Saturday, November 18, 2023

A little bit of Oakland sports history

As we watch the completion of the winding down of "Big Four" professional sports in Oakland ...

(The NBA Warriors moved to San Francisco in 2019, the NFL Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020, and the MLB Athletics move to Las Vegas next year. And, yes, I know about the Oakland Roots)

... let's take a moment to admire a lovely bit of tying past to present.

Here's the backstory, if that link made you go "huh?"

Monday, October 23, 2023

Stormputer reborn!

Amazingly, seven years have passed since Dan built Stormputer. At that moment, it was certainly state of the art and astonishingly powerful, and in the intervening time, it's been everything I wanted, and completely reliable.

But anyone who's not been living in a cave knows that the last 10 years have seen enormous innovation in computer technology, most significantly in the area of GPUs. Computer graphics is of course one of the oldest areas in the world of computing, but the recent innovation in GPUs has been driven by people who have found new uses for these specialized and extraordinarily powerful devices. Cryptography, blockchains, neural networks, and other non-video applications have catapaulted companies such as nVidia to the top of the computing world's leaders.

And during the seven years of Stormputer's existence, nVidia released a vast number of new GPUs. The GeForce 10 series which we used in Stormputer was succeeded by the GeForce 20 series in 2018, by the GeForce 30 series in 2020, and by the GeForce 40 series in 2022.

So, it being 2023, I asked Dan if he thought it was possible to replace the 1070 GPU that I was using with a GeForce RTX 4070 Ti.

Dan, bless his heart, replied "Sure!", and so we set about figuring out the details.

Which turned out to be a lot!

The 4070 Ti is a very large piece of equipment, so to start with you need to have a full size case to mount it. Moreover, due to its size and weight, that graphics card comes with a special additional steel brace to allow it to be supported fully by the case, rather than imposing too much stress on my motherboard's PCI slot. It also needs special power cables (supplied by Gigabyte as part of the 4070 Ti).

Those special power cables, in turn, needed to be connected to a modern, more powerful, and more sophisticated Power Supply, so we upgraded to a wonderful EVGA 1000w G5 SuperNova 80Plus Gold power supply, which comes with its own new 15Amp-rated power code to the house power.

As long as we had the case open, and were re-wiring everything with new power cables etc., it was a good time for a general tuneup, so we also added:

Not only do we use every inch of the lovely Stormputer full size case, when we seated the new GPU in the motherboard slot, we discovered that one of the case fans no longer fit, as it physically had no room left in that part of the case.

So far, so great! The control software confirms that all the temperatures are running well, and we aren't seeing any alarms in the Event Viewer.

Hopefully I'll get seven more years of great PC performance out of Stormputer!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

SFGate shows Semifreddi's some love

My favorite bakery is a local outfit that's been in business for nearly 40 years. Here's a great article about a great local business: This 40-year old Bay Area bakery makes 190,000 loaves every week

At the center of the active bread-making operation is Semifreddi’s CEO Tom Frainier, who prefers to be called the “chief bootlicker,” and chief creative officer Mike Rose, who is best known by his 126 employees as Semifeddi’s “mad scientist.” Among the many hats they wear, the co-owners are Semifreddi’s official taste-testers for the 45 breads and baked goods the 39-year-old bakery produces.

The story has great details of how a business gets created.

By 1988, Barbara gained two new business partners with unconventional backgrounds: her husband and Frainier (her brother). Unlike Barbara, Rose and Frainier’s professional backgrounds couldn’t be further from the culinary world. For the previous 10 years, Rose had worked as a sales representative at import company Albert Kessler. He said Barbara helped him learn the ropes at the bakery while he devoured the fundamentals of baking in cookbooks in his spare time. Nevertheless, it was no piece of cake.

“It was a learning process,” Rose recalls of his early days. “Bread is simple yet challenging and complicated. I had some beginner’s luck but not enough humility at first.”

A crucial observation was that the owners deliberately decided not to grow beyond the size they felt they could handle.

Around the bakery’s 20th anniversary in 2004, Rose and Frainier turned down an investor who urged them to open a Semifreddi’s outpost in Los Angeles. Years later, they don’t regret the decision. They preferred to err on the side of caution to keep Semifreddi’s a local treasure and avoid the route of becoming a frozen food aisle item.

Friday, September 15, 2023

There are FAQs, and then there are FAQs

Simple and yet at the same time clear and precise, may I (without permission) share with you the FAQ with which closes its doors after 25 years and says goodbye.

Our Final Season

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When is the last day you'll ship out discs?
A. On April 18th, we announced that after 25 years of shipping DVDs, this will be our Final Season, and we'll ship our last disc on September 29th, 2023.

Q. Do I need to return any remaining discs after the last shipping day?
A. You will not be charged for any unreturned discs - please enjoy them for as long as you like! If you do choose to return the disc, we will continue to accept returns until October 27th, 2023.

Q. Can I purchase discs from DVD Netflix?
A. We are unable to sell discs from our rental inventory.

Q. What if my last disc shipment gets lost or has an issue?
A. September 29th is our last day of shipping operations, so we will not be able to ship replacement discs after September 29th. Make sure you prioritize your must-watch titles in your queue so they can ship with some time to spare.

Q. When will I stop being billed?
A. Your last bill was in August. After your August payment, you will continue to receive service until our final shipping day, September 29th.

Q. Can I keep a copy of the data related to my DVD subscription?
A. Many of our members have years of movie-watching memories with DVD Netflix, so we are providing a downloadable PDF copy of your data with information about your queue, rental history, ratings, and reviews in our Data Download.

At any time up until Oct 27, 2023 a current DVD subscriber or former DVD customer whose DVD subscription was canceled within the past 9 months may download their data, via our Data Download (, which includes:

  • Your queue
  • Your rental history
  • Your ratings
  • Your reviews

Per our privacy policy, you may request a report of your personal data currently stored by Netflix via:

Q. What if I have both streaming and DVD subscriptions?
A. Your current streaming subscription will not be impacted. Your DVD subscription will automatically be canceled on the last shipping day.

Q. If I keep my account active until you shut down, is there anything special I have to do to close out my account?
A. You do not need to take any action. After the final shipping date, your DVD subscription will be automatically canceled.

Q. What will happen to my personal information related to my DVD subscription?
A. Most personal information related to DVD subscriptions will be deleted at the end of the DVD subscription service, no earlier than Oct 27, 2023 and no later than Jan 1, 2024. The data include:

Mailing address(es)

  • Queue
  • Rental/shipping history
  • Ratings
  • Reviews
  • Taste preferences / genre ratings

Data which will be preserved after that time include:

  • Name and login information
  • DVD billing history (including tax data)
  • Charges for unreturned discs (including tax data)
Data related to your streaming subscription will not be impacted.

Q. When is the last day I can sign up for a DVD plan?
A. You are no longer able to sign up for a DVD plan.

Q. When is the last day I can change my plan?
A. You are no longer able to change your DVD plan.

Q. Why are you closing?
A. After an incredible 25 year run, we've made the difficult decision to wind down at the end of September. Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members, but as the DVD business continues to shrink, that's going to become increasingly difficult. Making 2023 our Final Season allows us to maintain our quality of service through the last day and go out on a high note.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fascinating food chain safety article from Undark Magazine

I happened upon this Undark Magazine article about food safety challenges in turmeric markets in Bangladesh: The Vice of Spice: Confronting Lead-Tainted Turmeric.

It discusses a problem I was wholly unfamiliar with.

The article talks about a practice of some turmeric traders: they can make their product sell better if the spice looks better.

While processing raw turmeric to powder, he added a chemical called lead chromate to get the tubers to glow yellow. Sheikh and the locals refer to the compound as peuri — and nearly all the farmers and traders at the market are familiar with it. Lead chromate is a chemical used in paints to, for instance, make school buses yellow, and it can enhance the radiance of turmeric roots, making them more attractive to buyers.

This is a nearly universal fact of buying and selling food: food that looks better sells better.

But lead, of course, is a horrible poison when ingested, and so this was resulting in terrible consequences, both within Bangladesh and even beyond.

Studies conducted in Boston, New York City, North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington have all found a connection between consumption of lead-tainted turmeric (mostly procured from markets overseas) and elevated blood-lead levels.

The article notes that the problem may even spread beyond just turmeric to other food products.

Many of the turmeric wholesalers selling in Shyambazar have been at it for more than 30 years. Law enforcement, they said, had only showed up for the turmeric. No other spices, they noted, have ever come under scrutiny.

The article also points out that this is a global problem, and extremely challenging:

Ending food fraud entirely for any commodity is a huge challenge, said Roberts, the food fraud expert from UCLA. Regulatory agencies in different countries need to set clear standards, enable constant testing and surveillance, and be willing to enforce penalties when someone has committed fraud.

It's a well-written article, and worth reading the entire thing.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Gloomhaven Cragheart rules question (warning some spoilers)

So we were playing Gloomhaven (digital edition) and we were playing scenario 43, Drake Nest.

I was playing Cragheart at a fairly high level, and I had the level 3 card Clear the Way equipped.

We were in the mid- to late-scenario, and I felt it was a good time to use the bottom of Clear the Way. (It was the first time I'd ever activated the bottom half of Clear the Way, so this was a new experience for me.)

Time for some pictures!

First, here's "Clear the Way".

And here's the Drake Nest map.

I want you to focus on the top room in the map, the one with the treasure chest in it.

The entrance door to that room is at the bottom center of the treasure chest room, and it connects to the top center of the main central room in the map. And that entrance door, as you can clearly see in the picture, is ringed by 3 STUN traps, arranged in a semi-circle just before you reach the door.

My Cragheart character started the round standing in the doorway at the top left of the main central room, the door which connects to the narrow left-hand-side room with the 3 gold piles and the 6 drakes. That door was open; in fact Cragheart had just finished motoring through that left-hand-side room, together with one of the other characters in our party, having dealt with the 6 drakes.

As I said, it was mid- to late-scenario, and we'd cleared most of the rooms, and we felt it was time to enter the treasure chest room and engage those 5 monsters in battle.

But those traps were annoying! We knew that if any of our weakened, late-game characters triggered one of those traps, and was then stunned until the end of the next round, it'd be a sitting duck!

So here's where I came up with a plan to use the bottom half of Clear the Way. Notice that Clear the Way's bottom half reads:

  • Move 5
  • Jump
  • Destroy all obstacles and disarm all traps moved through.

So when my turn came, I revealed Clear the Way and began my movement. I moved 3 hexes, and on the third hex I moved into the left-most of the three traps. But of course the trap did nothing because my card caused me to disarm it.

Then for my 4th hex of movement, I moved onto the closed door and opened it. This revealed the treasure chest room and all its monsters, and it drew cards for those monsters.

Then I took my 5th hex of movement, and I moved into the rightmost of the three traps.

At that point, the game sprung the trap, and told me I was now STUN-ned, and ended my turn at that point.

And Cragheart was stunned, and all those 5 monsters immediately came and attacked Cragheart, and then Cragheart was still stunned the next round, and had to long rest, and it was only by the narrowest of margins that the Tinkerer was able to race over and use 3 healing actions in a row to keep Cragheart alive through the deluge of monster attacks.

So now here's the rules question:

I don't understand! Why didn't my card disarm the second trap, the one that I moved through with my 5th movement point?

Is it because when I opened the door, and revealed the monsters, the positive effects on Clear the Way ceased to operate?

Or is it a bug in the digital version of the game, did it misinterpret the powers of the bottom half of the Clear the Way card?

Or was it because I was misunderstanding what it meant to move through a trap, and hence I only moved "through" a trap on my 3rd hex of movement; on my 5th hex of movement I instead moved "into" to a trap, but not "through" it? That is, ending my turn on a trap didn't benefit from the power of the card, but traps in movement hexes 1-4 did. (If that's the case, that was a subtle use of the word "through", a word which is not used anywhere in the "Traps" section of the rulebook, and one that would have benefited from some extra clarity in the card.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Why is the bridge there?

Oh, you surely must go read this lovely citizen history report about an (apparently) useless pedestrian bridge built in 1959 in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge

Come for the initial mystery; stay for the great presentation and lovely old pictures and documents; enjoy the patient dedication of our historian; and celebrate the climax:

The best search terms were not road names, they were people's names.

Monday, September 4, 2023

The World Beneath Their Feet: a very short review

Scott Ellsworth's The World Beneath Their Feet was a fun summer read. I suppose I'd call it "sports history", and it indeed has a little of both (sports and history) sprinkled together.

Ellsworth picks an approximately 20 year period, from the early 1930's up through 1953, to focus on, and he manages to cover a lot of story telling in a fairly compact 300 or so pages (plus some nice sections of notes and references at the end).

The mountaineering parts were fun for me, and drew me to the book in the first place, but to be honest I found some of the history parts more interesting. For example, there was a sizable discussion of how the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany dramatically affected the mountaineering world, as Munich changed from being the gateway to the Alps into being the birthplace of National Socialism.

The old Munich was also gone.

While waitresses in dirndls still served massive joints of Schweinebraten at the Augustiner, the city that had once charmed visitors as different as Mark Twain and Wassily Kandinsky was no more. It had been swept away by a tidal wave of hate-filled speeches and miliary parades, poison-pen editorials and spit-shined jackboots. It had gone up in smoke and kerosene, in piles of books set ablaze on ancient cobblestone streets, or with the click of a revolver behind a locked jailhouse door. And it had simply vanished, with a pink slip set upon one's desk, the neighbor who no longer said hello, or a knock upon the door in the middle of the night.

More interesting to me was the discussion of how mountaineering changed central Asia, specifically the people and communities of places like Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim, Baltistan, Kashmir, and more.

Darjeeling had the feel of a way station placed midway between heaven and earth. [...] Founded as a seasonal retreat for colonial administrators and army officers seeking to escape the blazing heat of Indian summers, the British transformed the remote hill station, accessible by a fifty-mile small-gauge railroad, into a slice of home. Cotswold cottages and Tudor mansions sprouted along the hillsides, complete with rose gardens in the back and Wedgwood teapots and soup tureens nestled in mahogany china cabinets. [...] But Darjeeling was a Nepali town as well. When British planters ventured that the lush, dripping, and often cloud-covered hills nearby might be a good place to grow tea, they hit the jackpot. [...] And as the word leaked out among the Sherpa communities in Nepal that good wages could be earned by lugging heavy boxes and daypacks up the slopes of the Himalayas for the British, the Germans, and others, members of the Sherpa enclave on the backside of Darjeeling began to utter quiet prayers in the smoky air of a nearby Buddhist monastery and keep their ears peeled for news of another expedition.

And a particularly important contribution of the book is to help tell the story of how the end of Colonalism eventually changed the relationships between the British and their former subjects, and how mountaineering in particular helped to accelerate that change.

The underlying issues, of course, went much deeper. And nobody knew that quite as well as Tenzing. "With the Swiss and the French I had been treated as a comrade, and equal, in a way that is not possible for the British," he said. The Raj was gone, and the Empire was soon to follow. [...] Both Hillary and Tenzing had been keeping their eyes out for a potential climbing partner, and they were impressed by what they observed in each other. [...] Tenzing later recalled, "What was important was that, as we climbed together and became used to each other, we were becoming a strong and confident team." [...] Later, in camp, Hillary told some of the other climbers, "Without Tenzing I would have been finished today."

Back and forth the book meanders, roughly chronologically, interspersing rousing tales of mountain adventures with interludes of social and political change (as well as some technological change). Ellsworth is effective in this technique, keeping multiple story lines afloat and never wandering too far from his core characters, the hundred or so extreme adventurers who obsessively returned to the mountains again and again to try to reach the top.

I particularly enjoyed two selections of old photographs, some of them nearly a hundred years old, which helped bring life to the stories. Don't miss the wonderful picture of Tenzing and Hillary from June 6, 1953, just eight days after reaching the summit of Everest! However, some of the pictures worked better than others. I thought the pictures of the Sherpas, Baltis, and other mountain dwellers were far more interesting than the pictures of wealthy British expeditioneers. And the picture of Leni Riefenstahl posed on a slope in the Alps seemed entirely gratuitious, as The World Beneath Their Feet found almost nothing to say about her beyond a single one-sentence reference to a "sultry, twenty-four-year-old former dancer".

Though I didn't learn very much new from The World Beneath Their Feet, I enjoyed many of the stories of these adventuresome days, and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the early days of climbing in the Himalayas.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

A lovely interview with Vishy Anand

Anand always was my favorite player, even though I grew up in the age of Fischer. Fischer got me interested in chess, but Anand got me to love chess.

Anyway, here's a lovely interview with him talking to Tyler Cowen, the brilliant economist (and polymath).

Watch the video or just read the transcript; either way it's great!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

There is no shortage of fascinating things to read about Rust

For example, here's FasterThanLime's collection of Rust articles!

The world of Rust grows and grows. I feel like I did in 1996, when I was just discovering Java, and every day seemed to bring something new to learn.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

A year in a day

As they say, when it rains, it pours: Photos reveal destruction of Death Valley roads after historic storm

After a year’s worth of rain fell in a single day, photos shared by the National Park Service reveal the level of destruction that the tail end of Tropical Storm Hilary wreaked on Death Valley.

The 2.2 inches of rain that swept through the driest swath of land in America on Sunday ripped up pavement on nearly every road, sent debris down rivers that appeared in the sand and compromised four utility systems.

I love the picture of them trying to use a snowplow to move the water off the road.

When all you have is a hammer...

Friday, August 18, 2023

Hurricane Hilary forecast

Wow this is an unusual forecast to see!

Possibility of 6 inches of rain in the Mojave Desert in a single week!

Sunday, August 13, 2023

To the Puzzles Editor of the New York Times, ...

Dear Puzzles Editor of the New York Times,

I wish to draw your attention to the "All or One" puzzle in the August 6, 2023 edition of the newspaper.

The puzzle rules are:

Place a digit from 1 to 3 in each cell so that each outlined region contains either all the same digit or all different digits. If two cells are separated by a bold region boundary, they must contain different digits.

Here is the puzzle solution, from the August 13, 2023 edition of the newspaper.

Please note that the cells at Row 3, Column 2, and Row 4, Column 2 (as numbered from the top-left corner of the puzzle) both contain the number "2", yet they are separated by a bold region boundary.


Saturday, August 12, 2023

Young Adam: a very short review

Can a book be both horrible and yet also magnificent?

I don't know, somehow it seems that the horrible must be strictly separate from the magnificent, and there can be no overlap.

But if you accept that the concept is at least plausible, then surely Alexander Trocchi's Young Adam is such a book.

Trocchi was Scottish, but he spent most of his literary life in Paris and New York, simultaneously celebrated and controversial. Much of his work, including an early version of what became Young Adam, was published under pen names, as it was deemed vulgar, even pornographic.

But Young Adam is certainly not pornography; it is something else entirely. Written entirely in the first person, it tells the story of a short period of a few months in the life of Joe Taylor. Joe is a laborer, but not a tailor; most of the book involves a temporary job he has taken working in a coal barge which is delivering a load on the River Clyde.

Things happen, not exactly to Joe, but also not exactly apart from Joe either, and those events, together with Joe's thoughts about them and reactions to them, fills the pages of this short book in a blurry, dreamlike, feverish way.

The things that happen are terrible, dreadful, vile things, and yet to Joe they are just the course of life, and his descriptions of how things seem is vivid but yet also distant and gauzy, as though everything is real and fantasy all at once. Here's Joe talking about what it's like to wake up in a bunk on a bed:

The slow lick of the water against the belly of the barge was still present when I awoke, as though during the night it had guarded the connection between states of waking and sleeping, the noise of the water only, for my cabin had changed under the pale log of light which entered at the port, defining clearly the greyness of the blanket, the chipped varnish of the plank walls which closed me in. Often when I woke up I had the feeling that I was in a coffin and each time that happened I recognized the falseness to fact of the thought a moment later, for one could never be visually aware of being enclosed on all sides by coffin walls. As soon as one saw the walls, as soon as light entered one would no longer be cut off and so the finality of the coffin would have disintegrated. And then I would be conscious again of the sound of the water and of the almost imperceptible movement of the barge in relation to it.

How masterful this paragraph is!

I can't stop admiring the exquisite skill with which Trocchi delivers this. At the start of the paragraph, we are sound asleep, having some sort of strange sensual dream about being our belly being licked by the water, being caught between life and death ("waking and sleeping"), frozen in an underworld vision. But it's not a happy dream! Joe dreams he is "guarded" from some "connection", and the horror of this dream is vivid and gripping: Joe is certain he is dead and yet somehow experiencing life from within his coffin. Even as he is waking up, he is still having nightmares: the light itself becomes a fantasy creature of some sort with its own agency; it is a "pale log" which has "entered". Then suddenly Joe is awake, and he realizes he was just having a dream, and now the "finality of the coffin" has disintegrated. At first he thinks it's the light itself which has done this, but then he understands that all of his senses are involved: "the sound of the water", the "movement of the barge", even the feel of the blanket on his bed is part of this blurry transition from the dreamworld to the real.

Joe sees the world through a strange and demented perspective, and yet in Trocchi's masterly handling you find yourself inhabiting Joe's mind, sifting through the perceptions he makes as he passes through life, having psychotic breaks that burst open and then vanish as quickly as the rest of us might take a breath or scratch an itch. Just simply doing his crew-work on the boat is a strobe-lit sequence of ghastly visions:

Up on deck the air was cool, cool grey, and over behind the sheds the brick factory stack was enveloped in a stagnant mushroom of its own yellow smoke. Leslie spat out over the side of the barge and put away his pipe.

I'll start her up, then," he said, and went below again.

I let go of the ropes and soon we had moved out into the yellow flank of the river into midstream and were heading for the entrance to the canal. The water was smooth and scum-laden and it seemed to lean against us and fall again, the surface broken with scum-spittles, as we made way. Now and again a piece of pockmarked cork moved past low in the water. There wasn't much traffic on the river. And then, under the dirty lens of sky, Leslie was looking intently towards the quay from which we had just pulled away, marking in his memory, I suppose, the stretch of water from which we had pulled the woman's corpse.

Now, it is boring when you get used to it to crawl along a canal, to wait for a lock to open, for water to level, but you see some interesting things too, like the cyclists on the footpaths where a canal runs through a town, and kids playing and courting couples. You see a lot of them, especially after dusk, and in the quiet places. They are in the quiet places where there is no footpath and where they have had to climb a fence to get to. Perhaps it is the water that attracts them as much as the seclusion, add of course the danger. In summer they are as thick as midges, and you hear their laughter occasionally toward evening where the broken flowers spread down the bank and touch the water, trailing flowers. You seldom see them: just voices.

Wow! How do you even start to comprehend this section? We start out in a "cool grey" industrial catastrophe, with smokestacks and sheds and a "stagnant mushroom". We can't really tell if this is really the docks by the river or captain Leslie's pipe. The odd repetitions of language ("into the ... flank ... into midstream", "lean ... and fall again") set up a metronymic rhythm that begins to thrum within us. There "wasn't much traffic", but the otherwise peaceful departure of the barge from his moorings then startlingly veers wildly from "smooth" to "scum-laden", with its "scum-spittles" and "pockmarked cork". And then, suddenly, out of the blue (or, rather, out of the "dirty lens of sky"), suddenly "the woman's corpse" is there in Joe's mind. And then, immediately gone again, for we're back to being "boring" as we "crawl along" and "wait ... for water to level". How much more boring can things be? It's like watching paint try. There are "footpaths" and "kids playing", and you "get used to it", emphasized by the rhythmic repetition of the "quiet places". And then, suddenly once more, "the danger"! With shock you realize that although there is "laughter" and "courting" and "flowers", we have crossed some horrible, horrible boundary (we "have had to climb a fence to get to" it!), and these are "broken" flowers telling you about the real "danger" in these quiet places.

Oh you simple-minded reader, who thinks that the peaceful riverside is a place of peace and happiness, what little you know of the demons in Joe Taylor's mind, and what he sees in this pastoral sweetness.

Near the end of the book, Joe goes on a tirade, ranting about the injustice of it all, watching the criminal justice system condemn an innocent man. But in fact it is Joe himself who has done this, and here he stands in for Mr. Everyman, blaming the "system" for faults that in the end trace back to individuals.

The social syllogism in which Goon had been unfortunate enough to get himself involved upset me deeply. If any act of mine could have destroyed that syllogism, I should have acted gladly. Go to the police? Confess? In practice I knew it would prove fatal to me. In principle it would have been in an indirect but very fundamental way to affirm the validity of the particular social structure I wished to deny.

Ah yes, practice and principle. Messy subjects. Joe's rationalization infuriates us and yet barely surprises us, having spent 150 pages deeply inhabiting his mind.

Reading Young Adam is a funny experience, for if you are as me you feel compelled to race along, to keep up with Joe's feverish descent into madness, to go there with him and experience it all unfold. And yet, it is all so vivid, and so bitterly and dreadfully immediate, with that "what's around the next corner" feeling, that you want to take the book as slowly as possible, and drink in every horrifying phrase and description.

If you ask me whether you should read this book or not, I don't really know what to tell you.

It was a deeply moving experience for me.

But you must make your own decision.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Backpacking 2023: Hogan Lake, Russian Wilderness

It was time to go, so we packed up and went.

As you'll recall, last year our trip was canceled by the McKinney fire.

But we still wanted to go on that trip, so we tried again. And this time everything was different. There was no fire, there was no smoke, there were no road closures. There was simply blue sky and clear air.

The Russian Wilderness is one of the smallest and least-visited of California's Wilderness Areas, for reasons well-described by its page:

Elevations range from 4,800 feet to Russian Peak's 8,200 feet. An extensive trail system generally crosses steep and rocky ground, difficult going for stock animals. Stock forage is limited in most of the lakeside campsites. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs the entire length of the area north-south for about 17 miles, but stays high with few campsites and snow until late in the season.

We visited the Russian Wilderness once before, eight years ago, and stayed mostly in the south-eastern part of the wilderness. On that trip we took a day hike and got to a spot on the Pacific Crest Trail where we could see the other part of Taylor Lake, which is the primary access point (besides the PCT) to the north-western part of the wilderness.

To get to the Taylor Lake trailhead, you first go to tiny Etna, CA, then you find the Sawyers Bar road, well-known among aficionados of crazy mountain roads.

The drop down the back side touches 18%. The road is very rough and mostly one lane. The speed is very slow most of the way, like 10-15 mph. The road is really remote and almost no services are available. It can get bloody hot on summer afternoons. Sound horn on all blind curves. Not recommended for campers, trailers, or drivers inexperienced in mountain driving. No services for 40 miles.

Happily, we didn't drive that section of the road, for the Taylor Lake trailhead is accessed by a Forest Service dirt road (quite the experience itself; watch out for the cows!) which splits off from the Sawyers Bar road just after you reach Etna Summit. We spent about 30 minutes hanging out at Etna Summit (which has lovely views), while we waited for our second vehicle, which had accidentally started off on French Creek road, which takes you to the other side of the wilderness area (luckily they figured out that mistake quickly).

The trail from Taylor Lake trailhead to Hogan Lake is not complicated to describe:

  • You first hike 0.3 miles, mostly flat, on a wide and well-traveled trail up to Taylor Lake.
  • At the fork, where the main trail goes around the east side of Taylor Lake and up to the PCT, you instead choose the trail around the west side of Taylor Lake, which almost immediately proceeds up a steep ridge to a saddle at just above seven thousand feet. During this part of the trip you gain about 500 feet of elevation, and the trail is clear and well-maintained.
  • Beyond the saddle, the trail plummets! It rapidly descends nearly 1,000 feet, snaking along ridgelines, blasting through immense fields of manzanita, hurdling immense basalt and granite boulders, vaulting innumerable downed trees. Quite the obstacle course.
  • But there are no more forks in the trail, you simply follow it to the end, where you find Hogan Lake.

The entire route from trailhead to Hogan Lake is about 4 miles, and with full packs it took us several hours, with breaks along the way to admire the views and have lunch and whatnot.

Because Hogan Lake is pretty much the only place you can easily go from Taylor Lake trailhead, it is relatively popular, and indeed we met a quite large group of "Dads and Lads" (as they called themselves) along the trail.

Happily, they were going the other direction on the trail, for they had just finished their trip, and for the most part we had Hogan Lake to ourselves.

Hogan Lake is relatively shallow, and was surprisingly warm and very pleasant for swimming. It was full of fish and frogs and tadpoles and what (I think) were California newts? (We chose not to sample the toxin from their skin to verify.)

On the internet, you'll find many articles about how to visit nearby Big Blue Lake from Hogan Lake, an adventure which requires ascending a 900 foot canyon face, with no trail, littered with huge fields of scree and sharp boulders, and no shade along the way.

We could see the canyon face clearly from our campsite near the lake, and we certainly wanted to see Big Blue Lake, so we bravely set out on the approach.

But we didn't make it very far.

In fact, even just traveling around the lake shore to the far side of Hogan Lake was quite challenging for us! Unlike many California mountain lakes, there were no casual trails around the lake through the thick and thorny lakefront bushes, and every step we took was fraught with challenge.

And Hogan Lake was so warm, and beautiful, that in the end we didn't truly regret that we couldn't see the other nearby sites; what we found there was pleasant and just what we needed.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Some interesting things happening in Major League Baseball this year...


I don't follow professional baseball very much, but I am paying attention to at least two things. The first one is much more interesting than the second, but I find them both interesting.

Firstly, Shohei Ohtani !! He was great last year, but this year he is somehow beyond great.

Secondly, we are now 100 games through the 2023 season, and all five teams in the American League East are above .500.

Enjoy the pennant race, everyone!

Yes, yes, the one thing we can be certain of is that the Oakland Athletics will not be in the playoffs this year.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Whiskey Flat is gone again

The Lake Isabella region is changing again.

For centuries, probably for millenia, the mid-mountain valley that drains the Kern River was settled by various peoples.

This dramatically changed with the discovery of gold in the early part of the 19th century and then again after the Civil War, when refugees from the war's devastation drifted westward to the open land in the west, leading to conflict in this (relatively) peaceful area.

Around 75 years ago, this part of California was changed again by the construction of the Isabella Dam, built to control the raging Kern River which had flooded Bakersfield many times.

I used to travel this area fairly frequently, when some of my family lived in the high desert area near Ridgecrest, and they would tell me about this history of the dam and the valley and how it had many stories.

More recently, the dam became damaged, and a 15-year reconstruction project required that the lake level be dramatically lowered.

Still more recently, a series of drought years lowered the lake level still further, to the point that the lake contained only a mere eight percent of its storage capacity, with the result that previously-submerged towns underneath the lake began to become visible again.

Knowing how to find these locations is a bit of an art:

"You can easily locate it by finding the foundation of the old church and a cistern that was on the hill above Brown's stable," Anderson said. "Old Kernville is between New Kernville and Wofford Heights."

Anyway, these parts of central California had been very popular from the late 19th centry through the middle of the 20th century, as you can see in the wonderful pictures in this SFGate article. There were farms and ranches, towns with markets, churches, government buildings, and so forth. And the area was well-known for making "western" movies celebrating the (mostly fictional) cowboys-and-indians stories that were very popular and built the careers of actors like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Damming the river and filling Lake Isabella mostly ended this era of the region's history, although people still gather yearly for a celebration of "Whiskey Flat Days".

But last winter, as everyone knows, the rains and snows came in tremendous volume! Happily, the restoration project has finished, and the Isabella Dam is back to its intended role.

And Whiskey Flat has sunk back below the lake's surface.

Which is good, because the snow is still melting!

Mulkay, who acts as the liaison between water rights holders downstream and the Corps of Engineers, said returning full storage capacity to the reservoir will give water managers more flexibility in their water management strategies.

Considering this year's massive snowpack and huge river flows, many had predicted Isabella would be filled by mid- to late June. But a mild late spring and the Corps' decision to push larger-than-normal releases from the dam gave water managers more breathing room.

"There is still a lot of water in the snowpack," Mulkay said, "and a very conservative estimate of runoff for July and August is in the range of 350,000 acre-feet and 110,000 acre-feet, respectively.

Not sure when I'll make it back through this area again, as my family has moved and it's no longer an area I visit regularly.

Still, it's good to know that the dam is safely repaired, as I've still got family in Bakersfield!

Friday, July 7, 2023

The more you learn about Rust, the more you find to learn

Over the last several months, I've been continuing to study Rust, the programming language that is taking over the (systems) programming world.

I probably shouldn't put that word "systems" in parentheses, however. I'm not sure if it's just a reflection of my interests (I've pretty much only ever been a systems programmer), or if it says something a bit deeper about Rust, but most of the interesting material I find about Rust is very much oriented to systems programmers.

Anyway, here are a few references since the last time I wrote.

I'm learning so many things about Rust by trying to learn Rust.

But the marvelous thing is to be simultaneously learning so many other great ways of looking at how to write great systems software.

Which is a topic that never gets old.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Dead and Company Boulder Colorado 2023

Man I had a nice summer trip to Colorado!

My favorite part was the Mickey "rap" on night 2. My second favorite part was Dave Matthews on the last night joining for the final 4 songs. My third favorite part was the Dear Mr Fantasy/Hey Jude segment on night 1. My fourth favorite part was The Eleven, which is a very weird song but since you almost never hear it played live that's a special treat. My fifth favorite was another glorious version of Morning Dew, which has grown on me over the decades to become one of my all-time favorite songs, tragic and depressing though it may be.

But it was all wonderful!

I'm still quite sleep-deprived and foggy-eyed, but these nice reviews captured the scene very well:

Friday, June 23, 2023

Short update on the Caldecott seepage

SFGate is carrying a short article on the water seepage in Bore 1 and Bore 2 of the Caldecott tunnel: The mystery of why there's water in the Caldecott Tunnel solved

Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney told SFGATE that water is seeping into the bores from the hillside above the tunnel that was soaked in the winter rains. Even though the rains are over, the water is still coming off the hills.

“We had a big storm season this year, and there’s a lot of runoff that comes off the hillside,” Ney said over the phone Thursday. “That water has been collecting since the storms started happening earlier this year. The water in the tunnel is not even an inch deep. It’s just wet.”

Water, water everywhere...

“There’s calcium that has built up in those drains, and it has calcified. "

Got it.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Wasteland 3: a very short review

Wasteland 3 is (obviously) the third volume of the Wasteland video game series.

I played the earlier games in the series many years ago and so I was familiar with the basic structure: you command a squad through various adventures in a post-apocalyptic Western USA setting, completing a series of quests that typically involve a certain amount of turn-based combat. As your team members level up, they acquire improved skills and can scavenge materials from the world and construct improved tools, weapons, and armor.

Wasteland 3 is very story rich, with many many characters and side quests and locations. Along the way, you end up being forced to make various choices, which drives the game toward an overall conclusion. As befits a game with such a bleak story in such a grim setting, the outcomes are pretty unhappy but you do get a chance for an uplifting result here and there (for example, I bonded with the hard-luck characters Lucia Wesson and Marshal Kwon).

I played Wasteland 3 over a period of about 6 months, at times taking breaks of several weeks due to other Real World Issues that were occupying my time. I think Wasteland 3 is best if played in a fairly dense time slot, because keeping all the various characters and storylines in your head is complex and if you forget who's who the game becomes pretty disorienting. So near the end I was just kind of flailing around to finish it.

I also somehow picked up the edition of Wasteland 3 which contained several large add-on features, with large additional map areas and large additional story lines. I rather liked the Steeltown add-on, but didn't have as much interest in the Cult of the Holy Detonation add-on, which I thought was silly and bizarre.

A particularly strong part of Wasteland 3 is the soundtrack, which is full of remakes of various old Americana music from all genres. It's very tongue-in-cheek, and very effective. Each time you face a "boss" battle, the game plays a special song, and more than once I dragged out the battle in order to continue listening to the crazy funny songs.

Wasteland 3 is certainly not for everyone, but it was fine entertainment for me.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

My springtime of live music

One of the things I missed during the pandemic years was going to see live music, so it was lovely to get a chance to see some of my favorite bands this spring.

Here's a very short trip report.

We made plans to see Bonnie Raitt at the Chumash Casino in California's Central Coast region on March 11, but unfortunately mother nature had other plans, and a combination of a family health crisis and a series of terrible spring storms caused us to abandon those plans at the last minute. Luckily, my brother was able to use our tickets; unluckily, they caught COVID at the show. However, I really do like Bonnie Raitt's newest album, Just Like That..., which won a Grammy this year for Best Song I believe?

At the end of April, we saw Joseph at the Fillmore in the city. Joseph are the three Closner sisters from Oregon; we've been listening to them since 2016's I'm Alive, No You're Not was on steady repeat in our car stereo. The Fillmore is a classic SF venue which has played a major role in American music history over the last 70 years. It's a tiny place, and mostly standing room only, though there is a tiny upstairs balcony. It's dingy and loud but the earplugs are free and there's still a basket of apples at the entrance. And the staff are super-friendly. And it's always so fun to wander around and look at the pictures and posters on the walls!

The Joseph show was really great, I loved it! This was the first show of their tour and they sang their hearts out. Their new album The Sun is great and they had a nice collection of new and older songs. They also did a breathtaking cover of the Rascal Flatts song Here Comes Goodbye. It's not surprising that various fan tapes of this great version are starting to be shared online.

Opening for Joseph was a band I'd never heard of from London, Flyte, who quite impressed me and I've been enjoying listening to their music since the show.

In mid-May, we saw First Aid Kit here in Oakland, at the wonderfully-renovated Fox Theater. First Aid Kit are the Soderberg sisters from Sweden, and we've been passionate fans of them for a decade, ever since we couldn't stop listening to 2014's Stay Gold. This was the middle of the First Aid Kit tour, which started in Europe last winter as part of the release of the new album Palomino, which is very good and much awaited, as the band had been silent for nearly 4 years after they had to cancel their 2019 tour quite unexpectedly.

Opening for First Aid Kit was another new-to-me band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, who are quite promising I think. Here they are from 5 years ago, captured on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series.

Then, just this week, we made a 400 mile road trip to see a big favorite of mine, Lord Huron, at a venue I'd never been to before, the Redding Civic Auditorium. Lord Huron have become a big act and they typically fill big name shows like this summer's upcoming date at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, so we were unbelievably lucky to get to see them in this tiny spot in Redding. They bring a lot of high production values in their show and we loved this performance. They haven't put out new music in a while, but they did include several new songs during their show so hopefully we'll see some new release soon?

We first started following Lord Huron around 2015, when I heard their music on the soundtrack of the Robert Redford movie A Walk in the Woods, adapted from the Bill Bryson book. At that time, they were still seen as "that new band from Michigan", but they're a big LA-based act now.

Opening for Lord Huron was Allie Crow Buckley, who has a fine voice and I enjoyed her performance as well.

Really, except for the storms of March, we had as perfect a springtime of live music entertainment as we could possibly hope for, and it sure was nice to get out of the house and actually see performers performing and entertaining.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Shadow and Bone

Wow what a strange end to that strange Shadow and Bone series on Netflix!

I loved the whole Eastern European feel and style of the show, and there were lots of interesting side characters (yay Jesper -- one of the best characters I've seen on TV in a long time!).

But for a show where our heroine is supposed to have the power to summon the Sun to dispel the Dark, it sure wasn't a show full of sweetness and light.

And it emerged from a Young Adult book series?

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Rust is an interesting programming language

I've never been much of a programming language junkie. I know several programming languages extremely well (C, Java), and many programming languages very poorly. And I don't spend a lot of time keeping up with the world of programming languages.

But I've been trying to learn more about Rust, and I'm finding it completely fascinating!

What I know so far is:

  • Rust is a very "serious" language. It's industrial strength, very capable and extensive, with excellent documentation (including of course "The Book") and an astounding set of available software libraries.
  • Rust is not a beautiful language! Although it benefits from the many decades of programming language invention that precede it, it does so by borrowing bits and pieces from many different programming paradigms, and the result is rather a mess. And it does itself no favors by making peculiar style choices. Its preference for terse expression causes it to use highly abbreviated terms such as 'fn', 'mut', and so forth. It worsens this ugliness by incorporating a number of important concepts into single character punctuation symbols, so that '!', '?', and even "'" have important meaning, and every single character matters, so that '(val)' and '(val,)' have critically different meanings. 90 seconds of web searching will find you dozens of lovely pages venting against Rust's dense and awful syntax.
  • Rust is easy to get started with, but challenging to get comfortable with. You can find many many fascinating introductions to Rust, and it's simply remarkable how easy it is to find tutorials like "Let's build a gRPC server and client in Rust with tonic" or "Rusqlite is an ergonomic wrapper for using SQLite from Rust". And you'll be amazed at how just a few dozen lines of code can build a complete working program that you can compile and step through in your debugger. But boy do those few lines of code hide a vast amount of complexity underneath! And if you want to understand what your little example program is actually doing, be prepared to invest some serious time.

I don't know how long I'll remain infatuated with Rust, but it's been a very interesting few weeks diving in.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Lake Shasta is full

Pretty amazing! Lake Shasta is the largest reservoir in California, the 8th largest in the USA, and it was only about four months ago that it was essentially empty. Oroville is at 93% itself.

Oh, by the way, there was more rain this week.

UPDATE: We went to Redding on May 24 and May 25. I've never seen the Sacramento River so full! There was water everywhere, and snow-capped mountains in every direction.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Nah, wrong word today

Never had a fish as a pet, never plan to.

Dogs, OTOH, absolutely.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Fatal Remedies: a very short review

Donna Leon's eighth Guido Brunetti novel is Fatal Remedies, and it hews to the major lines of a Brunetti book, with its fine Venetian atmosphere, its continued exploration of family life in modern Italy, and of course its ability to tell an exciting, page-turning story.

Particular elements that stand out from this book include Paola's adventures in political protest, Signorina Elletra's game of Buzzword Bingo, and a rather opaque plot about organized crime trafficking in the smuggling of prescription medications.

Certainly good, but not strongly compelling in the way of some of Leon's others.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Oakland Inner Harbor Pipeline Crossing

A decades-long project (350 page PDF link) to replace the main water pipelines throughout the city of Alameda continues to move along. Some of those original water pipelines were more than 100 years old, I believe, and have been at tremendous risk of failure as they age.

After the most recent crossing failure (Derby Street crossing in 2009), hydraulic model investigations determined that the failure of one of the remaining crossings would lead to a reduction in available fire flow rates on the island. Further investigation was recommended in order to determine vulnerabilities of existing crossings and impacts of those failures.

About 7 years ago, EBMUD finished all their approvals (600 page PDF link) and began work on the first part of the project, which installs a new pipeline that crosses from the downtown Oakland area into the Marina Village area of Alameda (right under the building where I first worked when I moved to California 35 years ago!)

Last weekend, an enormous step in that process was completed as the new pipe was pulled through the bore hold from Alameda to Oakland.

Construction crews drilled a bore hole 160 feet beneath the estuary and fused together 63 sections of high-density polyethylene water transmission pipe. This 3,000-foot pipeline stretched more than half a mile along Mitchell Avenue in Alameda before it was pulled through the bore hole north of Estuary Park in Oakland on April 7 and 8. The new pipe material significantly increases flexibility and durability, improving system reliability during an earthquake.

Check out this great picture of the pipe winding its way through city streets and parking lots as the equipment pulls it through the borehole.

Or, even more fun, watch this short drone video that follows the pipe end-to-end just before the pull begins.

This is, however, only the first part of the project.

In the coming months, crews will continue with the installation of two miles of 24-inch steel pipeline to connect the new high-density polyethylene pipe to the EBMUD system in both Oakland and Alameda. To support long-term goals for diverse water supply sources, once the new transmission line is put into service, EBMUD will investigate whether the old crossing can be repurposed to serve as a recycled water line. In addition, work on the second Alameda transmission replacement at Bay Farm Island will begin in approximately five years, and the final crossing parallel to Park Street will occur last.

That's a long ways from now; I'm not sure I'll be around when the new water pipeline finally reaches my area.

Still, I'm glad it's moving forward, and it will be a very major improvement to this part of the world.

Yay for infrastructure!

Friday, April 7, 2023

Another Victim of Global Search-and-Replace

I can pretty much hear the conversation in my head:

"Hey, Joe?"


"Did you finish those posters I asked you to make? The ones showing the map to the new store?"

"Yep; here they are."



"It's actually 'Prescription', not 'Perscription'."

"Really? Oh, sorry. OK, I'll fix it before I put the posters up."

What a difference two years can make

Check out this amazing photo essay from the Associated Press comparing California's reservoirs in 2021 to their condition today: Dramatic photos show how storms filled California reservoirs

All the rain and snow, while drought-busting, may bring new challenges. Some reservoirs are so full that water is being released to make room for storm runoff and snowmelt that could cause flooding this spring and summer, a new problem for weary water managers and emergency responders.

The storms have created one of the biggest snowpacks on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The snowpack’s water content is 239% of its normal average and nearly triple in the southern Sierra, according to state data. Now as the weather warms up, water managers are preparing for all that snow to melt, unleashing a torrent of water that’s expected to cause flooding in the Sierra foothills and Central Valley.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Corporate Goddesses revisited

Nearly six years ago, I wrote about my observations of 580 California's "Corporate Goddesses".

Today, I noticed that a more recent story had been published on SFGate: The story behind the 'Grim Reaper' building that watches over downtown San Francisco.

The story, apparently, was at least somewhat inspired by a new goddess, who now inhabits the 580 California lobby:

The lobby on the ground floor of 580 California was recently remodeled. The redesign included the installation of a smaller, orange version of Castanis' vision. The designers described the statue’s orange makeover as “both a continuity, a wit, and an extension of the most unique aspect of the building in a fresh new manner.” It stands unnoticed to most, by an empty gray chair in the corner of the lobby, as bankers and delivery people hurry to and fro. A more accessible, and far less chilling version of the 12 macabre icons 23 floors above.

Next time I'm in that area, I'll have to pay the newest goddess a visit!

Monday, March 27, 2023

CNAP analysis of Western US water storage at the peak point of this rainy season

This is a pretty phenomenal article: WATER STORAGE Tracking for Sierra Nevada and Upper Colorado River Basins

Mountain snowpacks provide an “extra” form of water storage in California and across the Western US, acting as natural reservoirs that hold winter precipitation (as snow) from the cold wet season for release as snowmelt in the warm dry seasons when water demands for human and environmental uses, including irrigation, are high. The combination of water stored as snow and water stored in human-built reservoirs therefore is a useful indicator of developing droughts, persistent droughts, and the termination of droughts in many water-supply systems of the western states.

The next few months are going to be a crazy time for water in California.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Gloomhaven and the Brute's Fatal Advance card

I've been spending a lot of time this winter playing Gloomhaven, both the table-top(s) board game as well as the computerized video game adaptation.

If you aren't already familiar with Gloomhaven, it's an utterly fascinating and extraordinarily sophisticated role playing game designed to be played by 1-4 people over a period of weeks or months or even longer.

As opposed to many (all?) other table-top role playing games, Gloomhaven uses a very clever approach to removing the traditional "dungeon master" role from the games, so that all the players can play their own characters, cooperatively and together, without needing to have a distinguished person who must serve as the opponent. Instead, the game's enemies play themselves automatically, using some mechanics that people often refer to as the "Gloomhaven Monster AI", even though there is actually no Artificial Intelligence involved, just a clever construction of the game's rules.

Dice are not used in Gloomhaven; instead, the influence of chance is introduced through the shuffling of decks of cards. There are literally dozens of decks of cards in Gloomhaven, and the players are constantly shuffling one deck or another. Watching a Gloomhaven game is thus somewhat like watching a group of people play poker or bridge, as somebody seems to always be asking somebody else to "shuffle this, please", or "cut this, please".

Gloomhaven is a role playing game, and shares the common aspects of such games: there is an overall story line, with quests to accept and thematic choices to make. You must investigate the Valrath merchant Jekserah, you must determine the source of the Gloom, etc. You play the role of a character in an adventuring party, and you have many opportunities to influence and determine the outcome of your character. What items will you equip? What abilities will you develop? How will you interact with the other characters in your party?

And, of course, there is a world to explore, dangerous, with many fearsome monsters hidden among its locations.

However, at its heart, Gloomhaven is a game of battle tactics. You'll spend most of your hours with Gloomhaven involved in a small-scale map attempting to accomplish some battle goal (kill this monster, get to this spot on the map, assist this companion, etc.). Your tools are actually quite simple, and boil down to this:

  1. Each player will select two cards from his or her hand to play. An initiative order is determined based on the revealed cards.
  2. Starting with the lowest initiative, players and monsters will act out their turns, performing the actions on their cards, possibly modified by character item cards. With your two cards, you must choose the Top action on one of those cards, and the Bottom action on the other.

So that's it: pick the right two cards, and possibly some of your items, then use those cards when it's your turn.

But now we get to the core of Gloomhaven: the Ability Cards.

Each character has distinct and unique cards, and although some cards are straightforward, others are extraordinarily complex.

Every character Ability Card, at the minimum, offers you the choice of either: (a) move up to 2 hexes on the map, or (b) attack an adjacent enemy with a base attack of 2.

And even these basic capabilities are further adjusted and refined, so even they are not simple.

But the real joy and fascination of Gloomhaven comes when you contemplate how to use a more sophisticated Ability Card. Having just the right card, and choosing to play it at just the right time, paired with just the right companion card, is how you master Gloomhaven.

Which brings us to the Brute's Fatal Advance card.

WARNING! Spoilers ahead, if you are completely new to Gloomhaven and have never played the Brute character.

Or if you are starting out, but you haven't yet leveled the Brute up to Level 2, which is when you get to see the Fatal Advance card.

Anyway, enough of the "spoilers beware", this is a 6-year-old game at this point.

Fatal Advance doesn't look terribly complicated, and it isn't, really. Here it is:

The Bottom action is extremely clear: Move 4. Just like the basic Move 2, except you can move up to 4 hexes on the map.

And the Top action looks extremely clear, too:

  • Kill one adjacent normal enemy.
  • Gain 2 Experience.
  • The card is then lost for the rest of the scenario.

But what are we to make of the seemingly simple "Kill one adjacent normal enemy"?

Really there is no terrible struggle with any of the words "one", "adjacent", and "enemy". Hexes are adjacent if they share a common edge.

And the terms "enemy" and "ally" are quite common and consistently used throughout the rulebook, in language such as "An Attack ability allows a character to do damage to an enemy", and "Figures cannot attack their allies". It does get a bit complicated when additional figures are Summoned; still an "enemy" is a single figure which is not an ally.

But now we are left with two problematic words: "kill", and "normal".

"Kill" is a surprisingly challenging word to see in a Gloomhaven Ability Card. I haven't studied all the cards (there are hundreds), but generally you don't see the word "kill"; instead you see the word "attack" or sometimes the phrases "deal damage" and "suffer damage".

Part of this is because (unless you choose the special Permanent Death rules variant), characters do not "die" in Gloomhaven. Instead, they become Exhausted. A character can become Exhausted due either to damage, or to stamina. If you suffer damage such that you have 0 Hit Points left, you are Exhausted. If, at the beginning of a round, you cannot play two cards (or rest), your stamina has become completely depleted and you are Exhausted. Once you are Exhausted, your figure is removed from the map but the rest of your party continues to play the Scenario until they either win or they all become Exhausted.

For the monsters, it is different: "When a monster is brought to zero or fewer hit points by an attack or any source of damage, that monster immediately dies and is removed from the board. Any additional effects of an attack are not applied once a monster dies."

So we have language about how a monster "dies", it is due to "an attack or any source of damage".

But we don't have a clear use of the word "kill" anywhere in the Rulebook so far as I can tell (it's a 51 page printed book, so I can't use my text editor to seach it, unfortunately).

Let's just posit that the only reasonable thing to do is to interpret "kill one enemy" to mean: "one enemy immediately dies and is removed from the board".

Now we are only left with one challenge: "normal".

Normal is actually a specific term in the Gloomhaven Rulebook. It is first introduced on page 9, where the monster types are described:

Monster statistic cards give easy access to the base statistics of a given monster type for both its normal and elite variants.


A monster statistic card includes ... sections for normal and elite versions of this monster.

And there's even a nice set of pictures on page 9, showing some examples of monster statistic cards.

A few pages later, on page 13, the Rulebook talks about the rules for populating a scenario with the appropriate monsters:

Indications used to populate the scenario map based on the monster key. These indications may be in one of two different orientations depending on the overall orientation of the map. Monster placement is indicated in a symbol's upper left for two characters, upper right for three characters, and bottom for four characters. BLACK means the monster is not present, WHITE means a normal monster is present, and GOLD means an elite monster is present. Normal monsters should be placed on the map with their corresponding standees in white bases, and elite monsters should be placed in gold bases.

So it seems quite clear: monsters are either normal, or elite. A normal monster is not an elite monster. Normal figures are stood up and placed on the map in white bases; elite figures are stood up and placed in gold bases.

And, returning to the Brute's Fatal Advance card, that seems like it now allows us to understand:

Kill one adjacent normal enemy.

to mean: "if you take this action, and if there is a monster standee in a white base in one of the hexes that shares a common edge with your hex, you declare that that monster immediately dies and is removed from the board."

And that, in fact, is how we played that card for quite some time, in our little group.


Some 20 pages later in the Rulebook, we come across this:


Players will occasionally encounter bosses in their adventures. All bosses have their own stat card but act using a universal "Boss" ability card deck. NOTE that bosses are not considered normal or elite monsters.


So that picture on page 9 was tricky! When it showed the pictures of monster statistic cards, labeled "Monster" and "Boss", one could be forgiven for thinking that the Boss cards are "monster statistic cards for both their normal and elite variants".

And the scenario setup description on page 13 was tricky, too! It didn't point out that you might need to populate the scenario map with a Boss, and that you'd then have the challenge of figuring out whether to use a white base or a gold base to put the Boss on the map.

No! Bosses don't have normal and elite variants, they are just bosses.

So, the only remaining interpretation is that a "normal enemy" is NEVER a Boss.

And, at long last, we know understand that the proper way to interpret the Brute's Fatal Advance card is:

"If you take this action, and if there is a monster standee in a white base in one of the hexes that shares a common edge with your hex, and if that standee is not a Boss standee, but is a monster type which has normal and elite variants, you declare that that monster immediately dies and is removed from the board."


Certainly not all Ability Cards are as hard to interpret as this one.

But one thing about Gloomhaven is that you really have to read every single word of the 51 page Rulebook extremely carefully, and even then you have to anticipate that you will make many errors of interpretation until you have played dozens and dozens of hours of the game.

I guess that's why Gloomhaven addicts find the game so fun!

Monday, February 20, 2023

Tyler Hoare and the Emeryville mudflat sculptures

When we first moved to the Bay Area, some 35 years ago, we would find ourselves driving along the freeway through the Berkeley flats and we noticed Snoopy and the Red Baron. I mean, who wouldn't notice them? But it helped that we had kids and so it always made that part of the drive easier when we could point out the window and tell the kids: "hey! look at Snoopy and the Red Baron!"

Later, I spent several years working in an anonymous office building on the Watergate Peninsula, and so I become more in-tune with the area, and even realized that the statues, at least some of them, pre-dated the office building where I was working!

Eventually those statues fell apart, which was the expected outcome all along, and now there aren't really very many statues on the Emeryville mudflats any more. (But more about that later.)

But recently I saw a wonderful short obituary of Tyler James Hoare: With fake paperwork and a roguish attitude, he made the San Francisco Bay his gallery and thought about the statues, and about Mr. Hoare, and about the joy that things like that can bring.

Hoare moved to Berkeley in 1965 with his wife and daughter, and he set up a studio in the basement of an old Victorian home. He began installing sculptures on pier posts in the 1970s. He would say that the bay became his gallery.

Another older and very interesting article about Hoare survives in the Internet Archive, archived from the East Bay Daily News: Attack of the 'post people'

So what possessed him to start sneaking his art onto old pilings when he knew there was no money in it and he would have to replace them every six months or so?

Traffic jams.

"I used to have a little shop in Oakland, and driving home on the 80, backups were so bad in those days you wouldn't move for a while," Hoare said. "I thought there needs to be something to look at. And the posts were right there. Should I put a big banana or a giant abstract shape out there? No, what you needed was something people could understand."

An airplane was the right thing. He further decided an airplane should be flying in the same direction as the traffic "so it would feel right."

After I read the NPR article, I was telling a friend about it, and I realized that I didn't really know as much of this local history as I should, so I did a bit more digging and came across some superb resources:

Firstly, you should know about the wonderful Libraries Section of the California College of the Arts: Emeryville Mudflats Sculpture Collection

The CCA Archives house a collection of materials documenting the public artworks created in the Emeryville Mudflats during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The collection is comprised of the Robert Sommer Collection, photographs and ephemera, and the Mudflats Oral Histories, interviews of creators.

And then I found the great work of a local blogger, Joey Enos, who published a series of articles over a many-year period nearly a decade ago:

It was from Enos's work that I learned that the Emeryville Mudflat Sculptures actually originally began as the Bay Farm Island Mudflat Sculptures, right next to the land that eventually became the housing development where I've lived for the last 30+ years!

There were many discussions on the widening art scene but there was one in particular that earns its moment in history. This discussion was in a sculpture class at The College of Arts and Crafts in the summer of 1960. Percolating in Professor Everett Turner’s sculpture class was the next generation of notable artists that were asked to exercise the merits of this contemporary trend. In this discussion they decided to get their hands dirty and collectively make a work out of detritus. Alameda native and a student in Everett’s class, Garry Knox Bennett, suggested a forgotten farming community of Bay Farm Island. Bay Farm Island sat between the municipal landfill and the Oakland airport. Once an Eden for foul, it was now covered in driftwood and garbage.

Supplied with a bucket full of nails and cases of beer, Everett’s CCAC Sculpture class went out to Bay Farm Island in the summer of 1960. They went there with no concept of what to build. Without much debate they just started building. The class gathered any kind of interesting junk they could find. Under the warm sun of that Saturday afternoon, a shape began to form. What started out as structural posts resting on the mud, spewed out an energetic interpretation of a ship. It was decked out with a flag on mast and a forgotten doll as a figurehead. To Garry and Silvia Bennett’s recollection, the class named this ship shaped sculpture “SS Eichmann,” assuming it was meant as an effigy of the resent capture of the Nazi War Criminal. The naming of the sculpture reflects the growing political consciousness of students of the time.

Enos also reminded me of something that I knew, but had forgotten: the statues didn't just vanish on their own, the state government actively removed them. Reading his essay, I remembered that happening, although by then I was no longer working in Emeryville every day so I hadn't paid much attention.

After the 1989 Loma Preita Earthquake ravaged parts of Emeryville, a rapid redevelopment of Emeryville and its infrastructure followed. The activity of this new infrastructure changed the sightline of the mudflat sculptures from the freeway. The 880/80 flyover and other freeway construction made the Crescent less visible to those passing by and the audience shrank. In 1998, Caltrans spent millions of dollars to clean up the driftwood and garbage that was in the fodder that created the Mudflat Sculptures. Not surprisingly, Caltrans was opposed to the sculptures, as it caused hazards on the freeway. They finally had the political will to finish them off even if it was under the guise of preserving the ecology.

Well! That was an interesting diversion into 65-year old history that somehow I had never learned. The 1960's were a fascinating decade for many reasons, but here locally they were the time when the BCDC (Bay Conservation and Development Commission) was formed, and when the local history of the Bay Area shifted from "develop and use the Bay" to "preserve and enjoy the Bay".

Though I wouldn't have had this place to live if the BCDC had been formed even five years earlier, I'm still glad for all the success they've had in making the Bay Area the beautiful region it's become.

As the saying goes: history begins at home.