San Francisco Aquarium Society

B08As a little kid I loved pets. We had a dog when I was a baby, but while he was very protective of me he also saw me as competition so we could be left in the same room together. Once our dog was gone my parents decided to get me more kid friendly pets. A hamster wasn’t good enough for me so my parents got me a golden-mantled ground squirrel. Not the most kid friendly pet, but it was fun to have and show off to my friends. They’re classified as wild animals now so they aren’t legal anymore, but “sniffles” was as cute as a button.

One birthday I got an aquarium and discovered I was hooked. Back in the late 60’s there wasn’t that much in the way of aquariums and the fish you had to choose from were always few and far between. Back then we didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to put goldfish in with angelfish [goldfish like colder water and angelfish were tropical water dwellers]. My first aquarium was one of those awful 10 gallons with the metal frame and we always ran into problems with it like when my mother put a decorative sea shell in a freshwater tank [bad because the mostly South American fish like soft water and the calcium in the shell leaches out and makes it hard]. So eventually we gave up and the aquarium was stored away.

A few years go by and I decide I wanted to try an aquarium again and I got a brand new set up with an outside hang on the back filter instead of the garbage undergravel filter I had before. Then something magical happened. I decided to buy fancy guppies. These were really colorful fish that one day did something I had never scene before—I saw baby guppies! and then the dollar signs started to go off in my head. I got a smaller 5 gallon tank and would scoop the babies out to grown them up safely away from their parents who would make a meal out of them. Pretty soon I was turning them in at the local fish store for credit and my hobby was paying for itself. This lasted for several years and I wanted more, so I moved up to a 20 gallon tank. I think by now I had about 5 tanks running and I had a hatcher for brine shrimp eggs to feed and bulk up the babies with live food. For those of you who don’t know what brine shrimp are think of the Sea Monkeys you might of had as a kid. So here I am in my late teens with 5 fish tanks, I should have just stamped geek on my forehead, but I was still able to attract pretty girls who liked to look at the fish in my darkened bedroom [“Eric! why are the lights off in the your bedroom!” “We’re just watching the fish mom!”] That line worked everytime.

Then one day I was in the now closed Nippon fish store and I saw a little flyer talking about the San Francisco Aquarium Society. Cool! There are other fish geeks like me who like to get together once a month and well, be bigger geeks. So I went to my first meeting at the California Academy of Sciences. There were maybe 25 people there and I have no idea what the talk was about, but it was about some fish I had never heard of. At the end after lecture they served refreshments and had a raffle. These guys actually got manufacturers and local stores to donate goods for promotion. I spent $5 on the 25¢ tickets and came home with a bundle.

Then came the big part—The raffle. OMG, I was seeing fish I had never even heard of before and it was the people in the club who were breeding them. Gee, you can breed more than guppies? I was hooked and joined that night. I received their first newsletter, Panorama and it was well, not that great. Good information, but it could have looked a lot better. So me needing an excuse to better learn page layout and graphic design redid that newsletter and brought a copy to the next meeting. I showed it to one of the members of the Board of Directors who’s jaw dropped. He asked if he could have this and I said sure thing and I offered to do the layout for the newsletter. At my third meeting I was asked to be the publisher of Panorama. I asked who the next guest was going to be and after I found out I went home and laid out some quarter sheet flyers and called my new friend on the board and told him, “Hey Jeff, I have something to show you.” Again, his jaw dropped. He took the copy and within a few days I started to notice them showing up in stores around the Bay Area.

I was suddenly becoming the buzz of the SFAS. I gave them a vision and a professional look. After being a member for one year a spot opened up on the BoD and I was asked if I would be interested. Hell yeah I was interested. I now had a chance to bring about change and learn more about the hobby. After being on the BoD for a year I was then asked to become the Program Chairman. I think this was mostly because I immersed myself in the hobby and was on the forefront of this new thing social network called Compuserve and it’s forum FishNET that I had the resources. Now I was bringing in guest speakers from all over the country even some from Germany where they were on the forefront. The SFAS started to grow with my new found marketing skills and had outgrown the little conference room and had to move into the auditorium. By year 3 or 4 on the BoD, I was nominated for President. I got elected and things really took off. We grew from just under 50 members when I joined to over 500 members and now I was even giving talks about my experience with new Dutch Plant Tanks. The limit for President was two years and I had to step down after that. After the new President served for a year some of the board members were asking me to come back again. So I did and served as President for another two years. During this time something strange started to happen. I was asked to be on a few PBS shows and I was interviewed by newspapers because keeping fish tanks had taken off like wildfire through the work of promoting the club that the BoD and the members had done. People would stop me on the streets and say, “hey you’re that fish guy”. At the time I had hair almost down to my waist, I was hanging out in the new Metal scene and I was totally dressed as a rocker at the meetings. I was trying to get a new band started, but was having trouble. I wanted to be a rockstar and in a sense I was, amongst the fish geeks. That may not seem like much, but at the time I had managed to turn the words “fish geek” into something that was cool, not dorky. Literally where ever I would go people were recognizing me. I was down at the  Monterey Bay Aquarium and people were walking up to me. I was visiting the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and in talking to one of the people who was a biologist there I ended up getting a behind the scenes tour. My name had made it as far as the London Aquarium where I was also given a behind the scenes tour and taken to lunch.

Then as my two years were coming to a close and I had to step down a horrible thought entered my head. I made this club so noticeable because of my rockstar image would it hold up when I stepped down? I decided the find the best person for the job and get behind them and help them along. It seemed to work with me advising the new President for the two years he ran the club and we were invited to a few galas at the Steinhardht Aquarium by the Director of the Aquarium. When it was time for then President John to step down I thought about it. The SFAS has been in existence since 1932 and I only helped it out for 8 years of that time. They’ll be fine if I walk away. My life had changed a lot and I didn’t really have time for the club so I left. Not much of a problem since I was given a life membership and made an ex officio member of the BoD. I lost touch for awhile and then found out the truth—I was right. The club had shrunk down to the point that they don’t even have the required 13 board members. They no longer meet at the California Academy of Sciences and I’m starting to get calls from some of the old board members who also left and now are thinking of getting the old gang back together.

This was a great club and it still has the potential to be a great club. There are still members who have made contributions to the hobby by breeding new strains of fish, such as Dick Au and his German Blue Rams and Blue Angelfish. If you want to learn more about keeping fish properly and also be able to find some fish that you’ll never see in stores, then I suggest you check them out at, and maybe, just maybe we can get some of the old gang together to bring it back to what it used to be.

Big Boy Pete

Big Boy Pete himself
Big Boy Pete himself

You may not know that name at first, but Big Boy Pete, or Peter Miller is a rock and roll legend in San Francisco. His old studio underneath a cottage house behind a duplex on Union Street was THE place for the punk scene and early metal scene bands of San Francisco to record. I can’t exactly remember how I met him, but my then drummer had met him, maybe recorded there and invited me over one day.

We hit it off and I became his go to guy when he had computer problems. I still am as a matter of fact. I was also studying audio recording so having a new friend with a then 16 track studio was a good thing to have.

Peter is a member of the rock and roll hall of fame who started his career with a band in England called the Offbeats in the late 50’s. They recorded one EP and then he was offered a job by the band Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers. Unfortunately since there were three band members named Pete already he was given the name “Buzz”. Being the lead guitarist for the Jaywalkers really started to bolster his career. You’ve heard of 6°’s of separation, right? Knowing Pete has turned that into about 3° of separation for me. In the many days I spent over at Peter’s studio I was amazed at who he called friends. The Jaywalkers played the Cavern Club opening for the Beatles and the Stones. David Bowie was his roomate in London. The Beatles liked the Jaywalkers so much that they were asked to be the opening act on the Beatles Beatlemania tour. At first I wasn’t sure I could believe him or if this was just some crap he concocted to impress me. Then he pointed out something on his wall that he still has framed there today.

Keith and Peter

Holy Sh*t! He and Keith Richards [long before Keith started snorting his dad’s ashes] were interviewed about what guitars they liked. He really wasn’t kidding. He even had pictures of him in the cavern club so this guy was for real.

I spent many years hanging out at his studio watching him work and learning how to do it. I was taught by John Barsotti at SFSU, who is also a great engineer in his own right, but getting another person’s way of doing things was even better. Peter’s studio had some very vintage equipment that I had heard of, but never got a chance to touch.

Pretty soon I had impressed him enough that he let me actually touch the equipment and I was able to do a couple of recordings at his studio. I was sitting in on Attitude Adjustment recording their first album and Peter had to take care of something and asked me to take over. Leaving me alone in a studio for the first time was nerve wracking, but I pulled it off. That gave me confidence enough to suggest to the band I was managing at the time, Sick Minded to record their demo there. This time I was in full control and their demo got them to the point where labels where starting to take interest in them. These were the days prior to digital recording so we had to use very expensive fat 2″ analog tape running at 30ips so for $200 you get about 15 minutes of recording. Pete knew I didn’t have a lot of cash so he’d always lend me a 2″ tape as long as I bought the 1/4″ tape for the mix down. Peter also was working on a home study course for people like me who wanted to learn, but didn’t have the bucks to afford to do it right. He had almost everything together and then boom! MIDI came along which meant computers were involved and me being on top of MIDI, Peter turned to me and asked me to help him out with the MIDI section of his course.

Cavern Club

When a member of the rock and roll hall of fame and the founder of British psychedelia asked you to be a part of their work you think I’m going to say no? I jumped at the chance in a heartbeat and helped him with the written part and then added my own voiceover to the accompanied CD.

Let’s just say that Peter is a few years older than me, but being a good friend he’s taught me a lot. The first thing is never give up on rock and roll. The second is never sell your music rights. The third and most important is never compromise by letting someone else tell you what to do.

That’s part of the reason he’s here in the US today. He was being pressured by his record company to be someone he wasn’t and didn’t want to be so basically told Polydor his record label to stuff it with the song Nasty Nazi. Keep in mind this song was written in the mid 60’s and those aren’t radio oriented lyrics in the song. The Union Street studio is gone now and he’s moved to a bigger place with a nicer studio [fully stocked bar in the control room…bonus points!]

If you’ve found a bit of inspiration from this and want more you can visit him at or if you’re interested in learning about the proper way to record music and want to take his course visit

OK Pete, time to cue the outro music: Baby I’ve Got News For You

Are San Franciscan’s smug?

smug.JPGThere’s a podcast I occasionally give a listen to that is from Minnesota where the podcasters talk about sex. Sometimes it’s mildly amusing at other times they’re downright insulting sex nazis. On one of the recent podcasts one of the members said she’d like to move to San Francisco because of how open minded we are sexually. Then one of the other members made a comment that she’d have to be able to afford $7000 a month for rent and that the people here are smug.

Obviously this person has never been to San Francisco. Yes, rent is high here. Probably some of the highest in the US, but you can find deals if you look hard. The smug comment though got to me even more. I think with the economy crash all the techie yuppies that put the smug in San Francisco left to be smug somewhere else. They occupied only a small part of the city as well. If you travel out to some of the other parts of the city you find real community in the people who live there. I used to live west of Sunset Boulevard near Judah Street. Once you go west of Sunset the entire vibe changes. Everyone’s a little more laid back and relaxed. The people who run the stores and restaurants out there know your name and you know your neighbors as well. We all had something in common out there. We learned to tolerate the fog for the few days of beautiful sunshine we’d get by the beach. Over the years I’ve noticed that for some reason the Sunset is getting more sun and less fog which is a good reason for me to have stayed here.

We’re all good people here and I think it would be best to leave the smugness to the people outside San Francisco who like to look down on us even though they act like us or want to act like us. What do you think?

Packaged food that doesn’t suck!

macaronigrill1Being a foodie type of guy I’m not supposed to like stuff that comes out of a package because it’s not artisanal, small farm, organicaly grown eats. Well I had a surprise last night. My lovely wife had been sent free samples of Romano’s Macaroni Grill Chicken Picatta and we just happened to have our noon argument about what we would have for dinner and in the end we decided to give it a try.

Now being Italian I know Italian food. I was figuring this might be passable and most likely better than hamburger helper which I refuse to allow in my house for a second. This really surprised me though. First off they thought about the ingredients and used good ingredients that you can taste the difference in. Plus, you have to add your own chicken and actually cook it on the stove first so not being a stick in the microwave and walk away wasn’t in the picture. It’s basically the pasta and sauce and coating for the chicken. I made it in about 20 minutes which also gave me some time to steam some fresh Italian green beans from the local farmers market (small farm, organicaly grown so there’s the snooty foodie part) while my wife made a salad.

When it was ready and we plated it up I did notice there was sauce in the pan that the box didn’t say anything about pouring over the pasta, so I took it upon myself to sauce up the pasta with it. It was great and it was easy to make and I didn’t have to act like Emeril Lagasse and make all of the ingredients by hand while raising the chickens. The box also suggests that you could use shrimp instead of chicken, but this would go well with just about any kind of meat you wanted to throw at it (venison picatta anyone?) For the ease and price ($4.99) this was a dish that you could tell people was homemade and they wouldn’t know the difference. It’s nice to have on hand and the four different flavors give you good variations to riff on when you’ve got some meat, but don’t know what to make with it.

Flat Iron Steak…the ultimate piece of meat

mmm mmm good!

I had tried this many years ago when an old acquaintance of mine Chef Bruce Hill was the head chef at Oritalia. It’s a funny piece of meat that butchers loved, but they didn’t sell it to the general public because of a fat line of gristle that runs lengthwise through the meat.

Now apparently it’s showing up in stores at around $2.99 a pound. This is a good thing in our current economy since it makes meat more affordable than most cheeses. The trick with this meat is to tenderize it and marinade it. I sprinkle on some Adolph’s meat tenderizer and use my little meat torture implement that has several spikes in it to cut in and loosen up the meat. Then I’ll choose a good marinade from the store to let it soak in for a few hours if not over night.

Keep in mind that this is an easy, inexpensive piece of meat to work with, yet it’s showing up at some of the top restaurants in Las Vegas with top dollar prices. I suppose this might be because restaurants are finding a good piece of meat no one knows about that costs less than flank or skirt steak.

Now this meat is well marbled so the fat will melt out when you drop it on the grill, and I highly recommend you do grill it. I usually do 5 minutes per side with about a 5 minute rest period after. Slice it on an angle (you might hear some people call this a bias cut) and you can serve 4 people for 2 days on a $5-6 piece of meat. I like to use my chimichuri sauce as a final dressing (note my picture), but you can just serve it plain and be happy. It’s very tender like a filet mignon, but meaty in flavor and it works great if you’re having a big grill party since it won’t drain your pocket.

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