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Shannon A.
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Kimberly and I both had a busy rest-of-Thanksgiving.

On Friday, we did our own things. Unsurprisingly for me, that meant a bike ride. I opted to bike the Lafayette-Moraga trail, which I haven't in some time. It's a beautiful trail that runs south of Lafayette and starts ascending into the hills as it approaches Moraga. There are some really nice vistas (and a nice waterfall, though I haven't seen water falling in some years). There also seem to be more autumnal trees on the trails east of the hills, which was another reason I was eager to see it.

Any who, it was a nice ride. I took Moraga Way back, which landed me in Orinda. I was surprised how short the whole trip was. 16 miles or something. That used to be a major ride, but no longer. I was also surprised how much ascent there is. I'm not quite sure the altitude of Lafayette, but I hit a height of 777 feet on Moraga Way, just above Orinda. That would be much of the way up to the ridge line if I were riding the hills on this side.

When I got back to Berkeley, I picked up K. from the movies, then we had dinner at Cancún, then we had groceries at Safeway.

Fun times.

On Saturday, Kimberly and I each found ourselves without our regular Saturday gettogether, so we opted to go out to Golden Gate Park together. We took BART to the N-Judah to an Andronico's south of the Park, where we picked up sandwiches, soda, and chips. Then we hiked in to the Park, to Fern Grotto, where we planned to eat our lunch.

Unfortunately, Fern Grotto was criss-crossed with cautionary tape and warnings about construction. I looked in, and the Fern Grotto itself looked fine. So we ducked under the tape, wandered into the Grotto, and ate on one of the pleasant benches. Squirrels looked over us the whole time, sometimes jumping toward us through the trees in little military formations before ducking back. But, we were unmolested as we ate (and later did some writing).

The construction seemed to actually be going on at the AIDS Memorial Grove, down at the end of the Fern Grotto, so sadly we weren't able to visit there.

We wandered the east part of the Park for a while, and finally decided to pay the admission to the Conservatory of Flowers — a little five-room hothouse erected in the 1870s. It was pleasant as always (and the warmest I'd been in weeks). I love the central room, with its high ceilings and stained glass. I love the water flowers room with its big pool. This time around the special exhibit was about the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915, and there were lots of models of it all. Such a pity that none of the Pan-Pacific buildings survived other than the Palace of Fine Arts (but it was all built poorly with temporary materials, so no surprise). Any who, neat little exhibit.

We exited the Park, then walked along the Panhandle, then decided to walk back to BART. That means we walked the Wiggle to Market. By the end of the day I was pretty tired! (Just over 10 miles or 23,000 steps according to my Fibit.)

Today was more restful. Well, other than a walk out to Holy Hill in the afternoon, then a walk to Ici for ice cream (and/or sorbet) in the evening.

But definitely less hustling around than the other days of the holiday.

So that was the holiday.

There was lots of eating out. There was lots of walking. There was lots of time spent with Kimberly. And there was a little bit of writing done.
26th-Nov-2015 11:50 pm - Thanks Giving
Today Kimberly and I did something we've never done for Thanksgiving before: we went out to eat.

Usually, we heat up a prepared meal at home or (more rarely) go to the South Bay and eat with family. But this year I didn't want piles of leftovers in the house for weeks, and K. wasn't up to big family gatherings (though ironically the big family gathering ended up not happening), so we decided to go out and eat instead.

We made reservations at Hs. Lordships down at the Berkeley Marina, and also invited along Kimberly's friend, C. And so we set out a bit before 4pm today to go and eat.

We were seated at a table directly overlooking the Bay. K. and I think it was literally the best table in the restaurant, because we were right at the window and the Golden Gate was pretty much straight out from us. Beautiful view, especially since we got to see the sunset.

The dinner was buffet, and it was quite great. There were tons of different options, and all of them were very good. The plates for the buffet were somewhat small, and that actually encouraged you to take small portions, which gave more room to really enjoy everything.

First plate was cornbread, biscuit, a few pieces of sushi, chilled crab leg, chilled shrimp, cocktail sauce, crab salad, calamari salad.

Second plate was ham, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread (that's the only thing I went back for), small piece of hard bread, brown mushroom gravy.

Third plate was chocolate cake, cookie that was chocolate dipped, a marshmallow dipped in a chocolate fountain, and a strawberry dipped in a chocolate fountain.

K. was unfortunately feeling sick, so C. and I were sitting around chatting, and I couldn't resist eventually going back for a little more desert. I had a very teeny chocolate cupcake and a slice of some marbled bread or cake or something.

Yeah, I overindulged, but Thanksgiving is pretty much the quintessential American holiday, which means it's all about overindulging. We could only have made it more American if we'd shot some guns, thrown some baseballs, drank some beer, and then thrown it all up.

(There was actually some throwing up at the buffet, but someone who almost made it to the bathroom. What's more American than over-eating, throwing it up, then going back for more?)

K. and I often marathon a TV show on Thanksgiving. The plan was to watch Wolf Hall, which has been on our Tivo since the start of the year. So early this morning we watched the first ep., and I was entranced by the movements of these historical characters (especially Cromwell, who walks around a lot), but K. proclaimed it the most boring hour of TV she'd ever watched. We'll finish it up together, but K. didn't want to watch the whole thing (or most of it) today as planned.

Fortunately, the world now includes streaming. K. recently signed up for a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, to get Prime shipping on any Christmas presents we order from them. So we also watched one of their newest series, Man in the High Castle, based on the novel (they keep saying "book") by Phillip K. Dick. I remember liking it quite a bit when I went on a Dick binge in the '90s. (Boy, that sounds wrong.) So, I was thrilled to watch the TV show too. We watched 5 eps over the course of the day, which is half the show. Good stuff. Very nice historical (alternate history '60s) feel, good directing, interesting characters, good writing. I need to reread the book to see what they used and what they made up. (Somehow that's the one book that went missing from my Dick collection, so I've ordered a new copy in the "Vintage" edition that almost all of my Dick collection consists of.)

Our Fitbits encourage us to be active, so in the evening we also went for an hour walk, up the hill to near the Claremont and back.

Probably the one way we failed in making this a quintessential American holiday.

We'd hoped to see some Christmas lights, given how early they appear nowadays, but there were almost none out. One lit house we saw was very sad. I described it as something like this: "Yeah, we have a Bay Window, but we'll only put lights on two of the three sides, and one will be blue, and one white, and only one will be blinking ... and it'll look just great." Or as I alternatively described it: "That looks like the sort of half-assed crap we'd do."
11th-Nov-2015 11:17 pm - The Rover, by Aphra Behn
Tonight we saw The Rover at Shotgun Players, which is a pretty cool piece of theatre because it was written by the first (known) professional female playwright, about 80 years after Shakespeare.

I will now speak heretically: I've never been a great fan of Shakespeare. The dialogue is the big problem, because I have troubles understanding it, but it also rarely catches my interest. (I'm more interested in his historical plays — and in fact am fond of Julius Caesar and some of the Henry and Richards — less interested in his comedies, though last year's staging of Twelfth Night at Shotgun, which was spectacular, certainly showed me I could be won over.)

Anywho, I could clearly see the connections between Shakespeare and Behn (who was a fan of the Bard). Her The Rover was another comedy of romance where the characters have obstacles put in their way, but eventually pair up. It was the story of a young rake, tamed by an even more rakish woman. It had language that was hard to understand, but not quite as hard as Shakespeare. However, it also had elements of its own. There was threat of sexual violence and some serious gender politics, neither of which I'd expect from your typical Shakespeare.

I enjoyed it. Not jumping out of my seat applauding, but it was a fun play, occasionally funny, and occasionally uncomfortable. It had a great Act IV (or so) where we quickly intercut through characters as they intersected while running across the city of Naples. (And I love that sort of thing.)

The most interesting bit was (unsurprisingly) the role of woman. There were four different women in the play, and to a large extent, they were all masters of their own fate — choosing their men and choosing their destinies. The one who talked the best game (the courtesan) fell the hardest, and the one who initially seemed the most controlled (the would-be nun) proved the strongest. Like I said, gender politics. And I expect some pretty shocking ones for 1677.

Interesting and wroth seeing.
6th-Nov-2015 11:57 pm - Screw Our Balkanized Health System
I've been a bit under the weather the last two and a half weeks. I had some sort of nuisance infection or inflammation or something that's been a regular irritant to me and driving me a little batty.

Problem #1. My GP closed up shop several months ago. I knew I should get a new GP because our health system is so screwed up, but I put it off because I didn't have an immediate need to see one. So a week and a half ago, after I'd already been feeling subpar for a week, I got off my butt, found a new GP, and made a first appointment. But as is the case for most doctors, they put an obstacle in the way of new patients. So my appointment was scheduled for three or four weeks out.

Problem #2. Urgent Care is the answer, you say? Sure. Except my BlueShield health plan sucks rocks for Urgent Care. I was actually on the exchange last year and the Urgent Care sucked, so I went to a lot of trouble to get an equivalent non-exchange health plan this year, because the broker I used to use for insurance said the non-exchange plans typically had better doctor list than the exchange plans, even though they were equivalent plans. Because. Well, I finally looked up the urgent care for my new plan in recent weeks ... and it sucked exactly as bad.

What do I mean by suck? I can only find two Urgent Cares when I search on their site. One was 15 miles away in Marin, which is the uncivilized backwood of the Bay Area (mostly because BART doesn't run there), while the other was 81 miles away in Sacramento. It looked to me like they might as well be on the moon.

But after a particularly bad morning this Monday, I decided maybe I would look into the Marin urgent care after all. So after two days at the Web of Trust designshop, and one day catching up as a result, today I got myself going a bit after nine.

It turns out that it's not too horrible to get to the backwoods. You just take a 40/42 bus from the El Cerrito del Norte BART and 30 minutes later you're across the Richmond Bridge in San Rafael. Mind you, the Urgent Care was 3 miles south of that, past Larkspur, in Corte Madera. But I was able to bring my bike, and the path in that direction looked pretty good. (It was.) Of course the whole bringing the bike across the bridge thing is a crapshoot, because the buses only have space for three, but that's better than most buses that only have space for two. (On the way there, all three spots were filled, on the way back, I was the only bike.)

About thirty-five or forty minutes after landing in San Rafael, I landed at the Urgent Care in Corte Madera (with the extra time spent due to inaccuracies in Google Maps, which doesn't seem to believe in bike trails that are overpasses, and in figuring out where to go on trails that don't all connect yet).

And upon arriving at the Urgent Care, I heard, "No, we don't do Urgent Care for your PPO plan." When I expressed disbelief, they said, "Yeah, we've been getting a lot of people in with this problem; we're trying to get on the network." Apparently the confusion is caused because they do chiropractic work for the plan, or something moronic like that.

I managed not to slam the door on my way out, but just barely. Understand, it was about two and a half hours after I'd left the house by this point, because backwoods.

So I called up Blue Shield, to see if they could do a damned thing for me, without much hope.

  • When I asked them what options I had, they said, "Well, it looks like there's an Urgent Care 81 miles away."
  • When I said that seemed far, they said, "Yeah, it does."
  • When I asked if there were any other options, they double-checked that the Sacramento Urgent Care was really on their list, then said, "Sorry, we can't give an out-of-network referral when there's an option within 100 miles."
  • When I asked if there were any other options, they said, "Let me check if you have Emergency Room coverage".

    • Yeah, that's right, the option that the morons at BlueShield offer is Emergency Room coverage because they won't offer rational urgent care, even though that doesn't make financial sense for anyone.

  • When I asked if they'd at least take the Marin Urgent Care off their list, because it doesn't offer in-network Urgent Care, they said, "Well, our team is doing a big update of our online web site this month because it's so far out of date." No duh.

Fuck you very, very much Blue Shield.

(Note to self: consider filing a grievance with Blue Shield, because they said that was the only way to complain; and see if they're violating ObamaCare rules, which were suppose to require improved access to stuff this year.)

I should say that the woman I talked to in customer service was all of polite, helpful, and aghast, and I kept my temper with her, and when I was done told her I knew she'd done the best she was able and I appreciated it.

So that was my non-doctor-appointment that I spent 4 or 5 hours getting 'to and 'fro.

Lesson Learned: Call and insist on absolute verification of insurance before going on a far trek.

At this point it's possible that my problems aren't as problematic as they were two and a half weeks ago, which might mean they're generally going away. I hope. So I guess it'll be the new GP in 13 days. If I can talk about a specific problem at our first "meet and greet".

Fortunately, Chris and I had talked a bit yesterday, and when I told him I was planning a huge doctor expedition, he'd said, "I was going to suggest you might just take the day off", because of the busyness and stress of the week. So, I felt like I didn't have to rush home. Which was very nice.

After lunch I thus didn't rush straight back to the bus. I headed sort of in the right direction, but I took nice paths along creeks and riverlets and it was really pleasant. It calmed my mood and gave me something to appreciate on my otherwise wasted trip.

On the way in to Corte Madera, I rode a really cool path called the Cal Park Hill Pathway. Parts of it were elevated, which is something that more cities need to look at it when they can't otherwise create a safe ground-level bikeway. Then it went straight through a tunnel (which got built in 2010 according to my Googling) which keeps the bikers from having to do a couple of hundred feet of climbing to go over a small hill. The overall Pathway was short, but it was some of the best bikeway I've seen in California for really considering the challenges of traffic and terrain alike. At the moment it ends abruptly not long past that tunnel, but they were working today on the next step (which involves more elevated biking).

(That was actually one of three bits of bikeway I saw being worked on today.)

Once in Corte Madera, I really got to appreciate the beauty of the area, which is surrounded by lush, wooded hills on three sides, with marsh and bay on the fourth, just beautiful.

Then on the way back I rode alongside several canals and rivers, which is really my favorite type of biking.

Unfortunately, when I got home, and went upstairs to do a few last bits of work for the day ... I discovered that RPGnet had suffered an attack which took me hours to sort out.

So, suck start to the day, suck end to the day, but some pleasant travel to and fro a worthless doctor in between.
"Designers, you have eight hours and $0 to create a white paper or a spec. Make it work."

Which is to say that I now know what the Project Runway designer sings.

Yesterday at Christopher's Rebooting the Web of Trust workshop, I did my help any groups that I thought could use an outside eye or ear.

Today, I instead focused on a single group that that had gotten stuck with the definition of what the Web of Trust really was, and joined them to write a short white paper with them. The result was a Project Runway experience — and it was the Project Runway experience where you didn't get anything done on your outfit on the first day, and come back, and then have to power through the whole thing.

It was a fun experience, if a tiring one. We produced a paper, "Rebranding the Web of Trust". It's got good content, but it's not what I'd call a first draft. Too much mess in the organization. But that can be cleaned up (and cleaning up papers is precisely what's on my TODO list for next week, so it's only fair to include the one I co-authored.)

Here's another weird correlation to Project Runway: on the show, the designers always hate working in groups. They despise it. They bitch, they whine, they cry. I've always felt for them because I hated groups in college, to the point that I made up an imaginary lab partner for one of my lower-division CS classes.

But the folks at Rebooting the Web of Trust seemed to really excel in the group environment. Oh sure, sometimes the work fell out when discussions within a large group got too deep. But generally there was real, solid collaboration going on, full of people respecting each others' ideas and building on them. I think one group managed a 14-page paper thanks to really good organization of the group allowing collaboration in separate parts. Heck, there was even good intergroup fertilization. At one point a group working on reputation asked the Rebranding group I was with for some feedback on what we were doing with our definition of Trust, which resulted in them getting some (great?) insight and us refining the model we were working on. Win win.

Two personal addendum to that:

Brian, the superb facilitator, early on today said that we should try and positively reinforce discussions by saying "Yes and ..." rather than "Yes but ..." I constantly fought to think about it when considering other peoples' contributions. At one point I responded to something that someone suggested with a "Yes but ..." and got a negative response to my addition. I then said about the same thing again, but said "Yes and ..." and this time I got acceptance. Huh.

Overall, I was sufficiently humbled by the excellent cooperation that I saw around me that I tried to emulate it. In general I'm fine at cooperation in certain environments like roleplaying and tabletop gaming. But I've never been that good at co-op work. So again and again I had to work hard to accept other peoples' contributions and go with the flow. Or to argue to a point where we could compromise to include everything in the same model. And I'm quite sure it was to the benefit of what we were working on.

So that was Christopher's Rebooting the Web of Trust designshop. The individual collaborative groups generally have the next few days to work on their papers. I, meanwhile, am putting it aside for a few days so that I can catch up on other things that need work. And then I get to work on Editing the Web of Trust for much of next week ...
3rd-Nov-2015 10:05 pm - The Web of Trust, Day One
Today I attended the first day of #RebootingWebOfTrust and I'm exhausted. This is Christopher Allen's design shop to kickstart the next generation of decentralized trust technologies.

Here's what I learned.

BART Sucks. It's been a long time since I took BART during rush hour, and I'm pretty shocked by how jaw-droppingly horrible it's become. The train was almost 20 minutes late in the morning due to "a police matter at the Plaza", and that was unshocking. It seems like about 1 in 3 times I ride BART nowadays, there's a notable delay.

However, the absolutely jammed trains were surprising. Very tight standing room only all the way from Berkeley to Embarcadero. Coming back was even worse, though I got a seat that time, because I was bright enough to walk up to the Civic Center before boarding. (Boy does Market Street go to Hell between Powell and Civic Center.) By the time we got to Embarcadero they needed those Japanese workers who cram people onto trains. (The driver eventually had to tell people to get back and wait for the next train.)

BART literally should be running twice as many trains during rush hour as they are, from what I saw.

Decentralized Trust People Rock. The workshop was a collection of people who were not just smart, but nice, and able to work in groups. I was astounded by how low the ego was for these top-class security and privacy folks. They were happy to listen to peoples' ideas and really think about them before producing a collaborative work that everyone contributed to. Co-operative work is often hard, because people take over groups, and though there were certainly leaders, they weren't controllers to the same extent.

San Francisco is a Nice Place to Visit … The conference room for the workshop was up on the 23rd floor of Three Embarcadero Center in the Financial District, and it's got an absolute stunning panoramic view. You could see the whole Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge in the north to the Bay Bridge in the south, and even the Richmond Bridge off in the distance. The Marin Headlands, Angel Island, Alcatraz, Treasure Island, every bit of it was visible … and very clear thanks to the rain we had yesterday.

But on the way back to BART I was reminded of why I'm happy I don't live in San Francisco. Because the streets were just jam-packed from Embarcadero to Powell or so, reminding me that SF (unlike Berkeley) is a real city. Then you start hitting the edges of the Tenderloin, and the crowds clear out, but what's left isn't that pleasant.

So, beautiful city, ugly city.

Security & Privacy Are Fun. There are a lot of fun topics under discussion. Stuff related to reputation and trust, PKIs and decentralization. Though I find this sort of all-day-around-people sort of thing very exhausting in and of itself, the topics were something that kept me interested. I'm looking forward to seeing the papers that come out of this.

One more day in San Francisco tomorrow.
27th-Oct-2015 10:57 pm - Farewell to Oscar's
I ate at Oscar's for the last time on Columbus DayIndigenous People's Day, two and a half weeks ago. We'd known Oscar's was going for a while, since there were big newspaper articles on the topic five months ago. At the time "Oscar" (not his real name) said that they'd be there through the summer, and some of their staff said four months. It made four and a half.

(I feel like I'm speaking about someone who has just expired from a fatal disease, but managed to hang in longer than the doctors expected.)

My history with Oscar's begins in 1990. I think. Who can really remember back that long? I know I went there for the first time after an OCF meeting on Berkeley campus. Or maybe the CSUA. It was definitely one of the computer clubs. One of the old-timers said that it was a tradition to trek down to Oscar's after the meeting, and so many of us did. I suspect I ate a burger and fries.

Over the years, I'd sometimes eat at Oscar's with regularity, such as when I lived on nearby University and when I worked at Skotos' northside office. And sometimes I'm sure I went months, perhaps even a year, without visiting. In recent years, I'd been visiting there regularly again. Probably every couple of weeks. When I heard of its impending demise, I started eating there once a week, like clockwork, and maybe a bit more. So I probably managed 15-20 final visits.

However even before the announcement of the closure, I'd been eating at Oscar's enough that the staff had gotten to know me. Both of the regular grillers knew my order: chicken sandwich and fries. One of them often threw the chicken on the grill even before I got in the door. (Sometimes I'd be riding by on the way to the Ohlone Greenway and places northward, and worry that he'd throw a chicken on the grill because he saw me at the stoplight.) Their Friday-night griller knew Kimberly too, and asked after her when I'd sometimes show up sans wife to bring food home to her, because she wasn't up to going out.

As far as I can tell, Oscar (not his real name) shut down Oscar's because he was tired of running his own business. And I can certainly understand that feeling. He didn't really seem to be a people person, as witnessed by his refusal to give newspaper reporters his name. (He just acknowledged that he was the owner and said that Oscar was his father.) So, even absent the stress of running a business, I can see why you wouldn't want to keep running a cash register day in and out.

Why will I miss Oscar's? Well, it was a warm, fuzzy piece of nostalgia that was one of the few businesses that I care about to last out my tenure in Berkeley. (The other one off the top of my head is Moe's.) But I also liked their food. They cut their chicken breasts just right: very thin, unlike the overly thick and inevitably dry chicken breasts that most burger joints serve. Their fries were also cut thin and though they were greasy it was a rather thin veneer. Something about them made them my Platonic ideal of fries and no one else cooks them that way. Finally, their condiments — a mix of thinly cut lettuce and mayo with a thick cut of onion on top — was equally delicious. At first I didn't eat the onion, but I came to enjoy it over the years. Heck, I even liked their ketchup, which was just a little sweeter than the usual.

The closest we have left to Oscar's is The Smokehouse. They're tasty; I go there on occasion. But they're not the same. Their food is all greasier and sloppier, where Oscar's was so clean and simple it could convince you it was healthy. (The thin veneer of grease on the fries suggests otherwise.)

A week and a half ago, on Berkeley's fourth Sunday Streets, I walked by Oscar's to make sure they still had their hours posted, and they did. So I went back for Monday lunch ... and they were gone. Their hours had been taken down in the wee morning hours and the parking lot was blocked off. Apparently, they'd finally gotten their delayed construction permit that morning.

Farewell good burger place. Go gentle into that good night, because there's no other choice at this point. I wish the vegan fast food restaurant that's to appear in your place no success at all.

(Rage, Rage against the dying of the bite.)
19th-Oct-2015 06:42 pm - Riding & Walking
I haven't been writing much lately. Actually, that's entirely false. I research and write thousands of words a week, making progress on a number of books that probably wouldn't see the light of day until at least 2017. But I haven't been writing here on my journal much lately.

And that's because life mainly continues on its its normal patterns. Skotos continues in its normal patterns, albeit with more tension & busyness than I'd like. Home life continues in its normal patterns, albeit with K. having more problems right now than I'd like.

So let me write briefly about the non-normal patterns: adventures in movement.

A couple of weeks ago I went into San Francisco with the goal of biking around the Presidio. I did, and it was very nice. Growing up in the Bay Area, I of course remember the Presidio primarily as a military base, and I've just been vaguely aware of its changes over the last few decades as it got turned over to the Presidio Trust and transformed into a big park. Which is why I decided to thoroughly explore it, biking around its perimeter (and hiking here and there too). I was surprised how many of the trails are bike friendly — a nd for my last trail of the day, Lover's Lane, which cut up and out of the park, I was willing to walk it.

The trails in the interior of the park are quite nice, with lots of heavily wooded trails. Then over to the west you have beaches. I dropped down to Baker's Beach when I learned there was a tour of Battery Chamberlain on that day. This was originally a set of four bunkers and 6" guns that existed to protect the west coast (in the same way that the TSA protects airplanes). The bunker itself wasn't that amazing, though it was a little sad to imagine poor soldiers living there, out in the middle of nowhere. There was also a ranger demonstrating how the gun worked, and that was cool.

I got to see some nice views of the Golden Gate Bridge too, while doing my biking. Overall a nice day.

This last Saturday I instead BARTed over to East CoCoCo. I biked around Lafayette and Walnut Creek, but my main goal was the Ygnacio Canal Trail, which may be the last major trail in East CoCo that I hadn't explored. There are a couple of other big canal trails in the area, but I actually like this one better because it was a very small canal — just a foot or two deep and two or three feet across. The trail also ran right at canal level, which meant you really got to enjoy it.

There was also some walking this weekend, courtesy of the fourth annual Sunday Streets in Berkeley. K. wasn't feeling up to braving the throngs, but about an hour before the Streets closed I decided I could really use some sunlight and exercise in the day, so I hiked up to North Berkeley and back along most of the 17-block block party. It was nothing particularly amazing, as I've seen this three years previous. There were people walking on Shattuck (which still looks post-apocalyptic to me) and there was live music here and there and there were a few different biking-related stalls (including a sample protected bike lane that I'd love to see on the horrid stretch of Hearst between Fulton and Shattuck; and a free tune-up area that made me wish I had my bike with).

My lesson learned for the day: you can walk to North Berkeley and back a lot of faster if you don't have to stop every other block for stop lights and cars. Yet another sacrifice we've made on the altar of our automotive country.
28th-Sep-2015 11:40 pm - Dark Side of the Moon
Last night Kimberly and I travelled up to Lake Temescal to see the SUPER BLOOD MOON.

It was actually (and amusingly) my second bike ride up to Lake Temescal for the day. I dropped Kimberly off at a get together in Rockridge around 4pm, biked up to Lake Temescal, edited 3,500 words (and read one issue of Swamp Thing), biked back down, picked her up, and then up we went again.

It was Kimberly's first ride up into the hills like that, and she did great. Mind you, I know the terrain between Rockridge and Lake Temescal very well, so I carefully directed when she should get off her bike and walk, and when it was OK to ride again (to avoid biking the really steep stuff). I remember well getting up to Lake Temescal for the first time, 'lo these many years ago, and feeling like I was about to pass out, and I didn't want to repeat that experience for her.

So, we made it in 25 minutes or so with a bit of walking.

At Temescal we found a bench on the North side of the Lake and sat down to read Mad Ship for a while. It's the 7th book in our mega-Robin-Hobb read aloud that we're now over a year into. We finished up a short chapter around 7pm and then started to look for the moon.

And we looked.

And we looked.

We talked with other people, also looking for the moon.

They stumbled away in despair.

And we looked.

We wandered back and forth around the nearby grass.

We wandered up onto the high path running along the west side of the Lake, and got to an overlook which allowed us to look eastward across the lake and hills.

And we looked.

We wandered back down.

The minutes kept ticking by. Soon it was 7.40, almost an hour after moonrise.

No moon.

Eventually we decided that some combination of the very slight haze in the sky and the fact that the moon had risen already mostly eclipsed were keeping us from spotting it in the sky.

So, we decided that we'd had our adventure, and biked back down to civilization.

Ironically, the bike ride back down was at least as trying for Kimberly as the bike ride up. That's because it's almost pitch black on the roads near Lake Temescal. I'd mentioned this, but hadn't made a big deal about it, and Kimberly had probably never ridden in conditions that dark. So, she got a bit concerned about the safety of the ride, but managed it, and all was well when we emerged back in Rockridge.

Afterward, Kimberly took us out to dinner at Cactus. Now, with less screaming children and better quality food again.

Then we went to Trader Joe's to pick up "necessities" like Pita Chips and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

As we crossed the Trader Joe's parking lot, we were puzzled by a security guard holding his phone up toward the eastern sky, like an offering to the star gods.

I was bemused, but assumed he was just crazy. Because, Berkeley. Kimberly said, "Look!"

There, in the sky was a quarter or so of a moon, the other three quarters dull-red in the eclipse.

We'd found it at last.
20th-Sep-2015 04:58 pm - Avenue Q, by Jeff Whitty
Today Kimberly and I saw Avenue Q at the Berkeley Playhouse. This was their first "adult" musical (Things I cannot unsee: puppets having sex on stage), and it was one that I was quite looking forward to. That's in part because I've become fond of these more modern Broadway plays (see also: Rent, Seussical, Wicked) and in part because I already knew and enjoyed many of the songs (see: For Now, The Internet is For Porn, If You Were Gay, It Sucks to Be Me, Everyone's a Little Racist).

I appreciated the social messaging of the songs I already knew, but I was surprised to discover that I hadn't grokked the overall theme of the play. Avenue Q is an ode to Millennial angst (cf "It Sucks To Be Me"). It's about people searching for their purpose in life (cf "Purpose"), worrying about their jobs, and desperately seeking love (cf "A Mix Tape", "Fantasies Come True", "The More You Ruv Someone").

What I really love is the play's answer to this Millennial angst. Avenue Q suggests that people just need to be more Zen — to stop thinking only about themselves (cf "The Money Song") and to stop worrying about the future (cf "For Now"). It's really terrific.

I'm also amused how songs I'm familiar with from a musical make so more sense when you actually see them performed. Like with "It Sucks To Be Me", there's a line that introduces Gary Coleman, and I'd always assumed that it was some humorous aside, not realizing that he was a major character in the play.

For the Berkeley Playhouse production, I was quite impressed with the actors, who were often simultaneously singing, expressing emotions, and expressing emotions through their puppet. Wow! We got seats way to the front of the theatre, and it was a play where I thought that really paid off.

I also discovered that there were two songs that I wasn't familiar with that I really liked: "Schadenfreude" and "I Wish I Could Go Back to College".

Hopefully this "adult" experiment will be successful for the Playhouse, and they'll be putting some more adult shows on their schedule in future years. I'd love to see Rent (performed live; I've seen the recording they did of one of their later performances) and Book of Mormon. And Wicked, but that could probably be shown to their regular audience. All I Know from today is that they had a big audience and way more college students than I usually see.

Anywho, a good show, and a week for good plays.
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