Archive for August, 2012

False alarms: how the city should have responded

August 30th, 2012

On Sunday, the entire city heard the warning system (“air raid” siren”) that’s normally tested on Tuesdays at noon. Apparently this was due to human error.

Which is fine, really. People make mistakes.

What is NOT fine was what they did next: nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Instead of using the AlertSF system to notify people that the alarm was a mistake, they sat on their asses and fielded calls from (rightfully) confused residents, who were in fact told specifically NOT to call — we’ll get to that in a moment.

It doesn’t help that the voice message played after the alarm is muddled and incomprehensible. If it was audible we would have heard the “This is just a test” message to let us know everything was cool. But we didn’t.

The city’s official page for the outdoor warning system helpfully explains what to do in this situation.

If you hear the siren at a time other than its regular test on Tuesday at noon:

  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Stay calm.
  • Listen for possible voice announcements.
  • Turn on the radio or television, (such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM) for important information provided by the City.
  • Avoid using the telephone. Do not call 9-1-1, unless you have a life-threatening emergency.

In other words, listen to a voice you can’t hear or turn on a radio or TV in a town where everybody has Hulu Plus and iPods. Hmm, yeah about that. The last bullet point is particularly troubling since apparently the city got quite a few calls, meaning many folks didn’t follow these rules and/or were not aware of them.

Here’s my advice to the city in the future:

  1. Stop using the alarm to indicate things that aren’t related to emergencies. Haven’t you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?
  2. When the alarm is set off by mistake, immediately post a message to AlertSF letting us know it was a mistake.
  3. Turn the voice message on the alarm off, since an alarm followed by a muffled message is more confusing that just an alarm.
  4. Come up with a more realistic set of guidelines for what to do when the alarm goes off that don’t involve antiquated technology like radio. Then take the time to publicize this list so people don’t flood the phone lines with questions.
  5. Train the employees responsible for the alarm so they know how to use it.

Seem reasonable? If the city can’t be trusted to use the alarm in a sensible way, we need to scrap it.

Sad note

August 29th, 2012

Sad note

I noticed this sad handwritten letter stuck to the side of a building on Clarion Alley the other day. It reads:

My friend died last night. He was stabbed twice in the heart. He was dead before the abulence (sic) arrived. His name was Sol. He had an interview for admission to an art school today. he was talented. he was nice. He was selfless. he was tortured. He was loved. He loved. He had many friends. He is missed.

♥ friend of Sol #1

Bark bombing

August 22nd, 2012

Bark bombing

Remember yarn bombing? Yeah, that’s sooooo 2011. It’s played, man. Get with the times. Now it’s all about bark bombing.

Not enough trees in your area? Just wrap your favorite “no parking” sign post in a layer of eucalyptus bark. It adds a natural and outdoorsy essence to the corner.

(Spotted at 16th and Sharon)

Ubuntu as an OS X TimeMachine server

August 19th, 2012

One of the best features of Mac OS X is TimeMachine, a ridiculously easy to use backup system. The downside to TimeMachine is you either have to use an external hard drive or buy Apple’s TimeCapsule backup hardware.

Turns out there’s a third option — use a Linux PC as your backup server.

With Ubuntu Linux 12.04, I highly recommend following this guide, which explains the safest route. Keep in mind it’s completely unsupported by Apple, of course, so if your backups are overwritten with My Little Pony pictures, don’t go complaining to the Genuis Bar.

A couple notes on the guide:

  • Most users can safely ignore the part about Shorewall settings.
  • The guide glosses over user-level security. You could use your normal user account for backups, but you should consider setting up a special user account just for TimeMachine. That way if someone hacks into your Mac, they’ll only have access to your backups and not your entire Linux PC.

Alley Barrel’s new rules

August 18th, 2012

New rules at Alley Barrel

Last week, I posted a photo of Alley Barrel’s rules, which notably contains a tongue-in-cheek provision banning hipster conversations.

After some local coverage, several major sites covered the story. Why? I dunno, but it was amusing to watch — though a few commenters seemingly interpreted the hipster rule as VERY serious, most readers recognized that hipsters complaining about hipsters is the very type of irony that defines modern hipster culture.

This weekend, I went back and found a modified version of their rules. Changes to note:

  • A footnote for the rule about no hipster conversations claims the rule was a “complaint verbatim from our neighbor.”
  • A sixth rule has been added, which reads:

    not posting this on instagram, you hipster

Good thing I’m not hip enough to use Instagram.

A look behind Obama’s Mars teleportation scandal

August 16th, 2012

Thanks to whistleblower Andrew D. Basiago, many news outlets picked up the story of Barack Obama’s early 1980’s jump gate to Mars teleportation scandal in late 2011.

The story of Jumpgategate apparently comes from Basiago’s frequent calls to the Coast to Coast AM radio show, which is of course where someone who wants to be taken seriously would call. He has sent Coast to Coast AM his time travel photo. For some reason there’s only one photo. Oh well.

Thanks to the internets, you don’t need an AM radio for one particularly amazing story — Basiago explains his childhood experience with “jump gates” on YouTube:

A few months later, the White House denied these claims to Wired’s Danger Room reporter Spencer Ackerman.

What could Obama possibly be hiding! And um, why are you only telling us about this now, Mr. Basiago? Why didn’t you mention any of this when you wrote about life on Mars in 2008? Kind of a glaring admission, in retrospect.

But Andrew Basiago has had some previous after-the-fact predictions that were remarkably equally belated; take, for example, this report of the Sept 11th attacks on the United States in 2001 that he predicted nearly a decade after they occurred. (Update: Link changed to’s backup copy because the original link no longer loads the article.)

But it doesn’t end there, oh no. The same fellow has a range of stories that involve him and/or his father participating in unusual DARPA programs.

Here’s Basiago explaining his childhood teleportation experiences. (Update: this video has been made private.)

Andrew Basiago on visiting alternate timelines:

And here’s a video of Basiago lecturing for an hour about time travel, teleportation, unlimited energy, 3D holograms, etc. etc. (Update: this video has also been made private.)

Alley Barrel rules and regulations

August 12th, 2012

Alley Barrel rules and regulations

Four Barrel’s back alley — aka Alley Barrel — hosts a weekend-only coffee service with occasional street food vendors.

Recently they posted a rule sheet, mostly consisting the please-don’t-piss-off-our-neighbors variety. But one rule stands out:

…not talking about annoying hipster topics, or who you fucked last night. You shouldn’t do that anyhow, but our neighbors actually can hear you.

Now while this particular rule may sound somewhat sarcastic, it’s worth noting that most people do not live vicariously through overheard stories of love conquests occurring at Crystal Castles concerts. So perhaps there is a shred of truth to this.

Lisbon’s Super Mario Bros. obsession

August 9th, 2012

Super Mario mushroom Super Mario 1 Up Super Mario

As mentioned in the previous post, Lisbon has a Super Mario thing going on with its street art. Someone must be nostalgic for the 8-bit days.

I think the sign in the 4th image is for a bar… can’t be certain since it was closed both times I walked by.

Lisbon street art

August 9th, 2012

Outdoor stairwell in Alfama Street art Street art Perception reception Street art Street art Street art Street art Dream amplyfyier Go Shopping Mickey Mouse Adults with imaginary friends are stupid Street art Outdoor stairwell in Alfama

Lisbon is one of those rare places that looks just like the postcards. Even the street art is beautiful. Above are the best of what I happened to see.

Stay tuned for a subsequent post on Lisbon’s obsession with Mario, which will include some street art that deserves an Official Nintendo Seal.

Lisbon vs. San Francisco

August 9th, 2012

I spent the last week in a small seaside city that seemed eerily reminiscent of home. Everywhere I looked, there were these little moments of deja vu. Here’s a list of some (surprising) similarities between the two cities, with a few differences thrown in for good measure.


25 of April Bridge

Both cities have a red/orange painted suspension bridge.

Belém Tower

Near the bridge, there’s a fort with cannons inside in both cities.

Super Mario

Restaurants close too early, so you have to go to a bar to hang out late.

Column of Pedro IV, Rossio Square

San Francisco is known for its hippie beliefs and open spirit — but we have nothing on Portugal. In the 70’s Portugal had a goddamn hippie revolution that toppled a dictator and instated democracy, and it involved flowers.

Elevator tram

Lisbon has steep hills, so they gouge tourists to ride streetcars. Sound familiar?

A Brasileira

Both cities have charmingly historic poet cafes that now serve mediocre coffee to tourists.

View from Elevador de Santa Justa

An earthquake and fire leveled Lisbon in 1755. San Francisco’s big quake was 151 years later. Pretty much everything you see now in both cities was built post-quake.

Watch out for thieves!

Instead of being normal and installing an air conditioner, the folks in Lisbon and San Francisco prefer to pretend that we’re not affected by heat. The only option for cooling down is to visit a chain store or mall that doesn’t adhere to the local HVAC customs.

Outdoor stairwell in Alfama

Small alleys throughout the cities contain a treasure trove of various types of street art.

Pena National Palace in Sintra

A tasteless, impractical mansion built by a looney heir exist not far outside both cities.


Lisbon cobblestone

I didn’t see much biking and skateboarding in or around Lisbon, for an obvious reason: cobblestone.

Festa Avante!

In spite of what Fox News would have you believe, there are no more communists in San Francisco than you’d find in any other American college town. In Lisbon they’re also a fringe element, but have a visible presence.


San Francisco’s local drink of choice is intended to put hair on your chest. Lisbon’s favorite shot of liquor, ginjinha, features a sweet syrupy flavor — and follows with a fierce headache.

Lisbon Metro

While cars drive on the right side in both cities, the Metro and commuter trains in Lisbon drive on the left. This really messed with my head, particularly after a few shots of ginjinha.

Bull fight

I haven’t seen any bulls getting tackled head-on in San Francisco.

Castle of the Moors in Sintra

Portugal’s long, fascinating history is still visible, particularly in the form of castles. In fact, it’s the most castley place I’ve ever been.