Day 14: Fog and Dangerous Music

So I’ve started collecting albums by “Musicians who have been denied entry to the United States.” I picked up Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse today, and I already have Cat Stevens… still need Axel Willner’s band… got any more? I’m looking for recommendations.

Why? Maybe it has to do with attraction to things you’re being protected from. Anyway, it’s fun, and the music’s good.

This morning’s sunrise was somewhat less brilliant than Wednesday’s

…but the funny thing about San Francisco weather is that a 10-minute drive in any direction (I chose North) will usually get you this:

Microclimates are awesome.

Had lunch with a good friend and talented acrobat in Mill Valley who wants to remain anonymous. (She’s an art dealer in the daytime.) I tell you, we’re everywhere.

(Hey wait, is that a picture of a golf course?)

Here’s something you didn’t expect me to say: Golf is fun.

Even though your feet are on the ground, and your life is hardly ever in danger, it’s fun anyway.

Running a probability analysis of this driving range would make you a nerd.

My muse taught me to play; you can clear your mind completely, or think about how unlikely it is that the ball could ever actually find its way to the hole by natural means. The courses in and around SF are excellent.

After stopping in at work to visit some friends, I found my muse at one of the best places in the city, Mission Beach Cafe.

You need to eat here. These guys run a fantastic restaurant, small and comfortable, with unbelievable food. She also likes it because she can flirt with the cute waiters.

Random assertion: If all women had voices like Jenna Mammina, men would be utterly defenseless.

Steganographic data: 1876/1.8

Day 13: Gargoyles, Scientists and Cookies

First thing this morning, I got a surprise phone call about buried ships.

Leigh works in the Maritime Library archives. He had heard that I was looking for information on the Niantic wreck, and called to say that he actually has everything recovered from that ship. Tools, supplies, even the champagne (which he says he has not sampled). He’ll be able to show them to me in a couple of weeks.

Next person I talked to was my grandmother, who moved to SF from Scotland when she was little. She said “I could have told you they were there. They taught us about those buried ships in school.” She’s one of the reasons I keep this journal.

After some productive reading time (in the park with my eyes closed), I walk to two of the most brilliantly strange shops in the city.

The sign says oddities, and it doesn’t lie. This is Paxton Gate, my mom’s personal favorite. They don’t allow cameras inside, because photos don’t convey the coolness of this place. You just need to see it.

Shop #2 is Borderlands. If you like science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you need to visit this place. Alan is the owner, and he’ll see that you aren’t disappointed. The staff is great, their recommendations are spot-on, and there is an entire wall dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft books (one of which was written by my best friend Hans). Ripley the Gargoyle Cat is a local celebrity. When I stopped in on his birthday, there was cake.

After that, the afternoon is spent doing careful study of the waves in Pacifica, a town about 10 minutes away.

Later tonight, my muse and I have a meeting with a bunch of scientists in a secret location. I’m in charge of bringing dessert, so I make a batch of the house special. It’s similar to my mom’s recipe, except that I use more chocolate chips than anyone ever should.

The meeting location was so secret that we nearly didn’t find it. Nearly. Stories were told, new inventions discussed, and many cookies were eaten.

Vik, Karl, Nick, and the Muse. Four of the smartest people I know.

Random assertion: Very little harm will ever come from giving someone a cookie.

Steganographic data: 1874/5.0

Published in: on May 30, 2008 at 8:40 am  Comments (6)  
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Day 12: No Distractions

After an excellent sunrise in the city…

…the sky clouded over, and it looked like it might rain. Aha! Cool. Finally time to get some heads-down work done. No beautiful weather, no buried ships, no distractions.

I take care of a few things first, and just as I’m about to get started, I see the weather’s beautiful again. I really need to get some computer-work done, so without allowing myself to be distracted at all, I waste no time and head straight to the beach.

Pillar Point hides some excellent secrets, but I’m not equipped for exploring today. There are some pretty good non-secret beaches as well, perfect for bringing a book and a towel and forgetting the computer.

On the way back, I stopped to quietly photograph this completely normal and uninteresting patch of dirt.

Wednesday is usually flying trapeze, but tonight I attended the screening of a horrible movie instead. I’d mention the title here, but I can’t get myself to type it without smashing my head on the keyboard.

I got home late, but my muse got home later. She had a meeting after work with Alex, a young good-looking heavy-machinery expert in Palo Alto.

Random assertion: If you want an intelligent woman to tackle you, cook for her. And be on a first-name basis with your florist. As far as I can tell, these things work.

Steganographic data: 1874/1.5

Published in: on May 29, 2008 at 8:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 11: Ships Under the City

There are ships buried beneath downtown San Francisco.

I remember reading a news article about some very surprised construction workers finding a buried ship somewhere in the city. Today I decided to find out if there was truth to it. (Imagine standing between the skyscrapers of a modern city, knowing there’s a huge forgotten ship right beneath your feet.)

Most of what’s now the downtown area used to be underwater. When they filled it in, some ship owners decided for various reasons (expense, lack of crew, secrets to be kept) that it was best to just let the ships be buried in-place.

Searching online, it didn’t take long to find that news article, and a map of the known and suspected ship locations. That’s great, but my real question was “Can I see one?” So I walked across the city to the Maritime Museum at the Hyde Street Pier.

I told the man at the desk what I was up to, and he said “Seems like you’ve already got all the information you can get from the computer. Try the red telephone in the back.”

Eh, what? Sure enough, there’s a red telephone which looks like it belongs in an episode of Batman. I pick up the receiver, and find myself talking to a man at the Maritime Library.

Getting into the archives requires an appointment, so he transfers me to the appointments desk, where I find I’m talking to the same guy. We make an appointment for “however long it takes to walk over.” Up the stairs, ring the buzzer, and Ted (the man I spoke to on the phone) is there.

He’s already got some materials out for me. I look up the ship I’m interested in (a three-mast ship called Niantic, built in about 1830), pull a few cards from the catalog, and before I know it, Ted makes good on his offer and my whole table is covered with information that can’t be found on the web.

There’s no one else in the room, but I decide not to flow onto a second table; this is more than I’ll get through. My favorite is something called the “pam file” which is like a fat scrapbook of loose bits of information.

There are typewritten notes from the people who buried the ship, news articles from people surprised to find it thirty years later, and letters from people even more surprised to find it almost a hundred years after that.

The discoverers in 1978 had limited funds, so they saved what they could before the rest was destroyed to create the foundation of a new building. They did recover hundreds of items, including several dozen intact champagne bottles. That’s pretty cool.

So here’s where things get interesting. On the chart which shows the dig site, only half the ship is there. Where the other half should be, it just says “UNEXCAVATED”. Ted says “Yeah they usually can’t get the whole thing, property lines and such.”

Now I’m intrigued. Most likely, someone else demolished the rest of it for some other building, but maybe not. Suppose there’s still half a ship down there. The dig-map says it’s under “Redwood Park” which sounds nice, but I’m sure there’s no redwood park between the skyscrapers.

I’m restless in the map room, so I decide to just go see the site for myself. Half an hour later, I’m there. Well I’ll be damned, there’s a redwood park between the skyscrapers.

This ship’s not thirty feet from the city’s skyline icon, and it’s still down there. Looking at my notes, I walk over and stand on the exact spot, imagining I can see half a ship under my feet.

If the wreck is haunted, at least the ghosts have good champagne.

On the walk home, I stop to pick up a bunch of fresh clams, a baguette, two ears of corn and a fresh mango. My muse has been at work all day; it can’t hurt to cook her dinner.

I also stop to pick up flowers from Andre and Lisa, the owners of the best flower shop in our neighborhood. Last winter, we got to know them by inviting them to our place for a rowdy night of drinks, homemade desserts and excellent stories.

Additional reference on buried ships:

Random assertion: Over time, people misplace the most amazing things, passing them as gift-wrapped surprises for their descendants to discover.

Steganographic data: 1888/7.9

Day 8,9,10: A hiding place near The Red House

A critical part of disappearing is finding an out-of-sight location where you enjoy spending time. This goes double when there’s a brunette hiding with you.

With that in mind, we throw stuff into the car…

  • a few good books
  • swimsuits
  • a nice dinner dress and a tuxedo (not kidding)

…and head South to one of the few truly perfect places on Earth.

First, we cut through Los Gatos, to make a stop at Fleur de Cocoa. Pascal and Nicola (the owners) are friends of ours. Just before starting their business, Pascal made our wedding cake. It was so good that we visit them every year to pick up a mini version of the same cake, for special occasions like this.

Pascal is a magician

Cake acquired, we drive out to the coast and follow it down to that perfect place. Here’s how to get there:

  • Keep going, past Santa Cruz, past Monterey.
  • When you see cars turning right toward the beautiful Carmel beaches, ignore them and keep going.
  • Another half mile or so, turn left, away from the ocean.

After eight or ten miles of winding roads through the long valley, when you think you’ve gone too far and there’s a mile or more between buildings, stop and look around. You’re there.

No way to be followed, no way to be found. Artichokes grow eight feet high, and you can have them grilled up for lunch.

This is Ingrid’s vinyard, which produces some of the most fantastic wine in the region.

If you want to unwind over a very elegant dinner, Marinus is what you’re looking for. There’s a roaring fire, the food is brilliant, and the staff is in a league of their own. You guessed it; this is where the dress and tux come out. (It’s not required, but it’s fun.)

If you want to stay out of sight, and you love science and nature, you can’t beat the Outer Bay exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Memorial Day weekend.

Note: Don’t wait in the hour-long holiday line, head straight for the member’s entrance. Membership doesn’t cost much more than admission, and you can walk right in.

The Outer Bay exhibit is a perfect place to hide out. It’s dark, crowded, beautiful, and nobody can see where your hands are.

That last part got me into some trouble.

Then on to the Red House in Pacific Grove for the best grilled cheese sandwich on Earth (this from an expert). Artichokes, peppers, and melty perfection. This sandwich played no small part in our decision to hide out here.

Sue gets a massage while I sit with a cup of tea and read an excellent math book and an excellent zombies-take-over-the-world book.

The next day was gorgeous, and we stop on the drive back to see our niece and nephew. It’s his 11th birthday, so we brought him his very first soldering iron, and a project to build.

After being pummeled by monkeys, it’s back home for some pizza and beer, at a place where she can see the score of the basketball game.

Random assertion: It is vital that we take care of our environment, if we want to survive. That’s not the same as “saving the planet” though. The planet is going to be fine; in 30 or 40 million years, you won’t even be able to tell we were here.

Steganographic data: 1904/2.2

Day 8: Muse

She’s back! Mission complete, and not a scratch on her. I swear I’ll never know how she does it. Sounds like she’s got a new boyfriend on the flight crew too.

She’s suggesting that we vanish quickly. Let’s see… update blog… disappear with brunette… right, see ya.

Steganographic data: 1868/0.7

Published in: on May 24, 2008 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 7: Change of Pace

Here’s something you didn’t expect to think about today… an electric razor. This happens to be my electric razor, and it works just fine.

Right, so let’s take a closer look at the little tag on the power cord.

Now I’m not saying that this tag’s not needed; clearly it is, or Norelco wouldn’t to go to the trouble of printing this important message and attaching little plastic tags to each and every razor as it goes through the factory.

I’m just thinking that “cut with scissors” is about as likely as “smash with hammer,” and you shouldn’t do that either, but there’s no sticker for it. Maybe the need for a specific “don’t cut with scissors” sticker is pointing out some secondary problem which will cause us even more trouble later, if we don’t identify it now.

Today’s plan is quiet time with a book and some projects at home.

…and a walk to Ti Couz on 16th & Valencia for lunch. At lunchtime, that place can relax anyone. The food’s simple, but really good.

Thought seriously about hitting the midnight showing of The Dark Crystal at the Clay Theatre, but it’s running all weekend, so maybe I can rally a group. That’d be more fun.

Random assertion: End… beginning… all the same. Big change. – Aughra

Steganographic data: 1882/4.3

Published in: on May 24, 2008 at 12:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 6: Serious Games

Today went as planned, except that I did not expect to meet Gene, and I thought I’d be home before midnight.

It started with a battle of wills at Delessio. I wanted a cup of coffee, but the pastries fresh from the open kitchen that morning wanted me to eat them all. We settled on a flaky butter croissant, but it’s not over.

I walked a few miles further, and met up with a new friend at the Fog City Diner. Jay is starting a company called MoonShoot, with the goal of using computer game technology to improve worldwide literacy. I’ll be introducing him to two of my personal heroes and good friends:

Patricia Wilson is the Executive Director of Make-A-Wish in the Bay Area, and Ben Sawyer is the co-director of the Serious Games Initiative. I had the good fortune of meeting Patricia, Ben and the Dalai Lama all in the same year, through a project called Ben’s Game (the brainchild of another one of my heroes, Ben Duskin). If you’re looking for role models, this paragraph is a good list.

Here’s where the day deviated from plan. Instead of walking home directly, I wandered through Union Square. The gentleman with the wooden cane is Gene, and he’s out here almost every day playing jazz records and chess. He and his opponent clearly play together regularly.

I realized that I’ve actually got time for things like this today, so I sat and watched the whole game, which did not go well for Gene. His opponent cleared out his strong pieces and closed in for the kill.

Geek details: At the end, Gene was down to a rook and a few pawns, and his opponent had one of each bishop/rook/knight plus some pawns. Gene was easily blocked from crossing the board to recover his queen, but then pulled off a surprise capture, calling the lady in and causing a reversal the whole game.

I didn’t see it coming, and his opponent didn’t see it until the captured piece had left the board. Gene sat still while his friend across the board from him stood up, sat down, stood up, lit a cigarette, and said “I concede you the game.” Gene borrowed the cigarette to relight the one he was keeping behind his ear.

I guess I must have said something out loud, because Gene turned his head toward me,

“You play?”
“Not really. Just casual.”
“Then I’ll play you, for money.”
“So the lesson stings a little.”
“You know they do.”

I think I’ve found a new teacher. I’ll let you know what happens.

On the way home I picked up an album by Carla Bruni, who has a sexy voice and a very interesting life.

I had dinner with another good friend (and one of the best hardware hackers I’ve ever met). If you ever need to pull a difficult heist, you want her involved. Myriam (a.k.a. tnkgrl) has a talent for making technology work the way she thinks it ought to. For example, it takes more than a sharp mind and a steady hand to pull something like this off.

After dinner, I went to the TechShop and took my very first class in working with carbon fiber.

The class was two hours (with only one other student, a guy named Ray Oppenheimer). I made a few rookie errors, but the instructor, John, is patient and experienced. Even on my first attempt, the test panel I made looks great, is more than strong enough for what I need, and it weighs barely a third of an ounce.

The class ended at 10:30, but John had an experimental project he wanted to try out with the vacu-forming equipment, and it’s not a one person job. So Ray and I stayed until after midnight, getting what amounted to an extra lesson and some great trial-and-error experience.

On the way home, my muse called to flirt from Taipei (it was 1am for me, but 4pm for her). She gets back Saturday morning. That’s what I’m looking forward to, more than anything else.

Lesson learned: Finding two new teachers in one day will wear you out.

Random Assertion: As role models go, one Hedy Lamarr is worth three Thomas Edisons.

Steganographic data: 1870/9.4

Day 5: Playtime

I had some excellent curry with Erick at the Liberties Bar on Guerrero and 22nd, then went face down (read: sound asleep) in a good sci-fi book at the sunny park nearby with a nice view of the city.

Collected info about volunteering at the Exploratorium and the National Parks Conservancy (hoping for some kind of manual labor which doesn’t involve computers). I’ll fill out applications and see where it goes.

Wednesday nights every week are for acrobat training. Specifically, flying trapeze. This is what I was doing when I met my muse.

Note: You can take a class on any weekend morning! You’ll love it. Check out the class description: “Beginning drop-in class – Prerequisites: none.

Remember the training room from Day 3’s post? Here’s how it transforms into a serious aerial playground:

The “board” is a thin platform high off the ground we use as a jumping off point.

Scott and Melissa on the board

Scott Cameron (in the picture above) was my first flying instructor. If you’re just there for fun, he can help you have a great time. If you’re ready to get serious, he can teach you anything.

Here, Melissa’s ready for takeoff, with Alan and Jonah standing by. She’s wearing safety lines, because the trick she’s doing is a new one. On the right, Jennings is ready to keep her safe, no matter what.

. .

Jennings has a great many special abilities (more than most in the school), and an awesome sense of humor. I’ve literally trusted him with my life, too many times to count. Including tonight:

That’s me on the left, with Jennings catching.

Notice that there’s padding on one of the ceiling beams:

Why on Earth would you pad a 35-foot-high ceiling beam?
…eh, so we don’t bruise our knuckles and foreheads on it. That’d be me in the rafters:

Melissa on the board, while I’m getting all up in the ceiling

Here’s one of those difficult-to-photograph moments. That blurry smudge in the middle of the picture is some rapidly-flipping UFO wearing the same red shorts and black t-shirt as me.

It’s actually good that the photos don’t come out so well. When you need to use this stuff for real, you’re usually trying not to be photographed. If there’s no proof, there are fewer awkward questions to answer.

It’s late when I get done flying, I’ve got net marks on my back and parts of me hurt, but I feel so good that I won’t even try to sleep yet. Wednesdays rule.

So instead of sleeping I took apart my computer to repair some damage my cat did to it today (everything’s a toy for her, as you can see in this post). The computer is old, but it’s been through so much with me that I’m kind of attached to it, and I really like using it. Repair job worked again, so I’m able to type this sentence. Whew. Now a walk to Firewood to get some quick late dinner.

There’s a line around the block to see the midnight showing of the new Indiana Jones movie at the Castro. I’m not in the line, but I’m sure proud of my friends at work who made it happen.

Random Assertion: Technology will never be so advanced that whacking it on the table can’t fix it.

Steganographic data: 1880/2.7

Day 4: The Biggest Logic Puzzle Ever

Ben & Jerry’s in Berkeley on the west side of campus gives free WiFi access with any purchase. I like to think of it the other way around, as $3 WiFi access which comes with a big free cone of chocolate ice cream.

…so I sat in the ice cream shop with a Skype headset and called the muse in Hong Kong. Her “assignment” goes well, and after a quick change from brunette to redhead (with a new passport to match), she’s off to Taipei today before anyone notices the diamonds are missing. I get her back in 2.7 days, and I can’t wait.

(I tried to keep this post super-short, honest. I failed again.)

If you enjoy mind-bending puzzles, I recommend this book by Julian Brown as an intro to Quantum Computation. It’s written for interested readers, not math geeks.

In January 2000, my casual interest in this subject “clicked over” without warning, and became a hobby (in this case, the line between “hobby” and “obsession” is not well-defined).

Here’s why QC is cool:

On the U.C. Berkeley campus… what’s called the Hearst Mining Building, on the very top floor (see the door up there?)…

…is what some people would call a nice bright attic with a comfy lounge and a small kitchen.

This, and the offices and computers and people and ideas it contains, is Berkeley Quantum Information & Computation Center (BQIC). In May of 2004, I skipped out of work for a few hours to attend the ribbon-cutting and dedication of this facility.

BQIC is another one of those places you won’t see unless you’re looking for it.

Today at BQIC, there’s a guest lecturer. Dr. John Yard from Los Alamos National Laboratory came to give a seminar on his recent work. By “recent”, I mean that he was presenting stuff he literally just finished last week, and it hasn’t even been published yet. There were about ten of us in the audience, which was awesome.

There’s a lot of the presentation I couldn’t keep up with (I just relax and write it down so I can stare at it later until it means something), but the conclusion is a shocker.

Here’s the gist: Imagine you’re trying to send a coded message to someone, but your transmitters don’t work at all, so the amount of information they can transmit is actually zero. By combining a few of the transmitters, you can create a code which allows the information to be transmitted anyway, and even keep it secure. (That’s a poor summary, but there it is.)

Afterward, I went to Christine and Shannon’s place. Once in a while, they invite a bunch of inventor-types and business-types to their place for an awesome dinner. It’s sort of like setting up a heap of kindling and then banging rocks together to make sparks.

Random assertion: If you think you’ve missed the golden age of invention and discovery, that it’s all been done and found, remember that your parents and grandparents thought the same thing, when they were your age.

Steganographic data: 1870/5.9