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Loyalton wknd II [Jan. 19th, 2016|09:42 pm]
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[Current Location |Loyalton, CA]

So Maria and I drove out to Loyalton again (an hour north of Truckee) for a winter weekend adventure. My uncle Mike's partner Andrea has a house out there, in Sierra Valley, in a little tiny town in the least populous county in all of California. It's cozy with a wood stove and Victorian furniture.

We went snowshoeing in a gale, in a heavy cold rain accompanied by strong gusts of wind. But we were attired appropriately for a short jaunt in such conditions and therefore were happy. My first time snowshoeing! Happily the rain turned to snow, and after an hour or two tromping around we returned to base.

Returning to the Bay Area, I enjoyed driving back via CA-49, a circuitous mountain road that visits several terribly idyllic small oldtime mountain towns, like Sierra City and Downeyville. The Yuba river was a gushing torrent in the canyon, and long sinuous white cataracts added highlights to the canyon walls. Dinner in Nevada City at Three Forks Brewing.

A cozy and fun winter weekend was had. Nonetheless still a bit envious of my colleagues and their Ski Weekends. Gotta do a little social networking to get invited on such a jaunt.
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full time [Jan. 19th, 2016|09:29 pm]

Goddamn, a full-time job is time consuming.

I appreciate that this full-time dedication allows us extreme productivity -- as an economy -- in which goods and services and gizmos are produced at such a dizzying pace.

But I think something is lost when everyone has their nose to the grindstone, unable to pursue their other interests, to dabble. We are all such specialists. Division of labor is goddamn efficient but it might not be the best way.

I fantasize about 50% time, about using that using that extra time to go explore the world and report on it. Grapple with matters like modern land use. Figure out where our water comes from and go and report on that. And learn to paraglide, of course, and read books.

Perhaps a more practical approach - endeavor to put in more efficient hours, to get stuff done, to eliminate that inevitable whiled-away time.
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A Christmas Memory (circa 1986) [Dec. 25th, 2015|01:37 am]

There's nothing quite like Christmas as a kid, is there? Usually we went to my grandparents' house in Camarillo, itself a wonderful adventureland complete with a train, treehouse, junk drawer, candy jar, not to mention my wonderful grandparents themselves. I remember lying in bed (or maybe even on the floor, if the house was packed with aunts and uncles and cousins, as it often was) on Christmas Eve being so excited I didn't know if I'd ever be able to fall asleep, to be in turn transported to Christmas morning. Well, that's exactly where I find myself now at this very instant, Christmas Eve in Camarillo. No longer does the material windfall of Christmas Morning keep me up at night - now it's a chance for reflection, and in this case writing a blog on the internet.

One time in the even deeper past we went instead to my great-aunt Lois's house, in Lafayette, up in the Bay Area. Or, actually, now that I think about it -- maybe my great-grandfather's house - a place now lost to memory - in Los Angeles? One of the great things about being small is that the world is so big, and this strange house full of so many people - it could be infinite.

Well nigh comes Christmas morning and the livingroom is full of presents, and my great-grandfather Bampi is handing out gifts. For me he had the Cadillac of them all, a bright red Radio-Flyer wagon! I don't know what ultimately happened to that wagon, but glimpses of it in various stages of oxidation in the following years flash before my mind's eye.

But that Christmas morning I was a bit ungrateful, perhaps - I might have even said "Is that all?" Or at least -- I looked disappointed. My great aunt, noticing my state, suggests we find another thing. And somewhere in the house she finds this electronic gizmo. I remember it clearly: its green, faux wrought-iron spherical plastic enclosure, the power cord. When you plugged it in and it warmed up a little bit it started chirping like a bird! An electronic bird.

This was glorious! This electronic chirping ornament followed me for years, a prized component of my treasure trove. I took it apart, I put it back together, I took it apart, and so on. It's the sort of thing that nowadways would be digital and run on a small battery and be disposable, but back then it ran on 120VAC and was fully analog and I'm surprised I didn't electrocute myself.

Whatever happened to that captivating contraption? Surely lost in some move or purging of junk. Perhaps my parents, tired of its ear-piercing electronic cries, accelerated its departure. But could I find another one today?

Surprisingly, typing "green spherical plastic electronic bird chirper" into Google reveals the thing indeed, on ebay, titled: "Vintage Electronic Chirping Bird Christmas Silver Filigree Plastic Ball Ornament". This may be the thing indeed! Or perhaps a slightly later model of it, and not in the right color.

And there is a modern, battery-powered version on Amazon, and almost every review hints at a story not terribly unlike the above. This vintage chirping bird contraption is apparently a cherished memory of many: http://www.amazon.com/Vintage-Silver-Chirping-Christmas-Ornament/dp/B002SS5LHO
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11/6 test-day + banya [Nov. 7th, 2015|07:01 pm]
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Test day at Makani means waking before dawn, up at 5:30am to walk a still-sleepy little dog, then drive twenty minutes to Alameda island, the city streets curiously devoid of traffic. Call time is 6:30am. I'm wearing a blue hard-hat and a matching blue Patagonia nanopuff jacket - it's cold out and I use the heater in the Vanagon. Donuts and coffee. Briefing at 6:40. The wing comes in on its semi-tractor-trailer and the crew gets to work lifting it up into flight position. I go to work setting up the command center.

In the early pre-noon I shadow an interview at the Tower; it makes me feel better about my programming skills and a bit excited to actually interview candidates myself. (Would it be too cruel to give them an option of easy, medium, or hard difficulty? Even the easy questions often tell us what we need to know.)

Back at the test-site, they've been successful in the first test objectives and are setting up for the next test. I eat some leftover bbq and go to work in the command center. The tests have a little drama but are ultimately smooth and successful. There are high-fives. The crew swarms to attack the take-down chores and I attend to mine.

Evening: Banya with Maria and her friends Alice and Breyden. Alice lived in Syracuse and worked at Meteor and lived in a hexayurt in Berkeley; Breyden came from Australia and has quite a funny monologue on the subject of sausage rolls and other Australian delicacies. We dined on borscht and discussed "applied rationality" before returning for a round of naked sauna and cold plunge.
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11/3 full circle [Nov. 3rd, 2015|01:09 am]
I voted today! In San Francisco, since that's where I was living when I registered, last year when I moved here from Germany. It's been exactly one year, and it's fun to see things come full circle: Halloween, the World Series, the dark evenings, the stormy weather, the holiday party invites. That was an exciting time - my airbnb apartment in the Mission, the Day of the Dead parade outside, even holed up with my weird illness, binge-watching True Detective, watching the sunrise through bay windows.

Now I'm at home in Berkeley. It's the coldest night of the season so far (53 degrees with a forecast low of 47). I went out to dinner with vdb at Plum Bar in downtown Oakland for a little catch-up. Zuhair made a wood-fire in the fireplace. It rained all through the night last night -- perhaps the first rain all year. It feels like Autumn.
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10/27 Sunrise hike! [Oct. 27th, 2015|10:26 pm]
[Current Location |Redwood Regional Park, Oakland, California]

Sunrise hike!
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10/15 Ryan visit! [Oct. 15th, 2015|11:08 pm]

Flying with Ryah

Ryan is here! He swapped apartments with some friends he met in Argentina, and who now live just a few blocks from me. His g/f Lynda also flew out from the weekend, and I took them flying. The area around Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge was closed off for the Fleet Week air show, and Half Moon Bay was fogged in, so instead we went east into the Central Valley: Oakland - Byron - Rio Vista - Nut Tree. I'd like to land at all 200+ airports in California, and this flight checked two new ones off the list. The Nut Tree (Vacaville) airport is adjacent to a better-than-typical freeway shopping center; we had ice cream at Fenton's before flying back to Oakland.

Steffen is also visiting - a student from the lab where I worked in Germany.

Gave Ryan, Evan, and Steffen a tour of Makani today.

Have to be up bright and early tomorrow morning for flight testing!
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9/20 tea in a tree! [Sep. 29th, 2015|09:40 pm]
[Current Location |Oakland, CA]

Tea in a tree! Multi-level treehouse!

Multi-level treehouse!
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Burning Man 2015 [Sep. 20th, 2015|02:17 pm]

Burning Man! After eight years away, I returned.

Of course everyone says "Oh, Burning Man, you missed it, you should have gone ten years ago, it's no good any more." But I did go (nearly) ten years ago, and people said exactly the same thing then.

Lots of people asked, "What differences do you notice?" My gut response was "Burning Man feels hella mainstream now." But if Burning Man feels hella mainstream, was it Burning Man that changed, or me? A little from column A, a little from column B.

Objectively, the event itself seems pretty much the same. There are many possible Burning Man experiences, and this time I camped with different people and I'm older now and I drove my own vehicle and I didn't have Early Arrival. But it is pretty mainstream and maybe that's for the best - radical inclusion and all that.

The most visible change since 2007 is probably the invention of the Hexayurt. And Dance Dance Immolation - a happening in which Dance Dance Revolution players are blasted with flamethrowers - is gone. I saw a banner or bumper sticker or something that said: "Keep Burning Man potentially fatal."

I remember last time, after the work of setting up camp was finished, feeling kind of lonely, biking around the Playa on my own. Almost immediately this time, I remembered that feeling. I found myself thinking, "Maybe Burning Man is not for me," and "Perhaps my assumptions about Burning Man are incorrect." How is it possible to be lonely at Burning Man? Isn't this event composed almost entirely of My Kind of People (probable false assumption).

Too many conversation started (and ended with) "Is this your first burn?" and "Where are you from?", the Playa equivalent of the collegiate "What's your major?" Burning Man resolution: start conversations with meaningful-but-not-pretentious questions. One great moment started when I asked a campmate a very basic question about music theory, which turned out to be her passion.

Vignette. Talking about the "Default World" is, in general, a faux pas, but not everyone has gotten the message. I was in a group of four, randomly assembled, doubtlessly united by a question of "Is this your first burn." Moving on, one of the four asked, "Where do you work?" (!) Eventually the person to whom the question was addressed answered, "I work at Google." Then the second person, "I ... also work at Google." And then I had to confess: "I also work at Google." Maybe this is why we don't talk about those things.

I visited the airport, too. As a pilot, the airport interests me. It actually has an FAA identifier 88NV. The Black Rock City Airport is a nexus of privilege within a festival of over-privilege, a place with touch of sleaziness and smarm. There were indeed charter-flight-after-charter-flight arriving from Los Angeles and San Francisco, extra-privileged festivalgoers arriving clean and getting on Segways or being delivered by the dedicated angler-fish themed vehicle to their turnkey hotel/camp. There were scantily clad girls exchanging sex appeal for airplane rides. But there was also a beautiful Finnish-Swedish/Guatamalan-Austrian newlywed couple in their finery on their "honey-day." I had brought my radio and was listening to the radio chatter. I answered questions about aviation. This pleased me.

I went to an event titled "Chris Hadfield Moustache Appreciation", described as: "Canadian astronaut superstar Chris Hadfield is beloved by his nation and revered by moustache-growers. Come and admire him up close and personal." Disappointingly, it turns out that Chris Hadfield was not, in fact, actually present to be admired up close and personal. The camp did, however, have a pretty cool geodesic dome full of hammocks and netting and pillows, on which I installed myself for a micronap. A girl appeared, and announced, "May I join you?" There was some low-level snuggling before we went our separate ways, both pining for Chris Hadfield.

There were very many bars - it felt like every other camp operated a bar. I wasn't too interested in drinking at a bar and talking about my nth burn and where I was from. I prefer the motif I remember from 2007, which was much more along the lines of burn barrels and campfires and camaraderie around the fire, more cowboy than citydweller. But, again, I don't know whether the event itself has changed or only my experience in it.

My previous time at Burning Man, I had Early Arrival, meaning we had special tickets allowing us to arrive a few days early, since we were building a big camp near the Esplanade. I loved watching the city come to life, working every day those first few days. For one thing, working gives a sense of purpose. Then, I remember Sunday night, when the event opened for general admission. I was on a flying saucer art car, zipping along the Playa, exploring the City that had been built over the preceding days. We encountered a girl who had just gotten in, and she was almost overcome with emotion, finally back in her element. It was my first glimpse of Burning Man as a religion and a moment that's stuck with me. This time I didn't really see anything to remind of of the old Burning Man religion (the one in which Black Rock City is your Home), and I was kind of sad for that.

But some of the Principles hold true. There was no MOOP - no free-flying trash - no litter. For an event with 70,000 people - this is inspiring.

The best thing this time was my camp. I camped with a group called Gamelan X, an "Oakland based Gamelan band" inspired by the Balinese variety of that Indonesian style of percussion. Black Rock City is big, and you will probably spend much of your time with your campmates, and you will become closer for it.

The best thing was on Wednesday - there was a procession from a camp called TaiWanderlust that actually came from Taiwan, with ornate and beautiful costumes - nautilus helmets and huge feathers ten feet tall - along with Gamelan X, to the Mazu temple. Finally something that wasn't Electronic Dance Music. A moment to get lost in. We reached the Mazu temple and the leader of the Taiwanese group said some words in a language I didn't understand and then climbed onto the roof of the temple and blew huge clouds of fire. This is on the Playa of the Black Rock Desert where there are, in general, no living things other than us interlopers. But then an EAGLE - or, at least, some kind of raptor - swooped down from the heavens, alighted at the temple roof, then disappeared again in the same manner as he had arrived. The sighting of the eagle hit us profoundly - everyone has their Spiritual Experience and this was mine.

The best thing until Wednesday was the 12-hour shower. On Monday, my first afternoon at the event, Keenan came striding back into camp, pushing his bicycle, looking very clean and refreshed and - buck naked. "At 5:30 and H. The 12-hour shower!" And, indeed, it turned out that this camp had imported 900 gallons of water and built an outdoor shower platform, operating all day every day. It was glorious. But then it turns out that the invention of the Hexayurt has led to the invention of the playa sauna - our camp luxuriated in the Hexayurt steam room at a Camp Contact. I have never been so clean at Black Rock City. This was also glorious.

I had forgotten the full-fledged spectacle of the night of the burn. Afterwards my friend and I packed up the van and began the long trek home, 24 hours en route, camping out at my uncle's house on the CA/NV border on the way. Will I go again next year? Maybe, I think so, I plan to buy a ticket. The question is always the opportunity cost, and maybe I should finally hitchhike the Icelandic ring road? But Burning Man is a city of possibility, and the feeling that that's still a deeper experience to eek out of it draws me back.
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9/19 Second solo, glider! (and 3rd and 4th) [Sep. 20th, 2015|12:01 pm]

I haven't done so much flying lately - well, compared to the weeks where I was going to Byron for flight lessons every weekend day. I did make it to the legendary Air Sailing in Nevada for a three-day weekend, but, alas, due to wildfires in Northern California conditions were terrible. Smoke filled the valley, and set up a thermal inversion that just killed all the easy lift. Some of the better pilots in better aircraft were able to get up to 12,000 feet, but then even they complained about poor visibility and returned to base. Matt and I took three tows to 8,000 feet and just took a "sled ride" back down to the gliderport (6,000 feet MSL), failing to work any meaningful lift. Another weekend I made a daytrip to Truckee (three hours driving each way!) and had a great lesson with one of our club's best soaring pilots, Buzz G.

Back at Byron this Saturday, went up with Larry, first for a high tow (to around 3,000 feet above the quarry), then a pattern tow. On the high tow, I did my best-ever boxing-the-wake. We did stalls and incipient-spin-recovery and steep turns. In boxing-the-wake, you take the glider - still on tow behind the towplane - down through the turbulent prop wash, then make a rectangular "box", going right, up, left, down around the wake. Aggressive stalls still give me the willies - pulling the nose up over the horizon, then recovering pointing very much down towards the earth.

On my pattern tow, to simulate a rope-break, Larry pulled the tow-release at 300 feet AGL. This is just above the threshold (200 ft AGL) where making a U-turn to land back on the runway - in the backwards, downwind direction - is prescribed. I made the landing just fine, but should have turned one way instead of the other to more gracefully line up with the runway. In powered airplanes, this is called the "impossible turn" - if your engine fails in the takeoff climb, powered airplanes, with their poor glide ratios, generally can't turn around to land on the runway from which they came. In the glider, by contrast, you actually have to use the airbrakes (or slip) to get down after making the 180.

After this, Larry set me off on my own, first a solo high tow, then three patterns. Practice makes perfect - in most of my flying at Byron there's been a 20 kt wind, but yesterday was calm. It takes practice to get the approach just right in varying wind conditions.

Four glider solos in the logbook now - need a minimum of 10 for the rating.
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