Archive for July, 2019

Tara Mechani

July 29th, 2019

Tara Mechani
Tara Mechani Tara Mechani

About two months ago Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley became the home of a new temporary sculpture: Tara Mechani from local artist Dana Albany. Originally built for Burning Man 2017, you may have also seen the 17-foot tall sculpture when it was previously on display in San Jose.

Tara Mechani’s built out of reclaimed materials, including pipes and gears, formed to shape a female Buddha figure. Perhaps a female robot Buddha? This is all very much intentional according to Albany’s own description of the sculpture on her website:

Playing with the contemporary fascination with technology, the artwork infuses the mechanical with the compassion and empathy associated with the ancient deity. Tara Mechani challenges us to embrace the future without losing sight of past beauty and ancient wisdom.
The sculpture’s art deco aesthetic is inspired by the robot Maria from the classic silent film Metropolis.

Tara Mechani

The first time I came to see the sculpture someone had left bunches of flowers around the base, as though they were leaving offerings to a religious figure. A handful of children were taking the flowers and were inserting them into the sculpture as decoration.

I barely noticed the wooden base — until I returned to Patricia’s Green as the sun was setting.

Tara Mechani
Tara Mechani Tara Mechani

When it’s dark out the sculpture not only glows from within, but the base lights up as well, in part to throw light onto the metal form. It’s far more magnificent in person than I was able to capture with my mediocre photography skills.

Fortunately you have about a year to see it for yourself as Tara Mechani is schedule to remain in the park until next June. This means plenty of early winter nights to view the sculpture in its nightly lit-up glory.

In defense of medium-term housing

July 24th, 2019


Recently it was revealed that a new housing development at Church and Market in San Francisco isn’t going to be typical apartments, but will instead be offered as “hotel style” or medium term apartments — or what we would have called corporate housing before Airbnb came along.

There has understandably been some hoopla about this. Most of us who live in the area thought this building would be normal long-term apartments, after all. As someone who lives only a few blocks away it definitely came as a surprise.

However, I’d also like to point out that medium-term rental housing fulfils a very real need. While Church and Market is a strange spot for this type of housing it’s not altogether a bad one, especially since it’s right outside a Muni Metro subway station.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment and consider these scenarios:

  • You’re in college or about to graduate and have landed an internship. It’s in a city you’re not sure you’d like to live in for the long term, so signing a year-long lease on an apartment isn’t for you.
  • You’ve found a new job in an unfamiliar city — perhaps even an unfamiliar country — and you need a place to stay for a while while you get situated. Even if a hotel is an option financially, you’d prefer a “real” apartment until you find a place to stay long term.

Back in the day when most people worked at large corporations, folks in these situations would stay temporarily at corporate housing. Which is to say your employer would have spaces available at places nearby, sort of like a dorm or timeshare while you — as the new employee — would live for a month or three while you find a more permanent place to live.

These days though, well… times have changed. Interns and new employees are often left to find housing on their own, and that often means finding a room on Craigslist or Airbnb at a communal house; hardly ideal.

A year or so ago I worked with an intern who lived with roommates at an Airbnb in Daly City for an entire year — and it wasn’t even his first internship in the Bay Area! I wish I could say that was an extreme example, but in my experience it’s par for the course.

So before you get angry about some new medium-term housing development like this, take a moment to go meet those new neighbors if you can. Invite them for a cup of coffee — maybe at that new Verve Coffee across the street — and ask them to tell you their stories. I bet you’ll be surprised.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

July 21st, 2019

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

Today I went to SFO not to catch a flight, but for the free “Community Day” to see the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1. No flights connect to it yet, the old Terminal 1 is still in service.

Despite everything looking shiny and new, part of it felt like a throwback — there’s no airport security line yet. Felt a little strange walking in without putting my backpack through a x-ray and taking my shoes off.

Initially I thought the idea of going to the airport just to see a new terminal wouldn’t attract too many attendees. As it turns out, I was completely wrong. The place was a mob scene.

Here’s what I experienced on this Community Day at the airport:


I took BART from the Mission District, which is a pretty fast trip if you time it right. SFO is a ring-shaped airport, the BART station is in the front at the international check in area. Terminal 1 is just to the right, though due to construction you can’t walk there at the moment.

When construction wraps up presumably there will be a way to walk there again. Well, a convenient way to walk there without going through the entire airport.

SFO Air Train

So I went upstairs and got on the AirTrain, the little blue driverless trains that shuttle people around SFO. On the way back I noticed the new AirTrain stop for the upcoming Hyatt hotel is still under construction — that’s all supposed to open in a few months.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

The AirTrain stops across from Terminal 1 and I snapped this photo of the ring section of the SFO that’s still under construction. This is the section that will connect Terminal 1 to the International section at some point in the near future.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

For the Community Day they had an DJ with a very on-theme outfit, some dancers, activities for kids, dogs to pet, various free samples, and some kind of clown/magician on stage in the very back.

Several of the airlines that operate out of Terminal 1 had their own events: JetBlue had a some sort of contest going on, and Southwest had a stack of paper for folding your own paper airplanes.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

Near the entrance there’s a big temporary looking wall, presumably an area for expansion after the existing Terminal 1 is demolished. Right now it’s covered in an exhibit about Harvey Milk’s life and legacy.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

Not many of the shops and restaurants were open, but most looked complete and had liquor licenses taped up. I spotted a bar, an Illy Caffe, an outpost of the local Mexican chain The Little Chihuahua, a chicken restaurant, an electronics store, and at least one magazine/souvenir shop.

The food options in particular look to be a major upgrade over the dreadful fare served at the old Terminal 1. I’m certainly not going to miss that one iffy breakfast cafe or the weird smelling Chinese-ish restaurant.

SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day
SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day SFO Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day

Lastly, all the airport necessities — the gates, waiting areas, bathrooms, and hallways — were all open for the event. They gates look ready to go, complete with the boarding pass scanners and the numbered line-up areas for Southwest.

SFO seems to have made it a point to have outlets and USB chargers all around the waiting areas, but I’m sure there won’t be enough. There are never enough.

According to the official project timeline the first gates at the new terminal will open later this month, with all construction complete and all gates open midway through 2023. So far at least, the arrival of the new Terminal 1 appears to be on time.

The Peanuts statues of Santa Rosa

July 8th, 2019

Santa Rosa Peanuts characters
Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peantus characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters

All over Santa Rosa’s downtown I stumbled across statues in the likeness of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, etc.) They’re all about the same height, but made from different materials and from different artists.

These were all commissioned after Schulz’s death in 2000, apparently because he didn’t like the idea of statues honoring his characters in his own hometown. Once he wasn’t around to say no anymore, I guess the statues were inevitable.

As I made my way to the Downtown Santa Rosa SMART station on my journey home, I couldn’t help but to notice a guy laying down a blanket to take a nap with his dog right next to the Charlie Brown and Snoopy statue.


July 8th, 2019


Easily the strangest thing I saw on this trip was the “Cyclisk,” an obelisk made of around 340 damaged bicycles. It was created by Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector as a public art project for Santa Rosa.

Ironically the statue is next to a car dealer and a car wash, but Grieve says “The statement is up to the viewer.” I’d also point out there are no bike lanes anywhere near the statue, and the street it’s located is even missing a sidewalk just north of it. So the meaning seems pretty clear… or is it?

If the nearby streets were rearranged with complete streets in mind, it would give the statue a completely different meaning. Perhaps in that context it could be seen as a call to action in its current state.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

July 7th, 2019

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

I arrived in Santa Rosa this afternoon and made a beeline for the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. It’s the site of the home and a test garden of the wildly prolific horticulturist Luther Burbank. I bought a ticket for the hourly tour.

Although not a household name, Burbank invented a number of common foods you can find at your local grocery store including russet potatoes and various types of plums, as well as flowers including the Shasta daisy. One of his more out of the box ideas was to create a spineless cactus (no spikes) intended to be used as cattle feed in dry climates.

The tour goes through some of his failings, in particular not graduating medical school, not being taken seriously as a scientist in spite of his achievements, and not being granted patents due to laws at the time.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

Burbank was friends with some of his well known contemporaries including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Stanford University president David Star Jordan. This is all glazed over in the tour, but with the benefit of hindsight some of these men have a seriously tarnished reputation, including perhaps Burbank himself.

After the tour I went poking around the gardens. The tour guide, apparently finished for the day, noticed me and pointed out something truly strange. Part of the garden is still devoted to scientific research and a Ph.D student from UC Davis grew two separate trees and grafted their branches together. I’m not sure what this means but if she’s successful we might have a new horticultural expert working in Burbank’s old test garden.

My recommendation: If any of this sounds interesting, the guided tour is only ten dollars. It takes about an hour, and you get to set foot in Burbank’s original home on the property (a second home has since been demolished.) The gardens are free to visit and a hot spot for wedding and quinceanera photo shoots.

Petaluma’s temperance fountain

July 7th, 2019

Abstinence fountain

I happened to walk by a stone drinking fountain in downtown Petaluma with a curious inscription on the side:



It seemed odd at first glance, I think mostly because the word “abstinence” is generally only used in modern American English by religious zealots peddling unscientific sex-ed material. But in this context the word is referring to abstaining from something else: drinking alcohol.

Yet again, the connection seems unclear: what does a drinking fountain have to do with avoiding alcohol?

An episode from the 99% Invisible podcast about the history of modern drinking fountains explains the connection — in fact this very fountain in Petaluma is mentioned at about 10 minutes into the episode.

The gist of it is this: back in the day water wasn’t always safe to drink due to bacteria, so many people stuck with alcohol. Once modern science made water reliably safe to drink, the temperance movement promoted the use of drinking water as an alternative to alcohol.

Obviously people still drink alcohol today, but thanks to plentiful clean water (well, in most places) we don’t have to choose between feeling thirsty and feeling tipsy.

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour

July 6th, 2019

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour
Lagunitas Brewing Company tour Lagunitas Brewing Company tour

Today I took a tour of the Lagunitas Brewing operation in Petaluma. The facility was largely built before they sold themselves to Heineken, and still operates independently. Tickets for the tour are free and (if you’re over 21) include a free beer.

The tour focuses very little on brewing and much more of the stories behind the company. Which is fine with me, every brewery essentially does the same thing at some level. Back when I used to brew beer at home I covered the process here.

Some highlights from the Lagunitas tour stories:

  • Founder Tony Magee was an unsuccessful musician from Chicago who moved to California and started brewing “house beers” for local bars, eventually launching his own brand.
  • An early version of the brewery was in a much smaller town that (unbeknownst to the company) had a communal septic tank instead of a proper sewage system. Let’s just say you don’t want to trap yeast with human waste in a closed environment.
  • The state had the brewery shut down for a few weeks after catching employees smoking marijuana at a company party. Lagunitas responded by issuing a beer to commemorate the occasion when they reopened, the Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale.

I’ve left out many details, and there are many more stories on the tour. Depending on the tour guide you might get a different set of stories entirely.

My recommendation: Anyone who enjoys Lagunitas’ beer or is curious about this quirky brewing company would probably enjoy the tour. Their taproom and beer garden with live music and food is just outside the brewing facility. One caveat is it’s only accessible by car; I think I spent around $30 total getting to and from the brewery from downtown Petaluma via Lyft.

Marin County Civic Center

July 6th, 2019

Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Exterior of the building

The more I’ve seen of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, the more I’m convinced he was an interior designer at heart who happened to get tasked with architecture. His interiors are always unique and playful, but the exteriors are almost offensively boring.

It’s certainly true of the Marin County Civic Center. From the outside it mostly looks like a big mess of arches, as though a bridge builder lost his or her mind.

Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center

Stepping inside though it’s a completely different story; while it certainly has some of the look of a mid-century government building, the giant skylights and lush indoor gardens give off relaxing vibe. Pretty much the opposite of what most of us have come to expect from our interactions with government offices and courthouses.

I should point out that part of the secret to the building’s success is how well it’s maintained. It’d be much cheaper to let entropy take its toll and allow the gardens die or turn into weeds. Instead they’re watered, pruned, etc.

A number of tourists were wandering around in there snapping photos just as I was. Not much was going on since it was the day after July 4th, and the county fair was in full swing outside.

Marin Civic Center

On my way out I walked through a gallery of painted portraits for sale. I recognized a couple of the people, but this one in particular seemed appropriate as he’s one of the more famous people in Marin County: George Lucas.

Museum of International Propaganda

July 6th, 2019

Museum of International Propaganda
Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda

My last stop in downtown San Rafael was a tiny museum with an unusual premise: the Museum of International Propaganda.

Housed in a former shoe store, each section of the museum is devoted to a certain type of propaganda. Examples include leader worship, promoting the military, and demonizing a perceived enemy.

It seemed to me a prevailing theme was the truth didn’t matter, as long as it got the message across. Are the farms failing? Start a rumor of an American covert operation! Is the leader of the country a war criminal? Here’s a photo of him smiling with some children!

One of the most surprising artifacts in the museum is a watch, part of a limited series given out to soldiers who participated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

At the end of the main gallery, it switches to parodies of propaganda:

Museum of International Propaganda

It’s interesting how the same imagery used to control the populace can be flipped on its head, now mocking the same authority it was once used to prop up.

The last area of the museum is a temporary gallery; it’s worth pointing out here the museum has only been around a couple years so temporary is relative. Right now it’s mostly about propaganda from the last presidential election to present day.

Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda

My recommendation: This is a very thought provoking museum, far more interesting than I would have expected. Definitely work a visit if you’re in the area and it happens to be open (the hours are very limited.) It’s free, though they do accept donations and ask you to sign the guestbook.