Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[ 29 / 52 ]

Week Twenty-Nine: SF Style Symphony
Week Twenty-Nine

The San Francisco played a free concert in Dolores Park a while back, which struck me as so perfectly San Francisco. When I think of the symphony, I usually think of people getting dressed up, of being ushered into velvet theater seats, of sitting quietly with the orchestra getting everyone's undivided attention. This was none of those things. It was San Franciscans laying out picnic blankets, day drinking and basking in the sun, with the symphony providing the soundtrack for the afternoon. It was wonderful.

As I was shooting pictures of the scene, a girl wearing bright blue sunglasses opened a super classic looking parasol  that glowed with the afternoon sun. I thought itt perfectly captured the spirit of the afternoon.

Monday, July 29, 2013

On The Road

通勤 (tsukin) - Commuting to work
Shortly after hitting the one month in my internship, I have broken into the top 90k users on Waze. That puts me into the top 10% of all users, which is pretty crazy considering that, before this internship, I had driven minimally since moving to Japan nearly 5 years ago.

This is, of course, a direct effect of my beastly commute. I didn't land my internship until well into the summer and was left just two weeks from offer to start date. With my employer not offering any support for housing and no reasonable public transportation options to get from Berkeley to Palo Alto, I had little choice but to make the haul by car. With the trip covering 50+ miles each way, I have already put down more than 2,000 miles of road time. While the idea of spending close to 3 hrs of my life in a car each and every day is hardly the most exciting use of my time, I've found a few ways to make it as painless as possible. I've even found myself enjoying the trip on occasion, especially on my way home.

My first key discovery was the casual carpooling community. No matter which route I took to the office, the worst part of the drive was always being brought to a standstill waiting to get through the toll gates for the bridge across the bay. It doesn't matter whether you go with the Bay Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, or the Dumbarton Bridge, you're going to get stuck in traffic trying to get across in the morning. That is, unless you are able to take the carpool lane, which not only bypasses the lines and flies through the gates, it also reduces your toll from $6 down to $2.50. Casual carpooling exists to exploit this difference. Riders gather at designated spots, where drivers with empty seats pick them up, drive them across the bridge, and deposit them in downtown SF. There happens to be a pickup point just a few blocks from my place along my normal route, so it doesn't even take much extra time for me to swing by. It practically eliminates my commute's greatest pain point, cuts down my drive time, and saves me toll fair. It also makes the drive a bit more interesting: I've gotten to chat with a variety of interesting people, from a UX designer at a startup to a guy with a crazy beard who works in the Haight to a lady whose daughter is interning at the same company as one of my roommates. The dropoff spot is just across the bridge, so I just hop right back on the freeway and carry on. Once I'm through the city, I'm essentially making the reverse commute from SF to the South Bay, which means traffic is pretty light for the rest of my drive. Wonderful.

This discovery opened the door for my second discovery: I-280 is an incredibly scenic stretch of highway. Carpooling makes driving through the city is hands down the quickest route for me, which means there is no reason to ever make myself suffer through the shit show that is the East Bay commute. It is almost always packed with cars and there's pretty much nothing to look at besides traffic, cement, and big box retailers that line the highway. Boooooring. In contrast, I-280 is gorgeous, starting with a few miles of tree-lined roads followed by a stretch alongside a range of forested mountains, then finally golden hills. Cruising through such beautiful scenery makes time spent in the car much less of a drag.

Both my supervisor and my boss are out of the office all week, so I'll be working from home more often than not for a while. While I'm looking forward to a morning commute that involves walking 10 ft from my bed ot the desk, at least I know that, on the days I do decide to go in, the drive won't be too bad.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

[ 28 / 52 ]

Week Twenty-Eight: Sweet Dreams Are Made of This
Week Twenty-Eight

There's a little side street in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland known as Temescal Alley. It is home to maybe a dozen eclectic shops selling everything from plants to clothes to art. My favorite of the lot is a tiny one near the very back of the alley called The Homestead Apothecary, which specializes in dried herbs and teas.

The guy who runs it apparently studied this kind of stuff at a small college somewhere in the northeast (I forget the details). A lot of his jars are full of the usual suspects when it comes to homeopathic remedies, but he also has a number of tea blends that he makes himself. One in particular caught my eye: "Sweet Dreams"

The first time I visited the shop, the description said that it was supposed to give you "vivid dreams". I asked the owner about it and was told that the dreams were the result of mugwort, while other components like lavender, rose and chamomile help you sleep restfully. A quick google search for mugwort showed that it was indeed associated with particularly lucid dreams. Shady as buying an ounce of herbs to give me crazy dreams may sound, I decided to give it a shot and headed back to the store a few weeks later to pick some up. The description had been changed to "For epic sleep time adventures" - I was sold.

I have never been much of a dreamer. Most nights I don't dream at all (or, if I do, I wake up with no recollection of them), which is not very exciting at all. I think this is because I'm a pretty sound sleeper and dreaming usually goes down during lighter sleep cycles. In any case, I was looking forward to finally discovering what wild adventures had been locked up in my subconcious.

 For the past week or so, I've been having a cup of the tea every night before bed and it has been working - sort of. I have definitely been dreaming much more than before and remember far more about them. However, they haven't exactly been all that epic. Usually the dreams reflect something that has been going on in my life (which can make things interesting on nights when I've been watching The Wire right before bed!), but they never get too wild. It's good fun, but I'm thinking of picking up a little extra mugwort next time to see if it will kick things up a notch. Hopefully those epic sleep time adventures await!

Friday, July 12, 2013

[ 27 / 52 ]

Week Twenty-Seven: Taste of Summer
Week Twenty-Seven

It turns out that Mark Twain wasn't kidding when he said "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." After a glorious May and June where I spent day after day basking in the sun on the back deck, the weather took a sudden turn once July came around. Having always enjoyed warm summer nights, I'm finding it pretty confusing that it's so chilly in the evening despite being the heart of summer.

Fortunately, despite the drop in temperature, there is still tons of delicious fresh fruits and vegetables available in the farmers market every week. Now that I can get breakfast and lunch for free at work, I've started splurging on higher quality produce for dinner. I love walking through the market every Saturday morning, checking out all the amazing food on display. I can't resist corn on the cob (which I have been eating daily for the past couple of weeks) and I've been playing around with summer squash and green beans. So much deliciousness.

The food is obviously great, but there is a flower stand full of amazing colors that always catchs my eye as well. I'd love to have a few stems in vases here and there around the house, though they would certainly look out of place in my current residence. Something to look forward to once I'm done with school and living in a proper apartment...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

[ 26 / 52 ]

Week Twenty-Six: A Hint of What is to Come
Week Twenty-Six

San Francisco strikes me as a city of secrets. It has so much to offer, if only you know where to look. People who live there are almost unanimously madly in love with the place, but from the outside it can be hard to see what is so great about the city. I want to like it, but it's hard to get dug in while living in Berkeley. Nonetheless, I'm trying to give it a fair chance to win me over.

The past couple of weeks I've been going into SF more and more often, letting locals show me what lies under the surface. It has been great so far and I already like the city that much more. I'm excited to see what other adventures it has in store for me.