30 July, 2011

From the Oven

A woman carries a tray of baguettes from the kitchen at Payard P√Ętisserie & Bistro, a restaurant, chocolate shop, and pastry shop that resides in the Caesar's Palace Hotel in Las Vegas.

28 July, 2011

Hangin' Out

Spiders can be pretty awesome. I found this little guy on a flower near my apartment, where it was doing some analog of fishing as it tried to build a web. While hanging from the flower on a short strand of web, the spider spun a longer web (a meter or few) which was taken by the wind.

It seemed to wait for the web to hit something, at which point it would start climbing across. On two occasions, it start racing toward me after one of the web filaments landed on me (but went back after I moved enough to break the filament).

In the photo, you can see a hint of what was likely a prior filament on the right edge of the image, about two-thirds of the way down.

26 July, 2011


Spotted on Waller St. between Pierce and Steiner in San Francisco

21 July, 2011

Scouting for Salt

While dropping off a print of "Mondrian Salt Flats" for framing at Bay Frames, the framer I spoke with mentioned the presence of some interesting-looking buildings in the area that were owned/run by one of the large salt companies. I wrote down some turn-by-turn directions, with the intent of following them at some point in the future.
I felt a bit restless last night, so a friend and I decided to go scouting. In the middle of the night, the buildings looked surreal, and an intermittent source of steam gave the buildings a somewhat ominous appearance.
When it Rains it Pours. This place would look great in the rain.
There were a couple trucks and trailers parked all around the complex, and while it was generally quiet, there was still enough intermittent traffic to show that the place was alive, even at night.

20 July, 2011

Thunderhill: An Intro to Going Fast

After 3 years of autocross, I finally did my first track day a few weeks ago at Thunderhill Raceway. Despite its similarity to going autocrossing and hanging out at Infineon for LeMons, it was definitely a unique experience.

The driving helmets are certainly familiar, although the girl above used an interesting technique to clean the visor. Notably different, though, were some of the other safety practices when driving on the track. I had noticed a few of them at Infineon, but they were much more obvious when it was actually me behind the wheel.
Tires. Autocrossers tend to be a bit obsessive about tires, but folks on the track take it to another level, and for good reason. If you take a corner too fast at an autocross, you take out some cones; no big deal. At a track, you can end up totalling your car and being seriously injured in the process — a car at 120mph has 9 times the kinetic energy of a car at 40mph.

Furthermore, the sustained speeds and cornering loads tend to put a significant amount of heat into the tire, which contributes to significantly accelerated tire wear at the track. So much so, in fact, that Thunderhill has an onsite tire store, which is where the guy above is headed after experiencing some uneven tire wear.

To quantify the difference a bit, I'll typically inflate my cold tires to around 40PSI for an autocross, and they'll reach about 44PSI warm. At the track, I started off at 34PSI cold and ended up at max of around 45PSI (at which point I let some air out of the tires).
Collision safety. At an autocross, the focus is typically on the safety of the cone-workers who are running around on foot. For a well-designed course, it's difficult to actually get to and hit an immobile obstacle, and in the rare case that it happens, it's generally at low speed.

On a track, it's a lot easier. Also, hitting an immobile obstacle while belted in properly can cause a driver's body to decelerate so quickly as to cause a basal skull fracture, which is in many cases fatal.

The HANS device and other devices like it are designed to keep the driver's head from whipping forward in a collision, specifically to avoid that fate. These devices are mandatory in many racing leagues since the death of famed NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt in 2001, who suffered a basal skull fracture when his car crashed into the outer wall of a circuit at high speed.
The emphasis on safety is, of course, well-warranted. Events or conditions outside of a driver's control can easily find them headed in the wrong direction. In the case above, an earlier car had dropped oil across an off-camber turn on the track. The Spec Miata racers discovered the oil when they immediately began sliding off-course.

All in all, though, my visit to Thunderhill was a great experience, and I look forward to my already-planned return. Click here to check out the rest of the photos.

Fire in the NIght

On the way home, I noticed a concentrated collection of emergency vehicle lights the other way down a turn. Ever the curious one, I looped back and stopped nearby to see what was going on. Apparently there was a large fire at the UHaul and/or America's Tire at the intersection of 237/Grant and El Camino Real. I counted at least 4 or 5 engines at the scene.

A police officer I quickly spoke with mentioned that they had evacuated one or two nearby hotels, so they must've been worried about the fire spreading at some point; but by the time I showed up, some engines were already getting ready to leave, and it appeared as though the situation was already well in hand.

18 July, 2011

Riding the tracks with Dangerous BoB Widin

This is Conductor Dangerous BoB, and he's quite the character. I first took actual notice of him as I was sitting in the bike car and I overheard him telling stories about the history of the train industry in the Bay Area, at which point I moved closer to get a better listen.

As with anyone who's been in a given field for awhile, BoB has lots of stories, and he'll share them in rapid-fire fashion if he's got an audience. In the span of a few Caltrain stops, we heard a breadth of knowledge spanning from how in the height of the industry, some trains used to go through 10 switches apiece; to what a terrifying experience it is to be hooked up to two Caltrain engines at 100mph; all the way to how much of a pain it can be to deal with the W32.Blaster computer worm.

I made a point to give him my card (and he gave me his) before getting off the train, which is when he mentioned that he had also spent some time in the film industry, and that his nickname "Dangerous BoB" came from Stephen Spielberg himself. From his IMDB page, he's listed as an assistant property manager for the original Back to the Future, as well as Parts II and III. It's always fun to meet interesting people.

16 July, 2011

Music Beta by Google presents Matt Nathanson

Earlier this month, singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson played an outdoor concert at the Google Mountain View campus. This was the second in the Music Beta by Google summer concert series, which opened with soul/jazz artist Meklit Hadero.
As the show progressed, the thing that struck me about Nathanson was how much he interacted with the audience. I wasn't counting, but it certainly felt like he spent half of the time playing and the other half joking around and making wisecracks. One of my favorite jokes was about how Google must have specifically hired shirtless volleyball players, since "keeping a body like that is a full-time job."

Above, he combines both aspects of the show by satirically impersonating Enrique Iglesias while playing a few bits of Iglesias' hit song "Hero."
The interaction with the audience continued after Nathanson was off the stage. He spent a minute or two chatting with each person in line, and seemed to find something interesting to discuss with each of them. Above, he has a moment of realization as he figures out the pun in a fan's "Space Bar" t-shirt.

After the line of people had gone, I specifically asked him about the interactions, noting that he spent considerably more time with each person than other artists I've seen perform in the past. Nathanson responded that he didn't really consider a concert complete until he could circle back and hang out and interact with the folks from the crowd.

Click here to check out the rest of the photos from the concert.

Preview: Colbie Caillat

Colbie Caillat and her band played a short set at the YouTube headquarters today as part of a series called "YouTube Presents." More to come.

14 July, 2011

A Drift in a Sea of Cones: July Autocross at Candlestick Park

This past weekend was the first time I can recall that we drove at Candlestick Park. Because of the shape of the area, and also owing to a long ridge that ran through the length of the parking lot, the course was long and narrow, and allowed drivers to pick up considerably more speed than prior courses have.

The surface was also considerably looser than at either Great America or Marina, which meant that opposite-lock was the norm rather than the exception coming into the finishing straight. And if you got into the marbles lurking just off of the driving line, you'd suddenly find yourself on a rally course.
Here one of the people helping to set up the course shows modifications on a tablet that were made to the original course design. The area had a lot of bumps and dips, so some of the corners were changed during setup to avoid upsetting the vehicles' balance in a way that could possibly cause one to catch a tire and roll.
This photo shows how much detritus accumulated around the corners. Typically, it was a combination of bits of rubber, pulverized grass, and balls of material that had been liberated from the driving surface. One wrong move could see you sliding off the course (Of course, amazing driver that I am, this didn't happen to me… repeatedly… or maybe twice in one run… ;o)
The new venue also brought new spectators. Candlestick Park is just off the bay, so we had a number of seagulls swoop past, possibly looking for some well-trained person to drop or throw food. Personally, I really enjoyed how the sunlight filtered through their feathers.

Until next time. Click here to check out the rest of the images.

12 July, 2011

Workin' Hard Or…

I was at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, CA over the weekend, and during some down-time I spotted this fantastic-looking Harley in the track paddock. Here the bike's rider takes a seat in the shade as the bike gleams in the relentless afternoon sun.

11 July, 2011

Take wing, v2

People seem to like birds. That's nice, because so do I. Here's a pigeon that I managed to capture as it was struggling against a strong headwind during SF Pride weekend.

07 July, 2011

Homeward at the End of the Day

Last night I flew Virgin America for the first time, from JFK to SFO. I was pleasantly surprised by the American flag emblems painted on the winglets of our A320, and I was lucky enough to get a decent crescent shape out of the moon. All told, I'm pleased with how this shot came out.

04 July, 2011

A Few Short Thoughts on the Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July! Having spent the weekend with my extended family, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of not only the people in the armed forces, but also the folks hard at work both within and outside of our government who strive to make this country a fantastic place to live. It takes a lot of teamwork to turn this place into a home and there are a great many unrenowned people who do a little bit here and there to make it a great home. Thanks!

I spotted this flag painted on the side of a barn somewhere between Livermore and Brentwood, CA. I think it demonstrates just how much of a difference a single individual can make: finding it certainly brightened my day, and I imagine I wasn't the only one.

So if you can make a little bit of a difference, go ahead and make that difference! To cite Mahatma Gandhi, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."