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Mongolia: Bring It On

I've been quietly conspiring with a couple of friends to enter the 2011 Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile, 6-week trek from London to the capital of Mongolia in an ill-suited 1-litre automobile.

We just sent off our visa applications for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Other visas needed: Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan. So, this is happening.

It's put on by The Adventurists out of the UK, and the basic idea is to invite trouble while raising money for charity. They put limits on the quality of car you can use, to guarantee you'll have to fix it on a bandit-infested mountain pass. The vehicles, such as they are at the end of the trip, are donated to the poor in Mongolia (where they can actually do a lot of good), along with at least 1k pounds per team in cash.

If this sounds like the best worst idea you've ever heard of, consider donating to the cause. And stay tuned, as I'll be updating on our progress leading up to the start of the trip.

The End of Paper Fast Pass

Muni Diaries reports on a kind of continuity as we mark the end of an era:

Ken Schmier is the man who came up with the concept of the Fast Pass. He’s also the mind behind NextBus. Strange, right? But also, not. This happened around 35 years ago, to the best of our knowledge. The first passes went on sale sometime in 1976.

Image by Cranky Old Mission Guy.

Free Event: When San Francisco was a Port City

California Historical Society is hosting a panel discussion of pure history porn. (Just look at that not-so-subliminal cover image.) The topic: "how the San Francisco port shaped the city and how the city shaped the port."

Michael Corbett, Tim Kelley, Chris VerPlanck and Jim Delgado (author of “Gold Rush Port” and Chief Marine Archaeologist for NOAA) ... will discuss the port’s role in shaping urban form as well as influencing its social and labor history. Through landfill, wharfs, seawalls and pier buildings, the port changed San Francisco’s physical form while serving as a conduit for the movement of goods and people into and out of the city since the 1850’s. Businesses located their offices near the port to house management while workers labored at the wharf loading and unloading goods from ships, driving the city’s economy and underpinning its civic life.

I'll be there. Come out and say hi, and bring all the Freudian references you can gather.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Port City Book Launch, Panel Discussion and Reception
California Historical Society
FREE

Space is limited. Please RSVP to 415.357.1848, ext. 233 or rtorrey@calhist.org

Love Tap

Love Tap, San Francisco

I hit you because I love you. Will you be my Valentine?

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Coit & Columbus

Columbus & Coit, San Francisco

I managed to find my way to the 34th floor of the Transamerica Building on Saturday. This was my first time inside. I was doubly lucky because of how nice of a day it was. Click to expand.

Tenderloin Getting a Documentary

This teaser for an announced forthcoming documentary tags the TL one of the "sketchiest" in the world city, which kind of irks me the way calling it "colorful" or "crackhead-y" does. Yes, there is a lot of down-and-out going on there, and it's not the "safest" place in San Francisco.

As the teaser also shows, though, there are bold characters living there. Characters doing shit. Crazy shit? Yes, most of the time. But it's action-packed, as the folks stuck there try to squeeze some amount of pleasure from their daily circumstances.

The documentary follows the creation of an epic mural by renowned local artist Mona Caron celebrating the neighborhood that map makers like to omit and most SFers try to avoid.

UPDATE: Film is screening March 8, 2011, 7 p.m. - Bay Area Women in Film & Media (BAWIFM) Annual Shorts Showcase in celebration of International Women’s Day. Hobart Building, 582 Market St., San Francisco, CA. Get tickets.

True Teaser: NSFW History of San Francisco Smut

History of Smut in San Francisco

I recognize John Waters, talking about the heyday of the Tenderloin, but that's about it. Without lower thirds it's hard to know who the others are (do you know them?). But there is some great vintage porn/hustling footage in this NSFW teaser vid.

UPDATE: Laughing Squid picked up on this post and significantly expanded it.

Playing With Time and Video

Rainy Time Lapse, San Francisco

Time lapse is all over the place, and it's refreshing to see even small variations on the form. I like the acceptance of the change in light levels in this video, and the play of water on the window. Rough and pretty. A film by KACHO--Little Cinema:

Trance-Inducing Video of a San Francisco Flyover

San Francisco Flyover Video

Coldplay has been known to liquefy my brain, but this video by filmmaker Nigel Ellis had me mesmerized for other reasons. Like its generous heaping of awesome.

Filmed with a GoPro HD camera.

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Walking Tour of North Beach – Including Pizza

Gianni Mola has been hard at work extending his outreach beyond the online cooking show I've helped him produce. He's done some live demos, and now, he's doing walking tours of North Beach.

For 90 minutes, he guides folks around the heart of North Beach, telling the culinary story of his "village." He points out his favorite restaurants, and those with historical influence. He caps it off with a pizza tasting. I might be biased, but trust me, he's a fantastic guide.

He's offering a 25% discount off the normal $12.95 rate, so for under 10 bucks you get a tour and food. The next one is this Saturday, but there are only 15 walkers at a time.

If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend in the nice weather, consider this.

Ongoing tour calendar is here.

In a Van Down By Ocean Beach

Vans Down By Ocean Beach: San Francisco

Pole aerial shot of Volkswagen van owners' gathering. Photo by Flickr user KAP Cris.

Flight of the Huey

Flight of the Huey

The video below is a teaser from a video project I'm working on for a group called HueyVets.com.

The featured aircraft - the Bell UH-1H Iriquois - is the main reason Vietnam is often referred to as the "helicopter war." And this rag-tag group of Bay Area guys is trying to preserve the unique experience of flying one in combat in America's most lesson-worthy military entanglement. How do they do that?

Founder Geoff Carr has sunk a small fortune into acquiring and restoring to combat specs this aircraft, and it serves as a living, flying museum. From its homebase at Bud Field Aviation in Hayward, CA, they buzz veterans events and wow anyone within earshot on the ground. (The Huey makes a distinctive whop-whop-whop that almost anyone can recognize.)

What makes this group truly special, though, are the guys themselves. Some served in Vietnam, some are sons of those who served, and some never served at all. But they're all in love with this Huey and what it represents. (Frankly, after spending a day in the sky with it, so am I.)

This is a war machine, however. The guys who caretake it struggle with the conflict between their love for the aircraft and their nuanced views of war itself, which are very, well, Bay Area. As I learn more about them for a longer-form web doc, I can appreciate the vets' desire to honor their wartime experiences while refusing to deny their complicated feelings about the politics that forced them into adventures both righteous and heinous.

Carr experienced intense PTSD when he returned after combat, and the Huey Vets project is partly a way for him to create positive meaning around a trauma that will never in itself make any sense.

Wayne Terry, the San Franciscan who does PR and fundraising for the group, dealt with the unthinkable experiences of his Vietnam combat days as a Huey mechanic by placing it in a drawer that would not be opened again for over 30 years. Some of his closest friends had no idea he'd been in the military until he got involved with Huey Vets in 2004.

Further complicating this group is the nature of the Experimental Military Unit (EMU) they served in - it was the only fully-integrated unit in the war, with a mixture of US Army and Australian Royal Navy, and they provided a lot of support to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). This meant that Vietnamese infantry flew side-by-side with US flight crew aboard EMU Hueys.

It's a fascinating bit of history. If you know of someone who'd like to contribute funds to keeping this beautiful aircraft and its legacy alive in the sky, send them over to HueyVets.com. Or just go there to get some education for yourself.

Food, Sex, War

Food & Sex, San Francisco

Gianni of Gianni's North Beach reports that local food radio icon, Gene Burns, is pushing the idea of a food war with NYC to settle the issue of culinary superiority once and for all:

He even claimed he once tried to organize a battle, but that NYC declined because they knew they’d lose, for the following reasons:

  • We have great local produce, fish, meats, cheeses, artisan food products and wines.
  • Culinary talent, ethnic diversity, and fabulous food opportunities abound.
  • We’re passionate and serious foodies.

Well, duh.

The panel discussion Burns appeared in was part of the opening of a new food exhibit at the public library.

In the Skylight Room is a collection of ephemera devoted to food and sex. What's more sexy AND appetizing than a mermaid riding a lobster?

Mermaid Riding Lobster, San Francisco

A Jarvis Halloween

San Franciscans love little more than dressing up and acting out. And Daniel Jarvis is there to capture it all on his magic Canon.

Jarvis Halloween, San Francisco

Anchor Steam, Michael Jackson, and Weed

Anchor Steam, Michael Jackson, and Weed

I finally took the Anchor Brewery tour. Pretty sweet.

We were told that due to our small group, we were being given special access. True? I've no idea. But they did allow us to get right up to the big tanks where they make the yeast. Here's some video of the inside...

And here is some random suds coming out of random steampunk valves on the wall...

As for the Michael Jackson thing, the cagey little tour guide assured us it was not THAT Michael Jackson.

But then, she also said it was against Anchor policy to admit that hops are related to weed. I didn't ask because I wanted to smoke some, or even graft hops and cannabis together; I was just curious after hearing it mentioned on Food Network.

In any case, it looks like the recent sale of the brewery isn't affecting its size or business model, and so it remains an impressive feat that they crank out all of their product from that single location.

Do Androids Dream of Wall Mounted Art?

Do Androids Dream of Wall Mounted Art? San Francisco

Having questions about whether becoming "transhuman" will feel great or kind of, like, weird? Whether the promise of living forever and morphing into a god is something new when it's presented by science as opposed to superstition?

If so, this new art show probably won't be of any help to you. It assumes that ushering in a post-human intelligence (The Singularity) will absolutely be super awesome for everyone.

Singularity Schwag - Transform & Transcend; San Francisco

You can understand how an immortality cult of rich, powerful nerds has a need to equate science and art in order to make the idea of evolving into a machine feel less apocalyptic. But I fear they're gonna have to do better than this.

For example, I give Google credit for their Droid commercials, especially the one of the miners who discover a floating chunk of ore that converts humans into machines - it's bold and dark and, aside from the presumption that we'll be given a choice about the conversion, doesn't sugar coat the horror that would no doubt accompany the process. You've probably seen it:

I recommend repeated viewings. Pay attention to the storyline here: Open on what looks like earth, at a futuristic strip mine. A group of folks who cannot breathe the atmosphere enter a sci-fi gate, plunge deep into the earth, pass an empty helmet (it isn't like theirs - it looks like that of a current-day military pilot), and finally enter the chamber where the levitating mystery ore somehow leads one brave guy to take off his space suit's sleeve and insert his bare arm into the thing. His arm immediately turns into a machine (with a Verizon-powered Droid phone on the end, naturally).

The best thing about the spot is that it's fucking cool. The tangible sense of menace in the story raises more questions than it answers.

An earlier spot is simpler, and doesn't include choice - in the reflection of a closeup of an eyeball, we see someone is simply browsing online and in the process is converted into a machine:

In contrast, here is the propaganda of the Singularitarian cult in its rawest form:

There are no questions here, just answers. It reeks of desperation and fear - fear that no one else on the planet believes their immortalist vision and, therefore, their own day of Transformation will never come.

Relax, guys. Assuming the Machine Intelligence will take cognizance of us at all when it emerges, I'm sure it can resurrect us from the dead along with all of our relatives who have ever passed on. Take a lesson from your religious cousins - have a little faith. If nothing else, it's more becoming.

Ironically, Google's approach will probably sweeten people up to the notion of surrendering to the Singularity more than the pure propaganda approach will. It seems that the Google hive mind understands irony better than the wanna-be transhumans. Which is truly, epically, cosmically fucking ironic.

Those Damned 49ers – and I Don’t Mean the Football Team

Those Damned 49ers; San Francisco

KQED's Quest blog tells a story: In Gold Rush times, monied interests quickly depleted the gold deposits on the surface and in the rivers. So, they invented honking water cannons and blasted away canyon walls and hillsides.

The resulting sludge drained into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers where it was strained of the gold. Remaining sediment and water was sent into the Central Valley to flood farmland and generally lay waste to ecological systems as far West as the San Francisco Bay. We've suffered that pollution ever since.

But, good news! A tipping point has been reached, and Bay waters are 30% clearer now than just 10 years ago. But...

There is always a "but." The lack of sediment from hydraulic mining could cause us extra trouble when sea levels rise from global warming.

What I find fascinating, yet also extremely challenging, is how the choices we've made as a civilization over the decades and centuries combine and sum to create the issues we face right now. There are no simple answers. Regardless of how well-intentioned some environmental programs may be there will always be some uncertainty about how natural systems respond.

None of us could enjoy the land we call California without the Gold Rush. Which makes it all the more frustrating to learn about the bad behavior of the nasty dudes who made it all possible.

Video: Warping Minds at Musée Mécanique

Musee Mecanique, San Francisco

Nestled amongst the schlock and obesity of Fisherman's Wharf is Musée Mécanique, a working collection of vintage carnival psychedelia. A true San Francisco treasure.

Here is your video:

Music performed & recorded by David Molina.

In this video, local musician and sound artist David Molina captured native audio from the museum and created surreal soundscapes. They were used in an art installation, Homage to Musée Mécanique.

North Beach Gets its Own Cooking Show

Gianni's Pizza Margherita

A while back I did a video piece about Gianni Mola, a colorful North Beach resident who showed us around the neighborhood, claimed (while standing at the edge of Chinatown) that "fresh Italian blood" was coursing back into the restaurant industry, and then took us up to his kitchen while he made gnocchi from scratch.

Afterwards, he asked me to help him create a web cooking show, and I obliged.

Check it out at Gianni.tv. The concept is to show Gianni's "village" lifestyle in North Beach: how he uses his favorite local food purveyors to source the meal he cooks that night for friends; the importance of "time and place" (seasonality and regional diet); and simple kitchen techniques that can allow anyone to make authentic Italian dishes and meals.

Episodes already released include recipes for Pizza Margherita, Porchetta, and San Marzano tomato sauce.

Subscribe - via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or RSS - to be notified when the next episode drops (about how to create an authentic southern-Italian Sunday Gravy).

Aubrey Huff’s Zoolander Thong Tribute

This just might eclipse Brian Wilson's 8MM/Machine meme.