Day 45: Twisted Gravity

My muse has got a new assignment, which means it’s time to disappear again, very quickly. I don’t know if we’ll have access to anything digital (I hope not), so hang tight and we’ll reappear in a few days if all goes well.

Today I had brunch with someone I suspect I might be related to.

When Nick and I talk about science, we get so worked up about it that people around us ask to be re-seated, “a little farther away from those two, please.”

There’s something keeping him awake at night, and it’s very similar to something that’s been keeping me up late too. Said out loud, our conclusions sound crazy. So for the sake of both our muses, we’d better get together and hash it out for a while.

Drawing on the napkin won’t do, because the subject is the relation of mass and distance to torsion energy.

This is today’s napkin sketch.

As I get in my car, I hear a woman’s voice from about 30 feet in the air, in a grove of trees. Sure enough, there’s a young lady in a helmet and harness, doing something decidedly unsafe.

She really looks like she’s walking on something, but there’s no branch or platform under her. Just nothing. And she’s cute. Excellent.

Random assertion: Of course some of your scientific theories are wrong. So are everyone else’s. If they match your observations, keep them.

Steganographic data: 1874/0.6

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Day 44: Robot Mayhem

Time for a cool surprise: I’m letting one of the Secret Plans out.

Today was pretty low-key (projects at home, and some time spent with our smart fun neighbors, discussing things which must remain secret).

So new rule: Any time I have a low-key day with no photos or dangerous activities, I’ll shed light on one of the items in the Secret Plans list.

Secret Plan #31: Wacky Robot Races

What if you could teach robotics concepts to a second-grade class? It turns out you can. In 1997 and 1998, I was the “robot guy” at the El Granada Elementary School science day. Afterward, I set up this website as a contact point for anyone who had follow-up questions.

Having no kids doesn’t get you out of science fair duty, unless you also have no neighbors.

The first year, I modified Buggo, a robot I had already built. I set him up with a system where 16 kids can drive at once, democratically.

wrr year 1 buggo

I also brought Max, and old Hero 1 robot, and disassembled him for the class, showing all of his parts and talking about what they’re for.

Lessons learned year 1:

    • Having kids shout out “Left! Right!” is less effective if they’re not all clear on which is which.
    • Robots can malfunction, but kids can too.
    • Keep the activities simple. Sixteen kids driving one robot are not sixteen times as efficient as one kid driving a robot.
    • Have a spare robot handy.
    • Rechargeable batteries are great for normal robot use, but use alkalines for special events like this. They last longer, and you can replace them easily.
    • If there is any way to make it operate without a tether, it’s a really good idea.
    • Teachers have the hardest jobs in the world.

The second year, I built three brand new robots, Pluggo, Cricket 1 and Cricket 2. These were all “light seekers”; shine a flashlight at them, and they’ll rush toward you (or away from you, depending on the setting).

pluggo cricket1 cricket2

Lessons learned year 2:

    • Kids really love flashlights. Don’t pass them out until you’re ready to start.
    • Talk first, then play. The two cannot be done in reverse order.
    • Teachers really do have the hardest jobs in the world.

Where are they now?

  • The kids: It’s eleven years later, so I guess all of those little kids are over 18. Yikes! Hopefully their memories of the Wacky Robot Races are as fond as mine.
  • The robots: Cricket 1 and Cricket 2 are dusty, but in good shape. They might even work. Buggo and Pluggo have long since had most of their important parts borrowed for other projects. Max needs a tune-up.

Here’s what they all look like today:

original brain is missing. I can’t remember which project it ended up in. It’s here somewhere.

had the same brain as the Crickets, but with a bigger platform. Now it’s essentially just a mobile platform with proximity sensors.

Cricket 1
and Cricket 2 probably still work. They were built in about a week, and their “brain” is really no more than a set of hardwired reflexes, based on a circuit board I etched in the bathroom sink at home.

is special. He needs a serious tune-up. His arm is in a box, and the last time he was actually powered up was to say something charming to my muse, when we were first dating.

Tip: Getting a home-built robot to tell her she’s beautiful works better then you’d think.

Random assertion: If you ever give 30 kids 30 flashlights, expect to lose control of the situation immediately.

Steganographic data: 1880/0.4

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 43: The Approximate Weight of an Angel

The beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1915, is being renovated.

The scaffolding alone is a complex and impressive structure. During the renovation, the site is closed for safety reasons. You can’t even get close to it without a hard hat and an escort.

So this morning, we’ve got hard hats and escorts.

says that one of the things he needed to do for the project was to calculate the weight of the concrete angels under the dome.

Having these two as guides is excellent. Jan Berckefeldt is the executive director of the Maybeck foundation, and the driving force behind the restoration. Charlie Duncan is the architect leading this impressive project.

Does this remind you of Donkey Kong? You can zoom in on this map and read it.

In the evening, we head to David and Julie‘s house for an excellent dinner with great stories. They’re both scientists and teachers, and as it turns out, classmates of my muse. A fantastic evening to end a fun day.

The wine was a very special treat, made and bottled by David’s father. It’s excellent.

Random assertion: Immortality is elusive, but architects get closer to it than most.

Steganographic data: 1866/2.8

Published in: on June 29, 2008 at 1:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Day 42: Voices of Power

Today began with a permanent camera malfunction.

The cute term it chose to display was [LENS ERROR] which apparently is a camera-language euphemism for “aren’t you glad I’m not an airplane.”

Broken camera in hand, I headed to meet up with some ultra-smart colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. When Leslie, Jeff and John join forces, they can solve serious problems. Or cause them. Leslie handed me a secret object which I agreed to take care of and keep well hidden.

There’s a lot happening soon (theatre, acrobatics, secret mission on a tropical island, the usual), so I made sure to solve the camera issue quickly.

Remember the pictures of the opera house when it was closed? Here’s what it looks like tonight:

Anne is beyond awesome. All of the tables are full at intermission, but she had sneakily set aside a small table for the two of us, and filled it with excellent munchies and chocolate. What will we do when she moves to New York?

The opera is Ariodante, and it’s fantastic. Handel’s stories are very simplistic, but the gorgeous Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson have voices of power. To say that they can sing is like saying that the sun can emit light. Their voices bathe the entire audience, making them smile and cry.

My muse’s maiden name is the same as Ms. Graham’s, and she claims that’s a coincidence, but winks at the same time.

Random assertion: Electronic devices will start with whatever personality you give them, and then add whimsy and mischief.

Steganographic data: 1842/7.2

Published in: on June 28, 2008 at 5:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Day 41: Red Sky and the Mystery Door

For the past three days, the sun has been a funky distant red color, and you can smell the wildfires nearby.

That won’t stop the week’s celebrations, though. The Castro neighborhood is all decked out and ready for an excellent weekend-long party.

A.G. Ferrari: Human respect and great food, all in one store.

I’ll tell you, the cat’s day is off to a great start.
Oh joy, it’s time for the vet.

The 18-year-old cat says: “I know where you live.”

The 2-year-old cat says: “Hey how’d you get in the box? Is that fun? I want one too.”

Our vet is a magician. Dr. Craig founded the Linda Mar pet hospital in Pacifica. Years ago, she and her colleagues helped me out with an orange kitten who had a broken leg and a malfunctioning heart. 18 years later, he’s still a troublemaker. I hope I look that good when I’m his age.

The other magician responsible for his longevity is Shelly. The cats love it when my muse and I pack a suitcase, because it means she’s coming over soon.

Speaking of magic, just down the street from our house there’s a trans-dimensional mystery door.

It’s just a door, right there in between the buildings. I’ve never seen anyone enter or leave.

Looking through the glass, you can see a garden and a brick path going straight back, but you can’t quite see where the path leads. I’ve been curious about that door for years.

Random assertion: Most doors lead to a place you’ve never been.

Steganographic data: 1856/3.5

Published in: on June 27, 2008 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 40: Set in Cement

Today Nick and I went for some spicy ceviche at Fresca. He’s one of those rare inventors who actually does use his powers for good. We worked together for more than a decade, and today’s discussion is all about secret plans. He’s got some good ones.

Sure he looks like a rockstar here, but just ask him for a logic puzzle. You’ll be trying to solve it for weeks.

Afterward, I had a bunch of places to go, so I walked to all of them. Here are some semi-random observations during the walk:

City College of SF’s new building is cool.

There’s a patch of new cement in the sidewalk where it looks like two people had a permanent-art contest before it dried. Very clever.

I have not eaten here, but I like their sign.

Borderlands, home of the famous Ripley, is one of my destinations today.

Tonight is flying trapeze. Usually there’s at least one other guy flying, but tonight it’s just Shannon, Miriam, Janice, Laurel, Nicole and me. Hooray for times like this.

This is the view from the takeoff point as Miriam flies.

Scott’s catching, Jennings is on lines, and Erick’s on the board helping with one of the flyers who is here for the first time ever. It’s a really good night.

Random assertion: Being upside down and airborne for a few hours can help you make sense of other things in life.

Steganographic data: 1856/3.8

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Day 39: Stunts in a Dress

Today was spent writing (trying to make headway on a cryptography project).

In the afternoon, I had a great conversation over lunch with a filmmaking/software engineering/saber-combat expert I’ve known for ten years or more. I’m sure she spends her nights crime-fighting, but she never admits it.

Amit doesn’t look dangerous, does she? Right.

Ready for some wacky fun?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a stunt job audition. I didn’t get that job, so here are some pics and video from some stunt work I did a few years ago, dressed as a hotel maid.

The job involved a mechanical fly and several real ones. None were harmed.

This was a commercial for Ramada Inn, where a maid employs superhero ninja tactics to catch a fly. I was her stunt double.

The crew was fantastic to work with; the director was awesome, the wardrobe folks expertly transformed me into a woman (not an easy task!), and the stunt coordinator, Rocky Capella, did a brilliant job setting up the stunts, and throwing in crash-mats to keep me from getting hurt.

You can see a short clip of the video here.

…so I did this job just before I started dating my muse. I forget, which date is it okay to discuss professional cross-dressing?

Dinner tonight with my muse was excellent takeout from Tao Cafe. Their clay pot fish is spicy and good.

Random assertion: If someone offers to pay you for doing flips in a maid outfit, “yes” is the only answer which makes any sense; it’s not the kind of offer which is likely to come again.

Steganographic data: 1872/2.8

Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 9:58 am  Comments (3)  
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Day 38: Too Much Excellent Music

Thanks to Kathy in Mountain View, I’ve added a new artist to my collection of musicians who have been denied entry to the United States.

  • Boy George, welcome to the club! It’s an honor to add you to it.

…and I’ve also posted a whole Music List page so you don’t have to go hunting through my blog entries. I might do the same thing with restaurants soon.

The very excellent San Francisco Opera is currently performing Das Rheingold, and my muse and I are going to Ariodante this weekend.

Here’s something most of us don’t usually get to see: the inside of the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall when they’re closed and empty.

Both of these buildings are just beautiful. Getting into them during off-hours is much easier with inside help. Thanks Melissa!

We sat for a while and listened to the orchestra rehearse. That was an excellent treat.

Random assertion: Every person on Earth has an opera written just for them. There’s no telling which it is, but they’ll know it when they hear it.

Steganographic data: 1868/7.1

Published in: on June 24, 2008 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 37: Danger and Baking

I collect icons of danger. Maybe I’ll start posting them here.

Here’s one I saw today:

…so I’m allowed (maybe required) to shoot lightning from my fingertips, but am not supposed to explode televisions in other vehicles. So many rules.

This morning, my muse expressed her love by making fresh scones.


In the evening, we went to Alex, Ashley and Scott’s place for dinner and some helicopter-related electronics work. The wine is a special treat with a hand-made label.


In case you missed it, water has been found on Mars. Cool, that’s one less thing we’ll need to bring with us.

Random assertion: Regarding icons of danger: that little guy from the men’s room sign goes through unspeakable hardships to keep us safe, and it still doesn’t always work.

Steganographic data: 1860/1.2

Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 8:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 36: Ballet and Irish Dance

Today is an all-day event we’ve been looking forward to: a lovely dancer we know is giving a special performance, with an invitation-only party to follow.

Our niece is 8, and she’s fantastic. Backstage after the show, she’s grinning ear-to-ear. The party afterward has cake and ice cream, barbecue, and kids running amok everywhere while the dog tries catch any food they drop. I love this.

On the way home my muse and I stop by Mission Beach to relax and say hi to the guys, grownups-only. Being the aunt and uncle does have some advantages.

Random assertion: Kids measure time by events they’ll remember forever. You did that too.

Steganographic data: 1860/0.8

Published in: on June 22, 2008 at 9:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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