Dad Visits Our New Home

Dad came for a visit last week. (And it’s getting hard to come up with entry titles that are just variations on “A Visit From Dad”.) He flew in on Thursday and left on Wednesday. By this time we’ve gone to see most of the things in the Bay Area I know about, so it was a visit mostly of re-runs and hanging out, although he did have a couple of new things he wanted to see.

This is the first time he’s seen our new house, which we’ve now been in (hard as it is for us to believe) for 11 months. Mom saw it on her visit a year ago, but that was before we’d even closed (we were doing a walk-through with the seller the day she arrived), so it almost feels like it doesn’t count, since it was completely empty. Dad had to wait a little longer, but he got the full experience, since it’s well lived-in by now.

The day he arrived we walked down to the nearby Safeway which has a Starbucks in it, as he has been in the habit of walking out in the morning on his visits to get coffee, and his previous place, the 7-11 near our old home, is rather farther from the new place. I think he walked there every morning but two during his stay.

One place he wanted to visit was the campus of University of California – Santa Cruz, because it’s on a list he saw of the 10 most beautiful college campuses in the world (I think he saw this one). Although I’ve been to Santa Cruz many times, this was my first trip to UCSC.

I gotta say, it’s a very unfriendly campus for visitors. Apparently you are supposed to buy a parking pass to park most places on campus, which isn’t a bad thing, but they don’t tell you this. I saw no signs driving in to this effect, the booth where you buy the passes is not marked at all, and none of the parking lots we drove by or through have any indication that this is so. We only figured this out because most of the cars in one lot had things hanging from their rear mirrors, and we asked some people and they confirmed this. It’s like it’s a big trap to issue tickets to the unwary. Bastards.

We didn’t buy a pass but rather just drove around to see the place. Is it stunningly beautiful? It’s not bad; the buildings set in the redwood forest are pretty. The regions in the nearby fields look a little more generic. The architecture didn’t seem especially noteworthy. (Then again, Stanford is also on the list, and its campus has never impressed me either.) The campus is very spread out and I bet students spend a lot of time on buses or bikes to get from place to place.

We also visited the arboretum, which is quite impressive, large and varied. It’s the place I’d suggest visiting if you go to the campus for the scenery.

Saturday we drove to Livermore wine country, having lunch at Garre (nice restaurant, but their wines are not our thing), and then dropped by a couple of wineries for tastings. In the evening we went to a new restaurant that I discovered through a cow-orker, Bistro Vida, which we all enjoyed.

We came home from dinner to find that the power had gone out. We lit some candles and Debbi and I walked around the neighborhood a bit; it was a failure that covered several blocks, and it didn’t come back on until after 11, by which time we’d gone to bed. Our neighbor Juan said the power goes out from time to time – I think it only went out twice in the 10 years I was in my townhouse, so hopefully it won’t go out much more often than that! Apparently it was because of a equipment problems rather than due to the heat we were having on Saturday.

Sunday morning we went to the Moss Beach Distillery for their Sunday champagne brunch, and were pretty disappointed compared to earlier visits. They weren’t playing the classical music that Dad remarked on at his last visit, and worse, they had taken both french toast and pancakes off their brunch menu! Since I don’t eat seafood or egg dishes, that left hardly anything on the menu I would eat. Fortunately they were willing to make pancakes (for Dad) and french toast (for me) as a special order, but they were pretty ordinary compared to the more elaborate forms they used to have. I don’t know what they’re thinking, how can it be brunch without at least pancakes? I guess they’re trying to go more upscale? But they’re likely to lose me as a patron if this is the way it’s going to be. Pity.

Sunday evening we drove to the east bay to have dinner with my cousins, both of whom live out here, but neither of whom I’ve seen much of. Cousin L and her husband have a very nice house, and cousin K came from the city to meet with us. We had a good few hours visiting with them, and perhaps when their parents come out to visit next we’ll have a chance to meet them, too.

Monday we had a pretty quiet day, mostly driving around the south bay. Tuesday was a little more ambitious: We dropped Blackjack off at the vet about his eye, then went for breakfast, and finally up to San Francisco. We went to SF MOMA, which sure enough is an art museum. (I’m not really into art museums.) Then off to Ghirardelli Square for ice cream sundaes, and finally to Golden Gate Park. Strybing Arboretum – formerly one of my favorite place to wander around in the park – is now charging non-residents for admission. If nothing else that will eliminate any motivation I might have for donating to them.

Along the way we also watched some episodes of classic Doctor Who that I’d bought on DVD (used, to avoid the ridiculous prices the BBC charges for them): “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, “Pyramids of Mars” and “Logopolis”. “Talons” was better than I’d remembered, while the other two were not as good (though still enjoyable). In particular “Pyramids” seemed to suffer from the limited (though very good) cast.

Wednesday it was a morning drive to drop Dad off at the airport, followed by meeting Debbi at her workplace for coffee, and then an afternoon of chores around the house. As always, it was a nice visit with Dad – and the cats enjoyed his company, too!

Dad Mark Four

Dad visited me recently – if I’m counting correctly, I think this is his fourth trip out here since I moved to California. We’ve done most of the major things to do around the bay area in his last few trips, but we didn’t have trouble finding more things to do this trip. It perhaps wasn’t as hectic as past trips have been – we had more downtime – but we still packed a lot in.

Dad flew in on Thursday the 15th and we had lunch and dinner, with a walk on the Stevens Creek Trail in between. Then Friday Debbi took the day off and joined us to go to the California Academy of Sciences in the morning. We managed to sneak in ahead of the crowds and stayed for about 4 hours. They have a nifty special exhibit called “Extreme Mammals”, which is about the ways mammals deviate from the baseline norm (if there is such a thing). This was our last visit at the Academy for the day, and if we hadn’t been quite so tired I’d have liked to spend more time there. We had lunch in the Moss Room, which seems a step up from the cafeteria, though if I’d known we could have made reservations ahead of time and not sat at the counter. Still and all, an excellent outing for the day.

Saturday the three of us headed to Livermore wine country, visiting some of our favorite wineries. And Sunday we had the champagne brunch at the Moss Beach Distillery, which Dad really enjoyed – of course, it’s tough to beat good food and the oceanside view, but he liked the classical music and sitting on the patio afterwards, too. We also went for a walk on the coastal trail.

Monday we had breakfast at the Original Pancake House (which I think Dad wanted to go to twice on his last visit), and then drove over the hills to Big Basin Redwoods State Park: It was chilly and foggy at the crest of the hills, but quite nice at the park headquarters, where we saw many great redwoods. I’m not sure it’s necessarily better than Muir Woods, but it’s different. We left heading south and went to Santa Cruz, where we got coffee downtown and then walked along the beach by the boardwalk, out the wharf and back, and then stopped at the lighthouse for the view.

Tuesday morning it rained pretty good, but stopped by the time we headed out, and ended up being a really nice day. We had breakfast at Stacks in Menlo Park, and then headed to the city to the De Young Museum, which was quite busy. I’m not really a fan of fine arts, and I think this met my need for exposure to fine art for the year. There were some nice pieces (the collection of historical American art – which we walked through backwards – is quite good), but it didn’t take long for me to see all the impressionist, modern and abstract art I needed to see. Afterwards we took a stroll through the botanical gardens, which I always enjoy, and we wrapped up with the obligatory visit to Ghirardelli Square for sundaes.

Along the way Dad and I got a number of long talks in, and we ate a lot of good meals that I haven’t even mentioned (we sure do have a lot of good places to eat around here). And Blackjack took to Dad quite well which was funny since Dad isn’t a pet person.

The rains finally came on Wednesday when I took Dad to the airport, but his trip home was apparently uneventful (other than a seating snafu). The week sure went by fast, which is a sign that we had a good time. Now I think it’s my turn to head back there next.

Conservatory of Flowers III: Butterflies

One room at the Conservatory of Flowers is filled with butterflies. Well, “filled” may be too strong a term; in fact, when we first walked in and I saw a butterfly flitting away from me, I was disappointed that it seemed to be the only one.

Then I noticed one on the windows.

And another one.

And then I realized there were dozens – maybe hundreds – of them in there, but only a few were in the air at any one time. And they were all different colors and sizes. Very impressive!

There’s also has a case in which butterflies in chrysalis were evolving from their caterpillar forms, some of them having already emerged.

A few of the many colorful butterflies we saw:

Butterfly!

Butterflies!

Another butterfly!

My favorite butterfly!

Naturally, I highly recommend visiting the Conservatory if you have the chance. It’s great!

Conservatory of Flowers II: Water Plants

More photos from the Conservatory of Flowers. One of the far rooms (well, there are only five rooms, but still) mainly features water plants. As you can see from these photos, this room features some metal railings and artwork, which I presume are a century or more old:

Water plants at the Conservatory of Flowers

More water plants at the Conservatory of Flowers

In addition to orchids, this room contains quite a few pitcher plants, carnivorous plants hanging from a variety of pots:

Pitcher plants at the Conservatory of Flowers

More pitcher plants at the Conservatory of Flowers

There was also this oddity, which resembles a bird of paradise, but I’ve never seen one with the green fronds fanning out like this, so I’m not certain what exactly it is:

Birds of Paradise - maybe?

Conservatory of Flowers I: Orchids

The Conservatory of Flowers is located in a late-19th-century building in Golden Gate Park, and is full of wonderful and fascinating plants. The building apparently has been quite resistant to earthquakes, except that of course it’s covered in glass, and that glass has to be replaced from time to time. (Still, this is less maintenance than some historic buildings require!) It re-opened a few years ago after a major renovation.

I took so many photos when Dad and I visited last week that I’m going to split them up into several posts.

As you can see, the Conservatory is a beautiful building with lovely grounds – and that’s without the summer planting being in place (or so I infer, from the strips of empty dirt amongst the grass):

Exterior of the Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco
(Click for a larger image)

The whole interior of the buildings is used for exhibits, by the way. I presume they store maintenance equipment elsewhere nearby.

There are orchids throughout the building, in different rooms with different temperatures and climates, and many of them were blooming:

Orchids at the Conservatory of Flowers

Orchids at the Conservatory of Flowers

There are many other plants, too, some of them more exotic-looking than others. I don’t generally expect spiny-looking plants like this one to be so colorful:

Purple plant at the Conservatory of Flowers

I don’t know what that last plant is, though.

SAGE & Babbage

Here’s a photo of Dad standing in front of the control console and some banks of hardware from the SAGE system at the Computer History Museum last weekend:

Dad standing in front of the SAGE system at the Computer History Museum

You can’t see the cigarette lighter on the console, which is a feature Apple somehow never puts in its iMacs.

Dad says he contributed to the SAGE project in some capacity back in the day, I guess on the software end. Whenever I hear about the SAGE project it always sounds like this big boondoggle which was obsolete by the time it was deployed, but nonetheless was maintained for decades thereafter.

Here I am in front of one of two completed versions of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, also at the museum:

Me in front of Babbage Engine #2 at the Computer History Museum

Unfortunately it wasn’t in operation when we were there. It’s a very impressive aggregation of metal, though; I can see why Babbage was unable to complete it in his own era.

Año Nuevo Elephant Seals

Some photos from our trip to Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve last Friday with my Dad.

These little guys kept flying up to us when we were in a shelter/information hut halfway to the viewing site, hovering briefly, and then flying away. Then they’d do it again. Eventually I realized they must have a nest inside the shelter, and they flew in and landed when we stepped out the other end:

Birds at the Ano Nuevo shelter

One of the seals had tracking devices glued to her head and back, as you can see here. The docents told us that scientists shave their fur to glue these devices to them. Apparently they sometimes fall off on their own, though:

Elephant seal with tracking devices

A few seals were wrestling in the water, while others were galumphing around the shore, like this guy (or gal):

Alert elephant seal

But mostly everyone was asleep, basking in the sun, as you can see in the background of the pictures above.

Only Hundreds of Miles by Car

Wow, the rest of my Dad’s visit just flew by; I can’t believe I’m back at work already!

I put hundreds of miles on my car this past week, but that’s not really surprising; there’s a lot to do in the Bay Area – even on his third trip, there were still things he hadn’t seen before, and a few I hadn’t seen before – but most of it is widely spread out.

Following the trips to the coast and the Livermore wine country on Friday and Saturday respectively, Sunday we went to the A La Carte and Art festival downtown, which I think Dad enjoyed more than he’d expected. He picked up a few goodies, and reminisced with one of the vendors about making rubber band guns back in the 40s. After that we went to the Computer History Museum. I was sure I’d been there with Dad before, but he says not. But it’s always a terrific visit, and we got to see the Babbage Engine they have on display there (one of two in the world).

In the evening we drove up to San Francisco to have dinner with my cousin K, who coincidentally has the same name as Dad (well, okay, actually it was intentional). My other cousin, L, also lives up there, but was out of town. She recommended a restaurant for us to go to, though, so we went up with Debbi, picked up K, and had a fine dinner. I haven’t seen K in years – probably since I was in college; he’s quieter than I’d remembered. But the family resemblance among him, me and Dad is pretty clear. (Somehow we managed to completely forget to get any photos of the three of us.)

That was the first of three trips we made to the city (and that one was in Debbi’s car!). On Monday Dad and I drove up hoping to go to the Cable Car Museum, but there was absolutely no parking there. We thought about parking elsewhere and taking a (duh!) cable car there, but they were also doing some work on the tracks, so we decided to punt. Instead we drove over to Golden Gate Park.

So I have this amazing talent for forgetting that the museums in SF are closed on Mondays. Gah. Fortunately, there’s always something more to do. We went to the Japanese Tea Garden, and then walked through Strybing Arboretum. I see a little more of the Arboretum each time I go – it’s always fun to visit. This time around I learned that Monday seems to be watering day in the arboretum. Sheesh! After that we stopped at Ocean Beach to see the sea, and then I dragged Dad to Borderlands Books, which is fun to visit during the week since there’s plenty of on-street parking, for a change! I got some cuddle time with Ripley, their hairless cat, too.

Tuesday we went up again, this time to visit the Conservatory of Flowers in the park. I’d never been before, and I highly recommend it; it’s full of orchids and palm trees and other tropical plants, plus it has a room full of butterflies. Very cool. And it’s in a 19th century building, too! After that we went to the Musee Mechanique. Dad wasn’t so impressed with the Musee, and I’ll admit that I think their old location at the Cliff House was better; it presented its contents in a more historical order, whereas the current arrangement seems rather scattershot, even though it has more space for the exhibits. Ah well.

And as I said yesterday we ate plenty of food amidst all of this driving. We were usually pretty wiped out once we’d eaten dinner, so we had some quiet evenings at home, although we did watch the season finales of both Smallville (which I’m kind of glad I don’t watch anymore) and House (which I kind of wonder if I should watch more often).

Wednesday it was up early (well, early for me) to drop Dad off at the airport. On the way out of the airport, my car rolled over to 90,000 miles. I put another 60 or so miles on it in a failed attempt to spend the afternoon on the beach (it was far too windy, and the clincher was that the wind was blowing the sand into my face and hair). That was a bummer, and put me in a melancholy mood for the rest of the day. Or maybe it was the prospect of going back to work today.

Anyway, I had a great visit with Dad. I think I enjoyed our trip to the coast on Friday the most, although the Conservatory of Flowers was really neat, too. And of course it was just good to see him.

I’ll put up a few more pictures from his visit over the next few days, but for now I’ll end with this one:

Me and Dad

Restaurant Roundup

Apparently before he flew out, my Dad was told by my Mom that he’d gain ten pounds visiting me, since we always feed our guests extremely well. In that spirit, here’s where we chowed down over the past week:

Thursday:

Friday:

  • Main Street Grill: One of my favorite breakfast places. Just about the best coffee I’ve had in the area, not to mention great food.
  • The Counter

Saturday:

  • The cafe at Garré Winery: A surprisingly good menu for a cafe attached to a winery.
  • Su Hong: My favorite Chinese restaurant.

Sunday:

  • A La Carte and Art festival
  • Universal Cafe: We went to dinner with one of my cousins, and this restaurant was recommended by another cousin. It’s a cut above the usual restaurants I eat at, and was excellent. Their frites (french fries) appretizer is huge!

Monday:

Tuesday:

  • The Original Pancake House (again): Dad liked it so much we went back and got different dishes.
  • Ice cream sundaes at Ghirardelli Square
  • Cascal: Our local tapas restaurant, which I’d recently visited for the first time.

Maybe not ten pounds’ worth, but that’s a lot of food!

Mostly-Full or Slightly-Empty

Last night we were driving back from San Francisco (details forthcoming) when we spotted the moon a few degrees above the horizon. This was around 7:30, so it was still before sunset, and the moon was rising. We noticed that the moon was not quite full, with a little bite taken out of it at the bottom.

We wondered whether the moon was nearly full, or just past full.

I said, “There has to be a way to figure this out logically.”

My Dad said that this is an empirical problem, so he was doubtful we could reason our way out of it.

I said, “Well, we know that on average there’s more than one full moon per month, and so we ought to be able to figure out from that whether the moon rises a little earlier each day, or a little later. And if we know that then we should be able to figure out whether it’s nearly full or just past full.” I decided that since there’s more than one full moon per month, that meant that the moon was rising a little earlier each day, and that meant that that moon was not quite full.

About 20 minutes later I said, “The moon looks a little more full to me now, so I think I’m right.” Much laughter ensued.

I think my reasoning was a little off, mainly because what I really need to know is whether the moon rises more than once per day, and using “full moons per month” as a proxy for that is not right, because they’re not the same thing. Indeed, since our months are somewhat based on the lunar cycle, “full moons per month” is a circular argument. Well, sort of.

But it turns out I was right anyway, since the full moon is tomorrow.

Which goes to show once again that it’s better to be lucky than good.