Thursday, August 31, 2006

the sartorialist

Offered with sparse comment is The Sartorialist, a blog created by a charmingly opinionated fashion photographer (above center) living in New York. The Sartorialist is the king of street fashion and his site is appealing at many levels.

First is photographic. The Sartorialist finds interesting subjects throughout the City and wherever he travels, and he takes wonderful photographs of real people in real settings. Second is his sense of style. This is more evident for men he encounters than women, but it is Italian, classic and sharply defined. Pants should not have big breaks and they should sit at the natural waist. Sleeve cuffs should end at the wrist bone; jacket sleeves should show ½” of cuff. Third is the commentary, often from fashion insiders. Expect 15-40 per daily post.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

cocoa bella

A hackneyed phrase begins, “Life is like a box of chocolates...” But, what if you did know what was in the box. Better yet, what if you were able to pick only the best flavors, and not just from one chocolatier but from the dozen finest around the world. Then you would know what it is like to shop at Cocoa Bella.

Cocoa Bella opened in late 2004 and it mixes a clean look with European traditions like marble slabs and wooden fixtures. They carry more than 200 types of chocolate from Belgium, Switzerland, France, Italy, Venezuela and the United States. Included are masterpieces from Christopher Elbow, Pascal Lac, Charles Chocolates and Michel Cluizel; the only problem is that there is more variety than one person could ever sample, and selecting each piece is a very hard process.

Cocoa Bella: 2102 Union St, San Francisco, CA (415) 931-6213

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Incanto is one of my favorite places in San Francisco. It has an atmosphere that is both sophisticated and comfortable, and every aspect of the restaurant reflects the personality and passion of Mark, its owner. Incanto has a top chef and an outstanding staff, but it is Mark's attention to detail, insistence on the freshest ingredients and obsession with Italian cuisine that make Incanto such a memorable dining experience.

Last night’s dinner was the final in Incanto’s Summer Sagra series, and it featured the fig. I love figs, so I was more than pleased to be able to taste five varieties from Knoll Farms, an organic, sustainable local producer. My description of our menu follows, but my hope is that my many foodie friends who were in attendance add comments. Perhaps the collective result can match the quality of our evening.

Our meal began with mixed figs with marscarpone and basil. Included were the Adriatic fig (medium green), the Kadota and the Melissa (brown skin with white dots). Basil and figs may seem like an odd couple, but it worked beautifully. The figs were perfectly ripe and the basil managed to accentuate their freshness.

Next up were grilled Brown Turkey figs with chicken liver and pancetta. Cured meats are a specialty at Incanto, and the thinly sliced pancetta was a nice match for the exploding flavor of the Brown Turkey figs.

Complimenting our first two courses was the Rosso Conero Fibbio from Lanari that I have mentioned before. However, for our third course, we switched to the Salento Bianco Metiusco from Palama. Its fruit and oak were wonderful with the fig leaf-wrapped halibut and roasted figs.

The halibut was cooked perfectly and earned rave reviews from the table. But, it was the vanilla-infused salt prepared for the dish that provoked the most discussion. We all wanted to ask for some to take home but we were too shy.

Our Black Mission fig and hazelnut crostata dessert was solid as well. The pastry was delicious and the 15-year balsamic and whipped cream together proved to be inspired combination with the figs. Mark stopped by for a vist and was too generous in bringing us glasses of Cascina Ca` Rossa’s Birbet. It is deep ruby in color and effervescent with a sweet, addictive flavor, and it is not to be missed on your next visit to Incanto.

In the 4 ½ years since it opened critics have taken note, and they have lavished Incanto with praise and awards. The greatest signs of success, though, are the familiar faces of Incanto’s Noe Valley neighbors that return for meals so often. If you have never been to Incanto, go. The staff will make you feel like you are dining at the home of an old friend. And if you haven’t been back in a while, make the reservation and don’t be surprised when Mark is at the door to greet you.

Incanto: 1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA (415) 641-4500

Monday, August 28, 2006

riding east

My friend Jeff is an exceptional programmer, entrepreneur and executive. Moreover, he excels as a father, a family man and as a friend. But, his greatest talents are artistic as both a performer and composer of music.

I have been delighted that Jeff is devoting time to developing these gifts, and he has been kind enough to share select compositions and performances with me over the past year. Now, in an exclusive for (at least) one cool thing, I am excited to announce that Jeff is sharing his work through his new blog: Riding East.

Riding East provides a unique opportunity to interact with the artist and discover his thoughts on interpretations and his motivation for his compositions. Sometimes they are personal, and some of Jeff’s best work is dedicated to family members who, sadly, are no longer with us. Sometimes inspiration comes from fellow artists – Jeff’s Purgatorio provides an example. In all cases it is a pleasure to share the intimacy of a living-room piano performance or (in spite of technological limitations) the freshness of MIDI renditions of new chamber or orchestral scores.

I strongly encourage you to visit and bookmark Jeff’s blog, but for a sampling of his talents I have included a few links below:

Sunday, August 27, 2006

santa ramen

roast pork ramen at Santa Ramen in San Mateo I’m not a Ramen expert but Elaine and Joy are, and last night Lisette and I joined them at their favorite noodle shop: Santa Ramen.

Santa Ramen is small (6 tables and a counter to sit at), and it is always crowded so you will likely wait to be seated. The waiting procedure is sometimes complicated: you sign a crowded list posted outside and you look forward to be called for “inside waiting.” For the novice, the summons is fake-out, but fortunately the promotion from inside waiting to table doesn’t take long. Santa Ramen discourages lingering once a customer’s meal is done.

It also shouldn’t take long to decide what to order. There are three broths to choose from: soy bean based (miso), soy sauce based (shoyu), and pork flavor (tonkotsu), and these form the headings on the giant menu on the wall. Pork flavor is the way to go.

Once that selection is made you select an option underneath. They have seaweed ramen, corn ramen, bamboo shoot ramen, garlic ramen, etc. They were sold out of stewed pork (Elaine and Joy’s favorite) so we all opted for roast pork instead. As the picture above suggest, each order comes with noodles, green onions and pickled ginger. We removed our ginger but proceed to savor each bit of what remained.

Everything in the bowl is tasty but the superstar is the broth. Joy thought its pork-flavored goodness came from fat, Elaine described it as proteinaceous. I just think it is wonderful.

I like Ramen Club in Burlingame, but the best ramen I have ever had is at Santa Ramen. As soon as my arteries recover from the sodium and fat that is likely still circulating, I will return for another large bowl of Japanese goodness.

Santa Ramen: 805 S B St, San Mateo, CA (650) 344-5918

Saturday, August 26, 2006

outdoor movies in los altos

Lisette and I were in downtown Los Altos last night for outdoor movie night. I hadn’t seen Pirates of the Caribbean before and we were both curious about the Friday night event. We weren’t quite prepared for the scene that greeted us and didn’t end up staying, but my Peninsula friends with kids may want to consider attending next week. September 1st is the final movie of the year: Finding Nemo.

Summer Friday evenings, the Los Altos Village Association shuts down all traffic on Main Street between Second and Third. They inflate jumpy houses and slides for the little kids and begin setting up a digital projector, 15-foot screen and surround sound for when it gets dark. This transforms the normally quiet and sleepy downtown into a giant playground.

Not surprisingly, the playground attracts kids. Teens and pre-teens were everywhere; there must have been a few hundred along with another two hundred families. The older kids don’t seem so interested in the movie but the younger kids are excited by their presence.

The adults use this as an opportunity to catch up with friends and to do a little tailgating. Bring a bottle of wine and consider your options for foraging for food. Besides those I have mentioned in my blog (Chris’s Fish and Chips and Satura Cakes) there is Applewood Pizza and Draeger’s.

For the best view, get there early (6:30 should be a good time) to set up your chairs. Everyone seems to have these (on sale at REI), and since the street is the theater, blankets aren’t really an option. The movie will start a little after 8p.

Friday, August 25, 2006

fish and chips

I’ve driven by Chris’s Fish and Chips on First Street in Los Altos many times and never stopped. I’ve always wondered how good it is,, and tonight I satisfied that curiosity. The quick answer: its great.

Chris’s has been right next door to Applewood Pizza for a number of years. It is small (5 little tables inside, 2 outside under umbrellas) and it has a limited menu and a tiny open kitchen, but these are signs of its focus.

Chris’s is all about the food. We ordered the combo plate ($9.50): 5 jumbo prawns, 1 fillet and a basket of chips (fries) and we added an extra piece of piece of fish as a side ($2.75). This was a perfect amount of food for two. Fish and chips with 2 pieces of fish are $6.50 and a side of slaw will add $.50 to your total, refreshing prices for any Bay Area neighborhood.

What happened next surprised us. Our cook reached into his refrigeration unit, grabbed two nice cuts of Alaskan Pollock and then battered and deep-fried them to order. He repeated the process for our large, butterflied prawns and then added uncooked steak fries to a separate fryer.

Everything is cooked in peanut oil (changed daily) and the batter is secret, but the results are tasty. Beautiful color, good flavor, light crunch on the outside, less grease than you would expect, and the Alaskan Pollock is a nice alternative to the traditional Cod or Atlantic Pollock. Perhaps best of all are the homemade tartar and cocktail sauces – a perfect compliment to a simple (if not necessarily healthy) meal.

Chris’s Fish and Chips 209 1st St, Los Altos, CA (650) 948-6155

Thursday, August 24, 2006

the superficial friends

Deciding what to blog about is a little like panning for gold. Each day there is research, submersion and then the panning itself. At the end of the process, sometimes there are nuggets, sometimes there is no gold. I like to think that the former is much more common than the latter, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Today's panning efforts have resulted in a humorous cartoon from Stephen Colbert. It references a group I remember fondly from my childhood (the Super Friends) and lampoons a group I wish I had never heard of (Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and the Olsen Twins). Without further delay, I present The Superficial Friends via

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the august 28 new yorker

COVER: An Incoming Tide by Ian FalconerEach week that a new New Yorker arrives is a good week. However, the latest issue (August 28, 2006) has two noteworthy articles.

The first discusses the economic impact of shifts in demographics of countries' populations and is authored by Malcolm Gladwell.

The second, and even more interesting of the pair, documents the controversy surrounding recent proofs of the Poincaré Conjecture and the Fields Medal. It contains a rare interview with the reclusive Grigory Perelman, and it is co-authored by Sylvia Nasar. Nasar wrote A Beautiful Mind.

What’s behind Ireland’s economic miracle—and G.M.’s financial crisis?

A legendary problem and the battle over who solved it.

Bonus link: an article from July you may have missed:

Making sense of a mysterious pregnancy disorder.
Issue of 2006-07-24 (Posted 2006-07-17)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

san francisco magazine

I’m a fan of San Francisco Magazine. I have yet to subscribe as I can barely keep up with the magazines I already have, but my friend Mike does. And, each time I visit his place I’m drawn to the magazine's glossy pages.

Very little of its content has been available on the SF Mag website – until now. They’ve completed an update and unlocked the 2006 archives. SF Mag has also decided to publish more articles from the current issue, and there are two articles from this month that I wanted to highlight:

Josh Sens’ Heart over Haute, a quirky top 10 Bay Area restaurant list

Readers’ Picks
Best of the Bay Area 2006, the top 3 restaurants in 17 categories you actually care about, like best new restaurant, best desserts and best by cuisine

Both contain great recommendations and are worthy of bookmarks.

Monday, August 21, 2006

hdr photography

bracket exposures on the left, HDR image on rightPaul’s note: My photographs of spectacular scenery most always disappoint, especially in challenging light conditions. In his first guest contribution to (at least) one cool thing, Don, of Banana Joe’s Pineapple Frosty fame and an expert in many domains, explains why this happens and details how HDR techniques can solve the problem and produce amazing results.

Those of us who have gone shopping for a digital camera know it is all too easy to fall into the ever-escalating arms race for more higher and higher resolution. For instance, Canon's EOS Mark II now sports a massive 16.7 megapixels per image. For most of us not in the business of printing out billboards or posting images to the nearest JumboTron, this sort of pixel density is not often necessary.

A less commonly recognized aspect of digital photography is dynamic range. We have all run up against the inherent dynamic range limitations of our cameras numerous times. It happens when you encounter a large variation in light intensity within the same scene. On a sunny afternoon you compose a picture of your friends in the sun with an interesting landmark off to the side in the shade. You press the button on your trusty camera and *click* you see your friends but the landmark has disappeared into a featureless shadow.

What happened? Once again we learn that our eyes are simply amazing optical instruments. They have a dynamic range far superior to any consumer digital camera. Your eye-brain combination can perceive details under lighting conditions that vary by a factor of over 10,000 fold within the same scene. In other words, the have a dynamic range of over 10,000. A typical digital camera, however, has a dynamic range on the order of about 500. This means simply that your eye can see many things when you compose your shot that your camera isn't going to pick up if there are large variations in lighting.

But what to do? While camera manufacturers perfect sensor chips with improved dyanmic range, amateur photographers are increasingly turning to software based processing solutions to increase the effective dynamic range of our cameras. There are a variety of software packages available that allow you to merge multiple bracketed exposures of the same image together into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image.

A simple way to generate an HDR image is to take three shots, one with a relatively long exposure time to capture details in the shadows, one middle exposure (the one your camera would automatically select) and one short exposure to get the brightest portions of the image. Many cameras including my trusty Canon Powershot include an auto-exposure bracketing feature that will automatically fire three shots with the requisite exposure settings. With the default setting, the three bracketed images span an extra 4 f-stops worth of dynamic range.

I've been using the software from Photomatix ($99) and have been happy with the results. Photoshop's CS version is also very popular for creating HDR images. One of the most successful HDR images I've made so far came from one of Elaine and my hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. I wanted to photograph a brightly sunlit waterfall that fell before a massive rock overhang. The angle of the sun kept the overhang and the trail below in deep shadow while the light reflecting off the waterfall was very intense.

Longer exposure times caused the water to be overexposed and "blown out" while shorter shutter speeds caused the details in the shadowed area to disappear. (photos above on left) A steady hand combined with Photomatix's auto-align feature allowed me to produce a composite image that I felt more accurately captured the scene as I saw it. (large center image) Remember though, because you are compositing multiple images this method works best for subjects that are not moving!

I prefer to use HDR methods to produce images that I feel are closer to what my eye saw when I composed the scene, but many people also use HDR software methods to make striking surrealist images. Whatever your taste in photography, HDR processing can be a very powerful tool.

Bonus link: Top-rated HDR photographs on flickr

Sunday, August 20, 2006


appetizers and entrees at RangeLast night Joy, Mike, Lisette and I dined at Range. Range opened last summer to great acclaim and, judging by our dinner, it is likely to keep its place in Michael Bauer’s Top 100 list for quite a while.

I think that the pictures do a better job of describing how delicious our food was that I could, so I will let them do the talking.

appetizers and entrees, clockwise from top left:
salmon sashimi with cucumbers, olive oil and pureed avacado
alaskan halibut with melted leeks, chanterelle mushrooms, english peas and grain mustard butter sauce
mushroom stuffed pasta with baby artichokes and parmesan
slow cooked pork loin with butter beans, hen of the woods mushrooms and pork jus
roasted chicken with a pancetta, arugula and pecan bread salad

A few words about the restaurant itself are in order. Physically it is attractive, modern and comfortable. It is also likely to be both crowded and loud. The service is very professional and, since late Spring, Range is home to SF Magazine’s top-rated pastry chef: Michelle Polzine. Her creations are the reason the four of us ordered and devoured all five desserts on the menu.

desserts at Rangedesserts, clockwise from top left:
strawberry shortcake with lemon verbena cream
cream puffs with peach ice cream
dapple dandy pluot tart with cardamom ice cream
bittersweet chocolate soufflé with cocoa nib crème anglaise
huckleberry crêpes with crème fraîche ice cream

When you go to Range, save room for the most important course.

Range: 842 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA (415) 282-8283

Saturday, August 19, 2006

uss hornet flashlight tour

the USS Hornet museum in Alameda.  left: the island, center: the air boss's view of flight operations, right: CVA-12, the grey ghostThe USS Hornet (CV/CVA/CVS-12) was one of the most decorated ships in US Naval history. Launched in August of 1943, the Essex-class aircraft carrier was active in the Pacific Campaign and compiled an extraordinary WWII battle record. Through the Vietnam War, the Hornet participated in regular fleet operations as an anti-submarine platform, and in July of 1969, the Hornet was the recovery carrier for the Apollo 11.

The USS Hornet was decommissioned in 1970, but in 1996 she was saved from the scrapheap and converted to a must-visit museum docked in Alameda. I was unaware that the museum existed until Lisette, the source of many blog entries, suggested that we go check it out.

The museum is open daily, and visitors to the USS Hornet have access to the flight deck, the hangar deck and its collection of vintage aircraft, and parts of the 2nd deck including the flight ready room, the officers’ mess, officers’ berthing, the forecastle and sick bay.

With a docent tour (they leave every 30 minutes or so), you can also explore the island structure (above). The docent leads you up 5 levels to Primary Flight Control where the air boss managed all air traffic within 5 miles of the carrier. The views of San Francisco and Alameda Point are wonderful. From Pri-Fly, the tour continues to the chart room, the pilot house and the nav bridge. It concludes (~45 minutes later) with the flag bridge, where the Admiral directed operations for the carrier group.

You can spend 2 or 3 hours in the general admission areas, and it is a fantastic place to take kids. However, for the supreme experience, adults should schedule a flashlight tour. This is how Lisette and I started our day.

the Combat Information Center on the USS HornetOur guide was Chuck Gardner, a Hornet expert who has been working to restore the ship for the past 8 years. He led us down to the 3rd deck and the movie-set-like Combat Information Center (above). The CIC (radar room) tracked and controlled all mission-related operations.

From the CIC we went to the Message Center (immediately below). The Message Center is actually 5 rooms packed with radios and other electronics required to send and receive top secret communications. Chuck gave us plenty of time to explore both the CIC and the Message Center, and I was fascinated by the walls of dials, the racks of equipment, and the pneumatic tube system used to re-distribute critical messages.

the top secret message center (radio room) on the USS HornetAccess to these two areas alone are reason enough to book a flashlight tour, but Chuck was just getting started. From the radio room we headed to one the Hornet’s 5-inch guns and some of the berthing areas for the sailors. Chuck also brought us to the Captain’s quarters and the Admiral quarter’s, although he explained that while at sea the Captain rarely left his sea cabin on the bridge.

Next up was one of two diesel machine rooms, the source of electricity for the Hornet followed by a trip a deck down to the port catapult room. (more photos) Chuck took us further down still to give us a more of a look at life on the Hornet. Included where visits to the brig, the cobbler’s shop, the tailor’s, the dental offices and the printing room. Since he has keys to everything, Chuck also show us the un-restored the barber shop.

Engine Room #1 on the USS Hornet.  Turn and Burn Then it was off to the engine room (above).Engine Room #1 was one of two engine rooms that provided propulsion power to the Hornet. Eight boilers produced the steam required to generate 150,000 horsepower. The Hornet cruised at 15 knots but could make 33 knots in emergency situations. Finally, 3 hours after we started, Chuck brought us to some of the other warm places to work on the USS Hornet: the laundry, the unlisted mess and the bakery.

When I was growing up I loved going to the Air and Space Museum. My favorite exhibit of all was the mock carrier bridge where you directed sea-air operations. I never thought I would say this about anything, but the USS Hornet is much more impressive, and the flashlight tour is the best way to appreciate this amazing piece of our history.

Reserve spots for the September 16 flashlight tour

elements of daily life aboard the USS Hornet.  left: the laundry, center: the bakery, right: the printing room

Friday, August 18, 2006


Carson, via pixamo photo sharingAs I was working on a write-up for today, an email arrived from a friend announcing the birth of his third son, Carson (above). Code-named “Pickles” pre-launch, Carson debuted this afternoon at 2:30 measuring 21” and weighing in at 8 lbs.

Pickles doesn’t know it yet, but he is a very lucky little guy. He has two older brothers: Tyler, who will teach him everything about cars, trucks, and Legos; and, Justin, who will teach him to climb out of his crib, steal toys from Tyler and find the cookies mom and dad hide.

Speaking of mom and dad, Pickles has done well there too. In addition to writing for (at least) one cool thing on occasion, dad is pretty good at sports, camping and poker. Better still, mom is a fun mom who is both talented at fixing owies and very excited about the latest addition to the family.

To my very close friends Warren and Tricia, congratulations! I couldn’t be happier for you, and I can’t wait to meet Carson. And, to their sons Tyler, Justin and Carson, work on your parents. Two more siblings and you can have your own basketball team.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

1977 smith woodhouse port

Smith Woodhouse is a 200 year old family-run winery in the Rio Torto Valley of Portugal. They have a 42-acre vineyard from which they produce some of the world’s finest Ports. I’ve been fortunate to sample their 1977 vintage on two occasions, first with my friend Jeff and most recently with Elaine who was kind enough to share her bottle after our enjoyable dinner at NOPA.

In 1997, in a 20th anniversary blind tasting, the Wine Specatator awarded the ’77 Smith Woodhouse 99 points and declared it to be the finest of the 1977 releases. It has garnered additional accolades, as has the vintage overall.

I’m not a port expert, but I can say with confidence that it is delicious. It has extremely intense flavors and a long, spectacular finish. This port made me a port fan, and if you are interested in tracking some down I recommend the auction services at the wine commune.

Bonus link: a great port resource:

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

upcoming events

Whenever I attend a limited engagement event and proclaim it my cool thing of the day I feel guilty for not giving my readers advance notice. To mitigate that guilt, I thought I would provide a preview of things I may do that could prove blog-worthy.

August 25: Pirates of the Caribbean
Los Altos Village Association presents a free outdoor showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl at dusk, downtown off Main between Second and Third

August 28: The Fig Dinner at Incanto
The Summer Sagra dinner series at
Incanto in Noe Valley continues on August 28th with a four-course thematic menu featuring figs. Call 415-641-4500 for reservations

August 31: Joy of Sake
The annual
Joy of Sake tasting festival movies to the Moscone West for this year's installment. The list of participating restaurants providing snacks is impressive, and there will be 250 sakes to sample. Tickets are $70 per person and the event runs from 6p until 8:30p

September 1-24 (weekends): Shakespeare in the Park
The excellent Marin Shakespeare Company presents
The Comedy of Errors at Forest Meadows Amphitheater in San Raphael. Tickets are $27.50 and performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8p and Sunday afternoons at 4p

September 2-24 (weekends): More Shakespeare in the Park
If budget Shakespeare is more your style, you can enjoy a free performance of
The Tempest at the Parade Ground in the Presidio. The production is part of as part of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and reviews have been surprisingly good. Times are Saturdays at 7:30p and Sundays at 2:30p

September 10: San Francisco Opera in the Park
A city-favorite, the free show begins at 1:30 but arrive early as Golden Gate Park’s Sharon Meadow will be packed. More details

September 15-17: Monterey Jazz Festival
The Monterey Jazz Festival runs Friday night until Sunday night and features over 500 artists on 7 stages. Headliners include the legendary Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and blues artist Keb’ Mo’

Bonus links: sites like
sfstation and sfgate maintain extensive calendars of upcoming events

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

google wifi

For the past two weeks I have been one of a few hundred people testing Google’s new Mountain View wireless network. The 802.11b/g mesh network consists of 380 Tropos access points attached to streetlights throughout the city, and three collection points that tie traffic back into Google’s backbone. At 9pm tonight Google opened access to this free network to the public.

A thank you to Google is in order. They constructed the network at their own expense (coverage map), and they are providing advertising-free, unnrestricted connectivity to everyone in Mountain View with a gmail address. No more need for that EVDO card or, potentially, wired broadband when you are in Mountain View and have the right equipment.

Getting on the network is easy. Your wireless device will detect the open Google network (SSID “GoogleWiFi”), and when you launch a browser you are re-directed to a login page. You can encrypt your traffic using Google-provided VPN software (download) or your preferred package, and I recommend that you do this.

During the test period, encryption worked seamlessly and I encountered excellent connection speeds approaching the cap of 1Mb/s up and down. Although both dsl and cable offer appreciably faster download bandwidth as part of standard $20-40 a month packages, upload bandwidth approaching 1Mb/s is much more expensive.

A limitation of the citywide WiFi network is that line-of-sight is required for a strong connection. This is fine for parks, outdoor cafes, yards and my pool, but in most homes, the signal is not strong enough for indoor use. For example, I have no reception inside my pad.

The solution for weak indoor signals is a WiFi modem, a special high-sensitivity repeater that amplifies the signal and bridges to your existing network with an Ethernet port. Google’s testing suggests that the 200mW PePLink 200BG ($169) and Peplink 200BG-AP ($189) perform best. The 200BG is an analog for your broadband modem, and you would plug your router into it. The 200BG-AP is an all-in-one unit that functions as a modem, router and access point for your internal network.

I haven’t tried a WiFi modem yet, but if were paying more for my dsl or still struggling with bad service I would purchase a PePLink in a heartbeat. Posts on the discussion group suggest that they work well, especially in combination with a directional antenna, and they pay for themselves rather quickly. Note: Google is not providing telephone support, but they do have a comprehensive FAQ.

Bonus link: ad-supported (free) WiFi from MetroFi for Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Santa Clara

Monday, August 14, 2006


appetizers from left: salmon carpaccio, small fried fish and runner beans with fetaLast night’s dinner was at the very hip NOPA at the corner of Hayes and Divisadero. Formerly a bank, the interior has been completely re-styled with modern surfaces, high, exposed truss ceilings, stunning windows and an exhibition kitchen with a rotisserie and a wood-fired oven front and center. The vault remains, though. It is now their wine cellar.

There were six of us, so we were able to sample a good portion of the menu. We started with salmon carpaccio, wood-baked runner beans and the very tasty little fried fish (above). All are recommended.

For entrees we ordered the London broil (great mashed potatoes), the rotisserie chicken (they brine it first and it is amazingly juicy), the Mediterranean fish stew (wonderful flavors), and a pan-seared halibut that had superb texture and was accompanied by the most delicious corn and tomatoes. As good as each of those was, the star was the large double-cut pork chop. It was cooked perfectly and it was plated with incredible grilled peaches.

Service at NOPA is efficient, prices are quite reasonable (entrees are in the high teens) and the wine list has unusual offerings at very low markups. We selected the López de Heredia 1998 Tondonia Rioja Riserva: $55 at NOPA, $39 at K&L. It was gentle and medium bodied with no rough edges, exemplifying the traditional style of Rioja Alta produced with organic techniques and bottled unfiltered.

NOPA has received strong reviews from Michael Bauer and yelp readers, and after last night’s dinner my companions and I concur. NOPA is casual, fun and tasty. One important tip for your visit: NOPA does not take advance reservations, but you can call for a table same-day starting at 2pm. Call at 2pm and keep dialing until you get through.

NOPA: 560 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA (415) 864-8643

entrees from left: halibut with corn and tomatoes, spit-roasted london broil and rotisserie chicken

Sunday, August 13, 2006

monet in normandy

Wheat Field, 1881, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Monet in Normandy is a special exhibit of 53 paintings assembled from public and private collections in Europe, Japan and the US that exemplify the artist’s relationship with his hometown.

Born in Paris, Monet spent much of his life in the Norman countryside. He painted numerous seascapes and landscapes, transforming the outdoors into a studio to capture the beauty of his surroundings. Organized jointly by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh and the Cleveland Museum of Art, Monet in Normandy includes works from the early 1860s through 1925, tracing the evolution of his style and subject matter.

Road at La Cavee, Pourville, 1882, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Monet in Normandy continues at the Palace of the Legion of Honor until September 17. Admission is $15 for adults and tickets can be obtained in advance. If possible, avoids the weekends as large crowds can reduce your enjoyment of the excellent exhibition. Click here for a gallery preview.

Water Lillies, 1914-1917, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Bonus tip: don’t overlook the European galleries upstairs. These include paintings by Renoir, Degas, Manet and Pissarro as well as Monet’s The Grand Canal and a fourth interpretation of the coastal stone cottage featured in the main exhibit.

Bonus link: a very nice post on the Palace of the Legion of Honor

Saturday, August 12, 2006

firefox and playtagger

This past Tuesday, as it does many Tuesdays, Microsoft released a series of critical patches for Windows and IE. I always download and install them, usually after ignoring the little “update available” icon for a few days. So, Friday night, after the required restart, 12 new patches were installed.

I wanted to do more research on fuel cell buses, so I opened a browser and 3 links later – IE crash. So, I re-launched IE and tried again – another crash. I repeated the search and crash fun 10 more times with different pages before switching over to Firefox to complete my research and publish my post.

For those Windows 2000 users who may be experiencing my problem of IE crashes after the August 8, 2006 Microsoft update, I wanted to explain the resolution. The culprit is patch MS06-42, a fix for a very nasty remote code execution flaw. A hotfix for the bug that the MS06-42 patch created is available only by calling MSFT support, but a simple workaround prevents future crashes.

In the Advanced section of Internet Options, uncheck Use HTTP 1.1.

How people are supposed to find out about this is beyond me, as MSFT does not mention the defect anywhere on the MS06-42 bulletin page. If folks in Redmond are reading this, make the hotfix generally available and publicize the problem! Sadly, skipping this week’s patches altogether is not a recommended option. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I’ve had Firefox installed for quite a while on my home system. I’ve read about its great features (tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, automatic updates, live bookmarks) and, from web statistics, I know that Firefox is the browser of choice for 35% of my readers. Still, I am very much a creature of habit and I haven’t made the switch.

Even last night’s frustration might not have pushed me over the edge to the clearly better, more secure Firefox, but I found an extension that is so cool I have to make the transition: the playtagger.

I use a server-side version of playtagger on my blog. It inserts a little icon next to mp3 files that lets anyone viewing the page play the files inline without downloading the files first. It is very slick, but the catch is that most pages with music haven’t installed the javascript playtagger or one of its flash-based alternatives.

The folks at have a solution for this, thanks to the advanced capabilities of Firefox. With the playtagger browser button, go to any web page and then hit the magic button, and presto, inline links everywhere.

All you have to do to add this capability is drag the button on this page up to your Firefox toolbar. I’ve mentioned other ways to browse music on blogs, but this is the most convenient.

Download Firefox with the Google toolbar pre-installed

8/23 update: Some press about the botched MS06-42, the disclosure of a security hole it created and MSFT's plans to patch the patch

Friday, August 11, 2006

fuel cell buses

Amidst continuing conflict in the Mideast, rising gasoline prices and increasing global warming, I found one bit of encouragement on the El Camino Real: a hydrogen-powered fuel cell bus.

The Silicon Valley Transit Authority has 3 fuel cell buses running normal routes as part of an $18.5 million test program inaugurated last year. As I was unaware of the pilot project, I was quite surprised to see the VTA bus drive by. It is very cool in operation as its only emission is a plume of water vapor.

The coaches are Gillig low floor models that use Ballard 205kW fuel cell engines. They run on liquid hydrogen produced by Air Products in Sacramento and fueled at a cryogenic station at VTA Cerone (Zanker Rd and 237). In addition to zero emissions, the hydrogen buses have more horsepower, better acceleration and higher efficiency (since there is no thermal cycle) than their 4mpg diesel-powered relatives.

The fuel cells use an electrochemical process to convert liquid hydrogen into electricity. The cells (they are stacked) strip off hydrogen electrons using a proton exchange membrane, thin plastic coated with a catalyst. The migrated hydrogen protons combine with oxygen to produce water vapor and the captured electrons flow through the circuit to provide power for the bus’s engine.

Watch a video about how PEM cells work or read more about fuel cells and hydrogen production at the increasingly useful Wikipedia

Thursday, August 10, 2006

blue agave club in fremont

the margaritas at Blue Agave in Fremont are fantasticThis week was Brad’s birthday Guys’ Night Out, so we wanted to do something special. It had been 7 months since we had seen Jorge, so we decided to go visit him at his new restaurant: Blue Agave Club in Fremont. Unfortunately, Brad became too busy at work to join his own celebration and he missed a spectacular meal.

Blue Agave Club in Fremont is the fourth jewel in a Garcia family crown. Their other establishments are Blue Agave in Pleasanton and both Fiesta del Mar and Fiesta del Mar Too in Mountain View. Blue Agave opened this spring, and our favorite tequila expert has been working to build their business ever since.

The restaurant is located in a converted house on a side street. While that reduces their walk-in traffic, the result is a very attractive and comfortable atmosphere different than I anticipated. There are several small rooms that can feel intimate but not stuffy (it is still fun and casual) and a delightful back garden for outdoor dining.

Blue Agave has a menu that is a match for the ambience. Of course, all of our Fiesta del Mar favorites (Camerones Alex, Enjococado, etc.) are available, but there are new additions that we made sure to try. I ordered the rack of lamb (bottom left) – wonderful. Hansel ordered a filet, rare, and it was spectacular. I was really surprised by the quality and flavor of the beef. Scott fired up the grilled salmon (bottom right) and it was cooked perfectly.

However, as special as these entrees were, the star was the Camerones Xochitl (bottom center). Warren and Mikey Mike couldn’t resist the signature dish, shrimp with cuitlacoche sauce. Cuitlacoche (or Huitlacoche) is a disease that infects corn and produces wonderful and exotic flavors. Often called Mexcican Truffles, all you really want to know about the sauce is that it is delicious.

For completeness we started our meal with tasty appetizers and finished with one of every dessert: flan, flourless chocolate cake and bananas foster. Scott enjoyed this last item so much that he asked the then closed kitchen to prepare an additional order (which he didn’t share).

Of course, every bite of food was accompanied by phenomenal margaritas – the best of all the Garcia-family restaurants. But, what really made the night wonderful was the excellent service from the entire staff and our pleasure at seeing our old friend again.

Blue Agave Club gets my highest recommendation.

Blue Agave: 4096 Bay St, Fremont, CA (510) 490-0222

12/4 update: Sadly Blue Agave in Fremont has closed for all but special events. The restuarant was amazing but they could not overcome the poor location. In Palo Alto, Alameda or Los Gatos it would have thrived - not hidden in Fremont. Jorge has returned to Fiesta del Mar.

delicous entrees at Blue Agave in Fremont.  from left: rack of lamb, camerones xochitl and salmon

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

silversun pickups

I’m fickle, so I am not sure how long this will last, but right now Silversun Pickups is my favorite new band. An LA quartet touted as leading the "early 90s revival movement," their first release was the 7-song EP Pikul (Amazon, iTunes) last summer. Their first album, Carnavas (Amazon, iTunes) hit the stores two weeks ago.

Silversun Pickups came to my attention in May when "Kissing Families" was the KEXP Song of the Day. Seattle’s KEXP followed that with "Comeback Kid," also from Pikul and then "Lazy Eye," the first single from Carnavas. Maybe it is because it reminds me of a more emotional and noisier version of "Song Beneath the Song" but "Lazy Eye" has been stuck in my head ever since.

Silversun Pickups’ sound is fuzzy and guitar driven with androgynous and occasionally emotional vocals that recall the Smashing Pumpkins. Veruca Salt fans will also think the Pickups’ music familiar, but to me their song structure is a bit like the Jesus and Mary Chain if they had taken Prozac: melodic, driven and beautifully distorted.

Pikul is the quieter of the two releases, and its last hidden track may be its best. Carnavas is perfectly sequenced album and it rocks a bit harder. For a taste of Silversun Pickups live, check out these recordings from the SXSW festival. And, to see them in concert, swing by popscene at the end of August. They are playing a $10 show August 31.

Silversun Pickups - Well Thought Out Twinkles

Bonus link 1: Another new band I really like:
Muse – Supermassive Black Hole
Bonus link 2: The above-mentioned Maria Taylor – Song Beneath the Song

popscene: 330 Ritch Street, San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ned lamont

It is rare that a person becomes my cool thing of the day. It is more rare still that I discuss politics. But, even though I am working on some other topics I had to write about Ned Lamont’s surprise primary victory tonight over Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.

I like Ned Lamont, and not just because he is a graduate of Harvard and Yale who has seen the light and decided to give $50,000 to my alma mater. Lamont, despite his personal wealth, is a classic underdog. No one thought he could unseat a 3-term Senator and the 2000 Democratic Party nominee for VP. Yet, he ran a positive campaign and convinced the primary voters of his home state that he better represented their interests and politics.

His challenger, on the other hand, refused to place party loyalty over personal interest. As in 2000, when he simultaneously ran for VP and Senator in case he lost the national election, Lieberman would not rule out a bid as an Independent were he to lose in the primary. In fact he lined up signatures and out-of-state financial support mostly from corporate interests to support that contingency. Tonight, in his “concession” speech, he launched his Independent bid just as his critics predicted he would.

It will be interesting to watch the reaction of the Democratic Party establishment. Hillary Clinton has already offered her support for Ned Lamont, Democratic nominee for Senate, and I would expect other national figures to follow suit. However, one result from this primary is indelible and unmistakable: blogs have permanently changed how we receive and filter information.

The anti-Lieberman movement was incubated in liberal blogs opposed to his cozy ties with Republicans and stance on the war. In fact, blog authors were outraged by Lieberman comments intimating that Iraq war opposition was tantamount to providing comfort to our enemies. They reacted, and sites like Daily Kos and Firedog Lake kick-started the Ned Lamont campaign. Washington insiders are scratching their heads, but the blog-era is upon us.

Bonus link: what it looks like when you win

Monday, August 07, 2006

the top 11 chappelle show sketches

In preparing to go see Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Stuart discovered this top ten list of Will Ferrell sketches from Saturday Night Live. It contains links to the YouTube video for each skit as well as justifications for the ranking. Even though some are painful to watch, I have to say they are quite funny.

More humorous still, but much edgier in subject matter, is this list of top 11 Chappelle’s Show sketches. Chappelle’s Show aired for two full seasons on Comedy Central before its creator, Dave Chappelle, pulled the plug . (Read more Chappelle’s show history at Wikipedia.)

The list covers the best of the best. I’m not positive that I agree with the ordering, but Black George Bush, The Mad Real World, The Black Klan Leader, Wayne Brady and The Racial Draft are all classics. You can watch more Chappelle’s Show clips at Comedy Central.

Bonus link 1: Saturday Night Live - The Best of Will Ferrell on DVD
Bonus link 2: Chappelle’s Show – Season 1 on DVD

Sunday, August 06, 2006

half moon bay golf links

the view this afternoon from the 16th tee at the Ocean Course at Half Moon BayI don’t write about golf much. That is probably because I haven’t been playing nearly as often as is required to improve my game. But, this weekend was a good weekend. I enjoyed a round at the Olympic Club with James and, this afternoon, I joined Brian and Stuart at the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay.

There are two 18-hole, public-play courses associated with the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. The Old Course is a traditional layout built over 30 years ago by Arnold Palmer. Its 7,000 yard length provides plenty of challenges, but most of the front 9 wanders through a housing development and only the 17th and 18th holes have dramatic ocean views.

In contrast, the coastline is visible on every hole of the appropriately named Ocean Course, my favorite of the two 18s. Built 9 years ago, the newer course is links style and wide open. On most holes you can keep driver in your hand as property boundaries and heather create the only real obstacles.

There are 5 sets of tees making the walkable Ocean Course playable by golfers of many skill levels. Even from the back the course is not long. The 5 par 3s are all medium length and, with good drives, 3 of the 5 par 5s are reachable in 2. However, well-maintained bunkers and lots of danger surround the small, heavily contoured greens, so accuracy is required. (satellite view)

Rounds at Half Moon Bay are expensive ($130 weekdays, $150 weekends), but on days when the weather is clear it is wonderful experience. It is hard to desribe how beautiful the cliffside 16th, 17th and 18th holes are (they are pictured above), and the pace of play is fantastic. Despite our Sunday 11a tee time, we were never waiting on the 2-some in front and we never saw the 4-some behind us. We made it around in 4 hours and 15 minutes, but we could have finished sooner if I made more putts or stopped less to take pictures.

Half Moon Bay Golf Links: 2 Miramontes Point Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA (650) 726-6384

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Paul Hobbs Cabernet

Last night I had a very memorable meal at Evvia. A sister restaurant to Kokkari, Evvia has been one of the best spots on the Peninsula since its début more 10 years ago. The open sliding doors to Emerson Street, the exhibition kitchen with its wood-fired oven, and the packed house each evening give it a buzz unusual for Palo Alto.

Everything we ordered was excellent, but the standouts in each category were:

Appetizers: Gigantes – large fava beans wood oven baked with a marvelous rustic sauce of tomatoes, leeks & herbed feta
Salads: Horiatiki - "classic Greek salad" with tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, red onion, oregano, olives & feta
Entrees: Psari sta Karvouna – a whole mesquite-grilled striped bass with lemon-oregano vinaigrette & braised greens
Desserts: Galaktoboureko - vanilla semolina custard wrapped in phyllo wrapped and topped with pistachio ice cream

However, as good as the food was, the wines were better. Brian brought a flavorful 1990 vintage Champagne to start our meal. Stuart followed this with a phenomenal 1989 Chateau L’Arossee Bordeaux commemorating the year we finished college. But, the star among stars was the blockbuster 2003 Paul Hobbs Napa Cabernet Jeff selected from Evvia’s reserve wine list. Incredible nose and even larger taste, the big red had all of the intense and concentrated flavors that have made Paul one of California’s most accomplished winemakers.

Paul Hobbs makes single-vineyard unfined and unfiltered wines in artisanal fashion. The current Cabernet releases are:

2003 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Dr Crane, St. Helena, Napa Valley (95 points, Robert Parker)
2003Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard , Oakville, Napa Valley (97 points, Robert Parker)
2003 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley (94+, Robert Parker)

and they are worth seeking out online or, for a very special occasion, ordering at Evvia. Those who are a bit more price sensitive (like me) might also consider Hobbs’ second label, the CrossBarn Cabernet. And, those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the desert wine our waiter brought for us: Nivole Moscato d’Asti. Fruity and sparkling, the Nivole can be found for ~$10 for a 375ml bottle.

Bonus link: read about Paul Hobbs’ winemaking philosophy

Evvia Estiatorio: 420 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA (650) 326-0983

Friday, August 04, 2006

oral-b flossaction brush head

I’ve used an Oral-B electric toothbrush for several years now. I bought the 3D Excel model for its combination of high rotational and pulsating action – the same technology that is in the current 7000, 8000 and Triumph series products.

I’m a very happy customer, and I have been impressed with the level of cleaning an electric toothbrush can provide over a manual brush in hard to reach area. Recently, I discovered something that improves the experience even more: the Oral-B FlossAction brush head.

Designed for the new Triumph handle, the FlossAction brush head fits my 3D Excel as well as the 7000 and 8000 series . It has longer, stiffer bristles on the top and bottom and four rubber micro-pulse bristles arranged along the edges. These augment the main center cleaning surface.

Compared to the FlexiSoft head, the FlossAction is bigger, holds toothpaste better, reaches in between teeth deeper and polishes more effectively. The result is a mouth feel closer to just-got-back-from-the-dentist smoothness. I’ve been using the FlossAction for two weeks now, and the difference is significant, an impression confirmed by clinical studies. If you use an Oral-B electric, consider a switch from the FlexiSoft to the FlossAction for your next refill.

Buy three FlossAction heads from Amazon

Thursday, August 03, 2006

top 10 lists on

Forbes is not known for lively content, but two articles caught my eye today at the magazine's website. First, for the single guys: top 10 hottest billionaire heiresses. Included are daughters of hotel chain owners, descendants of William Randolph Hearst and Russians.

Second, for the couples: top 10 most luxurious spas. Listed are spots in Thailand, Brazil, the Maldives, Mexico, Italy and the Alps at rates less than you would expect. I must be getting old because the spas look much better to me than the heiresses.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

the onion

With the rise of The Daily Show, fake news has never been more popular. However, there is no better source for biting satire that The Onion, a weekly print and online parody newspaper.

Started in 1988, it was a regional publication until the debut of its website in 1996. Since then it has entertained readers with commentary on national and international events and popular culture.

I especially enjoyed today’s top politics story (although it may be too close to true for comfort). In Bush Grants Self Permission To Grant More Power To Self, the Onion’s crack Washington team covers the signing of the Presidential Empowerment Act:

which the president hand-drafted on his own Oval Office stationery and promptly signed into law, provides Bush with full authority to permit himself to authorize increased jurisdiction over the three branches of the federal government, provided that the president considers it in his best interest to do so.
This line is especially classic:

Despite the president's new powers, the role of Congress and the Supreme Court has not been overlooked. Under the new law, both enjoy the newly broadened ability to grant the president the authority to increase his presidential powers.

Bonus link: subscribe to The Onion’s podcast to enjoy anchorman Doyle Redlands radio news. More episodes are here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

free iTunes music

iTunes users probably know that Tuesdays are new release days in the music store. They are also the days that Apple changes the free song of the week and offers an additional “discovery” download. Usually one of the two is interesting.

The single of the week (Apple's pick, not mine): The Gossip – Listen Up!
Apple’s Discovery Download: Jackie Allen - Tangled

What you may not know is that there are many more songs available for free. Podcasts are one option, and radio stations KCRW and KEXP each offer a song of the day. These are hit-and miss, but the price is right and they are mp3 format without DRM. From KEXP, check out Billy Bragg, Silversun Pickups, Grand National, and Magnet. For KCRW, just subscribe.

KEXP’s Song of the Day (there are 91 previous ones to choose from)
KCRW’s Today Top Tune (only the last 3 episodes are available)

More ambitious still is Apple’s just-announced back to school promotion offered through Facebook: 25 songs each week for the next 10 weeks. This week’s theme is electonica, and at least 5 of the songs are pretty good (and all 25 will make you seem hip). I like:

James Figurine – Apologies
Junior Boys – In the Morning
Alias & Tarsier – Dr C
Camille – Te douleur
The Pinker Tones – Sonido Total

Like the weekly downloads, these are DRM-protected mp4 songs indentical to the versions for sale. To get your free songs from iTunes and Facebook:

1) Log in to Facebook or register if you do not already have an account. You can join your college network with an edu or alumni email account. For example, email addresses work well
2) Join the Apple Students group. It has 170,000 members so far; the first 1 million each week get tunes
3) Click to receive your offer code
4) Launch the iTunes store and select Redeem under Accounts to start your downloads

5) Repeat process each week until the end of September