Winter In San Francisco

It looks like winter has finally arrived in San Francisco. Winter here is different that in other parts of the country. We don’t get snow [well maybe every 30 years we get an inch], we don’t get ice, we don’t get below zero temperatures, but for some reason you are freezing when it’s 60° outside. It’s a different kind of cold. It’s a very wet cold that soak through to the bone and there are a few things you have to keep in mind.

If you have a fireplace check to see if you can close the flu. I have to do that today because even though we have our fireplace blocked off with our daughter’s toys I was still gettiing hit by 50-60 mph wind gusts blowing down the chimney and around the boxy toys blocking the fireplace. Make sure the windows are closed because cold air will blow in and if have your heater on it’s just sucking the heat out the window. If you have gas heating, use it. It’s cheap compared to electric space heaters and will keep your PG&E costs down. It will also warm the whole house and not just a room. Don’t use your fireplace, especially if you’ve closed the flue as it will heat only the one room and might flow over a bit to a closer room. Things like this will make your home life more comfortable. It’s also more eco-friendly not to use your fireplace.

When you have to leave your house, always bring a small umbrella. It might be clear when you leave, but an hour into it you’ll be hit by a downpour. You’ll also have to make sure you wear layers just the rest of the year, but it’ll be time to pull out the sweaters and other long sleeve shirts. Think of how the people dress on the TV shows in New York. You’ll want that. You might sweat a bit on your way in, but trust me, you’ll be warm.

If you’re one of the lucky few that gets to drive into work you’ve got another thing to deal with and that is the manhole covers on hills. I haven’t been out today, but I’m sure with the rain that’s been coming down that we have a few manhole covers being lifted up by too much water and flooding the streets as it rolls down the hill. You won’t need to sandbag your house if you live in an area like this unless it’s a heavy downpour and you live in the downward corner houses. The streets are also not very even so you’ll get puddle build up especially near corner drains that get blocked with pine needles and leaves being blown off the trees. I would suggest you keep to the middle lanes when driving. I remember a horrible experience I had when driving in San Rafael one winter where I was driving and underpass and saw a line of water all the way across and thought to myself…PUDDLE JUMPING TIME! Turns out as I speed up the water was over three feet deep and spewed everywhere soaking my engine and stalling out my car. Luckily I had time to get off to the side, but this was before cell phones so I just put on my blinkers and luckily a tow truck came by and took my AAA card and helped me out.

Another thing you’ll need to think about is power outages. Even in San Francisco where it gets wet and windy, but not as bad as the North Bay we get power outages. If it happens after you go to bed then your alarm doesn’t go off and you’re late for work. You’ll get up and have no power to cook yourself breakfast unless you’ve got a gas stove [we don’t]. It helps to have one of those butane burners on hand if the powers out for awhile. Don’t open your refrigerator or freezer very often to make sure you keep things cold. The frozen stuff will stay frozen for a day or so, but your refrigerator might get warm because it’s used more often within 12 hours. It’s also nice to have an old style oil burning lamp. I have my grandmothers for when we’re sitting in a room together, but we also have several rechargeable very bright lights that will last for 12 hours we can carry around with us. It’s kind of interesting showering and shaving in the dark with nothing but a bright LED light to brighten the room. We also have a gas grill outside that we can cook on if it’s not a downpour. If it is we should think about getting an awning to cover it.

If you need to kill time hopefully your iPhone/iPad/Tablet/SmartPhone has 3G or 4G that can pick up a connection. I learned how to turn my iPhone into an alarm clock with out it buzzing with every email or tweet I get. Just be careful that you don’t overuse your time or you’ll have to pay big time. I always kind of liked the quite during a power outage. It just makes me feel like I’m not being attacked by electrical energy from all the devices in the house. The power outages only last about four hours, usually less unless it’s an earthquake then it could be 12 hours without power. I have some friends who own a Victorian they restored to its original form so if they get a power outage they light the gas ceiling lamps and are fine. Most of their appliances are gas powered which saves them money and keeps them going during a blackout. Just a little something to think about.

Yes, winter is the magical time of Christmas, but there’s nothing magical about living in a freezing house or working in a freezing office. I do like coming home from work and opening the door and feeling heat hit my face. To me that’s the magical part of winter for me.

FinGate 2.0: Leland Yee

First off, I’d like to start by saying I haven’t seen FinGate anywhere before, so if any other news group uses the term I request that they use my name and a link back to this sight.

Now, onto the story. Last week Leland Yee proclaimed that the elimination of shark fin soup as an attack on ancient Chinese culture. The next day he held a conference serving shark fin soup to the media to show how wonderful and delicious it is.

Then apparently, Leland remembered how environmentally friendly the people of San Francisco Bay Area are. He sent out a rather waffly sounding email that says that while he condemns the finning of sharks, he opposes the ban on shark fins.

Well, I’ve done a little research and here’s a few things I’ve found:

  1. The industry that is involved with shark fishing that uses the entire shark does not supply enough fins to feed the shark fin soup lovers. Shark meat is rarely sold outside the Asian marketplace.
  2. While checking the DNA of shark fins available in San Francisco and Los Angeles more than half of the fins belonged to endangered sharks.
  3. While many other countries fish for sharks or use the finning method that California is trying to outlaw, the majority of all shark meat and all of the fins are sold to China and other Chinese markets
  4. According to research done by SharkWater, 100 million sharks  are finned yearly to supply the Chinese demand for shark fin soup and it’s use in Chinese cures.
  5. The finning of sharks is an unsustainable form of fishing with shark populations dropping severely around the world leaving the seas in an unbalanced state. According to a 2009 study shark populations have dropped 50%-75% due to shark finning. Some species have dropped by 90% in population over the past 20 years.
  6. 87 Countries exported their shark fin catch to Hong Kong and the USA in 2008. Not one kept a shark fin for their own consumption.
  7. Shark meat contains the highest level of mercury found in fish, well above the recommendations of the FDA.
  8. The health claims by Chinese that shark products can increase male vigor and prevent cancer have been proven to be the exact opposite. The high levels of mercury found in shark meat can cause impotence, sterility and cancer.
  9. Costco does not sell shark meat contrary to Leland Yee’s statement. Shark meat is loaded with uric acid and is quite smelly and unappealing and must be soaked for at least a day to leach the urine smell from its flesh.

Is eight reasons enough or need I say more? Apparently while my site is focused on San Francisco and has the most readers here I received a letter from a Shelly Cole in North Carolina:

Hi Eric,

My name is Shelly Cole and I live in Greensboro, NC….Tonight while perusing the net I ran across your blog from 2/16, “Waiter!  There’s a Shark Fin in My Soup!” .  Great blog!  Very well written.  I decided to check out Mr. Yee a bit to see who his is.  I despise hypocrisy!  My number one pet peeve is to be lied to!  I just can’t stand it.  If you lie to me…we’re done….or you at least better be hoping that we have a relationship that goes back for MANY MANY years.  You certainly won’t be trusted again any time soon, but you might not get booted out the door.  ‘Course…if you lied to me….you just might not care if you get booted out or not…

Anyway, after going to Mr. Yee’s sight, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  The hypocrisy!  AAAAGGHHH!!  So I decided to send him a note.  I thought you might be interested in reading it.  Not that I claim to write as well as you, but I hope he actually sees it and that I conveyed the point home to him in such a way that he not only gets it, but that he NEVER FORGETS IT!!  I copied your blog into the email so he’d know what he was getting creamed for, in the event that he hadn’t read your blog.  I intentionally left out the part of who wrote the blog, the name of the blog, or the blogs url.  If he hadn’t read it and then didn’t like it, I was sure how you would feel about unwanted/unsolicited attention that it might garner you from him or from his camp.  I hope you don’t mind my small attempt at “protecting” you.  I doubt I’ll hear back from him, but if I do and he wants to know who the blogger was and you want me to tell him, I’ll be happy to do so.  If you don’t want me to tell him….he’ll never hear it from me…..  😉

I was really very angry with him after having read both  his statement and your blog.  So….I let him know about it….

Shelly Cole
Greensboro, NC

Thank you Shelly, I think Leland knows about me by now. 🙂 Apparently this is bothering more people than those in the SF Bay Area and they’re speaking up about it [keep in mind my site is read by people in over 100 countries around the world.] I also learned that in the heavily Asian populated state of Hawaii that they have banned the preparation, selling and serving of shark fin soup. Apparently Hawaii doesn’t have as much problem with an ancient Chinese cultural tradition as other people do.

I’ve noticed that no one has really been talking about the taste until my friend Danielle sent me a comment:

I’ve had shark fin soup. It’s pretty gross. And the thought of where it comes from and how it’s obtained makes it even less appealing. From what I recall… the broth was fishy, but not overwhelmingly so. The fin parts have no taste on their own, and we had the shredded kind (they come in shredded and whole form), so the texture kinda reminded me of very short, very very thin (like rice vermicelli, maybe), yet overcooked, noodles.

Just so you all know, Danielle is not Chinese, but Filipino, a culture that has a very strong connection to eating fish [I won’t hold durian against her though. Hell, I wouldn’t hold a durian against anyone, but fruit doesn’t feel pain when you cut into it at least.]

The UK based group Shark Trust had an interesting article with lots of information on the shark fin trade as well a letter from Chef Gordon Ramsay who, like him or not was appalled to find out about shark finning. This site also provides lots of information to use if you want to be so bold and approach a Chinese restaurant that serves shark fin soup.

None of this is an attack on the Chinese population, it is an attack on a practice not a people, that is reprehensible and is destroying our ocean’s food chain. China has had many cultural traditions that they have tossed aside as being barbaric. If I remember correctly, the British stopped beheading and draw and quartering criminals a few centuries ago, yet that was a cultural tradition. The Romans [Italians] as a cultural tradition fed slaves to lions to amuse the poor, but that as well is gone. So why not add shark fin soup to the list. The only reason that Chinese feel they are targeted is because they are the only one’s that eat it and total of the finning trade supplies China and Chinese markets around the world [if the country allows them to serve it of course.]

Leland Yee, please follow the links here and read the information. Perhaps you could find some way to progress and show your wealth and abundance, not by eating the fins of barbarically captured fish that is toxic to consume and instead show your wealth by giving back to the people. I believe that is a finer tradition to embrace.

Other Avenues, Health Food for the New Millennium

Other Avenues is the store that served as the foundation for the redevelopment of the “outside lands” at the foot of Judah. Yes, there’s Java Beach at the very end which is another part of the community out there, but it all started with the new millenium when Other Avenues gave itself a make over. My wife and I used to live near here so it was a short walk to see what they had. Before the make over it was an ok place, not great, the produce was a little on the sad side, but after the redo you can see it’s really a bit of a community center piece.

I stopped in today because my daughter has a cold and we found their “Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup” does the trick and it’s all natural. I started to have a walk around because I hadn’t been there in awhile. I’ll have to say I forgot about what a treasure this place is. It started as a co-op, but has now become a worker owned democratically run business.

Someone or several of the owners took a hard look at what they were selling and how they were selling it and made some great changes to the shop. Most of their products are locally produced and all of their products are aimed at the health conscious, no fillers, no preservatives crowd. You find a “dirty hippie” walking around or working here they’re all average people who want good food and maybe there’s a bit of a lean towards the alternative side with some of the people, but still they have good products. They have fresh cheeses, bulk products of flour, nuts, Dr. Bronner’s soaps that are cheaper because you bring in your own packaging and fill them up. Freshly made peanut butter is a standard here and it’s made in the shop too.

Don’t expect to find any meat here unless you consider tofu or seitan a meat product. They are wholly focused on vegetarian sustainable foods and they’re going a good job of it. I remember being in their one day and they had someone offering samples of seitan. I was really surprised, it does tastes and has the texture of chicken. It’s also the only place where I’ve found REAL wasabi. It is the ground up root of the japanese horseradish, not a mixture of horseradish and mustard that mainstream stores sell as wasabi. I’ll have to pick some up next time and surprise my wife [who never looks at this site so I can say that without worries.]

[mappress mapid=”26″]For all you home brewed DIY type people they have a wide selection of herbs and tinctures for you herbal medicine needs. They also have a large selection of organic chocolates and candies as well as some surprisingly tasty vegan brownies and cookies. If you like the idea of eating health, organic, sustainable foods you should definitely visit this place.

California Academy of Sciences: Praise and Rants

I’ve been going to the California Academy of Sciences since I was a little kid. I’m talking before I could walk and I loved the old place. There was tons of things to do and see and oh how I remember the awful cheeseburgers and fries served in the downstairs cafeteria by a company called Duchess.

For a kid like me who was into science this was an awesome space because there was everything you could learn about, the Hall of Birds, the Hall of Minerals, Wild California, The Hall of Man, The fish roundabout, Life through Time, The Farside Gallery, the Elkus Gallery and of course the Planetarium and Aquarium. They also had a little know “Junior Academy” downstairs that offered Saturday courses to kids in the sciences from 5-18. The little kid classes didn’t work out so well, but that lead to the adding of the Discovery Center upstairs.

They also had regularly rotating exhibits that were usually pretty big. They had one on Shakespeare, Earthquakes, geez I a can’t remember them all. Then because of the 1989 earthquake there were a few problems and they just decided to rebuild the whole thing again and make it all snazzy and eco-friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that they decided to twist a few heads with the bio roof and solar panels, but it’s not the same anymore. It’s all about the Aquarium.

When you walk in you get to see the Piazza which one of the places to purchase an overpriced, but healthy organic snack. You head through there and can see the tops of a Philipine coral reef on one side and the Northern California coast on the other. The old grungy hall of reptiles has gone, but they saved the swamp area at least with a couple of gators and snapping turtles. Walk down a few stairs and you get the sparse swamp area. You can look into gator tank from below and there’s a few snakes and a lizard or two there. Of course they have to have a swamp/aquarium shop there as well. Then travel down a few more stairs and the Aquarium hits you. Big huge tanks with lots of fish. Not the 10’x10′ tanks you used to see in the old aquarium. Of course to balance this they have many more 10 gallon tanks in the walls, but over all you’re going to see a lot of stuff you’ve never seen before. My daughter loves the aquarium and even though she’s only three she has her favorite tanks she likes to hang out at and stare down the fish, That’s a whole ‘nother story I’ll get into later. So pretty much, the aquarium is very, very cool. So what else is there?

Well they’ve added something new and that’s the rainforest exhibit. To balance out the global shape of the planetarium the rainforest is a globe of glass that you have to enter through special doors so none of the stuff that’s inside gets out. Inside they have birds flying around, yet while I hear them I have yet to see them other than a macaw that tethered at the bottom of ramp just before you start traveling through the jungles. Each level has a different theme to it and  in the small flattened areas to stop at they have…more fish tanks! plus some reptiles as well and it fits in nicely, but still, it’s all about the fish. When you get to the top which is the warmest place you’ll find lots of butterflies swarming around. They’re all pretty small so nothing freaky there. Now you can go back down and out so you go down an elevator after you’ve gone through a check to make sure there are no butterflies on you and that takes you all the way down to the aquarium. If you decide to go I suggest you start with the rainforest and head down to the aquarium because there are some things you’ll miss in the aquarium that aren’t too obvious when you first enter into it.

OK, what’s left? Well there’s the planetarium which I’d love to tell you about because I worked at the old one for four years, but I haven’t had the time to see it yet as I’m always there with my daughter and I’m not sure she’s ready to sit still for 45 minutes to an hour in the dark. I’ve seen videos of it and it’s real state of the art, so I’m looking forward to going once my daughter starts pre-school. They did manage to keep South African Hall, but made a few changes. Nothing too major, except for the addition of a tank of cichlids from lake Malawi and Tanganika in Eastern Africa that was originally the Charles Bange Memorial tank that was put in place by donations by the San Francisco Aquarium Society [note I was the president of the SFAS for 4 years and on the board of directors for 10 years]. Now it has someone else’s name on it so apparently the Academy has forgotten that many years ago the aquarium was kept afloat by donations from the SFAS and now the SFAS isn’t allowed to meet at the Academy anymore. The Herbst auditorium has been replaced with the Herbst Forum on the second floor and there’s also the Naturalist Center which is sort of a small library with displays of dead things or parts of dead things from the mammalogy and ornithology departments, but that’s it for the 2nd floor.

Other than that there’s a few small exhibits that don’t make up for what they didn’t keep in there. I noticed something when I was there today though. While they made it a little bit wider which is really mostly with outdoor garden areas, it’s much thinner. The swamp is at the back of the academy and that’s it. The aquarium used to run around it with other exhibits behind that. They gave up a lot that people can learn from. I’m not sure where the scientists do there work as in the old place there used to be two levels up with offices and labs and all the ichthyology and aquarium labs were down in the basement where the aquarium is now.

Now here is where the rants will begin. The real rants. When my wife and I got married in 1996 we got a family membership to the academy. It cost us…$25. With it we each got a card that would allow us to bring in a guest as well as 10 guest passes we could give out to our friends. It cost $7 to get in back then. We also got invited to a members only night where we could walk around the academy and get behind the scenes tours and feed for free.

Now, that same membership will cost you…$500! You can get the Family Plus membership, but you’ll have to pay $75 each for the behind the scenes tour. Ticket prices to get in are now $24.99 for adults, $19.99 for 12-17 and $14.99 for 4-11.

If you have kids, get a family membership. It’s $159 and you’ll get that back 10 fold in a short period of time. There is one thing to remember though, if you’re going to go you should take advantage of the members only hours of 8:30-9:30 on Tuesdays or 10-11 on Sundays. Especially if you have small kids. We went there about 12:30pm today and the place was packed. We couldn’t even let our daughter out of the stroller because we’d have lost her in seconds.

If you want to go on the cheap the last Thursday of the month is Nightlife where it will only cost you $12 to get in, but you have to be 21+ because they have bars set up all over the place. I haven’t been to one of these, but being a member I would still have to pay $10 in addition to the drinks.

I have to admit that I like the cafe that they have as they serve a wide variety of all organic meats and veggies with enough variety to suit everyone, but that all comes at a price. We tried it once and we got a breakfast quiche, muffin, coffee and an izzy’s soda for just under $15. The quiche was small, the muffin wasn’t very large, but the coffee and soda were good. Today, I noticed as we walked through the piazza that while there were people in line to buy food, most of the people there [some of which had to sit on the floor as there were no more tables] had brought their own food. The line to purchase tickets was at least 4 deep and 100 ft long. So I imagine that the wait would be close to an hour.

If you’re a member you get to put on your best smug face and walk through the members entrance where they not only ask for your card, but you ID as well to verify you aren’t loaning your card to friends. You also get a lot of other little discounts and benefits that you can find here. The funniest thing is that maybe we should have gotten an individual membership for $99 because it says you can bring a guest in with your card. It doesn’t say that with a family membership. So if you’re a couple and don’t expect to take any out of town relatives there that’s the best way to go about it. Overall, I’d have to say that the California Academy of Sciences has changed from a museum of science to a political show off piece. Gavin Newsom is even quoted as saying it’s his favorite place in San Francisco. You don’t get to talk to the scientists who are doing the work behind the scenes, but you can watch them through glass sometimes in the lab that’s open to the public for viewing, but no entrance.