Camera Obscura

Yesterday Debbi and I took the day off to go to San Francisco for the first time in several months. We went to California Academy of Sciences, and Borderlands Books, which are two of our usual haunts, but we also went somewhere I’ve never been before: To see the Camera Obscura. (See also the Wikipedia entry.)

I’m a big fan of the Lands End area, which is in the northwest corner of the city, west of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the northern reach of the Great Highway and Ocean Beach. The main parking lot is the home of the USS San Francisco Memorial and access to some great walking trails. The area is best known for the Cliff House and the ruins of the Sutro Baths, but decades ago it was known for Playland at the Beach, an amusement park which opened early in the 20th century, and which closed in 1972.

It seems two remnants of Playland survived its closure: One, the Musée Méchanique, moved to Fisherman’s Wharf on the other side of the city when the Cliff House was renovated starting in 2002. The other is the Camera Obscura, located in a small building accessible by a short trail to the left of the Cliff House, or by stairs to its right leading to a paved area behind the building. While I’d visited the Musée several times at its location here, I don’t remember the Camera at all, and feel like I only heard of it a year or so ago.

We parked in a nearby lot which had broken car glass in many spaces. My guess is that people park there at night to go walking and that’s when most of the break-ins occur. We didn’t see any cars with broken windows. There’s also street parking, as well as the lot for the Lands End Lookout building, above the Baths.

Admission was $3 for each of us, but it was well worth it for the novelty: The Camera had a 360° angle of view, and once the operator turns it on, it slowly rotates through its arc, projecting the image of the area around the building on a large concave wooden panel in the middle of the room. Viewers must slowly walk around the panel to stay oriented to the image, but it is amazingly sharp and clear. Which makes sense, since what we think of as a “camera” – film or digital – has a resolution of the image it produces, while this camera has effectively infinite resolution – or, at any event, probably higher resolution than the human eye can perceive.

It takes about six minutes to complete the circuit, so during the second cycle when the camera was pointed at the Cliff House, Debbi and I checked out the small but neat collection of holograms around the room.

The Camera Obscura is in some ways emblematic of San Francisco historical sites. Most of SF was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, so most of the historical sites that remain have a sort of immediacy to them: Some of them, like the Camera, are still functioning. Others were functioning within the lifetimes of many people living (such as Alcatraz). In a way this is a testament to the pace of technological (and sometimes social) progress in the last century: The Camera Obscura is still pretty cool today, and it must have been pretty awesome when it opened in the late 1940s. Nonetheless, though that was only 70 years ago, it feels like a different era in history. But the Camera is not a relic, it’s a representative.

The turret on the top rotates to provide the 360° viewing area.

Family Visit

Well I didn’t mean to disappear from here for the month – and I’d been doing so well at writing regularly in February and March, too. Oh well!

But my excuse is that last week my sister Katy and her clan visited. Katy visited once before back in 2008, as part of a trip for a conference out here, but this was a planned vacation. When I say “her clan”, I mean her boyfriend Andrew, her son I, and his daughter A. They flew in Sunday night, getting in around 10 pm – which was 1 am in their east coast time zone. I was surprised the kids were not totally asleep! We’d spent time on-and-off during the month getting ready for their visit, making sure we had sheets and blankets, and buying an air mattress for our study so we could use all of our bedrooms for them. We had everything set when they arrived, so we gave them a short tour of the house and let them crash.

We planned a pretty quiet first day: We had brunch at Hobees, then went to the Apple campus because I is a huge Apple fan and wanted to see the mothership. Then we met Debbi in downtown Mountain View to show them our stomping grounds.

We spent two days in San Francisco: Tuesday we went to California Academy of Sciences and Ghirardelli Square, and then Thursday we hit the Golden Gate Bridge, rode the cable cars (who surely have the most primitive web site of any major attraction in the nation), and went to Pier 39.

Andrew used to live in the area in the late 80s and he wanted to go down to Santa Cruz to see his old stomping grounds, which we did on Wednesday. I guess Pacific Ave is quite different now since they rebuilt much of it after Loma Prieta. We also went to the Beach Boardwalk and walked out the municipal wharf. We had gorgeous weather for this trip, and finished with a drive up the coast, turning in at Half Moon Bay.

Friday was not so nice, as we went back to Half Moon Bay and it was cloudy and chilly on the coast. That didn’t stop us from going to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Then we went along Skyline Drive and took in some of the scenic views, as well as a walk at Russian Ridge.

This was not as packed a visit as I’ve had with some other folks, as we spent the mornings hanging around the house, and the late afternoons and early evenings in the back yard, where I, A and a mixture of adults kicked around a soccer ball and played with out bocce ball set. We did have the usual food-fest, eating quite a bit of Mexican and hitting some other favorite restaurants too.

It only took three-and-a-half decades for Katy and me to develop an adult relationship – we did not get along as kids, and didn’t interact a lot in our twenties. I guess the bright side of us dealing with our mother moving into assisted living and selling her house has been developing that relationship. I’d gotten to know Andrew during our trips to do all that, as he helped out with a bunch of stuff and was extremely helpful with the manual labor, and he’s a friendly, funny guy. The kids are great, too, and both had fun. I was a little worried that they’d be a bit bored by the visit since we don’t have a lot of experience entertaining kids of their ages at our home – most of our friends’ kids are much younger – but I was worried about nothing, I guess. We barely even turned on the television, except to watch some sports!

They all headed out Saturday morning to go home, which went smoothly too. Now we’ll have to go out to visit them sometime!

The Clan

Frogs & Flowers

Debbi and I took Tuesday off for a fun day in San Francisco. We spent the morning at California Academy of Sciences, where we renewed our memberships for the year. Sadly, their planetarium was closed for the day, and it’s one of the highlights of a visit there. But we had a good time otherwise. It was really quiet there, relatively speaking; I guess the end of February is not the busy season for SF museums! One nice benefit of this was we got some lengthy quality time with the penguins, who were happily swimming in their pond, and one of whom followed me back and forth through the window.

I took another panorama from the rooftop:

View from the Cal Academy rooftop

Debbi took a bunch of pictures and posted a few to Facebook having made collages out of them with Pic Stitch. I liked this one with the many small frogs we saw in the tropical rainforest:

Frogs

After five trips in the last year, I think the Academy needs to refresh some of their exhibits. The earthquake exhibit feels very stale at this point, and they haven’t had a good exhibit on the second floor in a while – they really need something like their Extreme Mammals exhibit from a few years ago.

Afterward we went to the Conservatory of Flowers, which I always think is one of the best-kept secrets in Golden Gate Park. We were pleased to see they had their butterfly exhibit in their rotating exhibit room, but I always enjoy seeing all their rooms. I got a panorama of the room with the large pond:

Conservatory of Flowers pond room

And Debbi made a collage of some pictures from our visit:

Flowers

Finally we went to Ghirardelli Square for sundaes, and then drove home.

We had a quiet rest of the day, but sadly we were both strangely wiped out by it all; Debbi took a nap in the afternoon, and I developed a headache later in the evening (though not the debilitating kind I occasionally get), so we went to bed early. A disappointing end to an otherwise fun day.

On the bright side, we’ve gotten some rain since then, which the state badly needs and which I always enjoy. And more coming in the next few days!

Teatro Zinzanni

Those of my readers who know I work on Apple’s developer tools may have heard that we recently shipped Xcode 4. But this entry isn’t about that (since, well, this isn’t a work or an Apple blog). Rather, it’s about our ship celebration, which was dinner at Teatro Zinzanni in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Debbi and I decided to take the bus up with most everyone else, mainly because driving into the city during rush hour wasn’t attractive, but also because driving home after dinner wasn’t real appealing either. It only took a little over an hour for the bus to get there, so it wasn’t much of a compromise.

Teatro Zinzanni is – literally – dinner-and-a-show, the show being similar in some respects to Cirque du Soleil, but with a dash of vaudeville and audience participation thrown in. The show alternates a comedy bit – usually plucking an audience member for their involvement and a little embarrassment – with a musical and/or acrobatic performance, and one of the five courses of the dinner. While the style of the comedy bits were not really my thing (although seeing my cow-orkers’ involvement was greatly humorous, which made up for it), the other performances were very impressive. I was particularly amazed at the feats of strength and acrobatics performed by “Les Petits Frères”, which were frequently amazing.

(I’m amused that Zinzanni’s slogan is “Love, chaos and dinner”, since in order to perform these stunts in a dinner setting what they’re doing is anything but chaos.)

Almost worth the visit all by themselves are the available mixed drinks (PDF), of which I think I had one more than I really ought to have had. (Another excellent reason to have taken the bus.) I think the “Bella Donna” was my favorite.

We had fun socializing before dinner. Debbi met many of my cow-orkers, whom she mostly hadn’t met since I moved to a different team last summer, and we caught up with a few people we don’t see very often.

It was around midnight by the time we made it home, but it was well worth it. We have some friends who are big fans of Teatro Zinzanni, and I can see going back sometime.

I’d just rather not be one of the people picked to participate in one of the comedy bits!

Snow Leopard Celebration

Often when we ship a new version of Mac OS X, there will be a celebration event for the organization. We were trying to remember the other day whether we’ve had one for every release (I’m pretty sure we didn’t have one for Puma), but I’ve thought in any case that none of them equalled the party for shipping Cheetah (OS X 10.0), which was held in Hangar One at Moffett Field.

But I think we just surpassed that one, with the party for Snow Leopard, which was held on Friday evening at the newly-rebuilt California Academy of Sciences. The museum shut down for a private party for just us, and even though there were hundreds people there, I’m told by people who have been to the new building (this was my first visit) that it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as when it’s open to the public, so it was totally worth it. I don’t even want to think how much it cost to rent the place for a Friday evening.

I visited the old Academy a couple of times before it was demolished (like the De Young Museum nearby, Cal Academy’s old buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be rebuilt from scratch), and I recall it being interesting but quaint, in an old stone-and-concrete structure which felt too small for the Academy’s ambitions. The new building is huge, three stories tall with a garden that covers the whole roof, and a spacious floor plan based around the Morrison Planetarium in one wing, and the tropical rainforest in the other. It’s quite a structure.

I love rainforests and we made a point of visiting before it closed at 8 pm (the party started at 6:30). You start at the bottom and walk upwards, with the air getting more and more humid as you progress. There are butterflies and birds in the habitat, and you’re asked to check yourself for butterflies before you leave. We also made a point to get Planetarium tickets, where we saw a show titled “Fragile Planet” about the possibility of life on other worlds. The script was a little dodgy at times (although it might play better to someone who hasn’t been reading science fiction all his life), but the visuals were fantastic, especially the opening sequence of lifting off from Earth. Well worth the visit.

The “living roof” was disappointing only in that you can’t see as much in the dark; I suspect it’s better seen in the daytime. Certainly it looked stunning in the Planetarium show. But the interior didn’t disappoint, with African dioramas, the giant pendulum, fossils and skeleton reproductions, displays and interactive presentations, and the Steinhart Aquarium, which is not as impressive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but is still fun. The party lasted until 11, which was enough time to see everything, some things more than once.

Debbi came with me as my guest, and were socialized with many of my cow-orkers and their guests. Over the last 10 years I’ve gotten to know quite a few people at Apple, though it’s always a little surprising how many people I don’t recognize, even from just walking around campus. It’s a big company.

Debbi and I left a little early – although things were starting to wind down – and went to Ghirardelli Square to wrap up the evening with ice cream.

I didn’t take pictures of the party itself, but we did take some good pictures of the academy, for your viewing pleasure. I certainly recommend going if you’re in the area – assuming you want to brave the crowds.


Hanging whale skeleton
The hanging blue whale skeleton
(click for larger image)

Blue Butterfly
Large blue butterfly in the rainforest

Blue Lizard
This lizard is smaller than my hand

T Rex skeleton
Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton
(click for larger image)

Sea dragons
Sea dragons
(photo by Debbi)

Sea turtle
A lively sea turtle

White alligator
A rare albino alligator
(click for larger image)

Tortoise and Me
Me and a model of a large tortoise
(photo by Debbi, of course)

Sibling Revelry

For a rapid-fire, three-day introduction to the Bay Area, you could do what my sister Katy and I did the first half of this week:

Katy and I have had a tempestuous – is that the right word? Sure, why not – relationship. We didn’t really get along at all in our teenaged years, and we have rather different memories of what it was like growing up in our home town, though to be fair on that count our experiences were quite different for two people who went through the same school system and grew up in the same town with the same parents. So all things considered we didn’t really have a lot of motivation to become friends as adults. I think what changed is that we just grew up (eventually), and my nephew Ivan I think motivated Katy to reconnect, as she drove up with him to visit the last two times I went back to visit my parents. So although I can’t speak for her, on my end I was perfectly comfortable having her stay for a few days before attending the conference she’s at for the second half of this week.

Maybe I pack a little too much into visits from family and friends, but we had a lot of fun, and ate a lot of good food besides. We had great weather – she came out just ahead of the heat wave that’s scorching us today – and had some nice quiet evenings with Debbi and the cats. And as with my Mom, Blackjack was charmed by Katy and visited him every night to snooze with her.

To my amusement, when I introduced her to my cow-orkers on a tour through work, three of them asked whether he had any insight into where my punning nature comes from. She doesn’t really know, though; I think I’m just a prodigy.

So it was fun, and she might even come back! And, for those of you who know both of us, here’s the evidence:

Me and Katy

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

Early Season Fog

Very foggy out this morning – quite a surprise considering it was over 80 on Saturday. My recollection is that we don’t usually get foggy days until much later in the season, but I could be wrong.

Saturday we went into the city. On the way we stopped on the peninsula to eat at Brothers Deli, one of our favorite lunch joints. It recently moved from Burlingame to downtown Millbrae, into what looks like a newly-furnished venue. It’s the same yummy food, though (I like the meat blintzes).

Our main goal was to go to Borderlands Books so I could pick up the copy of Alastair Reynolds‘ new collection Zima Blue and Other Stories. We took BART from the Millbrae station just because I’d never done it, but it’s definitely slower than going to Daly City, where there are a lot more trains to catch, so that’s probably the last time for me unless they start running more trains. I can report success on getting the book, and I enjoy walking along Valencia Street in the Mission district because of all the quirky shops to glance in. But Borderlands alone makes it worth the trip, even when their hairless cat isn’t in residence.

Sunday we vegged out and watched football and baseball. Neither of us was feeling all that motivated to do much. I made some small tweaks to the FP template and did a bunch of reading.

The cats are doing well. They spent most of the weekend sleeping. I wonder if their kitty-drugs wear them out, even beyond being sick. Blackjack is getting his energy back and is behaving a little more normally. Roulette I think is just mad at us for giving her medicine every day – she hates it and struggles to get away. Blackjack fortunately is an easy mark for the medicine; for all I know he might even like it!

Hopefully they’ll be back to 100% by Wednesday. And that we’ll have dodged the bullet without Newton and Jefferson catching it.