Sunday, December 27, 2009


Wow, 10 weeks without blogging. I might be cured (or just busy). But since the Bay Area weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse, I finally got around to uploading my Thanksgiving pictures from San Luis Obispo and Big Sur.

Nice, tourist free trip and my friends finally dragged me to Hearst Castle, the original Xanadu. I've now come to CA for over 20 years and always passed it and it's $20 entrance fee by. Probably a mistake, because it's really interesting and atmospheric in a big way. Seeing it from the beach, it looked absolutely beautiful, even more so when I got to the entrance, palatial swimming pool and the Spanish-styled guest houses.
But as soon as I got into the main house (modeled after a Spanish church), the walls started closing in: dark wood, dark lighting, weirdly mixed art in the wrong places--for example a quire as a wall decoration, a 14 century wall covering as a ceiling, bare concrete staircases behind medieval hearths--all gave a sense of loneliness, strange ambition, and isolation. The fact that it is built on a hilltop 30 miles from the nearest city doesn't help either. Not even the Christmas decorations and upbeat patter from the tour guides "He loved entertaining.", "the dining room was always full with the most fascinating people like Emilia Erhard and Clark Gable" helped. By the time we hit the billiard room, the entire group had gotten silent and vaguely unsettled.

No wonder his heirs couldn't 'donate' it to the state fast enough. It's amazing, beautiful, and eccentric, but I can imagine that most of the illustrious guests ran like hell after a few days. Even with the free horses, hunting, the zoo and the exotic animals that used to roam the hundreds of square miles of Hearst Ranch.

Since it never snows, Rosebud was nowhere to be found, though.

Anyway, Elephant Seals! I got a 3 foot stuffed toy octopus for my niece, and a huge shout out to Bon Temps Creole Cafe on the 101 on ramp in SLO! I love restaurants that sell six packs.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Off to the races

By the way, lots more pictures are here

After a classic English breakfast with sausage, bacon and eggs, it was
off to the Rift Valley in cute little AWD Japanese mini vans. In true
safari style, we also ranked a chase bus with the cooks and tents.
Slightly less grand style, the room for baggage was severly limited,
even with only 6 people on a van. And of course there's always one or
two who didn't read the "bring only one bag" in the itinary. But after
some rearranging, muffled cursing, and a photo-off between the DSLR
owners we got going at 8.Still surprised how comparatively empty the parts of Nairobi we drove
through were compared to other 3rd world cities. OK we were in the
really nice parts like the embassy quarter, but it was a bit striking.
The first stop was to pick up water for the next few days at a swanky
mall that could have been in any US town--the only hint that it wasn't
was that the mall security was schlepping AK-47s, but it still could
have been Alabama. Once out of Nairobi, we really hit Hem's Green Hills
of Africa, a lot like central America or southern Italy 30 years ago.
(Damn, writing that makes me feel my advanced age). Only on the second
glance, it started to sink in that the maize crops looked less than
healthy and that a lot of people walking or biking along the road were
carrying water from wells to their homes. Signs of the drought that's
been haunting the area for the last few years.
The drop into the Rift Valley was so much less impressive than I thought
it would be. It really has nothing on dropping from the Sierra into the
Central Valley, or the Andes. Nice roadside stop at a view
point/souvenir stand. Even the Kenyian hawkers are very laid back and
not at all pushy--except the one Elain ran into who got really pissed
when she called him on changing the price from about $2 to more than 30.

Up to this point, the only animals we've seen were the chicken next to
the "interesting" bathroom, but now the first babboons and Zebras
started to show up to everyones great enjoyment. (only two days later,
we implemented an informal: "Nah, we don't stop for zebras anymore"
policy.) The contrast to any other place I've even been to was striking:
if you go to a national park you normally have to look for the wildlife,
here zebras just graze on a main road to Uganda.

At the campsite, a funny pattern emerged: the tourists--who paid about 5
times the average Kenyan annual income--settled into the tents, while
the Kenyan staff sleept in the small hotel rooms that also were part of
the site. The other pattern was that--safari-like--midday was spent
having lunch and taking a siesta. Both because the animals are usually
only out in the morning and late afternoon, and because Kenyan parks
only allow a morning and an afternoon drive. Hot lunch was terrific.
Even more so when it turned out that all courses--tea, soup, curry,
naan, vegetables, desert were done with a few pots, an iron grate, a
steel plate, 5 knives, and a wood fire.

And now the live audio from the drive: Are we going to see animals? A
Joking aside, it's really mindblowing. Animals everywhere. And doing
animal things. And more animals.

The only downside was that due to the low water in the lake, there was
no way to drive or even walk close to the flamingos. A pity, because there were so many of them that we had already seen them from the main
road 10 miles away. A big portion of the lake was simply pink. We tried
anyway by getting out of the van and walking--occasionally checking for
lions, and I tried to keep the oldest guy between me and the trees, but
it was still thwarted by the muck getting muckier. The absolute
highlight were the giraffes at the end of the drive (weirdly, the best
animal viewing is always in the last 45 minutes).

What is really striking about Lake Nururu is that it is on the outskirts
of the third largest town in Kenya, barely 3 miles from some pretty
large buildings. I never expected that many animals that close. The part
is about 90 square miles, so obviously not every part is close to
Nururu, but the lake is. Massai Mara, the Serengti and Ngorogoro are out
in the middle of nowhere.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Africa (and a bit of Dutch)

This might be a lot shorted than my usual travel blogs. Somehow "We got up, mounted the Landrover, drove around and saw amazing animals" doesn't make for a long narrative. Actually, if there's one thing I regret is that I wasn't quite aware how little we saw of the country
and the people.

Other than that, seeing these large animals in the wild was mind blowing, they are so much larger, better fed and active than in the zoo.

SFO to Nairobi

Yeah, very long flight. 10 hours to Amsterdam, 7 hour layover, and another 10 or so to Nairobi. Thank god for the iPhone, Kindle for iPhone, and an extended battery pack that worked all the way to the hotel in Nairobi. I got on the KLM plane is SFO, watched 4 episodes of The L Word, read Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre World and slept a bit. [Unrelated side note: How come that KLM can serve edible food on the plane while all US airlines claim that's impossible because tastebuds work different at altitude or some other BS?]

Schipol was as clean, efficient and antiseptic as usual, so I dropped my only bag in the coin locker after some wresting with the non-working credit card locker, walked to immigration in 30 seconds, and got on a bus to Amsterdam to the Rijksmuseum and its Rembrandts.
Nice pictures, but since 2/3rds of the museum is undergoing renovations, the 11 Euro visit was over in 45 minutes. And I really looked at every single piece they exhibited. Outside, Amsterdam is the boring city I remember from earlier visits. Everyone is nice, rich, rides bikes, and
the streets and cute and clean. But like all of the Netherlands, it just feels as if they said "OK, that's it." and stopped developing in the late 1970s. Even the dozens of head shops and coffee shops look dated.

I had some bad herring--since it's a local specialy, and very unusual for me was so disheartened by the other food choices and dejected looking breads and pastries downtown that I ended up having dinner at the Burger King back at the airport. A big plus in Schipol is that they have confy
chairs and places to stretch out and sleep on the 2nd level, so I got in a couple fo hours of sleep before getting on the Kenia Airlines flight [note: they can also serve decent food]. Some more iPhoning, but rather little sleep since the guy next to me flipped every switch on his seat and the entertainment system every minute. I get being nervous about flying, but I dearly wanted to give him some sleeping pills.

Kenia is--like India--very much a former English colony. In other words, the bureaucracy is mind boggling. To count:

1--fill out landing card on the plane
2--fill out 2 page health questionnaire at the airport
3--turn in health questionnaire after folding and ripping off the lower
two inches which instruct you to give it to a doctor in case you get
hospitalized with swine flu.
4--fill out 2 page visa application with the same info you put in the
landing card and line up to give both to the immigration officer
5--watch immigration officer 1 type it into computer
6--watch immigration officer 2 copy it off the computer into a paper
ledger by hand
7--pay $25
8--watch IO3 write a receipt while IO2 enters the $25 payment into a ledger
9--watch IO1 copy your information of the computer screen into the
visa sticker by hand
10--watch IO2 copy the visa number and expiration date into another ledger

Well, at least everyone is employed.

Now, with all the stories and warnings about Nairobi ("MOST VIOLENT TOWN IN AFRICA!!! IF YOU WALK ALONE, YOU WILL DIE!!!") I was a bit apprehensive, but 5 minutes into the taxi ride to the hotel the only thing that came to mind was "This is so much less of a clusterfuck
than Delhi". The traffic was obviously at a standstill, but nobody slept on the highway, only a few hawkers weaved between the cars, there were no cows, rikshaws, or ox carts on the road, and drivers rarely used their horns. On the other hand, it lacks the frenetic energy that's part of the fun of visiting India. Everyone I met in Kenya is very laid back. I'd liked to have seen more, but after checking into the hotel, I basically passed out in my room.

In the evening our group met, had a very decent dinner--including terrific Kofta Curry for me, and discovered to our delight that beer is less then $2 a pint. Both recurring themes for
the rest of the trip. Due to the large Indian community, many cooks turn out amazing Indian or Indian inspired foods.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Black Diamond Mines

Yeah, I've been really neglecting this blog. Anyway, BDM--about 8 miles from my place. Nice silica mine, so much brighter and cleaner than the coal mines in the same valley.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In the Name of Love

Pride 2009 in a hot and sunny (for once) San Francisco.

This might explain part of the dearth of eligible Jewish women in the Midwest.
And this why South Carolina hates San Francisco.
And here are the other pictures. Mostly SFW, this ain't the Folsom Street Fair.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


And here are the picks of the pics.

Marine Mammal Center

The new Marine Mammal Center in Ft. Cronkite opened a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't had time to visit yet. Everyone is really friendly and dedicated; and visits are free, but with the recent spate of sea lions dying, they have a lot of work to do.

If you want to donate to their work of caring for orphaned seal, otter, and sea lion babies, go to

And no pictures from the autopsy room.

Poetry in motion

Hey, here's a good use of a liberal arts degree--or two.

San Francisco Indie Mart--I bought a killer glass votive candle stand.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


From the annual NorCal Pirate Fest in Vallejo. Turkey legs, gunfire, bands covering Metallica, and saucy wenches. (pics)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So, the weekend

Was spent caving in Lava Beds NM, snow shoeing around Crate Lake, and driving 5 hours to Klamath Falls and back.

Good times--my knees are killing me, I have a bit of sunburn from standing on 138 for an hour waiting for the helicopter to take off with some crashed dude and stop blocking the road, and serious sleep deficit.

Oh yeah, I got pictures.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Corporate arghitecture

Walnut Creek Cheesecake Factory, notice the fountain and fire pits.

The life size stuffed animal display at the Reno Cabelas store

"Ah like me some tax-ah-dermey, please." Right next to the awesome 500 pieces strong pre-owned shotgun rack.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hangtown cars

On the way back from Tahoe, I happened on the Placerville* car show and 100+ degree weather. It was at the same time elating (is there a more beautiful car than the 1959 Corvette convertible?) and depressing. All those Chevys and Chryslers and Packards and... compared to the crap American manufacturers put out today.

Yeah, they weren't high mileage, unreliable, and as technological advanced as a trebuchet, but at least they looked good. Just look at the pictures and tell me a current US car that looks like THAT.

*In one of the earliest instances of communal marketing, the city council decided to rename Hangtown, CA in 1850.

Meet Trashy

Nothing like seeing a black bear 20 feet away when walking across the parking lot. S/he was very nice, though, and only checked out the containers. Now I know why people in Tahoe always double up when taking out the trash.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Amazon, Apple and the partially self-inflicted death of independent bookstores

On the way back from Big Sur I stopped at the Santa Cruz
Bookstore--together with Powells and Elliott Book Company probably the
best independent bookstore on the West Coast, now that so many like
Cody's have bitten the dust. They're comfy, have a good selection, do
author readings and stuff, and this nice slightly rundown feeling. I
browsed for a bit and found $60 of books I liked. More out of
curiosity, I SnapTell'd them; thinking to myself "I'll pay the extra 8
bucks or so to keep this independent store in business. Turns out the
Amazon price for the lot was $34, with two independent stores selling
one new and one slightly used copy for $16+$8 in shipping.

Etiquette question: am I a bad person for not forking over 36 dollars
for the pleasure of browsing the store for fifteen minutes?

And the larger question--wouldn't it be more economically feasible for
SCB and other stores like this to get their prices somewhat in line
with the online pricing? Obviously, they can't price match Amazon, but
charging 70% more for the same service will drive people out of their
stores who would contribute to keep a local bookstore. I think it
they'd be within 20%, many customers would gladly pay that, especially
in beach front California. I spend $85 at Borderlands a couple of
weeks ago, even though I could probably have saved ten or fifteen by
going through Amazon. And I feel good about it, because it keeps
Borderlands in business.

P.S. I spent the $36 difference at Bugaboo, Gelato Mania, and Chefworks across the street, so they went to local businesses. (I think independent, but I could be wrong about Chefworks)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The fourth estate

I wanted to write a long post about how the newspapers' and press' problems are more because of lack of quality and the fact that instead of reading the local paper now everyone can pick the 3-4 best in the world, but this picture sums the flight from quality better than I ever could. The 20 red cycles are press photographers, the 5 green ones are protesters.

That's not reporting, that's performance art.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

California without the tourists

OK, there were tourists, but it wasn't crammed like in summer. You could take pictures without a gazillion people in it.
And thank god for aloe.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Hiking, biking, minor sunburn

Sunday, March 22, 2009


  1. Froze my ass off on Land's End Trail. When will I finally learn that it's always much colder than it looks out there. Nice picture opportunities, though.
  2. Had lunch at Dosa with some friends. Best Indian food anywhere--including India. And the service is so much better.
  3. Listened to the sales guys at Borderlands rant about Zack Snyder movies and Beowulf for half an hour. They're not fans.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Caring for veterans

My yuppie/dink/soccer mom gym is thankfully mostly clear of the usual annoyances like the groaning iron pumpers and yelling high schoolers. And the hookers who come here for the after work executives are a nice distractions. Also, except for Batty, the woman who shows up every morning at 6am with two duffels of swimming paraphernalia like three pairs of goggles, four pairs of flippers; takes over a lane for 5 hours and glowers at people for "making waves" two lanes over, it's also mostly free of the certifiably exercise insane.

The one unique danger, especially when the light in the sauna is turned off, is Sergeant Tripod. He's a friendly, tiny, black ex-military guy with a name sake a knee-long appendage. The nicest person ever, but he's also a poster child for post traumatic stress disorder. Anyone opening the door gets greeted by a parade ground quality "Good MORNING, SIR!" after which he resumes his in-sauna exercise regimen of nude pushups, nude squats—punctuated with a growled HUUUUU-RAAHHHHH at the end of every set—and nude power stretches that elicit unearthly groans from him. All the while, he keeps up small talk that can be heard right past the hot tub and the showers into the locker room.

Since he's a nice, shy person, nobody ever says anything.


But this morning, he added squat thrust. So, how long does one have to wait politely before leaving?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bhopal and Sanchi

This was actually the third stop in India, but until now, I haven't gotten around to posting the pictures. Bhopal was the first real major Indian city in a sense that it was neither Delhi, nor the somewhat touristified Agra (not that that meant that Agrans didn't carry dead bodies down the street, or had water buffalo roaming the town, or similar. But Bhopal is much larger, and much less accustomed to non-Indian.
Ironically we didn't see much of the town center--except creeping the half mile from the train station to the edge of downtown where traffic broke up at far less than walking pace in the bus. About 200 meters from the station entrance, we got completely stuck and savored 15 minutes of this peculiar Indian trait of not, never, ever, backing up, even if it would mean that everyone, including oneself, could move faster 10 seconds later.After checking in, we hunted down a not completely overpriced tuk tuk to go to the state museum that the guide, the hotel staff and the drivers recommended only to find out that it was closed for <drumroll> Christmas. Obviously, the museum staff were the only Christians within 500 miles.

So we spent the evening at the famous lakes that Bhopal was named for. Since I threw out my knee a coupel of days before I stayed on the shore and watched the paddle boaters and getting my picture taken by the Indians who've come to enjoy and evening on the water. Very cool and very interesting. All the computer science and engineering students wanted to hear about how many Indians work at my company in California.

In a nod to the rising middle class, the lakefront had an amazingly good cafe with great views, fab cappuccino, and ice cream that didn't kill anyone.

Back at the hotel, we got matter-of-fact-ly invited to an Indian wedding. Great times, the bride and groom were from Pitt and CMU, the best man from Linköping, and the rest from assorted universities, and the bankers, business owners and doctors of Bhopal. The hospitality is incredible and slightly embarrassing. I am not confident I would invite 30 Indians who stumble into my reception.

The next morning we left for Sanchi in the morning smog and saw the other side of Bhopal: people camped on the roads under ripped plastic tarps, children stumbling up and down smoldering trash heaps; and right in the middle the new technical university.

Sanchi (pics) was the first of the really historic places in the middle of effing nowhere, and at the end of the IMO worst road we had in India. But everyone on the trip had their particular favorite stretch of Indian road building, so it probably was just middling. So I'll only mention in passing that it took us over two hours to drive the 30 miles.The remaining temples are amazingly well preserved, especially considering that they were build between 300-70 BCE and survived 2000 years of rain, heat, and wind. For sandstone, that's quite an achievement. It was probably helped that they were abandoned and mostly forgotten after India reverted back from Buddhism to Hinduism.

Except for the temples, two of which looked suspiciously Greek or Egyptian, the only thing is the tourist shop where we pissed of one of the proprietors by pointing out to him that he tried to charge twice the government mandated prices that were clearly printed on the packaging.

And then it was back to Bhopal and another 10 hours on the bus to Mandu.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Isn't it weird that summer is at the same time all over the world?"

checkout girl at Trader Joes.

What are these men doing with that horse?

10 hours into a backbreaking bus ride--on the "good" road, the one from Khajuraho (pics) to Veranasi is so gruesome that we flew the 200 miles the next day--we arrived at the outskirts of Khajuraho and the hotel with the worst service in India. Lunch and check in took two hours, and involved a rousing game of magical supplies: some rooms missed soap, most towels, and some, like mine, any semblance of sheets. As the hotel manager explained so nicely "beds don't come with sheet, we have blanket", scratchy, dirty, moldy blankets that had a few decades on the newish building. After 30 years of traveling, I'm fairly hardcore and quite a few others like the Canadian couple who go hitchhiking in Tanzania even more so, but after near mutiny everyone was at the bus 20 minutes early the next day to get the ef out of there.
Khajuraho's main and only attraction are the famous 10th to 14th century Tantric temples......with their very explicit depictions of the 85 or so positions in the Kamasutra......and a few that Vatsayayana had never even heard off. Some friezes are very embellished. Indian girls must be so disappointed on their weeding night after seeing this:The quality of the work is astounding, and unlike other temples and churches, it's not a bit or relief work here and there, the entire temples are covered from the foundation stones to the roof. Many or most reliefs are actually showing normal life as well or better than Egyptian hieroglyphs, and don't make you go "Done that"..."haven't done that"..."should try that"..."WTF? How on earth do you do THAT?!?".

This one also shows up in Dumbo.The temples that didn't quite make the UN world heritage list are still in full swing and worshipers streamed in for the evening puja.
This being M.P., the temples obviously close at dusk, so we were back on the streets in the half-block of downtown and in the middle of the most annoying touts I've encountered since Marrakech. At one point, a few of us bumped into each other and compared our following. I shared first place for five pushing, shoving and come-my-store-good-bargains yelling youths. Funnily, the best way to escape was going into stores who's owners did their best to keep them out so they could cheat on the commission.

In an amazing show of chutzpah, after pissing me off for the best part of an hour and not heeding a single "fuck off", the most obnoxious "student" tried to charge me 100Rs for the "tour of the city".

Weirdly, this oversold, unfriendly, and overrun town also offered an amazing revue of Indian folk dances at night. Touristy, yes, but the singer and dancers were really really good. Of course, no such event is complete without an elderly German making a complete idiot of himself by repeatedly leaping out of his chair into a prone position in the aisle, moaning audibly from the shock reveberating from his arthritic knees hitting the concrete, to capture the "perfect" shot with a $50 POS camera and no flash.