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Shannon A.
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The Bathroom Blow-up. We finally have at least one fully functional bathroom, but it came at cost.

The problems with our upstairs bathroom started when I knocked our upstairs sink out of the wall. This knocked the piping out too. No problem, we decided to take this as an opportunity. We ordered a new faucet, with the goal of having a plumber come into the house, repipe the sink and install the new faucet. (Really, faucet installation is something we should be able to do ourselves, but this sink is very hard to work with, and I just bloodied my knuckles last time I tried.)

So the plumber comes in to do the work on Tuesday ... and the next thing I know, I hear sawing and hammering. It turns out that we've got corroded and rotten pipes leading out of the sink into the wall. And so he took care of all of that in order to get things back together.

Meanwhile, we've been showering upstairs because the downstairs shower currently has some sort of leak. (We had a handyman in today who seemed to have a much better handle on what was going on than the plumber we wasted money on last week; he should be sending us a quote soon.) Anyway, the upstairs shower doesn't work well. The diverter only gets about half the water up to the shower head, and after you shower, the faucet drips, sometimes extensively, sometimes for days. So, having a plumber out, we asked him to look into that too.

First up, it turns out that the tiles and pipes have been installed pretty much on top of each, which makes it very hard to get at the piping without breaking anything. This is typical of the DYI badness that occurred in this house before we bought it, and that we've slowly been undoing.

Second, more rotten pipes. In fact when the plumber pulls out one of the knobs, it literally comes apart. This one requires a trip to a nearby hardware store to get a replacement.

Total damage was a bit more than $700 (including the cost of the faucet, which we ordered from Amazon last week). I'm not particularly upset about it, because this was really 16 years of deferred maintenance, and if we're ever going to rent the house out, the shower in particular was one of those things that needed to be fixed. But, it would be nice if we didn't keep having big expenses.

Now mind you, we still have a somewhat unstable console sink, but we're looking into getting a second leg for it. Otherwise, that bathroom is looking pretty good at the moment. Other than the cat litter all over. The shower and sink now are both much better.

The Passport Progress. Last Friday I applied to renew my passport. This came up suddenly, but fortunately I've got all my identity papers together.

(Which will be really useful is Trump is elected president. Ba-Dum-CH!!)

So I ran downtown to go to CVS and get a new passport photo, which is where I hit snag #1. CVS doesn't have a photo department any more. I suppose that's not too unusual in a new world of digital photography, but it surprised me. They have crappy little photo computers and they say that you should call over an employee if you need a passport photo. But this CVS has also been doing its best to replace all of its employees with semi-functional autocheckout machines. So I waited a few minutes, but their only employee was busy checking out other customers who refused to use the machines, so I left.

Fortunately, Google Maps told me where I could get a passport photo, at an actual photo place in Shattuck Square, and it was quick and easy, other than discussions about whether I should wear my glasses. (Consensus is no, because the gov't now uses passport photos for biometric bullshit and they couldn't manage a picture of my super-glasses without glare.)

So next I went to the US Post Office to get all my papers checked and turned in. Except I wandered up and down the hallway where the passport office used to be, and there were just closed doors. I finally asked at the front counter and they said, "Oh, our person who does passports is out for a couple of months, so we're not doing them right now."

Really. Our main government office that does passports in Berkeley staffs it with just one employee and if she's out sick, that's it.

(My brain goes: "So you have to wait a few months until she's back if you want a passport." But I just say "thank you" to the postal clerk who seems really apologetic and clearly realizes how asinine this is too.)

Somewhere in city hall actually does passports too, but it's by appointment only. Fortunately I'd found one other passport office in central Berkeley: Cal's RSF. (That's the campus' Recreational Sports Facility.) I was a little trepidatious about going there while not being a student, but it was easy. You walk in, the customer service window is right there, and they run all the paperwork for you. Easy. (Also: much more efficient than the passport lady hiding in the bowels of the US Post Office, from my past experience.)

Now the question is if the US gov't actually issues me a new passport. You see, I changed my name when I got married to a combination of my and Kimberly's former last names. But at least in California that's not really recognized anywhere on the marriage certificate. I think it's just assumed that either the wife takes the husband's name or nothing happens, and that would be easy to see from the certificate. Back after our wedding I was able to get my social security card updated easily enough and my driver's license with some determined arguing (that ultimately paid out, as surprising as that is with a gov't bureaucracy). Given that, I'm a bit nervous about sending the passport application out into the void, but fingers crossed.

The Health Hijinx. So when I saw my specialist about my chronic problems (again!) last month he laid out a plan to try out some drugs and supplements over a period of 6-7 weeks. It's possible that increasing my alpha blocker helped a little, but the day I was scheduled to start up a totally new drug I was still having some symptoms, so I went ahead with it.

And this damned thing seemed to make my chronic symptoms worse. I gave it 10 days hoping that would fade, as I had great hopes for the drug, but no dice. So a week ago Saturday I discontinued it entirely, after 10 days of use.

My increased discomfort seemed to recede, but I'm still doing worse than I have in months.


I'm back to see the specialist next week to report in, but I'm beginning to lose hope they're going to do anything useful.
When I started working for Chaosium in 1996, either Lynn or Charlie threw the 1992 Cthulhu for President kit on my desk and said, "We need a new one for 1996, please produce it." You're always thrown into the deep end when you start a new job, and this was the deep end at Chaosium. I'd mean I'd expecting to be laying out books, but I hadn't expected to be managing a whole project that no one else had time for, and I hadn't expected that to include pricing buttons and yard signs, figuring out how to get them manufactured. I hadn't expected that I'd be putting together a whole package and seeing if we could afford to make it. It was all much more of the production side roleplaying than I expected to see, when I was instead counting on development and graphic design.

Which is a long way of saying that Chaosium Inc. has announced their newest Cthulhu for President kit, 20 years later. And this is certainly a year when they could do no wrong. However, I'm not convinced that Cthulhu is actually the Lesser Evil.
17th-Jul-2016 11:18 pm - Three Steps Forward ...
Problem #1: The light switch in our upstairs bathroom has been bouncing up whenever you try to turn it off. And there was fuzz under it. So today I unscrewed the light switch to clean that out.

Problem #2: The sink in our upstairs bathroom has always been precarious. It's mounted on the wall with a bracket, and it has precisely one leg supporting it, off to one side. It looks like there should be a leg on the other side, but there isn't, so the sink has always looked like it's doing a magical balancing act.

You may see where this is going ...

Problem #3: While cleaning out the light switch, I must have leaned on the sink just a little bit, because it suddenly came out of the wall. I managed to catch it, and Kimberly soon helped me get it back in the wall.

But the piping came apart.

Also, cleaning the light switch out did not fix it.

We could get a plumber out to replace the piping and I'm sure it would be 30 minutes or less. ("That'll be $140, please.") But given the precariousness of the whole setup and the fact that we're going to rent this house out someday, we're going to look into replacing the whole sink. So tomorrow it's off to Amazon or Home Depot or whatsoever.

Flashback three days, and we had a plumber out for our other problematic bathroom, downstairs. We had the shower running for a good 40 minutes beforehand, but our intermittent leaks did not leak. There was much crawling under the house, and he asked me, "Have you actually seen it leaking?" "Yes!" I said. "I've felt it!"

He was finally able to ascertain that if you dumped water right along the side of the tub, it does leak below the house, around where I was seeing it before. However it was not leaking in the volume I'd seen before, despite the dumping of a whole Dalek mug of water. So I'm dubious this is the only problem.

But, the plumber was very adamant that the pipes were not leaking. ("That'll be $140, please.") This I believe.

So, we've lit the popeye-signal for our local handymen. We're going to ask them to reseal everything. And we're going to hope that does the job.

Except they haven't actually responded yet.

Batman always responds to the Bat-signal much faster.

Yes, home ownership can be frustrating sometimes. And I'm annoyed that we're going to be spending money on upstairs bathroom repair when I'd been trying to recover our finances from taxes + stock market crashes early this year.

But, on the other hand, our home ownership over the last 16 years has created a nice nest egg through property valuation.


If you're keeping count, we now have zero fully functional bathrooms. We have a sink and toilet in one bathroom, but no shower, and a shower and toilet in the other, but no sink.


Here's the good stuff:

I took a bus up to Tilden Park yesterday. After eating lunch pretty near Lake Anza, I then hiked up to Inspiration Point.

My goal was to take the Inspiration Trail, which is an EBMUD Trail on the other side of the hill, down. Which I did. It ran along the hillside for a while, then plunged downward to San Pablo Dam Road. It was a pretty typical hillside trail, which means that this time of year it's all brown. It was a nice walk. Very windy at times. I almost lost my very-expensive straw hat.

The only deficit of the trail was that it was covered in cow dung. Really, there was one point where it was so frequent that I had to veer back and forth to avoid it.

Curiously, the cows were all gathered along one little pond in the middle of the hills. There was a fence, but the gate was open, so they could have wandered where they wanted. And it was clear that some wildly pooping cows did sometimes wander far afield, but if so, they do it stealthily, at night or something.

Down on the other side of San Pablo Dam Road is the reservoir, and that has continued EBMUD trails. The connecting trail from Inspiration Trail to the Old San Pablo Trail was horribly, horribly maintained. Its as almost invisible at times. But once it linked up with the Old San Pablo Trail proper, it was absolutely beautiful. A nice woodland trail that was quiet and bucolic and pretty. I saw lizards and rabbits and squirrels and birds. I enjoyed the trees. The reservoir sadly isn't that visible, but it was still quite nice.

I was heading toward Orinda, and once I left the EBMUD lands behind, there were fortunately sidewalks or trails all the way there. (I'd been a bit worried about that, but I'd known there were at least some sidewalks from my bike rides in that area.)

I was pretty tired when I got to Orinda. From there I BARTed to Rockridge and headed home.

So, a nice Saturday.

And a nice enough today despite a hill of plumbing problems.
9th-Jul-2016 12:07 am - Two Steps Forward ...
K. and I have decided for once not to wait a year to see the new season of Game of Thrones (when it hits DVD).

So I looked into HBO Now, the streaming, on-demand service that you can buy ala carte. Except Tivo doesn't support HBO Now, and that's our main entertainment center.

No problem, I figured, I'll just order HBO for a month through Comcast, then watch it through HBO Go on the Tivo. That's their connected-to-your-account HBO streaming service. I mean, I hate to give Comcast any more money because they're one of the scummiest corporations in the country. But it'd be convenient to watch on our Tivo in our living room. Except (1) Comcast makes me waste 10 minutes talking to a chat operator to sign up for HBO; (2) then they can't even get it to work, and with my experience with Comcast and Tivos and Cable Cards in the past, I'm not sure they ever will; and (3) While wasting my time chatting, I discover that Comcast is the only major cable provider in the US that isn't supporting HBO Go through the Tivo. (Discussions imply it's because they tried to get a bribe from Tivo, and Tivo refused; I don't know if that's true, but it sounds right to me from what I know of Comcast.)

So that order got canceled before it ever worked. It's like Comcast is begging you to cut your cable.

Next up I guess I dig up the Roku we could never get to work reliably and see if it supports HBO Go. (The internet says yes, unless we have too old of a box or something.)

And I hope I don't have to fight with Comcast in a month; they claim that canceled the HBO service at no cost, but I have no faith because Comcast's customer support is full of liars, in my past experience.

Meanwhile, the bathroom. After the leak last week, we didn't use our downstairs (nicer) shower for a few days, then I tested it out on Tuesday night and running the water didn't make it leak.

So we started taking showers. Wednesday, no leak. Thursday, no leak.

I come to the conclusion that the problem is actually in the way our tile is sealed, particularly some broken caulk next to the tub. And I'm being really careful to make sure no water is getting out of the tub. The plan is to get a handyman out to recaulk and seal.

Then Friday morning there's water running down under the house again. Despite the total lack of water outside of the tub. In fact, I look carefully under the house and in the bathroom and I really have no idea where it's coming from, though it seems roughly in line with the outer edge of the tub.


(My guess is that I ran the shower hotter today and that's unsealing something. But I have no idea what. So I think we're going to have to call out a plumber to do expensive investigation before expensive ripping out of walls or something to get to whatever's leaking. I'm really sick of this year costing extra money, while the jacked-up stock market keeps our emergency funds in the doldrums.)

Our deck refinishing of the weekend seems to have gone pretty well, but there are a few spots where apparently the finish got put on too heavily, resulting in tacky wet spots. I tried to fix it quickly during the week by reapplying, letting that eat up the old finish, them wiping it off. (Multiple sites on the web told me this was what to do.) And that slightly improved things, but didn't fix them.

So Sunday I may have to do something more drastic like sand and reapply.

But I'm not sure that we actually have enough finish; I think there might be too much pigment and not enough oil left.

While bitching, I suppose I should bitch about health.

My plan with my doc for my chronic problems was to try some increased meds for a few weeks, then try a new one this Wednesday if things weren't good yet. And they weren't, so I did.

And the first couple of days it seemed to crank up my symptoms and give me a pretty horrible dry mouth. I was on the verge of calling it quits, but today seemed better. So we'll see how it goes.

Two steps forward implies one step back, and therefore progress, but I'm not convinced it hasn't been two steps forward, two steps back.

Except for the deck. That's clearly almost all done.
3rd-Jul-2016 11:49 pm - All Hands on Deck
I blame Eric L.

A month and a half ago, I hosted the first board gaming barbecue of the year. It works like this: Eric asks, I agree, folks bring food, he cooks, everyone is very happy.

But I'm standing outside while he barbecues, and I notice that our upstairs deck is starting to really show the weathering.

When our contractor T. built it, he said we should finish it. That was obvious, though we had no idea why he didn't do it himself. This was a general problem, with him not quite finishing things. So it's sat like that for years, and now it's starting to show the wear and tear.

So, I reluctantly realize I really need to do it. I look at the calendar and finally settle on July 3rd, under the theory that I can have a relaxing and fun Saturday (I did!), then work hard on Sunday, then get my mojo back on Monday.

Earlier this week, I picked up finish and brushes and a roller.

So today we were ready.

The day starts like this: Kimberly begins to bring her Adirondack chairs into the house, and I start telling her to bring them back out, immediately.

She asks why, but does, and after she sets them down I point out the wasp hive attached to the bottom of one of the chairs.


It's pretty small, and I just see a couple of wasps, so after she hands me a ruler, I bravely knock it into the yard below.

For the morning, I've got sanding and cleaning scheduled. The sanding goes quite well, in part thanks to a power sander than helps to make all the long, wide surfaces go very quickly.

It's really the railing that causes us the most problems all day, because it's got so many surfaces, and some of them are facing away from the deck and quite hard to get to.

And the deck has cracks in it here and there which I'm not that pleased with, but there's only one board that looks really bad to me, and it's in the middle of the deck, so if it gets flaky, no big.

I had this prep work penciled in for two hours, and indeed we're done by about noon after starting around 10.

I'm quite happy how everything is looking good, and feel like this is going great.

Except we're filthy. That wasn't in my schedule. My pants are caked in dirt and mud and sawdust.

So there's about 15 minutes of cleanup that I didn't see coming, but no big deal.

We go out for lunch at La Bateau Ivre, and we're back by 1.30, which was also what I'd originally planned.

I'd originally thought the actual finishing would take 2-3 hours, but I've revised it to 2-2.5 after seeing how well things went this morning.

Not so much.

All those surfaces we were messing with in the morning: the fronts, backs, and sides of all the slats and posts, are just that much more difficult when going at them with paint brushes and a roller.

But it's really the backs (and other external surfaces) that are the most painful. I spend infinite amounts of time painting stuff I can't see, then looking out and seeing I still don't have complete coverage. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Our Acacia neighbors see us working and take pity on us in the afternoon. They ask if we'd like to borrow a ladder. I agree, and I use it for the side of the deck facing our teeny yard (as opposed to the side facing their yard, which we'd already done, and where there was no room for a ladder.)

It keeps feeling like it's going to vibrate apart when I climb, but otherwise it's quite sturdy, and I'm able to get to the outside of that final (and biggest) edge of the deck much easier. I even finish some of the lower surfaces and the main post, which I thought I'd have to do another day.


When I return to the deck (after returning the ladder) everything goes much more quickly. We've got surfaces that can be rolled and are visible, which makes it much easier.

But by 4.30 or so we've still got the biggest chunk of wood to go: the surface of the deck itself. It looks super daunting, but the roller goes really quickly on it. And we have just barely enough finish. (At the end I'm worried about running out, but we have enough left afterward for some minor touchup.)

By 5 or so we're done.


So, 3.5 hours of finish application.

It's an exhausting day overall. I'm not used to 5.5 hours of physical labor, and this isn't even walking or biking or something else that I've built up muscles for.

But other than a few aches and pains, I'm feeling good by evening.

And we got the deck finished!

Here's the unhappy coda: When I planned this out, I thought I was fixing the last major problem that T. left us.

But T. also redid our downstairs bathroom. He famously electrified the bathtub. And yesterday when I'm showering, I discover that our downstairs bathtub is leaking through the floor. Not good!

So, we've got another T.-related problem to fix. And my guess is that it's actually some of the shower piping that's leaking, which would mean it's going to be a major repair.

I need to do some better investigation tomorrow, to try and diagnose the problem before getting a plumber out.

And here's the other unhappy coda: I really wanted to shower after all that hard work, but before I could I had to clean our (usually unused) upstairs shower and hang a curtain.


Now done.

The day ends like this: A wasp flutters around the upstairs bathroom while I'm showering. I'm too tired to care. But afterward I hunt down the poor thing and kill it because I don't want it hurting our cats.

It was probably very confused about where its hive went.
24th-Jun-2016 10:52 am - Brexit & Democracy
Why am I sorry for my friends in the UK? SERIOUSLY?

Because every single one of the folks that I actually know in the UK was stridently against Brexit and was shocked by the results. Because a whole generation of UK people just lost their right to live and work in 27 countries. Because they just lost many of the privileges of the EU, but they'll still be beholden to most of its rules and regulations if they want to remain in the common market. Because they woke up this morning to find the already beleaguered pound had lost another 10% of its value, that they'd lost that much more spending power. Because some of them run small businesses that will be endangered by the currency fluctuations. Because the EU is already signaling that they might harshly punish the UK to ward off further defections, while Scotland is again talking about independence. Because they're likely to be going it alone in an even smaller union, while the world simultaneously grows more vast. Because it looks like they're in for a bad few years at the least and a bad decade at the worst and they'll never regain some of the advantages they had yesterday.

In short, I'm sorry for my friends in the UK because they just got burned, and most of them know it.

Democracy is a tool, not a golden ideal. At its best it's a tool that allows us to come together cooperatively and to bring our best emotions into our governance. It can be a tool of hope, of unity, and of love. At its worst it's a tool that can be corrupted, that can enforce the tyranny of the majority, that can embed our worst emotions in our society. Demagogues are its greatest enemy, for too often they bring out the worst in people. Fear, hatred, and desperation can be paired with willful ignorance by a skillful demagogue, creating results that too often benefit only the few, not the many, and not the all.
23rd-Jun-2016 12:11 pm - The Dismissiveness of EBMUD
A ranger from EBMUD wanted to talk to me personally about my experiences last Saturday, and though I've moved on I was willing to give him the time in the hope it'd be helpful ... but he was every bit as dismissive as I expected.

Obviously, this transcript is approximate, from memory.

Me: Why is Cal Shakes allowed to block the trail leading down from Scotts Peak Trailhead?

EBMUD Ranger: Well, it's not even a real trail. It's just a fire road. You could have been cited for walking on it.

(Implication: It's your own fault that you walked a mile to a dead end because you walked a non-trail.)

Besides, they've been there a long time.

(Implication: Long-lived companies are more important than short-lived people.)

Me: I find it not being a real trail problematic when there's no warning sign up at the top of the trail.

ER: Well, maybe a warning went missing. I don't remember seeing it last time I was there.

In any case, the other two trails leading off from there are clearly marked.

(Implication: It's your own fault that you walked a mile to a dead end because you should have magically intuited that the lack of a sign in that direction meant there was no trail. Despite the obvious trail.)

To be clear, it's a real wide, well-cleared path going down; this is absolutely not a case of going rogue off trail, it's a case of walking down the clearly established road. Yeah, I do think the other two directions from that intersection are marked Skyline Trail or maybe Bay Area Ridge Trail, but that doesn't tell me the other route isn't a trail. In fact, the trail down to Cal Shakes is a better trail than the southern Skyline Trail, which practically disappears into the weeds at points.

And this particular path is also marked on Google Maps, on a big map of the local trails over at Clark Kerr ... and I expect elsewhere.

ER: But Cal Shakes' signs down at the bottom aren't allowed. They didn't get permission for those.

Me: Well, yeah, I didn't think placing signs in watershed lands was OK.

ER: But they do have a lot of problem with lookie-loos, so ...

(Implication: We care more about the problems of our leasers than the rights of the people that ultimately own the land they're leasing. Or the land itself.)

ER: But the area is controversial.

(Implication: Hey, maybe I'm actually empathizing with the problem for a brief moment. Or maybe I'm just saying you're yet another whiner about this issue.)

Me: I didn't have any problem with Cal Shakes. They seemed to have created a really nice venue and to be doing a good job of caretaking the land. I just think you should be able to pass through from the trail.

ER: Why would you even want to go down there? It deadends in 24.

(Implication: I'm back to utterly invalidating your experience.)

Me: No, there's actually an overpass over 24. I was going to the Wilder Fields on the other side, which is a bunch of soccer fields and a park. And from there you can go to Southern Orinda.

ER: Huh.

(Implication: That doesn't fit with the narrative that I'm trying to impress upon you.)

But you'd have to go over a gate at the bottom to get there, so it obviously wasn't a trail.

(Implication: It's your own fault that you walked a mile to a dead end because you should have known there was a gate at the end.)

(Me: Whatever. He clearly didn't call to get any input. He just wanted to mansplain why I was wrong. Ah well, might as well see if I can accomplish anything else, and since he was talking about gates ...)

Me: Could you maybe tell me why there's a gate at Scotts Peak Trailhead. It seems badly placed when it connects directly to the firetrails in the UC Berkeley lands.

In other words, this should be an official entry point to the EBMUD trail system at Scotts Peak, because the path comes right out to the gate, but EBMud doesn't make it accessible. They want you to go a a half-a-mile out of your way to the Steam Trains/Tilden entrance, down the busy and somewhat dangerous Grizzly Peak Road, rather than just crossing the street.

ER: It's for your own safety ...

(Implication: He's never had to walk down Grizzly Peak Road to get from the UC fire trails to the EBMUD trails.)

... so that if you get lost we can see your car is parked there and know you're missing.

(Ah ha! Implication: We can't even conceive of someone walking out to our trails.)

Me: But why not allow that at the Scotts Peak Trailhead?

ER: We just don't want hikers to enter there.

(Implication: Fuck hikers. We're EBMUD.)

Me: Thank you very much for your time.

(Implication: Yeah, the same to you bud.)
On Saturday I went out for a hike, as I discovered that I was missing walking the hills when I was just biking two weeks ago. The plan was to go to Orinda again, as that was a super-neat hike last time, but this time go via the alternative EBMud trail that leads to Cal Shakes.

The hike up the hill was terrific, as usual. I made it from the Bancroft Steps where I had lunch with K. up to the peak of the hill in just an hour. Near the top, I found a side path that I've been searching for the last few times I'd been there. I'd seen it on two different maps, in two slightly different places, but hadn't been able to locate it in reality. This time, I finally spotted it (further back than the first map had shown and slightly shrouded by trees and bushes). The path was somewhat ill-kept, but it provided a way up to Grizzly Peak that didn't require going up an unnecessary and quite steep hill, so it was somewhat superior as well.

Cal Shakes. Once I crested the peak, the new EBMud Trail was sadly disappointing. It was a straight shot down to Cal Shakes and it was a little too steep as a result, and it had loose dirt all over. Then as I got near the bottom I discovered that there's another battle going on between private and public land use. Someone (presumably Cal Shakes) has put up amateur-looking signs near the bottom of the trail warning you that you're walking into a deadend, and sure enough when you get to the gate at the bottom of the EBMud trail, it opens up into Cal Shakes' parkland, and they have further signs discouraging you from entering.

I was quite disappointed with Cal Shakes. Trying to block off a public trail like that really speaks to someone who doesn't deserve to be part of our community. Worse, they actually lease the land from EBMud, which means that EBMud seriously dropped the ball by not listing continued access to their watershed trail as a requirement of usage. I mean, maybe we can't expect a corporate interest to protect the public lands, but that's supposed to be EBMud's job.

Before I walked down to Cal Shakes, I'd had a future vision of getting tickets to their plays, and getting there by hiking up the hill, then down this trail. I mean, it's pretty much the only place the trail goes. I imagined throngs of people streaming up the hillside in the twilight as a play let out. But now it seems likely that Cal Shakes would try to turn me back at the bottom of the trail, even with tickets in hand. And, in any case, because on their antisocial behavior, Cal Shakes can bite me. (Ironically, Cal Shakes' current Managing Director is family of a friend, someone who I've met. But I'd bet the land usage problem predates her.)

I find Cal Shakes' printed claims that their land is private property particularly interesting, by which I mean a lie, since even their website acknowledges that they're leasing EBMud land. I mean, I suppose public land can kind of become private when leased out by the gov't, but it makes Cal Shakes look even worse when they're using that semi-privatity as a bludgeon to deny the public's right of passage past a public trail that connects to that public, leased land.

It's a pity, as the Cal Shakes environ is really pleasant. Three different picnic areas, heavy woods, a nice amphitheater. But not for the public's use. Not even to walk through. Not even for the hikers who have gotten their permits through EBMud and ultimately own the land that Cal Shakes is leasing.

To which I say shame on Cal Shakes and on EBMUD, who are both proving themselves poor stewards of the public trust in this area.

I've sent a comment on the new EBMUD watershed masterplan to suggest that people should be absolutely forbidden from blocking access to EBMUD trails, if EBMUD is kind enough to lease them land. I don't really have a dog in the fight of whether Cal Shakes is allowed to continued to violate the public good, because I doubt I'll be going down that direction again (especially as they've made it obvious they don't want my business as a walker from Berkeley), but it'd be nice to see this never happen again, and that's the exact sort of thing that a new masterplan should address.

Wilder. Cal Shakes is really in the middle of nowhere. The only (other) access is Highway 24, which is one of the reasons that K. and I had previously never gone (though they run a shuttle to the Orinda BART station).

But across Highway 24 there's a a park called the Wilder Fields and beyond that a subdivision that imaginatively calls itself Wilder too. The Wilder streets there don't exactly connect to Orinda proper, but they come within a few feet of doing so, and some close inspection with Google Map's satellite view suggested to me that you could just walk from one to the other. So, I thought it was worth trying to get from Wilder to Orinda proper (and that was the whole precept of my hike).

Man, is it in the middle of nowhere though. You get past the Siesta Valley EBMud area (which is beautiful due to the creeks in the area) and you're suddenly in desolate California scrub.

The Wilder Fields were nice enough. I mean, they were mostly soccer fields, but there was nice landscaping around them and picnic tables and a clubhouse. I would have stayed here and written some, but I'd already gotten some work done on the trails higher up, and now I was slightly anxious about whether I was trapped in Wilder or not. I'd also killed my iPhone by not charging it properly the night before, and so I no longer had maps of where I was(!).

So I hiked through the desolate lands of Wilder. There were signs up for "custom homes" and some of the houses that had been built looked like grotesque McMansions. Probably a pretty good place for dot-commers to live, right there on 24. As long as you don't want amenities like a commercial district. Or neighbors. Or grass. There were far more empty lots and some houses under constructions and lots of barren brown hills that looked sort of depressing in their starkness. Not where I'd want my multi-million-dollar McMansion to go. Unless I was a coyote or a rattlesnake.

(And a rattlesnake needs a McMansion about as much as a fish needs a McBicycle.)

Anywhow, I'd drilled the streets I needed to walk into my head, since I'd seen my iPhone was just at 10% charge when I started up the hill, and I was able to successfully hike those. And in the end, all that divided Wilder from Orinda proper was a gate across the road. I assume it's intended to keep plebeian drivers away from the McMansion subdivisions.

Orinda really shouldn't allow it any more than EBMUD should allow the barrier against public access in the Siesta Valley lands.

A bit past the gate, I took a left on Moraga Road and walked the bike lane back to Orinda BART. It was not a particularly pleasant walk because the street was busy, there was no sidewalk, and drivers liked to straddle the bike lane divider.

I was back home before 5pm, which was impressive because I left K. at the bottom of Panoramic Hill around noon, stopped to write for a while on EBMUD lands, then walked back home from Rockridge BART, with an emergency gummi stop at Safeway.

I don't regret the walk. I like to explore new areas, and I'd been wanting to check out this particular route. I was thrilled to succeed. But, the EBMUD trail was too dry, crumbly, and steep; the Cal Shakes area was too selfish and fascist; the Wilder area was too rich and desolate; and the Moraga Road walk was too loud and unpleasant.

So, I don't needed to repeat it. Which is why I said that I don't have a dog in the fight for Cal Shakes' annoying blockage of public access.

Berkeley Walks. Then, because that wasn't enough walking on Saturday, K. and I finished up our first walk from Berkeley Walks on Sunday. This was the other half of the Elmwood walk. It took us across College, up Etna, back on Piedmont, and up and down Russell. This half of the walk was shorter, but there was more nice architecture to see, including several Julia Morgan houses. We even read the history of Julia Morgan in the book while sitting in the courtyard of the Julia Morgan Theatre (where we regularly see musicals ... inside the theatre, not in the courtyard).

We had a most odd experience at the north end of Etna. We're standing in front of a pair of houses, looking at them and quietly reading from our Berkeley Walks book and an old lady on one of the porches says something. Both of our days of Berkeley Walking we've had people talk to us on the street with interest, so K. assumes it was her saying something friendly and asks, "What did you say?"

The old lady refuses to reply, so we go back to reading, and when we're no longer paying any attention to her, she pipes up again and says something like, "You move along or I'm going to call the police."

I usually don't do well with people telling me what to do, but this is so ridiculous that I don't lose my cool. I just tell her that we're on a public sidewalk and can do whatever we want. Then I tell her she should call the police if she wants to. Then I say, "Go ahead!" A day later, I imagine I then said, "That's what I thought."

But I don't think I actually did.

So we go back to our reading and "move along" only when we bloody well feel like it.

For the rest of the walk we marvel at the craziness. In fact, I think it might be literal craziness for a while, because she sounded strangely paranoid and had no concept (or care) for what was normal in society. I figure she's one of the people that could use the sort of long-term mental health care that we no longer offer as a society post-Reagan.

But later on I decide she might just be one of the overprivileged older people who dwell in the nicer parts of Berkeley. They're certainly not the majority, but they're a loud minority that damages the city through their refusal to let things change ... and perhaps through insane demands to not stand on their sidewalk.

The theme of the weekend: peoples' disrespect for the public commons — whether it be Cal Shakes blocking public trails; the Wilder builders gating public roads; or a crazy old lady annoyed that people should stand on the public sidewalk in front of her house.

And in two of those three cases, we get the secondary theme of our public government not protecting the commons like it should.
16th-Jun-2016 12:03 am - Mice, Mullions, and Medicine
A busy few days.

On Saturday I ran a Mouse Guard game at Endgame. This is the first RPG I've run since my Kingmaker campaign ended last year, and a rare diversion into more indie play.

I thought it went well. The players seemed to enjoy themselves, and the game system really encouraged more roleplaying and more thoughts about a character's motives, exactly as I hoped it would. Meanwhile, I didn't feel overwhelmed like I have with some indie games (Dying Earth comes to mind). They can be really exhausting, but this one didn't feel like that, perhaps because it gives players lots of ability to choose what they're doing.

The plan is to run a total of four-five sessions of Mouse Guard, then if we like that use it as a springboard for a longer Burning Wheel campaign.

On Sunday K. and I took a first walk guided by Berkeley Walks. We picked the Elmwood walk as our first from the book. It's a bit more than 3 miles.

We liked Berkeley Walks when we saw it at the Berkeley Book Festival because it appeared to be full of details about the various houses and neighborhoods that you were walking through. We didn't realize quite how full. We did a bit more than half the walk, but took 2-3 hours doing so. We'd walk several houses (rarely, a half block or a block), then we'd stop, read about the next way point, and examine the house that was being described.

There was some history in the book, which I expected (though actually less than I would have hoped). However, there was much more architectural detail than I expected, and both K. and I found that fascinating. We slowly began to recognize architectural styles ("colonial revival" was quite popular) and also architectural elements that we hadn't know. Now I sort of know what a dormer (a roofed structure that projects out from the plane of a roof) and a mullion (a vertical divider between panes of glass or between windows) are.

We'll finish up the Elmwood walk on another Sunday, then there are many more in the book.

On Monday I worked, but also visited my specialist to see the results of some recent tests.

So, I apparently have a 4mm kidney stone. It's still in the kidney, so it's unlikely to be causing any of my current, chronic problems. But, joy. Massive pain sometime in the future.

The doc is concerned that the next stage of testing for my chronic problems would not be insurance-covered, because insurance companies suck at doing their job. Combined with the fact that my symptoms have perhaps lessened in the last few months, we're trying out some new drugs and supplements.

(More joy.)

So far I've doubled up on the alpha blocker I was taking before and it's making me a little groggy during the day and a little light-headed when I stand up, but hopefully that'll go away in the long-term.

Not thrilled about the idea of any of this doing anything ... but onwards we go.

And on Tuesday I worked, and on Wednesday I video-conferenced about a paper. And now it's Wednesday night, as another week flies by ...
7th-Jun-2016 10:39 pm - Biking & Booking
Just before I left for New York City, my specialist told me that I could cautiously start biking again. Though I was still having (and am having) ongoing symptoms, the inflammation she had been seeing was gone. None of this particularly surprised me, as I never felt like my symptoms lined up with an inflammation-related diagnosis.

But, I was happy to be able to bike again.

(And I had a CT scan today to look for other organic issues as the annoying next step; I've now got a CD of my innards which my doc will look over next week.)

Despite the fact that I never particularly believed that biking had anything to do with anything, I've carefully followed my specialist's orders. Including being cautious about starting up again. So, I biked out to Endgame the weekend after I got back from New York, but I also continued to BART and bike some.

Then, this last Saturday, I went on a recreational bike ride.

I believe it's my first recreational bike ride since January(!), an impossibly long time ago. And, it was practically my only bike riding since March, when I stopped entirely except a few required trips to the optometrist.

I was also practically starting out from scratch with my new bike, which I just got in late December.

My destination on Saturday was the Wildcat Canyon Trail, a ride that I love dearly, but which I hadn't done since the rains started in November. (Ah, rain, I recall it fondly, and not just because I kept getting wet in New York.)

Still, I was careful. I BARTed up to El Cerrito Del Norte. But, from there I biked up to the Alvarado Park in Richmond, then turned around to ride the Wildcat Canyon Trail through Wildcat Canyon Park, into Tilden.

I'd been afraid that my hill-climbing muscles had atrophied in the last four or five months, and I think they somewhat have.

There are three major (but short) climbs within Wildcat Canyon, then a longer slope to get onto the roads in Tilden Park, then a major (and long) climb to get out of Tilden Park. They're always challenging. Even at my peak, most rides I'm only able to bike 1 or 2 of the climbs in the Canyon. I always bike the slope up to the roads, but then it's 50/50 whether I walk out of Tilden on the shorter route or take the longer route and perhaps ride, but perhaps walk part of it.

But on Saturday I actually biked all three of climbs within Tilden. The last two were very difficult, and I could feel that I'd lost some muscle as I was sometimes putting my legs down and having almost nothing happen. But I feel like I've also built up some endurance and improved my cardio-vascular fitness in four months of regular hiking, and I think that allowed me to keep going. So, it was tougher, but more doable, weirdly enough.

(I was also able to ride the slope leading to the Tilden roads, but then I walked the quarter or half-mile short route out of the park.)

I enjoyed seeing the park again, although it's somewhat the worse for the half-a-year I've been away. Storm damage has closed one of the major routes into the park, and that means that it's been like that for months and they haven't repaired it. (Unrepaired storm damage is becoming an increasingly big problem at many of our local parks; it seems to be accumulating in Redwood Regional and Tilden and Wildcat year after year.) Meanwhile, the whole top of the hillside was cut off for fire abatement work.

Fortunately there was a clear path through from Alvarado to Jewel Lake, then around to the roads, and up and out of the park.

The thing that surprised me the most about the ride was how good I felt. How healthy I felt. Now, I don't think biking is any healthier than hiking, and I'd been doing some darned good hikes, but the fact that I was doing something that I'd been denied for many months for health reasons made me feel better (even if the core problems linger).

The other thing that surprised me was that I missed my hiking! I've really come to enjoy walking our nearby trails in recent months. If I'd had a place to lock up my bike inside Wildcat Canyon, I would have left it a while and hiked up and down a hillside.

I mean, I've always hiked a bit, but I really came to enjoy it more in the last few months, so I guess I've found a new hobby.

And now I can choose to specifically bike to somewhere to hike, if I want.

(And so far, no worsening of symptoms or anything from the biking; I continue to watch it carefully, and I'm going to continue to do some BARTing over the next week or two, but I hope I can continue on. Of course the annoyance is that my chronic symptoms have always continued, which makes it slightly hard to measure if they're getting worse.)

That was Saturday. I had some other stuff that I wrote today about the Berkeley Book Faire on Sunday. But Livejournal gets flaky about its autosaves when you write something on one computer, then recover the autosave on another computer. So, when something or another killed my Safari it wiped out that last part of this journal entry (and my editing!).

Suffice to say: beautiful open air book festival; less beautiful content because there was too much crazy Berkeley stuff; and a great row of food trucks, which I wish we'd known about in advance. K. and I got a book of Berkeley Walks that we liked for how much information it had on its walks, and I got her a cute "K" necklace cut out of a book cover.

And that was the weekend.

And since then, I worked and hiked on Monday, and I worked and CTed and voted today. And I've been feeling burned out in the evenings again and not getting reviews and histories I wanted done. So it goes.
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