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No ads and faster speeds using a Raspberry Pi-Hole

Goodbye ads and hello significant network speed improvement!

So, I set up a Raspberry Pi-Hole yesterday. Well, actually I did much less than that. I purchased a ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole and installed it into my home network.

Why did I do this? I wanted a clean and efficient way to block annoying ads, pop-ups, and trackers so many websites attempt to download to your devices. I also expected some improvement in network speed. It turned out to be a significant speed improvement loading webpages. For that reason alone, I would recommend a Raspberry Pi-Hole.

1. What is a Raspberry Pi and what is a Pi-Hole?

    Raspberry Pi computer (many come with no case or power supply)

    A Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Hobbyists love to tinker with these devices, building and configuring them for any of a number tasks (home digital juke box, attic temperature and humidity monitor, robotic applications, home automation, music and digital sound effects, games, and much more).

    Raspberry Pi computer case

    Raspberry Pi computers can be purchased for as little as US$40 for a bare bones circuit board to up to US$150-$200 for more features such as a power supply, enclosure, cables, and more. Numerous accessories are also available (touch screens, cameras, sensors, etc.).

    So, what is a Pi-Hole?

    A Pi-Hole (pronounced “pie hole”), is software run on a computer which filters out advertisements and trackers. For the network savvy, it acts as a DNS sinkhole, a DNS Cache, and can be configured to block adult content.

    A Pi-Hole has significant advantages over typical software solutions (e.g., pop-up blockers, etc.). It works faster, more efficiently, and blocks ads on not just from reaching your computer, but also your cell phone (when using Wi-Fi), your smart TV, and other devices on your home network.

    Normally, internet traffic, including all the ads and tracking software, etc., comes through your main internet connection, through your router, and gets propagated through your network cables and Wi-Fi network to your computer, mobile device, etc. Once there, you might have a pop-up blocker or some ad-blocking software on your local device attempt to filter out those ads. But those programs take time and computer resources.

    With a Pi-Hole, those ads and trackers are filtered out way upstream, before your router can send them to your computer, mobile device, etc. Not only can you avoid the annoying ads, it can also result in significant speed improvements when surfing the web, watching videos, etc. Additionally, your local device doesn’t have to work so hard blocking the ads using its local software (e.g. a pop-up blocker).

    2. Can you install a Raspberry Pi-Hole yourself?

    To install and configure a Raspberry Pi-Hole, there will be some network configuration skills required:

    I. Ability to log into your router’s Admin page

    You must make configuration changes to your router to use a Pi-Hole. You need to know your router admin login credentials and how to log directly into the admin page of your router. Once on your router admin page, you need to be able to:

    • View attached network devices – You need to see if your Raspberry Pi is on your network, and if so, what is its IP Address.
    • Set a static IP address – Although routers typically grant the same IP address to various network-enabled devices on your home network, the Raspberry Pi must have its own dedicated (aka “static”) IP address.
    • Change DNS settings – After your Pi-Hole is set up, you will need to redirect your router to use the Pi-Hole IP Address instead of standard DNS servers.

    II. (Optional) Build a Raspberry Pi-Hole

    There are many documents and videos that explain how to install Pi-Hole on your little Raspberry Pi. But I was lazy and found a ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole for about US$125.

    My ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole

    2. Obtaining and Building a Pi-Hole

    Pi-Hole is software which can run on a Raspberry Pi or on a computer running Linux. At this point, anyone without some computer software skills may be tempted to tune out. However, if you know how to log into your router and make the configuration changes listed above, you can still do this!

    Those interested in tinkering will find countless websites and YouTube videos walking you through the process of installing and setting up your Pi-Hole. The Pi-Hole software is completely free, although donations are recommended to keep the software updated and continuing to improve.

    If you want to build your own Pi-Hole, you will need, at minimum:

    • Raspberry Pi
    • Power Supply
    • USB Keyboard and USB Mouse
    • HDMI cable to connect to an external monitor
    • MicroSD card

    Not comfortable with or interested in building your own Pi-Hole?

    Although I was confident I could build one myself, I had neither the interest nor the time (i.e., I was feeling lazy), and decided to buy a ready-to-install Raspberry Pi-Hole. I found one on eBay for $125. I ordered it and it arrived a week later. I already owned a USB keyboard and mouse, and the Raspberry Pi-Hole came with an HDMI cable which I connected to my TV.

    4. Configuring my Pi-Hole and Home Network

      My Pi-Hole came with a link to a website with step-by-step instructions on how to configure my Pi-Hole. Briefly:

      I. Made Physical Connections

      1. Connected the network cable to a port on my router
      2. Connected USB keyboard and mouse to the Raspberry Pi
      3. Connected HDMI cable between the Raspberry Pi and my monitor (in this case, my TV)
      4. Connected the power supply to the Raspberry Pi

      II. Network configuration
      Following the Pi-Hole configuration instructions:

      1. Connected the network cable to a port on my router
      2. Assigned a static IP address on my router for my Pi-Hole
      3. Chose a DNS server for the Pi-Hole
      4. Checked for and installed Pi-Hole software updates
      5. On my router, set my DNS to point to the Pi-Hole IP Address

      The whole process took me less than half an hour.

      Immediately I saw a significant improvement in web page loading. This was due to two features of Pi-Hole: not having to load all the ads and trackers, and DNS caching, which is built into Pi-Hole.

      I don’t have statistics, but some pages appear to now load almost instantaneously. And I certainly don’t miss all the ads.

      I regularly run a malware scanner. I will be curious to see if the number of malware items found decreases now that I’m running Pi-Hole.

      Interested, curious, wondering whether you can do this? Drop me a line and we can discuss it.

      My COVID Journey

      Day 0 Positive COVID test result

      So I finally tested positive for COVID last month.

      I have taken the pandemic seriously from the start. I got my vaccines as soon as they were available (I’ve received 5 so far). I continue to exercise caution, wearing a mask while I am out shopping, and taking tests before and after symphony rehearsals. I usually self-test before large get-togethers.

      I wrote a three-part blog series about the pandemic. I interviewed friends in healthcare, shared stories of former skeptics, and did my best to convince others to get vaccinated and exercise caution.

      So nearly three years after the start of the global pandemic, I finally caught and tested positive for COVID.

      Information about the virus has been changing and confusing. Different strains of the virus have caused consternation with an ever-changing array of symptoms, varying levels of contagiousness, and rare unknown and troubling long-term effects for some. 

      People have understandably become fatigued by the restrictions, the social isolation, and impact to commerce, and so much more.

      In that kind of environment, it is understandable there are many skeptics, deniers, and even protests regarding safety protocols. This piece does not intend to persuade or convince anyone. It is merely to tell my story, what I have learned, and what conclusions I draw.

      1. Getting Infected

      Day 0

      I started to develop a really bad headache. Bad headaches are rare for me, so I decided to take a nap. For safety’s sake, I took a rapid at-home COVID test. The initial control line darkened, and then I saw the dreaded second line appear. I was positive for COVID.

      I immediately contacted everyone I had seen recently, and they all tested. Out of the group of a dozen, one other person was shocked to find they were also positive. They had no symptoms.

      Although my symptoms ended up being mild, this first day was the worst. My sinuses were completely blocked and I had a splitting headache. Over-the-counter decongestants and painkillers made it bearable.

      Days 1 – 5

      I stayed in bed, hydrated, and isolated. My headache wasn’t bad, and I suffered mostly a runny nose and some coughing. I had no fever, and I didn’t suffer any body aches, difficulty breathing, or other more serious symptoms. I did partially lose my sense of smell.

      I contacted my healthcare provider about getting antiviral drugs, but given my age, relatively good health, and mild symptoms, I was told such drugs were not suggested. I was instructed to just continue to rest, hydrate, isolate, mask, and wash my hands frequently. I was also told not to start testing again until day 5.

      Day 2 Positive COVID test result

      However, on about Day 2 I was feeling really good, suffering only a runny nose. For the heck of it, I tested, and the second line on the COVID test immediately appeared, dark and bold.

      Day 11

      I started testing on Day 5, and I was still positive. Testing subsequent days, the 2nd line on the COVID rapid tests grew gradually fainter. Finally, on Day 11, no trace of the second line was visible. My sense of smell gradually returned, too.

      Rapid test results from Days 9 – 16

      I was happy to finally be testing negative, but I continued to isolate, mask, and wash my hands religiously. I decided to sign up for a drive-through PCR test. Two days later I received my result: Inconclusive.

      I scheduled another PCR test, and two days later I again received “Inconclusive.” Frustrated, I signed up for a third PCR test, and after waiting again a couple days, the result came back: POSITIVE!

      2. Confusing Instructions

      Frustrated and confused, I started contacting various healthcare professionals to find out what I should do.

      Various articles from reputable sources suggested that I would only be contagious the first 5 days of my infection, or if I still had serious symptoms. I learned that PCR tests are much more sensitive, and that you can test positive up to 3 months after your infection. 

      The CDC’s website states “Any positive COVID-19 test means the virus was detected and you have an infection.” It continues that you should isolate, take precautions, tell people you recently contacted and monitor your symptoms.

      Elsewhere on the CDC website it says “You may end isolation after day 5” if you have no symptoms after day 5. You are instructed to wear your mask through Day 10. You may remove your earlier mask if you have two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart. Of course, if your symptoms recur or worsen, you should restart isolation and talk to a healthcare professional.

      So what to do with negative antigen (rapid at-home) test results and a positive PCR test result?

      With consistent negative antigen test results, I should be okay to relax my isolation and masking protocols (although I’ve never stopped masking while going out shopping, etc., nor to I intend to). But with a positive PCR test result, the CDC says I should assume I have an infection and take precautions.

      Calling the Red Cross

      I am a frequent blood platelet donor. I wanted to know when I would be eligible and safe to donate again. Calling their donor line, I was told I would not be eligible to donate if I have symptoms, or if I tested positive in the last 10 days. 

      I protested that I was symptom-free and consistently getting negative results from my antigen rapid at-home tests, but got a positive result from a PCR test. They repeated that as long as any test was positive, I should wait 10 days. Conclusion, don’t test for 10 days (unless my symptoms return or worsen). After that, I should be eligible.

      This did not reassure me.

      Calling My Physician

      Although it was a long holiday weekend, I decided to call my physician’s office and speak to the on-call nurse. I received a callback late in the evening. Here is what the nurse told me.

      1. Unless your symptoms remain or get worse, you are only contagious for the first 5 days of infection

      2. You should only test when you have symptoms or if you suspect you have been exposed to COVID

      3. After getting infected, your immunity against reinfection is very high for the first three months

      She reiterated that rapid at-home tests can often detect COVID and report positive up to a couple weeks after infection, and that the more sensitive PCR tests can test you as positive up to 3 months after infection.

      Her message was that testing should be used to a) verify you have COVID, and b) try to determine the start of your infection. From that point, you can start counting the days. 5 days later, you can assume you are no longer contagious. 10 days later you can decide to stop masking. What COVID tests are not good at is for determining the end of your infection.

      3. My Conclusions

      As I said before, given the conflicting and changing information about this virus, it is unsurprising people are confused and will draw very different conclusions. These are the conclusions I have drawn:

      1. I will continue to mask when I am in public indoors even when I feel completely healthy. Two people I know who felt no symptoms tested positive in the last month. So rather than risk either infecting people unknowingly, or exposing myself to possible infection from people who are asymptomatic, I will continue to mask.

      2. I will rely more on rapid tests for the next three months, then try PCR testing after. Previously, I had signed up for PCR tests often. I would test before and after symphony rehearsals, and before big in-person get-togethers. Since I may test positive for 3 months, I will rely more on rapid tests until this spring.

      3. Stay informed. Information continues to come out, new strains of COVID may come out, and recommendations will change. It’s tiring and confusing, but I’ll try to stay informed on the latest recommendations. I encourage you to do so as well.

      Stay safe out there, friends!

      Bread Reincarnation

      I hate throwing away food.

      Preparing for Thanksgiving week, I bought a bit too much food. One item was a loaf of delicious seeded multigrain whole wheat bread from Grand Central Bakery.

      A delicious, but stale, hard loaf of bread

      The loaf was untouched for several days and became predictably so hard it would have been difficult to slice. The interior no doubt now was also quite tough.

      A professional chef friend told me that it is possible to rejuvenate a stale loaf of bread by running a water faucet all over the loaf and briefly baking it! I was skeptical, but what did I have to lose?

      Note 1: Do not attempt this with moldy bread. If your bread has mold, compost or toss it.

      Note 2: This works best with fully intact loaves of bread. But Bon Appetit says even if the interior of the bread gets wet, it still can be rejuvenated.

      How to Rejuvenate Stale Bread

      Step 1: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F

      Step 2: Hold the bread under running water. Completely soak the surface. Soak the bottom of the loaf more, since it is usually thicker and tougher. If the bread has been sliced, position the exposed portion of bread away from the faucet to minimize getting that part wet.

      Beginning the rejuvenating shower
      Soaking the bottom of the loaf

      Step 3: Place the soaked bread loaf on the bare oven racks and set your timer for 10 minutes.

      Step 4: Remove and inspect the loaf. If the loaf is large and/or still dry and hard, repeat the rinse and bake once more.

      Step 5: Remove the loaf, slice, and enjoy!

      The seeded whole wheat bread and the baguette were successfully rejuvenated!

      You may need to adjust the temperature and length of baking time depending on the size and type of loaf you are rejuvenating. Just keep an eye on the bread while it is in the oven. You will be surprised how well this can work!

      Update: I was able to successfully rejuvenate a baguette as well! Also, I attempted re-rejuvenating a loaf that had been sliced, and it worked as well!

      A Delightful Turn Of Events

      Summary: A story of unexpected connection and history borne out of a selfless act

      A year ago this month a friend was visiting from out of state and booked a cute AirBnB in the neighborhood. Surrounded by a garden of flowers and herbs, the quaint cottage was cozy, well appointed, and included a fire stove.

      Fire stove similar to the one at the AirBnB

      The fire stove door had a detachable wooden handle. You connected the handle to the door when you needed to open or close the door, and removed it to prevent it from getting too hot.

      The handle had seen better days. Bite marks, probably from an enthusiastic pooch, pockmarked the wood, and one side was singed black. Worst of all, nearly half of the handle had cracked off and was completely missing.

      The house was lovely and the AirBnB host kind and helpful. I thought it would be a nice gesture to see if I could repair or replace the stove handle.

      I knew of a woodworking store in the area and I thought, maybe they have wood handles ready to buy to easily replace this broken one.

      I took the handle to the store, and a kind gentlemen working there took a look at it. No, they did not sell any ready-made replacement handles that would work.

      I suggested that anyone with a lathe and basic wood turning skills could probably whip one out in less than an hour. Did anyone in the store offer such services? Not usually, he answered, but said he’d be willing to do it himself. He thought the job would take a day or two and suggested — in my opinion — a too low price for the job. We shook hands to seal the bargain.

      He began carefully taking measurements of the handle and writing them down on a sheet of paper. Then he asked me for my name and contact information.

      “Toby Loftus,” I answered, and gave him my phone and email address.

      “Loftus,” he repeated, spelling it out. “You know, my sister took piano lessons from a Loftus when she was a child…”.

      “Where, and in what decade?” I asked.

      “This would have been in Eugene during the ’60s,” he responded.

      “That had to be my dad, Don Loftus!” I answered. “Although Dad passed away over 20 years ago, Mom is living in Ashland, and I’ll bet she remembers her!”

      “Ashland?” he responded with equal surprise. “My sister lives in Ashland and still plays piano today!”

      With the woodturner

      Indeed, not only did mom remember his sister as a piano student of my late father, but she remembered their father, too. She recalled him being owner of a wood working or furniture business in Eugene.

      A few days later I returned to the woodworking store to pick up the new stove handle. It looked beautiful, perfectly proportioned and fitting comfortably in the hand, stained a deep walnut hue, and shiny with a fresh coat of clear lacquer. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

      Pleased, too, was the AirBnB host, once she saw the new handle. She couldn’t believe I had it done and was so grateful.

      The satisfaction replacing the burnt and broken handle was far outweighed by the delight the wood turner, his sister, and my mother experienced at the unexpected reconnection.

      I don’t believe one should commit selfless acts and expect additional rewards — that rather defeats the whole purpose. Whether it is fate, karma, or mere coincidence, I do not know, but it seems like selfless acts beget more selfless acts and unexpected joys.

      Regardless, there is no shortage of opportunity to, or need for acts of kindness and generosity.

      The Siren Sound of a Typewriter

      Last weekend I used a manual typewriter for the first time in my life — and was hooked.

      Sitting at an Olympia typewriter with gold leaf highlights receiving tips from store owner, Tony Valoppi

      I learned to type on an IBM Selectric electric typewriter. I hated the class, but in one semester learned touch typing, a valuable skill that served me well through high school, college, and to the present. Only a couple years after my initial typing lesson, all typewriters were removed and replaced with computers and keyboards. Typing classes were renamed, “keyboarding classes.”

      IBM Selectric II electric typewriter like the one I learned to type on — you won’t find this or any electric typewriter at Type Space.

      Beyond my semester of typing class, my exposure to typewriters was limited to an Adler brand manual typewriter in the home where I grew up. My mom typed the initial manuscript of her book on it, but I never used it.

      A high school classmate told me about this store a couple weeks ago. The way she and her father lit up describing the different typewriters captured my imagination and I decided I had to go see it myself. The store is owned by her partner.

      Sure enough, last weekend I visited Type Space, a SE Portland business that is manual typewriter showroom, museum, repair shop, and writer’s space rolled into one.

      Type Space, 2409 SE 49th St, Portland, OR 97206

      Located at SE 49th and Division, Type Space is open Thursday – Monday, 11am – 6pm. People are welcome to come in, look at the vast array of typewriters, and sit down and try them. The typewriters are very affordably priced should you decide you must have one (like I unexpected did).

      I was doubtful I could type accustomed as I am to easy to press, fast, and tightly clustered keys of a computer keyboard. But with just a few pointers from the owner, Anthony “Tony” Valoppi, I was off and running.

      I started with a German typewriter. The Z and Y keys swapped, which initially threw me off. Additional keys provided the German vowels with umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and the sharp S, “Eszett,” β.

      I then moved to a sleek, portable typewriter. At the owner’s invitation, I typed a letter, addressed the envelope on the typewriter, and was provided a stamp. The postal carrier dropped by within the hour and my letter was off on its way.

      I spent three hours at Type Space and those hours flew by! I got to see a variety of old and new typewriters, including a Russian typewriter with Cyrillic keys, a Hungarian typewriter, and a Japanese typewriter.

      The Japanese typewriter had a grid with over 1900 kanji characters, numbers, letters, and symbols. Using a stylus, you choose the desired character and press a lever, typing one character at a time.

      Nippon Type Panwriter Japanese typewriter

      Everything in the showroom is available to take down, place on the common table and try out. This is a museum with manual typewriters dating back over a century, but one in which you are invited to touch and try out everything!

      A selection of scores of typewriters available to try and to purchase

      Valoppi, a professional chef, opened Type Space early in the pandemic. The idea seemed crazy to many, but his business has taken off. It has been featured on a couple local TV broadcasts:

      KPTV: ‘Type Space’ lets Portlanders check out fully functional vintage typewriters

      KOIN: Kohr Explores: Local shop brings typewriters back into fashion

      While I was there, a steady stream of customers came in, picking up recently serviced and tuned-up typewriters, dropping in to browse and try out various models, or bringing in a typewriter for service or just to learn how it worked.

      Smith Premier typewriters with separate upper- and lower-case keys. The #4 on the right dates from 1906.

      Personally, I came to see the beautiful variety of typewriters, learn about their various designs and mechanisms, and maybe try my hand at a little manual typing. I didn’t expect to enjoy the latter so much!

      The Typewriter Mystique

      There is something magical and visceral about a typewriter that is lost on a computer keyboard. With computers, deleting a word or phrase or rearranging whole sentences and paragraphs is effortless.

      With typewriters, more thought and determination is put into each word choice and turn of phrase. No spellchecker will immediately flag your mistakes — you are left to leave them be or correct them and leave unmistakable artifacts of the evolution of your work.

      Varying levels of speed, confidence, and finger strength result in uneven darkness between letters and words. These variances transmit clues to the writer’s emotion and intention invisible on the laser-printed page.

      Oliver Typewriter

      The spaces inside letters may not be completely clear. Shadows inside an “a” or “o” instill texture, depth, and color to typed letters.

      There is also the aural and tactile experience — the satisfying “snap” as each letter strikes the page, the “ding” of the margin warning bell, and the pleasing ratchet and metallic skid of the carriage sliding down its track to make way for a new line of text. These sounds and the physical feedback through the fingers and hands makes typing a much more sensory-rich experience.

      I expected to be delighted by what I saw and learned, but I did not expect to be captivated by the typewriters. But I was. I fully plan to pick out and purchase a manual typewriter from Type Space soon.

      Whether you are a writer, an avid reader, are into museums, are intrigued by mechanical gadgets, whatever, I highly recommend you pay Type Space a visit. I am pretty sure you will be delighted — and you might get hooked too!

      Type Space Website: https://thetype.space/

      Type Space Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thetypespace

      Type Space Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/type.space/

      Update: On a subsequent visit to the store, I purchased a 1934 Underwood 4-bank typewriter, as well as a typewriter desk!

      Opening and closing my cool typewriter desk

      Oregon Voter Registration

      September 20th is National Voter Registration Day in the U.S.

      In order to vote in the November 8, 2022 general election, you must be registered to Vote.

      You should register or update your registration if you move, change your name, or want to change your party affiliation. I don’t know for certain, but I assume for most states you can also request absentee ballots in this manner (definitely true for Oregon).

      If you are not yet 18, but will turn 18 by election day, definitely register! You will receive your ballot either on or after your birthday, or when the election occurs.

      In Oregon, the last day to register is October 18, 2022, and it’s really easy to do online.

      You can register to vote in Oregon online. Have your driver’s license ready, and go to:
      https://sos.oregon.gov/voting/Pages/registration.aspx?lang=en

      To check your current Oregon voter registration, visit this page and click the blue Go to MyVote Now button:
      https://sos.oregon.gov/voting/Pages/myvote.aspx?lang=en

      I urge every eligible person to register and vote.

      SDAC – Striving To Become A Better Friend

      I’ve always wanted to be a good friend to the people I care about — to offer a kind, non-judgmental ear, lend a hand and strong back with physical tasks, to cheer on a friend’s success and to share in their sorrows. Hopefully you have a friend who is there for you, and I hope you offer support to those you care about.

      But these acts of friendship can sometimes go awry. Different people have different needs and determining those needs and providing them can be a challenge.

      Countless letters to advice columns, personal experiences, and jokes attest to the difficulty people experience when they need the comfort and support of their friends and partners. These challenges are backed up by scientific research.

      I vividly remember reading You Just Don’t Understand – Women and Men in Conversation 30 years ago by linguist Dr. Deborah Tannen and her message about how different sexes use language in different ways. In particular, I recall examples where women and men would become frustrated with each other when one was discussing a problem or complaint. In some cases, men would hear women’s complaints and want to solve the problem rather than just listen. Amongst themselves, one man would express a complaint and others would completely change the subject or make a joke of it, rather than commiserating and empathizing.

      More recent research, discussion, and cultural awareness and sensitivity may make Dr. Tannen’s work seem pedestrian today. But I believe her overall message remains valid: different people communicate differently and have different needs when they are hurting.

      In my own life, I could see how different friends coped with stress and worry in different ways. Some needed to vent. Some needed to do something physical. Some wanted to avoid the stressor completely. Some just wanted a hug. I had inconsistent success guessing what they needed and providing it.

      Over time, I’ve developed SDAC (which I pronounce, “ESS-dack”). I’m certain others have figured out something similar, but here’s my strategy. When I sense a friend is in distress, I offer them SDAC. Unless I’ve talked about it before, they have no idea what I am talking about. Here’s what I mean: I offer them Silence, Distraction, Advice, and/or Comfort.

      Silence means I will listen silently, without interruption, offer no feedback, no judgment, just listen and let them vent their frustrations, articulate their grievances, exorcize their demons. It may require discipline not to finish a sentence, correct a word, interject “yes, but…,” or offer solutions. But some people just need to give words to what they are feeling and the space to do so without any response.

      “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”

      ― Alfred Brendel

      Some people want Distraction. They have been engulfed by their fears, sadness, and/or anger and need to be pulled out for a while. In such cases, I may give the account of my day, tell a funny story, read a poem, sing or play a song, etc. Sometimes disrupting the spiral of darkness allows the person to step outside of themselves for a moment and experience some relief.

      Advice should only be given when truly asked for. Numerous women I know have been frustrated and angered by men (including me) who offer advice and solutions after hearing their current complaint. People can feel patronized, demeaned, and not heard when the first response they get is a solution rather than empathy.

      Many people, especially men, may feel uncomfortable with negative emotions and gravitate to problem-solving mode, which is a safe and comfortable place for them. But that may be the opposite of what the person needs in that moment.

      “Advice is like snow – the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”

      Samuel Taylor Coleridge

      Some people don’t want to talk about, be distracted from, or advised on whatever their current stressor is. They may need Comfort. If you are together, that could be a long hug. If you are physically separated, it could be to be reminded why they are your friend and why you think they are special. Bad things happen to good people. Reminding someone that just because they didn’t get the job, their child is faltering, or whatever, doesn’t mean they, themselves, are bad or damaged. You still are their friend, and you still love them.

      I truly believe we don’t tell others frequently enough how we feel about them. Being reminded of that can be a huge comfort.

      Offering SDAC helps me know what my friends need, but it also may help the person in distress.

      Often, when we are in a state of crisis, we don’t know what we need. We are consumed in the vortex of feelings we are feeling. When offered SDAC, sincerely and without judgment, we are invited to stop for a moment and seriously consider what would help us, what would make us feel better in that moment. That alone can be both empowering and calming. Even if the person offering SDAC isn’t great at delivering it, creating a space for the stressed person to figure out what she/he/they need can be an act of great kindness in itself.

      Most everyone to whom I have shared the concept of SDAC has found it helpful. But it takes practice — I still falter at times and provide the wrong response to friends under stress before remembering to offer SDAC.

      Please consider giving SDAC a try. I suspect you may find it helpful, whether you want to offer kindness and support to a friend in need, or you are the person needing it.

      Peace and grace.

      Crossing Bridges By Bike

      Today I rode the Providence Bridge Pedal with my mom.

      It was a last-minute decision. We only decided last night around 9pm.

      Mom, Lynn, and me at the summit of the Fremont Bridge

      She occasionally rides with her friend Lynn, who owns a tandem bike. He first invited her to ride with him about five years ago. At the time, he thought she was maybe 70. When she told him she was 85 years old, he was taken aback.

      She was a late starter, having learned to ride a bike around 12, and she hadn’t ridden one in many, many decades.

      They have enjoyed several tandem rides since that initial invitation. They had planned to ride in Corvallis today, but last night, Lynn realized the Bridge Pedal was today. He reached out to me and suggested we do it. If Mom was game — which I was certain she would be — I would enthusiastically join them. Mom was reached, and we quickly agreed to do it.

      So there was a mad scramble as I had to register quickly online as well as get my bike and gear together and ready. I haven’t ridden my bike in years and recently moved, so it took some doing.

      I woke early, gobbled a little breakfast, and headed out to the nearest MAX station to ride downtown to meet them.

      That’s when I realized a grave error. I had pumped up my tires, checked my brakes, replaced the dead batteries in my warning lights, but hadn’t checked my gears. They weren’t working.

      Apparently, my old Shimano Deore XTR Rapid Fire shifters (I’ve never liked grip shifters) were gummed up and need to be cleaned and lubricated. But there was no time. I faced the prospect of doing the entire ride in one gear.

      Fine, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it was stuck in a decent gear: I could start, and the gear was high enough to allow me to cruise. I didn’t expect the pace to be too aggressive, so I let it go and started riding.

      Bikes packing into the MAX light rail car

      Even as early as I boarded the MAX and at a relatively distant station, there were already at least five cyclists on board. A family of five soon added to our numbers. It made me happy to see so many cyclists and of such varying ages.

      Lining up for Will-Call Registration

      I arrived early and picked up our registration cards. I noticed a TV film crew interviewing a family and some kids. I stepped up and informed the cameraman that my 90-year-old mom was arriving soon to ride. Once she showed up, they approached her and talked about 5 to 10 minutes (mom has never shied away from a microphone! I fully expect she’ll be featured on KGW’s news tonight).

      Update: KGW featured mom in a story you can view and read here.

      Mom interviewed by a KGW news crew before the start of the race

      We chose the “Family Ride,” a 13-mile course that crossed six of Portland’s bridges. In order, they were: Morrison, Ross Island, Hawthorne, Marquam, Fremont, and Steel. Although I had a map, I opted to use a mnemonic device to remember the order: MR. Hawthorne Makes Free Steel. There were plenty of volunteers, police officers, and traffic cones set up to make the course easy to follow, but I always had a ready answer when asked, “What’s the next bridge?” and, “How many more do we have to go?”

      Lynn and mom climbing the Marquam Bridge

      I don’t know how many cyclists there were, but there had to be thousands. On the steep climbs (especially ascending the Fremont and Marquam bridges), many dismounted to walk their bikes. With so many cyclists, including many children and infrequent riders, some people were unfamiliar with riding etiquette. Massive, slow-moving crowds formed and prevented anyone from riding certain stretches.

      Crowds amass atop the Marquam Bridge

      But entertainment from the Boka Marimba ensemble and aid stations passing out drinks, bananas, and cookies encouraged us to stop, enjoy a snack, and take in views normally unseen when navigating the bridges at high speed in a car.

      Boka Marimba entertains the passing cyclists

      Bananas seemed like a good choice at first — until I saw dropped bananas and banana peels on the roadway. Fortunately, most people were walking their bikes around those areas, so I didn’t see any banana-related spills.

      Climbing up the Fremont Bridge

      Along the course, I waved and shouted out thanks to the volunteers and police officers. I couldn’t help but occasionally point at Mom and proudly shout out, “that’s my mom, and she’s 90 years old!” That always got a whoop of encouragement and amazement.

      Mom still looks chipper and fresh as we climb the 5th of 6 bridges

      I frequently checked in with mom to see if she was hot or cold, thirsty, or needed a break, but she was fine. The forced breaks during the bicycle traffic jams seemed to suffice.

      She commented she always sees things she’s never seen before when out on a bike ride with Lynn. That’s true. It is lovely to be able to peer off the sides of the bridges and take in the beauty of the Willamette River and surrounding areas.

      Being both out of shape and limited to a single gear I expected to struggle. But I managed to keep going, continuing to pedal past many as they walked their bikes up hills. I stopped mostly when I lost sight of Lynn and mom. I tried to stay close and in front of them to ensure they had a clear path.

      Lynn and mom cross the finish line

      We finished feeling elated and still energetic enough to bike a bit longer before packing it in. We rode 4-5 miles along the Eastbank Esplanade and near OMSI before finally heading back to Lynn’s parked van.

      Mom and Lynn on completion of the ride

      We found a Thai restaurant and devoured a big lunch before saying our farewells.

      Thai food for the victorious athletes

      I still had to get home to Aloha, but my body was pretty spent. My odometer read a mere 26 miles, but in the shape I was in, even small upward inclines were by now pretty taxing. So I caught a bus and the MAX light rail and was carried to within a mile of my home.

      Now clean and downing water, I am enjoying the familiar ache of muscles long underused. As I feel my saddle sores and stiff neck, I recall and miss my Vision R40 recumbent bicycle that was so fun and comfortable to ride.

      But the biggest feeling I have is one of pride in myself and for my 90-year-old mother and what we have experienced and accomplished today.

      Be well, safe, and blessed with good health!

      Love and Grief

      I am grieving. A very dear friend of mine has died. Death is an inevitability — none of us gets out of this life alive. But even though my friend’s death was not unexpected, it still is hitting me hard. I struggle between gratitude for their friendship, the sweet memories, and the fact they are no longer suffering … versus my deep sorrow that they are no longer here, and the great void that their absence leaves behind in the lives and hearts of those who love them.

      As I feel what I am feeling, I have also been looking into grief, how to help those who are grieving, and what researchers and therapists have to say. I want to share some resources I found helpful.


      People struggle with how to help family and friends who are grieving. They want to help, but they don’t know what to say or do. Often they are paralyzed and end up doing or saying nothing.

      I heard this helpful podcast two years ago on the topic and I re-listened to it this morning.

      How To Say the Right Thing at the Worst Time – How To! podcast

      Click here to listen to the podcast

      Click here to read the transcript

      The main takeaways of the podcast are:

      1. Ask and offer, don’t give advice.
      2. When in doubt, say something. It can be as simple as, “I hear you and I am sorry that you are hurting.”
      3. Avoid saying, “let me know how I can help.” Instead, anticipate concrete tangible things they might need and offer them.
      4. When all else fails, find some human moment just to share; let them know we are here and available.

      Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

      Dr. Joanne Cacciatore is professor at Arizona State University who specializes in grief, traumatic death, and grief counselling. I listened to a couple guided meditations of hers on grief using the Calm app and found them helpful. I wanted to learn more about her.

      She is the founder of the MISS Foundation, devoted to families who have experienced the death of a child. She also founded the Selah Carefarm, a 10-acre farm where rescued animals are cared for, and where bereaved family members give and receive connection, compassion, and understanding.

      She has written two books on grief: “Grieving is Loving” and “Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief

      Here are two YouTube videos and one podcast featuring Dr. Cacciatore you may find helpful:

      Joanne Cacciatore: Why Death and Grief are Necessary for Life and Joy, 21 minutes

      Grief and Care – An Interview with Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, 14 minutes

      Working with Grief with Dr. Joanne Cacciatore – Being Well podcast, 1:07:32

      There is no pill. There is no fix. There is no cure to this kind of trauma, to this kind of grief. The only thing we can do is to create space so that the love eventually reinhabits that space – alongside the grief. There is no annihilation of the grief. There’s no extinction of the grief.

      Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

      If you are experiencing grief, know you are not alone. Share your grief and seek the help and love of others. Read, watch, or listen to Dr. Cacciatore.

      If you know someone who is grieving, consider heeding the advice given by the How To! podcast above.

      JA Incarceration Talk: Feb 23rd, 6pm PST

      To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, mom and I will be giving another presentation on JA Incarceration during WWII. Here are the details:

      Event: Japanese American Incarceration in CA & OR: My Mother’s Experience with Toby Loftus ‘90

      Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2022

      Time: 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. PST

      Click here to register

      Click here for more information

      This talk is open to the public and you do not need to be affiliated with Brown University to register. On the registration form simply enter “NA” for “Year of Graduation.”

      For those who attended or watched the recording of our last presentation (or any previous presentations), I intend to speak about different topics during this upcoming talk. There are so many historical facts, quotes, and family anecdotes that I will be able to pick from and that have been omitted from other talks.

      As before, mom will connect in for questions and answers. She’s 89 y.o. but still going strong. She was a 4th-6th grader when she and her family were incarcerated.