Monthly Archives: August 2008

Now I understand

Well Crap. I’d intended to post this while I was in San Francisco but it ended up in a drafts fiolder instead. What the hell.

Monday night, when I got here, the concierge in the hotel (yep, it’s fancy enough for one of them) recommended this Italian restaurant called Cafe Tiramisu on Belden Place. I had to walk a few blocks down Montgomery to Bush St. and then up to Belden. Well, my first mistake Monday night was to head up the South side of Bush St. and I missed Belden Place completely. An honest mistake. It seems that they give names to alleys nobody could drive down even on a motor scooter or a bicycle. Who knew?

However, I I knew it had to be somewhere in the general area, so this time I walked up the other side of the street and whammo, there it was. Belden Place is a group of restaurants that all face into this alley. They all have tables outside that leave only a small pathway through along the wall of the adjacent building and they station people along the wall to intercept you and tell you about the menu for each restaurant.

I don’t know why, but beautiful young women always try to hit up on old guys, but they do it differently now. They use their sex to get us interested in food. The blonde hostess for the French restaurant next door tried to ensnare me, but she used escargot. The hostess for Cafe Tiramisu was no exception either. But she whispered fresh-made pasta in my ear and it was all over. I immediately lost all desire to look any further down the alley.  There were other restaurants down there but I don’t know what they were.

Their selections included a ravioli made with Dungeness crab with leeks in a lobster bisque and saffron sauce and that’s what I went with. They brought out a nice-sized chunk of bread and some olive oil with tons of basil in it with my wine while I waited. When the ravioli came out, it looked wonderful and it tasted good, too. The sauce was fine, but not astonishing or anything. The crab meet wasn’t totally shellless, but the pieces were very tiny. But the pasta was tissue thin and delicious. I also had a Hazlenut Creme Brule which was huge and good, but cold. All in all, I probably shoulda gone with Southern Beale’s Chinese recommendation. Oh, and a good dinner for one in San Fran can run you $50 easy, without breaking a sweat trying.

Phil Hill dead

Phil Hill was the first American to win a Formula One World Drivers Championship. He died yesterday at the age of 81 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was one of the greatest race car drivers in American history, having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Italian Grand Prix, among others. The end of another American legend.

Further evidence against ethanol

It’s not just Mack and his lawnmower’s mechanic that are saying ethanol is bad for lawnmowers and other small engines. An article on MSNBC is also discussing the trend. (Of course, you should have believed Mack, but for the doubting out there…)

Benjamin Mallisham, owner of a lawnmower repair shop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said at least 40 percent of the lawnmower engines he repairs these days have been damaged by ethanol.

“When you put that ethanol in here, it eats up the insides or rusts them out,” Mallisham said. “All the rubber gaskets and parts — it eats those up.”

However, an ethanol trade group disputes this, as quoted in the MSNBC piece (as you might expect – they have a vested interest and thus should be deemed suspect).

“Tests completed on lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed trimmers and blower vacs with ethanol fuels showed no engine failures, no unscheduled maintenance and good performance,” the association said.

What happens in the engine, according to mechanics, is that

“the alcohol actually dissipates the oil. So on a two-cycle engine, you’re lubricating the engine, but the oil is being pushed away, so it’s actually not lubricating the engine.” That creates a gummy residue, called shellac, that clogs filters and hoses.

The gummy residue not only attracts moisture that can rust and corrode things but it also clogs up the small jets within the carburetor that dispense fuel into the engine chamber itself.

I-65 North, exit 108 at the Nervous Charlie has plain old gasoline, according to Mack, as does the Kwik Sack at Old Hickory Blvd. and I-40 in Hermitage.

D&D back at McCain

After a McCain spokesperson dissed Dungeons and Dragons game players, they have responded in their own fashion, by rating John McCain as if he were aa D&D game character. Two of the descriptions:

1st Level Fighter / 14th Level Aristocrat by (+5, Troll) His stat block is STR 12, INT 9, WIS 9, DEX 9, CON 10, CHR 14, adjusting for age.
His Bluff skill is maxed, but he has just one rank in Knowledge (Religion) and no ranks in Knowledge (Economics). He was only a fighter for a short time, but he brags about those days to anyone who doesn’t intentionally fail their Listen check. He managed to charm an aristocratic lass into marriage to make his fortune, though he had to leave his first wife to do so.

This perennially battle-weary creature thrives on animosity and fear; it wields a Fox Cloak of Deception with a +10 stun against nearby intelligent creatures. Sporting long, tentacled arms, its impressive reach gives it a +5 luck in debates. Sadly, this creature is rarely found in the wild; it is usually paired as a familiar to the Horn-toothed Lobbyist.


This is a little scary

If you were thinking about a place you could go to accurately predict the future, I bet the place you wouldn’t pick first would be The Onion, would it? Wrong, future breath.

Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over
January 217, 2001

WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that “our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over.”

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

“You better believe we’re going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration,” said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. “Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?”

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.


If designers can learn anything from their past, it should be that the best design doesn’t use the past to solve the complex problems of the present: it uses the present to reveal the possibilities of the future. Jeffrey Keedy, shamelessly stolen from Sarah B. Nelson of Adaptive Path.

San Francisco commuting

In addition to trains and subways and cable cars, San Francisco has several other commuting options. Zipcar is here. It’s perfect for urban locales like this where you only occasionally need a car. You register and get a card. When you need to use a car, you can use your phone to reserve one, or use the web, specify the time you need to use it, pick a car you want based on what you need to do, and walk a couple of blocks to where your car is parked. You can rent a BMW, a Mini, an Element, a pickup, a Volvo, or a Smart, whatever you need. They don’t do Tauruses.

If it gets low on gas, there’s a gas card in the car that you can use to fill it up, plus they cover the insurance, parking, etc. When your rental time is about done, they’ll text you to remind you and you return it to its parking spot. There’s a gadget on the car that reads your card and knows you’re the only “zipper” (that’s what they call themselves) who ought to be able to get in the car and that unlocks the door. The key’s in there under the dash. If I lived in a city with mass transit that got me where I needed to go, I’d probably be a zipper.

There are also these Go Car things in the city – I saw two of them. They’re two-seaters with no roof and powered by a scooter engine (you have to wear a helmet to drive one). They’re apparently more pollution that a car twice their size. They are covered with ads but look far, far more dweebish that a Nascar racer.

For tourists, there’s also a company that does guided Segway tours of the city. I watched about 20 of them start out this afternoon. Tres cool.

Today was way cool

Not only did I have an afternoon off, but I spent it rambling around San Francisco. If/when you ever come here and you decide you want to ride one of the cable cars, never, ever, ever, never wait at the foot of Powell Street with all the touristas in the two hundred hour line.

See, at both ends of the trolleys the conductor and gripman turn them around by hand on huge turntables before they make that return trip across the city. And that’s worth seeing once. Once you’ve seen that, ignore the ticket booth and the hordes in line and walk uphill two blocks to wait for a car.

Since it’s a metro transit system when the next car starts on its route through the city they don’t fill it completely because people will be getting on and off at stops. They want some space available for people at stops along the way. Why, someone might be two blocks away and really needing to get aross town. Like me.

Tourists don’t know that, or want to get every cent of their money out of the ride and “start at the very beginning.” Screw that. I’m not pissing away that much time. There were literally three hundred or more people in line and they let 25 people or so board each car every ten minutes. By the time those people had boarded the car that was waiting at the bottom of the hill, I was almost all the way to the next stop and I hopped on the cable car that had been sitting there when I arrived. I didn’t wait in the ticket line either, I just gave the conductor my $5 when he came asking for it. They depend on honesty and they take cash (sorry, no debiit cards, though).

It’s the same at the other end (well, it is for the Powell-Hyde one that ends up at Ghiradelli Square). After I’d stocked up on what felt like 10 pounds of chocolate, I walked down to the 39th Avenue pier just for the exercise and to watch people. Tour boats to Alcatraz start out there (no, I didn’t feel homesick, thanks for asking) and sometimes there are interesting people there. There’s another end of the trolley system that stops there as well and goes to the same place at the end of Powell & Market. There was no line, so I hopped on again.

That car broke down just past the Cable Car Museum. See, they’re manual. The gripman (yes, there’s only been one woman in the job) uses these big levers and a pedal to grab the cable down under the streets and propel the car along. They all have to have pretty good upper body strength to do this. There are two levers – a go and a stop one, plus a foot brake and a rear brake. WIth hills like that, you want lots of brakes. The go lever reaches down into the street and clamps onto the cable like a pair of vice grips. Since the cable is always moving at 9.5 mph, grab that sucker and you’re off! Well, somehow, the lever and gears gadget wouldn’t grab the cable. (Better that than it wouldn’t let go, I guess, but still…)

They tried on-the spot tension tightening to no avail so we were stuck and couldn’t move. They called a crew with a truck to move the cable car and all the passengers had to get off and get on one of the other cars stuck behind us. I live through these exciting times so you can live vicariously through me.

I also went to Stacy’s Bookstore on Market St. (They have odd-numbered buildings on both sides of the streets here. Totally strange.) I highly recommend it. Since the flight here required a stack of books almost 4″ tall, I knew more reading would be required. Now it’s off to dinner (I’m headed for an Italian restaurant I missed the first night.)

Sing it, Tony Bennett!

Well, here I am in the city by the bay. A too long, got here late flight, a van ride in something that must be on its last legs, and a curry Thai dinner (with avocados, because it is California, damn it!) and a beer later, I’m back.

The Palace Hotel (thank God I’m not paying for this) has more marble in it than most churches, I think. It’s been here a long time. The opera tenor Enrico Caruso was staying here (probably more pampered than moi) when the 1906 earthquake hit. It’s been renovated at least once, and maybe twice, since then, but not just because I was planning to stay here. I stayed here once before, many years ago (also on the company’s dimesgold pieces) for a Photoshop conference. As with many renovated older hotels, the decor and furnishings are top rate but the rooms are smallish. (Aside: they charge $16 smackers a day for the internets. I’m saving enough with my air card to more than cover the whole month.

This is UX (User Experience) Week, a usability conference put on by the people at Adaptive Path.

I used to be fortunate enough to come out here almost every year to a big publishing convention, Seybold, where I’d get a look at everything that was coming down the pike in the publishing and design biz. It was always an exciting time. I’d see people I knew and admired in the design world for years and get to talk to them. I’d get to see friends who had moved out here to work at Apple.

And I’d get to go to Muir Woods. Too awesome for words. Despite all the interest I had in the conference, and the exhibits, which expanded to consume the entire lower floors of Moscone Center and had everything that was new and exciting in hardware and software, I’d find a half-day when sessions were devoted to printing that I cared nothing for whatever. Tourista time! Muir Woods is the only SF-area stand of sequoias and it is phenomenal, truly. (And, M*A*S*H fans, it’s just beyond Mill Valley! Hey, BJ!!!)

Long ago, my company got enamored of online training and it took them several years to understand that the quality was less in the online arena and actually sending people to conferences might not be a boondoggle. Once they got past that, and that several desolate years, who went or didn’t go was more based on things other than need, and funds were slim. I never thought I’d be back out here and even told friends I’d probably never see them again. I walked up Montgomery and headed up towards Union Square and Nob Hill like I knew where the heck I was going. (I didn’t. The concierge gave me directions to a street I didn’t find.)

This conference ought to be good. I won’t get to see Muir Woods, though – there may be training but there’s a sucky economy going on so I’m not renting a car. (Although the conference has set up access to Zipcars, which is cool.)