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Tune up the joy centers of your brain

I never met Donna Summer or saw her perform. But I thank her for making me a happier — and better — runner.

It happened unexpectedly. There I was, ready to run along miles of beach, ear buds blasting with alternative rock, when Donna called out to me.

I should probably explain that I sometimes get a little lightheaded when I run on an empty stomach. I see and hear things that I’m sure others don’t. …


Public art is meant to be seen.

In a very dark year, people found ways to shine.

For the past year, I’ve been taking photos of random street art I’ve literally run across while jogging in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco. Some of the art has been whimsical. Other examples have been in-your-face tags or political statements that double as graffiti. Still others have displayed a childlike innocence, in part, no doubt, because children were responsible. But whatever their sources, quality, or intent, these public works have, to my mind at least, become indelibly linked to the historical moment we endured, as well as the perilous events that defined it.

Yet for all its expressive power…


The 2021 version of lemon pudding cake (left) and a 1921 vintage version (right).

Does a 2021 recipe for lemon pudding cake stack up to its 1921 predecessor? Or would a mid-century upstart upstage them both?

Everything old is new again. This is true of fashion and art, as well as recipes that sometimes reappear as counterpoints to more modern culinary interpretations. Older is not necessarily better, of course, but it can be fun to compare how ingredients and proportions have changed over the decades and gauge the effects of both on the final product, especially if the older recipe is a family favorite.

In a recent test case, the family favorite was a lemon dessert. While scanning the cooking section of The New York Times this past week, my wife happened to see a recipe…


Red sky at night

San Francisco’s West-side sunsets were sometimes the only…


What happens to the brand promise of heroic death once you surrender? Credit:rudall30

After a humiliating battlefield defeat in 425 BC, the Greek city-state of Sparta needed to restore its swagger in the Greek World. What would a modern branding team have advised?

Ancient Spartan warriors generated what modern communications’ experts call “brand heat”. Known for being disciplined, dutiful, brave, fit, and fearless, Spartan soldiers lived for battle, their fellow Spartans, and masculine military virtue. Respected for their stamina and stealth, and feared for their pledge to never surrender, they forged a formidable war machine.

They also looked the part. Caped in identical red cloaks, they wore their hair long and braided. And, unlike other Greeks, all of whom they considered inferior, they shaved their upper lips. …


Our pandemic present looks a lot different through history’s eyes

Before Corona — or BC, for short — has now entered our lexicon. No wonder. The world has been knocked off course and irretrievably changed in ways we can’t yet even imagine. But as we look for solace, there’s one place that’s been largely ignored: Archaeology.

I know. It sounds crazy. How could discoveries about old worlds — the other BC — help us solve the problems of the new? Well, maybe in addition to solutions, we need some reassurance. Maybe knowing more about our historical legacy can connect us to our bigger selves and provide some much-needed perspective on…


An unnamed artist creates Nazca-like drawings that endure only until the next high tide.

Finding treasure in the sand


Could architectural ornamentation become a new sign of non-conformist resistance?

It may seem a ludicrous and inconsequential question when millions of Americans are unemployed and when despair chokes our dreams like the smoke from a thousand dumpster fires. But step aside from the horror for just a moment and imagine that you’re an architect with a superior flair for design. Then ask yourself, if money were not a concern and you could customize your own dwelling from the ground up, what would you include? And as you fill that thought-bubble, consider if you would add decorative flourishes to the exterior.

Why does that last question matter? More on that in…


People of the sand question everything

Paleontologists relish finding ancient footprints in dried volcanic ash.

Cyber sleuths celebrate when they discover digital fingerprints hiding in the code.

Ocean Beach regulars revel in something far more prosaic — toes and fingers in the soft sand, impressions from the original digital world.

High tide might wash these impressions away, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t come to Ocean Beach to make our mark; There’s a whole City devoted to that.


We are guests not gods

Ocean Beach is like an unpredictable friend you can’t quit. It doesn’t care if you’re annoyed by its capricious winds or exasperated by its swirling dampness. It teases you with sun and fog in the same minute and dares you to complain. It scares you with its sneaker waves even as it lures you toward them with rivulets of sea water shimmering in the dull light. It sits at the City’s western border, but it refuses to be domesticated like Pismo or Santa Barbara. Serious beachgoers can sense its willful and wild energy lurking just beneath the waves, a peevishness…

Jeff Miller

Culture writer with an eye for history, science, sports, art, politics, photography, travel, and the original story between the lines.

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