Saturday, October 20, 2012

SF Bay Area Concerts - 2012

  • Aeroplane @ Mezzanine, 17th February (Friday)
  • Oliver @ Rickshaw Stop, 18th February (Saturday)
    Vaughn Oliver (aka U-Tern) seemed to do all the work. He dropped some great tunes including "Dirty Talk (Black Van Remix)" and "Church" by Jacques Lu Cont, and kept it up despite constant MC interruption "help" from a drunk Viceroy who failed to impress during his own, prior set.
  • Radiohead @ HP Pavilion, 11th April (Wednesday)
    I lost interest in Radiohead during Hail to The Thief. Our seats were too far back to see the performers, but central, and the light show was fun to watch. .
  • Miike Snow @ Fox, 12th April (Thursday)
    Aside from "Paddling Out", "Black Tin Box", and "Devil's Work"; the new tracks simply aren't as good as those from their eponymous debut album; and didn't work well live. Andrew Wyatt seemed to struggle with his vocals. A friend in another part of the venue complained about sound quality issues generally so maybe technical issues were to blame. The crowd loved the "Animal" finale.
  • Justice @ Fox, 17th April (Tuesday)
    What do you do when you have only two albums with quite different styles? Mash 'em up for 90 minutes 21st century ADD-style. Then add occasional live keyboards and a big light show. Win.
  • Snow Patrol @ Fox, 4th May (Friday)
    Still much better live than recorded, Snow Patrol are an occasional guilty pleasure. Cheap, distracting visual didn't help, but "Fallen Empires", "Take Back The City", and the crowd participation for "Shut Your Eyes" were some favorite moments. Gary Lightbody is still a charming front-man.
  • Death Cab For Cutie @ Fox, 9th May (Wednesday)
    Not my favorite band evar (Ben Gibbard's voice grates). However a solid performance, with a live (Magik*magik!) orchestra, a fully-seated crowd in the Fox, and good company, made for a memorable night.
  • James Murphy @ Public Works, May 23th (Friday)
    Beegee's death. Disco and 70s music. Left before Murphy did.
  • Kaskade @ Bill Graham, July 28th (Saturday)
    Smokers. Underwear. Very short girls (my not-tall girlfriend remarked on this). Very tall guys. Pretty visuals on lots of screens, smoke; definitely a "hit play" performance. Eric Prydz' "Alein Alein" got a muted response.
  • Hot Chip @ Fox, September 11th (Tuesday)
    Another solid performance with live variations on their recorded material left me longing for Coachella.
  • Austra @ Independent, September 16th (Sunday)
    A much better show than I expected. It was incredibly refreshing to have someone on stage who could sing and hold a note.
  • Glen Hansard (and The Frames) @ Fillmore, October 6th (Saturday)
    Married couple. "Banana man". A guest appearance by Reignwolf.
  • The Presets @ Independent, October 12th (Friday)
    Not as mind blowing as their Coachella 2011 show, but great nonetheless.
  • Stars @ Fillmore, October 20th (Saturday)
    Had more energy in 2010 but still enjoyable.

Bought tickets but didn't attend:
  • Geographer @ The Independent, 3rd March (Saturday)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pacific Masters Swimming - 11th, 12th August 2012

The 2012 Pacific Masters Long Course Championships were held at College of San Mateo instead of UC Santa Cruz as in previous years. The new venue is closer to San Francisco (about 30 minutes drive versus 90 minutes), bigger (with a dedicated 25 meter warm-up pool), had timing pads at both ends, and includes expansive grassy grounds to relax in.
(Video links below are available in up to 480p).
  • 200 LC Meter Freestyle 2:21.54 (PR) (splits: 29.65, 34.20, 38.37, 39.32) - video
    As my splits and the video suggest, I raced the first half faster than I should have, but I was pleasantly surprised by the final result. Watch Lane 4 ("Druz, Loren", age 56) and Lane 7 ("Kenny, Daniel", age 55, red hat) for their counterattacks!
    Prior PR: 2:24.38, in 2011
  • 400 LC Meter Freestyle Relay - video
    Confusion reigned when two of our four swimmers arrived late (after the start), and one of them had our timing card. This also seems to have distracted the timekeepers, or swimmers repeatedly bumped the timing pads as they exited, as our splits were screwed.
  • 50 LC Meter Freestyle 27.11 - video
    Slower than I would have liked; I may have let myself be distracted by the swimmers on my left, and glided too far at the finish.
    PR: 26.58, in 2010
  • 200 LC Meter Medley Relay
    Scratched. Some teammates didn't show up. 
  • Mixed 200 LC Meter Freestyle Relay 26:54 - video
    I swam in place of "Chiang, Chris". After my previous attempt at 50 meters, I hit the wall with a bit too much enthusiasm.
  • 100 LC Meter Freestyle 1:00.96 (PR) (splits: 28.17, 32.79) - video
    My goggles came off as soon as I dove in. This meant I slowed quite a bit while searching for the wall at the turn.
    Prior PR: 1:00.98, in 2011
  • Mixed 400 LC Meter Mixed Medley Relay 1:18.70 (splits: 33.33, 45.37) - video
    I switched with "Letson, Mary" to swim butterfly instead of freestyle. This was my first 100 meter long course butterfly ever, and my first butterfly race in about 16 years. As you may see in the last 15 meters, I need more practice. :-)
Overall, it was a worthwhile and fun weekend. I raced two personal records, and made some mistakes to learn from. :-) It's also inspiring to compete in an event with men and women aged 18 through 96, and witness them break local, USA-national, and world records.
Official Results. Official splits. Official Points. Real-time (unofficial) results.

Thoughts for next time:
  • Reapply sunscreen on neck, shoulders, and face, after every swim.
  • Practice dives; keep my head down.
  • Try 50m butterfly.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Alcatraz Challenge - July 22nd 2012

Alcatraz Challenge 2012 was my 5th time to participate in the San Francisco Bay's (only?) aquathlon, and my 10th swim from (near) The Rock back to shore. (For some perspective, Gary Emich has done the swim 926 times...sans wetsuit).


Prologue:

I need to remember to clean my gear more regularly, or prepare it earlier than just the day before the event. Covering my bedroom in dust 24 hours prior to racing does not conduce optimal lung function...


Race Day:

Swim (40:02): By the time we jumped off the California Hornblower, the sun had cleared most of the early-morning fog; I was glad I wore my tinted swim-goggles. The San Francisco Bay wasn't too choppy, and the water temperature was reportedly around 61 ℉, about 16 ℃, relatively warm either way. I stopped twice, fearful I would lose my timing-chip-anklet. I was also redirected twice by kayakers to swim closer to shore (lesson learned from zigzagging in 2011). I made for the beach as soon as I thought it was safe (i.e. rock-fee) and race-legal, but I suspect I could have exited even sooner. My swim split was two minutes slower than 2011, roughly in line with a generally slower swim in 2012.
Transition (1:20): Kiddy pools were provided to rinse sandy feet; bib number 22 gifted me a transition spot near swim-in and run-out; and a new Dakine rash guard meant sunscreen re-application could be skipped. All that meant my transformation was 30 seconds faster than the previous year, and about 3rd fastest overall.
Run (50:28): Competitor 266, Blake "Magic Mike" Corbin, (nickname used only by me until I found his real name) provided encouraging words up the steps to the Golden Gate Bridge. Corbin also trailed me across the span until the turnaround; then he increased his pace and broke away, back up the bridge incline. Jacques Lu Cont's "Thunderstruck" remix on HeadMusicTM ushered me home. My run time was similar to 2011, but still about 4 minutes slower than 2009. It was great to be cheered across the finish by friends and girlfriend; Lucky Luke. :-)
Nutrition: Two Gu Roctane and some lemon and lime flavored Gatorade at each of the three water stops. I carried Thermolyte Metasalt tablets but didn't use them.
The 2012 event featured 49 fewer aquathlon racers than in 2011; 295 versus 246. I hope that decline does not continue.

My bib number was 22.

Results (pdf). My finish time was 1:31:50, about a minute slower than 2011.

Photos. (The black stain under my chin is from my old, neoprene wetsuit-cap, which needs to be replaced).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bay to Breakers - May 20th 2012

2012 marked my 4th (and the series 101st) Bay to Breakers.

My "training" was limited to about 21 miles in 2012 (after 32 total in 2011). I also flew back from a work trip to Sydney, Australia, less than 48 hours prior. That didn't prevent a huge grin as I walked to the start and my first foot-race since October 2009. 6:20am arrival at Corral A allowed me to begin directly behind seeded runners, and avoid a line at the porta-potties (unlike previous years). The weather was sunny but not too warm, with little wind.

A few highlights before the horn included:
  • meeting an excited MMA trainee on his way to his first B2B; he gave up Gilbert Melendez's (IIRC) victory party to focus on his race (last time I knowingly raced an MMA-guy)
  • one of the volunteers poking fun via megaphone at the Google velocipede. To paraphrase "Please make room for the Google team...Trust them...like we all trust Google."
  • a handful of costumes among the early arrivals, especially from 4137
An energy gel was inhaled at about 6:50am, atop two Clif Builder Bars forced down around 5:10am. I carried more gels but didn't use them.

Lack of music on most of the course was disappointing, but understandable, given the 7am start and San Francisco rules against noise before 8am. The early hour did make for a drunk/stoner-free run.

The Google-guys passed me at the half-way point.

Similar to 2009, my stamina waned as we moved through Golden Gate Park. Searching for inspiration, I chased 5353's glorious "Catch me if you can"-emblazoned bum; I kept pace until about a half mile from the finish. :-)


Event results. My bib number was 2561. My chip time was 51:35. (In the video, I cross the finish line at 24:39 wearing white baseball-hat, white shirt, black shorts). Garmin record.

Official event photos. (I need to remember to remove sunglasses for post-race snaps).


PS We found the parked car blocked in by Muni on Great Highway, but they helpfully and politely moved several buses to allow us to leave.

PPS Nob Hill Grille brunch of croque madame, sweet potato fries, and seasonal fruit was fantastic!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mass Effect 3 - Xbox 360

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!


Loved:
  • Quick save satisfies my obsessive-compulsive streak without a break in the action.
  • Heal nearby, downed teammates without medi-gel.
  • More guns. With better-than-original-Mass-Effect weapon mods! And easy gun-statistics comparison!! And the Spectre Shooting Range to try everything!!! (The latter two points are essential, and very welcome additions).
  • Planet scanning in Mass Effect 3 can still be a chore, particularly when searching for similarly named systems/planets to which the story doesn't allow access yet, but it's an improvement over Mass Effect 2.
  • Removal of Mass Effect 2's hacking and bypass. They aren't missed.
  • "Replacement" of Mass Effect 2 heavy weapons with grenade powers.
  • Significant impact of prior choices. An amazing breadth of characters and decision are reintroduced and revisited.
  • Multiplayer seems like simple fun, but with reasonably deep customization.
  • The "Leaving Earth" scene and music broke my heart. The "Mars" score is also great.
  • Shepard's armor variants look cool. Ashley Williams and James Vega are especially badass too.
  • (SPOILERS!) The unexpected portrayal of the Protheans as belligerent, interstellar despots was a fun, interesting twist.
Disliked:
  • The impact of Galactic Readiness/War Assets/Effective Military Strength isn't obvious enough. Mass Effect 2 gives the player blatant (if brutal) results for their action (or inaction). (I think this is part of the dissatisfaction some players have with the Mass Effect 3 ending...).
  • The Kai Leng confrontations didn't work for me. It felt like Shepard was supposed to have already developed some festering, deep-running loathing for Leng by their second, brief meeting. In my first playthrough, Leng gave a terminally ill friend's death meaning; this was unintentional on Leng's part, but my Shepard just wanted to kill Leng to stop the Illusive Man, not hate him.

The ending(s):

What become apparent as (the original) Mass Effect progressed, and more of the Codex was revealed, was that Mass Effect was unlike most console games. It was deep, deliberate science-fiction. When Mass Effect 2 and 3 were progressively faster paced, action-filled romps, I think players forgot (or just weren't aware of) Mass Effect's "hard science fiction" roots.

Loss, sacrifice and dilemma are prominent themes of Mass Effect 3; it shouldn't be a complete shock to see them feature at the finish. I might be more disappointed if the finale was Michael-Bay-flag-waving-nonsense, but I do feel the visuals and the (great) music focus more on the tragedy than the potentially hollow victory.

(SPOILERS!) All three endings seem to lean more toward Renegade than Paragon. Unilaterally decide every sentient should be an organic-synthetic-hybrid to achieve peace-at-any-cost, based on the dubious word of the Citadel-AI that a critically wounded, confused Shepard just met? Renegade. Continue to centrally control all AI, even though that's resulted in mass xenocide every 50,000 years for time immemorial? Renegade. Destroy all AI, including EDI and the Geth, who seem to disprove the Citadel-AI's "endless cycle of chaos" predictions? Renegade. Destroy all Mass Relays no matter what the decision? Renegade.

(SPOILERS!) A trilogy ending that raises more questions than it answers is not a worthy payoff. How do your immediate teammates survive the massacre before Shepard beams to the Citadel? Where in the galaxy do the Normandy crew crash land? What happens to all those left in the Sol system? Does Shepard survive or not? I don't necessarily want the endings changed, but it would be nice to know that those questions will be answered at some point, even if it's in a future game.

The Buzz Aldrin-voiced epilogue is an admirable tribute attempt, but poorly delivered and overly preachy. The ham-fisted "You finished! Now buy more DLC!" message, is also ill conceived.

(SPOILERS!) My suspicion is that this Mass Effect trilogy is to the Mass Effect universe as the The Old Republic is to the Star Wars universe. Trap the Mass Effect allied races in the desperate graveyard that the Sol system has become, so they must work together to solve interstellar travel without the destroyed Mass Relays (and I mean really work together, not just agree to point their guns at the same bad guys at the same time, or follow Ikea instructions in record time).


PS (SPOILERS!) I don't understand why so many players presume Mass Relay self-destruction would have the same results as destroying one by ramming an asteroid into it (as it did in "Arrival"). Google "controlled demolition".


PPS Penny Arcade shared a series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and comics (1, 2, 3, 4) on Mass Effect 3 and its endings.

PPPS Posted early draft to BioWare after Dr Ray Muzyka's blog.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

SF Bay Area Concerts - 2011

  • Pendulum @ The Fillmore, 23rd February (Wednesday)
    Their music isn't very clever, and I'm not the biggest fan of their every-other-song-is-emo style, but they're still guilty pleasure fun. The late 90s dance music from the warm-up DJ was a welcome touch.

  • Kid Koala @ Mighty (Noise Pop 2011), 25th February (Friday)
    Wore a full-body bear costume. Incredible scratching. Rarely bothered with headphones.

  • TEED @ Rickshaw Stop, 26th March (Saturday)
    By the time TEED started (around 12:30pm) I was ready to go home.

  • Fleet Foxes @ Fox, 5th May (Thursday)
    Nice but too sleepy.

  • Adam Freeland @ 103 Harriet, 13th May (Friday)
    An okay performance, but 103 Harriet was about one third capacity on a Friday night.

  • Willie K @ Yoshi's, 12th June (Sunday)
    A big man, with a bigger personality, and a huge ego. Played and sang a wide range of music from blues to rock to "traditional" Hawaiian.

  • Glitch Mob @ Regency Ballroom, 24th June (Friday)
    Very warm venue and the first time I stayed there for a whole show.

  • Digitalism @ Mezzanine, August 5th (Friday)
    (Presumably) weak ticket sales led to a venue change, from the large Fox Theater to much the smaller Mezzanine; the opener (Caspa) was cancelled. Even then, Mezzanine was not full. Sound problems and a lethargic crowd compounded the band's increasingly obvious frustration. Their set was less than 50 minutes long without an encore.

  • Kraddy, 8th October (Saturday)
    I went to try to recapture one of the highlights of Coachella 2012. It wasn't quite that fantastic but the combination of DJ and live drums still worked well.

  • Foster The People @ The Fillmore, 14th October (Friday)
    A very polished performance, numerous instrument swaps, a falsetto singer with a surprisingly deep speaking voice and some fancy dancing, and a dubstep/house mix of "Pumped Up Kicks" to finish off a great night.

  • Soulwax @ The Independent, 27th October (Thursday)
    Live band set filled with new tunes. I kicked myself when I learned that their 2 Many DJs performance was a separate gig...

  • Phantogram @ The Fillmore, 2nd November (Wednesday)
    Way overblown base/beat, mostly during the male vocals, which were poor. If I was cynical I'd say one was made to mask the other...(A straw poll of attendees for ear problems the following day would be interesting too). Live drums, live guitar, live singing. All the other melody is recorded. Barely more "live" than Sleigh Bells.
    Verdict: Skip the show. Listen to their great records.


  • M83 @ Mezzanine, 10th November (Thursday)
    Even by San Francisco standards, Mezzanine was packed with tall people, hipsters, and gay dudes. Some fun dancey tunes. After about 75 minutes, including encore, "San Franceesco" loved M83.

  • Feist @ The Warfield, 14th November (Monday)
    Her opening four or five songs were forgettable but the new arrangements of her singles, the acapella performance from her three female backing singers, and her duet with Little Wings were fantastic.

  • Wonder-Full @ Mezzanine, 10th December (Saturday)
    Another fun Stevie Wonder tribute night.

  • Digitalism @ Mezzanine, 14th December (Wednesday)
    Digitalism returned to a busier Mezzanine with new song arrangements, less live vocals and no live guitar. "2 Hearts Techno Remix" followed by live "2 Hearts" was especially good. A much better performance.

  • Data Romance @ Mezzanine, 14th December (Wednesday)
    Opened for Digitalism. A two-piece with very impressive vocals; reminiscent of The XX but much stronger.

  • The Naked And Famous @ The Independent, 18th December (Sunday)
    Alisa Xayalith's vocals were so good that at first, I suspected she was miming. I guess I'm unused to indie rockers who can sing live! In person, her voice sometimes reminded me of PJ Harvey. A strong finish to another good year for live music in the San Francisco Bay Area (but not as incredible as 2010).

Missed due to work travel:
  • Ladytron @ Regency Ballroom, 25th September (Sunday)
  • Alex Metric @ Rickshaw Stop, 29th September (Thursday)
  • Mike Doughty @ The Independent, 5th November (Saturday)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mendocino wine and food trip

Nothing was outright bad (we bought at least one bottle at every winery), but the following are listed from favorite to least.


Wine:

As it's closer to the Pacific coast, Anderson Valley is cooler than Sonoma or Napa. Much of the wine it produces is Pinot Noir, Riesling, or Gew├╝rztraminer. This is not the place to visit if you prefer big reds.
  • Standish (Yelp)
    Might have felt stuffy and old fashioned if it weren't for Valerie.
    Apple picking...if you get there before the wind blows them all down.

  • Navarro (Yelp)
    Roomy, but not huge.
    Relaxed and unpretentious.
    Free tasting of about fifteen wines.
    Pretty view of vineyard and hills from back patio.
    Tasty mustard.

  • Toulouse (Yelp)
    Ongoing renovations.
    Nearly as many dogs as people.

  • Husch (Yelp)
    Quite small.

  • Greenwood Ridge (Yelp)
    Biggest tasting room of the trip.
    There are award ribbons, trophies, posters etc. everywhere. Unfortunately the appearance is one of gaudy, artificial pride than quality; especially given that every Anderson Valley winery seems to list awards alongside most of their wines...
    Chris' stories (and teasing) were good fun.

  • Goldeneye (owned by Duckhorn) (Yelp)
    Spectacular view of the vineyard, and Hendy Woods from the back patio
    Pretentious and expensive e.g. they charged about $10 for one shared tasting even though we bought a bottle (which was not cheap either). Most of the other wineries charged $5 or less, and the tasting fee is waived if you purchase a bottle.

  • Scharffenberger (Yelp)
    Quite small.
    A little dull.

Food:
Misc info:
  • Sea Rock Inn (Yelp)
    Pretty view of the ocean and coastline.
    Basic breakfast.

  • Jim Ball (Yelp)
    Bought by Roderer (according to Goldeneye across the street). Still grow but their sign is gone and they no longer do tasting (so don't drive up and down the valley three or four times looking for it...).

  • The Highway 128 drive through Anderson Valley to Mendocino is pretty, but the twisty road is not for the easily carsick.