Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Photo Blog Post

Got some great shots in Muir Woods! Check out the post on my photo blog. Can't begin to describe how much fun this shoot was.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Web 2.0 Summit

Vic Gundotra, Sergey Brin and John Battelle
Live Tweeted and reported from the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit here in San Francisco this week. So, much material to absorb and write up. Don't even know where to begin from Mary Meeker's mind bending keynote to MC Hammer talking about his new search engine. Not to mention Sergey Brin showing up to talk about all manor of interesting things.

I'll have a number of stories to pitch and there have already been some interesting conversations brewing with interested folks around the globe.

Today has also presented a great follow up with the live feed from PopTech 2011 in Maine where the likes of Nils Gilman, among many others, delivered up even more interesting stuff to flood the minds of those in the loop. Not to mention the incredible talk delivered by Iceland's Olafur Grimsson, possibly one of the most with it political figures ever.

So, it's been a solid three days of happy information overload on top of accepting an artist in residence spot here in San Francisco and the rapidly evolving miniatures projects following on the heals of the Microworlds release.

Busy busy...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Microworlds at SFMOMA!

Dropped by SFMOMA today, actually was in the neighborhood, and got to see Microworlds happily on display in the gift shop. I know it's not like my work is in the gallery space but it was a thrill to experience. They were even nice enough to let me take a couple of quick photos of the book on display. 

Humbled, flattered and beside myself just not know what to think about it but knowing that it feels great to have that kind of presence and recognition. I was also able to get the proper contacts to work out some sort of book signing. If it comes together I'll be posting about that as well. 

I'm now feeling guilty about not being more on the ball in giving the photography it's own blog already. Though there is a Facebook page in place now with a new website on it's way in the coming months as well as the announcement of new projects and even a few teaser images for one that I'm sure will be an immense amount of fun and a huge personal challenge for me. Fun, challenging, what's not to like? 

So, stay tuned for updates on a signing at the MOMA or another venue in the near future! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser

For anyone who has been following Curiouser and Curiouser, it's evident that it's a big project for me, though I haven't been too active sharing about it through this blog. With the recent launch of Microworlds from Laurence King, a migration of Barnhartphotography.com from Yahoo to Go-Daddy and both plans for five new series and a mini-documentary as well as some video content from my end as well, there's just a lot to share.

The time has come for me to either push things ahead with the projects or seriously scale them back, and I'm neither inclined to scale them back or sure my psyche would let me even if I wanted to.

That said, I'm approaching a phase, yes, my photography work is phasing, where production costs and demands have grown to a point where I need things like sponsors, assistants, grants and studio space. So, huzzah on one hand and oh no the other. I don't think I understood the functional differences between hobby art, art as a vocation and simply art that gets too "big" to function without a solid resource base.

Today is a good example, though I'm compelled to soldier on and take a risk or two. I "saw a shot" yesterday when my physical and metaphorical hands were full. The light was good, the space was excellent and things just looked "right". It really would have been an awesome shot if I could have literally dropped everything and ignored the world while I disappeared into my work for an hour or two, something I absolutely love, I might add. Today is a bit different, though in some ways the mental image of the space is building in my head and I can see the same shot in a new expression that will be even better and likely haunt me until I just go exercise the demon and make it real. The "problem" is that it's raining. Problem simply because my camera isn't weather proof, I need extra hands to hold an umbrella or two and I don't want to drag a c-stand to the location in the rain. Other than that, it's perfect.

So, I'll likely keep on posting here occasionally about the photos but also need to buck up and act like a "real" artist. Look for a new website and a bit more sharing from me in the coming months.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Indoor Vs Outdoor climbing

I recently, and finally, got around to visiting San Francisco's Planet Granite and while I'm primarily an outdoor climber, I have to say it was pretty nice. I have admittedly limited experience with indoor climbing facilities but this one seemed like a good one. It was clean and well maintained, with friendly staff and a nice crowd of climbers in a range of skill levels, something the gym seemed set up to accommodate.

I'm really a fan of being outdoors as much as possible and I like the solitude that most of my favorite climbing spots offer but it was a nice change to have some company as well as a cushy landing area so I could be a little more daring and care free about just climbing. I think if I climbed inside too often I'd train myself to take bad risks outside, not something I'm interested in doing. Though, while I'm happy taking a slow and calculated approach to my ascent there was definitely real value in being able to work on technique and push some boundaries in relative safety.

The drawbacks were that it was much harder to just "zen out" and lose myself in the rock, a habit that I'm certain contributes to my lack of getting "stuck" or suffering from writer's block. I'm also pretty fond of topping out, making a cup of coffee or something and getting some work done in the most literal sense of working "remotely". As long as I have cell signal, I can write, edit and fire off emails or make calls. Not something I see myself doing at a climbing gym. I also wonder if climbing in a gym would ever fully feed my need to momentarily "get away from it all" but today, I have to admit as I look out at a rain soaked San Francisco, the climbing gym sounds pretty good.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Oni Kai

Couldn't be more pleased with the kids in my, now expanding, Aikido class for Rec and Parks. My students are learning far more quickly and in different ways than expected. Having all the little ones in a croup by themselves is presenting a couple of unexpected challenges while offering up some great opportunities for learning on both sides of the equation.

I'm definitely developing new approaches to teaching Aikido and doing a lot of embedding core concepts and base skills in ways that more often resemble play before then gently showing a cross application of what my tiny  Aikidoka have learned. Keeping the focus well off of conflict related themes for the most part seems to be helping them relax and learn through play rather than simple repetition and discipline and helps them avoid a conflict based mindset while still gaining the most valuable of physical Aikido skills, getting out of the way and falling safely.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

My bike!!

Coolio Japanese Jeep branded MTN bike. 
Last week my much loved and often abused "vintage" Stumpjumper M2 was stolen. Im still a little miffed about that but it's long gone and there's no use crying about it now, not exactly productive or proactive. Sadly, it got snatched after I put brand new Conti slicks on it but I did take my saddle and seat post with me, imagine my surprise.

So, now I'm in the market for a cross bike or a decent road bike and currently riding a cushy, if heavy, full suspension Japanese mountain bike given to me until I find a replacement.

It's a Jeep branded bicycle, something not so unusual in Japan where brands like Jeep and Coleman have a much wider range of logo laden outdoor gear, both having mildly elevated status due to the exotic import factor. Coleman used to make some really nice things for the US market as well, even if it was long ago eclipsed by the likes of North Face, Patagonia, REI and other more upscale marks.

So far I've swapped the stock post and saddle for my Specialized gear and shaved about a 32nd out of the valve stem opennings so the rims will take standard size tubes. The tubes that were on it were long ago dried out and flat with no suitable replacement in the US. Ill do what I can to further upgrade it before I give it back to my friend but for now it's presenting a good learning experience for my rigid frame trained reflexes, not pretty in a couple of less than sharp turns yesterday. Nothing like very publicly bailing into a mailbox to put your ego in check.

...and it does look kinda cool.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Clockwork Bristlebot

Bristlebots are about as simple as it gets in the world of robots but they're still a lot of fun and there is a lot of room for innovation regardless of the simplicity. Last year while I was an editor at Instructables I decided to add a "steampunk" entry into the field of bristlebots. While steam power would have been cool, and may still be on the horizon at some point, I'm calling this little windup version a win.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Graphic Design for Oni Kai Aikido

Oni Kai Aikido logo and trademark!
Not long ago I signed on to teach an Aikido class for San Francisco Rec and Parks. Just a happy little class for 3-6 year old students but something I likely should have done ages ago. In the offing, I decided as long as I was teaching the class I might as well take my personal approach to Aikido to the next level.

The best way to accomplish this seemed to be by creating a micro-brand and just building it out like any other "business". Every organizational identity package needs a logo, some way of branding and identifying it. Even non-profits benefit from this and while graphic designers are most often talented folks with hard won skills, basic graphic design doesn't have to be hard or require expensive software.
Initial photograph of the ink drawing.

For this project I wanted something that would have a Japanese feel, be somewhat nostalgic and remain viable as an eye catching logo. To illustrate how simple this can be I'll go through the rough steps I used to make the logo.

The design centered on a mythical oni demon crossed with a ronin samurai. The inspiration came from a number of things including photographs of Samurai, Zen monks, blocks prints, paintings as well as modern imagery from anime and films. So, somewhat traditional with a bit of modern appeal. I made several simple ink drawings with a traditional brush pen until I had one that seemed to capture the feel of the mental image. Once that was set I needed to move it to the digital realm. This could have been accomplished with a scanner or in many cases these days with a pen interface such as a Wacom or Bamboo tablet.

Modifying and cleaning up the image.
I was on the go and didn't have access to any of those and realistically didn't actually need them. It's worth noting that as a photographer I do have formal graphics training but it's not in my first order skill set. I also didn't happen to have the laptop where my copy of Photoshop lives but not to worry, this really isn't complex stuff.

I first used my phone to photograph the ink drawing. Since I wouldn't be printing the photo but rather converting it to a digital logo that I'd work over with graphics software, resolution wasn't much of an issue. This allowed me to import my ink drawing as a JPG into GIMP, a free graphics and photo manipulation tool. It's probably closest to Photoshop but can serve a number of functions and as I'm not printing anything to large, will work even for creating promo materials business cards, t-shirts and stickers. I'll vectorize it later.

Cleaned up image ready for text.
Once in GIMP it was a simple matter of using the magic wand to select the parts of the image I wanted to work on and clean up to get the look I was after. I think most anyone could learn this in anywhere from a couple hours to a weekend if they wanted to.

Once I got the basic logo, and several versions carefully saved along the way, I was able to add text with the native fonts in GIMP and put the whole thing together. Pretty easy and with a brush pen, cell phone and free software as my only tools, I've got custom business cards on the way to promote my Rec and Parks Aikido class.

So, if you don't think you can do graphic design, you might just be right about the more complex things but the small stuff, most anyone can do that and there's no reason you shouldn't at least give it a try.

All images copyright Jason Barnhart 2011. "Oni Kai Aikido" copyright and trademark Jason Barnhart 2011 all rights reserved. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Competitive Sailing

Growing up in the Midwest not far from countless small lakes as well as Lake Michigan, sailing of one kind or another has always been a part of my life. From kayaks and canoes to speedboats and motor yachts, boats are familiar territory. After moving to San Francisco I gained experience on more and bigger sailboats, even being somewhat useful to have aboard. This year however, has been a little different, and that is a major understatement. At the beginning of the spring sailing season I went with a friend to crew a race on a J 105. Wow, was that an education. Knowing your way around boats is very different from knowing "how" to sail and a far cry still from being useful on a race boat. Months later, I've now lost count of how many times and races I've been out for. I've worked committee boats setting marks, crewed almost every position on all kinds of boats and met and sailed with incredibly skilled world class sailors.

Oddly enough I think I was far more confident at the beginning of the season and would, having crewed on some really big boats, happily single handed anything under 40 feet. Perhaps I've lost sight of how relaxed cruising typically is but at this point I'm an order of magnitude better and more useful and while I'm sure it would be fine, would now think twice about single handing anything over 30.

It's also been an eye opener for understanding new levels of teamwork, what a person can and can't endure, as well as simply paying attention for extended periods of time in a chaotic environment, not something I've ever experienced in cruising where the most intense things have been fending off at the dock or occasional pleas for someone to trim the main when it's luffing to save the cloth. Granted, I've done a number of things that were intense and needed loads of focus, just not active focus for hours on end. At times it's even been more intense than the competitive fencing I did in college.

I think my big take away from all of this has been actually been the value of getting outside your comfort zone.  For me that hasn't been a more intense sailing experience but rather being an active part of smaller tight knit teams in an intensely physical and personal way. There's a lot of yelling, everyone, and I mean everyone, screws up at some point in the day and if everyone is looking out for each other, someone is bound to get hurt. The more experienced crew inevitably look after the more green ones but there are times when that newbie sailor is all that stands between the boat and serious mishaps.

It's intense and again. in a different way than anything I've ever done. I've been involved in a lot of activities from climbing and caving to zero margin for error things involving firearms and explosives but those things are generally very predictable once you get past the surface. Maybe it's just that I've found something that requires more experience than I guessed to understand but it's been an incredible growth experience. Maybe if I'd grown up on the regatta scene instead of other things it wouldn't seem like this but for now I'll take it for everything it's worth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oyama solar charger review

About a year ago I got an Oyama brand solar charger from Batteries Plus. It wasn't super cheap but at around $30 it's been useful and is still seeing service now.

For size it's relatively compact, only a little larger than my Android smartphone and it's very light weight. It came with a tether but no mounting device of any kind, something that would make it very useful. As it stands now it's easiest to use in a home or office setting. My main use, I'm guessing this is common, is as an on the go backup power source for my phone. So, it's useful but maybe not ideal. That said even with limited battery capacity, slight awkwardness and lengthy charge time(6-8 hours minimum) it's still a bargain compared to the solar backpacks and messenger bags on the market.

The device is designed to alternately charge from a USB port and did initially but the circuit failed for unknown reasons. It does continue to charge via the solar cell so it's function isn't really all that diminished. It will not on the other hand charge a device while it is charging. You must charge the internal battery and then charge your device.

I've had to repair it once, probably my own fault for breaking the case but it's not built to take much abuse.

Conclusion, I've likely not yet gotten my money back in energy savings and probably never will. It costs something like $2 a year to charge an average phone for 8 hours a day 365 days a year. So, realistically, that's just never going to happen on an individual level. I do think I've gotten solid ROI in convenience dollars though. About the third or fourth time I've been able to plug in my dead phone on the go and get another couple hours of use out of it I'd call it paid for since I'd have happily bought batteries to do the same job.

I'd still rather have a solar charging bag but the Oyama is useful for now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I've been on the West Coast for about five years now and while I've eaten a crab or three, I'd never given much thought to catching them until the other day when I took an out of town friends to Crissy Field in San Francisco. We were out of the fishing pier getting a look at the Golden Gate and happened on some people having a great time crab fishing.

Essentially, most crabbers simply bait a trap, a net with hoops in many cases, with chicken and then wait a while to give the tasty crustaceans time to crawl in. Then you haul up the trap and hopefully have a keeper or two. Some species are restricted and there is a size limit, not unlike that for fish. You simply toss them into a bucket, re-bait and go for more.

So, I thought I'd give it a go at some point and last weekend bought an inexpensive crab trap, $6 plus some line I already had to get it into the water. It was a compact folding trap that would fit in my backpack, not a bad idea in general and a bonus for me as I'm usually in crabbing spots while I'm out on the motorcycle.

Note that California has the laws structured so that you can fish and crab from public piers without a license. It's something like $50 a year to get one but free is nice. I'm not sure what piers are public other than a handful in San Francisco and the one I've seen in Berkeley but their seem to be plenty and if I end up liking going after crabs I'll spring for the permit. I met one sailor that keeps a couple small crab pots on his boat and drops them over the side right at his slip.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, catch some crabs and cook them up right on your boat. Though, in my case, I didn't have a boat and things didn't go quite as planned. I'd had a lovely idea that I'd take my trap, a little all in one grill kit and some bait and just spend the afternoon. I'd gotten the trap out, baited it and cast it into the water one time and it went down never to return. That was a total bummer on my day and the end of my first crab outing.

Not the end of the world, I had a fun talk with a couple of far more successful crabbers and then headed out to find new gear. As luck would have it I didn't find new but was given an old trap. As you might note in the photo, it's in need of a little help. I figured I'd give it a go. Worst case is that I have to forgo repairing the net and replace it for $15. Being as the trap itself costs more than that I'll be ahead either way and have learned something in the offing.

I'll post about the repair and hopefully successful second trip to the pier.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

5.10 Coyote

One of my too many hobbies is climbing. I'm pretty much a free solo and bouldering enthusiast, mainly because I haven't made the effort to connect with a climbing group or partner and often like to head off on the spur of the moment. I'm also on a tight budget so I don't get in a lot of big trips or outings that I'd like.

I recently accepted that my old shoes were done and half a size too big anyway and decided to spring for a new pair. I'd read mixed reviews on the 5.10 Coyote but I like the style and when I had a look in the store they seemed put together well. I handed over my dollars to Lombardi's on Polk St and headed out for a climb in Marin.

New climbing shoes are usually awesome. Still sticky and supportive, not yet grunged out and nasty looking, they're nice. The fit really works for me with the Coyote's. I have a high instep and a wide foot at the ball, so fit in climbing shoes can be a challenge. They really did everything I needed them to and weren't too bad for minimal walking around up top and when figuring out another route at the bottom.

After a few months of one of two outdoor trips a week they seem to be holding up fine. I do try to take care of them, brushing dirt off, wiping down the soles after a climb and letting them air out clipped to, instead of inside, my pack on the way home. When compared to other shoes of much higher price points for what I need regarding outdoor climbing they work great. I've used them for climbs ranging from 5.9 to 5.11d and 5.12's. Nothing beyond and hour or two but they held up well and were fairly grabby even on chert.

My last pair were an older Boreal ACE's that have been good shoes but so far no better than the Coyote, especially considering the price jump. Though I'd love to get my toes into a pair of Ballet Gold's.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wild Edibles, Escargot

 ©  JT Barnhart 2011
Escargot is kind of an odd one but not something foodies will typically shy away from unless they are non-meat eaters anyway. Harvesting even a half dozen decent sized snails can really be a boon to a meal for those that like them, even better if you grow your own garlic and make a small batch of fresh butter.

They are certainly easy to catch and often found in abundance after a heavy rain, so right about the same time and hopefully in the same places you might hunt mushrooms. Though, you can even find them on the exterior walls of buildings in Nob Hill and Russian Hill, unexpected but welcome. I've gathered them on a random walk home more than once and simply put them in an empty paper coffee cup. They seem to do well in our backyard herb garden. It's certainly possible to keep them in a container, I'd imagine if you kept it strictly to vegetables you could even keep them in your compost bin. Though, I have yet to try to raise them in anything resembling captivity.

It may be an urban legend, but local foragers claim the snails in Nob Hill are all descended from a bunch that a chef released after his restaurant closed in the 1920's. Could be, sounds plausible anyway and I've never checked to see what snails might be native vs invasive, you can eat all of them either way.

The consistent recommendation has been to pick them, put them in a container with a  secure lid and feed them things like carrots, apples and basil for a few days before letting them fast for few more to the get that out of their system as well.   This gets unknown things and grit out of their system. After purging you'll need to wash them several time as well. It's a fairly lengthy but simple process and there are lots of opinions on how it should be done with a wealth of information on the web if you want to give it a try. The main point is that they are out there and with a little butter and herbs they're quite good.

If someone is interested  and lets me know,I can write up something more in depth on how to prepare these little morsels. It's not tough and they're certainly worth the effort.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Taming the DT 250

It's been a few weeks now since Dave and his crew at O'Hanlon's sorted out the mystery problem on the DT. A flattened out lock washer on the timing plate that was allowing it to slip. A couple times the timing was so retarded the engine actually ran backwards.

Yes, you read that right! A two stroke engine can run backwards if the timing is too far off. It was more than odd starting it up at a service station, putting it in first and then rolling backward as I attempted to head out. ...but now I know.

I also know more about the mechanics of fouling plugs and have actually been accorded some finesse with regard to avoiding it. For the most part the plugs on this type of bike foul when you funnel too much fuel through the engine. It can't burn off properly and the rest is predictable. These things tend to bang and pop a little even when they have fresh plugs, and I do mean, a little. If, like now, the bike is tuned well for how you ride it, when the plug is going stale you can develop a sense of when it's going to be shot and how to stretch out your time before you absolutely have to swap it.

Doing things like riding up hill under full throttle, into a headwind or whatever, where you can't get the RPM's up is a sure way to foul that thing out. Riding for too long at higher RPM's will also burn the plug. You just have to get a feel for it and every engine will be different based on the engine itself and how it's tuned.

The DT is currently tuned to start a little harder but have slightly advanced timing to better handle higher speeds. It seems to be working OK and I've gone from replacing one or more plugs a day to maybe one a week depending on how I ride it. They're cheap and easy to swap out so it's not a huge deal to replace them and I've come to think of it as part of the gas budget.

Still hunting a new twin plug head and a bigger fuel tank but that's way down on my priority list at the moment. Just happy to have a reliable bike until something else catastrophic happens to it. I can only hope these repairs will continue to be further and further apart. Finally getting out on it enough to be back in the realm of knowing who's out and about by their bikes and being known the same way. That's certainly a nice thing about riding custom and vintage bikes. You can roll by and know immediately if your friends are about.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wild Edibles; Fennel

One of the more well known Bay Area foraging favorites, fennel was reportedly first brought to the area by Franciscan friars who grew it in their gardens. Widely used in European cooking, but far less so here. All parts of the plant are edible with the seeds, stalks and bulbs being the most useful parts. Though even the feathery fronds make a lovely and aromatic garnish for salads.

Best in spring, fennel is everywhere from parks to roadsides and flower gardens. Recipes abound in books and across the web so it's very easy to find ways to prepare this plant. In Italy the bulbs are often brushed with olive oil and roasted or grilled and the stalks are cut and pealed like celery for dipping in spicy olive oil.

Easy to spot and unmistakable from other plants after you've seen it, know it by it's feathery, almost fluffy appearance and licorice smell. Depending on how you intend to use it, fennel can be gathered year round in the Bay Area.  Once you start adding it to breads, sauces and meat dishes you'll soon find it sneaking onto your table as a dish unto itself. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wild edibles; Miner's lettuce

The San Francisco Bay area offers some incredible things for foragers. One of them is a lovely spring crop of miner's lettuce. Miner's lettuce, like Nasturtium, is a member of the Purslane family but unlike Nasturtium, lacks a spicy kick. Far more similar to spinach, it goes well in all manner of salads and makes very nice cooked green.

One of my favorite uses for Miner's lettuce is in a simple trail salad. Some of the areas where I climb are thick with it, as well as Nasturtium. I often bring along a tin of tuna packed in olive oil, a lemon, a small packet of soy sauce and forage greens as I go. It takes no time at all to build a fantastic salad you probably couldn't buy if you wanted to.

Earlier this week I ventured out with my mobile office(laptop and phone) and managed to forage enough Miner's lettuce, Nasturtium and Fennel to bring a pile back to Nook, one of our fantastic local cafes, where they were nice enough to use my wild treasure to make a meal fit to please even the most seasoned foodie. Though, I have to admit I'd almost eat grass if you added the right dressing, goat cheese, walnuts and some sultanas. In this case we added all of those as well as some tomatoes and Arugula. I think we decided it was the equivalent of eating a circus.

Yes please, and I'll be doing that again soon. As these posts come together it occurs to me that I may indeed be able to compensate for lack of space to grow as much as I'd like simply by settling on some regular foraging spots. The wild harvest is certainly out there for the taking.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wild edibles; Pine needles

This one is about as simple as it gets and it's blissfully safe. All pines are edible so, as always, make sure you've got a pine. That shouldn't be too tough but you never know. If it's got needles and cones, it's a pine. There are a number of edible elements in addition to making tea with the needles, though chewing them raw is even a source of vitamins C and A. I have no idea if the heat from making the tea destroys the vitamins but it might.

You can also eat the inner bark. If you do it just right, it's possible to cut it into strips and use it like spaghetti. It certainly doesn't taste like pasta, but if it's available or all you have to eat, it's there.

To make the tea simply steep the needles in hot water the same way you would make any other tea. I like it with a little lavender and pine needle tea is admittedly somewhat of an acquired taste but nothing a little honey won't fix if you aren't in a "survival" situation and have access to it.

Pine needles can also be used to flavor breads and roast meats or fish. One nice thing about them is pines grow all over the place, so as a forager or survivalist, it's basically there for you from the Everglades to Seattle in all sorts of conditions and you can gather it as you walk meaning you expend very little extra effort or energy in your day to add another element to a foraged diet.

They're so readily available that I have never tried to dry them but I imagine you might be able to. I also use the needles to make baskets and freeze the needles for storage once in a while for that purpose. When I get them out they still smell fresh so I'd guess you could at least freeze them if they are scarce in your area.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Neil Strauss

Last night I ventured out and made the climb up to the Haight for a Neil Strauss book signing at Booksmith. I read his book Emergency not long after it came out with mixed thoughts but completely enjoyed it and got more than enough out of it to make it both and entertaining and worthwhile read as well as to recommend it to others who in turn got a lot out of it. Emergency served very well in one particular way I felt had been lacking from the survival/self reliance canon, it's a real story about someone going from little or no knowledge to being an expert in a number of areas. Neil was human and forthcoming without be self deprecating or fake. Emergency is often billed as a how-to, I think it's more, and more importantly; a why-to. The book won't turn you into Jason Bourne but it might actually inspire you to learn a few things that'll save your hide. Or in my case, become a NERT volunteer so I can save someone else's hide. Thanks go to Neil for that if nothing else and motivating someone to take a more active role in their community is always a big deal.

Last night was a signing for his new book Everyone Loves You When You're Dead. It's not something I'd typically read but I'm glad I went. Incidentally, I had been on Neil's very inclusive VIP mailing list from when I signed up for something related to Emergency and got switched over for reasons I can't remember. I've been mildly curious about The Game but as of yet have not read it. To be candid, I've spoken with a few people who've been curious about The Game and we've all felt we would be a little embarrassed to be caught reading it. We've also all been in long term committed relationships since becoming aware of the book and feel that reading a book on picking up women might not be a good relationship move when you are currently in one. That said, The Game and Neil's other books are well liked and no doubt worthwhile, Neil is a talented writer who has had every bit as much a rock star life as the people he writes about, it's just not my genre and I've historically gotten into more than enough trouble on my own.

Maybe not personal but Personalized!
Anyway, to get on his new list, the VIP list is closing, you need to buy a copy of his new book Everyone Loves You When Your Dead, or ELYWYD in it's handy acronym form. I was slightly hesitant as I am generally resistant to that sort of marketing but it was clever and I'd wanted to meet Neil for a while. He didn't disappoint in person. I'd have liked to chat with him a little further about some things in Emergency but he seemed pretty beat from his book tour and I was admittedly off my game last night.

My one question after meeting Neil in person is, why did he ever have trouble getting the kind of attention from women he wanted. He came across as genuine, interesting and real as well as not threatening or too much of a bad boy. Maybe that's today's Neil Strauss and I simply don't know the old Neil but from our brief meeting I'd have been surprised to learn he ever had bad luck with women and maybe that's the point of The Game.

Either way, I'm enjoying the ELYWYD and looking forward to email discussions about The Game as it relates to something other than pick up artists while I try to find a bookstore that isn't perpetually sold out of it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Garden marauder

Why yes, that is a pheasant!
Yes, "garden marauder", not in the dramatic sense of being overrun by hungry vegetarian vikings but rather an unexpected avian guest in the city. For about a month now we have had a pheasant hen in our back yard tearing up the small garden plots and planters. After the initial destruction of some plants it looks at though it's eaten up the bulk of the slugs that had been plaguing us. I suppose that's a good trade for losing a little miner's lettuce and having to re-plant some garlic as this season has been more than a little wet and I was expecting a real battle with the slugs.

Still a little surprised to see a pheasant, of all things, in San Francisco. We're in the city proper up in the hills not far from Grace Cathedral so this isn't simply a Golden Gate park or Presidio bird that has stepped beyond it's normal bounds. It's a real urban pheasant. It certainly hasn't been living on garbage and I bet it would taste great.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What I've learned about knitting

Mobius scarf
So, I've been knitting for a few months now and while it isn't compelling to have a conversation about yet, it is somewhat compelling to do once you start. Likely it's simply lingering "guyness" that prevents me from striking up knitting chatter.

Thus far I have learned that it's a pleasant activity that both takes practice and rewards it. The learning curve isn't steep but as noted before it can seem so at first. I've knitted a scarf and simple hat for my toddler daughter and a sort of hood/scarf for myself. After being shown the ultra basics at the knit shop in something like five minutes, I've been able to sort out rib stitching, purling and binding off on my own. I've also seen that while there are a multitude of variations they all essentially stem from those same basic knit and purl stitches.

It's become evident that knitting is very useful and I'd say in terms of DIY, self sufficiency, prepping and even survival, there is no good reason to not know how to at least make a scarf, something simple that can easily be turned into almost any other item with simple blanket or whip stitching. If you are blessed or cursed with a job that has a lot of wait time, maybe security or rendering images, something that requires a person to sit and be present and awake but not actively engaged in much for even a half hour at a time, you might consider using that down time to hand make things you need, can trade for things you want or need, or to stretch those gifting dollars around the holidays. Though, knitting things like blankets and sweaters is not cost effective unless you happen to have a ready supply of wool or yarn, most of us don't and won't in the foreseeable future.

Bottom line, it's no worse a time suck than video games and the usefulness of the end product goes a long way to easing the guilt of what would otherwise be lost or idle time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Metal specimen tags

Persian mint
One of the reasons I like "vintage" and antique things is because they are often of much higher quality than contemporary items. Things made of metal, wood and leather tend to last and things made of glass can last essentially "forever" if they are broken. To that I'm often looking for ways to make things from those same lasting materials and especially when I can recycle or upcycle things that would end up in a land fill or even a recycle bin. I don't have nearly as much faith in recycling A. as I used to and B. in giving away resources I can use. Not to mention that here in the city businesses have pay to have things recycled.

One item I use from time to time, in both research collections and in home gardening, is specimen tags. Paper or card stock tags are usually adequate but even in protected museum environments, ink fades and tags get wet. Years ago I saw metal tags on some museum specimens and decided I could easily make my own using soda cans or other embossing friendly scrap metal. It's possible to make very nice tags that look as good or better than you can buy or even just cut up a few soda cans for ease and utility. Aluminum will corrode if exposed to certain chemicals but for the most part you can use the same tags indefinitely from season to season or for long term storage.

Ready to use
As far as availability of materials is concerned coat hangers and cans are about as "available" as it gets and if nothing else it beats using a piece of the paper envelope most seeds come in. Long after the seed packet has blown away and become compost your metal tags will remind you of what you planted.

The cans are easily cut with common craft or kitchen scissors and one hanger will make three or four "posts" to hang them from. The last can I cut up yielded about ten tags.

I need to make another batch soon and will post a how-to soon as I get a chance.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wild Edibles; Nasturtium

Distinctive Nasturtium foliage
Much like Dandelions, Nasturtiums are less often seen as a food crop and more as a decorative plant, but this South American plant captivated early explorers who took it back with them first to Spain and then over to England in the early 1500's where it's lovely, edible flowers and leaves continue to grace tables to this day. They have a reputation as a "grow anywhere" plant and indeed do well in containers and gardens alike. Here in the bay area they cover large swathes land on hillsides and in meadows to the extent that you'd think they were a native species and after a couple hundred years it's hard to tell the difference anyway.

Growing in a planter 
I'd been thinking about this post for a while and managed to get out and snap a quick photo but didn't have time to gather any. The leaves are on all year in this area but the flowers are more prevalent in warmer weather. I really have no excuse for not growing these in the yard other than the couple times I planted them we had prolonged dry spells while we were away and they didn't have time to establish themselves. Something I should remedy this spring with another planting or at least a potted plant or two.

Once in a great while you'll find the blossoms in markets and nicer groceries but I can't remember ever seeing the leaves available. Both blossoms and foliage have a spicy flavor and a pleasant texture and can be used in a number of ways from salads to cooked greens. The seed pods are also sometimes pickled and referred to as "poor man's capers". Though, I would wager, a jar of pickled Nasturtium would cost a bit more than a jar of capers if you could find anywhere to buy it.

As I write this, it occurs to me that recipes might also be of benefit so I'll try to gather some and post a recipe or two. While not overly popular these days, Nasturtium found it's way onto a lot of tables in the past. My best guess is that it will be one of the pop culture foodie plants we'll be seeing a lot more of before long. They have quite a bit more to offer beyond a splash of color in a salad.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Roman (style) hobnails

A while back I mentioned a pair of Roman style caligae I made as well as plans to make another pair that would be a bit more robust and even more authentic. To that effort one thing I had to find was Roman style hobnails. That's not an easy task. Until recently I had only been able to find them from one source in India and luckily got enough for at least one pair of sandals before they disappeared back into obscurity. I can only imagine being a peddler of historic reproduction hobnails is a niche market on the best of days but someone must be buying them because they seem to be popping up again in a few places around the web. Anyway, I'm reworking my original design to account for a few things I learned as well as planning a northern European brogue style shoe and thought I'd share what these semi-mythical hobnails look like.

They're about as close as you can get, or at least closer, to the originals and more durable than cut tacks or nails, an order of magnitude different from commercial hobnails used in modern shoes. The ones pictured are 7mm hobnails and would be a smaller variety based on archeological samples. Looking at them it becomes clear pretty fast that they played an important role in the mobility and combat effectiveness of Roman troops. It'd be akin to having golf cleats installed on modern infantry boots. Not something you'd want to tangle with if you could avoid it but also a lot less effective and useful now that we have paved surfaces just about everywhere.

They aren't cheap but you can find them in these online stores.

Wild Edibles; Onions

While dandelions are kind of a no brainer in the foraging realm onions are less so. There are a couple species that look similar enough to lilies that tend to grow in the same places to cause problems. So this is one that is best taken to a plant expert for verification before you eat. They do smell like cultivated onions and it is possible to identify them by photos but the similar looking lily can be very toxic. Not something to take a chance on. A lot of locals call this variety "onion grass".

These grow wild over much of the San Francisco Bay area and, like dandelions, come up every year in our backyard. Not taking any chances, I uprooted a clump of them from root to blossom and took them to the botanical conservatory in Golden Gate park for positive identification and even then I used them sparingly until I was certain no one eating them was having an allergic reaction. These should be safe for anyone not normally allergic to onions.

So far I've used them cooked in egg dishes, added to both potato and onion soups and as a pizza topping. Ours don't get a lot of light and grow in a cool area but I have seen them at local farmers markets better than twice the size we have. The greens have a bit of bite but are more fragrant than flavorful and are very mild when cooked.

There are a number of varieties of wild onions across North America. So, it's probably worthwhile checking with a local wild plant expert to see if there are any in your area.

The next step for me will likely be cultivating these in containers. They've taken up residence in an old planter already and it's always nice to have some degree of control over the soil your plants grow in.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wild Edibles; Dandelions

A pretty young plant floating in clean water 
Some people see foraging as a hobby, others as a survival skill or even a basic gourmet skill. In my case it's been a pretty basic thing for most of my life and not something I thought about too much until I moved to San Francisco. As cities go it's pretty fertile. Somewhat due to climate and some due to green spaces throughout the city. The parks here are among the largest in the country and there are even places where it's safe to gather wild edibles. One enterprising individual, somewhat regrettably so, was even running a business providing foraged food baskets with things gathered in the bay area. Regrettable in that he was running a commercial operation gathering on public land, the good/bad of that I'll leave for another discussion.

This is a good size for using the greens
I'll try to post about a few different plants, some of which are available almost everywhere. There is at least one invasive plant that is so ubiquitous as to be everywhere. Luckily it's useful from root to blossom. This first plant I'll mention is none other than the common Dandelion. It can be eaten by humans, fed to animals and even makes a wine with a growing niche popularity.

Brought to North America by early colonists, a number of sources agree there were none here before 1620 when the Mayflower arrived but that they were common by the 1670's. Anyone who has ever blown a dandelion seed head to the wind can attest to how easily they spread so this isn't too hard to believe. At one time the much maligned flower wasn't considered a weed at all and can still be found in produce aisles.

As for uses, the most simple is to take the youngest leaves you can find and cook them like any other green. They're similar to spinach with a bit more flavor. Larger leaves can be bater dipped and fried to make fritters or cooked with eggs to make frittata. The greens are usually a little more bitter than I like for salad but I've done everything with them from baking them into bread to adding them to quiche. I think one of the most interesting uses is using the roots as a coffee substitute or to stretch coffee the same way chicory is used. By itself, again, much like chicory, tastes a lot like burnt pencil shavings by itself but adds a pleasant smokiness to dark roast coffee.

As a cultivar it's one of the easiest things in the world to grow. I'd suggest either gathering them wild or replanting each season. The taproots get bigger over time and will cause even young greens to taste bitter. I've not tried to trade them but you might even find some vendors at farmers markets are interested in them once they get to know you a little and are assured you haven't gathered your plants on the side of the road or next to where you store your mower gas. If you have a patch of lawn you aren't using you might even consider sewing it with dandelions for a care free food crop that will literally take care of itself.

Some cautions might also be in order. Namely that some people are sensitive to a latex like compound in the leaves and stems. The white milky liquid was even explored for use as a rubber substitute during WW2. So, if you are new to eating dandelions it might be wise to try them cooked first and in small amounts. Another thing to know is that they contain diuretic compounds. So be careful with this plant until you know how it might effect you. The white sappy stuff is also what gives them a bitter taste as they get bigger. I have never heard of a non-edible variety but there are a few plants that look like dandelions. None of those I have encountered were toxic but they also wouldn't be considered desirable to eat.

When I gather, I typically toss the plants into a bucket of cool water. Some people suggest salt water, I'm not sure I'd waste the salt but it might help draw more of the bitterness out of the plant. I haven't tried freezing them but I'm sure it'd be much like freezing spinach. They're best used fresh.

This post is more intended to encourage exploring the use and cultivation of dandelions rather than serve as a recipe hub but if anyone is wants them email me and I'll post a few but there are many many recipes on the web just simple Google search away. I've also had success simply substituting dandelions for spinach in most any recipe I've tried.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

DT Misadventures

As seen in the wilds of SOMA
For some reason, in my infinite wisdom, I decided to take off and ride South for a change. Now don't get me wrong, So Cal has it's charms but one of them isn't a slow paced technical ride on highway 1 South. Instead it has some pretty straight fast roads. That's great for getting where you are going but maybe not if like me, you ride a vintage small displacement two-stroke.

Today I learned about spark plug ratings and why some models of DT 250's, not mine, have two spark plugs in the head on the single cylinder. Two-strokes are finicky little monsters at times and they have certain ideal temperature ranges and fuel mixtures. So, they need different plugs for riding on trails and in city traffic than they do going flat out on the highway. Mismatch the riding to the plug and you'll need a new one sooner than you think.

The DT ran like a champ on the run south from San Francisco to Santa Cruz and part of the way back but the extended run into the wind up hill with a hot plug overheated it and fouled the @#$%^! out of it. I, not having experienced this before, did not know what was happening. If only I had and hadn't rushed out of the apartment without my tool kit that just so happens to contain a spark plug wrench and a shiny new plug.

So, I limped the machine into Half Moon Bay, a place where you can buy gas and food and not much else... OK, that's not true but you can't buy cheap socket sets or spark plug wrenches. Nor can you buy anything but an adjustable wrench after 6PM. Thanks Half Moon Bay. Though, I'm told it's the perfect place to go for a weekend with someone you aren't supposed to go away for the weekend with.

So, I pushed the bike for a mile or so and then got frustrated and kicked it a million times until it fired up. No clue why, it just did and it shouldn't have but I wasn't complaining. I kicked out onto the freeway, bad plan, and ran for home. I luckily managed to clear I280 just as the engine went dead again. ...back home-ish but in a terrible neighborhood at 6th and Howard. Try as I might I couldn't get it to light off again and once more pushed it another mile closer to home.

The idea was that I'd find a garage and safely park it over night until I could come back with some tools. At this point I still didn't know if the issue was a clogged jet, fouled plug, something uglier or a combination of all three. What happened was I found out how rude men who who work in parking garages and barely speak English can be. Really flipping rude. You'd think if someone asked a customer service person a business related question they'd at least give decent service even if just to say "No" but alas they need to say "Oh no no no, no motorcycle!" while they waggle a finger at you. If only Bill Cosby had been there, he'd know what to say.

Again, I pushed the little monster up hill another block until I finally found a parking space that looked like the bike would still be there when I came back with my tools, and it was!

After a couple frantic phone calls and talking through the problem with wiser motorcycle guys than me, it was determined twice independently that I'd cruelly ridden the bike too hard and had asked for it. Thanks, I already knew that.

Anyway, failing to find my spare plug I returned with contact cleaner, sandpaper and a pocket knife to clean the plug and hopefully make the .7 mile ride up hill and home.

Fouled plugs kind of don't un-foul too easily but I did manage to scrape and scrub it enough to get the bike started and in a cloud of blue smoke I was off through crowds of drunken Valentines celebrators and unexpected 10PM traffic. None the less, when the DT growls cars usually give me some room. I made it to the top of Nob Hill before the engine died again and I managed to push another couple blocks and then bump start it down a hill just far enough to ride to my parking space like nothing happened.

Some tipsy neighbors walked by and asked if I had been out riding. "Yep, great day for it. Rode down to Half Moon Bay." The response, "Man, I wish I had a bike like that." I just smiled and said thanks not wanting to burst the happy bubble of bike envy.

So, I'll be ordering up a half dozen plugs and making sure to carry spares at all times. Seems DT 250's are notorious for eating plugs.

Another lesson learned. Just happy I made it home.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Flat tire...

Things like flat tires happen to any bike but with old bikes you often discover other things in the course of fixing something like a flat tire. In this case I made it just to the service center by putting some foul smelling messy fix flat into the tire. The tube was predictably, "an odd size" and had to be ordered. OK, good to know. Then it was discovered that the rear brake wasn't out of adjustment as had been suggested by another mechanic but rather in dire need of new break shoes.

So, after only a couple weeks it's back on the road with a new tube and some real stopping power. Wish there was a better way to protect from road hazards than "being careful". I will be adding a tube patch kit to my on board tools but I'm not sure it would have helped in this case as the tube was damaged in a couple places because the screw was so long. Actually, I doubt that even something like self sealing goo would have helped. At least it was the rear...

Happy to have it back on the road again either way.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Knit like a man?

Yeah, yeah, that's right, like a man. I have, at various times of my life, spun yarn from wool and other fibers but had never learned to knit a single stitch. It just never appealed to me and even as an adolescent, I found more value in spinning the yarn and then trading a portion of it for the knitted object of my desire. Offer most knitters four skeins of homespun in return for a hat or scarf that will only consume one of them and they usually take you up on your offer.

Recently, I was talking about that practice with a gal who had knit an awesome hat for me years ago and she related a sentiment that a spinner who doesn't knit is like a baker who doesn't eat bread. Hmm, good point. She also mentioned the while it's perfectly OK to spin for the sake a spinning, and please continue to supply yarn, that I might find knitting my own things both rewarding and a better use of my time than spinning yarn for someone else. Another, good point.

If you hadn't already guessed I'm also kind of a whole experience kind of guy. So, taking the process full circle certainly appeals to me and I'm at the point where I want interesting things made from interesting fiber. Sometimes even when trading highly desirable homespun for finished pieces, I end up needing too much yarn to garner the deal or it becomes more trouble for the knitter than it's worth. So, I finally relented and decided to learn to cast on and do a basic continental knit stitch.

It was a maddening process. I was watching online tutorials and couldn't figure it out to save my life. I managed to cast on but it was just murky. Then my monitor randomly broke. So, I paused, got my screwdrivers and pulled it apart. After identifying the loose connection and making a temporary fix until I can re-flow part of the board, I slapped it back together and got back to the tutorials. Aaargg!

Half an hour after repairing a computer part that is normally discarded and replaced if it breaks, as in I can't believe figured that out and fixed it, still I could not knit! Flipping knitting! Not even fancy, cool looking, thanks grandma, knitting. Just basic, this guy is a dork who knitted his own boring scarf, knitting. Ohhh... it was a dark moment.

However, a week later after a visit to the awesome Art Fibers knit shop in San Francisco, I have knitted my first row. The internets hadn't exactly lied to me but had instead committed a foul by not presenting a tutorial on basic knitting so as to teach people who know nothing of how it is done. What? you say. Yes, one gaff far too many how to folks make is to not put themselves in the shoes of someone who is a complete novice. They don't consider that someone learning from an online video tutorial is probably doing so because they don't have anyone to teach them and therefore need "all" or at least as many of the little details as possible. It's as though they are more showing other people who already know how to do things that they too know how to do it and therefore leave out, sometimes critical, details. Knitting, as it turns out, has a lot of little critical details that add up in a hurry if you aren't aware of them.

Say what you want but when the zombies attack and the power goes out, I won't be the one complaining about how cold it is.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The bad coil

I've got a few hundred post resurrection miles on the DT now and it's still going strong. I was skeptical about the small displacement at first but it's proving to be less of an issue than I guessed. In less densely populated areas it might still be an issue but in a city where you rarely get over 24 or 30 miles an hour, even in the outlying areas, it fine. In many ways it's somewhat better. Narrow, torquey, quick off the line, all good things. The brakes still need to be adjusted for non-dirt riding but as a whole it's really proving itself.

All this time and aggravation and the offending bit was the unassuming lighting coil seen in the photo. I may have to rewind it just for the sale of having done it.

Still searching out an old toaster tank. Two gallons doesn't get you very far on a gas guzzling two-stroke monster, even if it is only a little monster. I would never have guessed it'd be as bad on gas as it is. Right at 30mpg in the city and that's not even a tuning issue. It's factory spec!