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 88, 89, 90: Roadside Demon Machine

This is some else’s secret plan. They thought of this and built it before I even realized it was needed.


There’s a gasoline engine and a propane tank… but what’s it for?


Aha. “A machine for adding that hometown textured feel to crosswalks.” Those three rows of pressure-stampers are patiently stamping brick patterns into the new asphalt. Then they get painted.

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The part of the machine labeled “HOT” has a little skull hanging from it. Inside the tank, I’m picturing a pentagram with a demon sitting inside it, generating heat for the brick stamper. He’s got an orange vest and a hard hat, and he’s eating lunch. I won’t bother him.

One of the secret plans (SP157) involves artistic skill I don’t have. Specifically, I need to be able to draw some kids, a panda and a taco.

So I’m practicing drawing a lot of cartoon faces. The first hundred were ultra-creepy. Pandas aren’t supposed to be creepy.

After a while they stop looking like little cartoon corpses, but it’s harder work than I was expecting.

At Delessio, I pick up a few things to munch while I wrestle with the ink.

It’s handy to have the kitchen right there, but it’s going to take me a while to eat everything in it.

If you’re just drawing and writing, you really can do it anywhere. Don’t even need an internet connection. (In fact, being connected to the web slows down the process considerably.)

It’s a good chance to wander from one quiet desk to another, enjoying the city.



I stop by Union Square to see if Gene is there for a game of chess, but I’ve missed him again.


No matter how much time you spend here, you keep seeing new things. I hadn’t noticed this mosaic before. That skateboard will probably confuse archaeologists in a few thousand years.


One of my favorite desks in the city is still Citizen Cupcake.


Bet you don’t know where this is. I’ll have to bring my muse here if I can find it again. She likes surprises.

Random assertion: If you see a warning sign, and they’ve gone through the trouble of hanging a human skull next to it, you should probably read it.

Steganographic data: 1818/6.9

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 66 and 67: Focus and the Predator


I’m spending a couple of days making some serious progress on Secret Plan 174 (the 100-year-old telescope), and also finishing the wiring diagrams for SP161.

When you want to get some work done in the city, there are plenty of good places downtown. If you haven’t got time to walk, the Market Street Railway has a whole fleet of restored streetcars from various cities. As 10-minute commutes go, they’re pretty cool.


One of my favorite desks is the window table on the third floor of the Virgin building. It’s usually not crowded, the staff is friendly, the grilled sandwiches are good.


…and when you’re not in the mood for a quiet place, you can park in several different spots abound Yerba Buena Gardens, just a few blocks away.

Don’t come here to get work done on Friday night.

With some time to Focus, progress on the telescope is good. It’s being written to run for a very long time, on just about any operating system. Here’s an early version of the control screen (the red-on-black is so that astronomers can read it without messing up their night vision):

One of these numbers is wrong.

Yep, the calculation for sidereal time isn’t correct yet. I have to come clean about that, because there are math and science experts reading this. (You know who you are.) If that number is even slightly wrong, the telescope won’t work. My current cheeseball placeholder equation is “SIDEREAL = UT – 11.3”.

At night, my muse and I get a very tasty dinner from Tao Cafe. The price of dinner includes a promise that I’ll bring the owner some plums from our tree.

The 2-year-old cat isn’t just playing with her stuffed fish. She’s kicking the stuffing out of it like a crazed puppy. We’ll need a new fish for sure.

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The 18-year-old cat is keeping safely out of the way, but his plan falls apart when she comes leaping down the hall and knocks the bag over. Sigh.

Random assertion: The predators who enjoyed hunting are the ones who survived.

Steganographic data: 1848/6.8

Published in: on July 25, 2008 at 8:33 am  Comments (5)  
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Day 62: Zombie Phones and Baby Alligators

While my phone was busy finding the limits of the text messaging infrastructure, my muse’s phone has decided to turn any battery placed inside it into a lump of coal. Two so far this month. I want to stencil little battery icons on the side of it, like mini kill-trophies.

She’s giving me that look.

Side note #1: When her last phone died a few years ago, I took it apart, soldered in a bypass for the charging circuit, and kept it running for a full year. Yay zombie phone!

The look She’s giving me now says “Oh no you’re not.”

Might be time for a new phone.

Today I’m getting a lot of work done on Secret Plan 161, but instead of finding a sensible quiet desk, I’ve walked to Delessio at Market & Valencia.

Delessio is right next to Flax, an excellent art supply store. Mmmmm.
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After a few hours of heads-down work, I decide to go find Gene for a chess lesson. I walk down to Union Square, and there’s an art festival going on. It’s fun; I sit with a book for a while to see if Gene shows up.


Twice in the past week I’ve seen him right here, but not today.

If I can’t predict when he’s going to be here, I don’t stand a chance of beating him at chess. There are rules which determine when he comes here, where he sits, and how his pawns move as the game opens. I’m going to try to figure them out, rather than relying on luck. Next time I come, he’ll be here. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Side note #2: A few years ago, I taught my muse to play chess.

You know how baby alligators are so cute, but then they grow up and become unstoppable predators? That’s basically what happened. I haven’t beaten her at chess in a long, long time.

Fond Memory 1: A place called Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the South of France, 2003.

A gentleman brings us drinks as we sit facing each other over a beautiful marble chess table. He pauses, chuckles, and softly says “Elle va gagner.”

If the waiter can tell you’re getting your butt kicked, then you might have taught your student too well.

Fond Memory 2: San Francisco, 2006.

After trash-talking and wagering ourselves into an epic battle, the game begins. A few moves in, she gives me that look: “Oh no you’re not.” …and it’s all over.

Her queen must have been sleeping with with one of my pawns, because she just showed up behind the whole line, and left a trail of carnage on her way to the king before anyone could even find the emergency exit. Ow.

(It doesn’t mean she’s ready for the pro chess circuit, just that she specifically knows how to beat me. That’s comforting.)

I guess I’m lucky. Most people don’t get to keep the baby alligator once it becomes dangerous. And it doesn’t usually look this good.

Random assertion: There are no dice in chess, which does not mean there are no surprises.

Steganographic data: 1862/6.7

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Day 56: High Wires and a Good Trade

Dad and Chuck may be getting themselves involved in a really interesting computer project for the Mt. Wilson Observatory. They’ve asked me to help out as well, so look for pictures of a really big telescope soon.


The cats look like they suddenly fell asleep after a high-speed collision.

The wires above Muni trains are dangerous and carry extremely high voltages, which is why they’re high off the ground. Going anywhere near them is strictly forbidden, for very good reasons. If you did, though, it would look something like this:

First stop today is Tartine Bakery. Everyone who lives nearby knows where it is, if only from the line out the door.

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A lot of cute women running an excellent bakery and coffee shop. What’s not to like?

I need some information about operating systems for Dad and Chuck’s telescope project. Luckily, I’m having lunch with Ben today at Zazie. If anyone has (or can get) the information I need, it’s him.

…but good information always comes at a price. Luckily, I still have a chocolate chip cookie from yesterday’s shenanigans, so I trade it for what I need.


…and yep, his answers are just what I was looking for.

Later on, I’m meeting my muse high up in a cool old building downtown. We’ve got evening plans with Christine and Shannon involving something we’ll probably need earplugs for.
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Random assertion: Cookies can be traded for almost anything.

Steganographic data: 1866/4.2

Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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Day 16: Pelicans and Snakes

Right under the Golden Gate Bridge is Fort Point, a defense station which dates back to the Civil War. On a day like today, it seems like a great place to be stationed.

Pelicans have a cool prehistoric look.

We were very careful not to be eaten by this vehicle.

After playing by the bay with Ashley and Alex (our heavy-machinery expert), my muse and I went for a walk on the 3.5-mile trail around a radiotelescope in Palo Alto known as the Stanford Dish.

This snake is about 6 feet long, lazy and happy. There’s plenty to eat here.

You can find some fantastic photos taken in this area by Robert Siegel here.

Something I forgot to mention about golf… If you want to really enjoy learning, it helps to find a good-looking instructor.

Yes it does.

Random assertion: When it comes to bold, efficient, enduring design, it’s hard to beat sharks, spiders and snakes.

Steganographic data: 1870/4.6

Day 15: Time for Projects

Speaking of sci-fi (weren’t we?), if you like intelligent analyses of good films, take a look at Haden’s blog. I’d swear he and I grew up in the same house.

So there’s a hopping-night-spot-which-also-serves-breakfast place nearby, Cafe Flore. My muse and I have never had breakfast there, so that’s where we go.

This bar also serves coffee.

This place gets crazy-busy at night, but for breakfast it’s mellow and tasty.

After food and a walk, we spend most of the day at home, working on projects. She’s building something, and I’m not allowed to say what it is, but it’s cool.

I’m working on Secret Plans 18 and 159. SP18 is a geek-book for programmers, and SP159 (which I’m hoping will make a worthwhile contribution to BQIC) deals with using a bunch of crazy-huge computers to simulate a type of quantum computer which doesn’t exist yet.

I don’t have any crazy-huge computers at home (just this small slow one which I love using), but that doesn’t matter. If you know where to find them, the folks who run them are usually nice people who like logic puzzles.

It’s a quiet and productive day, except that these two slackers hardly got anything done at all.

She’s 2 years old, and he’s 18.

In the evening, we walk down to the Castro Theatre to see Indiana Jones. Remember I mentioned there’s an organist? His rendition of the Indy theme was excellent.

Random assertion: Cats can’t type, though they try.

Steganographic data: 1888/2.9

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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