Hurricane in the desert

The first time I brought my family to the Coachella Valley, temperatures soared over 120 degrees. We used lots of sun block, drank lots of water, got up early and stayed inside during the hottest part of the afternoon. We adapted. And we loved it so much that we moved here.

The desert can be harsh and unforgiving, and I knew we’d have to make concessions. I planned for heat, and drought, and earthquakes.

But I never imagined that living here would put us in the path of a hurricane.


I like to get stuff done. Most days I’m up by 5:30A and I’m pretty good about compartmentalizing. I’m not on social media and I manage my news consumption. I keep lists.

But it’s hard to concentrate and complete projects when the sky turns science fiction.

I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life. I can tell when there’s a fire by the sun’s reflection on the sidewalk. Friday afternoon, when the light in the house felt extra weird, I looked into the backyard expecting the familiar muddy amber smoke screen.

Everything was a beautiful, strange shade of orange sherbet I’d never seen before.

Photo: David Preston ©2023. All rights reserved. There is no color filter on this photo.

Out front the sun was shining in a clear western sky as it descended toward San Jacinto Peak. I took the picture below just after sunset. If you look closely you can see the new moon just to the left of the palm trees.

Then I went out back and looked south, where I was confronted with the most massive cloud I have ever seen.

Being able to see the cloud’s texture and its edge made it look even bigger, taller, and heavier than a cloudy day.

I went back inside.

Animals know

After my wife and I ate dinner, she went outside to water the plants. I heard the slider close. Two seconds later it opened again. Her head popped in. “I think you should see this. And I think we should take down the table umbrella.”

For the next ten minutes we stood on the fire pit and looked east toward Joshua Tree. Lightning strikes illuminated the black and grey thunderheads in the desert sky.

The flashes came every few seconds. It was the most lightning I’d ever seen outside of Texas during hurricane season. But California doesn’t have hurricanes. The Pacific Ocean is too cold.

Suddenly I turned to my wife. “Do you hear that?”


“Do you hear anything?”

My wife frowned. Then she looked up at me, wide-eyed. “Whoa.”

On any given day our backyard is filled morning, noon, and night with a soundtrack of birdsong. We have mourning doves, mockingbirds, vermillion flycatchers, hummingbirds (which make four different kinds of sounds!), an occasional hawk or owl, and more.

This time of year is also prime time for our noisiest visitors, the cicadas, which are so loud that prolonged exposure to their buzzing and clicking can cause hearing loss.

My wife and I looked at each other for a few moments and listened. The air was heavy and still.


The lightning flashed again in the distance.

My wife’s words were soft and distinct: “The animals know.”

People think

When the news confirmed the animals were right, and Southern California received its first tropical storm warning ever, we sprung into action. My wife went to the grocery store and I took care of the sandbags. We checked our batteries, gas tanks, flashlights, backup systems, and go bags.

Some people in my life acted like I was overreacting. (To a f*cking HURRICANE.) I had a flashback to the beginning of the pandemic, when many people literally couldn’t figure out how to wipe their own asses. My family began wearing masks before it was a thing. People looked at us funny. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now.

Some people think

Mr. Rogers was wrong. Some people aren’t just special, they’re extraspecial – and by that I mean poorly informed, intensely opinionated, and unreasonably likely to impose their views on other people. To make a bad thing worse, extraspecialers have a hard time articulating credibly-informed logic, so they have a tendency to scream their feelings.

Earth has a message for the extraspecial people. (I can hear Earth the exact same way they hear God.) Earth is pissed. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and snicker. That’s nature elbowing you in the chest: “Dude! Seriously! Show some respect or she’s gonna kill us!!”

When it comes to the nonnegotiable properties of the physical world, especially those things that affect you and me interdependently (like communicable diseases or the meaning of green and red lights at an intersection), the game is way bigger than the players.

Do you really think gravity cares whether you like it? Find a tall building and prove us all wrong. You get exactly one chance to become a legend.

As soon as you became a flat-earther, Trumper, anti-vaxxer, or anything else you’ve recently invented bullshit terms to describe because your thinking is unclear, unsupported, and threatening to the rest of us, “You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well I’ve done a lot of it, and it adds up to one thing: [our genetics, opinions, feelings, and] problems… don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” No true American can argue with Humphrey Bogart. And Bogey says we do not put up with nonsense, especially when that nonsense unnecessarily puts us at risk.

There will be people who need rescuing. Maybe they had a really important reason to be where they were. Maybe they knew what they were doing and understood the danger. My heart goes out to them. Unless they didn’t bother to find out or prepare, in which case it’s hard not to get angry at them, on behalf of the families of the rescue workers who will now have to put their own lives on the line.

Just like the pandemic, the information about this weather is out there for anyone to find. You can get just as informed about meteorology as you can about epidemiology. #internet

And what were they saying about the hurricane where I live? NOAA and NHC used the terms “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.” It’s right there at 4:29 of this NBC interview: My community is in for some of the worst flooding that area has ever seen.”

Open-Source Learning is a matter of life and death

Right now I can barely figure out how to conclude this post. 40-50 mph wind gusts are lashing my windows with rain. I have an alarm set for every 15 minutes to check the neighbor’s sump pump and make sure my pool doesn’t overflow. I need to check the floors in my bathroom and home office again to make sure no more water is coming up through the foundation. I’ve surrendered the garage.

Some people say it’s too late to evaluate credible information well enough to share one reality, or agree on politics, or change our behavior enough to reduce the effects of climate change.

I say that’s all we have left.

A good walk spoiled

It’s been almost thirty years since I played golf. I don’t have that kind of time or money.

So I got a little nervous last week when my friend Eric invited me to his country club in Los Angeles. I found myself looking for an out even though there was every reason to say yes – he’s helping me network for business, he’s picking up the tab, and my parents live nearby so I’ll be able to visit them on my way home.

But saying yes means I have to relearn the game. In two weeks.

Winston Churchill once said, “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” Bobby Jones added, “Golf is assuredly a mystifying game. It would seem that if a person has hit a golf ball correctly a thousand times, he should be able to duplicate the performance at will. But such is certainly not the case.”

You can’t learn golf by watching YouTube videos. This is a perfect time to practice what I preach.

Open-Source Learning Step #1: Find an Expert Mentor

Two weeks is nothing for a sport as physically and psychologically tricky as golf. I needed help. A quick search led me to Bryan Lebedevitch, Director of Instruction at PGA West. Bryan was named one of America’s Top 100 Instructors by Golf Digest. I emailed Bryan with the subject header: “Can you teach an old dog new tricks?”

Bryan answered right away, but he was out of town, so he introduced me to PGA West instructor John Battaglia, who has also been recognized as one of California’s best instructors.

John scheduled a time for me and I drove out to meet him.

Open-Source Learning Step #2: Honest Self-Assessment

I told both Bryan and John the truth. It’s been a long time since I swung a golf club and I wasn’t very good at it in the first place.

Open-Source Learning Step #3: Etch-A-Sketch Mind

Adults have different learning challenges than young people. Often we have to unlearn habits or forget inaccurate ideas to make room for better information. Just because we’ve been doing things a long time doesn’t mean we’ve been doing them right, or even that we know what we’ve been doing at all. (I published this post, and you clicked a bunch of symbols to find it, but I highly doubt either one of us knows exactly how the internet works.)

Relearning and mastering the basics is fundamental for even the most successful athletes. In high school I worked for Hall of Fame UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden. His teams won 10 NCAA titles. The top high school players in the country came to play for him, and I can imagine their reactions on the first day of practice, when Coach taught them how to put on their shoes and socks. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you have a blister.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised that the first thing I did needed correcting. John watched me pick up a club, frowned, and twisted my hands on the grip until they felt all wrong. I had to completely ignore the impulse to move my hands back to a comfortable place, but that became a little easier when I hit a few balls and they went in the general direction I aimed.

Open-Source Learning Step #4: Focus

One of my favorite things about sports is the way they absorb you. If you stop paying attention while you’re skiing or boxing, you’re going to pay a price. I loved playing basketball at a competitive level because every moment required me to think, anticipate, react, and use everything I’d practiced.

Golf is a mental challenge for me because it’s so damn slow. There is way too much time to think. I stand over the ball but my mind wants to be somewhere else. I think about the time I’m wasting, all the other things I could/should be doing, how much I suck at this, how I still have love handles even though I’ve completed an Ironman Triathlon, how so many morons can ignore the effects of climate change… I’d be better off if the ball caught fire.

At the same time there is absolutely nothing going on, a ton of golf details also show up to compete for my attention: Where are my hands? Are my feet lined up? How far up/back is the ball? Is the club face aligned? Can I stop your back swing if I need to? Will my hips move on the follow-through? Am I going to keep snapping my wrists at the end of my swing? What the hell did John just tell me and why can’t I remember? Think maybe I’ll the ball sometime today, sunshine?

Stop. Let all that go. Waggle the club. Breathe.

When I teach or coach, I often begin with a guided meditation. These processes are all about intentionally placing our attention. The more we’re able to do that, the better we’re able to do everything.

Open-Source Learning Step #5: Reflection

As William Shakespeare put it in Julius Caesar, “For the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.” I haven’t yet met the skilled person who got where they are without a mentor. Every top athlete knows the benefit of having a coach at every stage of their career. Why? Because coaches observe our real-time performance and help fine-tune our technique by offering insight from a different perspective.

John had the perfect setup to help me see, understand, and apply what he saw. Next to where I was hitting golf balls there was a tripod with a camera. A few feet away under a canopy, he had a laptop on a table where we could review the images together. He showed me my stance side by side with other students and pro players (all of whom have better posture than me). He analyzed video of my swing frame by frame and I could see the precise point where I went from “so far so good” to “oh boy that’s gonna suck.”

Open-Source Learning Step #6: Practice

Coach Wooden introduced me to a verse from Grantland Rice called “How to be a Champion”:

You wonder how they do it,
You look to see the knack.
You watch the foot in action,
Or the shoulder of the back.
But when you spot the answer,
Where the higher glamours lurk,
You’ll find in moving higher,
Up the laurel-covered spire,
That most of it is practice,
And the rest of it is work.

This afternoon I ran a couple errands and stopped at a practice range on my way home. It’s August in the desert, and the temperature was about 115 degrees. I took about 40 minutes to hit a bucket of 90 balls. I’m getting used to the uncomfortable grip. I’m more able to stop in the middle of my back swing. I only hit a few really bad balls, and I was nicer to myself about it. My last shot was close to perfect, even though it sailed way farther than I expected and I suddenly wondered how the hell I’m going to control for distance on the course next week.

I’m never going to be a golfer. I’m not even sure I like golf.

But I love learning.


If you have a good story about golf, or if you’d like to know more about how Open-Source Learning can help you or your organization, please Contact Me.

Physical fitness is for lead learners too

As a Lead Learner, I try to find, analyze, evaluate, and use the best information out there. Here’s an example I shared with a learning community during the pandemic about physical fitness.


This page provides some basic information about physical fitness, one of the five fitnesses of Open-Source Learning. It also comes with a story. If you want to skip the story and get right to the practices, scroll down for a no-gear workout plan, and (coming soon) information on nutrition and sleep.

In Open-Source Learning, the lead learner paves the way by demonstrating strategies for seeking out information and people that can help us all grow and improve.

Here is an example. As 2019 was coming to an end, I felt like I needed to learn more to improve my physical fitness. I was an athlete in high school and college, but that was a long time ago, and – like many Americans – my work and family life was pretty sedentary. I went to the gym, but the old workouts were only getting me so far.

One day I talked with a friend about this and he mentioned a book:

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Usually I resist this kind of stuff. I’m generally suspicious of people who sell superficial solutions. That cover? Come on. But I respect the friend who endorsed the book. He’s been a reliable source of information in my life for a long time. So, I decided to give it a shot. I bought the book.

The book grabbed me from the beginning. Instead of YELLING!! promises of six-pack abs, it started by describing elements of our mindset, and the thought patterns that hold us back from achieving the goals we want.

I have often found that the principles of sports psychology can useful in all sorts of learning contexts. The author of the book, Bobby Maximus (the name Robert MacDonald got when he bulked up in high school and college), was speaking my language. So, I read on, did the workouts in the book, and I got results.

After 12 weeks of following the workouts in the book to the letter, I had improved by every measure: I was faster, stronger, leaner, and more energetic throughout the day than when I started.

But then I hit another plateau. I did the complete workout cycle two more times, and nothing seemed to change. Pretty soon I started to doubt myself – my effort, my form – and I realized that I could only progress so far without a trainer to give me advice and feedback.

I went straight to the source and sent Bobby Maximus an email. We talked a couple times on the phone and he agreed to train me at his gym in Utah. So, the end of last year’s winter break, I got on a plane:

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The next morning, before dawn, I headed to Bobby’s gym, which is in a little industrial park just south of Salt Lake City.

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Bobby was focused throughout the workout. He wanted me to have some images of my form, so he took some pictures while I worked. You can tell Bobby cares about proper form. You can also tell he doesn’t give a crap about photography. 😂

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For the next three days, Bobby taught me everything I needed to know to reboot my workouts. He designed a plan:

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I came home and hit the gym. The first few weeks went great.

Then the pandemic struck. My gym, along with everything else, has been off-limits ever since. But that’s no reason to stop exercising and challenging ourselves to be our best.

In fact, we have more incentive than ever to get in top shape, because a virus is trying to kill us. The best way to support our immune systems is by maintaining our strength and stamina through healthy exercise, nutrition, and rest.

So here is Bobby’s No-Gear workout. For tips on form, Bobby has posted brief videos for each exercise on his YouTube channel. I’m here to answer questions, and happy to work out online with anyone who’d rather not go it alone.


I am still committed to staying in good physical condition, and I want you to have the energy you need to be at your best. So we’re all going to create a “Physical Fitness Blog” (remember that “blog” is short for web log, and in this context, “log” is a synonym for “journal” or “diary”) – we’re going to curate a record of what we do every day.

Here is a sample from my own Open-Source Learning physical fitness blog. As you can see, it’s not about being perfect – it’s about being honest with ourselves and doing the best we can to be fit and accountable. As we get better at this, and keeping our blog up to date becomes a routine, we will use the same process with our sleep and our nutrition.

Here’s an example:

30 AUG 2021

One hour on the exercise bike + Day One of no-gear. It’s a new month this week, and I’m going to rock September! (And then you want to take a selfie to put on your blog, but you drop your glasses, so you have no idea how the pic looks until after the workout, and it’s goofy, but you don’t want to put sweaty clothes back on so you post it anyway… So this is my “What do you mean you haven’t posted to your blog yet?” face 😂)

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Get going. Today’s a great day to start.