The Core Principles of Green Product Design

An Urgent Appeal to Silicon Valley

The time has long since passed that Silicon Valley was a global center of technological innovation. It has become a center of entrenched institutional power instead. Nowhere is this more evident than in the failure to excel in the field of cutting edge green product design. The inability of Silicon Valley to create sustainable online services and the wide array of green products needed to access them is due to a lack imagination, not insufficient investment or enthusiasm. It comes down to an inherent limitation in the dominant binary logic of zeroes and ones that drives the core processes powering the high tech economy. Creating green solutions that will extend the warranty of the planet beyond our lifetimes requires a base 3, ternary approach to product and service design that thus far has woefully been lacking. Without a quantum leap of the mind from digits to trits, Silicon Valley and the communities and industries that rely upon it are doomed to go the way of so many lumbering dinosaurs and deserted desert empires before them. 

At its most basic, the problem is rooted in an inability to ground green product design in fundamental principles derived from nature, rather than highly rationalized processes invented by humans to benefit ourselves. Until the leading lights of Silicon Valley confess to the highly extractive and often vampiric nature of their current product offerings – and take decisive actions to correct them – we all will suffer in the end. There are only so many rare earth minerals to go around, and only so much landfill space available to house the glut of fossil fuel derived components needed to build the smart devices and touchscreens that power today’s Internet. In addition, ever increasing demands on overstretched and outdated electrical power grids from cloud computing services are ticking time bombs that have and will continue to explode across the face of the Bay Area’s highly integrated networks of communication, public safety, and commerce. 

The wildfires and rolling blackouts of 2020 were harbingers of what is to come. Wind farms and solar panels alone will not fix this mess, nor will fleets of semi-autonomous electric vehicles that continue to rely on manufacturing chains that take more out the planet’s resource base than they put back in. Corrugated cardboard is still created by cutting down trees, and no amount of recycling of discarded Amazon shipping boxes will change this reality. And the tragedy of it all is that the companies who powered Silicon Valley to such prominence had promised us all so much more. 

What, then is to be done? I believe that true solutions lie to found in nature, if only we can train ourselves where and how to look. There are at least four core principles of green product design. Each one of them begins and ends in cyclical patterns of grow and decay that can be replenished and sustained over time but that allow humanity to benefit during the interim. Beginning from these natural principles, the companies of Silicon Valley who currently command so much financial power and intellectual bandwidth can create the innovative processes from which a new generation of green products and Earth-friendly services might emerge. And if this were to happen, we all would benefit in the end from their efforts.

By way of analogy, we might look to the work of scholars in the historical profession and related fields in the social sciences and humanities – precisely to those disciples in today’s academic environment that currently are under the greatest threat from the rising tides of the STEM industrial complex – for clues to where such principles might be found. Historical narratives, for example, are not built by assemblies of facts alone; they start out as inchoate fragments and shards of human endeavor that are collected, cataloged, and archived before something as coherent as a “fact” can come to life. The situation is similar in the world of high tech. Only by studying nature at its most pristine and primal can we assemble the step-by-step processes out of which more sustainable, greener products will be manufactured.

Broadly speaking, the natural world is characterized by four interconnected fields of potentially infinite energetic self-expression: recyclability, reassemblability, repurposability, and retainability. These, in turn, may be observed in practical operation in the carbon-based life form ecology that surrounds us: wood, stone, glass, and metal. In each case, active human intervention is required to unlock the inherent forces that each contain. Wood can be a source of heat, light, and shelter. Stones can be used to build and buttress. Glass can be a transparent, chemically neutral source for pragmatic storage as well as aesthetic showcase. Metal can maintain is use value and flexible strength over impressively-broad scales of time. 

If the core natural principles of wood, stone, glass, and metal were to be more fully integrated into the current fossil-fuel centric configuration of computing power that drives the world economy, then the possibilities for a more resilient high tech marketplace might yet be born. By thinking deeply, intensively, and creatively about how high tech tools and gadgets can be recycled, reassembled, repurposed, and made to retain their value, the titans of today’s Silicon Valley can redeem themselves for past mistakes committed during their initial rise to power in the past century. The good news is that there is still time. Nature waits for us to discover her inner truths with an implacability and imperturbability that can only elicit admiration, adoration, and affection. If we are not willing to learn the lessons that the Earth patiently waits to teach, we do not deserve to call this planet home. Then the Valley’s elite would all be better off gathering into their exclusive enclaves and inner circles and rocketing themselves to the moon.     

America’s Backroads with Jeff Bezos: Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA

Mercury News image of an old growth redwood in Big Basin smoldering after the 2020 CZU Lighting Complex fires scorched the park. https://images.app.goo.gl/f4tfnXxxcR8ik72Z8

Episode 2: Bosch Icon wiper blades.

Unofficial transcript of a conversation between Amazon.com  founder, Jeff Bezos, and sempervirens117.com founder, Brett Winters.  

Jeff: Hi everyone, and welcome to Episode 2 of “America’s Backroads with Jeff Bezos,” a new Amazon Studios documentary series in which I explore the hidden corners of the American landscape in search of automotive adventure. I travel to a remote location to meet with an aspiring young American entrepreneur, who introduces me to an automotive-related product purchased on Amazon that is particularly useful in the backroads of this amazing country of ours. 

Today, we’re at a Big Basin Redwoods State Park, outside of Santa Cruz, California, staring up through a morning fog hundreds of feet into the air, searching for the top of a 1,000 year old giant redwood. The air here is wet and soothing, and inside the redwood grove it’s as quiet as a cathedral or temple. Wow! Simply stunning natural beauty. 

This area was devastated by massive wildfires in 2020, and the park isn’t open yet to the public. We’ve been given special access to tour the site in an effort to help raise public awareness of the need to protect and restore such fantastic natural spaces for future generations to enjoy. And I, personally, have taken an interest in this subject as part of Amazon’s Climate Pledge.

I’ve flown in from Amazon HQ in Seattle to speak with Brett Winters, a local resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains who runs a small eco-consultancy, sempervirens117.com, in Woodside, CA   about Bosch Icon wiper blades, which claim to last 40% longer than less expensive, competing replacement brands. They cost around $20 per blade, so definitely an investment for most car buyers who aren’t multibillionaires like me. Let me get to the point, Brett. Are these German-designed wiper blades really worth it?

B: Yes, Jeff. In fact, these Bosch Icon wiper blades are the best I’ve ever encountered when it comes to smooth, quiet windshield cleaning power. In light snow, heavy rain, road dust, and morning fog, they work perfectly, assuming you keep the blades clean of debris before leaving the driveway and have some good quality washer fluid topped off under the hood before you begin longer trips.

J: I think those are important points you make. The blades are obviously not self-cleaning, and for them to keep in contact with the windshield glass, they need to be well maintained. That seems to the case with many German-designed products we sell on Amazon, actually. If used properly, and treated well, they function as advertised. 

B: My friends who are BMW drivers tell me the same thing. As long as you do regular maintenance, and as long as you have some technical knowledge (or a dependable mechanic who does), they are the ultimate driving machines.

J: Well, I have a whole team of people who maintain my fleet of cars and trucks, but I definitely want to check to make sure they are using Bosch Icon wiper blades on all my vehicles. In fact, I’m having my assistant look into this right away. But let’s get back to this amazing setting: the redwoods, they are so mighty but also so calming. It’s as if the stress of being the world’s wealthiest man is just melting away. Big medicine, wouldn’t you agree?

B: Sure, Jeff. These ancient redwoods have amazing therapeutic effects that scientists are only now starting to realize, but that spiritual healers and indigenous peoples in the area long understood.. But these gigantic trees can be incredibly dangerous in winter storms, and even heavy fog can cause branches to break. If your car is parked near them, you’ll get lots of debris all over, so cleaning your windshield and wiping the Bosch Icon wiper blades with a cloth or even your fingers before leaving is recommended.

J: But how do Bosch icon wiper blades work in the snow and other adverse cold climate conditions? I like to ski in the Washington Cascades, and my family loves visiting Yellowstone in winter with other kids of Amazon executives. Would these wiper blades work equally well in sub-zero weather?

B: That’s a great question, Jeff. I’ve been to Yellowstone in winter when it was -10F in the morning, and I’ve gone cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the Cascades in near blizzard conditions, so I speak from experience. These Bosch blades are made to resist freezing and don’t warp or lose their effectiveness when it’s cold. But again: use a winter washer fluid rated to -20F or lower, and have a good ice cleaning tool at your disposal, like those by Mallory that are made in the U.S.A. and have serious leverage for getting ice and slush off the glass. Bosch Icon wiper blades are really good as designed, but they aren’t snowplows; they are wiper blades.

J: And I assume they also work well with heavy rain and thick ocean fog, of the sort you encounter often on the northern California coast?

B: Oh yes, as long as the rubber blades are free of things like redwood needles, branches, and the like.

J: And they look really stylish, too. For wiper blades.

B: Bosch is really good that way. Design matters for Germans, no question.

J: I’ll say! This seems like a great product. Let’s wrap things up, why don’t we? Got anything for us to snack on at the picnic area? I’d love to sample some local food and wine.

B: I brought a Weber grill, which I’ve loaded with Royal Oak natural lump charcoal that is all ready to go. I’ll be grilling Pomponio Ranch pastured raised beef ribeye steaks as well as Markegard Family organic pork tenderloin. We’ve also got heirloom polenta cakes, fresh sourdough farmhouse bread from Backhaus Bakery, heirloom tomato salad, lemon cucumbers in a fresh dill vinaigrette, mixed organic greens, and ripe sliced melon from Blue House Farms. We’ll serve Big Basin Vineyards 2012 Odeon Cabernet-Syrah red blend, along with their 2015 Alfaro Family Vineyard Pinot Noir – all from the local area. And we have local strawberries, organic vanilla ice cream, and blackberry pie for desert, with French Press coffee from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz.

J: Sounds delicious! Have anything we might start with, cocktail-wise?

B: How about some nice gin and tonics, using Gin #1 from the Venus Spirits Distillery in Santa Cruz? Some of the best craft spirits in the county, I’d say. 

J: Cheers, Brett! Here’s to clean windshields and lots of great road trips ahead.

J: Cheers, Jeff! I can definitely drink to that.

[end of transcript].

Big Dreams in the Big Sky

Paradise Valley, by John Mayer.

A modest review of John Mayer’s 2013 album, Paradise Valley.

Anyone who reviews this album without mentioning “Montana” has clearly missed the point.

Dear John, I think that I had to move to Montana to realize what a gifted artist you are. Without the Big Sky, it is all just hot air, isn’t it?

Case in point: I recently read Jon Caramanic’s 2013 review of your album in the NYTimes, entitled  “A Crooner Decides to Speak Through His Music,” in which he spends more time dissecting your love life with Katy Perry and Taylor Swift than actually attending to the interplay of music, mood, and landscape that shaped this album into a polished gemstone of musical craftsmanship, akin to the way that glaciers and melting snows have shaped the Paradise Valley and the surrounding, high elevation plateaus.

John, I didn’t even know that Taylor Swift and you were a thing, back in the day. God’s honest truth, I have never listened to “Dear John.” And while I was smitten by that female vocalist on “Who You Love,” I didn’t bother to check what her name was. I just loved the duet and rocked out to the rhythms and flows and beats. 

For me, if you don’t mention Montana when reviewing this album, you simply are missing the forest by focusing on the shape of individual trees. Jon C. never did, by the way (perhaps an early sign that the Times was, indeed, failing?). It’s all water under the bridge by now, I suppose. I mean, has that dude even been to Paradise Valley? Would he know Pray, Montana if it pressed up against his posterior? Would he have the boldness to do a morning soak at Chico Hot Springs in early January, when ice forms on the metal ladders at the deep end? I have, and you’ll find the pictures on Yelp from my review to prove it. 

And there is a dog on the cover this album, not a girlfriend. Man’s best friend, who looks better in that hat that you do, John. Just sayin’.

When I first listened to this album, I did so because of the Montana connection. Otherwise, I am ashamed to admit, I did buy the whole “crooner” label for you. I put you up there with Michael Bublé, Usher, and Justin Timberlake. And Harry Connick Jr., too, but that’s probably just the media talking. They really loved comparing you with others, didn’t they? Maybe that’s why you decided to act so ferociously different (read: erratic and crazy with self-torpedoing tendencies*) when members of the press came ‘a calling for salacious stories to print. You needed to be yourself. You needed to be unique, like a vintage Luftwaffe IWC with singe marks on the strap from crashing and burning while on a bombing run over Coventry. You just don’t forget something as intense as all of that. Forgive, yes; but forget? Not in this lifetime.

(*) If this isn’t already listed as an actual disorder in the DSM-V, well it should be.

But this album, it isn’t like that, is it? It’s beautiful, but in a hard as nails Montana sort of way. The musical compositions are so tender, but there is a toughness to the lyrics, belied only by the lushness and dulcet tones of the vocals. The guitar bits are so smooth and masterful, as only a skilled, lifelong student of the strings can manage. 

Suddenly, I was listening to you differently, I realized. I was comparing you to respected musicians, not musical celebrities with millions of Twitter followers. I was hearing Mark Knopfler, or Martha Scanlan, or Mandolin Orange in your songs. That’s a subjective list, I grant you; but it’s true. Tell me; was it the “Montana” in ya’ that done it? Did all that time in the Big Sky while you were recovering from your vocal ailments and media missteps change you in positive and enduring ways as an artist? As a man? As a songwriter? I hope so. I hope that the land transformed you, shaped you, bent you to the breaking point and then, like a New Testament miracle, made you stronger, leaner, faster, tougher, and kinder. I swear, I’ve seen it happen.

Have you met Bryce Andrews yet? Or read his cowboy memoir, Badluck Way? You’d love it. It’s set on the Sun Ranch in the Madison River Valley, about 25 miles south of Ennis. Your neck of the woods, so to speak, just two valleys over (I’m ignoring Ted Turner, your next door neighbor, and Tom Brokaw and David Letterman, though). Do you ever make it over to the Bitterroot to hang with Huey, by the way? Or the News? Just wondering. Somehow, I imagine you’d have things to talk about, Big Sky rock bro to rock bro, I’m thinking, with the live concert-related injuries to body and mind to prove it.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. The point is, John, that this album was the gateway for me into your other music, both before and since. I especially dig Born and Raised. I have listened to “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test” more often than I can count. I go back and forth on it, but I think he drowned in the end, and it was his submarine that washed up on the Japanese shores. Feels better that way, lyrically speaking. He died doing what he loved, even when most people didn’t believe in him, except for his wife and best friends at the bar. Worse ways to end up than that, even for a Libra like yourself (although perhaps with a bit of Scorpio as well, speculates my wife).

John, the next time you are out on that open highway, here’s what I propose. Start in Hamilton, Montana with morning coffee at Big Creek Coffee Roasters on Main Street (tell Randy I said, “Hi”). Take US-93 to Chief Joseph Pass, then head East on Highway 43 to the Big Hole battlefield site, which is now the Nez Perce National Historic Park. Have a bagged lunch and beer* (I recommend something from Kettlehouse in Missoula or Wildwood in Stevensville). Once you’ve reached Wisdom, head south on Highway 278 to the Grasshopper Valley. Turn left and once past Polaris, stay for the night at Elkhorn Hot Springs. Two words, my friend: the grotto. You will thank me later. It’s a very rustic place, the Elkhorn, but I think you’d love it. 

(*) You can of course substitute this with a non-alcoholic beverage of your choice if you’re no longer a drinker of the hard stuff. 

Next morning, head north to Wise River, then drive east to Interstate 15. From there, it’s on to Butte for an early afternoon cocktail at Headframe Spirits (or seltzer water, I suppose), then back on the highway to Livingstone and south on Highway 89 to your home in Paradise Valley. Once you’ve settled in, reward yourself with a nice meal and good bottle of wine at Chico Hot Springs. Their cellar selections are fantastic. You will by then have earned it. That’s the way home, my friend. That’s the way. But you probably know that already, don’t you? 

P.S. John, I’ve been inviting musicians to spend some quality downtime as my guest on the San Mateo coast, based out of a very small but comfortable cottage in the redwoods overlooking Half Moon Bay. To date, the list has included Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Tracy Chapman, the Indigo Girls, Madonna, Sheryl Crow, and Ani DiFranco. I figure that I should extend the invite to you as well; after all, you’ve more than earned it for all the joy you gave me with your music. So, if you’re ever in the Bay Area and want a hiking partner in the redwoods, or someone to show you the most secluded and pristine parts of the Pacific Coast between San Francisco and Carmel, or where to find the best carnitas tacos (hint: in a Mexican taqueria housed inside a gas station convenience store), or the best craft spirits (hint: in Santa Cruz), or the most interesting beer and wine tastings locally, message me on Yelp. I won’t tell anyone you’re stopping by, except for my wife, of course. She’s not exactly your typical John Mayer fan, but then again: neither am I. I’d like to think that we’re fellow travelers who finally found out after years of existence that you’re one of us, too. Tap ‘er light, friend. Tap ‘er light, indeed.

Paradise Valley, by John Mayer.

My Brain is Slowly Catching On

Most fascinating that philosophy still matters. B/c it does. Obviosuly.

Schingle's Blog

I’ve written two pieces in the last week or so, stating that I don’t understand Soren Kirkegaard. I still don’t, but slowly, I’m catching on to what he’s doing. He really lets his writing unfold slowly. Perhaps I’m just impatient. No doubt, he’s a better writer than I’ll ever be. Still, I’m slowly catching on.

Let me start by saying that the overwhelming majority of writers identified as “existentialists” are atheists. Soren Kirkegaard is a notable exception. (Another is C.S. Lewis). The core “value” in existentialism is “existence before essence.” Most existentialists state that man exists in a hostile world and must adapt to it. The idea of a “God” to exist is contrary to the obvious problems that exist in this hostile world. Kirkegaard, on the other hand, says that all “hostility” man faces in this world, are merely “tests” put out by God.

I complained earlier (last week)…

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Merlot Liberation Front Dispatch for 29.01.21

The three hostages taken by the Merlot Liberation Front in January 2021 and currently being held for ransom.

[Copy of a dispatch posted on The San Francisco Chronicle’s Yelp page @11:15am, Friday, January 29, 2021].

Our Demands Are The Following:

  1. Esther Mobley and Soleil Ho, the chief wine and food critics for The San Francisco Chronicle, should attend an unspecified number of unofficial yelp.com events in Santa Cruz , California starting in summer 2021 once outdoor and indoor dining options are available, and organized by multiple time Yelp Elite back badge holder, Bradley N., (yelpwhisperer.yelp.com) founding member #007 of the Merlot Liberation Front (January 20, 2020 – Present). 
  2. Esther and Soleil also should cover these events in their respective columns in The San Francisco Chronicle and contribute posts on social media.
  3. The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board should offer Bradley N. a freelance job covering the intersection of California hiking adventure, wine tasting, and budget travel.
  4. Elon Musk should deliver a brand new, black Tesla Model S to an undisclosed location hidden deep within the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Personally deliver, we mean.
  5. Either Netflix, Amazon Studios or Apple TV+ should agree to option the screenplay, “Driving Miss Mobley,” for a mutually agreed upon sum. But at least six figures, we’re thinking.
  6. And Alexander Payne should agree to direct it. 
  7. For free.
  8. Matt Damon should be hired to play the character of Boke. And Shailene Woodley must agree to be Miss Mobley, and ideally Reese Witherspoon would be Penelope and Awkwafina would play Soleil. 
  9. And each one of the women should receive at least three time more than what Damon gets.
  10. Also, we want jeroboam-sized bvottles of the most recent 10 vintages of Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot. Because we’re really thirsty, and our numbers are growing. Daily.
  11. A framed and signed copy of Esther’s award-winning Renaissance Winery article, and a free trip with her on the Napa Wine Train.
  12. A framed and signed copy of Soleil’s review of La Calenda in Yountville, and a free meal with her at the French Laundry.
  13. Signed, first-edition copies of Rex Pickett’s Sideways trilogy (Sideways, Vertical, Sideways 3: Chile). And an advanced copy of The Archivist. In case it’s any good.
  14. A personal meeting with Governor Newsom at his winery. Well, at one of them, whichever he chooses. Tell Nancy and the VP that they can come, too.

(a) If our demands are not met by February 1, 2021, we will hang the Jensen Pinot from an old-growth redwood, and we will let banana slugs consume its remains.

(b)  If our demands are not met by February 7, 2021, the 2014 Littorai Platt Vineyard Pinot will be shot, and we will bury its bottle somewhere in the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve that only we know about, because it’s not on one of the main trails that casual visitors frequent. And that 2014 vintage is the last of its kind, because the vineyard has been sold.

(c) If our demands are not met by February 14, 2021 (aka Valentine’s Day), the 2015 Bedrock Wine Co. Hirsch Vineyard sparkling Pinot will be strapped with an explosive belt and detonated, and the juncos and jays will feast on its entrails. And that bottle of Under the Wire wine ain’t all that cheap, neither. 

Resistance is futile. Delay is not advisable, unless you want to see more Pinots get hurt. And we haven’t even gotten started on the Anderson Valley hostages, yet. Don’t be responsible for a viniferous massacre. Don’t.

Signed, Commandate Paloma, founding member #001, on behalf of the Merlot Liberation Front.

We will use this WordPress account for all future negotiations. 

Time is of the essence.

Act now.

Signed, Commandante Paloma, founding member #001, on behalf of the Merlot Liberation Front.

MAKE MERLOT GREAT AGAIN !!!!!!!!!!!!!

A 2018 photo of Commandante P of the Merlot Liberation Front, taken at an undisclosed location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Golden State Wine Chronicles : An Update.

A 2011 bottle of Paloma’s legendary Spring Mountain estate Merlot.

The final scene of “Driving Miss Mobley” will soon be available on Medium (sempervirens117.medium.com) later today. Once posted, it will join the other scenes from all 4 previous acts, plus the prologue, to form a completed screenplay. Next up? Submitting an edited version to screenwriting fellowship competitions this spring. 

Here is the logline, in case you were wondering.

“A San Francisco wine critic explores spectacular destinations in California wine country in the five days leading up to Christmas with the help of her hired Tesla driver, and both of their lives are changed forever in this endearingly sweet yet caustically funny road trip adventure comedy.”

While I am not currently represented by an agent, I am open to legitimate offers. Please contact me at sempervirens117@gmail.com or message me on social media.

The best way to read the screenplay is in continuous chronological order, but you could always take a poststructuralist approach and mix it up.

When made into a movie, the rating will likely be R for mature adult audiences due to strong language. There is no violent or sexual content. 

I cannot express how grateful I am for the moral and social media support I received while working on this project. It has been an incredible experience. I visited so many amazing locations in Napa Valley, Sonoma, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the city of Santa Cruz over the course of researching and writing the screenplay. I sampled some outstanding wines, hiked some fantastic trails, and came to know some truly unique and memorable places through the people who live and work there.

I also am in awe of the current wine critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, who is one of the greatest voices of her generation when it comes to covering the California wine scene in all its full depth, range, and profundity. She has a starring role in this screenplay for very good and compelling reasons. Would that we might meet up one day in real life to begin a lasting and mutually beneficial friendship.

An earlier version of this screenplay was first published in January 2020 as a series of eighteen interlinked and illustrated Yelp reviews. Together, they formed a continuous narrative whose soundtrack, where indicated, could be played on YouTube or via a live streaming music service of one’s choice to enhance the reading experience.

While some of these reviews have since been removed by Yelp at the request of the business owners, others remain in their original formats. To my knowledge, this is the first full-length screenplay in movie history to have originated in this fashion.

This work is dedicated to anonymous members of America’s ride sharing community, especially those living in the San Francisco Bay Area who struggle daily to remain residents of the region, despite the high financial and emotional costs involved. I draw inspiration from underemployed people in the gig economy as a collective rather than any one specific individual or group.

This screenplay is a work of creative fiction, and that the events and people depicted are not real. The locations, however, are actual places that can and should be visited, once it is proper and safe to do so.

I look forward to sharing more updates on the progress of the Driving Miss Mobley screenplay in the weeks and months ahead. I also am excited to share more details on the larger Golden State Wine Chronicles tetralogy, of which DMD is the first of four planned storylines.

Driving Miss Mobley (set in wintertime locations in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the city of Santa Cruz).

Weekend at Esther’s (to be set in post-COVID springtime locations in the East Bay, Lodi, and the Sierra Foothills).

Interview with a Wine Critic (to be set in post-COVID summertime locations in Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino Counties).

Big Wine Nights (to be set in post-COVID autumn locations in San Benito, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties – including the Santa Barbara wine country that Rex Pickett made so famous in Sideways).

Until I post the next Golden State Wine Chronicles update (which you can receive by signing up for my blog), please do your part to #MakeMerlotGreatAgain and also seek out the wines, wineries, and winemakers mentioned. They are all extremely highly recommended. #MakeMineMerlot #Screenplay #Screenwriting #WineTasting #RoadTripAdventures #NapaValley #SantaCruzMountains #SonomaValley #SantaCruz #drivingmissmobley

Rites of Passage (2000), by the Indigo Girls: An Appreciation

How many rites of passage must we endure in a single lifetime?

Rites of Passage, by the Indigo Girls.

It’s still a good question: how many rites of passage must we endure until finally we mature into the adults that we fervently hope to become? I’ll bet the Indigo Girls ask themselves this question all the time. 

Does listening to the Indigo Girls – especially their early, groundbreaking albums from the 1990s and early 2000s – constitute its own rite of passage? For the current generation of students, adolescents, and young adults, I mean. Actually, that I can’t answer only they can.

As for me, listening to Indigo Girls definitely WAS a rite of passage. Multiple passages, actually. The first happened during my post-college, graduate school years of struggle with finding a work-life balance that could accommodate endless and enduring love. You need Amy and Emily by your side when you get hurt by – or end up hurting – someone who was on the short-list of your possible soulmates, but not truly the one. Amy, especially. When she sings “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits, it’s like I am hearing Mark Knopfler’s lyrics for the first time. When you have the Indigo Girls by your bedside at night, singing loudly and desperately through your Bose speakers into a darkened rented room, you just know that you’re not entirely alone.

The other passage that the Indigo Girls and I took was the Great Western Road Trip. I played “Rites of Passage” dozens of times on my Subaru’s CD player as I traveled twice or more annually between Western Montana and Northern California for work. The cool thing about this rite of passage was how amazingly exhilarating and fun it was: their voices and words and musical talents echoing through the Idaho wilderness, or the Oregon Outback, or the redwood coasts of Del Norte County. In the rain. The snow. The penetrating summer sunshine. The smoke of Washington wildfires. The pelting of Wyoming hail. The coyote howls of northwestern Nevada. The sunsets over the Pacific. The subzero sunrises in the Rocky Mountains. This album – created by a remarkable set of Atlanta women with the collaboration of some awesome musicians and backup vocalists (including Jackson Browne and David Crosby) – it ends up being the perfect road trip soundtrack, if your roads are remote, desolate, and devoid of much of humanity. You roll down the windows at 80mph as you roar into the Alvord Desert, with “Jonas & Ezekial” or “Chickenman” blasting on the car stereo. Then, just as you pull to the side of the dusty, gravel road to prepare to soak in a desert hot springs on the edge of shimmering dry lake, “Love Will Come to You” starts to play. You turn off the engine but keep the stereo on until the song ends. You are alone, it is just after sunrise on a cold January morning, and you are about to undress and slip into a basin of hot, sulfur-smelling water that has bubbled up from the earth to comfort you. Your lover is hundreds of miles away in a soft bed, dreaming of who knows what. But all that is around is you, the desert, the steaming hot springs, and the Indigo Girls straining for yet one more pitch perfect harmony. 

In my opinion, playing Indigo Girls during situations like that, it is far superior to playing them at your wedding. Just saying. Some rites of passage are more naked than others.

Cheers, Amy and Emily, for keeping me such good company as I hurtled through the backroads of the Americam West en route to or from my lover. And yes, you two: she is indeed the one for me. I don’t exactly have you to thank for that, but dang, women, if you didn’t help keep me from falling asleep when the road ahead of me started to seem endless. For that, and for all those other, earlier times, you have my thanks – and this belated appreciation on a WordPress blog 21 years later that very few people in this world will ever notice or bother to read. It’s not quite a fair trade, I grant you, for all the joy and comfort you two have introduced into this world, but hopefully it is enough. The marigold bouquet in the picture I have included with this review, it is for you, for “Virginia Woolf,” and for so much more that even I cannot adequately put into words.

The Golden State Wine Chronicles: An Update.

The penultimate scene of Driving Miss Mobley is now available on Medium. The final scene will be published this Friday, and the entire screenplay will be submitted to screenwriting competitions and fellowships this spring. A huge thank you to all who supported this writing project in person and on social media (Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress) and the wineries and tasting rooms of Napa Valley, Sonoma town plaza, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the city of Santa Cruz that served as the primary locations. Also a huge thank you to Purisima Creek Redwoods and Monte Bello Open Space Preserves, which provided settings as well. And always a thank you to The San Francisco Chronicle and its award-winning wine and food critics, Esther Mobley and Soleil Ho, for providing the inspiration for two of the four major characters as well in this Driving Miss Daisy meets Sideways road trip adventure comedy. And remember: please do your part to “Make Merlot Great Again!” I just know that Rex Pickett and Alexander Payne would agree. 

Two confessions (maybe three) concerning why Ani Di Franco is an alt rock/folk/jazz singer-songwriter goddess

Dear Ani, I have a confession to make. Actually, I have two confessions to make. Well, maybe it’s three, but I haven’t figured that part out yet. In the end, you will have to decide for me. OK?

Canon (2 disc CD set)

The first confession is that I broke the first CD in your 2007 song anthology, Canon. It is cracked almost all the way through. Only track 1 (‘Fire Door’) will play. The rest are too affected by the crack to be readable by any of my CD players. So, I play disc 2 only because it’s still perfectly fine, and somehow streaming your music online isn’t the same thing as hearing these songs on compact disc. I think maybe I unintentionally stepped on Disc 1 while living off the grid in Montana, after a full bottle of Walla Walla Valley red wine. These things, they happen. Not scratched, mind you: cracked.

Confession #2: this is the only album of yours that I own. And intend to own. You see, my friends, they are not fans of your musical style. They find you “strident,” “preachy,” and “raw.” I don’t, obviously. So I play Disc 2 of Canon surreptitiously, when no one else is listening. In my car, mainly, on long – and I mean long – road trips. 400 miles through Eastern Oregon in a winter snowstorm. Wyoming in summer rains. Idaho when the winds are blowing through the Snake River Plain as if humanity didn’t even exist. Northern California during an atmospheric river. Those times.

I love your voice. They way it breaks and wavers and then sounds like you are an alt rock goddess. I love those notes you play on your guitar that no music teacher would ever approve of. I like the Dada tones to your lyrics, the way you flout conventions, the syncopation and the go for broke singing. I love the rough functionality of it all, like a Paleolithic bone knife, or an Aboriginal throwing stick, or something that humans have been making for eons, before the Age of Amazon. You are a portal to times and lives past. Your themes, they are universal. I love the way you hurt. I love the way you yearn. I love the way you ponder your place in the universe and then laugh into the wind and pull yourself closer to your soul and then keep on searching for love and life and the reasons why we all keep going keep going keep going to where who knows for why I have no idea but because you can and we must and that is why in the end a really great reason to avoid checking out too early is simply to listen just one more time to Disc 2 (the uncracked one) while hurtling along a desolate Nevada two lane highway at 85mph while the sagebrush gazes back at us incredulously with only a hint of insouciance as we rush by in a blur of restless motion.


What else shall I confess? That you remind me of Käthe Kollwitz? Or Arnold Schönberg? Iconoclasts. Artists without a trace of timidity in their minds and bodies. People unafraid of forging their own paths in this world. Also, Ani: I don’t really listen to the content of your words anymore. I listen instead to the tonality of your voice, to the way it strains and stretches, to the way your emotions rise and fall and flood into unseen corners of your heart. I listen for the discordant pluck of the guitar string. The rhythm that beats my heart in time with yours. I hope you have found love, or equilibrium, or a life partner and soulmate who isn’t such a jerk as most of the ones you sing about. I hope that the current state of American politics has not led you to flee into oblivion. Because, Ani, we would miss you. We need you. We love you. And even if you will never ever in a million billion years read this Amazon.com review, please know that I really dig what you do – what you did – and who you are.

But, the truth is, if I were to meet you somewhere, I would not introduce myself. Because I know “Ani DiFranco,” not you. Perhaps it would be a nice thing if I did. But even if that never happens, Canon will remain near and dear to my heart. If only because it kept me company on the open road, while I was alone, traveling on my way in search of home. 

P.S. Ani, I managed to check out a copy of Canon from my local public library system (San Mateo County, you rock). I listened twice to Disc 1 to refresh my memory. In all honesty, if I had to break one of the two CDs in the collection, I still think I made the right, red wine-assisted choice (I can ship you a bottle of that particular Walla Walla Syrah, if you’re interested). But there are some awesome songs on Disc 1. “God’s Country” is so, so good, but partly it’s because of Rory Mcleod’s stunning harmonica playing. John Popper rolls over in his grave and salutes the effort. I also like “As Is,” maybe more than before. And the 2007 version of “Napoleon” is better than the original recording, with really nice musical accompaniment by Mike, Todd, Allison, Joseph, and Greg. 

P.P.S. Ani, I’ve been inviting musicians to spend some quality downtime as my guest on the San Mateo coast, based out of a very small but comfortable cottage in the redwoods overlooking Half Moon Bay. To date, the list has included Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Tracy Chapman, the Indigo Girls, Madonna, and Sheryl Crow. I figure that I should extend the invite to you as well; after all, you’ve more than earned it for all the joy you gave me with your music (and I’m going to read your new memoir soon, once it’s available at the library). So, if you’re ever in the Bay Area and want a hiking partner in the redwoods, or someone to show you the most secluded and pristine parts of the Pacific Coast between San Francisco and Carmel, or where to find the best carnitas tacos (hint: in a Mexican taqueria housed inside a gas station convenience store), or the best craft spirits (hint: in Santa Cruz), or the most interesting beer and wine tastings locally, message me social media. I won’t tell anyone you’re stopping by, except for my wife, of course. She’s not a fan, but then again: neither am I. I’d like to think that I’m an Earth-bound fellow traveler who finally found out after years of existence that you’re one of us, too. 

Why let professional chefs have all the fun? Knife rolls are for the rest of us, too.

Aaron Leather Goods chef’s knife roll

I am not a professional chef, nor do I wish to be one. Even the idea of having my culinary creations judged by a teacher according to a standardized grading system fills me with dread. It’s not that I think my cooking technique is inadequate or that my foods are not tasty enough; it’s simply that I no longer wish to subject myself to the student-teacher disciplinary dynamic any longer. I can learn new things from cookbooks and the Internet, and I can refine my skills through the time tested method of trial and error. For all the rest, the professionals can provide me with new dishes and complicated preparations when desired. 

But when it comes to knives, I do tend to draw the line, especially when I am traveling and have access to a kitchen. Rented vacation homes, cabins in parks with eat-in facilities, and resorts where guests have access to a common dining room and shared commercial-grade kitchen. I really need good knives – my German made Wüsthof Trident Classic edition ones – in order to slice, chop, dice, and plate my meals. And ideally, I like to eat my grilled meats with my own set of Laguiole stainless steel, French made serrated steak knives. You just can’t enjoy quality foods – think grass fed ribeye steaks, cured king salmon, garden grown produce, sourdough rye bread – without the right equipment in the kitchen that cuts and carves them right. 

The solution? A leather knife roll, of course. No, this Aaron Leather Goods professional grade model isn’t cheaply made (around $100), but that’s also the point. It’s made to last using really tough, well conditioned calf skin hide and excellent stitching with metal clasps and buckles and suede and fabric inserts that perfectly protect your prized knives and accessories. I am able to fit a full 10 piece Wüsthof knife set and 6 Laguiole steak knives inside, with room to spare for things like corkscrews, oyster knives, vegetable peelers, matches, and more. Candles, even, if you have the option of using them in your rental. What is more romantic than that?

The main reason I got this item was because my wife and I usually rent a cabin once a year in Napa Valley where we have access to a small kitchen and dining area, and we like to buy good wine directly from wineries and produce from a local farmers’ market (the Saint Helena one is our favorite). We make amazing meals at a fraction of what you’d pay if you actually had to eat out in Napa Valley, and the money we save we invest in bottles of wine.

We also visit a Mendocino hot springs resort in the middle of nowhere where the only food option is to prepare it yourself using a fully stocked kitchen – with a 12 burner gas stove, several commercial refrigerators, an outdoor propane grill, and full set of dishes and cooking pots, including Lodge cast iron skillets. But the knives are not professional quality and tend to be less than razor sharp, and I don’t want to lug an electric sharpener with me or deal with inferior blades. So, I bring my own. You can wrap knives in cotton towels or brown bags, but that doesn’t really protect the knives – or your fingers – from the blades and tips especially. Only a leather knife roll can perform this task properly. 

The truth is that this Aaron Leather Goods knife roll is a bit of overkill for an amateur chef, but I’d rather invest in something high quality than make do with a cheaper alternative. A gift card from my family helped reduce the cost, but in the end, it’s money well spent if you plan on bringing your own knives with you at least a few times annually on vacation or for longer stays. It looks good, too! I would give it a 10/10 for quality and look forward to adding more Aaron Leather Goods items to my household in the future.