Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

I can't think of any appropriate title for this.

On Saturday night, someone was murdered in the park behind my apartment. I heard the shots from my couch.

(09-24) 11:45 PDT Mountain View - -- An alleged gang member has been arrested on suspicion of fatally shooting a friend over the weekend- Mountain View's first homicide in two years, police said today. Marco Jauregui, 25, was booked on suspicion of murder in the weekend slaying of his friend, Rene Escalante, 24, said Mountain View police spokeswoman Liz Wylie. Police said Jauregui shot and killed Escalante at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday at Whisman Park on the 300 block of Easy Street. Escalante was pronounced dead at Stanford Medical Center. A motive for the shooting was unclear, and police were investigating whether the shooting was gang-related, Wylie said. "All of the involved parties are affiliated with the Mountain View SureƱos," Wylie said. "We're still trying to figure that all out. We're not quite sure why a good friend, who is affiliated with the same gang, would kill his friend."
I thought it was fireworks at first but then I heard people yelling. I went out to my porch to see what was going on, then decided it wasn't a good idea to be back-lit on my porch if someone had a gun and went back inside. An ambulance and police showed up in 5-10 minutes. I could see where they were putting him on a stretcher from my porch, and it isn't more than 300 feet from my apartment. Helicopters were circling low overhead for the rest of the night.
View Larger Map I'm somewhat accustomed to having violence happen in my neighborhood, but this is the first time I've actually witnessed it. The most chilling part was the pauses between the shots. There were three or four shots fired and they had a couple of seconds gap between them. It didn't sound like a burst of rage. The person fired, stopped and saw what they were doing, and then fired again at least two more times.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Andy Kehoe

I wanted to share an awesome artist with you guys that Neil introduced me to a year or so ago, Andy Kehoe. His stuff has a vague narrative that runs through it with thematic characters. His "Truth" character is my favorite. I find them all really profoundly effecting. His site keeps drawing me back either to show friends or just to look at the images again. I love the textures. I just bought prints of the first two as birthday presents to myself.

Finding hope in a clearing.

Greeting the simple life.

Truth kills another crow.

Truth wanders alone.

After the flood, Truth wavers.

Death comes for me on a beautiful autumn day.

No answers out here.

Tragedy in the woods.

War hovers over us again.

King crow grows rampant.

Noble voices lie hidden and mute.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shee Atika

Most of the people I talk to about Alaska immediately think of snow and ice, but southeastern Alaska is a temperate rainforest and the ocean dampens the wide temperature swings that happen further inland. While I was there, it rained every day, and the high temperature never deviated more than 2 degrees from 58°F. The summers are often sunny and a beautiful 70° and I heard that the weekend before I arrived was a great example (grumble grumble grumble.) The rain is the dominant feature of the climate. The hills and mountains are covered in acidic muskeg peat bogs that you can only effectively cross on the wooden planks that are laid out for the hiking trails. Walking off the trail is a good way to get your boots sucked off. Large fungi grow everywhere. One particular shelf fungus bears the common name "Chicken of the woods," because theoretically it tastes like chicken. I didn't try it on this trip, but on a previous trip we threw some in the spaghetti sauce after a long day of backpacking, and it was delicious. There are three main trees that grow in the area, Sitka spruce, yellow cedar, and western hemlock. The wood of Sitka spruce trees is used for piano soundboards and in some high end guitars. "Devil's club" is common in the underbrush, so called because it's stem is covered in spines. It's significant enough in Tlingit medicine that SEARHC (South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium) uses it in their logo. The large trees there take 300 years to grow, but when they fall they also can take 300 years to decay. In that time as "nurse logs" they provide nutrients for new trees to sprout right out of their bark.

Although the last visit was 9 years ago, I've been to Alaska several times before, but never this late in the summer. As a result this is the first time I've been there to witness the salmon spawning which was an incredible experience. The only thing I can think to compare it to is watching a thunderstorm overflow the storm sewers. Hundreds upon hundreds of salmon fill a stream that is in some places 3 inches deep. Mostly they just hover in place spending only the energy it takes to resist the current. At this point in their life cycle they are near death and very weak. At one point Roger reached into a stream and just picked one up out of the water. I reached in and held a few of them, and they barely struggled against me. The bears near the coast grow much larger than those in the interior because they can gorge themselves on salmon before hibernating every year.

The only really low tides while I was there happened before dawn, so I got up at 5:30 on Saturday to go explore the tidal pools. There is a small island right off of the coast of my Aunt's place called Magic Island, because at low tide there is a path that runs out to it from the beach. It's a great place to observe the intertidal wildlife. This was the first opportunity I've gotten to test out the waterproof case for my camera, so you'll see some neat pictures from that in the album. I discovered that morning that starfish are as entertaining for me at 23 years of age as they were when I was 13. One pycnapodia decided it was not going to let go of my hand under any circumstances. Maybe it thought my hand was the last thing saving it from being swept into the cold dark abyss. Maybe it thought something was imminently going to devour it if it let go. Maybe it thought that my hand tasted like a delicious rotting carcass. It probably didn't think anything at all, but I'm sure whatever Precambrian era these things evolved in didn't prepare it for dealing with curious little kids. After about 10 minutes of trying to coax it back into the water or onto a rock, I finally had to just tear some of it's little tube feet and pull it off. These things readily grow back whole arms so I'm not too torn up about it. Some salmon were feeding right next to the island and periodically leapt into the air.

The incredible thing to me about the whole area is how full of life it is. The morning I left we saw a pod of killer whales moving through the bay behind my aunt's house, a male, female, and two young. My aunt tells me that the island has one grizzly bear per square mile. It's hard to go a day without seeing a bald eagle. Ravens and various shorebirds are everywhere. On Friday Linda, Lee, and I drove 15 minutes up harbor mountain and within half an hour had picked more blueberries than I could eat in a month. Huckleberry bushes are everywhere, as are blackberries and salmon berries (like raspberries but orange.) I know that generations ago much of America was probably just as verdant, but by comparison to what exists now Alaska seems singularly blessed. The livelihood of everyone in the region is dependent on the vitality of the land; fishing, lumber, and tourism are the major industries. The wilderness cannot be ignored, and it infuses the local culture. Every mountain in view has a name that everyone knows. The local radio station is KCAW, Raven Radio. People regularly talk about the odd things they've seen local wildlife doing, and it's a rich set of stories. One thing that has often bothered me about living in Mountain View is how little the architecture and culture responds to the area in which it is built. Except for the ever-present sun, Mountain View could just as easily have been built in Iowa or New York. Green grass simply does not grow here on it's own, and we spend a lot of water to transplant it. Industrial salt evaporation pools block our access to the bay, and we don't know the names of our mountains. The Steven's Creek trail and Shoreline Nature Preserve are blessings, but in the residential and commercial areas the natural beauty of the area is ignored. I think the Stanford campus and much of San Francisco get it right architecturally, and I wish more places did.

The native population plays a large role in the culture of the Sitka. The name Sitka is an anglicized form of "Shee atika" which was the Tlingit name for the village (atika) in the region they called "Shee." Northwest coastal native art is possibly my favorite style of art, and Sitka has some great examples of it. The style is a wonderfully inventive blending of strict and elegant iconography with compositional experimentation. The components of the forms are attractive in themselves but the brilliance I see in it is in the ways the animistic figures are bent to fit within the geometric shapes of decorated objects or as compositions on their own. Sitka National Historic Park (totem park as I've always called it) has many very impressive totems on it's path through the woods. This picture should give you a sense of the scale of these things. The more naturalistic raven head at the bottom of this totem is modeled after the helmet that a famous Tlingit warrior wore into battle against the Russians. You can see the actual helmet on display at a nearby museum and it is still periodically used in ceremonies. Totems are still regularly made, and the going price is approximately $1,000 per foot if you'd like to commission one.

Roger has been running the Sitka Fine Arts Camp for 7 years now which teaches native arts amidst music, art, and drama. Recently he's become an advocate for the building of a brand new and beautiful theater at the local high school. It's nearly completed, most of what remains to be added is the expensive electronics. One neat bit of legislation in Alaska is that 1% of the budget of every public building project is required to be set aside for art to decorate it, and I really liked the installation at the theater. Roger took the opportunity of our visit to demonstrate the acoustics of the stage. You wouldn't guess it from the haircolor, but I'm related by blood to Roger, and not Jeanine. Somehow though we manage to keep those red-headed genes in the family. :) It was great finally getting to meet my first cousins once-removed. Mina is at an age where she can be entertained by me growling and chasing her around, or alternately by just providing a lap and arms as a jungle-gym for her to climb on. Both Anja and Mina love listening to stories, and the three of us took a few trips to see the fantastic things on Mulberry Street. Everyone I've told about my trip has asked me how my Aunt and Uncle came to live in Alaska, and I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know at all, but they've lived there for over thirty years.

Hopefully I'll be able to go back next year. It was a great experience.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Don't trash the 'nati.

My journal entry about this past weekend was several pages, so I don't have much energy to write about it more here. Most of it was either too personal for me to talk about it on the internet or for others to want to read about. Picasaweb has a feature where you can place each of your pictures at a geographic location so that others can see them in context, and I've done that for this whole album so check it out! Several times as I was driving around this weekend I looked at familiar places and tried to bring up everything I could remember that happened there. It was pretty overwhelming, especially after living for a year in a place with so few memories attached to it. I suspect that eventually cameras and the internet will be able to do that for us. I've found already after a few years of having a digital camera that I remember events that I have pictures of more vividly and more often.

I ate enough of the Cincinnati-specific staples this weekend to tide me over until my next visit: goetta, cottage ham & beans, Graeter's icecream, and Skyline Chili. I've failed to explain what cottage ham is to many people before, so if you are still curious I've thoroughly documented it in the photos.
I'll try to get Eric to post the video of us jamming so you can see how I blistered my fingers, and how poorly I remember my blues scales. If I play guitar at all this week I'll be playing with a pick. This was a pretty musical weekend all around. I went to the Cincinnati Blues Festival on Friday and saw some of Eric's friends play in the Jon Justice Band. Neil gave me a CD that his brother produced with an artist named Sorie Kondi in Sierra Leone. You can see the music video for it to the left.

Monday, July 30, 2007

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters.

I always forget how profound an effect natural beauty has on me until I experience it again first hand. I went backpacking this past weekend on a pretty rough trail near Lake Tahoe. Despite partying pretty hard on Friday night, getting up at 6AM on Saturday and sleeping restlessly Saturday night, I'm more awake than I can remember being on a usual Monday. I feel like I've cleared the cobwebs out of my lungs, the grit out of my joints and muscles, and most importantly the lint out of my thoughts and enthusiasm.

The trip was all around fantastic: great company, great views, hot sun, fresh air, cold clean water, and the most beautiful wildflowers I've ever seen. The most magical part of the weekend that you won't see represented in any of the pictures was how the valley we camped in looked at night. As the fire got low, the natural light took over. The moon wasn't high enough to see, but it was high enough and full enough to illuminate the cliffs on the far side of the valley. They looked phosphorescent.

You can see more pictures of me in Phil's album and Rico's album. Ginger worried a little beforehand that she'd be spoiling a "guy's trip." Little did she know that she'd be providing an audience. I'm not entirely sure what it is about backpacking that brings out the raunchy side of everyone's humor, but it probably has something to do with not showering and crapping in the woods. Eating half a pound of cheese and the resulting digestive effects help a bit too. It might also be that backpacking offers the most thorough escape possible in a vacation. You can leave your troubles at the trail head. All of us on this trip were single, two of us recently so. The therapeutic effect of it all can't be overstated. For me personally, the beauty was intoxicating. "My cup runneth over" is more perfect a description of the feeling than I can come up with on my own.

I've never been much of a religious person. My spirituality in the past has been limited to existential angst more than anything else. I've always said though that being in nature is the closest thing I get to transcendental experiences, and this weekend yet again confirmed it. I was humming "Amazing Grace" all down the trail, and the worlds of psalm 23 kept bubbling up as each new vista presented itself. This trip was exactly what I needed.

Surely beauty and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Salsa Rueda!

At long last, the salsa club performed at Google on Thursday. Pics, pics, pics, and more pics. Also, someone from the crowd took a video of the advanced rueda group performing, which I was in. You can see it to the left. The style of salsa is Salsa Rueda. It's danced in a circle with rapid partner changes in time with the music. None of it is choreographed. The people in the circle know a set of moves, and one person calls out the next move to the group. It's a ton of fun if you can get people together in a club to do it. I'm not sure exactly what makes it so much more fun than partner dancing. Chen proposed the following hypothesis on Thursday. "When you are dancing as a couple you only get to laugh when you screw up. When you are doing a rueda you get to laugh when anyone in the circle screws up. You laugh more." The style of music is Timba, which is a Cuban style of salsa that features a lot of syncopation. I highly recommend "Marcando la Distancia" by Manolito Y Su Trabaho or "Esperanza" by Calle Real if you'd like to check it out.

The lot of us went to Cascal afterwards to celebrate and wish Iliana good luck in her life after Google. I'll be taking over her role of organizing the club, and I've got monstrously huge shoes to fill. The paella was great, as was the sangria, and the company made the evening. If people are up for it and I can manage to organize it, I hope to have another performance in 6 months or so.

Dobromir (my teacher) has graciously uploaded videos from the DVD of moves he made to google video. Here are a few of my favorites.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Full-sized Panoramas

Picasa now allows me to upload panoramas without scaling them down, so I've uploaded mine. Here are some of the highlights.

I've also uploaded albums from the spring break backpacking trips of my sophomore and junior of college.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Last Two Months

Apologies for abandoning this blog for so long. Here's a short list of all the things that I wanted to write about or feel like I should have in the past two months and didn't get around to.

  • Lauren and I breaking up.
    • So it goes.
  • Breaking my camera.
    • This happened in the process of Charles and I inventing a new way to play pool. Never would I have suspected it was possible to play pool and get a cardiovascular workout at the same time. Sometime I'll post the rules. The Gods of Invention are petty, and they demand sacrifice. Such was the fate of my camera.
  • Visiting Linda, Lee, Christina, Steve, Jake, and Will in Wenatchee.
    • This was just awesome, and I contend that I have the cutest nephews ever. I would have pictures to prove it, but sadly . . .
  • Virginia Tech Shootings
    • There's only one thing of any significance I probably would have said. The people that died there died for the sake of freedom. In a society where we don't lock people up for writing disturbing things and where we allow people to have weapons, horrible events like this are inevitable. Those 32 people bore the cost of these freedoms for the rest of us.
  • Seeing Shivkumar Sharma and Zakhir Hussain.
    • Tabla is awesome.
  • Seeing Nickel Creek perform for probably the last time.
    • They've decided to go on indefinite hiatus after this tour, and I can't say I blame them. They've been playing together since they were eight. It wasn't the best of their concerts I've seen, and it wasn't nearly as eclectic as their concerts usually are, but it was a good time.
  • Salsa Dancing.
    • Considering this has been my primary recreational outlet since October, I should probably post something about it.
Canon's ten business days have been exhausted, so hopefully they'll ship me back my camera any day now, at which point I'll start having a lot more motivation to post.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Putting your money to work.

I just happened upon kiva.org this evening, and it seems like an amazing idea for a charity. The site allows you to finance small entrepreneurial ventures in developing countries through small loans that are often subeconomic for banks to take on at reasonable interest rates. This is a significant market failure because transactional costs inhibit the natural flow of money towards opportunity. At the cost of nothing more than the lost interest, and a little risk, you can help someone substantially improve their life.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The legacy of Dwight

I hosted my first Sunday morning pancake brunch this morning! Aaron was kind enough to take some really nice pictures. I was too busy making a triple batch of pancakes. For those of you not familiar, Dwight rather-be-naked Bussman hosted a pancake brunch at his apartment almost every Sunday I was in college, and it was invariably a tasty, fun, and musical time. It's to him that I owe the inspiration, and to my grandma that I owe the excellent pancake recipe. His clothespin game also made a brief appearance, but since I only had one clothespin, it's unclear whether it's potential was limited by demand or supply. There were however some rousing games of Egyptian Rat Screw and Taboo, and I demonstrated that if nothing else, I can slap a table like an alpha-male gorilla.

Eleven people came over the course of the morning, and it was a great excuse to buy some more stuff at IKEA in preparation. I never thought I'd say these words in combination, but these are amazing stools. They fold up smoothly and take up a negligible amount of space, they are extremely solid, and they work equally well as impromptu drink/card/coffee tables as they do as chairs. Meenali contributed some Mangoes and grapes, Thu brought some syrup and made some delicious eggs. Dan brought Taboo. Nayema, through some otherworldly bending of the spacetime continuum, managed to do all of the dishes in 10 minutes. Clearly witchcraft. There is no other explanation.

My apartment handled the volume of people pretty well I think. I hope everyone had a good time, and I think I'll be doing this again. :)

In other news, the Google ski trip rocked. Let it be said that Google knows how to throw a friggin' party. I skied for 5 hours and danced for 5 hours on 6 hours of sleep, and followed that up with another 6 hours of sleep. Continuous delirious awesomeness all the way through.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Amazing Demonstrations of World Demographics

This is an amazing demonstration of how data can come alive with some smart visualization to really give you a solid mental model for the subject matter. The software he's using is hosted by Google, called Gapminder. Gapminder is also the name of the non-profit that is creating these visualization tools built on top of the demographic data that the UN collects.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Comings and goings

Here are some new albums of pictures from Lauren's visit and My mom's visit. Lauren finally decided to exercise her veto power over my beard, and I wasn't sorry to see it go.

Most have you have probably seen this since I've sent it around, but the Google search for miserable failure is very different as of this afternoon. (For those not familiar, the first result used to be Bush's biography.) This was part of a ranking change that I worked on with a coworker to fix google bombs. It's gotten a little bit of press so far, on the Google webmaster blog, on my manager's blog, and on Search Engine Land. The wikipedia page was changed 3 hours after we saw the google blog post go live.

No matter how much experience I have with the internet, it still tickles me every time I do something that gets talked about in a language I don't understand, although the last time it happened it was a little more embarassing.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christmas and xkcd

Christmas was great this year, although a little awkward as I slowly transition from the status of poor college student to not-so-poor person with a job and all that that entails about gift giving. According to my grandma, the buckeyes I made this year were the "the most delicious things I've ever eaten," so if you were the recipient of some, I hope you enjoyed them, and if not, be jealous :b. My mom got me a Roomba, which is as I speak busily cleaning my apartment for me in preparation for Lauren visiting tomorrow. It's kinda like having a huge slow-moving cockroach that cleans for you. That might not sound like an endorsement, but remember I used to have madagascar hissing cockroaches as pets. A few other favorite gifts include a book of Charley Harper's artwork, a T-shirt that says "Google is Ruining Everything!" a laser level, a hand painted pot from Lauren, and lots of assorted candy and food.

I wanted to share with you all a webcomic I've been enjoying for the last few months called xkcd. The humor is best appreciated by geeks, and in particular, geeks with exposure to higher math, but there's something there for everyone. Here are a few of my favorites: