Eric's weblog


Saturday, June 28, 2003

I went to see a fire show last night, performed by Flam Chen, based in Tucson, Arizona, but performing in San Francisco for a couple days. Very neat stuff. It started off with some standard poi moves, but then things started getting wacky, and I saw several things I hadn't seen before, such as:

Flaming sword fight!

Flaming fan dance!

Breathing fire!

Blurry spinning flaming cube!

Synchronized poi action!

posted by Dork Butt 2:22 PM

Monday, May 05, 2003

I'm going on a road trip. And I'm going to make an attempt to post from the road as I go. We'll see how successful that is. The tentative itinerary is to fly to Boston, hang out for a bit, and then rent a car and drive most of the way back, visiting friends in New York, Pittsburgh, Oberlin, Urbana-Champaign, Kansas City, and Denver, before taking the train back from Denver to Oakland. Should be a fun three weeks. More posts as events warrant.
posted by Dork Butt 2:41 AM

Saturday, March 29, 2003

This evening, I heard about an a cappella group having a show at Ghirardelli Square, and, having no other plans, I decided to go check it out. From my company's location south of Market, I took the #30 bus, which drops off right at the entrance to the square. I found the stage, was underwhelmed by the group, and wandered off after a couple songs.

Since it was still light out, I walked around the headland to the path overlooking Fort Mason, where I got a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge outlined against the fading colors of the sunset. I sat up there until it got dark, and then headed back to Ghirardelli Square to hop the bus back.

But it was a nice night, and, since I still had no plans, I decided to walk back through San Francisco. One of my favorite things about Boston is that it is walkable - it's entirely reasonable to walk all the way across the city. I've known that San Francisco, while a little bit bigger, has the same property, but I've never done it. For several years, I've meant to walk around the city and get a pedestrian's view of it and figure out how the pieces fit together, but had never gotten around to it. So tonight seemed as good a night as any to start that process.

From Ghirardelli Square, I wandered down North Point St. While walking down the hill there, a petite Asian woman called me over for help. She was trying to push her boyfriend's BMW up the hill - I guess the engine died or something, and she was trying to push it into a parking space with him steering. I made an effort, but it was quickly apparent to me that two people were not going to be able to push a luxury sports sedan uphill no matter what she was thinking. So I wandered onward and left her to talk it over with her boyfriend what they should do next.

As I turned the corner onto Columbus, following the route of the #30 back, Critical Mass came rolling through. For those of you who don't know, Critical Mass is a "spontaneous" gathering of bicyclists on the last Friday of each month. They get together and ride through the streets of San Francisco, tying up traffic, but making the point that bicycles deserve part of the road as well.

Tonight had a bigger turnout than normal, because the anti-war activists had decided to join in. It kind of makes sense, since the activists had been blocking intersections with their protests.

Anyway, the phalanx of bicycles came rolling down Columbus, accompanied by bell whistles, shouts, chants, music and all sorts of other noise. Lots of chanting of "No Blood for Oil", and various peace signs. I saw a guy sitting on the back of a tandem playing a guitar while the guy in front pedalled. Another bicyclist was towing a stereo system behind him playing music, while another had a bass drum on the back of his bike, which a friend was banging in time to the chanting.

Seeing ten blocks worth of bicyclists and peace activists roll slowly by put a big smile on my face. I'm not even sure why. I think it was probably because it was a very San Franciscan moment, and I appreciate people doing their own thing. Eventually though, it had to come to an end. The last few stragglers were blocking an intersection; in particular, they were fencing in a white BMW and yelling at the driver, who I think had honked or yelled at them or something. The police motorcycles who were riding at the end of the cavalcade flipped on their lights and siren and chased the bikers onward, and traffic returned to normal.

The next thing I saw was the North Beach Playground, somewhere around Lombard Street. A bunch of people were playing basketball on the courts there. On the other half of the concrete expanse, a group of guys was playing football, running around wildly in a way that I don't think I would on concrete, cuz I'd trip and scrape myself up or something. By this point, I had turned the walk into an observation of life on a Friday night in San Francisco. What were other people up to on this fine evening?

Coit Tower is striking at night, lit up from below. Just had to say that.

Onward and onward. There's a Ben and Jerry's store on Columbus. Given that it was a warm evening, and I'd been walking for a bit, a mint chocolate chunk ice cream cone was irresistible. Plus, is there anything better than walking around with an ice cream cone? I mean, at least for me, that's a guaranteed smile. By this point, I'm into the Little Italy section of town, so there's cafes overflowing onto the sidewalks, Italian trattorias everywhere, and people all around.

Even though I'm eating ice cream, I'm thinking dinner might be in order, so when I see a place called Buster's advertising cheese steaks, I start salivating. Yes, yes, I should have gone for pizza since I was in Little Italy, and I had planned to, but for some reason, the cheese steak sounded better. While they're making the sandwich, I sit down at one of the little tables on the sidewalk.

Across the street is the Stinking Rose, the famous purveyor of garlic. I've only been there once, but it's completely over the top. Basically every dish there has several cloves of garlic. Per person. It's yummy, but kind of excessive. Definitely a San Francisco institution.

While I'm sitting there, five Asian girls are standing on the sidewalk in front of me chit-chatting. I'm trying to figure out what their deal is, when an Asian guy pulls up in a minivan and they all pile in. Duh.

Looks like there's a followup set of protestors on foot following the bicyclists. They're on the other side of the street, walking up the sidewalk, chanting loudly but none of the words are at all intelligible to me. A guy at the tail end has a bullhorn and is saying things like "Why doesn't America start teaching critical thinking (next time through, it was the Constitution) in the first grade?" They have a large police escort, walking in the street next to them. I'm not quite sure what the police escort is for, except maybe to make sure they keep moving and don't try blocking intersections or anything.

My sandwich comes, and I start munching it while watching the people pass by. Fifteen minutes later, the protestors come back on my side of the street. Since they're close, I can make out what they're chanting: "Stop this racist war today! San Francisco, what do you say?" They're pretty mellow, and they've even started to lose their police escort (a police SUV pulled up, and several of the escort jumped in).

As I start walking again, I notice that the protestors stall for a couple minutes in front of the "adult" clubs and stores on Broadway at Columbus. This amuses me.

I cut over on Pacific to get into Chinatown. One of the neat things about walking like this is realizing that all these neighborhoods are right next to each other, and even blend into each other somewhat. I go and check out Meriwa, which I like for dimsum, but I had been told had a fire earlier this year. Yup. It's closed. Bummer.

Chinatown is kind of dead. Surprisingly so, considering how amazingly crowded it is during the day. But most of the stores have closed, and there's only small groups of people walking quickly to or from their dinner.

On the south end of Chinatown, I find one patch of activity - at an activity center on Sacramento, a group of people are playing volleyball on one court, and basketball on the next. It's not a particularly high level of play, but everybody seems to be having a good time, so that's what matters.

I exit out under the big Chinese gate at Sutter, and into the yuppie part of town adjoining Union Square. I walk by the offices of, a website I've actually looked at recently, and am, as always, a little bit weirded out by finding the physical location of a website. It feels like looking at the man behind the curtain.

Moving towards Union Square, I check out some Ecco shoe displays through the window. My Ecco boots have served hard time over the last four years, and have started to fall apart, so it might be time to consider getting a new pair. Of course, the shops are closed, so all I can do is look, but it's nice to see what's available.

Arriving at Union Square, I find that the space has changed. I used to work right off of Union Square, but haven't been back much in the past two years. In particular, I haven't been by since they reopened it after remodelling. It's weird. There's a statue on a big pillar commemorating some triumph by Admiral Dewey. The big pillar stands in the middle of an empty stone plaza, with little benches around the outskirts of the plaza. It feels somewhat sterile to me, but, surprisingly, a large number of people have gathered here, in twos and threes, to hang out, chat and people-watch.

Last time I was in Union Square, there was a fairly large homeless contingent. Those have been chased off, partially because of the policemen standing at the corners of the square, and partially because the benches are designed as three single seats, each of which have armrests, to prevent people from lying down on the benches.

While sitting there, relaxing a bit and watching the people, I notice the Borders billboard and am reminded that there's a bookstore just across the street. So I'm compelled to go visit. Some books that look interesting that I'll have to try to track down at the library: The Winter of our Discotheque by Andrew Beierle, Girls' Poker Night by Jill A. Davis, and Lamb by Christopher Moore, purporting to be the fifth gospel written by Jesus's buddy, Buzz. After poking around for a half hour, and resisting the temptation to buy more books, I'm back out on the street and heading for home.

While walking back through the Union Square plaza, I notice the square stone tiles and am immediately reminded of the time Brad organized human chess at MIT. I wonder how hard it would be to put together a game here without getting the cops annoyed.

I hop a bus for the last stretch from Market Street to my office, since I've walked that section many times from BART, and there's not a lot to see, especially at night.

I don't really have any deep insights or anything about San Francisco. But it felt good to get out and see people going about their lives. It's too easy to fall into a rut and go to work, go home, watch TV, go to sleep. I need to do more things like this to remind myself of the wider world and the variety of people that inhabit it. Anyway. I've rambled on long enough.
posted by Dork Butt 12:13 AM

Monday, October 28, 2002

Last week, I saw a couple billboards for Red Bull's Flug Tag SF, which looked intriguing enough for me to go check out the website. Basically, they put up a 30-foot ramp next to the bay, and invited people to launch human-powered vehicles off of it, and judged the results based on distance flown, creativity and style. After I looked at some of the entries, I thought that these guys were insane, and that I had to attend. So I did.

It was pretty damn cool. I took pictures, but they turned out terribly, so you'll just have to deal with my prose description.

So they took a boat and pulled it up to the pier, and that was the launch pad. The deck was about 30 feet above water. Groups would launch their contraptions off the end into the water, and folks on jetskis with sleds behind would zip in to snag the people out of the water and back to shore. Then the crane on the ship would come in and pick the contraption up out of the water and back to shore. Pretty neat operation.

Of the machines themselves, the one I liked the best for sheer audacity was El Torro Guapo, where a guy dressed himself up as a bull and lay down on a skateboard. His team put a ramp up at the end of the deck. A ramp with two posts attached to its corners. Attached to the posts were what looked like three sets of surgical tubing taped together. Yes, that's right, they built a monster-ass funnelator. He lay down on the skateboard, hooked the skateboard to the tubing, and then four guys grabbed ropes from the skateboard and pulled backwards. About 50 feet or something - half the length of the deck. Then they let go. The skateboard shot forward, hit the ramp, and launched. I'm pretty sure the guy went further than anybody else all day. It was pretty sweet.

The other one that I liked for style purposes was "Flying Toast". They built an enormous toaster, with two pieces of bread sticking out the top. Brought it up to the middle of the deck, depressed the handle to put the toast into the toaster. Then a guy climbed into the toaster from the top. At this point, everybody's speculating whether the toaster is going to be shoved off the edge and the toast will pop out? Then it all became clear as they lay the toaster down on its side, with the top pointing towards the launch area, and the toast turned out to be a biplane-type design, and the guy ran out pushing it and launched. It actually had reasonably decent glide time. Plus it looked cool.

Most of the contraptions were pushed by a bunch of people, hit the edge, flipped over and into the water. Pretty lame.

Oh, the other design I liked was an inclined ramp placed at the edge of the deck. A guy lay down on the ramp and held onto a rope. Two guys stood at the front of the ramp. They each grabbed a rope and jumped off the edge, launching the laying-down guy behind them. It was cute :)

Fun day. Couple hours in the sun, lots of stupid contraptions, it's all good.
posted by Dork Butt 11:06 PM

A couple weeks ago (Friday, Oct. 11 to be exact), I saw a really cool show at Spanganga, featuring two astonishing beat-boxers, Yuri Lane, and Andrew Chaikin. I started following Andrew when he was the drummer for the House Jacks, and I heard about this show through his mailing list. This was the first time I'd seen Yuri, and he was absolutely amazing. I really enjoyed Soundtrack City, his signature piece describing a walk through SF, punctuated by all the different music (internal and external) of the people that he meets. I think we only saw an excerpt, but if I ever get the chance to see the whole thing, I'm definitely going. Very cool stuff. In fact, my friends from Boston, who were visiting that weekend and who I'd dragged along because I really wanted to see the show, thought I was really cool just for knowing about the show :)
posted by Dork Butt 10:45 PM

Sunday, September 22, 2002

I saw Spirited Away at a free midnight showing last night at the Piedmont Theater last night. Midnight movies are a great concept, I've decided. Last week, I saw The Princess Bride at a midnight showing in Palo Alto, which was a total hoot because the theater was packed with people who loved the movie, so there was wild cheering at the conclusion of fights, and if you listened, you could hear many people chanting the lines in unison with the movie. It was just more fun to see it with a whole crowd of psyched people, and the same was true for Spirited Away last night. The same is true for seeing movies opening night - everybody there is totally psyched for the movie, or they wouldn't be there. It creates a vibe that makes the movie far more enjoyable. Anyway.
posted by Dork Butt 9:58 AM

Friday, September 13, 2002

Neat little event today. At lunchtime, there was a free jazz concert at nearby Yerba Buena Gardens. Free concerts are always good, so I brought my lunch and stopped by. It was overcast to start, but the clouds blew away, and by the end of the hour-long set, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. People were out and enjoying the weather and the music, and it was a mini-festival in the city. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so no pictures. Eit.

Oh, in case you don't check out the home page, check out my New Zealand travelogue page.
posted by Dork Butt 11:07 PM

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Today was the Berkeley Kite Festival. Lots and lots of fun. Check out the thumbnail page I made. Highlights include the three kites being single-handedly flown by world champion kite flyer Ray Bethell, and the attempt to launch a set of 259 stacked kites, something they tried three times, but on the third time, the lines broke so they had to give up. Lots of fun.
posted by Dork Butt 6:27 PM

Friday, July 26, 2002

Yesterday, one of my co-workers invited me to go out to a Peruvian restaurant he'd heard about in the Mission (Limon, on 17th near Mission). Sounded interesting, so I went. We got there, and found out that it was the night of the Grand Opening party! So they were handing out sangria, and wonderful appetizers, and there was a massive crush of people that spilled out onto the sidewalk. It was crazy! Everybody knew each other or one of the owners, except us, who'd just stumbled in looking for some food. The place looked nice, too - the bits of food we had were yummy, and the decor was well-done. We eventually had to leave, though, because they weren't serving dinner as such and we were getting hungry. Ah well. Wacky experiences in the city...
posted by Dork Butt 7:42 AM

Monday, July 08, 2002

I started using blogger while experimenting with another website, and it was incredibly convenient and easy to use. So when I decided to add a weblog component to my normal webpage, it was obviously the way to go.


Mostly decided to do this to have a place to put up randomly cool links that I get in the mail. Such as Mathematical Lego Sculptures, which I received yesterday.

It's also a place to drop random interesting things I have done recently. Like go see Notorious C.H.O., a movie of Margaret Cho's most recent one-woman show. She goes way past the point that is comfortable, but she's really funny, and I can't help but respect anybody who is that open. Plus, her impressions of her Korean mother are amazing.
posted by Dork Butt 10:20 PM

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