Aug 252006

The NY times has put up a pretty good travel article about Tijuana. As expected, it focuses mostly on the newer art spots and trendy eateries. But it also goes a little further to talk about the city as a whole, the good and the bad. I’d bet the focus will continue to stoke the fires of change.

It’s Hot. It’s Hip. It’s Tijuana?

This is a Tijuana you don’t know. Most Mexicans, who don’t cut Tijuana much slack — dismissing it as a provincial backwater, a border badlands — don’t know it either. But Tijuana is Mexico’s fastest-growing city (a population of 750,000 in 1990, 1.2 million in 2000 and projected to be 2.2 million by 2010). And it is changing. Cosmopolitan by default because of its proximity to the United States — 60 million people cross the border there each year — Tijuana is developing a new identity that is bringing it out of the shadows of its own reputation. Its fabled lawlessness has become a kind of freedom and license for social mobility and entrepreneurship that has attracted artists and musicians, chefs and restaurateurs, and professionals from Mexico and elsewhere.

Bonus link – Ask San Diego Blog: Tijuana 101

Aug 232006

Hot on the heels of the release of other SLR’s, Cannon seems to be pulling out all the stops on the new Rebel. The new camera is known as the Rebel XTi/400D, and will go on sale in September for $800 (body). It is almost exactly the same body as the XT, but it has some big changes:

– 10mp (increased from 8)
– Anti-dust glass & ultrasonic vibration
– 9 Point AF, same as the one found in the 30D (up from 7 point AF)
– 2.5 LCD (replaces 1.8 screen and small LCD status)
– Much larger burst depth, still 3fps
(See all the 400D info at

Wow. I’m surprised they are adding this much to their budget offering. Aside from better ISO performance (I’m assuming), I’m not sure why anyone would buy a 30D after this comes out. I’d bet they have some changes planned for 30D and the 5D that will be coming out soon, so the 400 doesn’t eat into their market share.

I’m going to wait and see how the body is reviewed, but I’m really interested in the newer AF system. I find it to be the weakest part of my XT. I’m happy they kept the small body size, though I seem to be one of the few people that like it that way. The larger screen is always nice. I haven’t had a problem with dust on the sensor, so the anti-dust features don’t grab me as much. Dust on the inside of my 17-85 lens, that’s another issue.

The one thing missing compared to the Sony and other new SLR’s is the anti-shake. Canon seems content to keep that in lenses. I don’t really care either way, but I do appreciate the quiet shutter slap on my Rebel XT, something that I’ve heard is hard to do on the anti-shake bodies. I’m assuming the XTi will have a similar shutter noise level compared to the XT.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi White Paper PDF

Update: DPReview has a hands-on preview posted.

Aug 232006

As I said last year, I’m taking a year off from Burning Man. I was getting too jaded, bitching about the work of getting there, rather than being giddy about the sights to come. It turns out I have other things I need to attend during the labor day weekend anyway.

I figured there would inevitably be a twinge of regret for not going. Up until today, there was nothing. But then I saw a project which I really hope makes it to Burning Man – The Neverwas Haul:

The NeverWas Haul explores the theme of the intrepid explorer, boldly adventuring into the unknown, seeking golden cities, mysterious artifacts, fame and glory. This pre-turn of the century, steam powered, mobile Victorian house is 3 stories in height, and is decorated with the relics and artifacts collected in its journey around the globe, as well as a few more specimens collected in Black Rock City. Participants are interviewed, measured and documented in arcane and amusing scientific experiments. Traditional Irish tea is served every afternoon, and visitors may tour the Haul and be impressed by our advanced steam technology and finely polished brass scientific instruments.

Wow, that is going to be very amazing. Here is the catch though… It didn’t get official funding. Why? I have no idea. But they are having a party and fundraiser tonight, Wednesday, August 23rd at The Shipyard in Berkeley starting at 7:30pm.

NeverWas Haul NeverWas Haul NeverWas Haul

Aug 192006

(All photos for this post can be found here: 2006.07.14-17 Baja and Bahia de los Angeles)
Bahia de los angeles finback whale bahia de los angeles desert cross baja

To follow along: My Bahia de los Angeles google map

July 14-17, 2006
Anna and I had wanted to visit the Sea of Cortez side of Baja for a long time. The stars aligned, we finally got some motivation, set a date, and did it. We dedicated four days to the trip, not a whole lot of time. But the trip was just a taste, a test of sorts. Was it worth a ten hour drive? How were the roads? Should we spend more time heading south in Baja? Why Bahia de los Angeles? The answers, for the impatient are 1) yes 2) decent 3) yes, 4) everyone we talked to had great things to say about the bay, and it seemed to be a great representation of the peninsula.

Carretera Transpeninsular or Transpeninsular Highway 1 runs all the way down Baja – from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We traveled down to Punta Prieta (roughly 600KM from San Diego) on Highway 1, then a side road the last hour to the bay. The drive was pretty easy for the most part. There were the standard sketchy moments from local’s passing big rigs on the hills, but tame compared to Costa Rica or Vietnam. The road conditions were good, but they all have minimal shoulders. Gas was easy and available the whole trip, except the last stretch from the Pacific side to the Cortez side. However, there is a Pemex station in Bahia de los Angeles, so its not a concern. The drive is scenic, the tall cardon cactus and Dr Seussian boojom trees produce a very unique landscape. You see plenty of mountains, valleys, deserts, and beaches. All of them are worth the drive.

The bay holds a small town (also called Bahia de los Angeles) that is cut off from the rest of Baja. All water and food (other than fish) has to be trucked in, and the power grid is a smoky diesel generator in the center of town. I’ve never seen so many water tanks, solar panels, and wind generators. The isolation and apparent unreliability of utilities has definitely lead to a lot of self reliance. The main industry is definitely fishing (mostly of the tourist variety), with a dash of support for the small military base a bit north of town (tacos, beer, and an audience for their futbol games in town).

The bay and town are protected by a large island in the Sea of Cortez; Isla del Angel de la Guarda. This makes the bay and smaller islands behind the guardian angel perfect for fishing, diving/snorkeling, and kayaking. The vast majority of the tourist infrastructure is set up to support sport fishing. Almost anyone knows someone that can arrange a boat trip for you, and prices seem to be $130-160 per 4-6 hours. The boats are called pangas, I assume after the original panga – 30 year old world bank plans for an economical, seaworthy craft for the commercial fishermen of the Third World. I doubt any of them are using the original design, but most do seem to be derivatives of the project.

There seems to be a lot of competition for providing tourist boats, but no one seems to bother convincing you to be a customer, and there certainly isn’t a haggling vibe. In general this town seems to have a take it or leave it attitude for business. Many people seem to honestly not care if you become a customer or not. I’m not sure if it is a result of not many owners running things, or a prevailing relaxed attitude that comes off strange to us gringos.

We had originally planned to do a good bit of kayaking in the bay. You can rent kayaks at Costa Del Sol and Daggetts, but they don’t let you take them out to the islands. We ended up visiting the museum, the beaches, and wandering around town instead. Kayaking would be wonderful out here, but to do any sort of day trip or more serious kayaking you are better off bringing your own gear.

Apart from one or two guides, snorkelers and scuba divers seem to be a minority here. If you want to go out, you will probably end up renting a fishing boat. Most of them seem to know the spots for snorkeling/diving, so it all works out. We rented a boat for 4 hours and snorkeled around the Coronado point and Isla Coronadito. Unfortunately for us, it rained both nights we were there. This lead to the water being a lot cloudier than it normally is.

The bay has a lot of marine life, and we managed to see a good bit of it on our boat & snorkel trip. On the way out there was a lot of sea lions playing in the water and birds fighting over rock space. We managed to spot two finback whales in the bay. Their size is deceiving. Unlike the gray whales, they do not fluke, or raise their tail out of the water to dive. Instead they just gently roll their backs and disappear. The part of the whale that you can see on the surface is only ever a small portion of the whales back. So if you can see 20 feet of finback, the full whale size is probably twice that. We followed them at a distance for a few dives, then they disappeared.

After the whales we headed to the south tip of Isla Coronado, La Punta. There seemed to be a lot of large fish, but most were lower than 15′. The sides of the point were very nice, a lot of sea fans and corals. We also spotted a number of small rays and even a moray eel in the rocks. After a bit we packed up (getting back in one of the fishing boats can be a trial) and headed up to Isla Coronadito – a small island on the north end of Coronado.

Isla Coronadito has a nice mix of shallow and deep water around the edge. This is the perfect spot of a lot of schools of small to medium sized fish and 1-2′ rays. We spotted some fans, corals, and sponges, but the main draw was definitely the fish. We swam around the island until we started to get cold (water temp was roughly 77F) and it was time to head back anyway. As I said before, the water wasn’t great for us (10′ visibility) because of the rain, but I’m sure it would be an amazing dive on a regular day.

Most of the shoreline of the bay is a mix of rock sizes, but there are some decent beach spots in town, and up and down the coast. You can pull up to Guillermo’s on the south end of town, head for a palapa and order a beer. Doesn’t get much better than that.

The museum in town is worth a 30-60 minute visit. It has a little bit of everything. Lots of marine life, desert life, and information on the history of the area – natives, spanish, miners, and early days of tourism. One of my favorite bits is actually outside the museum. A full whale skeleton, including the baleens faces the town park/square.

Dining in town is a bit of mixed bag. During the day you have a choice of a whole lot of restaurants, all of which seem to have OK food (Isla seemed the best of the bunch), but high (for Baja) prices. I could understand a jump, given the location, but in many cases the prices for restaurant food or items in markets was more expensive than in the US. The exceptions to this rule were taco stands. Only open in the late afternoon, their prices were normal (at or less than a buck a taco) and the food was outstanding. The expected choices, and I even managed to get some great sopa birria (goat soup) at the stand next to Moctezuma Market.

We originally planned to stay at Costa Del Sol, but they were full up. After checking out a few places, we settled on one of the rooms from Daggett’s. It was about three in the afternoon, and the manager had to clear a path through Modelo Especial cans from the guy next door that was passed out on the porch. She didn’t blink, and we were wondering how the hell he was alive after drinking that much in the heat. The rooms were nice, and there was power for AC from 8pm to 5am. The only complaint about the room was the shower. There was so little water coming out of the shower head, I think it would have been faster wash in the sink.

For the next night we wanted to check out some other spots. We eventually settled on Los Vientos on the north end of the bay. They were more expensive than everyone else, but had power all day, and took credit cards. The last point was important, as we didn’t expect to be spending as much money as we were in the bay. (There are no cash machines here) The hotel was very nice, and the staff good. There is just one gripe, the water went out on the second day. They were good enough to give us a complementary day the next time we go down, so it all worked out. Though double the price of the others in town, they really are worth the money if you can part with it.

I was hoping to visit some cave paintings and one of the missions, but was told we needed a vehicle with a higher clearance, as the road goes through some creek beds. For all the folks with trucks or motorbikes, I’ve heard both locations are worth at visit.

We would really like to return when the water is clear, and ideally, when the whale sharks are around. They are supposed to be near the bay in late August and September, but it can be hit or miss. Two years ago there were approximately eighty sightings. Last year, only eight. In any case, it would be amazing to see these amazing creatures, let alone swim near them.

We really enjoyed our trip to Bahia de los Angeles. It definitely made us want to travel Baja more, as we passed by some other amazing places getting to the bay. Just make sure you prepare for the trip. While modern Baja travel does not require the self reliance it once did, parts of it are still very wild and isolated. That’s a good thing.

More information:
Baja Expo on Bahia de los Angeles
Larry Robert’s page on Bahia de los Angeles
My Bahia de los Angeles Google Earth map (KML)

Aug 172006

bat ray lobster
2006.07.29 Snorkeling La Jolla Shores

garabaldi garabaldi
2006.08.12 Snorkeling La Jolla Cove

I’m still getting the hang of my F810 & housing for photos. I’m not completely satisfied, but have really appreciated RAW on the camera. It takes the camera out of commission for a few seconds while it is writing the file, but I can usually salvage any photos where the camera incorrectly metered the subject. The camera seems to be prone to overexposing, but it seems relatively random, otherwise I would just dial in an underexposure. It seems to produce much better metering when set to full auto or Program, than when set to aperture priority. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled with my DSLR, and the shutter range on the F810 is just not big enough to be set on a higher aperture all the time.

Of course it would seem the idea solution would be to get a marine case for my Rebel XT, but somehow I doubt I’m gonna be blowing 1k on an Ikelite housing anytime soon. Haha. Of course, if I was really balls-out I’d look into getting the UAXP case – which is still 300 bucks. Ultimately I think snorkeling with a SLR (dragging it around) is not going to be much fun. Not to mention trying to peer though the viewfinder with a mask on. Me thinks I’ll just be happy with what I’ve got.

Related post: Summer Snorkeling in La Jolla

Aug 162006

It is almost that time of year again, The GreenBuilt Tour 2006 is set for September 16-17. The tour features 14 sites of varying shades of green. Some sites are almost self contained and built green from the ground up with straw bales or adobe. Other sites are water friendly landscaping and some solar panels. Either way, we need a whole lot more of it in San Diego.

Voice of San Diego has a related article on their site today:

The Greener House – Like many Ocean Beach residents, Charles Roberts loves the sun. But unlike some Obecians, Roberts loves it for more than its mood-lifting, hair-bleaching, skin-darkening effects — his house is powered almost entirely by the photovoltaic cells on the south side of his roof.Roberts, an architect, studied energy-efficient development in his graduate work at the University of Oregon. Not one to preach a message of “green” building without practicing it himself, Roberts has spent the last few years incorporating alternative energies in his grey-and-white cottage on the corner of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Long Branch Street. His roof is made out of recycled tennis balls with a latex acrylic component.

Roberts is one of several homeowners in San Diego who’ve reacted to evidence of global warming, escalating energy prices and environmental concerns by applying some micro-strategies close to home. But San Diego resident Chuck Angyal, who was on the founding board of directors for the United States Green Building Council, said the region has a long way to go before it catches up with some other metropolitan areas.

Aug 152006

Anna and I have had a late start to our summer snorkeling, but are trying to make up for that now. Part of the reason for the late start was that last year was depressing. The red tide made for horrible conditions. This year the water temp has been at or below 70F, bit of a change from where it was earlier in the summer, but the water has also been fairly clear (10-30 foot plus at times). La Jolla Shores has been especially clear with a lot of rays, but we haven’t seen any sharks yet. I’ve heard they are there though, in the usual spot (off the Marine Room), we’ve just been unlucky I guess. We will be trying to see some this afternoon.

La Jolla Cove and the Caves have been full of garibaldi, kelp bass, and the little sardine looking guys. The garibaldi seem to be hovering around the rocks, chasing off other fish – probably protecting the juveniles. I managed to spot some of the less common life, stuff like eels and kelp fish, but they require a lot of time on the bottom to pinpoint. This seems to be the year of the lobster, I don’t remember ever seeing so many of them in the rocks. They are literally fighting for rock spots with each other. It is a great time to snorkel, just watch out for the tourist kayakers, they are like snorkel hunters.

Update: Anna and I snorkeled from 4 to 5 PM on the south end of La Jolla shores. The surf was rough, but the water was still up to 15′ visibility in certain areas. We finally got a good glimpse of the sharks. There were quite a few leopards sharks in the shallows, but they also seemed to be spread out at all depths. I saw one small blue shark (maybe soupfin), and a whole lot of smoothhound sharks, and guitarfish near the south edge of the swim zone buoys. The leopards seem to be pretty skittish, but I was able to get pretty close to the smaller smoothhounds. There were also a lot of schools of fish – zebra stripes, opal eye, etc. Get snorkeling!

Aug 142006

David discovered the burn of Br Bronners, and I’ve finally found a hookup on Blenheim’s Ginger Ale in San Diego. Turns out, it was right under my nose. Grant’s Marketplace in Southpark has a great selection of beer, wine, soda, and produce/drygoods. We popped in to pick up some baguettes to make some blt’s with our killer tomatoes.

That’s where I spied my chemical abuser – Blenheims Ginger Ale with a red top. The red top means it is ‘regular’, which means burn your face off spicy. If you don’t drink it carefully, it will hulk-smash your sinuses and leave you wheezing. If that doesn’t sound like fun they also carry the Blenheim’s Not As Hot, with the gold cap. Still spicy, but not molten. Highly recommended.

Info on Grant’s Market Place
Info on Blenheims