I built an igloo and I liked it…

It’s the weekend so I’ll go off course for a bit.

When I was a young teenager I had a mentor, Mark who was working on a degree in Geochemistry. This meant he had to do a lot of field work and I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany him on a tree up north to Lassen Volcanic Park. He was studying hot springs and what better time to study them than in winter. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen hot springs in winter.

We traveled up to the Lassen ski resort and had to snow shoe about a mile to the Sulphur Works. As we pulled into the parking lot I saw wall of freshly ploughed snow and I got an idea. While we were staying in a hotel we still had a lot of stuff you would need when hiking up to the outback wilderness areas of Lassen. I have an idea I said because this wasn’t going to be a work only trip and i pull a saw out of the trunk and started cutting blocks of snow and piling them up. I can’t find a picture of it, but it looks a bit like the picture I included with this article. Being from San Francisco and not being a skier snow is a fascinating thing to me because I don’t see it. I haven’t seen snow in over 15 years and people look at be funny when I pick it up in my hand.

It was cold and a bit windy out, but we proceeded on and soon had a 10’x10′ igloo built. We crawled inside and found that without the wind hitting you we suddenly felt warmer. A few passers by stopped to take a look and we invited them in. People were surprised at how nice it felt inside a hand built tent of snow. Granted it wasn’t as nice as the ski lodge, but still it was better than standing out in the cold winter air.

We left the igloo and traveled up to the Sulphur Works. The heat of the hot springs had melted the snow all around it and air was surprisingly warm and humid. The strange part of the humid sulphur filled air is that it would freeze on your hair and create little icicles. The water in these springs has an almost unbearable stench and we spent a few hours testing the pH and temperature of the waters there. The smell of rotting eggs was heavy in the air, but when we finished we made our trek back and stopped at the lodge for some hot chocolate. As we walked back to the car we noticed that our abandoned igloo had remained untouched and that there was a beer cooler sitting out side. When we poked our heads in there were a couple of squatters who had taken over my igloo. I told them that I had built it a few hours ago and they were welcome to it.

I built an igloo once, and I liked it.

San Francisco Sourdough

While sourdough bread is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt, it’s claim to fame has become it’s association with San Francisco gold miners [the other 49er’s]. I think I was probably around 12 or so before I tasted a French bread that wasn’t made with sourdough. My family used it for everything.

Their brand of choice was the now defunct Larabaru bakery’s brand. The company is so defunct that you won’t even find their name turning up results in Google. I remember the first night I had French bread that wasn’t sourdough. It was at the SF Zoo on a member’s night back when non-profits really gave back to their members if only but once a year. They offered everyone who came chili with a french roll and butter. When I bit into the roll it didn’t have the sour taste and something changed in me. I realized how much I hated sourdough bread.

Yes, I have to admit that while be a born and raised San Franciscan who is living in the same house I grew up in, I hate sourdough bread. There are people who used to come to the  city just for the sourdough bread. They even had stands at the airport where you could buy it to take home with you. When there was any major event between competing cities the Mayor of San Francisco would always send sourdough bread and crab to competing city’s Mayor [ahem, not organic hot dogs, please take note Mayor Ed Lee].

Now for the few of you who don’t know what sourdough bread is, it’s basically bread made from old dough. In particular the dough has offered itself as a home for the bacteria Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Yes, it may have started with the Egyptians, but when someone found out what was making it sour it was named after San Francisco. Thanks, I think.

In order to continue to make sourdough bread you have to keep a little bit of the raw dough behind to make your next batch. This mother as they call it is the starter that every bakery has their own version of which dates back to opening of the bakery. I won’t go into all the chemistry of this because it will bore you to tears, but if you really interested you can check it out on Wikipedia.

I do still eat it every once in awhile though and it makes a particularly good combination with San Francisco’s clam chowder from Boudin Bakery. I might add that it is the only bakery I will purchase sourdough bread from. They started in San Francisco in 1849 and are still here. That something to say about a San Francisco company that old.

Enter The Dragon!

Gung Hay Fat Choi!

I wish all of my readers a very healthy, happy and prosperous Chinese New Year! I unfortunately will not be giving out any red envelopes other than the picture in today’s post. I wish all of us in San Francisco a prosperous new year and that the economy turns itself around and that the job market begins to work in our favor in the year of the Dragon.

Times have been tough for many of us and the year of the Dragon which we are now entering is the most auspicious year of the the 12 year Chinese astrological cycle. This will be a year of increased spending as it is considered to be good to have a child born during the year of the dragon.

If you have anything that you sell that would be useful to parents then this is the year to get started. While the parade itself won’t be until February 11th, today is officially declared a holiday in San Francisco  since my daughter has the day off from school.

My wife and I can never remember getting Chinese New Year off from school as a holiday and I haven’t heard a single firecracker go off in months. I have seen an uptick in the local neighborhood activity in the strongly Chinese-centric areas of the Sunset with Noriega between 33rd and 30th avenues being a place that has been more crowded than Chinatown over the past few days.

The traditional Chinese New Year Parade on the other hand has been scheduled for February 11th in San Francisco, so perhaps things will get busier around then. My the year of the dragon be prosperous for all of us!

iBooks Outrage!

So I have been reading some of the postings by techies about the fact that if you create a book with iBooks Author that you can only sell it through the iBookstore. Being a musician I figured I’d put my 2¢ worth in since I have an understanding of this.

If you want to distribute music that you’ve written and performed someone will want to take a cut of it unless you want to do it yourself and get a much smaller base. If you’re an author and write books the publisher will always take a cut. That’s just the way the world works. When you have something you want to distribute you can sell it on a street corner and hardly get much back, or you can have someone with the marketing backing behind them to put your work out there for the masses to find out about it and consume.

Why haven’t I heard these complaints previously from iOS app authors? If you want to write an app you first have to buy the tools so that you can get access to the system for writing the apps then when you release the app Apple will take a small percentage of your sales. Currently for iBooks, just as for music you sell through iTunes Apple takes 30% of the sales. Just to put this in perspective, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album gave 90% of the sales to the record company and only 10% to Michael himself.

This is a deal in comparison and I think people who haven’t had much contact with the media business need to understand this. Currently there are three formats you can release an eBook in, Apple’s iBook, PDF and Amazon’s [please correct me if I am wrong]. Now PDF’s are readable on any computer so you need no special device to read them on. You can read a PDF on an iOS device and I assume an Android just fine. You can even export from iBook Author to PDF, but the multimedia elements aren’t included.

Amazon’s format which is also used by the Barnes and Noble Nook is plain html and they take 50% of your selling price. There is no multimedia available in these eBooks as they are only words and pictures [black and white] on an ePage [I made that up, so can I have a trademark for being the first to use it?]. I just don’t think people realize that unless you’re going to cover all the marketing costs yourself and pound the pavement yourself, you’re not going to get the distribution you would through a company that will help you reach more people and will want a cut. Apple’s cut is pretty small compared to many others I’ve seen. I’ve had distribution offers for my music that the distributor has asked for a 40% cut. I go with iTunes because they only ask for 30%. That’s the cheapest distribution deal I’ve seen.

If you build it they will not come unless someone tells them that you’re there. Keep that in mind.

iBooks Author…Apple’s New Killer App?

I know, I’m supposed to be talking about San Francisco during the week, but after yesterday’s announcement by Apple I decided to write about our cousin, Cupertino and Apple.

I was excited today, but also a bit disappointed by the release of Apple’s new iBooks Author app for a number of reasons. I do think it was a good idea, but there are a few flaws that as I usually do, I’ll speak my mind on.

First off, the program has a very similar interface to Pages, Apple’s iWork word processor. It’s a decent word processor, but it’s no where near a page layout program like Adobe InDesign. What you can do from the provided six templates is very simple and nothing like what you see in the video Apple has on its website.

The multimedia effects are very cool that you can add into an iBook, but you need to have an eye for design or you’re just going to be tossing words on a page. This is great if you’re just trying to create something similar to a Kindle eBook, but the outrageous multimedia books in the video weren’t something your average home user could pull off in my opinion, at least not yet. You can do it, but you have to think more like a coder and designer than a writer, so there may be some additional work for me in the near future, since I do both.

Will it kill the textbook industry? I’d like to hope so because you can put more in your iPad at less weight than you can in your backpack which having a daughter now I’ve had a bit of problem reading about kids having to haul around 40+lbs of books for school. Electronic is also cheaper than a hardbound college textbook that you’re at the mercy of having to purchase so they inflate the price charging between $60-$100 for a book that in a few years will be outdated. I have only one book from my college years that is of any use to me today. As I said, I’d like to see it happen, but currently they only have about eight textbooks covering a range of subjects, so the publishers that Apple has partnered with should step it up now.

The other thing for people who want to publish a book is that first you need to own an iPad to preview it before you publish it and you also need to have that iPad tethered to your Mac. Our iPad is tethered to my wife’s Mac, so that means that any books I create as iBooks will now need to be copied over to her laptop to check them out before they’re released.

While some people think this will rock the textbook world, I’m thinking it’s more a gentle rumble. I remember when desktop publishing started and there was really  awful stuff produced for a few years until people figured out how to use it. Luckily that means that my daughter will be in second or third grade before it becomes more standard.


Last night at around 9:20 pm the Sunset District went dark, well at least parts of it did and in the darkness it gave me time to reflect. This doesn’t happen that often anymore, but we did used to see it happen every few months a couple of years ago. We prepared ourselves some time ago so we had the candles and LED lights ready to go.

For some reason the area of the Sunset that I live in seems prone to blackouts. I walked down to the corner and looked up and down and everything was dark. A block down they had power at the end of my block the next block had power so it seems to affect a portion of the Sunset between Pacheco and Rivera streets. I immediately pulled out my iPhone and jumped to twitter. I follow a lot of people in the Sunset District who also follow me so I figured someone else might have been hit by this.

Sadly there were only a few people affected, but we were in contact and tweeting back and forth about how to get the word out. I found out that @PGE4me if you tweet them they will tweet you back with status updates. I also learned that if the power didn’t come back on how set the alarm on my iPhone to wake me up without buzzing and beeping all night with it’s notifications. This is a good thing to know in the future.

The power came back on about an hour later and all was good. I did warm my neighbors who seem to be a bit techie that anything electronic and valuable they should unplug. I had my home theater unit blown when power came back a few years ago because of the power surge that came with it. Luckily I had unhooked everything that would be too expensive to replace and went about replugging it in after the power came back.

For some reason these outages happen only at night. There has been a few time when the power went out in the middle of the night and we overslept the next day because our alarms didn’t go off because the clocks had been reset, but those were rare. I did end up having to miss Anthony Bourdain’s layover in London and Hawaii 5-0, but for the most part they’re getting better and getting the power back. I’d just like to know why it’s always the Sunset District that gets hit with this and not other parts of the city.

White Folk On Welfare

I was watching the Daily Show with John Stewart the other night and he had a guest who mentioned something that sounded kind of shocking: The majority of people receiving food stamps [EBT or CalFresh as they’re called now] are White. If you’re White and horrified by what you just read don’t be. We can be poor without having to be White trash.

Sure all of us have run into hard times before, but to run into hard times where you have to ask the government for a hand out is not something Caucasians ever really think about. Nowadays, it’s doesn’t matter what color you are, po’ folk is po’ folk. Sometimes you need a little help and you have to ask for it.

My family it currently on the San Francisco Health Plan because we can’t afford nor do I qualify for insurance because of pre-existing conditions [I could get us on the HIPAA plans, but that would cost us $2500/month]. I’m glad that it’s an available option for San Franciscans and if you don’t have insurance you should look into it.

Putting food on the table when you aren’t making any or enough money is another story. I’ve looked into this and a family of three can get up to $526/month to feed themselves. Sure you can include the food banks if you’re heavy eaters, but there are things you can buy that go a long way that are cheaper.

CalWorks is San Francisco’s version of welfare and while it helps out it doesn’t very much. I did a little research and again, for a family of three you can get $695/month, but that cuts into your CalFresh money and cuts it down to $377/month.  So if you are able to collect unemployment you can get a little over $1000/month to feed and house a family of three. I went to a meeting just to check it out and CalWorks has a program called Welfare to Work where at least one of the members of the family has to attend a 40 hour a week job training service for a month. If you haven’t found a job by then, then you have to do it again.

If you’re someone like me who has a college degree and a high level of skills this program won’t work for you. The jobs they are offering are low paying and short term. Even more so it doesn’t work because you have to spend time learning how to get a job which you already know when you could be spending time doing freelance work. Even when you get a job, if it’s a contract position they don’t count that as a job so they tell you that they’ll cut your benefits if you don’t show up for the job training which you don’t need. In short the system is broken. They don’t know how to deal with middle class people who have a college degree and more skills than the person who is your job counselor who doesn’t speak English very well.

As I heard one of the people working there say, you don’t want to be on welfare because it only leaves you pissed off and poor. I seriously think they need to work on adding additional resources for helping skilled people find work instead of offering temporary part time minimum wage jobs just so they can check you off the list. That doesn’t solve the unemployment problem it just regenerates it.

Facial Recognition For A Facebook Stalker

I ran across a program the other day called FaceLook that after thinking about it is really kind of creepy. It let’s you take a picture of someone’s face and then the program goes on to mine all the pictures of Facebook with tags to identify the person.

Think about that for a second. There are currently over 800 million users of Facebook and they’re predicted to hit one billion by August 2012. That’s an awful lot of people out there that a $1.99 app can look through. If you haven’t done so you might want to think about changing your privacy settings of your photos so that only friends can see them unless you want people to find out who you are and possibly start stalking you.

If you own a Mac and have iPhoto installed that has facial recognition built in that gets better the more you use it, but that’s different because you keep those photos to yourself [until the entrance of iCloud]. Now I don’t know this for sure, but [time for the tin foil hat] what if someone hacked into Apple’s iCloud or the government is allowed access to it?

iOS and Android devices just keep getting better and better as time goes on and the software people are writing for them is as well. We’ve got 8 megapixel cameras going into these little phones now and they shoot 720p video as well. I’ve been amazed at the quality of the video I’ve shot with my iPhone. Especially when I’m in a good position to hold it still enough.

They’ve already got an app called Action Movie that adds wickedly cool effects into movies shot on the iPhone or iPad that look very realistic [Car Smash and Missle Attack are my favorites]. So you never know what’s possible. Man was sent to the moon using a room full of computers that were slower and dumber than a smartphone. Now we throw birds at pigs. What will be possible in the future my scare you more than what’s out there to scare you today.

Burying The Hatchet With The Bay Bridge

As I have written before I’ve always disliked the Bay Bridge mostly for the part about it being easy to get out of the city, but hard to get back in. I have had to wait close to an hour on some weekends because of the back ups. Well things have changed a bit now.

Now that I have Fastrak, it’s a little bit easier. I got a task from TaskRabbit that I thought was virtual, but turned out that I had to drive to Berkeley. Crap, I’ve got to drive the bridge. Well the task went quickly and my gracious task master gave me the added bonus of a tip of over five pounds of homemade chocolate, but that’s for another article.

So there I am during the week driving home at about 4 pm and I see the traffic starting to slow down a bit. OK, here it comes. Actually, wait, why’s everyone getting out of my lane? Apparently people who travel to the East Bay for some reason don’t believe in Fastrak. I was in an empty Fastrak lane and breezed through unhindered.

It was actually, well, kind of nice. It almost reminded me of my daily crossings of the Golden Gate Bridge, just a whole lot longer. I may actually have reasons to visit the East Bay every once in while. If you don’t have Fastrak I suggest you get it. It saves you time and money and you only have to put $25 on it to start. It work not having the hassle of the slow downs to pull out your cash.


Is Rose Pak Racist?

Rose has been getting a lot of attention lately in her support for our Mayor Ed Lee. She may need to to think before she speaks though. She was quoted as saying, I want to help MY community. To me that is wrong. It’s about THE community not a person’s racial community. If I were to say oh, I don’t know, I want to support the white people then someone would invoke Godwin’s Law and link me with Hitler and the KKK.

Rose Pak, the Chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is fighting to help her people in Chinatown. I respect that. Chinatown needs help. It’s broken down in many places and needs a big upgrade, but at the same time to focus on a very small group of people who have very little political clout [not Klout] her efforts sound a bit like Don Quixote. If you want to get the Chinese vote in San Francisco, you have to get out of Chinatown where there are very few registered voters. If you want the Chinese vote you need to go places like the Richmond or the Sunset District. THAT is where the Chinese voters are.

This is actually beside the point. Rose Pak’s work to me is dividing San Francisco. There is no political person of another race in San Francisco who is trying to give political power to their race other than Rose Pak. OK, she’s friends with Willie Brown, but that’s from a political perspective. I have yet to hear about Rose and Willie having a meet up that didn’t involve tea and Chinese food. Rose has been referred to by many as the Iron Queen of Chinese Politics. That’s fine if you’re in China, but she’s not. She’s in San Francisco which is a part of America and in my mind we should all be American’s first and what other culture you’ve come from second.

I learned this when talking to a friend from Ireland. I told him I was Italian and Austrian and he said, I thought you were American? Well I am, but my family came from Italy and Austria, granted that was a couple of hundred years ago and I can barely speak German and my Italian is atrocious. I do like spaghetti and spaetzle, but I also like to eat a burrito or Indian food and I don’t focus on the color of a person’s skin unless that’s their only motivation for getting up in the morning.

Rose would do best to help THE community of San Francisco than to just focus on the Chinese. Chinese already make up 33% of San Francisco’s population. I think you’ve done a good job, now it’s time to move on work on helping the other 67%.