A workbench made of unfinished pine with a hardboard top. There are two shelves on the left and six drawers on the right.
My new mobile workbench, made partially with wood salvaged from an old stationary bench.

I enjoy woodworking. For the past twenty years, I’ve enjoyed it more in theory than in practice. I’ve started many more projects than I finished. My garage workshop was disorganized and difficult to work in. This year, my father and I decided to change the way we work.

First, work on only one project at a time. Too often, we get blocked on one project, so we start another. Clutter builds up and we abandon projects because pieces get accidentally repurposed, or we make mistakes that ruin something, etc. Then we clean up a little but not enough and start the cycle again. No more of that. One project at a time until it’s done. If we get blocked, we figure out how to get un-blocked.

Second, don’t buy any new tools without knowing where we will put them. We both like gadgets. We both will buy a tool that seems cool, but isn’t useful more than a couple of times. Often, we could have accomplished its purpose with something we already have. Also, we often buy more powerful tools than we need. My compound miter saw is a monster more suited for a professional cabinet maker than a hobbyist.

Third, organize the shop better. We had a lot of surfaces that attracted clutter. Beneath them, dead space. Right now, our projects are focused on making better use of the space we have. We’ve built some shallow storage racks that make better use of wall space than plastic shelving and cabinets. Those racks made it easier to see what we have and get our hands on what we need.

After that, we rebuilt an old workbench. I wanted to add shelves and drawers. I also wanted it to be mobile. The old one couldn’t be moved. I salvaged about half the wood from the old bench and built the new one pictured above. I designed it to double as a runout surface for my table saw. Six drawers and two shelves made space for a lot of tools that had been lying around on bench tops.

Currently, I’m adding a quartet of drawers beneath my other workbench. I’ll finish them during lunch breaks this week. Then I can organize a few more things before I start another project.

Reading Update

Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

I have not been reading nearly as much as I want to. I’ve been having a hard time getting decent sleep for the past few weeks. By the time my work day ends, it’s all I can do to focus on not walking into things. Comprehending the written word is not easy. Melatonin and valerian root before bed are helping to re-regulate my sleep cycle, so I hope to pick up the pace on reading.

I have read a little. I finished The House in the Pines, which I didn’t enjoy. I bought The Question Omnibus, which collects the complete late 1980s run of the titular hero from DC comics. It was interesting to re-read these stories. I remembered them being better than they were. Also, no more omnibus collections for me. The book was so heavy that it was physically unpleasant to read.

My latest fiction read is Secret Identity, by Alex Segura. I’m enjoying that one a lot. Set in the 1970s New York City comic book publishing world, it’s right up my alley.

I’m still working my way through A New History of Western Philosophy. I’m going slow on purpose so that I can absorb it better and take side trips into referenced works. Some I’ve read before (Bentham’s Principles of Morals and Legislation, for example, and John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty), so I skimmed excerpts from them as a refresher. I had never read any of Gottlob Frege, though, so I got a copy of The Foundations of Arithmetic. I don’t think I understood it all, but I got enough to move on.

My current non-fiction read is Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. It’s an uncomfortable read sometimes because so much of my work experience fits into the category of “bullshit job.” I’m glad I find my current work fulfilling. Can it possibly last long enough for me to retire? I hope so.


An hourglass resting in beach sand.
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I decided that I should reflect on the year and write a long essay about it. I knew I needed to start right away. But then Stevie P. died and I contracted COVID. Time ran out like dirty bath water. The new year starts tomorrow. This entry will be short.

It would be easy to focus on grief. Losing PK in March broke our hearts. Stevie’s death left us bereft of any animals companions. Four pets gone in less than 30 months. The house is too quiet. I miss them all so much.

But to judge 2022 by the events of its last month would be to give in to recency bias. When I thought about it, I remembered more good than bad in 2022. I have thrived professionally. Likewise, my creative writing has improved dramatically, both in quality and content. Carolyn and I also celebrated our twentieth anniversary this year.

It was a good year, even though it was sometimes painful. I hope there will be more joy and less sadness in 2023.

The return of the satisfying hang-up

Photo by Mike Meyers on Unsplash

A new iOS update is out. As always it will take a lot of getting used to. I don’t like the redesigned lock screen. I especially don’t like the way it defaulted my old wallpaper to a new “personal” focus that blocked text message notifications. I didn’t know it was going to do that, so I missed messages all day long yesterday from my father and my wife.

But there is one new feature I adore even though I haven’t used it yet. You can now enable Siri to disconnect a phone call by saying, “Hey Siri, hang up.” I suppose it’s intended to make it safer to end a hands-free phone call while driving. That’s irrelevant to me. I don’t talk on the phone while driving. To explain why I’m excited about it, first we need to take a ride in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine.

I grew up in the era of bulky, heavy phones. In those days, to end a call, you would place the handset back in its cradle. If you were angry, you could slam the chunky handset down. It made a very satisfying & cathartic crash. Whoever was on the other end would hear it as the last sound of the conversation. For the recipient, it was loud, disturbing, and irritating.

With the shift to cordless, electronic phones, that satisfying option disappeared. There was no cradle to slam the phone into. Instead, you had a button to disconnect. Sure, you could pound that button. Do it hard enough, and you might give yourself a transient dislocation that would throb for days. But the other party would only hear dead air. For all they knew, it was an accidental disconnect. They might even believe that they got the last word! The advent of cell phones made it even less cathartic. Tap the screen. Bip.


With iOS 16, Apple has reintroduced the pleasure of rudely & abruptly ending a call. Because you can say, “Hey Siri, hang up,” and the other party will hear it! How exciting!

“Hi, this is Bruce Feeblebrain with Parents for Making Children Ignorant. Do you realize…”

“Hey Siri, hang up!”

Boom! The sheer rudeness of it more than makes up for the lack of physical satisfaction. The other party, interrupted, hears you overtly and angrily ending the call. No leaving them wondering what happened. Instead, absolute certainty that you did it on purpose.

It’s almost enough to make me want to start answering telemarketing calls again.

The End of Twitter

A dead bird on the ground

For me, at least. I’ll deactivate my account as soon as I have time to download my archive and then delete all my tweets. Twitter’s new ownership motivated me to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: stop using Twitter. The value of Twitter was never as high as the costs.

There was value. It’s not like when I quit Facebook several years ago. I loathed everything about Facebook by the end of my time on that platform. Stopping was simple and I didn’t miss it. Twitter was different. I disliked some aspects of it, but there were plusses. I used it to broaden my horizons by following people I wouldn’t have been able to interact with in meat space. People from different ethnic groups. Disability activists. LGBTQIA voices. I learned a lot. Twitter also provided humor, information, and sometime an outlet for my creative silliness.

The drawbacks were more significant. As an easy diversion and distraction, Twitter degraded my ability to focus and think. The filth of Twitter occasionally bubbled up, even though I was careful to curate who I followed. That didn’t do wonders for my emotional equilibrium or mental health. (The use of ethnic slurs spiked as soon as the transfer of ownership occurred. I don’t need that in my life.) Leaving Twitter will go a long way toward improving the quality of my intellectual life.

Twitter isn’t worth being part of anymore. Many of the voices I follow are leaving, anyway, and its usefulness will only decay from here. Time to go.

(Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash)

Sylvie’s Desk


Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

I found this vignette in one of my notebooks. I have no memory of writing it and I certainly have no idea where I was going with it, but it’s cute, so I thought I’d share it.

Sylvie’s desk was in the back of the classroom. Wood top, plastic seat, metal legs. The desktop bore the scars of many years of service. Scratches, gouges, and names carved into it surface. When Sylvie spilled water on it one day, a lot of it soaked right in before she could get a wad of paper towels to clean it up.

The next day when she came in, a branch had sprouted from the spot where she’d spilled the water. It stuck up and blocked her vision of her teacher. She wanted to move but the class was full and there was no place to sit but on the floor. Instead, she bent the branch down out of her way so she could see. Every time the leaves rustled, the teacher scowled at her.

The day after that, Sylvie came prepared. She had stolen a pair of her mother’s pruning shears so she could cut the branch off. But the branch had grown into a shrub. She tried to trim away enough twigs and leaves to look through. With every soft snip of her shears, her classmates gave her dirty looks. And it was no use. New branches grew in as fast as she could clip them. And every twig that fell to the floor sprouted its own growth. By the end of the day, a forest surrounded Sylvie that was so thick that she wasn’t even sure she was still in school.

Why Sammy Can’t Blog

I have been remiss in blogging for several weeks, in spite of my best intentions. I had a good run for seventeen days. I accidentally broke the streak when I wrote a post but forgot to publish it before bed. That set the stage for skipping a day, then two, and then two weeks went by in the beat of a hummingbird’s wings.

In spite of what this lapse suggests, blogging is important to me. That’s why I keep coming back to it.

I write at least one entry in my journal every morning. That exercise limbers up my mind. Often, those entries are not good writing, but the discipline of doing it prepares me for other forms of writing. Sometimes an entry helps me work through a scene I’m struggling with in my fiction. Sometimes I write about work problems and find a solution that way, or at least come to understand the problem better so that I can solve it later. Rarely, I can revise an entry for a blog post. (That’s how “Letters” began.) That’s never the intention, though. When I sit down at my keyboard with a cup of coffee at hand each morning, I am writing for an audience of one, and that one is myself.

I like the idea of blogging because I crave a different type of discipline. In the journal, I allow my thoughts to wander wherever they will. With blogging, I want to channel my thought into a specific topic and construct a coherent narrative or argument. Publishing that effort forces me to be accountable to an external audience.

Why do I struggle to do it, if it’s so important and I want to do it?

Fatigue plays a large role. I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few weeks, which means I start each day with limited energy reserves. I reserve mornings for writing fiction. I spend my workdays engaged in cognitive labor. By the time evening rolls around, I don’t have a lot of mental energy left to spend.

I don’t know how to solve my sleep problem. If I did, I would have solved it already. But I’ll keep experimenting until I find the solution. Until then, I’ll blog as often as I can muster the energy.

Think. Create. Teach.

For years, the tag line for my web site was, “Coach, Writer, Speaker.” I felt that those nouns best described who I am and what I wanted to be. I coached product development teams and organizations for a living. I write crime fiction as a hobby and aspire to publish novels. I had dabbled in public speaking and thought I would like to do it professionally.

Today, I’ve changed the tag line to “Think. Create. Teach.” Those three verbs better describe the activities that feed my soul.

They come from a conversation with a colleague not long ago when I said I could write my ideal job description in three words. I was being flippant, but as soon as I said, I realized it was true.

I love to think. I love to do research, to read, to learn, and then synthesize and evaluate what I’ve learned.

I love to write, but writing is only one way I create. I draw. I play music. I invent games. I build things.

For a while, I pursed speaking engagements at agile conferences. I enjoyed engagements I had. But when circumstances forced me to set that activity aside, I didn’t miss it all that much. The part of speaking that appealed to me most was the teaching aspect.

I’m fortunate that I can make a living doing the things that feed my soul. As a Professional Scrum Trainer, I can engage my desire to think, create, and teach on a regular basis. That’s why I’ve changed the tag line on this blog. I plan to focus more of my writing here on those areas.


Today’s journal prompt: If all jobs paid the same, what would you choose to do?

Setting aside the question of what the economics of that would look like (that’s difficult because my wife and I have been watching the Paul Krugman Masterclass and so economics is very much on my mind), how I answer that question is what we mean by “job.”

What springs to mind when I see that word is “work for hire.” To “have a job” means to work for someone at a wage or salary. And if that’s the meaning behind this question, then I suppose I’d do more or less what I do now. I enjoy being a trainer and I enjoy coaching product development teams. It’s rewarding apart from the salary.

Another sense of the word “job” is a piece of work, a task. A brake job, for example. If all pieces of work paid the same, what would I do? I’d write fiction, almost exclusively. (Granted that, as a dude, I like to explain things, so I’d probably write advice, how-to, or opinion articles as well.) I like to tell stories even more than I enjoy my day job.

Advice for me in ‘83

Today’s journal prompt asks, “What career advice would you give your 16-year-old self?”

I imagine that younger me has been selected for an experiment where he can talk to an older version of himself, but the topic is limited to career advice. Otherwise, sixteen-year-old me would want to know winning lottery numbers.

Sixteen-year-old me wanted to be a best-selling science fiction author, and he would be disappointed to know that I don’t have a single novel published yet. “Why not?” he would ask.

“Mostly, because I let self-doubt stop me,” I would say. “You might want to do something about that.”