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I also squeezed in a visit to Hoover Dam during my Vegas trip, paying an extra $20 to see a couple of more esoteric areas of the dam that are normally closed to tourists.  My experience of Hoover Dam was a bit bittersweet.  While I was impressed at the number of tourists who streamed in to see a large and technologically interesting but fairly unattractive-looking historic engineering project instead of simply gambling in Vegas, seeing the dam reminded me of the much larger Three Gorges dam in China, which I saw a few years back when it was under construction.  Hoover Dam was built during an era when US urban engineers dared to be big and bold with their projects -- buildings like the Empire State building, bridges like the Golden Gate bridge.  These were symbols of national pride.  However, the US has stopped pushing the limits of construction technology, leaving it instead to places like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Dubai. 

We are certainly making progress in subtler ways; energy efficiency has dramatically improved, and mass customization techniques are allowing for new types of structures with fine nonrepeating detail and an organic feel.  There are also certainly drawbacks to structures like dams, which can damage ecosystems despite providing clean power, and I don't advocate aggressive damming of every valley in sight.  Also, there are also certainly other areas in which America is excelling, including most major internet businesses.  However, it seems that new construction and civil engineering projects don't fire our imaginations anymore.  I don't want to see our urban development mired in a morass of entrenched interests and excess regulation, leading us to gradually fall behind as it becomes too difficult to make progress.  For example, building a modern SF-LA high speed rail seems hopelessly complex and political. 

Anyway, the visual experience of Hoover Dam, built in a jagged and lifeless canyon of burnt-brown with a tangle of power lines emerging from a central core deep in the ground, is not unlike a mid-1900s rendition of Mordor.  The stark landscape helps add to the feel of the project's audacity.

Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
 
The spillway was the most enormous pipe I had ever seen.  NOM!
Hoover Dam

From the interior... 80-year-old grafitti, among other things:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam

Faraway rocks had a burnt look -- here's a quick feel for what they'd look like without all that silly air in the way:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
 
Full Flickr set here
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Angel's Landing is the sort of trail that would probably never get built today.  The last section of the trail goes along an extremely narrow ridge with 1000' dropoffs on both sides, with only an occasional chain to help you keep your balance.  I was last here when I was 12 or so, and was too scared to complete the trail.  Thus, there was extra significance behind my return to the trail.  The challenge bar had been set a lot higher though -- in winter this trail is snowy and often icy, and the snow is often deceptive in hiding cliffs, crevices, and other dangerous locations.  I bought some Ice Trekkers traction control devices for my feet, but they turned out to be somewhat inadequate in dealing with the worst situations -- slick icy slopes.  It's hard to get a good view from a distance of this last part of the trail, but I did manage to take a very zoomed in picture from another trail that gives a sense for it.  If you look really close, you can see a person making her way along the ridge.


 

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
 
Fear was my constant companion as I made my way across.  I was acutely aware of the tiniest slipping of my feet, and moved extremely carefully as I contemplated both the physics of my motions and my intuitive rock climber sense of my movement.  Having this extended exercise of constant fear let me play with how I dealt with the fear; this situation was a reasonable one in which to be fearful, but some flavors of fear are more productive than others, and I was able to analyze what generated the different types of fear. 

I met some other people with better traction control devices -- I had chosen a good all-around solution that handled all kinds of terrain, but the trail really demanded long spikes for better control on ice. 

I climbed up the tree at one of the peaks and surveyed the view.  It was a hell of a drop.  The view was fantastic though.


Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter
  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
 


Angel's Landing isn't the only harrowing hike in Zion.  Here's Hidden Valley:
 

Zion in Winter

You call this a trail?  Oh right, I came in winter and am doing all this at my own risk.  Self-reliance is a good trait to develop.
 
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Zion is a canyon in Utah known for its variety of soft reddish sedimentary rocks.  The composition of these rocks has allowed rivers to carve exquisitely textured yet enormous ravines into them, creating an extremely beautiful place.  However, in winter, these rocks get covered with snow, enhancing the contrast and making the grinding work of the water even easier to see.  Pictures of Zion in winter were amazing enough to convince me to drive three hours from Vegas after my conference ended to check it out.  It did not disappoint.  I spent the day hiking four major trails, taking in as much as I could.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

The textures were fantastic.  The lines of snow deposited in darker and recessed areas highlighted the range of ways that the rock had been carved.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

I have a lot more photos on Flickr

Also, I'm shocked that Zion is practically empty in winter.  Unless you're going canyoning, there's really not much of a reason to go in the summer. 
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The Berkeley Bulb is the result of an unintentional experiment in long-term anarchistic land use of a dilapidated jetty by a large number of artists and homeless people.  Many of the largest sculptures are similar to the way they were 5 years ago when I last visited, but the numerous concrete canvases have since been repainted many times.

Berkeley Bulb  Berkeley Bulb

Berkeley Bulb  Berkeley Bulb  Berkeley Bulb

Berkeley Bulb
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Here are the results from our baking-very-dark-things adventure -- my attempt to create bittersweet desserts that aren't available in the market.

Recipe #1 -- a standard dark chocolate cupcake recipe (makes 6 cupcakes)

1/4 cup unsweetened chocolate powder (used Dagobah brand)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 whole egg
1/2 egg yolk
1/8 tsp vanilla

Recipe #2 -- modified version of recipe #1:

1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons (almost 1/2 cup) unsweetened chocolate powder (used Dagobah brand)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick butter
4 tsp sugar (1/3 the original amount)
1/2 whole egg
1/2 egg yolk

Recipe #3 -- recipe 2 + a dash of Yellow Masala Curry powder.

------------

Frostings:
Frosting #1 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla
Frosting #2 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla + unsweetend chocolate powder
Frosting #3 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla + ground nutmeg (1/2 nut for 6 cupcakes of frosting)

------

Recipe #1 -- the standard recipe -- was a bit on the sweet side but had great texture.
Recipe #2 -- the low-sugar, extra-chocolate recipe -- had a less sproingy texture due to lack of sugar, was a little doughy in terms of the flavor, had somewhat limited expression of the chocolate flavor despite the extra chocolate, but was at the right level of sweetness for me.
Recipe #3 -- the yellow Masala curry -- had the texture problems of Recipe #2 but had the best flavor.  It's proved once and for all that yellow curry belongs in cupcakes.  

Going forward, we are going to try modifying recipes #2 & #3 to add a bit of salt to enhance the chocolate flavor and another egg to help create a more spongey cupcake texture.  

Frosting #3 was the most interesting -- the intense nutmeg flavor only slightly cut by sugar added a strong kick to the frosting.  

----

Thanks to Aviva for providing the cooking mastery and to everyone else for helping.  

----


Baking Dark Things  Baking Dark Things  Baking Dark Things
Baking Dark Things

After baking, we played Bananagrams.  Look closely at the crossword on the lower left.  Someone's mind is a little dirty.

Baking Dark Things

Also, this is a Water Caltrop, a relative of the Water Chestnut.  The flavor is uninteresting, but the fruit looks like something out of Hades:


P1160846  Water Caltrop - the strangest fruit in the world


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I set up my Kinect video superimposition software at a friend's party, and invited people to play with it.  Most of the good stuff never got recorded, but here are a couple of 3D self-superimpositions:

  

My friend on the right apparently needed to send a picture of herself kissing a girl to some guy, so I set it up so she could make out with herself.   People were "surprisingly" willing to grope the augmented-reality-captured models of their friends.  Who knew...
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So I don't follow baseball.  That's not to say that baseball isn't interesting... I'm sure there's plenty of depth and nuance to it, but it takes some work to get to that depth.   However, I'm fascinated by how it's affecting San Francisco.  During the second World Series game I took a walk around the stadium and absorbed a bit of the enthusiasm of the crowd.  It's truly a spectacle, from the people crowding into the free standing room seats at the back of the stadium to the people in the boats outside the park with the game on radio hoping to catch a home run to the people just standing around the stadium in team costume and celebrating.

The closest I'll probably ever get to the World Series  The closest I'll probably ever get to the World Series
The closest I'll probably ever get to the World Series  The closest I'll probably ever get to the World Series
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This was taken near my house.  The billboard has been alternating between these two states for three months.
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We originally planned on hiking up Half Dome yesterday, but we changed our minds after an all-night thunderstorm that was followed by a hailstorm the next morning.  We did get to see the park full of clouds, and that ended up being quite beautiful:



Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day 
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day

Full flickr set
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In case you were wondering, this is what Yosemite valley looks like in near-infrared.  Near-infrared is different from thermal infrared, which shows temperature.  In near-infrared, which is commonly used in see-in-the-dark security cameras, foliage is very light, while water is very dark and murky.  I brought a near-infrared camera along on my trip to Yosemite yesterday. 



Yosemite in infrared
 
Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared

Full set on flickr.

If you like these, I also have some near-infrared pictures of the japanese gardens in San Francisco.
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Since my camera died mid-Ephemerisle I didn't get around taking nearly as many pictures as I liked.  I did go through other people's pictures and selected my favorites for placement online.  Then I left the folder on my desktop for a couple of months while I was distracted by other things.  They're now attached to the Not-Ephemerisle photoset on flickr

Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)  Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)  Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)

Rathaball vs waterboarding Matt
Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)  Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)
Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)  Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)
Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)  Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)  Ephemerisle 2010 (other people's pictures I liked)
That was the highlight of an awesome summer. I'm looking forward to next year!
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After having a late sushi dinner in which the arrangement of the fish in the chirashi eerily resembled Chthulu, my co-adventurer and I found our way into the post-midnight mists of the former military base at the northwest corner of San Francisco, seeking adventure.  We started under the Golden Gate Bridge and made our way out into the darkness, wandering our way through old World War II gun turrets, searching for the narrow, steep path to the beach.  We stood at the edge of a precipice, doused by the sounds of crashing waves but enshrouded in so much mist that we could see only grayish nothingness below.  After playing with long exposures and light, we descended to the beach.  The only occasionally visible bridge beckoned in the distance, and we made our way back towards it, stopping occasionally to dare the waves to hit us.  By then it was close to 2am, and a few miles away, a city of hundreds of thousands was finishing up its partying and starting to hail cabs home.  We were completely in solitude, as if we had traveled hours to some far-off place.

WTF Presidio  WTF Presidio
Golden Gate Bridge after midnight  Golden Gate Bridge after midnight
Presidio graffiti  Presidio lightpainting in WWII turrets 

The Golden Gate Bridge... beautiful Art Deco icon, overphotographed into near-banality by tourists and professionals alike.  It's still awesome.

Presidio in the middle of the night  Golden Gate Bridge after midnight
Lightpainting on a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge  Lightpainting on a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge
Presidio lightpainting in WWII turrets

Full set on Flickr
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My tech-nomadic friends have returned to the Bay Area.  I last saw them here in late 2008.  Or perhaps they've been hiding out in the same trailer park and haven't actually been running all over the country

Let's do some before-and-after.  See if you can spot the difference:

Chris & Cherie in Colma  vs  Chris & Cherie in Colma

Chris & Cherie in Colma  vs  Chris & Cherie in Colma

The cat let herself out of the bag:

Chris & Cherie in Colma

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My friend Paul took me for a short flight around the Bay Area today.  We flew around sunset, and the views were beautiful.

Some of the highlights:

Oakland  Oakland
Oakland  Oakland

Bay Bridge construction:

Bay Bridge construction  Bay Bridge construction

Downtown Oakland  Downtown Oakland

Closeup of BART:

Downtown Oakland

Strange salt ponds (?) near Palo Alto:

Salt ponds (?) near Palo Alto

Paul:

View of Oakland  Palo Alto airport

Full Flickr set
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Balsa Man turned out to be a good bit of fun -- if delivers a slice of the Burning Man experience in a compact and easily accessible morsel.  There were a lot of Burning Man in-jokes to go around.

- Many of the attendees are Burning Man veterans who were very involved in big projects there.  I met a woman who did a little tiny Center Camp -- she worked on the big one's build crew for six years.

- The guy who used to do the Piss Clear underground magazine at Burning Man did a Dress Warm underground magazine at Balsa Man.

- Someone else brought a mini Crude Awakening too.  He gave me a fuel-air contraption to help my structure burn more impressively.

- Small, unpredictable fires and fireworks shows close-up are more intense and impressive than big predictable ones far away. 

All in all, it was fun, though I do miss going to the full-size Burning Man and will definitely go next year.

My Cruder Awakening project  Balsa Man 2010!

Paul Addis wannabes try to burn the man early

Balsa Man 2010!  Balsa Man 2010!

Balsa Man 2010!  Balsa Man 2010!  Burning my Cruder Awakening

Also, it's actually really gratifying to set your own work on fire:



See everyone's photos on flickr

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I have completed my projects for Balsa Man.  They are the culmination of more than four hours of work (which, at the 1/16 scale of Balsa Man, is equivalent to over 64 hours of work on an actual burningman project!) 

The first project is the epic 24 inch construction, Cruder Awakening. 

"Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010  "Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010  "Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010
"Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010  "Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010

Coincidentally, it bears a certain resemblance to the most impressive project anyone ever did at Burning Man:



My second project, Infinite City, is meant to explore the nature of human existence in a world that is very finite yet infinite at the same time. 
Technological possibilities offer an unbound dream of future progress, yet all-too-real resource constraints force us to confront our own limitations.  In addition, as we navigate this mirror-like maze of possibilities and limitations, we often go on long journeys and travel to distant places, both physical and conceptual, only to find a reflection of ourselves.  Ultimately, can humanity escape from our increasingly self-created hypercomplex fractured prison of self-reflective function?  Only time will tell.  Don't believe everything you read in an art blurb.

"Infinite City" - Balsa Man 2010  "Infinite City" - Balsa Man 2010
"Infinite City" - Balsa Man 2010

Come to Balsa Man!  It'll be fun!  It's this evening pre-sunset at an unnamed beach in San Francisco!  Call me for exact location. 
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I was never quite happy with the "studio" portraits I had taken of my laser-cut wood spirals.

Today I finally got around to doing a photo session with the spirals in a natural setting -- Golden Gate Park.

It was a bit tricky to work with the relatively harsh lighting from direct sunlight on a clear day, but I got some good shots out of it:

Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature

See them all on flickr

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I've been doing indoor rock-climbing as my primary form of exercise since mid-April, and it seems to have had a significant impact on my amount of muscle.  Since I started tracking my lean mass in mid-May, I've put on around 10 pounds, mostly muscle.  I've put on close to 20 pounds since I got back from my trip, (at which time people described me as rather emaciated).  Meanwhile, my girlfriend, who's been doing a fitness challenge, has dropped her body fat percentage by 6.5% while adding a few pounds of muscle. 

Rock-climbing builds muscle

I wish I had a good "before" photo...  This is the closest I could find.  I look kind of emaciated in this one, which was taken about three months after I got back from my trip:

"before"


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There are plenty of redwoods in various areas around San Francisco.  However, they don't reach the incredible size that the redwoods do up in the Redwood National Park.  Up there, the conditions are right for redwoods to dominate the ecosystem and grow to incredible heights.  Wandering among the giants conjured up feelings of being tiny creatures in a world full of beings too large to notice us.  It's the sort of forest that leads to the creation of rich fairytales like Miyazake's Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke.

Humboldt Redwoods state park  Humboldt Redwoods state park
Redwoods National Park  Redwoods National Park  Redwoods National Park
Redwoods National Park  Humboldt Redwoods state park  Redwoods National Park 

Perspective on a fallen tree:

Humboldt Redwoods state park

Redwoods have numerous ways of reproducing -- their genetic material can restart a complete tree from a root or piece of burl. It's an interesting evolutionary trick to manage numerous methods of asexual reproduction in a way that prevents disorganized and runaway growth. 

Redwoods National Park

This tree, on the other hand, is ready to reproduce sexually.  Or maybe I'm just anthropomorphizing.  Why do I keep finding cock-trees?

Redwoods National Park

On a completely different note, there were some incredibly cheesy roadside attractions mixed in with the redwood trees.  Here's a bright idea -- combine a gas station and a casino!  Wheeee! 

It's a gas station AND a casino!

There was also this place, which had plenty of kitsch and an anatomically correct blue ox to keep Paul Bunyan company.

Trees of MYSTERY

Trees of MYSTERY  Trees of MYSTERY  Trees of MYSTERY

All the redwood pics on Flickr!

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