california san francisco tech


Steve Jobs on the floor of his apartment

bikes california new york san francisco

Why does cycling in SF suck more now than in 1994?

Cycling seems more dan­ger­ous, more has­sle-filled, and gen­er­al­ly more aggro than when I moved here. Why? Maybe it's me. I moved to Berke­ley recent­ly, and I'm pret­ty close to hav­ing a lawn that I can tell kids to get off of. Maybe it's that the city has changed a lot. There are more cyclists, more peo­ple in gen­er­al (60,000!) and more den­si­ty, espe­cial­ly down­town. On the oth­er hand, there are more bike lanes and sig­nage, and there's more bike aware­ness among the pedes­tri­an and motorist pop­u­la­tions. You'd think that more cyclists + more cycling aware­ness + more cycling accom­mo­da­tion would have result­ed in some kind of net improve­ment, but it hasn't. Pedes­tri­ans seem more antag­o­nis­tic to bikes; motorists of all types are much more antag­o­nis­tic; and some of my fel­low cyclists seem to be the most antag­o­nis­tic of all. Why?Felix Salmon has writ­ten a real­ly inter­est­ing, and wide­ly quot­ed, "uni­fied the­o­ry" of cycling that touch­es on what I think is the heart of it all: That most cyclists think they're pedes­tri­ans, when we're actu­al­ly more like motorists.

Bikes can and should behave much more like cars than pedes­tri­ans. They should ride on the road, not the side­walk. They should stop at lights, and pedes­tri­ans should be able to trust them to do so. They should use lights at night. And — of course, duh — they should ride in the right direc­tion on one-way streets. None of this is a ques­tion of being polite; it's the law. But in stark con­trast to motorists, near­ly all of whom fol­low near­ly all the rules, most cyclists seem to treat the rules of the road as strict­ly option­al. They're still in the human-pow­ered mind­set of pedes­tri­ans, who feel pret­ty much com­plete­ly uncon­strained by rules.

I real­ly agree with this. I don't know how to make it so, and I'm real­ly not a law-and-order type. But I think that agree­ing to fol­low the rules of the road would do a lot to make us all more pre­dictable. Also, I'd like to add: Pass on the freakin left.

california inside art san francisco visual

Modern ancient handiwork at YBCA

Michael's handiwork (and hand)

My old friend Michael Ram­age has a hand in this instal­la­tion in the Yer­ba Bue­na Cen­ter for Art's Sculp­ture Gar­den. He's design­ing and build­ing a pair of domes, made from lay­ers of bricks and mor­tar and styled on ancient tech­niques. The artist behind it is Jew­lia Eisen­berg & Charm­ing Host­ess, and the vision is that the domes will be an out­door venue for music, con­tem­pla­tion, and mind-expand­ing activ­i­ties through­out the sum­mer. I vis­it­ed on Tues­day, and I was struck by the ways that each dome's ocu­lus (fan­cy word for the open, cir­cu­lar win­dow at the top of the dome) framed the sur­round­ing sky and build­ings. That per­spec­tive actu­al­ly kind of made the gener­ic build­ings at 3rd and Howard appear to be some­what cool. Didn't think that would be possible.

california music san francisco

In a cloud

In A Cloud - New Sounds From San Francisco

Oh wow, our pal Greg Gard­ner put togeth­er a real­ly nice col­lec­tion of new music from local bands. It's called In A Cloud, which describes the recent win­ter weath­er and the album itself is a time cap­sule of San Fran­cis­co sounds in 2009-10. My favorite song is a sweet lit­tle thing called "Baby Held" by the elu­sive and pseu­do­ny­mous Jacques But­ters; you can lis­ten to it below. There's plen­ty more on the album — a love­ly track by Son­ny & the Sun­sets, a good one from the Sand­witch­es, a keep­er from Kel­ley Stoltz. You can buy it direct­ly from Greg's label, Secret Sev­en Records. Yay.

flickr photo san francisco

Transbay bird swirl

Transbay terminal San Francisco birds

Perched among the tall build­ings in down­town San Fran­cis­co, my office can feel like a nest in a tall tree. Yes­ter­day evening, the birds that live atop the Trans­bay ter­mi­nal swirled up to, and around, the win­dows of our con­fer­ence room, and the aerie-like feel­ing was stronger than ever. One bird even land­ed, briefly, on the ledge of the win­dow. I have no idea what kind of birds they are, what brought them to us, or what they hope to achieve. But I am in awe of them.

music reviews san francisco

Tim Cohen / Sounds for fog & summer

My pal Greg Gard­ner is work­ing on some night moves called Secret Sev­en Records. A few months ago, he released some friend­ly sounds by Mt. Egypt, and now he's get­ting ready to drop some more home cook­ing: The Two Sides of Tim Cohen. It's a solo album by a local rap­scal­lion named Tim Cohen, for­mer­ly of Black Fic­tion, and it's a real nice col­lec­tion of fog­gy folk songs. I tend to favor the loose, spacey side of rock music, and this album is open and astral — but with rough edges that remind­ed me of Pan­da Bear minus the Beach Boys-ish har­monies. More Floyd, ear­ly Floyd. Saucer­ful of Secrets, sound­track to "More" Floyd. What­ev­er the vibe is, it's rough and qui­et and psy­che­del­ic and prob­a­bly has British roots. But I'll stop before I say more because it's bet­ter than I'm mak­ing it sound, and I'll prob­a­bly be on someone's knuck­le sand­wich list if I throw around any more crazy notions. I'll attach a song that's more Leonard Cohen, or maybe mel­low Replace­ments, than Floyd, okay?

inside art photo san francisco visual

Robert Frank, The Americans, and grant-writing

Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Frank is known for a few things, pri­mar­i­ly The Amer­i­cans, a ground-break­ing book of pho­tog­ra­phy pub­lished in the late 50's. He is also known for avant-garde film-mak­ing, e.g., Pull My Daisy, and his nev­er-released Rolling Stones doc­u­men­tary with an unprint­able name.We checked out SFMOMA's 50th anniver­sary ret­ro­spec­tive of The Amer­i­cans today, and I was aston­ished at anoth­er of Frank's skills: Grant-writ­ing. In order to fund the gath­er­ing of the pho­tos that became The Amer­i­cans, he applied for a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship. I've past­ed his clear, sim­ple, two-part essay below. 

Part 1: Frank's brief summary of the proposal

To pho­to­graph freely through­out the Unit­ed States, using the minia­ture cam­era exclu­sive­ly. The mak­ing of a broad, volu­mi­nous pic­ture record of things Amer­i­can, past and present. This project is essen­tial­ly the visu­al study of a civ­i­liza­tion and will include cap­tion notes; but it is only part­ly doc­u­men­tary in nature: one of its aims is more artis­tic than the word doc­u­men­tary implies.

Part 2: The full statement of intent

I am apply­ing for a Fel­low­ship with a very sim­ple inten­tion: I wish to con­tin­ue, devel­op and widen the kind of work I already do, and have been doing for some ten years, and apply it to the Amer­i­can nation in gen­er­al. I am sub­mit­ting work that will be seen to be doc­u­men­ta­tion — most broad­ly speak­ing. Work of this kind is, I believe, to be found car­ry­ing its own visu­al impact with­out much work expla­na­tion. The project I have in mind is one that will shape itself as it pro­ceeds, and is essen­tial­ly elas­tic. The mate­r­i­al is there: the prac­tice will be in the photographer's hand, the vision in his mind. One says this with some embar­rass­ment but one can­not do less than claim vision if one is to ask for con­sid­er­a­tion. "The pho­tograph­ing of Amer­i­ca" is a large order — read at all lit­er­al­ly, the phrase would be an absur­di­ty. What I have in mind, then, is obser­va­tion and record of what one nat­u­ral­ized Amer­i­can finds to see in the Unit­ed States that sig­ni­fies the kind of civ­i­liza­tion born here and spread­ing else­where. Inci­den­tal­ly, it is fair to assume that when an obser­vant Amer­i­can trav­els abroad his eye will see fresh­ly; and that the reverse may be true when a Euro­pean eye looks at the Unit­ed States. I speak of the things that are there, any­where and every­where — eas­i­ly found, not eas­i­ly select­ed and inter­pret­ed. A small cat­a­log comes to the mind's eye: a town at night, a park­ing lot, a super­mar­ket, a high­way, the man who owns three cars and the man who owns none, the farmer and his chil­dren, a new house and a warped clap­board house, the dic­ta­tion of taste, the dream of grandeur, adver­tis­ing, neon lights, the faces of the lead­ers and the faces of the fol­low­ers, gas tanks and postof­fices and back­yards. The uses of my project would be soci­o­log­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal and aes­thet­ic. My total pro­duc­tion will be volu­mi­nous, as is usu­al­ly the case when the pho­tog­ra­ph­er works with minia­ture film. I intend to clas­si­fy and anno­tate my work on the spot, as I pro­ceed. Ulti­mate­ly the file I shall make should be deposit­ed in a col­lec­tion such as the one in the Library of Con­gress. A more imme­di­ate use I have in mind is both book and mag­a­zine publication.

Frank was award­ed a fel­low­ship, which amount­ed to $3,600, and he used this to trav­el in a long loop around the US in 1955–6. That "more imme­di­ate use" that he refers to in the final sen­tence turned into The Amer­i­cans, a stun­ning doc­u­ment that is every bit as inter­est­ing 50 years lat­er. The exhi­bi­tion is cap­tured in an extend­ed ver­sion of The Amer­i­cans, includ­ing con­tact sheets and commentary.

california san francisco travel

This marimba could be yours

San Juan Bautista - Marimba

If you haven't been to San Juan Bautista, you need to go. It's a lit­tle ways south of San Jose, an hour east of Big Sur, a long but not impos­si­ble trip from San Fran­cis­co. Mara and I were there last win­ter, and I keep mean­ing to spread the word. It's a real get­away with good old-fash­ioned Cal­i­for­nia her­itage and big cac­ti and a nice bak­ery and a good vibe.

San Juan Bautista - Chicken
Chick­ens run­ning around.
San Juan Bautista - White hearse
What can you say? SJB got style.

It's also got a mis­sion, and it's in the heart of arti­choke coun­try. They say that hard times are when the big ideas real­ly take hold. Maybe it's time to get that marim­ba you've always wanted.

politics san francisco

Elections / Photos from the campaign trail

Bake sale for Barack ObamaPho­to: Joshua Lott

Last June, Mara orga­nized a bake sale to raise mon­ey for Barack Oba­ma. It was a typ­i­cal­ly chilly sum­mer day in San Fran­cis­co, but we made a fist­ful of cash, AND we got our pic­ture tak­en by a passer­by who hap­pened to be a pro­fes­sion­al pho­to­jour­nal­ist. His name is Joshua Lott, and he post­ed it on a blog called The Stump­ing Grounds, which fea­tures one pho­to per day from one of the many pho­to­jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the cam­paign. Ours was post­ed on June 24th.

Barack Obama strikes the Heisman poseI had to include this; it's the cur­rent pho­to, and it's awe­some. It was tak­en by Scout Tufankjian, and her site is well worth a look. She's post­ed a series on the Secret Ser­vice which is both reveal­ing and kind of scary.

san francisco visual

Domestic policy / US out of everywhere

US out of North America

Long ago, some­one spray paint­ed "US out of North Dako­ta" on the wall of the Cave, a lit­tle bar in the base­ment of a Car­leton dorm. It was direct­ly above the stage, a stage where I saw a lot of good bands (Walt Mink, FIREHOSE, Phish, and prob­a­bly oth­ers). So I spent a lot of time star­ing at it. It made a deep impres­sion on me. I still think about it. Which reminds me: Seces­sion. The coun­ties of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and South­ern Ore­gon tried to secede from their respec­tive states in the 40's. True sto­ry. So any­way, it makes me real­ly hap­py that Justin took this pho­to of a Duster in his neigh­bor­hood in Berke­ley. Dis­sent! It's your patri­ot­ic duty.