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 70: Inventors Everywhere

A lot of people have Secret Plans. Today I’m hanging out with a bunch of inventors who answer important questions like:

  • What if brainwave measurement were part of live music performance?
  • What if my t-shirt could help me avoid running into things?
  • How can I make and ride a ridiculously tall bicycle?
  • Can I trust strangers to cut my hair?

First thing, though, I’m off to Peet’s to sit and get some of my own SP work done, and also watch the cute barista wrestle an unexpected number of balloons into submission.

A morning show and free WiFi. This place rules.

Remember Russ and Sara? Good friends, hard-core scientists. They’ve got a meeting in my neighborhood with Dave Stringer, an excellent and innovative musician. I went to a concert of his last night, and had a fantastic time.

The meeting (at Ti Couz) is about an idea they’ve been working on which involves EEG data and musical performance. They’ve done a few successful test runs already, and it’s a great project. We spend our lunchtime talking about electronics, data formats, and spaceships in Italy.


How do you find volunteers willing to have their brainwaves recorded while they listen to a concert? It turns out you just ask; a lot of people love to help with experiments like this.

In the afternoon, Russ and Sara and I walk through the Mission to Paxton Gate and Delessio. It’s fun to show them around the neighborhood.

This evening, my muse and I are headed downtown. Christine and Shannon have invited us to the Instructables office for an inventors’ party. If you’re not familiar with this company, take a look at their site. (I’ve posted one tiny project on this site.)

As far as I can tell, here’s what a typical work day is like at Instructables:

  • Write down crazy invention ideas on the office whiteboard.
  • Post the ideas on the website.
  • Go to lunch.
  • When you get back, look at the site. Random inventors all over the world have probably started building some of your ideas already, and they might have sent you questions.
  • Start building your favorites from the list, right in the office.
  • Repeat tomorrow.

> But some ideas are too wacky or crazy, right?
Actually, no. That’s why it’s fun. For example, here’s some of what we saw tonight at the July 2008 Show and Tell:

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A plaster copy of the inventor’s face with a speaker in the mouth, which can be used as a somewhat unwieldy bicycle horn. See, I told you. Everything is in play here.

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A very very tall bicycle.

A circuit sewn into a patch of denim, for wearing your data.

A method for getting a free haircut: Walk around the city with scissors and a sign “Help cut my hair – Take two snips”

A trumpet modified to work with Guitar Hero.

An integrated bike-mounted stereo system.

A garment which lets you feel nearby objects just before you run into them.

Okay, stop laughing. Someday, a few of the people at this event are going to change the world so profoundly that there will be university buildings and national holidays named after them. You’ll get an extra day off work, and it will have all started right here.

My muse and I leave a little early to go have a glass of wine with the guys at Mission Beach Cafe, but you can see the rest of tonight’s inventions here.

Random assertion: At some point, every inventor realizes that a human lifespan is not enough time to finish all of his or her projects. That’s what makes them such a welcoming crowd.

Steganographic data: 1846/5.5

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 9:43 am  Comments (2)  
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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