Aug 312005

My New Orleans photos

The Asian tsunami was horrible and devastating. I watched with the rest of the world, and was saddened by the loss. But I also had no context for it. I’ve never been to Asia. I didn’t know anyone affected.

New Orleans is different. I’ve visited, and loved the city. We know people that live and work there. In fact, Anna was just in NO on Friday helping to implement a new client, Delgado Community College. We were both going to visit them next month. Needless to say, their web page isn’t coming up right now, and they aren’t answering phones.

Best wishes for one of the most unique cities and cultures in the USA.

Aug 292005

(All photos for this entry are posted here)

Anna and I finally made it out to La Jolla Shores and Cove this weekend for some snorkeling. Water clarity wasn’t great, but it sure beats red tide. We went mostly to look for the leopard sharks that frequent the waters this time of year. We could see the dark shapes moving around in shallow water, munching on sardines, but couldn’t get close enough to get a good look. There was a lot of surge, so the water was clouded with sand and biological bits. Out further in the water we saw some guitarfish and rays, but most of the time they were are too spooked to let you get a good look. The downfall of snorkeling, limited time to sneak up on stuff.

About the only thing coming out to play in the water with us were the purple striped jellyfish. Our winter rains and runoff made the water quite nutrient rich. This lead to a surge of red tide growth, which lead to a surge in other critters that feed on red tide, which leads to a surge in growth on things that feed on those critters – jellyfish. We saw four at the cove, and a few at the shores. They were easy enough to avoid, but you had to pay attention. Phil got stung (haw-haw) and had to go hit the lifeguards up for some vinegar. A note to anyone out there, if you can’t get to vinegar, use sand to rub the skin where you got stung. It will clean the little stinging cells (cnidocytes) off your skin. Don’t pee or use alcohol, they will just sting you more.

The purple striped jellyfish we saw ranged in size from about a foot to three feet wide. Most were looking a little ragged (torn cups, short tentacles), I suspect from an encounter or two with swimmers. But it is also possible that they are getting to the end of their lifecycle, I’m not sure how long they live for. They were pretty neat to watch swimming around. Most of the time they hung out on the surface, but I did see them dive to about 10 feet on a couple occasions. I didn’t see any of the fried egg or rare black jellyfish, I will have to keep my eye out for them, and the fleeting leopard sharks…

Aug 262005

New York Trip Part 2 (Part 1)
(Photos for this entry can be found here)

(Five months later, I have finally gotten around to writing about the rest of my NYC trip)

March 27, 2005 – After seeing ASSSSCAT 3000 we headed over to Tia Pol for some tapas and sangria. The place is bit stylishly sterile, but intimate due to the small quarters. The staff were great and had no problems recommending some food. We listened – Roasted peppers with salt, olives & cheese, lamb kebabs, serrano ham croquettes (amazing), and bread with tapenade and lentil spread. All really good, and at a decent price.

March 28 & 29, 2005
I spent almost two days wandering around Chinatown in New York. It is big, busy, and a lot of fun. I spent hours wandering through stores, or sitting back and people watching. Where else are you going to buy dried seahorses or your durian? Chinatown has so many things that are unusual for most, but at the same time, intriguing. How does that duck in the window taste? Why don’t we all have vendors selling hot green tea on the street during cold rains?

Not far from the Manhattan bridge is the classic New York Noodle Town. We had dinner here and shared a table with two other parties. I love doing that. Frequently you end up sharing a table with a regular customer of the restaurant. They know what’s good and are happy to make recommendations. In our case we sat with some second generation folks that were happy to fill us in. When in Rome.. I had to try the crisp-skinned baby pig. Not quite my thing. The meat is good, but the whole package is a bit too fatty for me. The skin? Well, it was crispy. The veggie and soup dishes we ordered were fantastic.

March 30, 2005 – I spent most of the day wandering around Prospect Park in Brooklyn. On my way to the botanical garden, I had to pass through the Brooklyn Museum’s parking lot, as they were doing construction on part of the park. It turned out to be a nice detour as I passed by a fenced-in graveyard of old New York architecture. The small compound behind the Brooklyn Museum is filled with stone and concrete building relief’s, sculptures, and figureheads. I’m a sucker for that kind of grand architecture, so I was really happy to stumble on it. I wandered around it for a good 45 minutes, checking out the different pieces.

After making the parking lot security nervous for a while, I headed to the botanical garden’s entrance. I was told it was free that day. Bonus. While the lake is a bit slimy, the rest of the area and buildings are well done. I was there in the early spring, so I’m sure it wasn’t even close to its full impact yet. It would be a good visit in the summer. There are also several buildings that house different plants & climates. They are well done, and I could see them being a huge draw in the middle of winter.

After that, it was time to head back to Manhattan to meet Anna at The Frick. It was a good collection and the building is interesting. Definitely worth the price of admission. It all has a very Hearst-like feel to it, which is hardly surprising (get rich, buy art, build a house for it, leave it behind). Then Anna and I trucked up to Town Hall to see the Blind Boys of Alabama.

March 31, 2005
I headed back to Brooklyn to visit the museum. The Brooklyn Museum building is great, and they have filled it with some fantastic exhibits. The museum is sized just about right for my attention span, it doesn’t overwhelm. I loved the Assyrian Reliefs, and the new Visible Storage area was very cool.

After that it was over to Greenwich area to hang out. Crazy guys in velvet suits never get old. A good spot to go coffee or tea shopping is Porto Rico Importing Co on Bleecker. Bags and bags of different coffee, and large tea tins on the walls. I picked up a half pound of black lychee tea that I had enjoyed at Mooncake Foods.

The village also has some good, cheap eats. Dinner at Indian bread Co was great. I had stuffed parathas and a mango lassi. Mmm. Ambience was nice, though I almost choked when the quiet Indian music in the background changed to loud Jay Z. Another great spot for a quick bite is Mamoun’s Falafel. The shwarma I had was different (more crispy than I’m used to), but delicious. Plan to eat on the run, the place is tiny.

As great as NYC is, there are a couple spots the city can improve on. 1) NYC needs public bathrooms. Pay or free, I don’t care. Many times one has to walk a long way before finding a decent cafe to pop in, buy a tea, and use their facilities. In a pinch I can usually I can find a starbucks to use, but more frequently they are out of order or downhill. Mc’ds or others are usually a last resort. 2) Whenever I eat at a cheaper place in NYC, I kill a lot of trees. Most places package everything to go, even if you stay because they don’t want to deal with clean up or a slow down in service. My morning bagel is wrapped in wax paper, wrapped in tin foil, put in a paper sack, which is stuffed full of napkins. It is a bit depressing when the packaging is bigger than the item.

That is just nitpicking though. New York really is the city, and I love it more with every visit.

Aug 232005

As Oso mentioned in a comment bellow, Kamp Kanuckistan (representing the “stateless state” of the Free United Cartel of Kanuckistan) will be at 5:20 on Fetish at Burning Man this year, and will feature the second annual road hockey tournament – The “Xeni Cup”. Pete and I were there last year, and had a lot of fun.

The UT has a write up on the long-planned redevelopment of the Navy Broadway Complex in downtown San Diego It would provide residents and tourists with new views and routes to the waterfront while allowing the Navy to move its headquarters from old warehouses to modern facilities at no cost. (PDF of the proposal)

MSN Money looks at costs and savings by replacing stuff with EnergyStar in your home: When’s the best time to buy an appliance? If you�re waiting until yours breaks, don�t. As you put off the decision, you’re likely paying much higher utility bills because of the inefficiency of old appliances.

Thousands of commuters in Lyon, France, are renting bikes from public racks at low cost. They seem to have thought it out well:

Attempts to steal bikes from a rack set off an alarm, while a built-in lock secures bikes during rentals… A microchip exchanges information with electronic bike racks, identifying the bike, the subscriber and when it was rented and returned. Bikes even have sensors that check the brakes, lights, tire pressure and gears every time they are parked. If there’s a problem, the station won’t rent the bike… A control center keeps track of the data, sending out mechanics or a shuttle to move bikes from one station to another as needed. The bikes are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though currently weekday rush hours see the greatest demand, indicating that people are using the service to commute.

Lastly, if your day didn’t have enough crazies in it, don’t worry. Pat Robertson is here to help as an example to us allPat Robertson suggested on-air that American operatives assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop his country from becoming “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”

Aug 172005

Better extremely late than never, right? I finally finished adding comments to all of my photos from three weeks in Peru last December.

I also put up some random photos of last Sunday.

I haven’t been happy with the RSS album feeds from Gallery, and Oso’s question sent me digging for info. You have to display full albums with gallery, and there seems to be no way to list by upload date, or limit the number of photos returned. After fighting with trying to configure gallery’s RSS files, I found a better way – someone else had already done it. Jeff of rewrote the rss.php of Gallery to produce an RSS feed of individual photos (not albums), sorted by upload date (not last-modified).

I wanted to add it as an additional feed to Gallery, but it wasn’t going to happen easily. Gallery doesn’t let your templates access the head, so you have to mod the code, and re-mod every time there is an update. With a new release coming up, I wasn’t game to bother with that, so I just replaced the entire feed with this new one. It is based on earlier versions of gallery, but seems to be working so far. Please let me know if you have any problems with the new feed.

I also have been toying with the Album list from discobug. There is no way to kill off the highlight pictures on the main page of gallery, so it isn’t easy to do an album list without using a lot of bandwidth and screen real-estate. I loaded the file up here, but have yet to do much other than format it. I will probably put it in as a link within Gallery, so people can view the albums (and timeline, though I have to fix some of the albums) without painfully clicking through the list.

Update: This is no longer working with my move to Gallery2

Aug 172005

(All photos for this entry are posted here)

My newest sister, Kim, has been taking wine classes at MiraCosta College. Wines of the world, California wines, you name it wines. Each semester they have a field trip to some wineries. Temecula, central coast, etc. This time it was Baja, and she asked Anna and I if we wanted to go. As we had never been to Guadalupe Valley (in San Antonio de las Minas) or seen any of the Mexican wine industry, we happily agreed.

It was an interesting trip. We boarded the bus at Kings Inn in mission valley – man, that place is a real slice of time. The field trip group was mostly middle to late aged folks that were pretty happy about wine. It didn’t take long for people to start passing around bottles of vineo in the bus with fruit, bread, cheese, etc. This was at 9 am. A wee bit earlier than I usually start. It was a lot of fun though. It felt a little bit like school trips taken as a kid, but with more alcohol and grey hair.

I always enjoy driving down the coast of Baja. Passing by the skeletons of a chapels, grandiose entryways with nothing but dirt lots behind them, Foxploration, the naked lady house at Puerto Nuevo (we were told there was a full sized house by the same guy in TJ), and the giant tuna farms near Ensenada. I wonder what part of Baja attracts such an eclectic mix.

At Ensenada we turn off the road towards Tecate and the bus grunts up the hill. This is the first time I have been in this part of Baja, but it all seems very familiar. The scattered rock hills and the vegetation is exactly the same as east San Diego/Ramona area. There probably isn’t as many Tecate beer signs in Ramona though. We pass by 4 restaurants and stop at the first winery. For the life of me, I can’t not remember the name of the place. It is a small place, and we crowded into the tasting room. The first white was decent (I bought a bottle) but the rest wasn’t so great. A bit too young and muddy for me. Everyone hits the bus and we rumble off, past the Russian community, to the next spot.

Monte Xanic is one of the bigger wineries in the valley, and quite modern. First up, we have a tour of the wine storage area. They blasted out 2500 truck loads of granite out of the side of the hill that the winery sits on to build a store room for the barrels. Once blasted out, they put an insulated roof and front wall on the hole to make a great storage area. They have left the rock faces intact on the inside of the building, making the whole thing very impressive to look at. The rock and insulation helps them keep the temp around 13c year round, except for 2 months when they have to run the AC. The wine is piped down by gravity from the winery and filled in barrels in the store room.

Next up we got a tour of the winery itself and learned about the different labels and blends they produce. Then it was on to the tasting. Their premium line was pretty good, but the rest was just average for me. We could only bring back a limited number of bottles (1L alcohol per person), and nothing grabbed us here, so we didn’t buy.

Back in the bus we rumbled up the road. Next up on the tour was Bodega de las Misiones – I know they have a different name now, but I’m at a loss. This was one of the first big wineries in the area (70’s) and had changed hands a couple times (now owned by a French company). The interesting thing about this place was the extent of it’s underground storage. There was long underground hallway filled with bottles, and one main room with barrels. It was really interesting to explore, and felt a little like catacombs, but in a good, historic way. Not a bad, dead body kind of way. Hah. The wine here was decent, but again, nothing standout, so we clutched our change purses tight.

It was about two in the afternoon when we finally rolled up to LA Cetto Winery for lunch. It was a really great experience. It seemed to be a familly operation – I was served by a kid in cowboy boots and an anime shirt. Lunch was at a fantastic location overlooking the winery, vines, olive trees, and the rest of the valley. A really spectacular view. The food was also great. Squab, carne asada, beans, rice, chips, and hot salsa. What more could you ask for? How about some wine? Well, we also had some really nice wine with the meal. There was a petite syrah and a sweeter white wine (can’t remember the type) that went very well with the meal. After exploring the area (this place has a bull ring!) we were back on the bus to head to the tasting room.

I was quite impressed with LA Cetto, they had the best wines of the four we visited. Their prices were also quite good – the petite syrah was $7, and we splurged on one of their higher end wines for $20. They also have some nice olive trees – we picked up a few bottles of tasty extra virgin olive oil and a jar of olives.

The bus ride back to the US was definitely a bit more down tempo than the ride into Baja. It was hardly unexpected, but my body didn’t quite enjoy the amount of wine I had ingested. I was never inebriated, and made sure to drink water, but I guess the sulfites wore me down. I was dragging by the time we hit the border lines at eight. An hour and a half wait in the bus line later, the border agent let Anna and I through with 4 bottles of wine (supposed to only be 1L per person). Some of the other people had to toss bottles they had bought on the assumption they could pay duty for extra items. It turns out you can pay duty on everything except alcohol. Or so the agents said that particular day. It seems to depend on who is working. Something to keep in mind when you go tasting down south.

It was a pretty good day. For $80 I had bus transport for 12 hours down and around Baja, went tasting to four wineries (with commentary by the teacher), and had a great lunch. Not a bad deal. Even though this was a touristy visit, Baja encourages me to explore more. I need to make it over to the Sea of Cortez, or perhaps hunt for pictographs

Aug 162005

Some interesting news: World’s largest solar installation to use Stirling engine technology. 20-year purchase agreement between Southern California Edison and Stirling Energy Systems, Inc. will result in 20,000+ dish array, covering 4,500 acres, and capable of generating 500 MW — more electricity than all other present U.S. solar projects combined. also profiled the company and its CEO, David Slawson: Start-up sees new dawn for old solar tech. It is interesting to note that they say their technology is about three times as efficient as silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells. If true, that might be putting it into the efficiency range of wind or nuclear.

National Geographic magazine has a good story on the challenges of alternative energy in this month’s magazine – Powering the Future.

While not really practical for every day driving, it is interesting to note what can be done – Pulse And Glide – Getting Maximum Fuel Economy In A Prius – On August 7, 2005 five men took an unmodified Prius nearly 1400 miles on a single 12.87 gallon tank of gas. That’s 109 mpg! They did it by using a technique called “Pulse and Glide”.

Wired has another story on DIY plug-in hybrids.

Hah, I love it: A research team in Singapore have developed a paper battery that is small, cheap to fabricate, and which ingeniously uses the bio-fluid being tested (urine) as the power source for the device doing the testing. This should be a great thing for bio monitors, but I can’t wait until I have to pee on my cell phone to charge it.

Sunset mag has some pictures and a profile of the newest glide house

Very cool: The old man and the tree – Fearing boredom during retirement, Jack Barnhart nears completion of his dream treehouse after five years of work.

This is a depressing read: Four Amendments & a Funeral

“…To understand the breadth of Bush’s summer sweep, you had to watch the hand-fighting at close range. You had to watch opposition gambits die slow deaths in afternoon committee hearings, listen as members fell on their swords in exchange for favors and be there to see hordes of lobbyists rush in to reverse key votes at the last minute… In the first few weeks of my stay in Washington, Sanders introduced and passed, against very long odds, three important amendments. A fourth very nearly made it and would have passed had it gone to a vote. During this time, Sanders took on powerful adversaries, including Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, the Export-Import Bank and the Bush administration. And by using the basic tools of democracy — floor votes on clearly posed questions, with the aid of painstakingly built coalitions of allies from both sides of the aisle — he, a lone Independent, beat them all. It was an impressive run, with some in his office calling it the best winning streak of his career. Except for one thing. By my last week in Washington, all of his victories had been rolled back, each carefully nurtured amendment perishing in the grossly corrupt and absurd vortex of political dysfunction that is today’s U.S. Congress…”

Aug 122005

I saw some of these in Peru, interesting that they are just now starting to figure them out – Cryptic string-based communication system used by ancient Incan administrators may at last be unravelling, thanks to computer analysis of hundreds of different knotted bundles.

The permafrost of the world’s largest peat bog (size of France and Germany combined) in Siberia is melting. It is estimated that the west Siberian bog contains some 70 billion tones of methane, a quarter of all the methane stored on the land surface worldwide. This could unleash billions of tones of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Positive feedback loop, our old friend.

Guns, Germs, and Steel’ Reconsidered. Inside Higer Ed follows some of the discussions taking place on about Diamond’s methodology. I enjoyed the 3 part PBS show on his work, check it out if you haven’t already.

I thought this was pretty interesting. Mosquitoes seem to be more attracted to people already infected with malaria. The malarial parasite might be orchestrating its own onward transmission from within the human body.

Now onto the topic du jour – Bird Flu. New Scientist says that if Asian bird flu mutates into a form that spreads easily between humans, an outbreak of just 40 infected people would be enough to cause a global pandemic. And within a year half of the world’s population would be infected with a mortality rate of 50%.

It is also spreading across Asia. And even the Freakonomics guys think you should think about bird flu.

Bah you say, there is a vaccine for it! Well, yes and no. Bird flu vaccine? Taking the (very) long view.