Parenting and Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

A topic of significance for my nearly 18-year old son and me is the appropriate plan of action when dead people start shambling around biting people and turning them into more shambling dead people, aka zombies.  Having been scared shitless in his childhood by the brilliant “28 Days Later” — which introduced the concept of sprinting zombies after years of the George Romero classic shamblers — he has had serious issues with zombie terror. This phobia even extended to certain levels of Halo where the Master Chief is called upon to kill an infectious horde of parasitic people snatchers called The Flood and was so bad in his case that he refused to play the Flood levels for several years.

Since, like bacon, zombies are the au courant American meme, my son is fixated on theoretical survival strategies. Now that he has figured out my Amazon account password, he decided it would be prudent to immediately order a Gerber “Bear Grylls Edition” Parang — think high-tech machete best suited for decapitation. This actually arrived. In a box. At my house. And now hangs on his wall. Any annoyance I may have had over this unauthorized purchase was diminished when the exact same parang appeared in the AMC series, The Walking Dead, a sighting that sent him over the top with smugness.

The parang purchase was followed by a pellet gun and a request to be allowed to take the firearms safety course so he could apply for a gun license (that request has not proceeded). The pellet gun has led to many hours of window replacement and glazing by yours truly, and has done nothing to dissuade the local herd of squirrels from digging up and snacking on next spring’s tulip bulbs.

Then dear Uncle Fester weighed in with his suggestion for the correct firearm for zombie control. A shotgun-in-a-can essentially.

I maintain that firearms, while effective in delivering a long-to-medium range headshot (I am told the only viable way to terminate a zombie is with a couple slugs “in the hat” as my mafia friends would say),  lead to inevitable ammunition shortages and the ensuing need to occupy a gun store or WalMart during times of cemetery uprisings. Converging on gun stores will lead to competition with other would-be zombie hunters, bikers, homicidal maniacs, and other human detritus and would doubtlessly cause a shoot-out that would waste all the bullets in the store because of competition to loot all the bullets in the store.

I believe an effective zombie solution has to be non-ballistic, delivered automatically, and depend on easily renewable supplies.  Think catapults or trenches filled with diesel fuel. Anything manual, like swinging a parang at a zombie’s neck at close quarters is far too risky, especially if the sprinting, angry variety of zombies are involved. And then there is the dreaded splatter-in-your-mouth infection possibilities. No, the parang should be strapped, upside down, in the middle of one’s back, ready for that last stand when your back is against the wall and the gun is going click-click-click.

As we drove to college campuses or rowing regattas, our last fall together, what did my son and I talk about? Zombie strategies of course. Where we would go (desert island, boat, gun store, Home Depot, army base), what we would bring (the arsenal), and how it would probably go down. A good guidebook is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War which both of us read with keen interest, especially the revelation that aquatic zombies walking on the ocean floor make island refuges untenable.

My solution, which he ridicules, is to hijack a truck, drive immediately to the local Women’s Workout World, load up all the treadmills, stop off at the hardware store and get lots and lots of extension cords, and then arrange the treadmills around the house, facing outwards, without their railings of course, and switch them on when it all hits the fan. Any zombie shambling up to Chez Churbuck would step onto the rapidly spinning treadmill belt and be propelled backwards at high speed.

He maintains I’d be out of luck once the lights went out — which would probably happen immediately as panicked motorists ran their Prii into utility poles  — to which I say I would raid my neighbor Conrad’s barn (he runs Cotuit Solar) and cover the roof with China’s finest solar photovoltaic cells. What about nighttime, when zombies usually attack? he asks. Batteries, I reply. Lots of them.

Let the Ski Season Begin

This is for Marta, who I imagine is skiing across all the late fall bald spots somewhere in Jackson, New Hampshire.

Om’s Decade of Blogging

Om Malik delivered a thoughtful recollection of ten years at the front lines of the new, new media revolution yesterday when he recapped a decade of blogging that started in the earliest days of Dave Winer’s Userland, a humble beginning that has grown to one of the leading professional tech blog networks (GigaOm) and his rightfully deserved position as one of the world’s leading tech pundits.

We worked together in the mid-1990s at the launch of until he departed for San Francisco and I decamped for management consulting.  What started as a professional relationship quickly turned into a personal friendship that has endured over the years, perhaps forged in the mutual crucible of 85 Fifth Avenue and the dingy second floor office that served as a launch pad for many interesting people and personalities.

Some highlights of his essay that stood out:

“Here are my 10 lessons learned:

  1. Blogging is communal: In 2008, I wrote that “blogging is not just an act of publishing but also a communal activity. It is more than leaving comments; it is about creating connections.” That is the single biggest lesson learned of these past 10 years. Every connection has lead to a new idea, new thought and a new opportunity.
  2. Being authentic in your thoughts and voice is the only way to survive the test of time.
  3. Being wrong is as important as being right. What’s more important — when wrong, admit that you are wrong and listen to those who are/were right.
  4. Be regular. And show up to blog every day. After all you are as fresh as your last blog post.
  5. Treat others as you expect yourself to be treated.
  6. (In 2006 I wrote this and it is worth repeatingDoc Searls once told me, and it has been one of the guiding principles for me: blog if you have something to say and respect your reader’s time. If you respect their time, they are going to give you some time of their day.
  7.  A long time ago, Slate’s Farhaad Manjoo asked mefor some tips on blogging and here is what I told him – Wait at least 15 minutes before publishing something you’ve written—this will give you enough distance to edit yourself dispassionately.
  8. Write everything as if your mom is reading your work, a good way to maintain civility and keep your work comprehensible.
  9. Blogging is not about opinion but it is about viewing the world in a certain way and sharing it with others how you look at things.

The tenth lesson comes from Kevin Kelleher when he was writing for us back in 2010. In his post, How the Internet changed writing he noted:

Many bloggers tailor headlines and posts so that they’ll surface at the top of search results, making them at once easier to find and less enjoyable to read. And this decade, a lot of other bloggers mistook a strong writing voice for caustic irreverence. But most eventually learned that writing with snark is like cooking with salt — a little goes a long way.”


Congratulations on ten years and here’s to ten more (at least) Om.

Bye-bye Barney

I never voted for Barney Frank — I couldn’t, he represented the next congressional district over from the Cape and Islands — and even if I could have I wouldn’t publicly expose my vote because, well, as an independent and former political reporter I’m conditioned not to tip my ballots in public.

I ran into him in July in Washington, in Reagan National Airport in the US Air terminal, both of us bound back to Boston; him for the beginning of some summer congressional break, me wrapping up a six month consulting engagement designing a social media metrics framework (if that isn’t a dreary bureaucratic cliche and hopeless mission, I don’t know what is) for a big public relations firm. He looked perturbed, a bit conscious of his face recognition among the people, hoping that no one would pick him out of the crowd and start chewing his ear about one contentious issue or another. He wasn’t alone, there was a New Hampshire congressman on the same flight, but there’s no mistaking Barney, one of the more visible and intelligent legislators of our time.

When I manned the statehouse bureau for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune — that is when the parochial editors back in North Andover deigned to let me out of their sight and flee the smoke-filled newsroom and their inane assignments to interview Megabucks winners (“I’m gonna buy a Winnebago and a microwave oven …”) and write thumb-suckers about the weather in the royal, USA Today inspired, “we” (“We Hate Snow”) — there was a now famous Barney Frank campaign poster tacked onto the wall of the press room by the tinny loudspeaker that piped in the ravings of the state representatives.

“Neatness isn’t everything”

By that point in time (1984), Barney had graduated from the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and gone onto represent suburban Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress. We reporters loved him for his lack of preening polish and his sharp wit,  his willingness to deliver the perfect mordant quote on any occasion. He was an unmade bed of a man, a schlub, a man living on an astral plane where clothes and body type didn’t matter. His statehouse office was a legendary mess.

He was one of the few elected types that would actually pop into the press room, a feral pen of hacks and wretches banging away on little pre-laptop Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100s, and yuck it up with the crew from the Lowell Sun, Quincy Patriot-Ledger, the Salem Evening News.  I was too green and intimidated to yuck it up with him or any of the big personalities in state politics, but I did love to lurk on the edge of the scrum, micro-cassette recorder held over the shoulder of some television or radio reporter, and listen to him dig into some opponent or issue with his slightly retarded lisp and swallowed “G’s”.

My favorite Barney Frank moment is this YouTube video, taken at a constituent town hall in New Bedford, when an unhinged Lyndon LaRouche candidate decided to mess with the wrong guy.

Politics and sexual proclivities aside, Congress has lost one of the smart ones. Henrik Hertzberg’s recollection in the New Yorker is worth the read. Today’s New York Times’ story about Frank’s retirement announcement at the age of 71 is somewhat depressing, only in that Frank blames the current partisan bitterness, lack of cross-aisle respect, and shallow-as-a-mud-puddle media coverage for his decision to leave the hustings and become a public intellectual.

“When he arrived in the House in 1981, he said, “you had Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan talking about how they were friends after 5 o’clock — although if you knew Reagan’s work habits it was really, like, after about 2:30.”

Now, Mr. Frank said, the notion that wrangling between Democrats and Republicans is “a competition between people of good will with different views on public policy” has vanished. For that, he blames Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and current Republican presidential candidate with whom he has a tense history.

“Newt’s the single biggest factor in bringing about this change,” Mr. Frank said. “He got to Congress in ’78 and said, ‘We the Republicans are not going to be able to take over unless we demonize the Democrats.’ ”

Mr. Frank also blamed the conservative news media for the bitter divide that had made him reluctant to continue in Washington, as well as moderate voters who he said do not make their voices heard enough.”

Dropback Herring

A few weeks ago, while taking my afternoon constitutional with the dog along Ropes Beach, I witnessed the weirdest example of a massive biomass I’ve ever seen on the Cape. The fall is a particularly fecund time of year on the water, with the baitfish balling up into a tight concentrations that are assaulted over and over by blitzes of bluefish and striped bass fattening up before their southern migration for the winter. Usually the baitfish are immature menhaden, also known as “peanut bunker” but what I saw that afternoon on the shores of the cove was, in my opinion, a school of immature river herring, or alewives, also known as dropback herring because they drop back into the sea following their anadromous cycle of birth in the inland freshwater ponds and maturation in the deep sea.

The spring herring run is a classic event on the Cape, occurring in mid-April around the time the forsythias bloom.  During that run the adult alewives swim in from the deep ocean up to the very heads of the saltwater estuaries, lured in by some mystical genetic marker that leads them to seek out the same sweet waters they were born in. The fish then jump and wriggle their way up the coastal streams, over concrete fish ladders and other obstacles, dodging gulls and people with nets to finally made their way to some inland pond to drop their eggs and milt. These runs used to produce prodigious amounts of fish in colonial times, not so much any longer, and the state has imposed a ban on the taking of spawning herring for a number of years now.

What I saw, beginning at the footbridge and extending a half mile along the entire curving shoreline to Handys Point was a band of tiny black fish — minnow sized — that extended from two feet from the water’s edge out about 12 feet — a big long, moving black band of a gazillion tiny fishies all finning and pointing in the same direction, occasionally erupting when something disturbed their peace. Why do I think they were herring?

1. The week before I saw a steady stream of little black smolts swimming out of Little River.

2. Peanut bunker are distinctively shaped and these were not peanut bunker.

3. I’ve heard that herring like to circle the shorelines of the ponds in a big schools following their hatch. These fish were tucked right up on the beach, in the shallows where the sun could warm them.

Cue the video for a vague sense of what I saw. It’s not an exaggeration to say I walked past 20 solid minutes of fish during that sunny stroll.



Favorite Things: Turnbull and Asser shirts

When I was in college my girlfriends tended to dress me, and one in particular, decided that my preference for rowing shirts won off the backs of vanquished opponents, Grateful Dead concert t-shirts, and frayed collar button downs carried over from my prep school dress code days needed to be replaced with a new standard “Dave Look” based on white Brooks Brothers button downs and well faded blue Levi’s 505 classic jeans.  Brooks Brothers was different in the 1970s, still the standard bearer of the iconic American Ivy Traditional look, and because of my allegiance to all things Yale, I expanded to include a few button flap pocket J. Press shirts as that shop was the classic Dink Stover haberdasher of New Haven.

After thirty years of Brooks Brothers I finally decided enough was enough. The quality of the oxford cloth was deteriorating, everyone and their brother owned the same shirts, and button downs simply aren’t fashionable enough for someone in the digital creative world. I’ve always been accustomed to life spent in coat and tie thanks to my years in boarding school. Forbes was a good place to indulge in bow-ties and suits. But once I arrived at McKinsey at the nadir of the dot.bomb revolution I realized the older partners were lost trying to repurpose closets full of $8,000 Brioni suits into something resembling business casual. The pit of sartorial despair was Lenovo — the computer industry is the worst dressed collection of pleated Dockers, golf-shirt wearing conformists in the world. As one former colleague despaired, the look was pure Greg Norman.

One headhunter last summer gave me shit for showing up in a bowtie and said I needed to go more digitally hip. For example? I asked. Carry an iPad and dress like Bradley Cooper the guy said. I didn’t know who the hell Bradley Cooper was, but I had visions of being a tan-in-a-can douchebag in distressed fashion skinny jeans with a collarless shirt, hipster fedora, and some wasp waisted velvet blazer with a pink lining.

Feh. No thanks.

A couple years ago I sucked it up and went English, specifically Turnbull and Asser, and haven’t looked back since.  I can’t afford custom shirts — hell, in its annual “Living Extremely Well” index pegs a dozen bespoke T&A shirts at $4,380, a mere $365 a shirt. Me, I am content going off the rack, and being an American preppy at heart, can’t bring myself to go to french cuffs and cufflinks, so my cost per shirt is considerably less. Sure, a custom shirt would be a fantastic luxury, but I’m not living at that end of the sartorial closet where I have the right to insist on hand tailored suits from the likes of Huntsman, Thomas Mahon, or Gieves and Hawkes (someday, but not now).

One thing to be said for the Jermyn Street school of shirtings is the British don’t shy away from plumage and do a wild job with color and patterns. So, goodbye boring blue, white and pink Brooks Brothers, and hello to tattersalls, university stripes, spread collars and those nice little gussets that beef up the tails.  The shirts simply feel better and feeling good is the first step towards looking good. And thank heavens for the current office environment in Manhattan, something about working out of a mid-town townhouse behind the Museum of Modern Art demands a little more fashion effort than a Research Triangle office park.

Readings: Art of Fielding, Solo Faces, Stephen King

It’s been a good stretch book-wise, so I thought I’d weigh in with a trio of recent readings and what is on deck in the Kindle.

First off is The Art of Fielding, one of the best first novels and best baseball novels I’ve ever read. Chad Harbach sets the rise and fall of a shortstop prodigy in a small liberal arts college set in the northern midwest. Immediately I began to compare it to Don DeLillo’s End Zone, a great metaphysical sports novel I first read in the 1970s, but Harbach is far more accessible and compelling, with characters so rich that I began to cast the movie adaptation in my mind. The Art of Fielding is one of the better fictions I’ve read in 2011, and while the baseball theme may put off some non-sporting readers, I can assure you the basis of the novel is far more than a tale of the diamond.  I am most grateful for the reminder of the majesty of Moby Dick, and impressed by Harbach’s affection for The Lee Shore, one of the most powerful piece of 19th century writing in my estimation:

Second in the list of recent good books is James Salter’s Solo Faces.  Given my affection for mountain climbing literature, this is the best piece of climbing fiction I’ve read since Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction. See the previous post for my thoughts on Salter, but this is a gem that lends credence to the claim that Salter is a “writer’s writer.”

And finally, last night I finished Stephen King’s most recent novel, 11/23/63, his great take on the cliche of the time-traveler, only done with far more savoir faire than the usual “butterfly effect” meta-weirdness most sci-fi writers dwell on.  I’d position this alongside James Ellroy’s The Cold Six Thousand as the best Kennedy assassination novel ever written.

I finished this big book in three days of obsessive non-stop reading and would stack it up against The Stand as one of King’s finest. Amazing how he’s destined to go down as one of the great voices in American literature and this book confirms it.

Heave Short! The Cotuit Novels of Charles Pendexter Durrell

Some of my favorite childhood literature memories were the bookcases filled with pulp novels from the first two decades of the 20th century.  These were the books my grandfather and father read in the years before television. Cheap hardcovers with coarse yellowing paper that smelled like a dusty basement.

The original Tom Swift series was a big favorite, the Thornton Burgess books, and closer to home, three novels written by a family member, Charles Pendexter Durrell, who lived across the street in the 1930s and was my cousin Peter’s great-grandfather. Those three novels were published as The Bluewater Series, by Milton Bradley, the Springfield, Massachusetts game publisher best known for The Game of Life. They featured Sam Hotchkiss, the son of a wealthy Boston businessman who is ordered to the peaceful southside village of Saquoit (a concoction of Santuit, Cotuit, and Waquoit)  by his physician to recover from overwork and bad health. Sam is irked to be exiled to the remote shores of Cape Cod and cops a sulky attitude upon arrival. He’s eventually introduced to Captain Seth Nickerson, an old salt who could be patterned on my Great-great grandfather, Thomas Chatfield, to whom the first book, The Skipper of the Cynthia B. is dedicated:

Captain Seth patiently takes the young boy under his wing and takes him sailing on his trusty catboat, the Cynthia B., named for his devoted wife, and tagged with a “B” because it is considered bad luck to have a boat’s name end with a vowel.

The book describes Sam and Captain Seth’s sailing and fishing adventures, and is interspersed with tales from the Captain’s whaling days in the Arctic and Pacific. There’s a some drama in the plot involving a catboat race, and the book has some wonderful illustrations by the Chatham, Massachusetts illustrator, Harold Brett.

Some of Brett’s painting of the book’s dust jacket covers hung in the house across the street when I was young.  They were beautiful things that are gone now, taken away by the inevitable generational divisions of property. But they were very impressive examples of the Brandywine School of illustration as Brett was a student of Howard Pyle.

The three books in the series are:

They were published in the 20s and 30s, and are, to my knowledge, the only novels set in Cotuit other than Clara Nickerson Boden’s The Cut of Her Jib (another distant relation of mine).

What I know about Charles Pendexter Durrell is that he was born in Maine in the 1880s, lived in Watertown, Massachusetts, and married Chatfield’s daughter Susan granddaughter, Mildred Chatfield Fisher. They had one child, Elizabeth Durrell, who married Fred F. Field and lived across the street and was my grandmother’s best friend. They collected shells together, made beach plum jelly, and carried on like two old Cotuit ladies with a lot of memories would carry on. Elizabeth, or “Betty” as we called her, took care of me one summer because of some family medical dramas, and fed me awesome hamburgers on Wonder bread with yellow mustard. Her grandson Peter Field is my youngest son’s godfather and in some convoluted fashion due to proximity, along with his brother Tom, like a first cousin even though he is probably twice removed or however that works.

Durrell died in the 1950s. His books live on, available used or online in Google Books at the links above.


Charlie Munger’s Words of Elementary Worldly Wisdom

Y Combinator: Elementary Worldly Wisdom.

Charles Munger is Warren Buffett’s wingman and co-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. If you want to read the most brilliant piece of advice and insight into how to think, the importance of mental models, and just plain old horsesense. Check out this transcript of a talk he gave in 1994 at the USC Business School.

The observation that chiropractors are the “great boob[s] of medicine” is priceless.

What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.

It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.”

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