroclastic blast that resulted from the lateral blast were estimated to have reached upwards of 670 miles per hour. At that speed, it would have taken 30 seconds to travel from the volcano to overtopping the ridge.

Looking at my own photos from the observation post, you can’t help but wonder what David Johnston was thinking as he saw the shockwave and pyroclastic blast rapidly spread across the valley below, approaching his location. It was probably an awesome sight to see, quickly followed by “Oh. Shit.”

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we have some fantastic exploration tools. I loaded up the Google Earth web app and set about exploring the area.

One of the first things I notice is how huge the mountain is (err… was?) and how small and insignificant Johnston Ridge seems, especially in the face of the resulting landslide and pyroclastic blast.

Via Google Earth

Zooming in on the Spirit Lake area, you can still see floating tree trunks grouped together, covering the northern part of the lake (I assume due to prevailing southerly winds in the area).

Via Google Earth

If we turn toward the west and look at Johnston Ridge, you can see deposits left over as the pyroclastic blast topped the ridge. They are the lighter grey outcrops you see around the map. (I’ve attempted to poorly outline them below).

Via Google Earth

Let’s pop over the the valley just to the north of Johnston Ridge (where Spirit Lake Highway runs). We can zoom in and see a mess of tangled tree trunks along the banks of South Coldwater Creek.

Via Google Earth

At the top of that valley, we can see more evidence of pyroclastic blast deposits. Like the image of Johnston Ridge above, look for the light grey outcrops and exposures.

Via Google Earth

Alright, let’s check out how far the effects of the lateral blast were felt. If we zoom out a bit and go to the top of the ridge (the next ridge north of Johnston Ridge — I am unsure of the name), we see more evidence of blast zone tree fall. At this point, we’re about 6.5 miles from the volcano.

Via Google Earth

If we skip north across the next valley that contains Coldwater Lake, we get to the third ridge we’re going to look at. Again, at the top, we see evidence of blast zone tree fall. This is 8 miles from the volcano.

Via Google Earth

Now that we’re getting a sense of the scale of the blast, we can zoom out and start putting things together. Wherever this sort of tree fall exists, it almost looks like the landscape was scoured (it was!).

Let’s see if we can find anything else interesting. We zoom out and see some scour marks on ridges way off to the north.

Via Google Earth

The area I circled looks interesting. It’s called Goat Mountain and it’s nearly 12 miles from the volcano. Let’s zoom in… ah, yes. There is the distinct “hash mark” pattern we keep seeing, that represents the blast zone tree fall.

Via Google Earth

From our computer screen, it’s hard to get a proper sense of scale. If we use Google Earth to measure the length of one of these “match sticks” (a big dead tree!), we get about 33 feet!

Via Google Earth

A USGS report on the lateral blast showed evidence of 100 foot tall trees knocked over that were located 19 miles from the volcano! Try as I might, I am unable to find evidence of this via Google Earth, as the margins of the blast zone seem to merge with areas where loggers have clear cut the forest.

Below is an example of a clear cut logging area about 30 miles away from the volcano (this was not affected by the blast zone).

Via Google Earth

“But Dave,” I hear you say, “how do you know some of those are from the blast and some are from logging?”

You’re right! In a way, I don’t.  However, one potentially easy way to tell is by the presence of logging roads. In my example from Goat Mountain above (12 miles from the volcano), the tree fall was located on a ridge, away from any sort of easily accessible logging road.

There was one section of Steve Olson’s book that I found particularly fascinating, especially because I hadn’t heard about it before. At the exact time the mountain erupted, a small plane was flying overhead with two geologists as passengers — Keith and Dorothy Stoffel.

They were on their fourth pass over the north rim of the crater, flying west to east, when Keith noticed something moving. “Look,” he said, “the crater.” Judson tipped the Cessna’s right wing so they could get a better view. Some of the snow on the south-facing side of the crater had started to move. Then, as they looked out the plane’s windows, an incredible thing happened. A gigantic east-west crack appeared across the top of the mountain, splitting the volcano in two. The ground on the northern half of the crack began to ripple and churn, like a pan of milk just beginning to boil. Suddenly, without a sound, the northern portion of the mountain began to slide downward, toward the north fork of the Toutle River and Spirit Lake. The landslide included the bulge but was much larger. The whole northern portion of the mountain was collapsing. The Stoffels were seeing something that no other geologist had ever seen.

A few seconds later, an angry gray cloud emerged from the middle of the landslide, and a similar, darker cloud leapt from near the top of the mountain. They were strange clouds, gnarled and bulbous; they looked more biological than geophysical. The two clouds rapidly expanded and coalesced, growing so large that they covered the ongoing landslide. “Let’s get out of here,” shouted Keith as the roiling cloud reached toward their plane.

Excerpt From Eruption by Steve Olson

Now, wait a minute! You’re telling me that at the exact time the volcano erupted, there were people flying overhead? I know this happened in 1980, but there just has to be photos of this, right?

Yes, there are photos!

Via Dorothy Stoffel

Via Dorothy Stoffel

Via Dorothy Stoffel

Via Dorothy Stoffel

The photos correlate well to a famous series of images captured by Gary Rosenquist as the initial moments of the landslide and eruption unfolded.

Via USGS / Gary Rosenquist

Here’s a fun aside (if you can call something related to an epic natural disaster “fun“). A YouTuber took the series captured by Rosenquist and ran some magical AI frame interpolation on them (essentially — an AI tries to generate content to fill in missing information between frames of a video). The result is a near real-time simulation of what those initial moments of the blast may have looked like.

After taking the photos, Rosenquist and his fellow friends correctly decided it was time to leave. Immediately.

He took one last photo (this is another one I don’t remember seeing before).

Via Gary Rosenquist

Do you like geology? Want more? Here’s a post I wrote in 2010 that took a deep dive into earthquake frequency.

Project: Super Simple ChatUI

I’ve been playing around a lot with Ollama, an open source project that allows one to run LLMs locally on their machine. It’s been fun to mess around with. Some benefits: no rate-limits, private (e.g., trying to create a pseudo therapy bot, trying to simulate a foul mouthed smarmy sailor, or trying to generate ridiculous fake news articles about a Florida Man losing a fight to a wheel of cheese), and access to all sorts of models that get released.

I decided to try my hand at creating a simplified interface for interacting with it. The result: Super Simple ChatUI.

As if I need more side projects. So it goes!

Adventures in topology: The Cuckoo’s Egg and meeting Cliff Stoll

I recently finished up reading “The Cuckoo’s Egg” by Cliff Stoll. It was a fascinating story that details some of the first examples of computer hacking and computer forensics.

This post isn’t a review of his book, however! It’s more to document some adventures that resulted after reading it.

First, a quick summary:

In 1986, Cliff Stoll was  an astronomer working at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory when he was tasked to look into a $0.75 discrepancy in compute time billed to physicists and other scientists who remotely connected to their machines.

What resulted was a year long wild-goose chase that ended up in the arrest of a KGB operative in Germany who remotely connected to university computers in the United States in order to gain access to military networks through ARPANET (precursor to the Internet of today).

Cliff wrote a book about his experience that went on to become a best seller. For fans of esoteric computer history, this was one of the first documented examples of hacking and marked the beginning of computer forensics. This book was published 35 years ago and deals with (now) antiquated technology that the young ones around here know nothing about — but oh wow, did I thoroughly enjoy this!

Anyway! That’s not why I’m here. I’m here, because I keep seeing his name pop up in various places (more recently Hacker News). A post mentioned his TED talk in 2008. It’s a hoot — and pretty inspiring, too!

One person mentioned that he makes Klein Bottles (an interesting manifold that ends up being a container with zero volume, as it only has a single surface) out of his home in… North Oakland. Oh, he also enjoys visitors.

Oh, really?!

The Klein Bottles are a really interesting object and have been a fun talking point with friends. I ended up purchasing a Klein Bottle from Cliff and asked if I could pick it up, since I live nearby. He happily obliged.

I ended up bringing our oldest kiddo and we had an absolute blast. He spent an hour with us, showing some of the artistic stuff he’s been working on (mathematical quilts!), showing off various gadgets he’s made (a fun device that draws images on his shipping boxes using Sharpies — an automated personal touch), and letting my kiddo drive the remote controlled robot he built that runs under his crawl space (!).

Just an absolutely memorable time. Thanks so much, Cliff!

TIL: List git branches by recent activity

In both my work and personal coding projects, I generally have a number of various branches going at once. Switching between various branches (or remembering past things I was working on) can somethings be a chore. Especially if I’m not diligent about deleting branches that have already been merged.

Usually, I do something like:

> git branch

Then, I get a ridiculously huge list of branches that I’ve forgotten to prune and spend all sorts of time trying to remember what I was most recently working on.


At least 75% of those have already been merged and should have been pruned.

There has to be a better way, right?

Thanks to the power of the Google machine (and Stack Overflow), I found out, there is!

> git branch --sort=-committerdate

Hot diggity dog!


That list is now sorted by most recent activity on the branch.

Alright. Even though this is better, that’s still a lot of typing to remember. Fortunately, we can create an alias:

> git config --global alias.recent "branch --sort=-committerdate"

Now all I need to do is just type git recent and it works!


Book Review: Palo Alto by Malcolm Harris

I really struggled and finished this out of spite.

I went into it wanting to like it and hoping to learn more about the history of a specific part of California (I recently read and enjoyed “California: An American History” by John Faragher and it stoked my interest in looking for more books related to our state).

Oh, wow. What did I get myself into? This book could have been half as long and still tried to make its point: Palo Alto is the center of all evil and suffering on Earth, anyone who went to school at Stanford or started a company there had ulterior motives on world domination and fantasies of oppression, everyone is driven by a profit motive above all else, here’s 1,000 reasons why capitalism is bad, the only way to right the wrongs of the millions that have suffered or been killed due to Palo Alto ideas and inventions is to give the land back, blah, blah, blah.

Okay, Yes! There are unfortunate things that happened due to people and companies in this town that have caused people around the world to suffer. But this is not an exclusively Palo Alto problem, nor is it exclusively a capitalist problem. There are a lot of things that happened or been created here that have also been a benefit and this book just takes every opportunity to tear down and complain… about literally everything.

Maybe 1.5 stars? I am loathe to round up because I think this book is a bit disingenuous in its claims and the author has an axe (probably made in Palo Alto) that they wish to grind.

It’s Friday afternoon, so let’s write a song

My latest generative AI obsession: Suno. You provide it some lyrics, give it a musical style to emulate and hit the create button. It’s pretty wild.

I wrote some fun lyrics about deploying code on Fridays, set to some catchy 80’s pop. The result is pretty crazy.

Testing in production (oh yeah)
That is how we roll (whoa)
Testing in production
using my flawless code

Why should I write tests (what?)
My code is never a mess (oh no)
Did I just rhyme,
Tests and a mess (yeah he did)

It’s Friday afternoon.
It’s time to deploy my code. (whoa yeah)
The weekend is almost here.
It’s time to deploy my code. (watch out)

It’s Friday afternoon.
I don’t have anything to fear
It’s time to deploy my code.
The weekend is almost here.

Why should I write tests (what?)
My code is never a mess (oh no)
Did I just rhyme,
Tests and a mess (yeah he did)

It’s Friday afternoon. (Whoa)
It’s Friday afternoon. (Whoaaa)
It’s Friday afternoon. (Yeah!)
It’s time to deploy my code. (WAIT WHAT)

Why should I write tests (what?)
My code is never a mess (oh no)
Did I just rhyme,
Tests and a mess (yeah he did)

It’s Friday afternoon.
It’s time to deploy my code. (whoa yeah)
The weekend is almost here.
It’s time to deploy my code. (watch out)

It’s Friday afternoon.
It’s time to deploy my code. (whoa yeah)
The weekend is almost here.
It’s time to deploy my code. (watch out)

Tracking the total eclipse shadow

I didn’t get a chance to make it out to see the total eclipse in person this time. (Really bummed… 2017 turned me into a legit umbraphile!)

Earlier today, I pulled down a number of images from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite and compiled this video. It takes a photo every 10 minutes. You can clearly see the Moon’s shadow as it makes its way across North America.

(Protip: Set the image quality to 720p. YouTube’s compression makes that video look like garbage otherwise!)

Pretty awesome!

Somewhat related — in 2020, I compiled a bunch of NOAA imagery that encompassed 3 weeks. I need to get that project up and running again…

Ever changing communication

There was a time (really, the past 15 years or so) where responding to things with an animated GIF was so perfect and encapsulated so much (e.g., if a picture is worth 1,000 words, what is a series of pixelated images moving a 8 frames per second worth?).

For example. see the rise of services like Giphy. I even have a random 10 year old project myself that involves animated GIFs!

Now though, it’s becoming generative AI all the way down.

For example, I just received a meeting invite that increases the frequency of meetings I’m having related to a certain project to… every single day.

Me: Hey, robot! Please create a meme image of a programmer jumping up on a desk and excitedly cheering “MOAR MEETINGS!”


Now to figure out a way to send it in my place…

Coffee confusion

February 27th, 2024, via the Washington Post:

One of the most striking findings is that coffee drinkers are less prone to developing Type 2 diabetes. Many large studies have found that people who drink three to four cups of coffee daily have about a 25 percent lower risk of the disease compared with people who drink little or no coffee. Your likelihood of developing diabetes decreases about 6 percent for each cup of coffee you consume daily — but only up to about six cups.

March 11th, 2024, via CNN:

Caffeine intoxication occurs when a person has dangerously high levels of caffeine in the system. It creates a spectrum of unpleasant and severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing and seizures. There are a few cases where people have died from caffeine intoxication.


Caffeine intoxication is more than the headache you get from drinking too much expresso. It happens when people ingest an excessive amount of caffeine. The US Food and Drug Administration defines this limit as anything more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily for healthy adults. This is equivalent to four or five cups of coffee.

Hometown tidbits: The first modern hydroelectric plant

I’m currently reading California: An American History, by Jack Mack Faragher. There is an interesting historical tidbit that calls out the area where I grew up.

A robust economy pulled migrants to California. That had not always been the case. The economy had grown slowly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, held back in part by the absence of coal deposits on the Pacific coast. In the 1890s, however, Californians began exploiting other forms of energy that would power a takeoff into sustained economic development.

They first harnessed the power of the water that coursed down the watercourses draining the state’s many mountain ranges. In 1893, utilizing technology developed for the mining industry, the first modern hydroelectric plant in the nation began operation on a fast-flowing creek near the southern California town of Redlands. Local orange growers needed a source of power that would enable them to pump water up into the hills, where they wanted to lay out more groves. The Redlands generating station became the model for dozens of others, many in the Sierra Nevada, designed to provide power for both domestic and industrial use.

Hey, that’s neat! I grew up on a property with a creek near the town of Redlands (and have even done a small bit of research on it back in the ‘ol university days).

I wonder… is it the same creek (or rather the bigger creek near this small creek I grew up on). To the Google machine!

Search: “redlands first hydroelectric plant


Built by the Redlands Electric Light and Power Company, the Mill Creek hydroelectric generating plant began operating on 7 September 1893. This powerhouse was foremost in the use of three-phase alternating current power for commercial application and was influential in the widespread adoption of three-phase power throughout the United States.


The success of the 3-phase generators at the Mill Creek No. 1 was apparent, for these original generators were used until 1934. Although the original units have been replaced, this plant is still in operation to this day. Today, more than 100 years after Mill Creek’ completion. 3- phase generators are still the primary form of power generation around the world.

Hah, that is pretty cool! I distinctly remember this building from playing nearby and exploring the “wash” (as we called the area). You can see it via Google Street View, here, just to the north of Highway 38.

This is just one of the many wonders about this area.

See also:

DNS issues days after moving domain registrars

(Writing this for my future self and for future people that might have similiar problems)

Quite awhile ago, I made the decision to move all my domains from GoDaddy to a mix of Google Domains and Name.com. I enjoyed managing my domains through the Google interface and thought it was one of the better UIs available. It made things easy!

Sadly, like most beloved Google projects (RIP Google Reader), they decided to shut it down and transfer all domains to Squarespace. Well, I didn’t really want to use them. So, I decided to transfer many of my domains to Name.com.

The process to transfer was pretty easy. I figured I’d have to wait a day or two before I could see the changes.

One day goes by. Two days go by. Three days go by. It’s been four days and I’m still getting this when attempting to view my blog and a few other domains of mine from my home network.

What the heck is going on! If we check some domain propogation tools, I see that my site is pretty much unreachable throughout most of the world.

Interestingly, if I popped off my home network and used my phone, I could reach the site.

Okay! Now we’re getting somewhere. Sort of.

After much Googling, I found a post on the Cloudflare forums where someone had a similiar issue. The solution was that the “DNSSEC” settings were incorrect. I don’t use Cloudflare, but it seemed like something that was in the right direction.

2-3 days ago I changed the nameservers towards those of cloudflare, and since I cannot reach the website anymore. I’ve added all the DNS records that should be relevant. However in the dashboard it keeps saying pending nameserver update and the website can’t be reached. After 2-3 days still… The hosting company says that the NS points to those of cloudflare, and I’m at a loss at what I did wrong to make it go through cloudflare…and be able to be reached again. 

A solution to this issue stated:

Your domain’s DNSSEC setup is broken

Interesting. I hadn’t touched anything related to DNSSEC settings at all, as Name.com said it would auto import all settings during the transfer process. In fact, I couldn’t see anything related to DNSSEC management at all.

Oh, wait. It turns out, it’s waaaaaayyyy down at the bottom of the page when managing your domain!

Let’s see what happens if we click on it.

Oh! There is a value there:

Interestingly, there is an option to remove this entry. Let’s see what happens. I mean, the site is already broken and unreachable right. So, I click remove and wait a few minutes.

And then…

the websites are accessible again!

Wow. Lesson learned — double check everything when transferring domain registrars.

TIL: How to change your default editor for git commits

A recent post on Hacker News highlighted the benefits of detailed commit messages in git.

Usually, my git commits look something like this:

> git commit -m "fix: component missing configuration file"

…which isn’t all that helpful. (Related: see XKCD on git commit messages)

I decided to try and utilize this newfound knowledge in my own git commits and I quickly ran into an obstacle. Simply using > git commit opens up vim. Which, I really don’t want to use. (I’m sorry!)

This is something I should already know how to do, but I had to do a Google search to learn more. It turns out, you can change the default editor in git. This makes it much more convenient! How do you do it?

git config --global core.editor "nano"

Replace “nano” with your preferred editor of choice. Now, running > git commit opens up your editor and you can make detailed commit messages to your heart’s content!

Re-reading the Three-Body Problem

Way back in 2015, I read The Three-Body Problem and thought it was an alright book, if a bit dry at times. This probably goes along with me liking the idea of hard science-fiction more than I actually like reading it.

That said, the upcoming Netflix release of Three-Body Problem reminded me that I still wanted to continue reading the trilogy, especially since I’ve heard absolutely rave reviews of the second book, The Dark Forest.

The only problem?

I honestly don’t remember what happened in the first book. Something something about science, space,, first contact, invasion, quantum entanglement, etc.

So, I decided to go ahead and re-read it this past week.

Oh, man! I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe it’s just a time-and-place kind of thing.

I am definitely looking forward to this.