Saturday, December 16, 2006

saying goodbye

Recently I've had to say goodbye to two entities I cared for very much.

The first, everybody knows about already. We are in the process of turning off Google Answers, my first Google project. The project itself is one of my proudest achievements: bringing together lots of really interesting people to generate high quality content about a broad range of topics. The reasons behind the closure are (as always) complicated, and confidential, but even though I haven't been actively working on it in a while, I had hoped something better would come of it. But sometimes you just can't make the right thing happen, even when it's your baby. So now we close the year-end books, put up a readonly copy of the site, finalize some AdSense details, and watch the last questions expire, until the dashboard finally says '... 0 unanswered questions.'

clyde The second is Clyde. Clyde was our eight-year-old ferret, who had been diagnosed with insulinoma about a year ago. Eight is really old for a ferret, and this diagnosis would normally mean only a month or two to live, but he hung in there for a long time. He was active and in good spirits up until a day or so before his passing, and was still capable of getting into all kinds of mischief. He'd gotten very cuddly near the end and was happy to be held and fed treats. I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but he was my favorite of the ferrets. It wasn't unexpected, but it was still hard to say goodbye.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

the giving of thanks (otherwise known as five days away from the computer)

It was still dark when I woke up the first time on Wednesday. It was the first vacation day I'd taken in months, coming on the heels of one of those two-day weeks that somehow feels like a full week all wrapped up in 48 hours (which is lame because my new project is awesome and it's a crisis on an old project taking all my time), so I awoke out of a fitful sleep of the recurring dream where I haven't finished all my freshman math credits and it's only a week until graduation and then there's a giant snake and then there's a pager going off in the distance... which is a sucky dream not because of the giant snake but because the only thing worse than being woken up by a real pager and not being able to go back to sleep is being woken up by a dream pager and not being able to go back to sleep. And then I remembered that this was the start of my vacation, and for the first time in a long time I went back to sleep in the darkness.

Wednesday officially began five hours later, with a trip to Napa. It's been a while since we'd last been, possibly since the infamous trip with Ishy. Agi and Ted and Andrew and I hit up a bunch of the wineries we always go to, and made a good-faith but ultimately fruitless attempt to find new wineries. (Bad car GPS. Bad.) It was a beautiful day and many photographs of sky were taken. I also rediscovered the white port at Praeger Port Works, which I distinctly remember not liking six months ago. It's very tasty now. After picking up shipments at some wine clubs whose memberships I keep sort of meaning to cancel, we ended up at one of those nice little hotels in Calistoga, playing poker with the pennies from the car, with several open bottles of wine (while watching poker on TV). Then it started raining so we went in the hot tub. That's when I dropped my phone in a puddle and it sort of fried itself. So if you tried to call me recently and it sounded like my phone answered itself while still in my pocket, that's because it's a cheap piece of crap and can't stand a good hot tubbing.

Thursday yielded spontaneous plans to have an old-fashioned Thanksgiving at home with family. Fortunately the grocery store was open in the afternoon, so I cooked the sort of Thanksgiving dinner one does with three hours' notice: honey-baked ham (no fuss, just glaze and chuck it in the oven), twice-baked potatoes (similar, but with a pot of boiling water), lots of veggies (slightly more attention during the what's-that-burning-on-the-stove phase), macaroni (microwaveable), and pies. Mandy made the pies, which were delicious.

Friday was a bright sunny day, so we went hiking in the San Bruno mountains, where it is foggy. Whoever wrote the hiking guidebook is a total wuss, though. "Moderate+ exertion" does not describe this meandering path with bunnies and wildflowers up the mountain. I mean, they get trucks up the mountain with radio gear. It's not that steep. Then we had some yummy fish at the new restaurant on Church at 29th (it used to be a greek place, and was something else before that; its current name escapes me) and ate a whole pint of ice cream and played bridge.

Saturday rained, which meant I needed new shoes. I love my Vans but after about 6-9 months I wear holes in the soles, which is OK up until the next time it rains, when I end up in the dark windy rain with no umbrella waiting for a bus. It's been an unseasonably dry November in SF so I'd been walking around in shoes with holes for several weeks without giving it a second thought. Downtown was packed with shoppers (disappointed by the lack of Wii, no doubt), and after acquiring new Vans (this time in camo green) we trekked over to Portola to see Fast Food Nation. I think I've seen more movies in the last week than in the entire several months before that. Happy Feet was by far the best of the bunch (but you know I can't say no to a tap-dancing penguin musical), and Casino Royale was actually pretty good (authentic poker and all), but Fast Food Nation was just sorta disappointing. I liked the book, but the movie was full of exposition. Lots of exposition. Not so much plot or characters doing interesting things or even showing the grossness of industrial meat packing. Lots of talking. Had to shake that one off by going to a bar in the Castro on the way home.

Sunday rained again, so we went to the museum and then played bridge. The De Young has this awesome exhibit by Ruth Asawa, a sculptor. Her stuff reminds me of this one toy I used to have as a kid, whose name I don't remember, but it was a bunch of concentric circle-like gears, and you could put them together and trace out the inner shape and make really intricate patterns on the paper. Her creations were like that, but with wire, in three dimensions, and several feet tall. They all have a characteristic of really intricate detail work, repeated over and over again to make a completely different shape, and the notes on the wall go on about how this is a "form within a form" or whatever, but all I could think was damn, how do you make a giant strand of wire look so nifty? Anyway, this exhibit is not to be missed.

And then it was Monday again, and I woke up while it was still dark.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

how yuppie is that?

Found a nice wine bar in the mission yesterday. We were prowling around town looking for costumed people to photograph (Andrew says: "But it's for homework!") and stopped in for dinner. Parea Wine Bar and Cafe (at Valencia/19th) has yummy organic Mediterranean food and an interesting list of mostly European wines. So we're sitting in this wine bar, eating organic food and drinking french wine out of an enormous glass, and practicing bridge while conducting separate telephone conversations with other people. Sigh.. I think that's yuppie even by SF standards. To make up for it we went to the Zeitgeist afterwards and drank lots of beer. :)

Did I mention that Agi has gotten us into bridge? I played regularly in college for a while but not since then. Andrew's new to it, though, so that was an excuse to buy a book about bidding. He's really taking to it well and it's tons of fun. We're starting to get into the more complicated aspects of bidding, with occasional hilarious results. Turns out we know lots of couples now so we have started trying to get more of them to play, as a counterpart to the regular Thursday poker games.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

loud music

Last week we ended up at The Independent twice. Once on Tuesday to see Poets and Pornstars (Gen's friend's band), and once on Friday to see Lyrics Born and Cut Chemist. I think my hearing is definitely taking a beating after exposure to the SF music scene. The Tuesday show was fun, but there weren't very many people there. The lead singer has the most adorable British accent, though.

The Friday show was awesome. I'd never seen Cut Chemist in person before, and was vaguely surprised that he turned out to be a scruffy white dude. He had two turntables set up, one for records and one hooked into a digital feed of music. He'd be scratching one part of the track while someone else worked the video screens and someone else played some other layers of the music. There were cameras set up so you could watch him working the turntables, although the frame rate on the cameras wasn't actually fast enough to keep up with him... At the end, he brought out a handicam, taped some people from the audience saying their names and stuff, and then wired it up to the digital turntable thingy and worked in both the audio and video to the next song. It's hard to describe how completely awesome this is, both on the appreciation-of-technical-difficulty level and the sounds-really-cool level. The place was packed and there was a great vibe.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

the point of no return

I was assigned to go pick up meat from the store today for the barbecue. (No specific instructions about how many people were coming or what kind of meat, just "get meat".) So I figured I'd get out some on my bike first, and get to the store the long way around - by going down our hill to the east, looping north around the big hill, then approaching the hill from the west where it is a more gradual climb (the store is at the top, whereas our house is steeply down from it a few blocks). I've done a few different routes this way, but wanted to try something new today. I remembered Zach saying that he usually took 17th st to go east from Haight towards our neighborhood, so I thought I'd try that. (Wiser heads would remember that Zach thinks the hill on our street is "quite bikeable" if a little tough...) At the bottom - 17th and Valencia - the hill looked pretty tough, but I figured I was already sort of stuck in a neighborhood where most of the options "out" are "up". (Which is also not true. There's a bike path at Church/Market that hooks up with Fell.) Anyway, after about a third of the way up you can't see the top anymore because of the sharp grades and level intersections, so at each block I'd think I was almost done, then realize really not. Two thirds of the way up I thought I'd throw up. But at that point you really can't turn back. I made it all the way to the top without having to walk any of it. (The internet tells me that by 17th/Roosevelt it's a 17% grade) By the time I coasted into Haight Ashbury I'd earned an ice cream at the Ben&Jerry's.

The rest of the 10 mile loop I did is pretty nice, though - through Golden Gate Park to the Sunset, then back up Taraval (a reasonably gradual steady climb) where it meets up with Portola, and at Portola/Diamond Heights it's downhill to my house. The west half of the route was completely fogged in today, although the east half of the city was blue skies.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Summer Recap

Zion National Park

Hiking in 108 degree weather, repelling down a canyon, smashing my hand and losing half a fingernail and finally finding the car at 1:30 in the morning can only mean one thing: another Kuliga Epic. Thanks Mike.


Winning 3rd at Binions afternoon tournament, buying our way past the line at studio 54, riding around in an SUV limo giving rides to random people, Christophe flogging club security.

Lexi's Birthday Penguins

I couldn't have hoped for this day to go any better. Penguins have a whole lot of personality. The baby penguins were very curious and demanded your attention. Happy Birthday Lexi.

Hiking the Bay

Coastal trail in Point Reyes: 12 miles, Barnabes Peak: 5 miles, Berry Falls in Big Basin: 11 miles, Mount Burdell: 5 miles, East Peak of Tamalpais: 6 miles, Steep Ravine to Stinson beach: 4 miles and of course Twin Peaks many times over.

Billy and Mandy

In one week Billy found a job, they found an apartment, we helped moved them in and Billy started work. It was an incredible accomplishment. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Blogger Beta

Check out the new Blogger Beta, stuffed full of tasty new features (sidebar widgets, graphical template editing, labels, and lots more). This is what I've been working on for the last year or so, and I'm proud of the job the team has done. The new infrastructure should be a lot more stable and extensible. Eventually you'll be able to migrate any existing blogs you have into the new system - we're trying to do this a little slowly to make sure stuff works.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dusk on the mission /

Dusk on the mission
a bicycle rattles by
says overthrow bush

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Baby Penguins For my birthday, Andrew adopted me a penguin at the San Francisco Zoo. We got to go meet the penguins a few weeks ago. They even let us hang out with the little baby penguins. The baby penguins are shedding their fluffy fur and growing their adult feathers so lots of them look like they have little mohawks. The keepers separate the baby penguins from the adult ones so they can socialize the babies and show them that a person is the alpha penguin. (The penguin in this picture spent a lot of time standing on my shoes.)

Penguin ThievesThe zoo has about fifty Magellan pengins. The penguins usually pair-bond (although some females will consort with more than one gentleman due to the gender imbalance). Each pair of penguins will live in one burrow. Here, you can see some penguins going through everyone else's burrows looking for neat stuff. The keeper said that there are even some pairs of gay penguins.

Napoleon the PenguinThe penguins all have distinct personalities, so it's pretty easy to tell them apart. (As a cheat sheet, they have color-coded tags on their wings - females are tagged on the right, males on the left, with a variety of colors.) This penguin is named for Napoleon Dynamite, because he often would have a look on his face like "I can do whatever I want". This is especially obvious with the baby penguins learning to swim. Some of them take to it right away but others need to be thrown in the water a whole bunch before they learn.

(flickr photos)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco?

The fog rolls in
on little cat feet
and sits there, as though waiting for a mouse

OK, so it not actually cold outside in the absolute sense of things, but it is not exactly warm enough to walk to the bus in a tank top, either. (Not that it's warm enough in my office to wear a tank top anyway.) But the Los Angeleans insist that this is by far colder than any summer has a right to be.

The fog came in a few weeks ago and just stayed. When I was in the car this morning the fog was thick until after Daly City, when it cleared up right away. This evening it was sunny all the way back, with just hints of fog at the tops of the mountains visible from the 280, until Daly City again, when it became like driving through Tahoe just as it's getting ready to snow. There's not much of a view from the house now, although the street lights and car headlights trace nice patterns in the sky.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

What's in a name?

If a computer gets a new shell, does it need a new name?
Clearly it's important that the computer have a name.
And it just wouldn't be right to have two computers with the same name.
(They become terribly confused. I once accidentally christened a second computer "whitestar"
and it promptly developed defective RAM.)
The computer in question is my oldest laptop.
Not the first, but now the oldest.
Its name is (was?) My Laptop,
because this uniquely identified it as the only portable computer in our apartment.
My Laptop has been to three countries (and three offices) on two continents
over the course of four years
and has seen all generations of RedHat since 6.
Something rattled inside the case if you left in on too long,
and the battery didn't really charge much anymore
and grease on my fingers had gradually worn away the letters on the keyboard
(so I think you could probably tell my password from just looking at it).
It had cat fur stuck on the outside because CM spilled a coke
and then sat on the computer (because even though this is sunny California
my cat likes the warmth of a computer fan).
So when the fan stopped working last week, and My Laptop wouldn't boot,
I took it for dead.
I took it into the office to recycle it, but they had a spare T23 shell on hand
(all the parts except the hard drive)
so they took the hard drive out of the dead, rattling case
and put it inside a shiny new body.
It's just like nothing ever happened to it
(except it's sprouted more memory and a builtin wireless card).
But is it really the same computer?
Does My Laptop need a new name?
It probably should get a new password.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I won 3rd at Binion's Afternoon Tournament

A full house 3's full of 9's and a lucky outdraw where my Ace-8 drew out against a pair of 8's gave me the stamina to last until the final 4 where I busted out with Kings vs. Ace-8 vs. King-8. The King-8 had way fewer chips than I so I got 3rd and he got 4th. Not bad for a days work and a 110 investment.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

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Monday, June 19, 2006

The Teacher Has Now Become The Student

After 5 years of teaching, I'm leaving to become an art student. Part of me is disappointed that I'm abandoning a career that let's me give back to society and part of me is disappointed that it took me so long to leave a field that didn't recognize any of my contributions.

I'll miss my students most of all. Whether they were the very bright and focused who would ask me the tough questions that truly tested my knowledge of my subjects or they were the irresponsible and immature ones that needed me to support and discipline them so that they could reach the high standards of our Academy, they all made me feel that I was making a difference.

The frustrations that I'm happy to leave behind are all related to the adults I had to deal with as I tried to change the system for the better. The list of top offenders include:

1. Administrators who could not hold to procedures and always left problems unsolved until they had grown to catastrophic proportions.

2. Administrators who wouldn't share their knowledge or contacts with me when I was supposed to be learning how to take over their position when they leave.

3. Administrators who forgot that I had digitized their workflow the year before and require everyone to submit their work in writing again.

4. Administrators who put me in charge only to then veto my decisions and sow confusion and frustration amongst the teachers I was helping. Not to mention making me look like an ass in the process.

5. A union that stood in the way of several sensible reforms. My personal favorite of these was their refusal to require on-line grades without a renegotiation with the district.

6. Parents who we never saw no matter how many times we tried to call them in to talk about the problems their students were having in class.

7. State Administrators who refuse to let our Academy change its focus to biotech, a growing industry with entry level positions for students who complete an 18 week course after high school.

8. The teachers who were flat out terrible. They're a very small percentage, but the damage they do to their students and the reputation of our profession is irreparable. Most of them will never leave the profession either as they are tenured and their incompetence keeps them from even considering entering a profession where their performance actually matters.

9. Adults at all levels of the system who let personal conflict drive their decisions rather than the welfare of their students.

The list could go on and on.

Now that I have left teaching, I will be entering the Academy of Art's MA Photography program in the fall. It does feel good to be able to focus my energy into my creative outlets. I've nearly completed the dark room in my garage. I just need the plumber to finish and then to arrange for some ventilation ducts to a fan over the sink. Though I learned on film cameras, I never got into development. It was always easier to just send it out and get it developed, but now I'm more interested in greater creative control rather than convenience.

My classes start on September 7th, which gives me the opportunity to finally go to burning man. I'm going with a group of 25, made up of techers I know and some Googlers too. Our camp is Daliwood and will feature art inspired by Salvador Dali. Gen is putting together a version of the aphrodisiac dinner jacket (covered in blacklight reactive shotglasses) for me to wear. We're not going too crazy on our own art installations as we want to be able to spend a good deal of our time enjoying the playa. We're camping within the larger Asylum camp, so we'll be right in the thick of it in the downtown section. It will be loud at night, but that should be fine if my plan to switch over to sleeping days works out.

I hope to get some good photos on the playa, but I am also aware that photographers and videographers have become very intrusive at burning man. It's almost a sin against the purpose of burning man to come to observe rather than participate. So I'll take a page out of Jodi Cobb's book and build a sense of closeness before taking any photos. I'll also try to put the camera away now and then to just have fun on my own.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Brush fire stopped traffic on the 5

Escape from LA

This is what traffic is like at 2pm at the farthest outskirts of LA. It's 106 outside and the AC can hardly keep up. This is why nobody ever asks me why I left.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Conspicuous Consumption

Josh asked me along to Math and Physics Day at Great America this past Friday. This gave me the chance to finally buy one of those ridiculous pictures that they take at the end of the loop on a rollercoaster. The photo was ridiculously overpriced for its terrible quality but the fact is they got a monopoly on cameras fixed at a position to catch my response to going through the upside down loop. There are many things money can't buy, but you don't count silly souvenirs like this among them. If you peruse the picture closely you might notice that I'm the only one in the front row who is holding their arms out. What's this world coming to?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

We Came. We Blogged. We Conquered.

The spoils of victory for our dominance in the Chieftan's Trivia Night. Ironically, we won enough to cover the drinks we had during the competition. The real credit for the victory goes to Gen. Most of the question, we all knew the answers to, but whenever most of us were stumped, Gen came through. Together we made a great team, each filling in the gaps of the others knowledge.

We're Blogging this Right Now

...was our team name for the Trivia Competition. True to our namesake, we shared news of the event with an uninterested internet public through minute by minute web updates. I feel like a Gargoyle out of Snowcrash.

Lake Tahoe at Sunset

I hate the idea of a private beach. It's fine if you own the house right next to the beach and the beach is your private yard, but when the only stretch of beach near south shore is gated off from use by some condo coop, it can really ruin your day. I shouldn't have to walk a half an hour to get a view of the sunset that doesn't involve iron bars. Especially when none of the people who own the private beach are out using it. Luckily, the luxury homes that were under construction next to the private beach did not yet have their fences up, so I got an unobstructed view of a great sunset.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Spring Breaking in Lake Tahoe

I had to go to Tahoe this week to pick up my skis, which had been left there since I broke my ankle. As the previous post explained, my trip got unexpectedly extended when the GPS sent me into unincorporated El Dorado County on a wild goose chase. The car suggested a forest service road that would take me over to the 88. About 30 minutes down this road, the blue line that represented my path disappeared and the GPS reminded me to "Follow all local traffic laws". I found a path on the map that would get me to the 88, but about 20 minutes down that path, I came across the washed out bridge and had to turn back. This kept me from getting to kirkwood before they closed so I had to spend the night in Tahoe. I grabbed a sandwich for dinner and snuck on to a private beached on by some hotels near the shore. The view of the sunset there was great and I had a lot of fun trying out all the manual settings on my camera. The next day I got my skis and tried to hike Grass Pond, but the road there was...wait for it...washed out. Damn! I drove back towards San Francisco and came across a nice hill so I walked up it as far as I could before the growth got to thick to continue. Though there were many unexpected obstacles to my trip, I was happy with the outcome.

Spring Breaking in Tahoe 2006:05:10andrew_casteel's Spring Breaking in Tahoe 2006:05:10 photoset

Tomales Point Hike

Pat Higgins was up from Colorado to interview with Google so he and Babcock and I went hiking in Point Tomales. It's only about an hour and a half north of the city. We stopped at the nearby lighthouse first. There were tons of ravens and even a few turkey vultures hanging on the updrafts from the cliffs. All along the hike there were elk herds. The end of the hike wound around the cliff edge down to where the end of the trail had collapsed on to the rock below.

Point Tomales Hike at Point Reyes 2006:05:06andrew_casteel's Point Tomales Hike at Point Reyes 2006:05:06 photoset

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

GPS is not omniscient

Though I love my prius, sometimes one just wishes one were driving the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard so that with a squeal of the tires and a loud "Yeeeeehaaaaw" one could cross this pathetic divet in the road in a slow motion, parabolic arc.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

San Francisco Botanical Gardens

Golden Gate Park 2006:04:26andrew_casteel's Golden Gate Park 2006:04:26 photoset

Ocean Beach

I'd never thought about how to get from my house to Ocean Beach before. It turns out that there is a broad variety of ways to get from here to there, with a variety of climbing involved. I'm not in great cardiovascular shape, so I was definitely up for a "less climbing" route. After consulting
the bike-friendly map, which tells me that I don't want to bike over Twin Peaks. Which I guess I knew. The bike map suggested a route through Clarendon Heights which wasn't too steep. I stopped at a few points on Corbett to catch my breath, but it was doable. After coasting down Ashbury I was ready for some ice cream at the Ben and Jerry's. The ride through Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park is pretty flat, and after stopping at the ocean for a while to watch the windsurfing, I continued down the Great Highway. The climb back up Taraval to Portola is very gradual. The whole loop was about three hours, counting ice cream and beach stops.

The one very nice thing about the map is the color coding of elevation. As in, the street where I live is the brightest orange. THen again, the map thinks I live in Diamond Heights, so I'm not sure I trust its accuracy.

Goose Stepping Cows?

I think I just don't get British political humor.

I was in London for a week to do some recruiting. In between interviewing a dozen nearly identical-looking candidates, I got to go to some museums and theater. (Someday, European universities will start churning out female graduates with computer science degrees. Until then, I'm doomed to interview "Matt", "Matthew", and "Matteo" all on the same day. No offense.) I saw the musical Billy Elliot, which was pretty cool. But the bit about cows goose-stepping while saluting a giant balloon with the face of Margaret Thatcher really went over my head. The wine at the theater was pretty bad, though, and I needed rather a lot of beer afterwards to forget it. Still, the little boy playing Billy could actually sing and dance, so it was a good show.

A trip to London wouldn't be complete without a trip to Gutshot. Sadly, the only game going when I showed up was the 50 pound game, which is tougher than the lower-stakes games usually happening. I was doing pretty well until I ended up all in with aces against a set of eights... very disappointing. On the plus side, that evening I found a restaurant with actual Good Food. Prior to this point I had been substisting on chocolate croissants, office food, and Guinness (with the occasional foray into those little steak pies), but it was fantastic to eat some real food. The restaurant is Orso, near Covent Garden. I had the risotto and the lamb, which absolutely fell off the bone and was delicious. As seems to be traditional in London, they serve you the normal amount of wine in a tiny glass and caraffe, to convince you that there is in fact several glasses of wine.

I've also discovered that Gatwick Airport is the way to go, to get into London. The last time I flew into Heathrow, the customs line was miles long and there were lots of flight delays. At Gatwick, I arrived two hours early and got through checkin/customs in about fifteen minutes. Not that there's anything to do once you get through customs... spent my last few pounds on some paperbacks and browsed the whiskey selection at the duty free store. The fifteen minutes even includes the security folks thinking I was some sort of British thug (what with my Blogger hoodie) and actually patting me down and poking through my wallet. Because my wallet is suspicious. It occurs to me that I haven't cleaned out my wallet in a while. I'm still a card-carrying Democrat (for lack of better options), and member of the V.Sattui wine club, but at some point the pass for the NY subway is going to expire. And I really don't know what I'm going to do with three bart tickets, each worth less than the minimum cost of a ride. I don't know what the airport security folks made of the mass transit tickets for subways in four cities... maybe I'm part of a worldwide plot to... uh.. do something.

Anyway, London is fun, but I like being somewhere where sushi doesn't come on a conveyor belt.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Butterfly Exhibit

Butterfly Exhibitandrew_casteel's Butterfly Exhibit photoset

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Napa with Lexi

2006:04:29 Napa Tripandrew_casteel's 2006:04:29 Napa Trip photoset

Conservatory of Flowers

They have a no tripod policy so most of the macro shots took several tries and various tricky flash angles. It's a beautiful place to visit and tickets are only five dollars. I was chased from room to room by the mist sprayers which would periodically turn on to keep the tropical humidity. Great for flowers, but not for my camera.

Conservatory of Flowers 2006:04:26andrew_casteel's Conservatory of Flowers 2006:04:26 photoset

Hawk Hill Photos

The hike turned out to be very short. I was promised 2 miles but it was no more than a 5 minute stroll to the top. There was however an incomplete bunker started for World War II but never finished because it became clear that the bay was safe from invasion by the time they were ready to start arming it. Now all that is there are giant green cement ponds where 25 mile range naval guns would have been installed.

Hawk Hill Hike 2006:04:26andrew_casteel's Hawk Hill Hike 2006:04:26 photoset

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

SF Protest for A Day Without an Immigrant

It was a slow day at school. There were only 10 students in each of my first 2 classes. Though I made it out to the San Francisco Protest a little after most of the crowd had left, the people that were left were still very energized. There were several great drum circles, tons of families with flags and a lot of positive energy in the air.

2006:05:01 Day Without An Immigrant Protestandrew_casteel's 2006:05:01 Day Without An Immigrant Protest photoset

Friday, April 28, 2006

Spring Break Napa Trip

Napa Wine Trip 2006:04:13andrew_casteel's Napa Wine Trip 2006:04:13 photoset

Amy's Spring Break Visit

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ravens on Twin Peaks

St. Stupids Day and Oyster Fest Photos

Long Overdue

Cute Pet Pics

There will undoubtably be more to come

Alternative Press Expo and Golden Gate Bridge Biking Pics

I finally accepted Keith's advice about the flickr pro account. It is totally worth the $2 a month. Here are the pics from our trip to APE and the Golden Gate. I love the meta-photos of tourists taking photos.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mount Tam Stinson Beach Pics

Somebody used my picture in his article

The horde of motorcycle cops and the girls arrest are my pics. I feel so journalistic.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Wine Tasting

This week was spring break for Andrew, so I figured now was as good a time as any to take vacation. (Apparently it goes away if I don't take it.) We took Thursday and Friday to go to Napa. As it turned out, the weather was beautiful on Thursday - a nice change from the seven consecutive weeks of rain every day. (OK, fine, it didn't rain last Saturday; we took that opportunity to bike the Golden Gate bridge. But it has rained on all other days since February.)

We found a circa-2002 wine country map with highlighter marks for places we've already been, and resolved to visit new places this time.
  • Van der Hayden (which has the only late-harvest cabernet in the valley; the proprietor claimed to have just found the final remaining pallet of the 1997 vintage). This place looks pretty old-school, where you have to ring the bell to get someone to come out of the house and serve you the wine. Plus there were yummy chocolates filled with wine.
  • Reynolds. I don't actually remember the wine, but apparently we bought a bottle of cabernet there anyway. I do remember that they also claimed to have just discovered a pallet of some older wine which is now more expensive. Must be something going around with the stockboys' union.
  • Hall. They're new, and make mostly Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. I suppose it's good, as far as those go. Bleh. Actually, there was some pretty cool metal artwork holding up the wine bottles, which looked sort of like stuff from the Calder exhibit at the moma.
  • Beaulieu Vineyards. We've been there once before, when we encountered a really snobby clerk (who apparently thinks that (muddy t-shirt != serious wine drinker). This time wasn't much better. We went to the reserve tasting room, where the person at the counter headed us off as soon as we came in the door and informed us that the regular tasting room was next door. OK.. guess they don't want my money. No loss, their wine's not that good anyway.
  • Saint Clement. Yummy Chardonay; requires a hike up the hill to get there, so you feel like you're working off some of the calories.
We also visited some places we go most times:
  • V. Sattui. Everyone's favorite winery; on sunny weekends there's barbecue. If you have a cellar club membership, you can taste in the reserve room too. (All tasting is free.) They had a little bit of the 2002 Howell Mountain left, plus the Morissoli, so we ended up leaving with a case of wine (including picking up some more Madiera to replenish the stock). They're all sold out of the Suzanne's Vineyard zinfandels, though, which is a bummer because they're not going to replant that area with zinfandel for another 5+ years.
  • Milat. My favorite for price / quality ratio. The Pine Station red is $18/bottle and is competitive with most $50 wines from the valley. Their 2003 Cabernet (just bottled) was fantastic. The folks there are also really friendly and will tell you stuff about the wine.
For lunch on Thursday, we went to Aubrege du Soleil. Excellent fancy restaurant with tables on a balcony overlooking Napa Valley. Sure, it's expensive, but the attention to detail in the food is worth it. I had the seared scallops with bacon and some kind of root vegetable, and filet mignon with potato risotto. I've never had potatoes done like that: still al-dente enough to hold up the dish, but cooked enough to not taste like raw hunks of potato.

Lunch on Friday was at the Rutherford Grill, which is owned by the guy who does Houston's. I can't resist the prime rib sandwich. Plus, no corkage fee.

Because it was all sunny outside, we wanted to get in some hiking. The Boethe National Park has some generally fun hiking trails. The creek was running several feet higher than I remembered from last time, and the ground was disgorging water out of every possible orifice. The parts of the trail that normally cross the creek (by using stepping stones) were unusable, so we only made it a few miles in. The trail was usually dry enough to walk on, but I did encounter some patches of mud too wide to hop over (hence the muddiness , when we arrived at BV). No evidence of humans anywhere - I guess no one else wants to wade through the mud.

Scrabble Poetry

The riveter's caveat fades.
None meet at the Rune to get blazed
while people make jabs at their hairs.
None meet to groan and moan.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Culinary Adventures

I've had a number of new-to-me food experiences in the last month or so:

1) Grits.
While in Charleston for Rob's wedding, I discovered grits. My previous experiences with this foodstuff had been somewhat negative because they involved a Californian's interpretation of what grits were supposed to be made with. Actual authentic southern grits are goood. How can you go wrong with that much cheese?

2) Tartine.
I am sure that at some point during my Europe adventures, I blogged about pan au chocolat, consumed fresh from the bakery in Paris. Upon returning to the states, I found that while many bakeries claim to have a pastry involving chocolate, that they are sad imitations of the real thing. The American equivalent used milk chocolate which usually hardened into a lump in the middle of the pastry, and the pastry itself would be heavy, full of butter, and not the least bit flaky. Anyway, at Tartine (18th and Guerrero), I found one that's somewhat close to the Paris version (certainly leap-years ahead of the other American ones), whose primary flaw is that it's really breakfast for two. But it uses the right kind of chocolate (dark Schaffenberger) and the pastry is light and fluffy. Yummy.

3) Brunch at the Ritz
When Amy was here to visit, we had brunch at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown SF. This definitely counts as the most spectacular buffet ever: there were so many different kinds of food that I couldn't possibly try them all. An omelete station, carving station with multiple kinds of meat, sushi, dim sum, bread and cheese, tapas, and an enormous dessert cart. I was absolutely stuffed and couldn't eat anything else all day.

4) Those yummy little meringue things
I don't know what they're called, but they had them at chocolate stores in Zurich: composed of two pieces of meringue that sandwich a layer of creme. They come in dozens of flavors. You could theoretically ship them from Switzerland, but it's complicated because they are fragile and respond badly to heat. When you buy a box, you basically have to eat it all right then and there. I think the name might sound vaguely like 'sprungli' but Google's results for this are not promising. Anyway, I figured for sure I would never find anything like this here, but the Noe Valley Bakery and Bread Co (24th at.. Noe) has something pretty close. They're heavier than their European counterparts (detecting a theme yet?) but are very tasty and come in chocolate and fruity flavors.

Whiskies of the World expo

This bagpipe troop had the knack of showing up whenever I was trying to call someone.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

first time back up twin peaks since braking my ankle

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rob and Margaret's Wedding

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Thursday, March 02, 2006


This is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Martin Gaitan

Yesterday, I was hanging out at Amelia's house, operating on the theory that a hearty bowl of chili and some beer might squash this budding sinus-headache-fever-scratchy-throat thing that had kept me home all day, holding some kind of can opener which the host assured me would be able to open the aforementioned bottle of beer (the kind of opener that has lots of little stubby bits hanging off of it, none quite large enough to pop a bottle cap), and feeling rather silly about not being able to figure out how to operate it (I have a degree in engineering, for crying out loud, and can usually think of a dozen McGuyver-esque ways of opening any given container of alcohol), when I suddenly realized how much I miss Martin, who knew how to do that trick with a lighter to open beer bottles (a useful skill, when lighters outnumber functional beer openers by orders of magnitude).

Martin died in a car accident last Sunday night, the kind of accident where no one knows exactly what happened because all that's left is a twisted heap of cars on the freeway. I hadn't seen much of Martin after he moved to Florida, but we were friends in college, where he would absolutely always open my beer for me whenever I needed it. (OK, so I'm the sort of engineer who tends towards soldering things together rather than taking things apart. Fine.) Neither of us much liked differential equations, but studied together sometimes because it's way more fun than studying with people who know everything (except for the obvious disadvantage that you don't have anyone to copy from). Martin was always the life of the party, too, and was always up for doing something unrelated to studying. He was a real standup guy. I guess I don't have much more to say than that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Agi is My Good Luck Charm

We went skiing last weekend with a bunch of friends. Actually, I guess it was more snowboarding than skiing - the rest of the group wanted to learn to snowboard, so I figured I'd join them rather than be the only one on skis. (Andrew spent most of the weekend at the card room.) We rented some snowboards and hit the bunny slopes at Kirkwood. I remembered a lot more about how to snowboard than I thought I would - the board mostly does what I tell it to, I can sort of link turns, and I can get down the easy slopes without falling. It was tons of fun to snowboard again, but I'd forgotton what it was like to fall so much and get snow stuck in my hat. Ben, Amelia, and Kelle had never snowboarded before, so they were too sore the next morning to go back. (I was a little sore too, but mostly in my shoulder from one bad fall.)

So Agi and I were on our own for skiing on Sunday, with everyone else wanting to stay back at the condo. We set out after a leisurely breakfast to get in a half day of skiing (me on my skis this time). At the junction of CA 88 and 89 we saw a hitchhiker. This intersection is maybe 14 miles from civilization in any direction, so it's a little unusual to see people hanging out there. If I were by myself, maybe I wouldn't pick him up, but with two of us in the car it seems pretty safe, and Agi says yeah, pick him up. So we pull over. His name is Justin, and he'd hitchhiked here from Stateline but the first ride he found needed to go the other way at the junction. Anyway, turns out that Justin and I work for the same company, but had never met before, presumably because it's a Big Company now, and he's in sales and I'm in engineering. Small world, I guess.

We got to Kirkwood, and Agi realized she'd forgotten her ticket back at the condo. They'd bought tickets in town in advance because it's only $50 if you buy in advance, but more than $60 if you buy there. But the ticket guy was nice and gave her a discount anyway - the ticket ended up costing less than the original one.

We skied a bunch of different parts of the mountain, although the back side was closed because of high winds. We stopped pretty late for lunch, and Agi convinced the grill guy to give us a beer and two hot dogs for less than ten bucks. Sweet!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend, and we made great time back in the car (just over 3 hours).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


That's When I Carried You
by the Gimp Chair

One night, Andrew, you had a dream. You dreamed you were pushing me through the house: to the room with the ying-yang table, to the office to do some grading, or to the table for the extra unexpected guest. For each scene, you noticed two sets of footprints on the floor; one belonging to you, and the other to me. When the last scene of your dream flashed before you, you looked back at the footprints on the floor. You noticed that many times along the floor of your house there was only one set of footprints. You also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in your life. This bothered you, and you questioned me about it. "Gimp Chair, you said that once I decided to buy you from office depot, you would walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me." I replied, "My precious, precious child. I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

Screw You Gimp Chair
by Andrew

Screw you Gimp Chair! When I first bought you, you promised to be not only affordable but comfortable. Now that I've spent a month sitting on you...well atleast you were affordable. Your cheap imitation pleather is neither soft nor plush. Your arm rails left black scars on the walls of my house, which I bumped into only because your wheels always stick. Your recline is far from sufficient, leaving me cramped and uncomfortable. Your adjustable height is neither high enough to let me reach the counters in the kitchen with ease nor short enough to let me elevate my broken leg on any of the other furniture. Your wheels spread dirt and scratches all across my floor. I must be fair however. You did have your advantages. After all, I can't carry anything on crutches and my shoulders were getting sore from having to support myself. Today when the doctor told me I could start walking again, it was all I could do to choke back the tears of joy. Now that I've freed myself from you, I'm sending you back to the depths of the forgotten office. Oh does it seem like a cruel punishment for all your dutiful service. Just be glad we aren't still living in San Carlos because you'd be chopped to pieces and then burned with scrap wood in our backyard firepit. Screw You Gimp Chair. If I never sit in you again, it'll be too soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ski Photos

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Transportation Options

I was standing in the pouring rain in the Mission on Thursday, contemplating the value of my time. The walk home from that bart station takes roughly 30 minutes, which is normally how I get home. It's mostly uphill, so it's good exercise. But it's a lot less fun in the rain, which got me thinking about alternate forms of transportation. I can take the bart to Glen Park, then get on a bus, and walk 1-2 blocks to get home; this route has almost no rain exposure, but takes significantly longer than 30 minutes and is not free ($1.40 bart fare as of this week, $1.25 bus fare, 5 minutes wait/ride time for the bart, expected value of 25 minutes wait/ride for the bus, 5 minutes walk from the bus stop). Finally, there's the cab: expected value $9 fare/tip, 10 minutes ride plus 5 minutes finding the cab. (The final option, asking Andrew to come pick me up in a car, works only when the car is not in the shop and when he is physically capable of driving, but it's the cheapest: expected value 15 minutes, negligible cost.)

So, the question is, how many dollars must my time be worth before the cab option is the most optimal? Assume that there is some factor X which converts minutes to dollars. The public transit and cab options are "equal" in total cost to me when this equation is satisfied:

1.40 + 1.25 + (40 * X) = 9.00 + (15 * X)

which happens when X is 0.25 dollars-per-minute, or $15.24 per hour.

Similarly, comparing the cab vs. walking:

30 * X = 9.00 + (15 * X)

suggests that the cab is a better option if my time is worth at least $36 per hour.

The upshot is that I think I'll never take the bus again. :) The exercise (in non-rainy weather) has tangible benefits to me, but I'm pretty sure my time is worth more than $15/hour. Or would be, if I weren't salaried - this is sort of academic at this point.

Having figured this out while wandering down Valencia, I finally found a cab. He called in the pickup as Army Street - I wonder how long he's been driving a cab, if he still thinks of it as Army? - and in fact made better time than ten minutes. Sweet.

Friday, January 13, 2006

You might just have ADD

If you relax by blogging while you're painting, while you're playing 3 on-line tournaments, while you're watching the commentary tracks of your World Poker Tour Discs. God I'm Bored.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Continuing Adventures of Super Gimp

This past weekend, Lexi, Billy, Mandy, Kevin and I went to Tahoe. We must have soaked up all the bad Karma last time, because this trip was lots of fun. About the only thing that went wrong was that Billy's Truck's regular headlights died on the way up, so we had to blind everyone with the brights, but we made it to Tahoe without trouble nonetheless. Everyone went skiing while I spent Saturday playing cards. I only made 11 bucks, but I had a great time chatting with a few of the other players. The morning poker table crowd is a strange mix of old men drinking coffee and bleary eyed drunks still left over from the night before. Two characters of note were spicy corona man and the black russian flirt.

Spicy Corona man was from Monterey Mexico. He had been drinking coronas that he kept adding sweet and spicy mexican hot sauce to. Despite the fact that the hot sauce bottle was almost empty, his play was still respectably sane. His head would hang loosely off his neck as though it was ready to fall off until it was his turn, when someone would remind him he had cards. However as soon as he had to play he would carefully consider his cards and then fold or raise. The pots he raised, he usually won or atleast showed down a respectable holding. As soon as he had won or folded, his head would slump back down. He left the table after he finished the last of his hot sauce and the waitress refused to get him another corona.

The black russian flirt did not do so well at the table. When I first sat down, he was explaining to another player how he had a fight with his girlfriend earlier and he was waiting to go fix things once she had calmed down. He started off playing ok, but as soon as a cute waitress from Brazil started her shift. After that, he ordered about 6 black russians in the space of about a half hour just so he could ask the waitress her name each time. He kept thinking he could get her to go out with him to the improv that night. The more he drank, the more he was convinced this was the case. After about the 5th black russian, the quality of his play dropped of dramatically. He lost $200 in a span of about 30 minutes, chasing straight hands all the way to the river and showing down junk. After the last of his money was gone, he slowly rose from his chair. He swayed towards the exit, then turned towards the back of the poker room, then back out into the casino, where he passed out on a row of slot machines. A crowd of casino workers gathered and carried him to the elevator. I would have paid for tickets to the fight that must have ensued when they dragged him, dead drunk at 10am into the hotel room where his girlfriend was waiting.

The two most engaging players at the table were a programmer for and an English teacher from Santa Barbara. I had a great time just sitting and chatting with them.

After everyone finished skiing, we all went to Cecil's Steak and Brew. It's kind of a cross between a Morton's and a Cheesecake Factory (half big steaks and half big salads). The steaks were great and there was so much food it fed us for breakfast the next day.

Billy, Mandy and I left early on Sunday so that they could get back to LA in time to catch their flight to Hawaii. I wish they had more time to spend with us, but how often do you get the chance to get to go to Hawaii.

Almost forgot. Earlier last week I had won a $10 tournament where the prize was the $200 entry into a tournament on Saturday. I couldn't play as I was going to Tahoe so I gave the entry to my friend Yann with the deal that we split the winnings. He managed to win $400 so I made $190 on my initial investment. Not bad. I just won another satellite tournament to a $100,000 dollar tournament that starts on my birthday. I should be able to play that. My tournament play is improving. It's really a matter of being very patient, coming in with aggression, and continuing that aggression post flop in the right amount to drive out chasers or build a huge pot if you have flopped a monster.

Yesterday I took the GRE. I was upset that my scores from my last GRE had expired. When they say they last about 5 years, they don't mean a little over 5 years, they mean a little under 5 years. Doh. Anyhow, I signed up to take it again. Here are the results (out of 800)

No practice
Finished an hour early
690 Verbal
730 Math
? Writing

We'll see if they're good enough for Stanford. Though I'm not sure if I would prefer to go to Stanford or work at the Medicare Research center crunching data. I'm about ready for an office job. Punch in 9-5. No baggage to take home. I've got my mug and stapler all ready. And if they take my stapler I'm....I'm...I'm gonna burn down the building. Just Kidding. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A nice little rant about educational data systems...

...which makes up my statement of purpose for Stanford's Policy Analysis program

Attention Deficit Disorder is the biggest problem afflicting the Education system in America. I'm not talking about the students either. The system itself can't keep track of all the interventions it tries. New programs start, run for a few years, realize they have no way of telling whether they have made any impact, and then are discarded for the next new idea. The answer to this problem is better data management, which I hope to develop during my studies at Stanford.

Plenty of data is gathered by educational institutions across the country. In my district's SASI database, there are hundreds of modules worth of test scores, intervention outcomes, and biographical information for our students. The issues are with ease of access, meaningful representation and interoperability.

The disjoint and antiquated database systems in use in most school districts make student data difficult to access. Though there are a few integrated systems for handling testing data, attendance, and grades, there are many schools that still use separate programs for each of those sets of data. My school district, for example, has one program for teachers to keep their grades in, another program for testing data and attendance, and a proprietary web hosting program that takes data in from the other two programs and publishes it to the web. The result is a system where only some teachers are technologically savvy enough to post their grades to the web. Those grades are then only available to parents and students and not to the counselors, who could use them to help make better informed decisions about their students' schedules. Testing data is only available through a query driven database program. As a teacher with a background in computer science, I was able to quickly learn the complex query system needed to access the data, but not many other teachers have similar experience with query languages and therefore can not take full advantage of all the data collected by the district.

As I stated before, there are software solutions available that integrate all these functions together, but many of these programs still do not give meaningful representations of the data tailored to the needs of each user. For example, the district collects test results for a multitude of required state and federal assessments for each student. However most of these results give the teacher little more than a broad classification of a students skill in a given subject area. For test results to be of any use in education, they must be broken down by individual subject area standards. There are already new assessments that are designed to provide this level of detail, such as the benchmark exams in English and Math required by No Child Left Behind. Each question on these exams is associated with one or more subject area standards. The teacher can then take the results of these exams and check the performance on each standard by class or by individual student. Thus a math teacher can quickly check the results of their students benchmark exam and see which standards the class is struggling with and adapt their instruction to ensure their students get more support for that standard. This is much more useful than many other test results, which would only tell that teacher how many students were proficient or not with no indication of where their gaps of knowledge may be.

Even if more school districts started to use systems that integrated their data and represented it in useful ways to each level of user, there is still the issue of new students entering from other districts. I'm an essentialist educator. I believe that there is a core set of reading, writing and mathematics skills that all schools should be responsible for imparting to their students. Despite my many misgivings about the No Child Left Behind legislation, it does draw the focus of education back to those subject areas. I believe that the next step is to standardize the data systems and subject area standards across the nation. Though individual districts should have the freedom to develop auxiliary standards that meet local interests and needs, the basic standards for English and Math should be uniform across the whole country. With uniform standards and data systems in schools, students who moved between districts would not be lost in a new system that has none of the information it needs to place those students in an appropriate academic program.

I have taught for almost 5 years now. Before I was a teacher, I got my degree in economics with a focus on econometrics. While I was in college, I supported myself with summer jobs in programming. All these experiences have lead me to believe that the educational system has much to gain from the coordinated application of preexisting data management techniques. I would like to work to see this happen someday. It must if we hope to remain competitive in the global economy.