Monday, February 18, 2008

A trip to the South Bay

I originally wanted to write something about my two recent super American experiences, Super Bowl XLII, and Super Tuesday 2008, but I have been down with a cold, and in the time it took me to get back on my feet and catch up with things, these two events have been talked about to death; so I will keep my thoughts on football and politics to myself for now, and discuss MuShu and shower heads instead.
This Saturday, I was coordinating an educational event organized by Bay.Net in Cupertino. I really don’t go to the South Bay much since I moved to San Francisco, and even though it has only been three years since I left Palo Alto, it feels like an eternity, and this trip was almost nostalgic. Luckily, a friend of mine who lives in Santa Clara let me crash at his place on Friday evening, which spared me a drive at the crack of dawn from San Francisco. L was at Stanford on Friday, so we decided to have dinner at Windy’s, on University avenue in Palo Alto, but found out when arriving there that it had closed, for good. I was surprisingly sad – this is where I had my fist MuShu, and it was the best I had tasted in the Bay Area. As an aside, if you know a great place for MuShu in San Francisco, you will earn lots of gratitude points!
After dinner, I drove to my friend’s place. The South Bay archetypal habitat is a 2-store condo, built in the middle of a parking lot and around a swimming pool; its paper-thin walls make it possible to hear in utmost details the days of your neighbors unfolding, and thus create a great sense of community. Fortunately, my friend lives in a house he shares with 2 other software engineers, another pretty typical combination, but definitely a step up comfort-, and privacy-wise.
So I crash, and Saturday, 7 am, I wake up, in an unfamiliar environment. There is no coffee – a shower is what I need now to start the day right, and get my thoughts together. So I head to the shower, and find the following shower mechanism. Aha – a challenge!

After 5 good minutes, I have made some progress. I quickly figured out how to get the water flowing, by turning the large handle, and I painfully figured out how to adjust the water temperature, by changing the angle between the second handle and the first one. This one was trickier, but the red/blue symbols on the handle provided a hint. Anyways, I finally got hot water, but was now stuck on the last but crucial step: how to get the water to flow to the shower head, instead of the faucet located one foot above ground level?

There is usually some lever to pull or push to do that, so I started to pull and push everything I could, but to no avail. By a lucky turn of events, one of the roommates was already up to go to triathlon practice, so I gave up, swallowed my pride, and asked what the trick was. Here it is:

You seriously have to wonder what perverse mind designed this; it is a very clever design, if your goal is to make sure no one will find out the mechanism. Had I not read The Design of Everyday Things, I may have been a bit depressed that after all this years of costly education, I was still unable to get a shower to work; instead, I felt excited I had found another remarkable specimen of terrible design.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Social Distortion

Last Monday, I went to the Social Distortion concert at the Fillmore, thanks to a friend of mine who got an extra ticket. I knew close to nothing about the band beforehand; based on some crude sociological profiling of people I had seen sporting Social D. gear, I knew it was some punk-rock type of band (see poster below), but I had never heard their music.

Therefore, I was a bit surprised when the concert opened with an accordion, an upright-bass and two acoustic guitars; no drums, no distortion, and plenty of country, a genre I know almost nothing about, besides the "Johnny Cash at Saint Quentin" album.

The sound gained some muscle midway through; still, there was plenty of country: they closed with "The Rings of Fire", and played quite a few Hank Williams covers, if I am to believe my friend. All in all, the result was very successful, and in retrospect, made me realize that both punk-rock and country have something in common with one of my favorite genres, blues: all three are so formulaic, technically simple, and stripped down, that artists cannot hide behind gimmicks: only bands who know how to own a stage, and put some sincerity and personality in their music can play in these styles without sounding like a parody. Social Distortion definitely passed the test.
A last thing: that concert also made me happy for another reason. I really like the free posters the Fillmore distributes after concerts, but the last times I had been there, zilch! No poster. I had come to believe that this tradition had gone, and was really happy to receive a poster at the end - even though I don't think I'll hang it in my living room.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Avec le sourire!

I have a lot of catching up to do, and until I find the time to share with you some of the events that have kept me busy last week, I will try to buy some time by sharing a nice cup of coffee with you:

I am usually not big on the whole "barrista" culture, which is in my mind associated with the whole Starbucks thing; but as L and I went for breakfast this morning, my coffee came decorated with this smiling face which I found pretty nice, so I tip my hat off to the Barrista at "la Boulange de Cole Valley".
As an aside, though, the random shortening of words in French ("Clim'") is a pet peeve of mine, and "Boulange" is one of the worst offenders out there.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Cutting-edge creation research

Wow, just wow. I knew of creationism and intelligent design, and their project of building up a bible-compatible research corpus, but I had never come across the results of that research. Thanks to a friend of mine, that is now done. I have had the opportunity to read Microbes and the Days of Creation, published in Answers Research Journal, a
professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework.

I recommend having a look, it's truly remarkable. It's good to know that people are actually spending time and resources investigating important fundamental questions, such as whether microbes were created on day 3, 5 or 6 of the Genesis. Sadly, as for most truly cutting-edge scientific questions, the results are not fully conclusive:
Although we cannot be certain as to specifically when the Creator made microbes, it is within His character to make entire interwoven, “packaged” systems to sustain and maintain life.

Still, this is a promising start, and one can only hope that the resolution of this issue will provide some insight into the 2 other important open problems of our times: whether earth is really flat, and whether angels have a sex.