Montreal Swing Riot

Montreal Swing Riot 2015 – Joyss – Guest Performance from Alain Wong on Vimeo.

Montreal Swing Riot is a yearly dance event that I’ve been tracking for a while. It looks like a lot of fun.

The above video is a performance by Jean-Charles Zambo aka JOYSS from Paris, France to Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5.” Brilliant.

The video below is a “dance off” between swing dancers and street dancers. Of course, things get all mixed up and that’s the fun of it.

Swing Dancers vs. Street Dancers @ Montreal Swing Riot 2015 from Alain Wong on Vimeo.

Alex Honnold free solos Freerider on El Capitan

Alex Honnold has become the first climber to free solo Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan wall

This is an incredible achievement. It’s a landmark in the history of rock climbing. Honnold is an exceptional climber and has free soloed (no rope or other equipment) many difficult routes before but this route is in another category.

I climbed the Nose Route on El Capitan in the late 1970’s in slightly slower than what was then the regular time: 4 days (an extra day) and with about half the climb using aid (using gear to advance, not just protect a fall). The route Honnold has done is much harder than the Nose route and he’s done it free solo. Freerider is a variant of the Salathe Wall route put up by the recently deceased Royal Robbins in 1961.

I’m a long retired climber but I’m interested in how the sport has advanced over the many years since I did it. This is a very large advance.


Remembering Royal Robbins

One of the fathers of modern rock climbing, Royal Robbins died on March 14, 2017. Somehow this news escaped me and that fact has been bothering me for the past few weeks since learning about it.

I haven’t climbed in over thirty years but I can say without a doubt that Royal Robbins influenced my climbing more than anyone. Actually, he influenced more than my climbing, he influenced my life.

Basic and Advanced Rockcraft

Robbins wrote two small but extremely influential books that remained the instruction manuals for climbing for many years (they’re dated now although collectors items): Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft.

What these books have in common is an emphasis on process: getting to the top is less important than how one gets there, clean climbing (at the time we were moving away from pitons), spare equipment to save weight and keep things simple, and, most importantly for route pioneers, finding routes that follow crack systems and have an aesthetic sense about them (as opposed to bolting straight up a face). Robbins’ nemesis, Warren Harding played the wild, bad guy to Robbins’ good guy. Truth be told, they both pioneered great routes in Yosemite although in very different styles.

Another thing these books have in common is that they are illustrated with great humor by Sheridan Anderson (best known for The Curtis Creek Manifesto one of the best fly-fishing books ever written). Without Anderson’s illustrations the books would have fallen flat, very much like the collaboration of John Muir (writer) and Peter Aschwanden (illustrator) in How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot (also called “the Idiot Book”).

I’ve used Anderson’s drawings of Robbins to illustrate this post. Note that Robbins routinely wore a white flat cap and Anderson’s illustrations usually have him in glasses and said cap.

Yosemite Method

Robbins used Yosemite Valley as his climbing laboratory because it has stable weather, and large, glacier-carved cliffs of incredible exfoliated granite with crack systems that make building spectacular routes possible. He climbed all over the world but Yosemite remained his home base for much of his climbing career and his particular methods and style are aimed at the type of rock climbing found there.

I got into and almost out of climbing before Steve Jobs and Apple came out with the Macintosh but Jobs and Robbins had something in common besides both being from California: they both worshipped process. As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon Fine Arts department I used to hear: “the process is the product” which is another way of saying what Steve Jobs said about building the Macintosh: “the journey is the reward” which is another way of saying what Robbins said: how you get to the top is more important than getting to the top.

This meme has been a running idea in my life since first encountering it in the early 1970’s.


Robbins “put up” (made the first ascent) on hundreds (thousands?) of climbs but what marked and marks his climbs is that they, for the most part, have become classics: people want to repeat them because they’re beautiful, fun, and interesting.

The one Robbins climb that most aspiring rock climbers have to do is called Nutcracker. It’s on a cliff known as Manure Pile Buttress (seriously) and while it’s not as epic as something like The Northwest Face of Half Dome (another Robbins first ascent), it’s a great climb of moderate difficulty.

Robbins and his wife Liz first climbed Nutcracker in 1967 and it was the first climb of any significance that was done without pitons: Robbins only used wedges of aluminum on slings called nuts stuffed into cracks to protect the climb, thus the name (a first ascender gets to name the route and Robbins was known for having fun with route names).

In the history of climbing without pitons, the thought is that British climbers approaching cliffs beside railroad tracks picked up steel hex nuts, passed pieces of rope through them and used these like chockstones to protect climbs. When Yvon Chouinard (another Yosemite pioneer and founder of Patagonia) heard about this he decided to make irregular hexagonal shapes out of aluminum which in my day, we called “hexes” for climbers to stuff into cracks instead of pitons. These days there are still stoppers, wedges, and hex nuts although they’ve been all but replaced by expandable protection.

The fact that Robbins and his wife did this climb without pitons in 1967 was significant and it led to a push in Yosemite Valley to do away with pitons all together, even on longer big wall routes.

I first climbed Nutcracker in 1975 with my friend Rod Orlando (image on the left with me leading) and climbed it numerous times in later years with a variety of partners. I loved that route and even as I started climbing longer and more serious routes, I almost always came back to Nutcracker. It was like paying my respects to Royal Robbins, a pioneering climber who was one of my role models.

For more on how Robbins fits into the history of climbing in Yosemite, I highly recommend the movie: Valley Uprising. Valley Uprising on Netflix. Valley Uprising on Amazon.

Other writing about Royal Robbins

There is overlap in the obituaries but they’re all worth looking at as they each have a slightly different take on Robbins’ life. If you’ve got a great source, please post it in comments, I’ll add it here. Thanks.

Base Camp Magazine: Royal Robbins Dies at 82 (this is where I first learned of Robbins’ passing)

Outside Magazine: Catching Up with Royal Robbins

Climbing: Royal Robbins

Climbing: Royal Robbins: A Timeline and a Bibliography

Royal Robbins, Conscience of Rock Climbers, Dies at 82

NPR, All Things Considered: Royal Robbins, Pioneer Of American Rock Climbing, Dies At 82

The Washington Post: Royal Robbins, celebrated rock climber who left no trace of his ascents, dies at 82

Outside Magazine: Obituary: Royal Robbins (1935–2017)

Modesto Bee: Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto’s Royal Robbins, dies at 82

Alpinist: 1935-2017: Big-wall pioneer and world explorer Royal Robbins remembered

Adventure Journal: Climbing Pioneer Royal Robbins Dies at Age 82

Hear and Now (NPR): How Rock Climbing Legend Royal Robbins Influenced The Sport

Climbing reference: Nutcracker, Manure Pile Buttress 5.8

Nutcracker Guide

Summit Post: Nutcracker topo

Flickr (photos): Climbing Nutcracker in Yosemite

Joy Brown on Broadway

Figures on a flatbed

Figures on a flatbed

Broadway, New York City.

My good friend Joy Brown has been making large bronze castings of her ceramic sculpture and is having a show of them in New York City. Joy has been traveling to China to work with a foundry there for many years and these finished pieces were shipped to the US in a large container by ship and arrived a few weeks ago. There will be a sister show in China opening in a few months.

Forklift on Broadway

Forklift on Broadway

Thinker in crosswalk

We pulled an all-nighter last night helping with the installation which was done by a great outfit out of Bethel, Connecticut: Mariano Brothers.

We started at 10:00 pm and finished at 3:00 am. There were two flatbed trucks, ours with four pieces starting at 72nd St. and working north, the other starting at 168th St. and working south.

Mother and child at 72nd St.

Mother and child at 72nd St.

Many of Joy’s friends came from all over the country and they were joined by a crowd of curious and supportive New Yorkers. It was quite a scene although after midnight as we moved up town only the core group remained.

Tomorrow, Wednesday May 17th there will be a formal “opening” at 11:00 am at the 72nd St and Broadway installation. The show will be up for at least six months, maybe longer. Each setting has a map showing the location of each of the sculptures. It’s a bit of a hike to walk the whole thing but there’s a subway line running under Broadway and the pieces are near enough to stops so they can be easily gotten to.

I’m pooped!


Women’s March, Salisbury, Connecticut

Women's March, Salisbury, Connecticut

Salisbury, Connecticut.

I found a “sister march” in a small town north of us and we decided to join there rather than in New York.

It was very meaningful to get out among like-minded people from many of the small towns around this area and while many of us have been upset about the election, being together gave us a bit of hope.

There were about 500 people at this gathering, no doubt one of the smaller marches that happened yesterday. Amazingly, through smartphones and social media, folks in our march were directly connected with friends and family in other marches the world over.

I saw scenes of DC, New York, and numerous other marches in both the US and around the world. I have to say, even though I’m not active on social media (any more), just like the Green Revolution in Iran, it’s extremely useful to be able to see what’s going in other places on earth in real time.

This was a significant demonstration, now let’s hope we can keep it up.

The Last Steps on the Moon

Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon in NASA’s Apollo program. It took place in 1972. No doubt we’ll go again at some point although at the moment its tough to imagine any single country or the world getting focussed enough to make it happen.

Some of us are old enough to remember the Mercury program and John Glenn orbiting the earth, the Gemini program and various astronauts doing the first space walks, and then Apollo and the moon landings. All of that was over in 1972, and then we had Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and now the International Space Station.

This entire arc of space exploration is incredible but nothing has caught my imagination like the moon landings. I’ll never forget Walter Cronkite taking his glasses off and looking awestruck as he announced that Neil Armstrong was on the moon. This video brings some of that feeling back. Zoom it out, its well worth it.

[via Devour]

Stephen Bannon

President elect Donald Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon as his “senior counselor” (think Karl Rove).

Bannon ran Trump’s campaign but many of us hoped the relationship would end if Trump got elected. It obviously hasn’t.

Bannon is the chairman of Breitbart News, an ultra right wing organization aligned with the Alt-right movement.

All of this to say, Donald Trump has appointed an openly anti-Semitic and racist person to be his closest political advisor.

Note: Even though I’m a news junkie and very political, I’ve tried over the many years I’ve been publishing this weblog to keep politics out of it. The fact that I’m posting about our recent US election and Donald Trump in particular has everything to do with the kind of campaign he ran, not his particular policies which we know little about at this point. My grandparents got out of Europe before 1900 but as a Jew I’ve been taught all my life to keep an eye on any politician who uses fear, especially of “foreigners” to drive popularity. Trump is the first politician in my lifetime (I’m 65) who has won an election using this tactic. It may not be the main reason he won, but its at least a part of the many reasons he won. I think it’s important to keep track of this and I plan to, here.



Jonathan Poritsky who writes The Candler Blog has written a great essay on what’s just happened with the U.S. election. As a fellow Jew I identified with all of it.

When I speak with friends about my concerns as a Jew, they often tell me it won’t happen here, that I am overreacting. But it’s already happening, just not to me. A man spent a year-and-a-half selling Americans on the forcible expulsion of millions of immigrants and shutting them off from us behind a wall. And then he got elected president. If the mass deportations happen, or if the wall gets built, this is a dark path for our country. And that will only be the beginning.

As someone who recently turned 65, I’ve lived long enough to have met people who got out of Europe before Hitler’s rein (my grandparents), and in this country I also experienced the aftermath of Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt: the woman who introduced my parents’ father was a judge who went before HUAC and was eventually disbarred because he was Jewish and liberal.

What many don’t realize is that when you are part of a group who is being singled out, it’s particularly frightening when a person like Donald Trump stirs up fear and scapegoating. Trump may not be personally anti-Semitic (his son in law is an orthodox Jew and his daughter Ivanka converted) but pockets of his supporters most certainly are: witness crowds yelling “Jew-S.A” at Trump rallies and Trump’s last advertisement made reference to (Jews) who run the financial world and are responsible for all that is bad.

I’m definitely worried and while I’ve lived with mild anti-Semitism my whole life, I’m guessing it will get worse now. I’m also concerned for people like my late mother’s helper, Marta who is an American who emigrated from Ethiopia. How should she think about what happens at Trump rallies and the blatant hate of President Obama (because he is black).

Its possible that Donald Trump said many of the extreme things he said simply to get elected, that he doesn’t really want to make a wall or deport Muslims. But, as Jonathan says in his essay, this is what the beginning looks like and as Jew who was brought up to “never forget” I can tell you that I haven’t forgotten and I’m scared, both for myself and for my country.

My mother passed away last night

Frances is 101 today


Frances Wanderman. Born May 26th, 1915. Died June 17th, 2016.

This was taken on May 26th, a little over two weeks ago in Los Angeles, California on my mother’s 101st birthday.

Since then she’s been eating and drinking less (and she was already eating and drinking very little) and two days ago she stopped.

She passed away last night at 8:30 pm. Her helper Marta and my cousin Mary were with her. It was peaceful and easy.

She’ll be buried sometime this coming week at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York where her parents and siblings are.

Images of my mother


My mother not only lived a long time, she lived a very full life. Here’s a collection of images I posted on her 100th birthday.

My great grandmother Leah's tombstone


Here’s one of the earliest images I have of her at her Grandmother Leah’s funeral at Mt. Zion Cemetery, New York, 1918. She’s the youngest child on the right. Her maiden name is Dick and that’s her father, Samuel Dick behind her brother. His father, David Dick, is the old guy with the beard.

My mother and her siblings


Here’s a professional portrait of my mother (third from left) and her siblings. We’re guessing she’s about 17 here which would make the year 1932.

My mother interviews Dorothy Lamour


My mother (center) interviewing the actress Dorothy Lamore at “21” in New York. My mother wrote for a movie magazine.

My parents and me


My father, mother and me in about 1953 (I’m 2, my parents 38).

My mother and me at Crater Lake, Oregon in 1972


My mother and me at Crater Lake in 1972. I was 20 years old here, my mother was 57. My hair came off for good the next year and I grew a beard which I have to this day.

My mother's a Mac Geek


This is my then 90 year old mother who was a Mac user for years. She loved all the t-shirts and swag I used to bring home from Macworld and from my years consulting for Apple. This picture is in the documentary, MacHeads.

My mother inside a Richard Serra


I’ve been traveling out to Los Angeles at increasingly regular intervals to check up on my mother and on these trips we’d almost always go to a garden, a museum, out to dinner with relatives and friends, and cram as much in as we could. Here she is in 2009 inside a Richard Serra sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of art.

Marta and Frances


This was taken two years ago at Descanso Gardens in Flintridge, California, one of the many gardens we took my mother to. Her helper, Marta, was with her for eight years.

I can say for sure that my mother would never have lived to 101 had Marta not been in her life. We were lucky to have the resources to have this kind of help which enabled my mother to continue to live in her own house until the end. This was her wish: no assisted living, no old age home, and she had an explicit DNR (do not resuscitate) statement and told me, no hospitals. She watched what my father went through dying over two months in a hospital and she did not want that for herself.

An aside and an example of my mother’s humor. She’d say this on each of my visits as she became less independent until the last few years.

Frances: “Why don’t you give me the pillow job.”

Richard: “Mom, if I do that I’ll go to prison for murder.”

Frances: “What do I care, I’ll be dead.”

This was her morbid yet funny way to talk about her own death and as she got older and dementia set in, this kind of humor became my test of her cognitive capacity which was pretty amazing until recently.

I give my mother tremendous credit for making good choices along the way. I might have thought she’d be happier in an assisted living place but in fact, she enjoyed her independence and her routines and kept both up as long as she could. I’m quite sure those routines helped her live as long as she did. Marta and I used to joke that a half of a tunafish sandwich and a blended mocha must be the secret sauce that kept her going. I’m guessing it was the routine of getting out of the house and down to her little sandwich place for lunch out almost every day that kept her going. She enjoyed it and it gave her a reason to live.

She will be missed by many people although she’s outlived so many of her friends and relatives that the number is smaller than it might have been.

RIP Frances, I’m glad you were and will always remain my mother.