Wrapping Up a Lovely Trip ... Almost

The tail end of my California trip went very nicely... in fact, about as perfectly as they come. On Sunday, I got a ride down to the BART station from Christy, and had a bagel and coffee outside near the Ferry Terminal in SF. While having lunch, an aggressive panhandler walked among the tables; I gave the palms open shrug of "nope, nothing for you here." He replied vehemently, "Yeah, well fuck you man!" Huh. At that point, I figured the only sensible response was to raise an eyebrow, and toast him with my coffee cup while cheerily responding, "Ok, same to you!" Sometimes, I love the city.

I hopped CalTrain down to Sunnyvale--it's important to realize just how spread out the Bay Area is (an observation pointed out to me by others). Going from San Francisco to San Jose is about the same distance as going from Boston to Providence. I find it odd that somebody would commute that distance on a daily basis. But I'm definitely glad CalTrain is there--a nice quiet ride, and finished off the weekly family phone call.

The Sunnyvale trip was to spend time with Jen, Schmooz, Max, & Delaney. A low-key cookout, with special guest appearances by Spackle, Bradley and his fiance Janie, as well as sMark and a friend of his--who just chanced into the cookout pretty randomly (sMark called U-Boat and Christy, and ended up getting directed here).

A lovely dinner with friends under the wisteria on the patio in a perfect climate in the Bay Area is a good occasional reminder that life is worth living.

And Bradley got to show off his iPhone.

The travel home, however, was not quite lovely. It added up to an eight seat ride:
  • Taxi to Sunnyvale Station
  • CalTrain to Millbrae
  • BART to SFO
  • Shuttle train to terminal
  • SFO-BOS cross-country flight
  • Silver Line to South Station
  • Red Line to Harvard
  • 77 Bus to home

Okay, so the fiddly little shuttle trips weren't bad. But the flight was 6.5 hours in a middle seat. With the person in front of me reclining the seat. And Blades of Glory as the in-flight movie. Didn't manage to get any sleep. Yeah, ugh. It was bad enough that my body made me sleep in to 10:30 the next morning to recover.


Balsamic: Leaded or Unleaded?

While shopping near Monterey Market with Lucky today, I happened upon this shelf:

Huh. Not sure how much there is in the balsamic; according to this SFGate article:

The suit, filed by the Environmental Law Foundation of Oakland, says lead can contaminate wine vinegar in the manufacturing process, and that the highest concentrations are found in Modena-style balsamic vinegar, a dark, rich vinegar favored by gourmet cooks.

The non-profit group wants retailers to require vinegar suppliers to provide tests proving that the products conform with a Proposition 65 safety level for lead. If not, the group wants consumer warnings on the products.


The foundation said it is suing the businesses based on an exposure level of more than 0.5 micrograms per day, a level set by Prop. 65 that includes a 1,000-fold safety margin. In other words, that level is 1,000 times lower than the level that would cause an observable effect in animals.

My understanding from other crap-I-read-on-the-Internet is that the lead is likely from the soils, as opposed to the manufacturing process. I'm wondering how much of a safety concern this really is--it is a pretty stringent exposure limit, and most people aren't funneling balsamic vinegar. Then again, the whole pregnant-woman-fetal-development thing is another ball of wax; yet another reason to be glad I was born male.

Even as somebody who is basically technically savvy, I can't say that I have ever evaluated my exposure levels of carcinogens in barbecue, or mercury from fish. I know that mercury can be bioaccumulated in fish to dangerous levels--there was a horrible slow poisoning of a town in Japan due to bioaccumulation of mercury in fish and shellfish from industrial releases. Incidentally, an excerpt from the Wikipedia article that made me say "whoah":

In February 1959 the mercury distribution in Minamata Bay was investigated. The results shocked the researchers involved. Large quantities of mercury were detected in fish, shellfish and sludge from the bay. The highest concentrations were centered around the Chisso factory wastewater canal in Hyakken Harbour and decreased going out to sea, clearly identifying the plant as the source of contamination. At the mouth of the wastewater canal a figure of 2 kg of mercury per ton of sediment was measured: a level which would be economically viable to mine (indeed, Chisso did later set up a subsidiary to reclaim and sell the mercury recovered from the sludge).

Thus, the grim joke I heard from my parents when I was a kid, about a thermometer factory getting shut down, because they found fish in the mercury.

But to be honest, I don't think I'm cutting back on either fish or barbecue anytime soon. Barbecue is just too PAH-licious to resist.

Addendum--aha, wait. It's actually grilling (casually known as barbecue in North America) that's the problem--high heat cooking over direct flame. In contrast, everyone should realize that barbecue is a low-temperature slow cooking process--don't mix up the two terms, please. So outdoor cookouts are more the problem, rather than barbecue. But anyway, I figure I'm not stopping on either.

Your Regularly Scheduled California Visit

Part I: Working in Northern California

Work sent me out to do work in Redding, CA--it's about 2.5 hours north of Sacramento; relatively small town that had a big boost during the construction of the Shasta Dam in the 1940s. Since my coworker lives in the Bay Area, and flying into Sacramento would only knock an hour off the drive time, I decided to fly into SFO, drive up with my coworker, spend the week working, and take the weekend to do my regular Bay Area visit.

The work was tiring, but went relatively well; we were taking measurements and installing equipment to monitoring the HVAC systems in ten houses up there. However, one sign that nature did not like us on this trip. First, take a look at the precipitation record for Redding:

In contrast, this is what the skies looked like. On the day that I was going to be messing around in circuit breakers panels on the outside of houses. Yeah, rain, and lightning too! Thanks. That was 1.09 inches of precipitation in one day, during a month that averages 0.05 inches.

Crawling around attics, running up & down ladders, sticking probes into ducts.. my usual brand of fun.

With out schedule, we fortunately had a few hours off on the late afternoon of day 2. My top priority was to go to the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, and check out the Sundial Bridge--a pedestrian footbridge designed by Santiago Calatrava (an architect and engineer). A pretty awesome sculptural bridge--check out the link; it's a cantilevered cable stay, so it's a single tower, leaning back, holding up the bridge from one side of the river.

Also, it does actually work as a sundial--there are markers showing time (only fully accurate on the summer solstice). My coworker and I figured out that given the spacing between markers, the tip of the shadow is moving at a foot a minute--but we got there too late to watch it.

Also, I spent some time wading in the Sacramento River--it's pretty friggin cold. I was surprised the temperature was so cold this far into the summer. I think that it might be due to the water coming from the lake behind Shasta Dam--it's a deep lake, so it would maintain its melted-snowpack-temperatures longer.

We wrapped up Friday driving to Sacramento, walking a site with a builder, and sitting in on a meeting. Then, the drive back to the Bay Area, and--woo hoo!--catching up with folks for the weekend!

Part II: Playing in The Bay Area

As I've mentioned before, I really love visiting the Bay Area--the friends, the weather, the city itself. Driving over the Bay Bridge towards SF puts a smile on my face. It was especially nice to combine this feeling with "my work week is over, this trip didn't go disastrously, and we achieved our goals." However, my coworker and I managed to get our Hertz Neverlost, well, lost on the streets of San Francisco (it couldn't see the GPS satellites, so it had the car stuck on random streets away from our position).

Friday night was dinner with the lovely and brilliant Dr. Paramecium Woman. Vietnamese clams with black bean sauce, followed by bubble tea. Her work as a patent agent is going reasonably well--she's still on the learning curve, and working on trying to become useful. I have no doubts that will happen soon enough.

Saturday morning/afternoon was hanging out with Lucky, Karthiga, and Jayshan. They came into the city, and we went to Greens Restaurant for lunch. Their kid #2 is on the way come October or so; Jayshan will have a baby brother.

Got dropped off at U-Boat and Christy's in the afternoon; the three of us met Bradley and his fiance Janie at Cafe Colucci--Christy's recommendation for awesome Bay Area Ethiopian food. It was an excellent evening out--both for the food, the company, and interacting with mentally ill people in front of our sidewalk table.

Tomorrow is hanging out with Jen, Schmooz, Max, and Delaney; Monday will be the flight home. Then, back to the work grind.