Friday, November 30, 2007

All I want for Chanuka...

Is a Star Wars mimobot!

Gotta love the smirk on Han Solo's face. ;)

Darth Vader and R2-D2 are already sold out.

(No, I don't really want one, I just think they're cute.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The ultimate Pass/Fail test

I Passed - 10 out of 10! It amazes me that many of the people who are born in the good ol' US of A don't know a thing about our nation's history, and take it for granted... but the people who fight to get here to build a better life for themselves, they know ALL about it.

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I should have posted this earlier, of course, but I am tremendously thankful for my family and friends, my job and my great co-workers, and of course, the USC Trojans. ;)

Here's a great picture of us at the Carpinteria Tidepools on Friday. L-to-R that's Jae, me, Sam, Teri, and Bryan.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, full of laughter, food, family, and fun.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hearst Castle


I mean, WOW!

It's incredible. The Hearst family owned so much land that at the turn of the century they used to put up tents at the top of the hill, and vacation up there. Of course, when they raised tents, they put down oriental rugs, and loaded in furniture, and hung paintings along the sides of the tent... it was very elegant "camping." They used to call it "The Ranch." William Randolph Hearst wanted to build something up on the hill, but his mother* wouldn't let him, so he had to wait until she passed away.

Then he went to work. In 1919, he commissioned the architect, Julia Morgan, to build three guest houses surrounding one main house (above). He was partial to Italian and Spanish styles. We did two of the tours (#1 and #2). The first was one of the guest houses, and the first floor of the main house, and the pool(s). A lot of the interior decorations are pieces he purchased from defunct churches in Europe - there are rooms lined with choir stalls along the walls, and paintings of the Virgin Mary and iconography. The Neptune pool is gorgeous, lined with marble. Apparently the tour staff get to swim in the pool once a year. We also got to see Hearst's own movie theater, where he showed soon-to-be-released films (and invited the actors up to the Ranch to watch with him). I took this opportunity to try out the "candlelight" setting on my camera, and it worked rather well -- took the picture in the dark, without flash. :)

The second tour was the upstairs part of the main house, including Hearst's own apartment, and the kitchen. (And the pools again.) His rooms were up on the third floor, under the fancy teak roof that was imported from Thailand and carved in place. The artist even carved an image of his family's dog into the roof! From one side of his apartments, he could watch the sunrise over the mountains, and on the other side, the sunset over the Pacific coast. He also had a small Otis elevator built into one of the towers, since he was already in his 50's when the house was completed.

The indoor pool has gold leaf in the tiles, and marble accents all around. Unfortunately, it was 10 ft deep all the way across, so nobody swam in it. But it was gorgeous.

After getting up at 5am, we were so tired by the time we were done with the tours, we didn't even bother with the National Geographic film about "Building theDream." Instead, we headed for Abbe's house, and the end of our weekend adventure. The last hour of the trip was in heavy fog coming off the ocean. Makes the sunset look much darker that way.

(*: WR Hearst's mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, founded the high school I went to in DC.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Second Leg, Oakland to Monterey, and beyond

Sunday morning, we slept in a little bit and then headed for the nearest Fry's. I had to buy a new camera, after all -- there's no way I was going to the Monterey Aquarium and Hearst Castle without a camera! I picked out an Olympus FE-300. It's GREAT. I love it. I also bought an xD memory card (1Gb) and one of those converters to plug in to the lighter in the car (to charge the battery). Then we drove south and stopped for a bit at Gilroy, so I could get new shoes. (My feet were killing me in San Fran!) We found our way to the hotel in Monterey by about 1pm, checked in, and headed off to the aquarium and Cannery Row. We were sooooo hungry (breakfast was at McDonalds, when we were searching for Fry's)... we went to a bbq restaurant in Cannery Row and scarfed down some salads. Then it was time to see the animals!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits focus on the ecosystem around the bay, the oceans in northern California, and other local waterways. The first thing we saw was the tank full of jellyfish. Amazing! At this point, I started figuring out how to use the special features of the camera, including image stabilization. My first few jellyfish pics were fuzzy, but the last one came out great!

We skipped the otter feeding - we knew it would be the most crowded event in the building, and opted instead to see the upstairs exhibits. The aquarium has multiple two-story tanks, showing the otters, a kelp forest, and the outer bay. We saw anchovies and sardines swimming around in large groups, sharks, rays, jellies, shrimp, anemones... it was amazing. We went to the 4:00 feeding in the kelp forest. I know you're wondering, how do you feed kelp? Well, it turns out a lot of fish and smaller sharks live in the kelp forest, so they send a diver in twice a day with a bucket of shrimp and squid and small fish, to feed them. He has a mic in his mask, so he could talk to the audience. It was cool.

They are very keen on the Seafood Watch list -- the list of which species are more or less endangered/over-fished so you shouldn't order them in restaurants. No more rockfish... choose tilapia instead. We went to dinner at Old Fisherman's Grotto (cheesy but well-known seafood restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf) and ate Alaskan crab legs and Dungeness crab cake and Bay scallops. :) We could hear the seals barking out on the rocks, but I couldn't get a picture of them. (Turns out, I got amazing pictures on Monday morning anyway!)

Then we went back to the hotel, and went to sleep early -- we had to get up at 5:30am on Monday to start the drive down to Hearst Castle. I think if I had realized that it was a three hour drive down Route 1, we would have found a hotel a little farther south. But it turned out to be a great way to see the California coastline, the sunrise, and the most amazing herd of elephant seals!

Route 1 down the coast is all hairpin turns, skimming the edges of the mountains above the waves crashing on the rocks. From Monterey, we drove down past Big Sur and multiple other State Parks. We stopped at four or five of the turn-outs to take pictures. It was nice to be one of the only cars on the road -- in either direction -- for most of the trip. We were also able to pick out the parts of the road that have been used in multiple Hollywood movies and tv shows.

We stopped one last time before Hearst Castle -- completely through luck -- at a spot along the coastline where a whole herd of elephant seals have been gathering since the early 90's. It was amazing! We were no more than 15-20 feet from them (there was a fence), at a rest stop by the highway! They smelled a bit... This time of year, the males are fighting to see who is going to be dominant and get to mate with the females. The females were just lying around sunning themselves. :)

Things I learned about my new camera: reduce the resolution so the pictures are less than 2MB each. Makes for difficult uploading to flickr.

Next post: Hearst Castle. WOW.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

First leg, Reno to Fallen Leaf Lake to Oakland

On Friday, Mom and I set off from Reno at about noon, headed to Fallen Leaf Lake, which is southwest of Lake Tahoe. We made it about ... 15 minutes, before we had to stop at Boomtown for some coffee. I took a few pictures of the mountains, and then we were off to the west. I didn't even notice when we crossed into California. We are driving a cute green Jeep Liberty.

We stopped once on the road so I could take pictures, and then for lunch at the Olde Tahoe Cafe in Homewood. We just kept saying how beautiful the scenery was. And stopping by the side of the road so I could jump out and take pictures. :) When we called Mike (our host), he told us we'd definitely want to stop and take pictures when we got to Emerald Bay. He wasn't kidding! Unfortunately, up on top of that mountain, it was COLD! But a nice lady took a picture of us, and we returned the favor for her. Then we jumped back into the car and headed for Fallen Leaf.

We missed the turnoff for Fallen Leaf Road the first time, but only got about a mile before we turned around and went back. At that point, we became even more thankful for our little Jeep. It was a bumpy, one-lane road, and we had to pull over more than once to let other people by. Just before we got to Mike's, I had to pull into someone's driveway to get out of the way of a panel truck! Yikes! I can't imagine what it must be like to go up there in the snow.

Once we recovered slightly from the hike up to the house, Mike took us on a much longer hike to go to Lily Lake. It was about a mile in each direction -- fortunately, it was mostly downhill coming back. It was beautiful. Fresh air tinged with the scent of pine trees made us completely forget about the craziness (and smoky air) of Reno.

We had to rest a little after the hike -- that 7,000 ft altitude will get you every time -- and then we went out for sushi for dinner. It was surprisingly good. We slept soooo well - between the hike and the exhaustion from the week, and the fact that it was *pitch black* and *dead quiet* up there.

We went to bed early (9pm!) and woke up early (6am!), and were on the road by 7:30, towards Oakland. We did have to make a quick stop at Tarjay... but we made it to the hotel in Oakland by 1pm. In fact, we made it at 12:50, and had to scurry to unload the car before the hotel shuttle took us to the BART station. We went straight to the Embarcadero/Ferry Building, and had lunch at a Mexican place. (We were starving!) We walked around the farmers market as it was closing, and then headed for Ghirardelli Sq. Check out the gorgeous blue sky!

We ended up taking the bus up to the Maritime Museum area. The old
Ghirardelli Square shops and chocolate museum are being turned into a Fairmont Hotel! Oops. I'm sure the hotel will be lovely. And expensive.

Then we walked (ow, ow, ow, my feet!) up Columbus all the way to Chinatown, and ended up at Union Square. [If you're looking at the map, we made a biiiig circle.] We sat on a bench for a while, watching the guys put the lights on a giant xmas tree, and watching the fog roll in and obscure the buildings nearby. It rolled in fast, and wow, it got cold! Round about 5pm, we headed back to the Embarcadero Center, where we found Osha Thai restaurant. YUM. It was fabulous, and hit the spot.

Leaving the restaurant, I stopped outside to take a picture of the Ferry Building again. In order to stabilize the camera so I didn't have to use the flash, I leaned it on a police barricade. And dropped it. On its zoomed-out lens. I didn't notice at first, and tried to take the picture again anyway. The result is a half-focused, half-fuzzy pic, and a dead camera. Yes, I was thinking that I'd buy a new camera next year for my birthday, but that's 3 months from now. Maybe subconsciously I meant to drop the camera.... It still pissed me off the rest of the night. At least we were going back to the hotel to go to sleep at that point.

Tomorrow, Oakland-to-Monterey, with short stops for a new camera and new shoes!

Rest of the pictures (and Monterey pics, too) posted at my flickr page.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reno, quick and dirty

I have just finished four fun-filled days in lovely (and a little dreary) Reno, NV at the International Supercomputing Conference, otherwise known as SC'07. I saw a lot of people I haven't seen in a year, worked hard at representing my center, made some new friends, and learned a lot. Handed out a lot of business cards.

Not a single photo. I was waking up at 6am and collapsing into bed at 10pm, with very little time in between to do anything but read a little bit of email and answer the important stuff. I did manage to lose $10 at the slots, however, and caught the 30-min special Blue Man Group show on the last night of the event. I still have a lot of work to do to catch up with what I missed, and make notes about what I did all week.

Next post: "Thelma & Louise" set off from Reno for South Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and beyond!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My peeps are smarter than your peeps

Oh, to have been in DC on Monday when the author of Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People spoke at the American Enterprise Institute. The discussion centered around the supposed genetic predisposition of Jewish people to be smarty-pants. (That's a very technical term, you know!) :)

The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is 107 to 115, well above the human average of 100.
But what if the genes that make us smart also make us sick? I never thought about it this way, but the Jewish population of the world is one of the most in-bred groups in existence. Makes sense, though, with all of our mothers urging us to find a "nice Jewish boy," or avoid the "shiksas." ;)

The question is, are we all smart because our genetics have made that happen? Or are we smart because the Jewish culture & religion place a heavy value on study and learning? Or is it a combination of both? And are we smarter at the expense of being less coordinated? or even at the expense of our health? (Tay-Sachs, anyone?)
Supposedly, Jews are deficient in visio-spatial skills, possibly because their brains allot extra space for verbal intelligence.
I know I'm a klutz... a smart, Ashkenazi Jewish klutz! Mozart, Einstein, (Leonard Nimoy) and me! What does Nimoy have to do with it, you ask? The "live long and prosper" Vulcan gesture made by Spock in "Star Trek" was apparently a symbol used by Jewish high priests, that he learned in synagogue. [See, there's a reason to go to shul!]

So the next time I bump into something, or find a bruise I didn't know I had, I'll remember that clumsiness is the price I pay for having extra-powerful brain cells. ;)

(And yes, I understand the inherent racial undertones of this whole mess, which, as someone at the AEI event pointed out, is how so many people have come to hate us. But that's another topic for another day.)