Category Archives: Past

Pineapple Express

Flooded roads, downed power lines, all-in-all it’s been a messy day on the California coast, thanks to heavy rains and wind sweeping in from Hawaii.

All in what a recent study analyzing tree rings calls the worst drought in at least 1,200 years.

Although there are 37 times over the past 1,200 years when there were three-year dry periods in California, no period had as little rainfall and as hot of temperatures as 2012-14, the scientists concluded.

Which can make storms, when they do come, even more damaging. The dry earth is less able to absorb the water, so it runs off into low lying areas, including 101 in San Jose, downtown Rhonert Park, and vineyards in Sonoma.

This is exactly the kind of situation that we prep for. Keeping new batteries in flashlights,  having enough food for a couple of days, being able to batten down the hatches on a moments notice, paying attention to the weather reports so you don’t find yourself up to your windshield while driving through a “puddle” on your way to work.

The storm is forecast to continue through Friday night, so please stay safe out there (or better yet, stay in).

Remembering James Kim

I didn’t know James Kim. In fact, I didn’t know anything about him until a few days after Thanksgiving, 2006, when he and his family, a wife and two daughters, were reported missing somewhere between Portland, OR and their home in San Francisco.

It was everywhere on the news in the Bay Area, and especially around Silicon Valley tech companies back in the days when I still worked in tech. He was local. He worked as a technology analyst. He was one of us. And he had disappeared.

All it took was one missed turn and a bad decision to continue on a secondary route. And then, when the weather continued to get worse, they made another, landing them on an unpaved logging road in a blizzard.

They stopped because they were exhausted, and because the snow prevented them from continuing forward. Four days later, on November 30th, the search began. On December 2nd, Kim set out to look for help. On December 4th, a helicopter pilot found Mrs. Kim and the girls thanks to a cell tower ping from Kim’s phone. On December 6th, they finally found Kim, dead of hypothermia, likely the same day his wife and daughters were rescued–8 years ago today.

James Kim was well educated, young (35 at his death), and healthy. His car was new and had won the highest safety awards. And yet…

At the time and after people talked about what he could have done differently. He could have waited in Seattle or Portland unit the bad weather passed. He could have turned the car around to get back on the main road. He could have stayed with the vehicle instead of venturing out into the snow. But for how long?

That year, that holiday season was when, for me, the importance of preparedness really hit home. A few weeks later, my brother and his family travelled from Seattle to San Francisco for Christmas like they do every year. And with James Kim in mind, I created car kits stocked with emergency supplies–flares and food and space blankets and more–for everyone in my immediate family.

This year, with the weather as unpredictable as it is, it may be time to give a few more. Here are some of my favorite winter prep articles to inspire your own holiday giving.


Feature Friday: Postcards from Pripyat

Fictional accounts of what life might be like post-apocalypse can give us glimpses into possible futures, but today we have a real world glimpse at the aftermath of an actual catastrophic event: the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Documentary filmmaker, Danny Cooke, used a drone to film present day Pripyat, a city just miles from Chernobyl, 28 years post-apocalypse.

Learn more about the film and Chernobyl.

Giving Thanks

On this day in history, or somewhere near it, a group of Native Americans shared their food and food growing and gathering expertise with a group of European newcomers who were having trouble adjusting to the rigors of their new homes. In the story told in the history books, the Native Americans were generous, the Pilgrims were grateful, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But of course that isn’t quite what happened.

The first thing to notice is that the Native American side is absent from the story. Which is probably a huge part of the reason why the after-effects of that historic meal are also left out.

For many indigenous Americans, “Thanksgiving [is considered] the beginning of the end of life as the native peoples had known it before the arrival of the pilgrims, who began to lay claim to more and more land.” Displacement, smallpox, and massacres became ever more common as the newcomers plowed westward, clearing existing residents and claiming land as they went.

These days Thanksgiving-based oppression is subtler.

The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture.

Dennis Zotigh, writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

This year, as we give thanks for our turkeys, cranberry relish, and sweet potatoes, let us pause for a moment, or more than a moment to remember the Native Americans who gave those early Pilgrims so much, and in doing so, lost so much more.

Learn more about the true story of Thanksgiving, the results of centuries of oppression, and the National Day of Mourning.

The Bhola Cyclone

On the evening of November 12, 1970, the Bhola cyclone made landfall on the coast of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), dissipating slowly on November 13. Both the cyclone and the rains leading up to and following it resulted in:

  • A 33 foot high storm surge at the Ganges Delta
  • Complete decimation of the 13 nearby islands, leaving no survivors
  • Flooding that damaged ports, ships, and the local airpot
  • Destruction of homes, boats, and the deaths of more than half of the area’s fishermen

In India, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, got the brunt of the forming cyclone on November 8 and 9 with heavy rains and widespread flooding, while West Bengal and Assam caught the tail end with rain-related damage to housing and crops. In addition, on November 12, the storm sank a 5,500-ton freighter, killing all 50 people on board.

Considered one of the deadliest disasters in modern times, and the deadliest recorded tropical cyclone, the Bhola cyclone claimed between 300,000 and 500,000 lives and did $86.4 million worth of damage.

As if the devastation of the storm wasn’t enough, political tensions between India and Pakistan got in the way of advanced warnings, leading to much higher death rates than might have occurred, while conflict between Pakistan and East Pakistan resulted in delayed aid, triggering the resignation of the Pakistani president, the Bangladesh Liberation War, and eventually the creation of the new nation of Bangladesh. It also inspired the first ever benefit concert, spearheaded by Bengali musician and ex-Beatle George Harrison–The Concert for Bangladesh.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Today, in honor of Armistice Day (Veterans Day in the US) and the 100th anniversary of the war to end all wars, the final of 888,246 ceramic poppies was placed at the Tower of London–one for every British or British colonial soldier lost in World War I.

If only it was the war that ended war, but with every escalation into battle, every advancement in war machine technology, every additional life lost, it feels more like the beginning of the end not of war, but of us.

My grandfather fought in the second World War–enlisted, in fact. And I am proud and grateful. But more than that, I wish there hadn’t been a war for him to fight in so he could have stayed with us longer. But absent that dream, I am glad for such a beautiful and impactful remembrance. They fought. They died. It is up to us not to forget. It is up to us to try and prevent future lives lost.

For some stunning images visit CNN World.
Learn more about ceramic artist Paul Cummins and theater designer Tom Piper.

The History of the Future

Dreaming the future, imagining the past, that’s what writers do. And apocalypse stories? They’ve been penned since early recorded history. Gilgamesh, Noah and his ark, the Dharmasastra. But what about science fiction, which has become a sort of parent category for modern-day apocalypse fiction?

According to a recent article on BBC’s iWonder:

Science fiction emerged nearly 300 years ago during a time of great advances in science. Since then authors have tried to make sense of their world by imagining what the future will look like.

Post-apocalyptic societies, alien invasions, robots and environmental catastrophes have all played out in this genre which is still popular today.

Dr. Caroline Edwards, “Writing the Future,”

The first example cited? Gulliver’s Travels, written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, which includes a section feature a flying island populated by scientists.

The complete list features 20 sci-fi luminaries including three of my favorite: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Margaret Atwood. The Left Hand of Darkness. The Parable of the Sower. The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not just a history lesson, it’s a kick-ass reading list.

Remembering Sandy

Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy, Live Cam NY 1

Two years ago yesterday, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City with a storm surge that flooded subways, tunnels, and streets, caused widespread power outages, and even shut down the New York Stock Exchange. Which was crazy enough on its own, but turned out to be only a fraction of the damage done. From its formation on October 22, just south of Kingston, Jamaica to its dissipation over Ontario, Canada on November 2, 2012, Hurricane Sandy was responsible for approximately 150 deaths and 21 missing, millions of people without power, severe gas shortages and rationing, more than 19,700 flights cancelled, and approximately $68 billion (USD) worth of damage.

Those of us not in affected areas spent our days watching unbelievable images–row after row of drowned taxi cabs, boats resting on train tracks or piled like a child’s forgotten toys, street signs buried up to their necks in sand, a roller coaster half submerged in the ocean.

For the US, Sandy was the second costliest Atlantic hurricane, after Katrina in 2005 which did $108 billion in damage. But what really struck me about Sandy, perhaps more than any other disaster before or since, was how just plain apocalyptic it looked–billion dollar, summer blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow-level apocalyptic. And suddenly, this whole climate change thing felt really, really real.

Here are a few refreshers, just in case those images don’t still haunt your dreams:
50 Dramatic Images of Destruction (The Telegraph, UK)
Hurricane Sandy Then and Now (CNN World)
Shocking Before and After Photos of Hurricane Sandy (Buzzfeed)

Throwback Thursday: October 23

I had no idea when I Googled October 23, that it was such an infamous day. Here are just a few of the high- (and low-) lights:

Natural Disasters

  • Tornado strikes London, destroying London Bridge (1091)
  • Underground earthquake traps 174 miners in Springhill Mine (Nova Scotia) after unde the deepest coal mine in North America at the time; 100 were rescued (1958)
  • Powerful earthquake and aftershocks hit Niigata prefecture, northern Japan, killing 35 people, injuring 2,200, and leaving 85,000 homeless or evacuated (2004)
  • 7.2 magnitude earthquake strikes Van Province, Turkey, killing 582 people and injuring thousands (2011)

Un-natural Disasters

  • Sailing ship “Aeneus” sinks off Newfoundland killing 340 (1805)
  • 12 passengers and crewmen aboard American Airlines DC-3 killed when it is struck by a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber near Palm Springs, California (1942)
  • NBC airs BBC footage of Ethiopian famine (1984)
  • Early morning blackout darkens San Francisco (1997)
  • Dow Jones drops 186.88 points (1997)
  • Hospital fire kills 12 and injures 40 in Tainan, Taiwan (2012)

Uprisings, Revolts, and Demonstrations

  • Outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641
  • Revolt in Haarlem after public ban on smoking (1690)
  • Slaves revolt in Haiti (later suppressed) (1790)
  • African demonstrators shot in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (1920)
  • 22 demonstrators killed at Bijbihara in Indian-controlled Kashmir (1993)

Battles, Wars, & Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • Brutus’s army is decisively defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian; Brutus commits suicide (42 BC)
  • Battle of Bay of Vigo: Dutch & English fleet destroy & occupy Spanish silver fleet & French squadron (1702)
  • 1st Infantry division “Big Red One” shoots 1st US shot in WW I (1917)
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya USSR (1961)
  • Suicide terrorist truck bomb kills 243 US personnel in Beirut (1893)
  • France performs nuclear test at Muruora Island (1987)
  • US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site (1987)
  • Seven people killed by IRA bomb attack in Belfast (1993)
  • Chechen rebels seize House of Culture theater in Moscow, take approximately 700 theater-goers hostage (2002)


  • First Jewish transport out of Rome reaches camp Birkenau (1943)

Luckily there are a few bright lights on this often dark day:

  • First steam locomotive introduced (1824)
  • Canadian Senate formed (1867)
  • Blanche Scott is the first woman to solo a public airplane flight (1910)
  • 25,000 women march in New York City demanding right to vote (1915)
  • Disney’s animated Dumbo released (1941)
  • Laos granted sovereignty by France (1953)
  • Boris Pasternak, wins Nobel Prize for Literature (1958)
  • 400,000 demonstrateagainst cruise missile in Brussels (1983)
  • The Provisional Irish Republican Army of Northern Ireland commences disarmament after peace talks (2001)

Source: (Check it out–very cool.)