• Hot air balloon ride

    I have a bad habit of keeping a bucket list in my head… a bucket list that grows longer and longer by the day.

    But there’s one thing I’ve always kept near the top of that bucket list: riding in a hot air balloon.

    Well here’s the thing: thanks to Santa Fe Balloons I was finally able to hop in a big wicker basket and do exactly that.

    Now when I say “ride” I want to make something clear: my dream has always been to go somewhere — anywhere — rather than going on some silly tethered up and down, elevator-style hot air balloon ride. This was not one of those silly tethered rides where the hot air balloon is tied to a rope the whole time. Oh no.

    Hot air balloon tour

    Like most hot air balloon rides this started out well before the crack of dawn. The four of us in the group were driven between two federally owned (BLM) spots near Santa Fe to check the winds by sending helium balloons up into the sky.

    Hot air balloon tour

    Once the pilot, a Texan named Josh, was comfortable with the weather he got together with the crew inflating a small balloon named “Cupcake.”

    The inflation was largely performed with a big fan before the balloon and basket were tipped upwards.

    Hot air balloon tour

    Once you’ve climbed into the basket, taking off and flying in a hot air balloon is surprisingly peaceful. The “burners” can be loud and hot, and the first time you look directly down over the side might be scary.

    And yet you’re moving so slowly and gently that it’s all calm and relaxing.

    Hot air balloon tour

    After we landed and the crew came out to help, Josh set out some snacks and sparkling wine and told us the history of hot air ballooning. According to him we travel with sparkling wine so that if we land in an unexpected area, we have a peace offering to avoid trespassing charges. This allegedly goes back to the early days of ballooning in France, shortly before the French revolution.

    My recommendation: I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It’s around $300/person at Santa Fe Balloons. More than worth it for an unforgettable experience.

  • Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

    While in downtown Santa Fe, I visited the small yet well put together Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

    Georgia O’Keeffe is often described as the “mother of American Modernism” as she was an important 20th century American artist. Best remembered for her abstract oil paintings of flowers and animal skulls, her works encompassed far more: charcoal drawings, watercolors, paintings from her extensive travels, sculpture — and even an unpublished cookbook.

    Let’s back up a moment. O’Keeffe lived the latter years of her life in New Mexico, but that’s not where she started out. To give a brief recap, she grew up on a farm, eventually got into prestigious art schools, became a high school art teacher, and had an affair with the (older, married) photographer who discovered her and made her famous. They eventually got married.

    Again, this wasn’t that long ago so it was all tabloid “news” at the time.

    Another tabloid scandal? O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were described as looking like female genitalia, a claim she categorically denied and blamed on male gaze.

    Normally I’m not a big fan of single-artist museums. To me a museum shouldn’t just be about bringing art to the masses, it should put the art in context and look at it critically. The thing about the O’Keeffe Museum is that it doesn’t have the luxury of time to sand away the rough parts of her life — there are still people alive today who knew her, some of which speak on the museum’s audio guide.

    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

    The most interesting thing about the museum to me was seeing some of the works that don’t easily fit into O’Keeffe’s periods of well known works, such as the painting she made of Mount Fuji above while she was visiting Japan. It’s somehow both recognizable as an O’Keeffe, and yet if you tried to sell me this on the street I’m not sure I’d believe you.

    My recommendation: This small museum punches far above its weight with well put together presentations and an audio guide (download the free app on your phone.) Price is very reasonable, if you’re interested in this era of American art I highly recommend it.

  • Review: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return (No Spoilers)

    If you read my previous posts about Omega Mart, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I had to travel to Santa Fe to check out Meow Wolf’s original permanent installation: The House of Eternal Return.

    As you may have heard, this installation was built in a defunct bowling alley building and was sponsored initially in large part by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin.

    This review will be free of any major spoilers. Look forward to a very spoiler-y companion post in the future.

    House of Eternal Return

    What is The House of Eternal Return?

    The House of Eternal Return starts out as a modest two story family home — both in facade and interiors — although it becomes quickly clear that something isn’t quite right. Parts of the home are damaged, warped, and seem to be advertising a self-help program that sounds like a cult.

    Clearly there’s something more going on here, and as a participant it’s up to you to uncover the truth.

    Or at least, whatever counts as “truth” in a place like this.

    House of Eternal Return

    Practical stuff

    The House of Eternal Return is located in a part of Santa Fe that realistically isn’t walkable from where most tourists (or even locals) will be staying. Most people drive or take a taxi/rideshare. It’s technically possible to take public transit but good luck with that in Santa Fe.

    Tickets are available in advance, with various upsell options. I’d recommend buying the tickets ahead of time, which is what most people do. The upsell options include some silly “3D” glasses, “arcade tokens” that you can also buy on site, and other unnecessary stuff that you can safely skip. I borrowed the 3D glasses from someone who paid extra and didn’t see any particular difference.

    The House of Eternal Return allows phones, personal cameras, and (empty!) water bottles which can be refilled inside. Small lockers are available for a fee, and weapons of any kind are not allowed.

    Bathrooms, the cafe, and the gift shop are all located within the building but outside of the exhibit area. You’re free to enter and exit the exhibit once you’ve been checked in and have a wristband — however you cannot re-enter once you have exited the building.

    Those with physical disabilities may encounter problems. There are no elevators to the second floor and many passages are narrow. I saw a few people who seemed to get by with a cane, but if you need a walker or wheelchair this won’t work for you.

    Aside from certain nights this is an all-ages experience. However, younger children must be supervised and may not get much out of it. The story involves some patience to understand and seems written for a young-adult audience and above.

    Mild content warning: the death of a family pet is involved.

    House of Eternal Return

    My experience

    I knew I had to come here after visiting Omega Mart a couple years ago. What I was a little surprised to find were the similarities: a story set in a semi-sane physical space with numerous secret passages that lead to wildly imaginative and absurd spaces.

    The main difference is in the storytelling methodology. Although the House of Eternal Return includes some straightforward video elements (as of 2023) the greater story details require a much greater deal of time from the audience to sit and read physical documents. Whether or not that’s a desirable aspect is going to depend entirely on your personality.

    I visited twice, both for about four hours each. This was more than enough to decipher the major plot points. My second visit was for a scavenger hunt (their first ever — I beat it but did not win the prize raffle) but was also an excuse to capture photos and video footage after most people had left.

    That said, some of the spaces are so well hidden that I only discovered them well into my second visit. And there were spaces I’m nowhere near flexible enough to fit into (note to self: do more stretching exercises.)

    From what others have told me, this entire exhibit has gone through multiple iterations. I found various details like web links and even a phone number that no longer appear to function, presumably leftovers from the past. These were inconvenient but the story seemed complete without them.

    My recommendation: This is an amazing space with a truly creative story that unfolds in great depth as you explore. I recommend going during off-peak hours (early or late) to get the most of it. If you have to choose between House and Omega Mart I’d say this has a more satisfying story but Omega Mart has an easier to follow story and is more physically accessible.

  • Inside San Francisco’s Cable Car Shop

    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop

    Last week I was lucky enough to get a rare glimpse inside the workshop where the most worn out San Francisco cable cars are sent to be restored — if not rebuilt. This was part of a tour offered by Muni, San Francisco’s public transit agency, in conjunction with the non-profit Market Street Railway to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the cable cars.

    But let’s back up a moment, because there’s a few things to unpack here.

    While the cable car system is 150 years old, the cable cars themselves only last as long as the wood they’re made from. Although regular maintenance keeps them in service for decades both time and weather will always take their toll eventually.

    At some point all the cable cars have to be taken apart and rebuilt. And that’s where the cable car shop comes in. All of the woodworking is performed in-house by a small team of carpenters at this shop in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

    The tour was inside the main room of the workshop itself, which isn’t normally open to the public. The shop was on an extended break during the tour as it obviously wouldn’t be safe to have the public in there while dangerous and loud machinery is in use.

    On my visit there were two cable cars in the shop: the number 18 which they’ve mostly finished rebuilding, and a former car labeled 60 which was being disassembled and appeared to be in poor shape.

    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop

    The brass parts are not made or restored at the shop; instead those are sent to other companies around the Bay Area that specialize in metal work. The parts that can be salvaged are sent off to be refinished. When new parts are required, the shop can pull out the molds and send them off to have new parts cast.

    The photo of the bell above is the one used in the cable car bell ringing contest, and there’s a photo of the cast of the bell below it.

    If like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz every part of a cable car can be replaced, what does it even mean to be original or authentic? Who am I to say; that’s a philosophical question for the ages.

    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop

    The most amazing fact about this entire operation is that it’s still performed here, in an expensive city, by a team of union contractors employed by the people. But then again, if you need to fix a cable car it’s not like you can go on Amazon and order new parts. This is more akin to having custom cabinets made for your kitchen… if those cabinets had to last 40+ years outside and get lugged up and down hills all day.

    I should mention the brakes. As with most trains the cable cars have metal wheels so they cannot brake quickly while maintaining traction, especially on hills — in other words they may slide. There are many solutions to this but the important one here is called a “track brake.” This is a wide term used for any type of train brake that uses the track itself instead of the wheels to decrease speed.

    The cable cars use several pieces of wood mechanically pressed against the tracks as a brake. Depending on the weather these wooden track brakes last anywhere from nearly a week down to only a single day. Muni’s cable car shop makes these brakes on a regular basis and keeps a large stock on hand.

    Cable Car Shop

    The funny red vehicle in the photo above is a tiny automobile built for pushing the cable cars around the shop. As you have have noticed the tracks in the shop don’t even have a slot for the cables. So they rely on this weird old car with a Ford Model A engine. Hey if it works it works.

    All of this made me realize I don’t know nearly as much about the cable cars as I thought I did. Here are a few other things I learned that didn’t fit in anywhere else:

    Miscellaneous factoids

    • There’s a smaller team of cable car carpenters who work in the maintenance facility at the Cable Car Museum.
    • They call the bell on top of the cable car a “gong” to differentiate it from the small bells the conductor rings inside the car.
    • The sign outside the cable car shop says “San Francisco Municipal Transit System.” However, Muni is actually short for “San Francisco Municipal Railway.”
    • The electric lights in today’s cable cars are powered by batteries under the seats. This lighting system replaced the original kerosene lanterns for obvious safety reasons.
    • On the two Powell St. lines it used to be difficult to change the sign on the top of the car. At some point in the 1970’s a Muni employee invented a manual lever that lets them easily flip between the two.
    • Possible spoiler(?) but tucked away in a storage shed somewhere are some freshly rebuilt cable cars that haven’t been used yet.
    • The tour only included the first floor. Not sure what was on the second floor area but it wasn’t big enough to be hiding any cable cars.
    • Tony Bennett, who infamously “left his heart in San Francisco” happened to pass away the same day I took this tour. In a strange coincidence, the number 18 cable car being rebuilt was originally numbered 518 and SF Gate has a photo of Bennett standing in front of it in 1967.

  • 2nd floor bathrooms are currently out of service

    Bathroom installation
    Spotted near Showplace Square

  • There is nothing permanent except change

    You may have noticed things are looking a little different around here now. To refresh your memory, here’s what this website looked like just yesterday:

    In the 14 years since I’ve started this blog, I think it would be fair to say that a new theme had been overdue for some time. It never worked that great on mobile which I’ve heard is kind of a big deal now.

    The new layout is not radically different, although some things may be slightly broken — and hopefully others much less broken. Most notably if you’re browsing on smaller or narrower screens, the stuff in the sidebar will now appear at the bottom of the page.

    The most obvious difference is I’ve upped the size of the text to match modern screen sizes. The most obvious problem is that some images now overflow. I’ll eventually get around to fixing those but it won’t happen immediately. In the meantime, hopefully that won’t ruin anyone’s day.

    We’ll see how this version of the site ages — check back in 14 years from now in 2037 and we’ll see if the world still exists by then.

  • Recent movie review round-up (first half of 2023)

    Sometimes it’s difficult to say if there’s a theme to the movies that came out recently versus if there’s a theme to the movies you chose to watch. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Looking back at the past six months of movies I’ve watched, it’s been a blend of nostalgia, oddball comedy, and horror.

    Now as always I’m focusing on movies that came out in the past few months. But this time I’m also including a bonus feature: an older movie that I recently saw in theaters for a second time. Read on to the end to find out what it is.


    The Menu

    The chef (Ralph Fiennes) of a pretentious fine dining establishment has invited a dozen guests to participate in his new menu. The secret ingredient? Everyone has to die.

    This horror comedy mocks the gap between the wealth of customers who can afford to waste money on courses such as a nearly empty plate of “breadless bread” vs. the working class wage slaves making this stuff in the kitchen. But it goes deeper than that.

    No matter what type of art, there’s a relationship between creators and consumers that can get tenuous or even resentful at times. The Menu takes that fractured dynamic and brings it to its logical (and bloody) conclusion.

    The frantic pacing of the movie makes it fun to watch, though I’ll admit I missed a couple of key points on my first viewing. I thought the humor worked for the most part, with the caveat that some of the restaurant’s dishes aren’t ridiculous enough. 

    Best moment: The desert, of course.

    Rating: 8/10


    Strange World

    The power plants (they are literally plants) are losing power and nobody can figure out why. It’s up to Searcher Clade to get to the bottom of this, along with his son Ethan. On the journey they run into Searcher’s father/Ethan’s grandfather Jaeger, an adventurer who left town to explore the mountains and never returned.

    The story is strongest when it sticks to the relationships between these three generations of characters. Unfortunately like so many of these movies, the story devolved into a generic environmental cautionary tale that’s been done better a thousand times before.

    What is interesting about this movie is that by making Ethan the main character, it’s skewing more towards a tween audience than your typical Disney fare. I suspect some scenes might be too scary for younger kids.

    Overall I feel frustrated by this movie. It starts strong and I like the characters, but the story kind of crumbles when it should be reaching its zenith. Maybe another draft or two could have elevated this from a pretty good movie to a really good movie.

    Best moment: The self-referential jab at the lack of villains in a board game, which is a little wink at those who have lamented the lack of traditional villains in modern Disney movies. 

    Rating: 7/10


    Cocaine Bear

    There’s a bear, and that bear is on cocaine. Turns out to be a problem for people who don’t want to be mauled by a drug-crazed bear.

    This is the type of campy movie that is very upfront with its silly concept. Unfortunately the writers seemingly kept coming up short and threw ideas at the wall to see what sticks, but none of them do.

    Basically we have some drug dealers, police, park rangers, and kids skipping school all wandering through the woods, and all encountering one another — as well as the cocaine bear.

    These story threads don’t have much holding them together. I think it would have been much, much funnier if the story was more focused. As it is, it feels almost like Snakes on a Plane but without Samuel L. Jackson’s character to save the day from the “motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane.”

    Best moment: Whenever the “bear” is on the screen it’s hard not to laugh at how fake it looks. Perhaps that’s the real comedy here.

    Rating: 3/10



    Sports movies are not my thing. They typically all follow the same formula where someone or some team has to overcome an obstacle, they succeed, and then there’s a feel-good ending. This movie kind of follows that formula except with one key difference: it’s about the business of sports rather than the game.

    Sonny (Matt Damon) is a middle aged talent scout at Nike in 1984, attempting to recruit talented young basketball players to promote a company that — at the time — was only known for running shoes. His colleagues don’t think they have a chance of beating Converse and Additas, and Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) is considering scrapping their basketball division.

    Feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, Sonny decides to gamble it all on a promising young basketball player and even design a new line of shoes around him. The player? Michael Jordan.

    The movie is a fairly well written lighthearted dramedy. Although not all the jokes landed for me, most of the heavy lifting in the comedy department came from Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman, and Ben Affleck’s bad wig. I didn’t even know Ben Affleck had a sense of humor but he directed this movie. Maybe he should wear bad wigs more often.

    Best moment: I’m going to cheat here say the art direction — everything captures the looks and sounds of the 80’s perfectly.

    Rating: 7/10


    Smoking Causes Coughing

    This French dark comedy opens with a family on a road trip listening to a song on the radio about God smoking Cuban cigars. They pull over so the boy in the family can pee, but as soon as he steps out of the car he witnesses an epic battle: the Tobacco Force fighting a guy in a cheap rubber monster costume.

    The Tobacco Force is basically like the Power Rangers if they were all a little too old and had the power of tobacco smoke, whatever that means. The group’s chief is an ugly rat puppet that is somehow constantly drooling green slime.

    After the opening fight, the chief sends the Tobacco Force on a team building retreat in the woods. At the retreat they exchange violent scary stories with one another and a few random visitors.

    Now it’s completely fair to say this movie has no plot whatsoever, and that nothing really happens. But it commits so *hard* to not making any sense with one ridiculous twist after another that I couldn’t help but to giggle

    My only criticism is the scary story segments, which were too predictable and didn’t match the wild tone of the rest of the movie. I would have liked those to be a little shorter so we could spend more time with the Tobacco Force.

    Best moment: When the team is spooked by a noise in the dark, one of them suggests it could be “a pervert spying on us, jerking off.”

    Rating: 8/10



    You already know the story of Dracula, right? Well good because this movie pretty much jumps right in, with Dracula’s tireless servant Renfield moving the vampire to New Orleans before enrolling himself in an support group for people in toxic relationships.

    This is one of the funniest “B movies” I’ve seen in a while. The casting is a big part of it. Renfield is played by Nicholas Hoult, he makes friends with a cop played by Akwafina, they fight a gangster played by the nerdy and ineffectual Ben Schwartz, and Count Dracula is played by (who else?) Nicholas Cage.

    The movie breezes by so quickly you might not even notice the homage to Bella Lagosi or the throne surrounded by medical blood bags. But it’s all there — this is a clever, fun movie made by people who are clearly having a good time with the monster movie material they’re working with.

    Normally, Nicholas Cage has too much of a screen presence to work as part of an ensemble cast but in this case everyone seems to be aware of the fact that they’re in a movie where Nicholas Cage is Dracula and behave accordingly. 

    My only criticism of the movie would be the fight scenes, which are fun enough to watch but look much lower budget than the rest of the movie. 

    Best moment: “Did I just watch you chop off a guy’s arms with a decorative serving platter?”

    Rating: 9/10



    Hollywood often lets the words “based on” do a lot of heavy lifting in the phrase “based on a true story.” This is one of those movies.

    Before I rag on it too much I should point out that it gets one thing right: what makes the backstory behind Tetris interesting is how it was developed in the Soviet Union and escaped the iron curtain through confusing licensing agreements. 

    What doesn’t work is all the soap opera drama, the over-the-top Soviet stereotypes, and… a car chase? If it had ended with the Berlin Wall turning into Tetris blocks and crashing down I wouldn’t have rolled my eyes any harder.

    It’s one thing to not let the facts get in the way of a good story, but the story behind Tetris is interesting on its own and doesn’t need embellishment. Go watch a documentary about it or something instead of this.

    Best moment: The scenes early on at Nintendo.

    Rating: 2/10


    Beau is Afraid

    Let me trade in all my hipster points right off the bat as I admit I’ve never seen a film from Ari Aster before. Perhaps as a result, I have no idea what to make of this movie, let alone how to review it.

    Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) is a guy with some psychological problems and is prescribed a new drug. What he’s suffering from is not clearly defined, but given that the movie is presented from his perspective and the hilariously balls-to-the-walls level of violent crime happening both inside and outside of his home, I think it’s pretty safe to assume he’s suffering from paranoid delusions.

    There’s no way I could describe the plot of this movie, if there even is one, so I’ll sum it up by saying that Beau tries to visit his mom but fails to do so because she winds up dead. Maybe.

    Something is a bit lost in the execution of this movie; while it excels at dark humor, it’s far too long at nearly three hours. Without spoiling anything the last quarter or so of the movie feels like it could have cut down significantly.  Aster himself describes the film as a “nightmare comedy” which feels about right. Although nightmares in real life are mercifully not this long.

    Maybe this is a strange thing to say, but I like this movie conceptually a lot more than I enjoyed viewing it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing? It does make it tricky to recommend.

    Best moment: “Am I dead?”

    Rating: 5 to 7/10 (this one needs a sliding scale)



    Ah, the mid 90’s, a time when technology was changing so rapidly it was tough to keep up. 3D graphics, the internet, and of course cell phones all became available to home users at a reasonable price point.

    Although I’m not quite sure what qualifies as the first smartphone, this movie follows a tiny Canadian startup called Research In Motion as it unveils their first early smartphone: the BlackBerry. 

    That’s where this movie is at its strongest: presenting the rise of the BlackBerry through a relatively straightforward dramedy as a group of hapless nerds is forced to get serious when they bring on an abrasive new CEO who’s desperate to prove his worth and make the company profitable.

    The problem is that the movie doesn’t end with the rise of RIM/BlackBerry. Instead it continues on to show us the fall, which is a story that’s already been told countless times. Worse yet it’s not even an interesting story, but rather the old tale of the “innovator’s dilemma” where a company rests on their laurels instead of trying to get ahead, and ultimately winds up far behind. And we all know where this story heads with Steve Jobs coming out on stage and introducing the iPhone.

    Ultimately this movie banks heavily on nostalgia for a certain era of technology, and as a member of the audience you either relate to that nostalgia or you don’t. But let’s be honest: all those early smartphones were slow and buggy as hell. If you miss that era, you probably don’t remember it very well.

    Best moment: For me it was the nostalgia of the video games they’re playing (Command & Conquer: Red Alert in particular) as well as the subtle nods to id Software throughout the movie.

    Rating: 5/10



    Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

    To celebrate the day we humans made/will make contact with aliens for the first time on April 5th, 2063 I watched this movie in a theater on April 5th, 2023. That’s 27 years since I saw this movie when it was new in theaters, or to put it another way it’s a mere 40 years until we develop warp drive and the Vulcans show up!

    Trekkies love debating over which is the best Star Trek movie, but I think most would agree that First Contact is easily the best of the movies based on The Next Generation television series. 

    Although the time travel storyline is largely played for laughs, the enemy is what makes this movie work: the Borg. The Borg are humanoids like you and I who have been forcibly modified with cybernetic implants that make them part of a hive mind. 

    From the moment humans first created tools, I suspect we’ve had nightmares that our creations might turn on us. The Borg is a terrifying manifestation of this nightmare with cybernetic implants turning any and all of us into meat puppets. With all the worries about AI these days, the Borg are perhaps more terrifying now than ever.

    Now there seem to be two main criticisms of this movie: first, Captain Picard becomes too much of an action hero; and second, the Borg Queen doesn’t make much sense. I think both of these criticisms are valid but also flawed.

    Picard does not try to become some action hero out of nowhere. We know he was partially affected by Borg implants in the past and this greatly colors his view of them in the present, with his uncharacteristic win-at-all-costs attitude. We also see him slowly break down, becoming more of a tragic figure by the end; he’s become captain Ahab and the Borg are his white whale.

    The Borg Queen is obviously a plot device to give a face to a collective. Although her character was invented for this movie, the concept of her character does line up with the Borg’s ant-like or perhaps bee-like behavior we’ve seen in the past. She’s also such a great foil for Commander Data that it’s difficult to complain much.

    There are only a handful of Star Trek movies that I think even non-fans would enjoy and this is one of them; the story is largely self-contained and some well timed flashbacks and quick expository dialog fill in the rest.

    Best moment: “And you people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?”

    Rating: 9/10

  • Tunnel Tops Park

    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park

    About a year ago San Francisco opened its most interesting park in decades: Tunnel Tops Park in the Presidio.

    It’s a small park that could be easily overlooked as yet another spot with a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge (weather permitting, of course.) But that would be underselling this park. Despite its small size, Tunnel Tops Park heals two disconnected parts of the Presidio National Park.

    Going back a few decades, the land that’s now Tunnel Tops Park was an elevated highway section called Doyle Drive. This was deemed unsound after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was eventually replaced a new series of tunnels known as Presidio Parkway.

    With the highway underground, the new park on top of it connects the upper level of the Presidio which includes the Walt Disney Museum and the Presidio gift shop to Crissy Field at the edge of the bay below.

    The park has a rotating series of food trucks with a plan to eventually add a permanent restaurant to a legacy building nearby.

    You can visit Tunnel Tops Park by taking Muni’s 43 Masonic or via the free Presidio GO Shuttle to the Presidio Transit Center. It’s completely free but expect crowds when the weather is nice.

  • I took my first ever ride in a self-driving car. Here’s how it went

    Note: All shots through the windshield were filmed through the scratched-up plastic divider.
    Riding in a Cruise AV
    Riding in a Cruise AV

    Although I’ve had access to Cruise’s self-driving cars (or “autonomous vehicles” in tech lingo) for some time now, I hadn’t actually gone for a ride in one until Thursday evening. That’s because Cruise had only rolled out a few select neighborhoods in San Francisco for me up until that point.

    Now with access to most of the city — albeit only at night — I decided I had to try out these new driverless cars for myself. After a ride in a car nicknamed “Banana,” here are my initial thoughts.


    The app and arrival

    Requesting a ride in the Cruise app will be familiar to anyone who’s used Uber or Lyft. Cruise only has one type of vehicle and there’s no option to pay extra to skip the line, so there’s not a lot to it. Additionally it’s currently free so there’s no payment options at all.

    The app asked me to walk a few paces away from the street corner I was standing on. This is typical of the other apps, but unfortunately it had me walk to an area with a weak cell signal. It did work, though the app complained about it a couple times.

    My first thought for a destination was Union Square although it turns out Cruise doesn’t go there at all for now. So I picked the Ferry Building. The closest dropoff point was near Embarcadero Center.

    To get in the car, you have to press a button on the app to unlock the doors. I found this unintuitive but it worked fine.


    Inside the car

    Only the back seats of the car are available for passengers. The front doors remain locked and there’s a transparent plastic partition to keep anyone from climbing into the front. This feels a little claustrophobic, like being transported in the back of a police car.

    Two large touchscreens on the backs of the front seats display information about the ride, and offer a trivia game and radio options for entertainment.

    The inside of the car was clean enough, although the air was very stale. Not sure why they couldn’t have had the vents blowing a little, or at least an option for that.


    Driving performance

    For the most part the ride was uneventful. However it did make a few mistakes, which I’ll list here from bad to worse:

    • After getting “boxed in” to the left lane by a double parked car in the right lane, instead of changing lanes back it decided to continue in the left lane even when it became a left turn lane, incorporating the left turn into a new route.
    • While executing a left turn, it failed to yield to a car in the opposite direction turning right on to the same street.
    • Attempted to pull over when it heard a siren, but aborted the lane change and briefly stopped in the middle of the street.
    • Instead of waiting for a bus to pull out of the bus stop, it tried to make a semi-blind right turn around the bus — only to encounter an obstacle and both serve and slam on the brakes to avoid it.

    While my experience wasn’t a perfect ride, we don’t live in a perfect world. I think it would be more fair to compare it to a human driver. On that metric it seems okay as its worst decisions were performed at low speeds.

    At the same time many of its mistakes could be chalked up to behaving differently than a human driver, which is potentially a problem as it may confuse human-driven cars.


    Who is this for?

    As the Cruise vehicle drove around avoiding buses, other cars, motor scooters, skateboarders, etc. I had to wonder if we really need yet another type of vehicle on the streets. Aren’t there enough ways to get around already?

    Of course, autonomous vehicles are not for you. They’re for companies like Uber who don’t want to have to pay for human drivers. After a decade of commercial development these will have to replace a lot of human drivers to be worth the cost.



    After the ride I got to thinking about how I would describe “Banana” if they were a human driver. My first thought was that it seemed like a student driver based on its timidness when it came to changing lanes. Maybe it’s just me but when I was learning to drive I struggled with changing lanes for a while.

    Another observation is that when the AI couldn’t figure out what to do, it often stopped the car briefly and then jolted back into action. This reminds me of the way some people train their dogs with those shock collars.

    While I don’t want to understate what Cruise has achieved from a technical perspective — and it is a massive achievement — I’m not sure I’m comfortable with 3,000 pound metal boxes being driven around my neighborhood by the AI equivalent of a student driver wearing a shock collar.

  • Six most outrageous moments in the 2023 On Cinema Oscar Special

    Now in its tenth year, On Cinema at the Cinema finished its previous season 13 with Tim Heidecker completely defeated. But now he’s back for the 10th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special, along with co-host(!) Gregg Turkington!

    Sometimes people ask me to describe On Cinema, and the best I can do is this: what if Siskel & Ebert clearly never watched the movies they reviewed, and Ebert kept using the show to promote quack medicine? But at this point that’s barely scratching the surface.

    Point is, this isn’t meant for beginners to the series so if you aren’t familiar read on at your own peril.

    Spoilers follow!

    In season 13 Tim not only nearly killed his bandmates in a car crash, but also got hooked on another medical scam that nearly killed him as well. We also got a special called Deck of Cards which is sort of a return to their Decker spinoff series, and also a way for Gregg to attempt to demonstrate his expertise regarding the movie The Wizard of Oz.

    As the season ended, everyone abandoned Tim and he had no one else to turn to but his co-host/frequent guest Gregg and the two left for Gregg’s apartment to sit around and watch VHS tapes.

    With that background in mind, here are the six most outrageous moments in the 10th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special.



    6. Tim’s opening tap dance number

    The special opens with Tim singing and dancing about Gregg, who he now hails as “The King of Movies.” We’ve never seen Tim quite this enthusiastic about anything before — yet alone his semi-nemesis Gregg — but we all know Tim’s highs will soon be followed by crushing lows. 

    There aren’t many tap dance numbers that seem this ominous. It’s only worse when you notice that Tim is wearing Gregg’s James Bond costume from season 12. What else could he have stolen from Gregg? Hmm…



    5. Forgotten But Not Gone

    The real life Gregg Turkington is particularly well known for telling morbid jokes about celebrities as his alter ego Neil Hamburger. These types of jokes are far more disturbing when spoken by his clueless On Cinema character with a smug smile on his face.

    This segment somehow takes an even darker turn than before as Gregg tells us about elderly former movie stars that have disappeared from the public eye but are actually still alive… as he films himself walking around a Los Angeles cemetery. 

    As Gregg cheerfully notes, these are celebrities “you won’t find here.”



    4. “Pinocchio Through The Years tribute

    This inexplicably trippy montage of various Pinocchio movies includes the three that came out last year (I still can’t believe that happened) as well as low quality home movies and some 3D animated monstrosity called Pinocchio 3000.

    In real life this baffling yet hilarious montage has the handiwork of comedy editor Vic Berger written all over it, so it wasn’t a surprise to see his name in the credits.

    Update: This segment is now free to watch.



    3. Whatever is going on with G. Amato

    Tim promised to ask Mr. G. Amato — the shady financier behind his HEI Points crypto scam and the ranch he was trying to build — the tough questions behind what’s going on with these projects.

    Mr. Amato largely deflects and instead tries to reassure Tim by claiming that he loves him and views him as a son. Just like his other adult adopted son Chris… who died in an unsolved murder. All very reassuring, right?



    2. The damning dashcam footage

    To extend an olive branch in their relationship, Gregg hands Tim the only copy of the dashcam footage that captured the car crash where Tim nearly killed his two bandmates, Axiom and Manuel.

    During the special Gregg launches his new streaming platform, the Victorville Film Network, which is just a bunch of public domain movies in a Dropbox folder. Or is it?

    Turns out there’s a secret hidden in the trash folder: a copy of that dashcam footage. Once this is revealed Tim decides to air it and wouldn’t you know it, the video shows him going nuts and trying to roll the car on purpose. As soon as this is shown Axiom and Manuel storm off the set.

    In one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, the Dropbox folder did appear online when they said it would and a number of viewers found the video and leaked it all over social media before it was mentioned in the livestream.



    1. Pick-Your-Pinocchio

    This attempt at creating two dueling live Pinocchio tributes is yet another failure… and a massive one. Gregg dresses up Mark Proksch as Pinocchio, only for Mark to somehow get tangled up in an ill-fated flying scene as Gregg and Joe Estevez try to figure out how to get him down from the ceiling.

    Tim’s attempt goes even worse as it winds up overlapping with the aforementioned dashcam segment, only for Tim to unsuccessfully try to lie his way out of the situation while still wearing a long rubber Pinocchio nose.

    The special ends as Tim has a mental breakdown, once again exposed as a crazed potential murderer and abandoned by every person in his life.


    Honorable mentions:

    • The lottery contest which in theory was kind of real, except the odds were basically impossible and the only prize was more HEI Points. Also they repeatedly break the lotto machine.
    • In honor of the new Elvis movie, Gregg tries to have Mark impersonate Elvis as though he were still alive today and had taken roles that actors like Harrison Ford are known for. Mark is completely confused by this concept.
    • Mr. Amato offers checks to both Tim and Gregg to make two separate movies with ridiculously lowball offers. Gregg now owes him a fictional movie about the Pep Boys car parts chain, and Tim owes him a movie featuring Mark wearing a baboon costume. 
    • Much to Gregg’s chagrin, Tim has once again stolen many of his beloved VHS tapes and destroyed them. This time Tim had made a “carpet” out of them by gluing them to the studio floor. Worse yet he had people dancing on top of the tapes before spilling a cake all over them.

    This year’s livestream seemed like the most stable one I can remember. No lag or stuttering issues at all.

    I think the most enjoyable thing about the Oscar Specials is that it’s live, which means you get to watch the main performers crack each other up as the video feed desperately tries to find something else to point at. It’s fun to see that after all these years, this is still a passion project for a small group of people who can make each other laugh — and perhaps you as well.