Archive for November, 2012

How to fake your local cred

November 24th, 2012

Assassin's Creed III

Recently a number of ads for Assassin’s Creed III have shown up around the city. You’ve probably seen them since they’re on almost every billboard space, bus stop, etc.

If you’ve avoided video games for the past few years, Assassin’s Creed is a series of video games about an assassin, who, uh, has to carry out a bunch of random tasks for some reason. (It’s GTA without cars, essentially.)

Criticisms aside, what makes these ads so grating is this:

Wait, what?

Yeah, uh… what? First of all, Ubisoft is a French company. Yes, they have an office in San Francisco, but it’s mostly administrative.

Second, this particular game was made in Montreal. Nothing against Montreal, but it’s far from here and you have to cross a border.

The moral of the story is this: don’t claim local cred if you don’t have it. San Francisco hipsters don’t care if their video games are locally sourced in the first place.

Copenhagen

November 18th, 2012

Recently I had some time to explore the streets of Copenhagen. It’s the capital of Denmark, an old seaside city with a distinctly fairy tale look. Every Dane is blond, blue eyed, in great shape, and is born with a bicycle in their hands. If you forget someone’s name, you can just call them “Christian Christiansen” and there’s a 95% chance you’ll be correct.

Important fact: Danes tend to speak English fluently. I had to ask people “Do you speak English?” now and then, but the answer was always “Of course!” The majority of the time Danes sized me up immediately and spoke to me in English before I could even say hello. Something to keep in mind if you’re unilingual.

 

Rune stone Round Tower ramp Cupid and the three graces Rosenborg Palace

Of the museums and such, I had a great time in the National Museum, the Round Tower, the Thorvaldsen museum, and the Rosenborg Palace. Of those, the National Museum is always free and has an impressive section on early human history. If you enjoy Romantic Era art, the Thorvaldsen museum is a must. Each sculpture contains enough symbolism to make a liberal arts major’s nipples explode with delight.

There’s two towers you can walk up in and get a view of the entire city: the Round Tower (Rundetårn) and the Church of Our Saviour (Vor Frelsers Kirke.) Since after a cramped airline flight and a lot of walking my knees were on their last legs (so to speak) I went with the Round Tower — for the first 3/4 of the way up the tower it’s a pleasant stroll up a winding ramp. After that there’s 2-3 flights of stairs and you’re out on a deck overlooking the city. Tickets are only a couple of bucks and the view is worth the price and hike.

 

Copenhagen airport bike pump OMG bikes!

The airport has a bicycle tire pump. I’d heard biking was big in Copenhagen and sure enough the airport bike pump was key evidence #1. There’s bike rental places are everywhere but it seems they welcome you to bring your own on the flight over.

It wasn’t until I saw rush hour during the week that I realized how many people bike in Copenhagen. The bike lanes fill up with congested traffic, bicyclists tailgating one another and riding side-by-side. But for the most part the lanes were clearly marked and people tended to obey the rules.

Bicycle fans, rejoice at the following facts about Copenhagen:

  • Mail is delivered via tricycle
  • The busiest bike lanes have their own traffic lights
  • Steep car and gas taxes encourage cycling
  • Second only to Amsterdam in terms of bicycle friendliness
  • Danish clothing companies design clothing for hipster bicyclists

 

Copenhagen Metro Mobile Tickets Copenhagen Metro

The first thing to notice about Copenhagen’s Metro is the drivers: there aren’t any. It’s like an airport tram, you can sit in the front and watch it move down the track on its own. The underground stations have interior doors for safety. (Coincidentally, we had two deaths on the subway tracks in San Francisco while I was away. Is this something we should be doing?)

90 minute transfers on the bus/Metro system are pricy at around $5-$6, but it’s cheap compared to a cab. The iOS/Android app makes it easy to buy an electronic ticket.

The system is entirely proof of payment. Only once did anyone check my ticket, a friendly older guy who looked well past “retirement” age and well into “Wal-Mart greeter” age.

Currently there’s a whole new Metro subway line under construction that makes a ring around the downtown area. The ring should be completed in the next couple of years. Oh, and did I mention that all Metro trains run 24/7? To put it bluntly, Copenhagen’s Metro makes Tomorrowland look like Frontierland.

 

Bella Center Valve at UDS

Ostensibly I was in Copenhagen for Ultra Dork Summit Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), held at Bella Center. The hotel convention center reminded me of the old Metreon, with its striking design and strikingly ill-conceived layout.

This was the event where Valve announced the beta of Steam for Linux. Soon, children might not need a copy of Microsoft Windows to play those damn video games.

 

Pumpkins Danish jack-o-lantern Halloween in Copenhagen

When I was in school we were taught that Halloween was an American holiday. While religious harvest holidays in the Fall dated back thousands of years, we were taught that Trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns were American traditions. But in recent years, I’ve heard of these traditions cropping up in places as far away as South America and the UK. And now I’ve seen American-style Halloween activities in Denmark with my own eyes.

At first I thought the jack-o-lanterns in near my hotel (the Nyhavn neighborhood) might be aimed at American tourists. But I didn’t see many American tourists. And I kept finding Halloween merchandise at local markets that were off the beaten path.

I visited my co-worker’s place on Halloween. He rented via AirBnB in a more suburban part of town. That night, the streets outside were crawling with costumed children going door to door! Who knew?!

 

Mural in Freetown Christiania You are now entering the EU

If you enjoy hippie communities, you won’t find many places that fit the bill better than Freetown Christiania. It’s an authentic 70′s hippie commune neighborhood that makes Haight Street feel like Union Square. Sure, there’s little boutiques and cafes, but there’s also a few genuinely dive-y beer gardens, stages with live music, and not to mention the “Green Zone” where people sell marijuana in an open market.

Christiania is a beautiful little neighborhood, with winding streets that you can aimlessly explore for at least an hour or two. Despite the laissez-faire attitude, they do have many rules, one of which is that photography is (understandably) only permitted in certain areas. I wish I could have taken more photos, but I think rules are a good thing for communities like this; self-policing means less interference from the government. As the sign says when you exit, “You are now entering the EU.”

 

Windmill boat View from Round Tower Windmill at Bella Center

Denmark is big on wind energy. My hotel claimed to be 100% wind powered. Given that the nearby winds often felt like being tackled, I can believe it.

The photo to the left above is a boat designed for installing offshore windmills. The thing is massive, about the size of an oil platform. The right photo is a view of the coast. The windmill installation boat in the middle. If you look at those small white pillars just offshore, each one of those is a windmill.

Denmark doesn’t have any oil so wind makes sense. But I suspect another reason behind all the bicycling and clean energy: the entire country is flat and nearly at sea level. If the sea were to rise two meters they’d have a Kevin Costner scenario.

 
 

If it wasn’t obvious from everything above, I really enjoyed Copenhagen. It’s one of those places that’s both welcoming and foreign at the same time. And most importantly, more often than not the Danes make a great cup of coffee.

What I learned from my HyperCard middle school digital portfolio

November 15th, 2012

In middle school we were all required to build a “digital portfolio” of our work. They taught us HyperCard so we could link each essay we wrote and our photos into a personal HyperCard stack. It was a portfolio that “we’d add to until we graduated” because computers were the future, or whatever.

But what really happened is that HyperCard was discontinued and most of our essays and photos were saved in unreadable formats. Even the floppies themselves that we’d saved our data to were obsolete. After a couple of years the project was scrapped and never spoken of again.

What did this all teach me? Here’s what I got out of it:

  1. If you’re going to work with technology, you have to keep your skills sharp. Today’s computer skills are tomorrow’s distant memory. It might sound cliche but it’s true.
  2. Care about your digital data? Then keep an eye on it. Make backups. Don’t keep it one place. Data can become unreadable for many reasons.
  3. Not all change is for the better. HyperCard was an app that made it easy to create your own software. (Remember Myst? Built in HyperCard.) There’s nothing like HyperCard these days that novice geeks can pick up and play with. Good ideas can be forgotten.
  4. Paper is still hard to beat for longevity. But then again, do you care about the reports you wrote in your seventh grade social studies class? Not sure I give a shit.

There you go. Sometimes the lessons we learn aren’t the intended lessons; but they’re still valuable nonetheless.

How to “sew” buttons that don’t fall off

November 14th, 2012

Magic button

Ever buy a shirt or jacket that you really like, only to have the buttons fall off in a few days? Sure, they give you one of those little packets of buttons, but why don’t they just make the buttons not fall off in the first place?

After thinking this through for a couple weeks, I think I’ve found a solution: a way to make your buttons not fall off. Best part? No sewing is involved.

You will need:

  • Button
  • Inner button
  • Metal eyelet
  • Wire
  • Scissors

Use the scissors to remove the existing button(s). Now cut a small hole for the eyelet where the button was. Follow the directions on the eyelet packaging to install it.

Feed the wire through the button, through the eyelet, then through the inner button and back around. Twist the ends of the wire to make it stay in place.

Bam, you’re done. As long as the eyelet and wire hold — and they will — your button isn’t going to fall off.

How to be a decent airplane passenger

November 9th, 2012

airplane

Look. I’ve been doing far too much airplane travel recently. Like most of us, I’m not traveling on private jets; I’m flying “economy” on commercial airlines. Airplanes, airports — it always sucks. At best, the experience isn’t complete bullshit. At worst, the stench of airline food will make you beg for death.

Here’s my advice on how to be a decent person throughout your air travels. If we all follow these simple rules, the entire airline experience will suck a lot less for everyone.

Follow along and take notes.

Security

  • The rules are usually posted all over the place, so don’t hold up the line because you forgot to take your shoes off or throw away your water bottle.
  • Yes the security can be demeaning in the United States. If you want to opt out of the scan, just say so. But you don’t need to be a dick about it to the employees. Harassing the security staff will make the other passengers think you’re an asshole — and they’ll be correct.

Boarding

  • Check in your luggage. Don’t be one of those carry-on abusers who brings a giant suitcase on board that takes up half an overhead bin.
  • You can board at any time after they call you row. So why rush to be the first one on? Unless you’re one of those aforementioned carry-on abusers, spending an extra 30 minutes on a stinky airplane isn’t an advantage. Don’t wait in line, just walk in when everyone else already sat down.

Sitting in coach

  • Squirming wildly the entire flight is not fair to the person behind you. Letting your child repeatedly kick the seat is not fair to the person in front of you. Don’t be a dick.
  • Here’s the rule for armrests: if you take one, you can use that space and no more. Armrests are not an excuse to elbow someone in the gut.
  • As for who gets which armrest, it’s simple: the person squeezed on the inside gets it. If there’s four people side by side, only the armrest in the center is in play.
  • If the person in front of you wants to lean back, that’s their call. Need the extra space? Tough luck, cheapass. You should have shelled out for extra space.
  • Does your baby scream and cry repeatedly for dozens of hours on end? If so, have the decency to cancel your flight. I’m sure your “family emergency” or whatever is important, but that doesn’t give you the right to make the next 10 hours of a bunch of stranger’s lives completely miserable.
  • Nothing wrong with talking to your neighbors, but being extremely chatty is obnoxious. I don’t need a 10 hour lecture on collecting flowers. Know when to STFU.

Video-on-demand

  • If you’re sitting next to a young child, you probably should think twice before watching Ultraviolent Sex Horror III.
  • If you sit there with the map open the entire flight, it’s like shouting “ARE WE THERE YET” the whole time.
  • For fuck’s sake, bring your own headphones. You won’t be able to hear anything with the piece of shit ones they hand out anyway.

Food and drink service

  • Bring your own. And you’d better eat before they start microwaving the airline food, because the entire plane is going to smell like rotten farts for the rest of the flight, and the bathroom will smell like death.
  • If you’re going to order a bunch of coffee or booze every time they offer it, take the extra five seconds to request an aisle seat. It’s the least you can do.

Bathroom

  • You went before getting on, right? Don’t be one of those dumbasses who does the “I have to pee” dance behind the food cart.
  • Just because the seat belt sign turned off doesn’t mean you have to go mob the bathrooms with everyone else. Have some restraint.

Landing

  • You know that whole “captain has turned off the seatbelt sign” thing? Follow it, or risk getting knocked on your ass. It’s there for a reason.
  • Just like boarding the plane, there’s no reason to be the first one off. If there’s no room to stand up, then don’t. Wait your turn.
  • Airplane seat pockets are not garbage cans. Leave a magazine here if you want, but not gum or burritos.

 
 
Photo by Wildhaber

Stanza Coffee on 16th

November 9th, 2012

Stanza Coffee

Stanza Coffee Stanza Coffee

Apparently while I was away, the “garage” half of Pork Store on 16th was closed and renovated into a coffee shop. Just like Pork Store, the place has two locations: one on Haight and one on 16th.

I dropped in to the new 16th St location and gave it a try. It’s obvious there’s still some growing pains — the cashier didn’t know how to use the register — but the espresso shot I had was pretty good. For a business that’s barely a day old, it seems to be on track.

Now I know what you’re thinking: another coffee shop in the Mission? Why? Turns out there’s a reason competitors tend to set up shop right next to one another; NPR’s Planet Money has the answer.