Riding Devil Mountain

Just briefly: I’ll be out tomorrow — in just a few hours, really — to do a double century. That’s 200 miles in a day. The twist on this ride, the Devil Mountain Double, is the amount of hill climbing required to complete the course: something like 18,000 feet in all. I know most of the roads and have done most of the climbs, but never on the same day, and some not in years. I’m sure I won’t be back in to write about it tomorrow night. But Sunday — Sunday I’ll have something to say. (And wish me luck — even retrospectively!)

My Beautiful Blogette

I’d love to be able to say I’m above being self-conscious about this, My Beautiful Blogette (as an aside, try the following as a one-evening Daniel Day-Lewis triple bill: “Last of the Mohicans,” “A Room with a View,” and “My Beautiful Laundrette”).

Alas, I am self-conscious, mostly about the recent attenuation of the previous steady stream of smart, not to say indispensable, Infospigot observations about the world both in and around my navel. I mean to say I haven’t been posting a lot the last few weeks.

The principal reason: I’m spending lots of time working on The Personal Bee, the little Web publishing startup I signed on with in January. We just launched our live test site (beta for those in the software development world), and there’s lots and lots of refinement to do. Nearly all of The Personal Bee work is online, and often the last thing I want to do is sit down in the evening (or early in the morning) and start tapping away at the keyboard some more. So that’s why you’re seeing more pictures and less of the brilliant dissection of reality that has come to typify work associated with this site.

For now, anyway. The Bee is a startup project with startup funding, and it has emerged at a time when everyone and his Uncle Moe has decided that Web news-and-information sites represent a business opportunity. We’ll see (and I’ll write more about the Bee later, too).

The Birds

A couple of towhees — they’re sparrow-like little brown birds, common here — showed the shocking lack of judgment to build a nest in a potato vine on our back porch. They must have worked fast, too, because one day I had no idea they had moved in and the next they were fighting a scrub jay to protect their place. Kate and I heard the commotion early Sunday morning, and even our neighbor on that side of the house commented on it.

California TowheeTowhee nest, with eggs

The towhees seemed to have two tactics to try to fend off the jay, which we figured was trying to get at any eggs they had in the nest. First, one of the birds would try to distract the jay by fluttering weakly along the ground near the nest; second, if the jay took that bait, both birds would fly into a bush nearby, puff their feathers up, and try to counterattack the bigger bird. But the jay wasn’t to be distracted, and kept coming back to the next despite a local human’s attempt at intervention. He, or she, was scared off several times, but kept returning. When he was gone, one of the towhees would return to sit on the nest. But eventually I looked out and saw the jay was standing on the little round of twigs and pecking at something.

I chased him off and climbed up to take a look inside the next. Sure enough: two pale blue eggs, one perfect and one broken. With the jay gone, the smaller birds returned to take a look. They didn’t leave, but neither did they sit on the nest again. The jay come back once more and got at the second egg, and after a little while, the towhees were gone. The last time I looked in the nest, the ants were already at work on what had been left behind.

New Jersey Elected Official …

… And other notes:

Apropos of — well, you’ll have to figure it out: Al Prazolam, mayor of the Jersey shore town Swamp River Island Beach.

Berkeley has designated the barn owl as its official city bird. Oakland concedes it has no city bird but says through a spokesperson that it “welcomes and embraces all birds.”


This has nothing to do with the famous Dr. Shabubu. (But it is part of a long-running Telegraph Avenue poster drama.)



Bay Region Scorches Under Cloudless Skies

Gosh — Infospigot has been on walkabout this week. Yeah, that’s what it is — Walkabout Week. After my reiterative weather plaints of recent weeks, I think it’s time to report that spring — the season that showed up for a day last week — has turned in a longer appearance this week. It’s been warm and sunny everywhere, and the Chronicle shifted gears from wet-weather coverage today to report on its front page that we’re about to suffer the ravages of a prolific pollen season. I promise that unless we have a rapid-forming glacier in the Berkeley Hills, a Category Two williwaw, or some similarly traumatic event that this will be the last weather news for the season (barring popular demand for more, of course). In the meantime, a reminder of the nearly departed monsoon: Up in the soaked hills, small streams are gushing down the street under clear skies. As below, on La Loma Avenue near Buena Vista Way:


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View of the Buttes

I’ve been away. Friday — getting ready for a bike ride. Saturday on a ride that lasted 24 hours, into Easter morning. Easter, sleeping; and eating. Today, tax day.

More about the ride later, but just one glimpse of what we took in on a route that went from the shore of San Francisco Bay up into the Central Valley, then across to the Sacramento River and tributaries to the very edge of the eastern foothills, then back to the lowlands in Davis. These are the Sutter Buttes, an isolated pocket of dead volcanic peaks that rise (the tallest is about 2,300 feet, I think) right in the middle of the valley. Since they’re surrounded by table-flat terrain for at least 30 miles in every direction, you can see them a long way off, they always look different depending on the light, and they always make an impression. Here, they were about 20 miles from where I was, just east of the town of Williams.


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Spring for a Day

Cheese Board pizza on Shattuck AvenueWednesday looked like we were in the middle of a season that would never stop. Rainy and cool and not to be complained about but still: Since when did we decide to live in Sitka? Something was different today from sunrise: First, that you could see the sun when it rose. And then the day warmed and warmed, and you could hardly believe a day like today was possible after a day like yesterday. Up in the low 70s here and in most of the Bay Area. Kate and I went for a lunch time walk up on the northern end of Shattuck Avenue. Here’s a development the parallels the rise of the pizza business at the neighborhood’s venerable Cheese Board (it’s a cheese shop and bakery): People are buying pies and taking them out to the narrow, uncommodious little median strip for picnics. I count seven groups of diners in the pictures, some with pizza boxes in plain sight, some exhibiting tell-tale pizza-eating behavior. Even though it’s not a high-speed street, the traffic’s a little too close for my comfort. On the other hand, maybe this is the first step toward a street shutdown.

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The 11th


Here in the Bay Area, I left work early and went with Kate, who is off school this week, to see a late-afternoon matinee of “Inside Man.” It holds up as an entertainment. The show was at the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, recently pictured for its marquee broadside on fascism. It’s one of the Bay Area’s great old movie houses, subdivided, as they all are, a couple decades ago. But still beautiful in a way the old movie palaces are and still impressive for its outsize scale. We caught sight of it in the rain after parking on a hillside a couple short blocks away: its magnificent (and still operational) old sign backwards and stark. Afterwards, we thought about where we might be able to eat dinner and look out on the Bay while the rain fell. Kate came up with a true inspiration: The Dead Fish, a place in Crockett, about 20 miles north of Oakland overlooking the Carquinez Strait, the place where all the water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, and all the tributaries and reservoirs and mountains beyond, spills out into the Bay. We couldn’t get a window table in the restaurant, but we found one in the lounge and had dinner gazing out on the channel and on the bridges that carry Interstate 80 across the water. Then we drove back to Berkeley.

In Chicago, I hear it was the kind of April day that belies the lack of greenery on the Wrigley Field vines (saw them on a baseball highlights reel this evening). It was 53 years ago today that Mom and Dad were married down at St. Kilian’s, 87th and May streets, just four blocks from where Mom grew up. Not everyone in the Irish Catholic parish — notably its pastor — was too thrilled at the idea of one of the children who’d grown up coming to his church and school marrying an outsider — that is, a Norwegian Lutheran. But there’s no accounting for affairs of the heart, and everyone got over the mixed marriage they bore witness to that day. Today, Dad drove down from his place on the Northwest Side to Mom’s grave and left a spring bouquet — artificial flowers, but they’ll last (I’ve never seen Mom’s place down there without something, something she would have liked, to mark the spot). He stopped for a couple of White Castle hamburgers on the way back north.

Later, we talked on the phone about the cemetery and White Castle a little and a lot more about old movie houses, which Mom loved. The Cosmo, which I’m guessing was short for Cosmopolitan, in particular. I know it was air-conditioned in the summer and that the double bills changed twice a week. I don’t know whether it had much of a sign, but Dad’s guess is that the its gone now.

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New Neighbor


As documented elsewhere in my busy online existence, last week Kate and I saw an unfamiliar fungus-like growth next to our driveway (the one in the foreground; the red thing in the background is our ’93 Honda Civic). We called over our neighbor Jill, a mycological hobbyist, to see what she thought it might be. She agreed it might be a mushroom, but had no idea what kind. I think she talked to a more expert friend, who talked to a more expert friend, and they came up with an identification: Clathrus ruber. Or latticed stinkhorn, if you want to be less Latin about it. Sort of exciting to find some documentation about it:

“A spectacular and beautiful fungus, Clathrus ruber makes a remarkable transformation from a white, bumpy-surfaced, egg-stage, to a bright reddish-orange, hollow, fragile lattice-work structure. Unfortunately, the beauty of this fungus is overshadowed by its odor, which is of rotting flesh.”

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