Sandy at Night


I was just visiting one of my favorite news picture sites, The Atlantic’s In Focus blog, and came across this storm image. The caption reads: “This nighttime satellite image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on October 28, 2012. (Suomi NPP, NASA, NOAA).”

I never cease to wonder at the beauty of these images captured from space, even when they’re images of a phenomenon that we experience as unimaginable power and violence when it comes ashore.

In Focus: Hurricane Sandy in Photos

In Focus: Hurricane Sandy After Landfall

Night of the Night Heron


A black-crowned night heron, one of several we see hanging around the ferry dock at Jack London Square in Oakland. We usually spot two hanging out on the rocks right at the water line south/east of the dock. They are in the midst of some pretty heavy human traffic, but they are still skittish when they detect you getting close. Over the past half-year or so, a great blue heron has been frequenting the same area. Last night it was roosting on the dock next to the USS Potomac, FDR’s presidential yacht.

Please Don’t Be Rude


Posted outside Bite Me Sandwiches at 17th Street and South Van Ness Avenue in the Mission. I know how hard it is to get a dog to heed this advice.

Weather and Water


That’s this morning’s picture, courtesy of the National Weather Service’s Pacific Southwest mosaic, of our dry season ending. Or at least so we hope. That’s rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains, with the western, back edge of the rain outlining a cold front a front moving in from the Pacific.

After months without any real rain–I think the last thing heavier than a prolonged drizzle was in the first week of June–even a modest storm can be a surprise. Not because you don’t know it’s coming–forecasters saw this one a week out–but because of how suddenly the world goes from one state–dry, sere, thirsty–to another–water pounding down from the sky, runoff cascading down the gutters, and at least the promise of green ahead.

The thing is, we never quite know what this first rain is a harbinger of. A wet winter that brings the landscape back to life and fills reservoirs? Or another dry winter that heightens the awareness of how fragile our hold on this landscape is without the massive plumbing system we’ve built to sustain us.

Today’s Top Project


A few days ago, our son Thom told me a soldering iron would be arriving at our house via UPS. “A soldering iron?” I probably replied. He said he had a project he wanted to do–assembling some small external iPhone microphone kits–and we needed the soldering iron for that.

So, today was the weekend, and Thom came over, and we spent part of the afternoon and early evening assembling the mics. I was enthusiastic because I (and many, many others) have started playing around with different ways of recording sound on the iPhone for radio story production. One of the big issues, though, is controlling distortion in loud environments. This microphone–it’s called a bootlegMIC and was designed by Open Music Labs–plugs into the phone’s headphone jack. Essentially, it’s an attenuator–it uses a resistor to reduce the audio signal the phone’s built-in mic has to handle and thus avoid distortion.

Thom made one, and it seemed to work fine. I built mine, with his assistance (the last time I handled a soldering iron=maybe never). Thom built a third mic (above) for a friend. In the picture, he’s holding the jack end of the device; the microphone is at top.

Let’s Go Oakland


It’s been years since I paid more than passing attention to baseball, but it happened again this summer. It was a purely selfish thing: the teams that I had followed most avidly, the Cubs and the Athletics, had become perennial disappointments. In the case of the Cubs, they’re deserving objects of ridicule and a model of how weirdly wrong a franchise can go: since they play in a “destination” ballpark, the home nine’s wretched performance on the field has no bearing on the organization’s ability to pack the stands game in and game out.

The A’s case is different. Heck, there’s a book and movie out there that explains the general manager’s technique of finding undervalued talent, and he is well known for putting together a roster of kids and cast-offs who win more games than anyone would expect. A less celebrated side of the A’s way of doing baseball is that very few players get to stick around long enough for the fans to get attached to them. Do the A’s have a standout first baseman or shortstop or pitcher? You know that when they’re eligible for free agency, they’ll be gone. So the cast of characters change and change and change, and while the teams the A’s have fielded the past few seasons may have made some sort of economic sense–at least from the standpoint of an owner who wants to take the team to a new city and seems utterly uninterested in investing a dime, or more than a dime–the results have been a little dispiriting for the casual fan and unlikely to win any new converts.

The A’s ballpark, the Oakland Coliseum, has become the opposite of a baseball shrine. The limitations of a multi-purpose stadium were built into the place, but it had its graceful points if you were willing to see them. The park featured a beautiful view to the Oakland Hills to the east (though yes, right in the center of the vista was a working rock quarry). Back in the ’90s, the city and county made a deal to get the Raiders to come back, and part of the deal was to remodel the stadium. The result was a grossly ill-proportioned concrete monstrosity that bans the view of anything that might soothe the eye. So, regular outings to the Coliseum is a hard sell to anyone who’s not already a convinced follower of the local teams.

This season? Well, this season was certainly different. The A’s, with the usual collection of odd parts, played their first 61 games in the expected fashion. On June 10, the team was 26-35. From that point on, they won more games than any team in the major leagues, going 68-33. Wow, was that fun to see. And so by August–did I hear someone say, “Fair-weather fan”?–I started going out to see what was happening out at the Coliseum.

That’s all by way of saying that an NPR sports show, “Only A Game,” was looking for a story on Bay Area postseason baseball (the Giants are in the playoffs, too, if anyone is wondering). The story will air tomorrow (I’ll put up a link when I see one audio is embedded below). And just for the exercise of showing what a radio script looks like, I’m including that below (including the speculative host intro). Here it is:


Major League Baseball’s post-season continues this weekend … with the San Francisco Giants returning home to play the St. Louis Cardinals tomorrow in their National League Championship Series. The Giants go into Game Six against the defending champions … hoping to get back to the World Series … and reclaim the crown they won two years ago.

Across the Bay from the Giants’ sparkling ballpark … another team made the playoffs this year. Dan Brekke of NPR member station KQED reports on the surprising Oakland Athletics … a franchise that battles the best in the American League … and sometimes its own fans.

Track …

Back in early June … this is the last thing an A’s fan would have expected to hear … as the year wound down.

Ambi 1/Glen Kuiper game call:

Swing and a miss! He struck him out! And the Oakland Athletics are going to the postseason! Un-be-lievable!:10

The A’s turned a mediocre spring into a summer of conquest. Their roster of unknowns, re-treads, and rookies ended the regular season by sweeping past the Texas Rangers to steal the American League West Division title.

And then … on to the playoffs.

Ambi: Let’s go Oakland chanting.

(Play two or three reps, then end abruptly)

But … before we continue with that feel-good story, a word about Oakland, the A’s … and Bay Area baseball.

The A’s owner … developer Lew Wolff … is determined to take the team to San Jose … build a new stadium … and sell luxury boxes to the Silicon Valley super-rich.

So … a lot of A’s fans aren’t crazy about Lew Wolff. There’s little love lost for the Giants, either, who seem to have everything the Athletics don’t: a beautiful waterfront stadium, a sell-out every game, and money to go out and buy top-level talent.

Something else the Giants have: the territorial rights to Wolff’s coveted new home in San Jose. So far, they’ve blocked the move.

So for now … Oakland fans and Wolff are stuck with each other … in a historic but hideously remodeled ballpark … that ranks near the bottom of the major leagues in attendance.

Ambi 2 or 3:

Let’s go Oakland ambi(in clear for two or three reps, then under)

But all that seemed to change … as the A’s made the playoffs … and came home to play the Detroit Tigers on October 9th.

The Oakland Coliseum was packed … and loud

Ambi 4: Crowd roar

But even then … lots of customers were unhappy with management. With fans begging for tickets … the team left 10-thousand upper-deck seats covered with tarps … and off-limits.The A’s explained they wanted to maintain an “intimate” feeling at the game. For fans … it was just another sign that the organization doesn’t care about them.

Cut 1: “Brad from Santa Cruz”

They probably wouldn’t sell it out and it would look weird. But I agree, that’s a pretty lame reason [… internal edit …]Let’s let the people watch some baseball, know what I mean? :08

Butt to:

Cut 2: “Essence Harden”

EH: It’s completely insane.[…internal edit …]. I understand that during the normal season there might not be enough to fill up those seats. But this game sold out almost immediately, and the idea of having those tarps on there still is completely horrible to the tons and tons of A’s fans that would love to have seats right now.

DB: And why do you think they didn’t open it?

EH: I think Lew Wolff hates us so much. I don’t know why. :20

A’s management did relent … announcing it would open the upper-deck seats … for the league championship and World Series.

That was before the A’s ran into Justin Verlander in the deciding game of their divisional series match-up with the Tigers. He pitched a shutout … and it turned out the tarps could stay on all winter. Some fans complained Wolff had jinxed the team … by finally agreeing to open the upper deck.

But the fans … and the surprising team they had come out to cheer … had a final moment together.

As the Tigers celebrated on the infield … the Coliseum crowd gave the Athletics one last ovation.

Ambi 5: Out on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” ambi? (Not sure the song pops enough).

For Only A Game, I’m Dan Brekke in San Francisco.


Where We’ve Been


October 16. Out of curiosity I checked what, if anything, I posted last year on this date. The image at above left is what I found, under the title “Rooftop Clouds.” I can see from my pictures that I went for a walk in the hills and arrived home as the sun was going down, climbed on the roof, and snapped a few shots of the scene in the west.

OK. Of what did I take note on October 16, 2010, then? See the picture at above right, titled “Berkeley Dawn.” That’s in the backyard, looking east. The difference a year makes: a 180 degree shift in perspective, daylight seen from opposite ends of the day. Conclusion: I like clouds, I guess, and that low slanting light. And I’ve got a photo blog here.

So how about this date in 2009? “Please Help Me Find Him: The Resolution.” I wrote about a missing-persons poster I had spotted in the Mission and the story’s happy ending.

2008: “Utah Door,” a picture of a colorful domicile entrance on Potrero Hill.

2007: “Memories of Suction Past,” pictures of an abandoned vacuum cleaner and a brief reflection on the regular appearance of cast-off vacuums on the local streets.

2006: “The News from Iraq.” Here’s the first paragraph: “So, the news from Iraq is bad. But maybe we’re lucky we’re getting any news at all. The Associated Press has a story today on the number of journalists now "embedded" with U.S. troops in Iraq. From a high of 600 at the war’s glorious beginning, participation has dropped recently to 11. Eleven. Fewer than a dozen reporters and news organizations out with the troops to find out what’s happening on the streets and in the countryside. The rest of the news gets reported out of the Green Zone in Baghdad or secondhand through Iraqi stringers.”

2005: “Behold a Pale Hose.” I acquiesce to the reality of another Cubs-free postseason and resolve to enjoy the White Sox trip to the World Series.

2004:”Local Politics.” A political campaign from foreign parts sign magically appears on our lawn.

And there is no 2003 for this date, because I didn’t start in on this project until the following month.

Bucket of Meat Bees


Our friends Jill and Piero have a place about 5,000 feet up in the Sierra, in Calaveras County. The western yellow jacket, known taxonomically as Vespula pensylvanica and popularly as the Sierra meat bee, is their constant companion during the summer. The prevalence of these wasps has given rise to a variety of home-made solutions to keep them at bay (including some very low-tech ones). To deal with his crop, Piero has bought some traps that use some kind of chemical attractant. The wasps find their way in but can’t find their way out, and they die. When we were up there over Labor Day weekend, the traps had just been emptied into a white five-gallon bucket; there were enough of them that they covered the bottom of the bucket maybe an inch deep. That’s a lot of insects.

So Long, Moby


Moby, the van, visits Yosemite’s White Wolf Campground in August 2010.

I’m reading a book right now called “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” by Matthew B. Crawford. It makes a convincing argument that we’ve largely banished what used to be called “the manual arts”–generally speaking, skills developed using tools, making stuff, and fixing stuff–at a large cost in lost competence and career opportunity and, in both tangible and intangible ways, engagement with our world of machines.

There’s a lot more to the book than that (if you want a sample, here’s the original essay upon which it’s based). For instance, it questions some of the essential assumptions of current assumptions about the purpose of educations and the role of people in the economy. But the part that immediately resonates with me is the piece about learning to fix things yourself, and actually doing the fixing.

It’s not that I don’t know how to fix some stuff. I’ve done a reasonable amount of work on my own bicycles and have even (it’s a sensitive enough job I think of it as “even”) overhauled a bottom bracket. Once upon a time I did some of the demolition work on what seemed at the time a very ambitious kitchen remodel. Of course, the part some friends still remember is how long our kitchen was a construction zone, with no ceiling and a nice view right up through the joists to the rafters (we eventually hired folks and got some help from skilled neighbors to finish the job).

For the most part, a complicated fix is a fix that I feel most comfortable handing to someone else, especially when it comes to cars. I’m competent to check the oil (and have changed it once or twice, though, wow, it seems like oil filters are getting harder and harder to reach). I have replaced light bulbs and whole light units. I take pride in having handled my own tire chains in the slush and snow (once–and they stayed on). I know how to jump-start a car. When the Number 1 cylinder on our Toyota Echo started missing on a trip out to California from Chicago with my brother, I was able to follow the mechanic’s explanation of what was wrong (and what was needed to fix it permanently, as opposed to the temporary repair we got that’s still in place) despite his Texas Panhandle accent. But like most of us, I’ve never done a brake job or tuned up a car (is that something that’s still done?) or replaced a belt, much less removed and torn down and rebuilt an engine.

All of that became relevant in the last few weeks when our semi-beloved 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan SE (six-cylinder, 3.3-liter engine), which had performed relatively faithfully despite getting pushed hard for much of its life, suddenly developed a critical illness. For most of its fourteen and a half years and 208,515 miles, the most trouble it had given us was a transmission that balked at long mountain grades. That issue appeared during a drive up to Eugene, Oregon, in 2008, when at 70 mph on a long 6 or 7 percent grade into the town of Mount Shasta, the van suddenly shifted into a lower gear, which led to the engine turning at much higher RPM, which forced me to slow down, which led to the engine shifting into an even lower gear, which forced me to slow down even more. Luckily, I was coming to an exit, got off the highway, and managed to find a garage in town that quickly and cheaply diagnosed the problem via computer: a solenoid inside the transmission was fouled, and since the car worked fine on a test drive, we’d probably be OK (we were, except for one subsequent trip into the Sierra two years later). Aside from that, and the failure of a power steering pump once when I was driving home with a couple other cyclists after a 190-mile ride in the rain, the only real complaint I had with the car was its lousy around-town gas mileage.

But last month, the van suddenly overheated one morning when Kate was driving it to school. We had it towed to the garage that had been taking care of it the last five or six years. I figured that the water pump had finally quit. But the news was worse: a cracked head gasket. Fixing it would require taking the engine apart and installing a new gasket (and hoping that the head hadn’t warped as the result of the overheating that probably cracked the gasket). It would be a big-ticket item to fix–minimum $1,500, probably, and more than we figured the car was worth (though checking now, the Kelley Blue Book price on our wreck is $2,500).

Our first thought was to donate the van to some worthy organization. I like the one up in Marin County that’s working to save the last wild coho salmon stream on our part of the coast. But Kate had another idea. A family at her school needed a car. The mom, Mirian, volunteers a lot, and the dad, Carlos, is a competent and confident mechanic. They came over and took a look at the van, and Carlos thought it would be no sweat to get it running again. He also wasn’t put off by the long list of minor maladies we’d been living with–a cracked windshield, a windshield washer that no longer works, a rear vent window that no longer opens, one pretty significant dent where I backed into a tree, paint peeling from the roof, and the fact the car has its original transmission, which is at double its predicted life. He took in the list of problems one by one and smiled–he’d fix them.

I admit I had a moment, just a moment, where I thought, “Gee, maybe I ought to be able to take this on.” But the truth is–“Shop Class as Soulcraft” notwithstanding–getting this car back on the road would probably be a project that for me would last for years, anyway.

So today, Carlos came with a tow truck and took the van away. I went out and shot pictures of the departure, the end of our Grand Caravan Era. The van, which we nicknamed Moby when we bought it (because we also had a Ford Escort, nicknamed Toby), had made one cross-country trip; Eamon and I drove it to Chicago in June 2004 to help my dad move (we left at 5:30 on a Saturday morning and made it into Chicago at 10:30 Sunday night). I drove it up to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, back in 2007 with my friend, Pete, so we could test-ride the bike circuit used by the Ironman triathlon there (Pete did the race in 2008 and 2009). The van made more than two dozen trips back and forth to Eugene (1,025 miles round trip) when Thom was at the University of Oregon; we hauled stuff up there for his move-in in 2005 and back down when he graduated in ’08. Kate was driving the van on an excursion to Carrizo Plain back in May 2006 on the trip where she encountered and wound up adopting Scout (aka The Dog); he was initially too weak to get up into the car by himself. The last big trip we took in the van was in August 2010, when we went car camping in the Sierra (including a night in the Yosemite high country, pictured above) and did some extended bushwhacking along some Forest Service roads).

It’s gone, and hopefully it has more miles and adventures ahead for Carlos, Mirian, and their family.


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Two shots from last night’s A’s game. The local nine was overwhelmed by the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander, a pitcher who seemed completely in command of the game–though the fans had several little two-out-type rallies to get excited over. I’m in the habit of counting the outs a team has left in a game: 12 when they go to bat in the sixth, nine in the seventh, and so on. I took these shots when the A’s were down to their last four or five outs and trailing 6-0. Most of the crowd seemed to accept that the miracle of the night before, when the Athletics ripped the game away from the Tigers in their very last at bat, probably wasn’t going to be repeated.

After the final out, the crowd booed the Tigers briefly as they began their celebration for the cameras on the infield. But after a few seconds, the whole place started to cheer and chant “Let’s Go Oakland!” That’s what’s happening in the shot below. The players hung out near the home dugout for five, maybe even 10 minutes. I hoped they’d take a lap around the Coliseum, but maybe that would be seen as showing up the Tigers and maybe they were dealing with a disappointment that was much bigger than the fans were going through. One by one, they walked off the field. When we made our way out of the stadium about 20 minutes after the game, a lot of people were still lingering, apparently trying to hang on to the last glimmer of a season that surprised and pleased just about every fan who made it to the ballpark this year. As we left, a couple of the A’s drummers were giving a final spirited performance before the Coliseum is locked to baseball for the winter, the infield is sodded over, and football takes over for the rest of the year.