S’Mores and Ambush

Now I don’t recommend taking apart your barbecue; it’s hot and dangerous, and there are almost no user-serviceable parts inside.

Still, if you can get it apart just enough to get access to some open flame with a skewer and a marshmallow, then you can treat some cute brunette to s’mores in the city. She’ll like that.



After a night of chocolate and ghost stories, we’re more than ready to spend a day in the park with some urchins.


We’ve seen the de Young Museum’s Chihuly exhibit already, but sharing it with kids is like seeing it through different eyes.

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Clark Kent called to say he’s not coming to this part of the exhibit.

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Next time we’re here, the Academy of Sciences will be open. That’ll be fun.

After the museum, we head out into the wild and dangerous park. I barely get fifty feet before I’m attacked by monkeys.

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Right about now, they’re wondering if the lake is just decorative, or if you’re allowed to play in it.

As it turns out, playing in the lake is encouraged.

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There are other boats about. The urchins tell us they’ve seen the folks in this boat before. They’re scurvy pirates all three, and not to be trusted.


They’re getting closer, so we dodge them, escaping under the stone bridge we saw earlier. As we emerge on the other side, though… Aaaaah!


With an evil grin, they hook onto our boat, using the kids’ energy for their own evil propulsive purpose. It’s a pretty good idea really.


And if pirates and monkeys weren’t enough, we find gigantic and dangerous creatures at every turn.

Yep, there are actually two animals in this picture.

Somehow we survive, making it back to the relative safety of our base camp.

Yes, one of the cats is doing headstands again.
No, I don’t know why.

Random assertion: It’s unclear how fire, chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers found each other, but I’m glad they did.

Published in: on September 30, 2008 at 5:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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Day 110: Reflections

Author’s note: You may have noticed that it took me a while to get this post out. The real, actual from-the-heart reason for the delay is that I don’t want it to be over. By posting this, I’m breaking the news to myself. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this one.

Second note: All of these thumbnails link to the post they come from. Just for fun.

Although Secret Plan 158 is complete today, I’ve decided to keep writing this blog. For the past 3.5 months, I’ve been sharing a wacky and unstructured set of events with you, I’ve enjoyed it even more than I expected to.

When I started this vacation, I had made a list of things I wanted to do, it seemed like a lot. Let’s see what happened:

Here’s the original list, with notes:

What would you do with a 3 month vacation from work? ‘Cause it might be time to do it.

  • Wake up early, go play outside.
    Check. I learned to keep sunscreen with me on Day 2. It served me well all summer long, as mother nature basically handed this city a whole summer of beautiful days.
  • Spend a lot of time with my muse.
    Check. I would’ve been a fool not to ace this one.
  • Hang out with friends I never get to see.
  • Spend some time helping pilot-basejumping-brother build an airplane.
    Check. Hopefully I fixed more than I broke while I was there, so I’ll get invited back.
  • Go visit ultra-acrobat-surfer brother in Las Vegas.
    Check, and also managed to [dysu zpdyau piy pg ytpinar smf lrrq aoqdyovl pgg zu vpaast], while finding a [apvsyopm mrst yjr zpmptsoa] to take some close-up pictures of her I still might get in trouble for.
  • Hang with lifelong best friend and horror-screenwriter.
    I got to see Hans, but am seriously needing to go play more.
  • Take classes at The Crucible & TechShop.
    Check. Learned to make things out of Carbon Fiber, played with Crucible-influenced creations in the desert, and signed my muse up for classes.
  • Work on Secret Plan 157 (this one has to do with cryptography).
    Check. In fact, 157 is almost ready to become a cryptography book. I’m far enough along that I could actually finish it soon.
  • Talk to a lawyer about Secret Plans 161 and 119.
    Check. 119 is a process for working with structured probabilities in a quantum computer, but that computer’s development has been delayed, so it’s not so useful. 161,on the other hand, will end up being filed as a patent application this year. Woot!
  • Learn a new acrobat skill at Circus Center (possibly German wheel).
    Check. Thanks Kris!
  • Go visit Mom & Dad & Grandma.
    Check. And in addition, Dad has printed out every single blog entry for Gradma, who keeps them in a (huge) notebook.
  • Hang with some serious acrobat friends and see if they’ve got use for an apprentice or a worker drone.
    Yes on the hanging part, though I never had the chance to help with the shows.
  • If random stunt jobs or acting opportunities appear, take them. It’s been known to happen.
    Check. Did one stunt job audition, one crazy acting audition. (I was actually offered a role later on by the same director, but the timing isn’t going to work. Next time.)
  • Attend some of the great luncheon seminars at BQIC, and find out if they want some volunteer programming labor (it’s the best way I can think of to get current on what they’re up to).
    Check. It turns out they go on summer break as well, so I’m hoping to be able to attend a few more in the fall.
  • Go to some LongNow lectures and events.
    Check. Crazy fun that day.
  • Keep a camera handy and make a blog.
    Let me think… um, yeah. I pretty much did that one.

…wow yikes, I ended up doing a lot more than half. And as it turns out, the list wasn’t long enough to cover what was actually going to happen.

There was really no way I could have known about these next ones in advance, though:

  • Find artifacts from ships buried under the city
  • Get a private hardhat tour of the Palace of Fine Arts renovation work
  • Find a radiotelescope on an island I’d never been to before
  • Read Steinbeck while actually sitting in Ed Ricketts’ lab
  • Build a robot and take it to the desert
  • Turn physics, philosophy and blind luck into front-row concert seats and an excellent kiss
  • Become one with a sea urchin
  • Spend time in the Make-A-Wish offices as a worker drone paid in cookies
  • Work on a 100-year-old giant telescope
  • Find a chess teacher (I still haven’t had my first lesson, and I really look forward to it)

Just for fun, here are a few panorama-style pictures I took along the way. It’s a lot of data, but worth it. (The one taken on the ship is wobbly, which should surprise no one.)

sf pan_800






It’s time to mention a few things I’ve kept from you so far.

  • The Stunt Rabbit is actually a tiny jade rabbit, smaller than a fingernail. My muse had it made for me in Hong Kong, and it’s been with me the whole time, keeping me safe.
  • I also carried a pedometer. One of the numbers in the Steganographic data is the number of miles I walked each day, usually while chasing some artifact or muse.
  • The other Steg number is still kind of secret, but let’s just say I’m in better shape now than I was 3.5 months ago. Hooray for that.

If you’re going to have a perfect summer, I recommend doing it in San Francisco.

Random assertion: I’m in love with a muse and a city, and one human life is far too short a time to spend with either of them.

Steganographic data: 1804/5.6

Days remaining on Secret Plan 158: zero

So long for now, I’ll be back in a few days with new stories.

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 1:04 am  Comments (3)  
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Day 108 and 109: Three Signs

Fun note: At my German Wheel instructor‘s request, I’ve posted my All-Time Favorite Science Fiction book list. You’ll love at least a few of these, I promise.

So the last few soft-landing days of SP158 happened to match the long weekend. Time to disappear for a while.


We’re not that far from civilization; this place actually has a small train running through it. We push aside the kids and get some good seats.


There’s a lake with a big sign reading “NO BOATING ALLOWED” with a lot of boats on it. Clearly the people who made the sign are on vacation somewhere else.


Last time we were causing trouble with Ashley and Scott was 92 miles North of here, and there was a Pig Auction and some drinking going on.

Today we’re hunting monkeys. It’s a big park, and they move fast, but you can find them if you know where to look.


Scott’s just about got one cornered.


I know this sign is serious, but I have visions of a Monty Python skit involving a doorway with a button on it that says “Please do not press.”   Goooooosh.


It was a good monkey hunting day. Scott and Ashley bagged one, and are heading home to cook it.


About halfway home, the car malfunctions and goes out of control, skidding to a stop in front of a sign that says “Kitten Adoption Today.” Someone’s decided to get a kitten taco, to go.

Okay, so she’s kind of cute. So what.

She goes home with the monkey, not with us. Whew, that was close.

There’s a bunch of extra time for secret plans and garden work.

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I hadn’t imagined the last days of summer could be this excellent.


Random assertion: Every time you look for a kitten to take home, you’ll find the perfect one. The thing is, they keep making more.

Steganographic data: 1818/5.0

Days remaining in Secret Plan 158: 1

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 10:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Day 106 and 107: Cake, Crucible and Crash-Nap

Tomorrow starts a long weekend. That means if I’m going to get birthday shopping done for my muse, I need to do it today. It’s much easier to keep secrets from her when she’s at work.

First it’s another battle of wills at Delessio.

This woman is making four incredible cakes at once. She’s a bakery ninja.

I’ve never seen this sign before, but it’s not new. I’ll have to stop in and see what sort of flying thing they make.

Some of today is spent retracing steps to places I’ve enjoyed during my time of.

See the top window? That’s one of my favorite downtown offices.

Being a port city, San Francisco has a lot of excellent places to find gifts for a muse.

If you know she’s reading your blog, though, it’s best to show pictures of places you went into and places you didn’t, to keep her guessing. Otherwise she figures things out. Sorry, love.

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These are great stores, and they’re a big part of this city’s history. Gump’s opened in San Francisco in 1861, and Shreve opened in 1894.

She knows about one of her presents already.
She’ll be taking some classes here:

The Crucible

If you haven’t been to The Crucible in Oakland, I’d recommend looking into it. They teach welding, electronics, blasksmithing, stone carving, fire dancing, and all sorts of other cool stuff. The muse is going to take their glass kiln-casting classes, because there’s something specific she wants to make out of gears and glass.

See, if you know her well, she’s easy to shop for. Maybe the Crucible sells those outfits too.

What brings me back to this dome isn’t shopping, but hopefully some bad sci-fi.


As it turns out, the new Vin Diesel movie is actually not as horrible as the reviewers think it is. I wouldn’t make a very good critic. I’d much rather enjoy a sci-fi movie than hate it, and usually that’s enough.

The last time I was here, I was above the dome, not below it. Either way, the view is nice.


Back at home, I have a mini-project to do. The muse’s new mobile phone charges from USB ports, but only specific ones. It’s very picky, which is a pain.

…so I’m building a “no whining” cable for the phone. Using this, it’ll charge off of anything.

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It works perfectly, and the phone’s a lot less fussy now. No matter what you plug it into, it charges right up. It’s not 100% safe, but that’s not required of anything, ever.

The 2-year-old cat has decided resistors are really (really) fun. (sigh)

…and the 18-year-old cat fell asleep on his face without actually lying down.


Tonight we’re heading to Epic Roasthouse. We’ve been there for brunch, but never for dinner. Good food, friendly staff, and a fantastic table outside.

…and very nearly another seltzer fight.

Random assertion: An all-female blacksmithing class is just about the sexiest thing you’ll ever see, but don’t get in the way.

Steganographic data: 1822/6.4

Days remaining in Secret Plan 158: 3

Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 2:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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Day 104 and 105: Bringing Home Sand

This morning the camp next to us is having a bloody mary party. You’re supposed to bring a cup, but one guy forgot his. In exchange for a cup, he’s providing an eloquently-sung limerick of questionable taste for the entire camp.

Today I head back to the city. I’m having a fantastic time, but there are things I still want to do at home before my coach turns into a pumpkin.

I’m proud to be an original member of Open Kitchen Camp.

Side Note: These two have posted some more fun pictures from the trip here.

I spend the morning relaxing and hanging out in high places, and then it’s time to drive.

…and drive…

…as I get closer to the highway, I realize how good the muse’s voice will feel on my ears. I avoid getting a ticket, but ride the line pretty tightly.

The drive is long but easy, and I get home just in time to meet my muse at Fattoush for a late dinner.

The next day, back in the city, I can see that there are bits and pieces of the playa all around this place, like real gargoyles hiding in amongst the stone ones.

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Someone’s secret plan involves putting two digital mushrooms on top of their car.

There are inventors everywhere, and now that I’m looking, there are less-subtle connections as well…

This Café Flore is in the playa mood for sure. Luckily their roof is made of metal.

In the evening, the sky is totally clear, except for this crazy little strip of fog.

Clearly someone in Hayes Valley is summoning that. Need to find out how.

Random assertion: Every place you see sees you as well. And it remembers.

Steganographic data: 1810/4.8

Days remaining in Secret Plan 158: 5

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 7:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 103: Food, Love and Robots

I’m on breakfast duty this morning, so it’s cinnamon french toast. Christine’s got some strawberries, which don’t hurt the situation at all.


The name of our home on the Playa is Open Kitchen Camp. The plan is to make a lot of very excellent food, and share it with anyone who wants to stop by. This is a lot like what these two do at home, so they’re natural at it. No one ever turns down Christine’s cooking.

We’ve got extra french toast, so we bring it around to our neighbors. It’s so easy to make friends here.


Shannon’s actually in the final stages of (hopefully) becoming a BRC Ranger. The Rangers are here to keep the peace, so the police don’t usually have to. He’s the kind of guy they’re looking for, big, smart and friendly.

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Everyone here is ready for a perfect day, and today is perfect. I hear someone got good pictures yesterday of a huge dust devil with a tent stuck in it, way off the ground.

It’s time to get on a bike and disappear into all of this.


Here’s what Open Kitchen Camp looks like from the top pf a nearby structure (after the storm clean-up):


Burning man is different things to different people. I’m discovering what it is to me.

  • A place where people can be as expressive as they want to, in any way. It’s fun to watch, but talking to or joining them is better. Jump into the chicken-shaped car. Teach someone a new trampoline move. Ask about the flaming hula-hoop.
  • A place where people fix things for each other, just because they notice something broken. And clean up random trash just because they see it. (You try to be careful, but sometimes the wind takes something.)
  • …but most of all, it’s a place where you can do handstands several stories off the ground without anyone calling the police.


Many of the art structures can be climbed on. Most of them don’t have handrails. Shannon and I spend the better part of the day out on the Playa, finding random fun everywhere.

Sometimes we wish we had brought a camera, and sometimes we’re glad we didn’t. Anyway, someone’s usually got one.

Robotics is a funny thing. In order to make one work, you need to take into account everything you know about the environment it’s going to be facing.

By the time we get back, we’re ready for some shade-time, and I’ve got a full understanding of the environment in which this robot needs to survive.

It needs modification, or it won’t work. First, some serious dust shielding.

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Next, I add some extra electronics, pulled from a few small devices I thought to bring with me.

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What are these for? Well, there’s more to the environment than dust (though there is a whole lot of that). Everywhere you go, there’s the “m-Ch-m-Ch-m-Ch” sound of dance clubs. Robots need a way to work with that too.

…so now it’s ready. Just waiting for the sun to go down.


Besides running an open kitchen, Shannon and Christine have done an art project for the Playa. This year’s theme is the American Dream. C&S have made a structure out of flags, and attached markers, so people can write what the American Dream is to them.

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Cars aren’t typically allowed on this part of the Playa, but we got permission to use one to transport the project.

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Here’s my contribution to the artwork:

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Extra points if you recognize the image.

As soon as it’s done, we head straight back to run the kitchen! Christine’s made mushroom risotto, and she’s got slaves (including me) cutting up fruit for the sangria.

Again, it’s really easy to make friends. People we’ve never met before stop in to have dinner with us.

The smoke detector’s been disabled again, of course.

Partway through dinner Christine commands me to do a handstand on a camp chair.
I’m not your trained monkey!” I reply, and then do exactly as I’m told.

A strange thing about this crowd is that people are hungry for science. They like it. All these hobbies that made it impossible to get a date in high school have suddenly become valuable skills in the desert.

So another way I’ve been making friends is to have the telescope out when it’s dark. Jupiter is showing off, and you can see moons all around it.

I’ve had this red telescope since I was eleven.

If you’ve got a telescope, a lot of sangria and a friendly audience, here’s something useful to know: Nearly all of Jupiter’s moons are named after his… well, conquests. It’s a good thing he was so busy; it makes for excellent and lively conversation.

Tonight we also get to celebrate. Shannon’s passed his training and tests with flying colors.

We never doubted he would.

Once the food is gone and the kitchen closed, the three of us head out to play. One of the highlights is the sculpture by the Flaming Lotus Girls. There are levers all over it which let you control the flame jets.


It’s not all that safe, and I like it.


We head back around 11:30, and have some more tasty food, courtesy of Christine and my Muse. Then Shannon and I put the robot on the back of his bike and head out. Christine’s the smartest one. She’s going to sleep.


So it actually worked. The best thing about running the robot was just letting it wander off. People would cluster around it, and then jump back when it freaked out.

“Hey, and angry little ball!”
“He’s not angry… look, he’s lost.”
“Aw, he just wants to find his home.”

At one point, it rolls over and leans against a pair of legs in pink fishnets. Then it runs away, dodges the rest of us, and comes back to her.

“Hey, I think he’s in love with me. Cool.”
“I want one.”

I got a tiny clip of low-quality video, but mostly left the camera off and just enjoyed.

We met some very fun people over the robot’s antics.

When the robot gets sleepy, we put it back on the bike and start riding out into the desert. Just straight out, away from lights and sound.

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If you ever want to be alone, it’s really easy. And the stars are fantastic. That sand, however, can make for (WHAM! ow.) slow riding.

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If you’re wondering what all of this would looks like from far far above the ground, here you go:

Nothing’s allowed to be taller than the Man, but we’re really close at the moment.


Normally a huge flash of fire in the distance means paperwork for someone. Not here.

We get back after 3, and go to sleep. Outside the window there’s a quiet-ish dance club and an excellent moon.


Random assertion: Food and Love are two of the universal languages. Sometimes, they’re one.

Steganographic data: 1824/3.5/18.5

Days remaining in Secret Plan 158: 7
(Note: As I’m posting this, I’m already at the end of SP158, and about 30 minutes from heading back to work. Don’t worry, I’ll finish the other posts.)

Published in: on September 2, 2008 at 7:03 am  Comments (1)  
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