Monthly Archives: August 2013

The English Bulldog vs. The American Skateboard!

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Good Evening:

You can call nothing about the English Bulldog average. Either the smallest large breed of dog or the largest small breed of dog–it is not average sized–Bullies have a unique (to put it mildly) physique that makes them a uniquely suited breed for a uniquely American activity.

Skateboarding.

Only the English Bulldog has the combination of a low center of gravity, compact muscular build, and sheer weight that enables them to use the skateboard successfully. A quick search of “Tyson skateboard bulldog” or “Tillman skateboard bulldog” will turn up hundreds of pictures and videos of famous English Bulldogs demonstrating their skills to crowds of admiring and/or laughing humans. In other words, a good skateboarding bulldog can provide a secondary or even primary source of income for its favorite human.

Hence, this bulldog and his favorite human at the San Francisco Civic Center.

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This human has tried for a long time to teach his master canine to skateboard. However, progress has not come easily, if at all. I wrote that nothing about an English Bulldog is average, and that includes their “intelligence:” they are the dumbest breed of domestic canine in the world, with only the Basenji and the Bloodhound coming close (and at least the Bloodhound can state that its testimony is accepted in a court of law).

This particular bulldog prefers to bark at its board. To do that, it first needs to prevent the board from rolling away…

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…so it flips his board upside-down.

Now the dog can flip it back over, and does, but he does not ride it. He pushes his skateboard–without looking where he pushes it…

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…as my right ankle found out the hard way one-quarter second after I took this shot. No harm done; anyway, I can forgive an English Bulldog anything. Incidentally, did you notice that his mouth is also much larger than average?

I know the human won’t give up trying, but this day’s training ended after about 15 minutes…

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…and they walked off into the figurative sunset.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Divisadero Arts Festival, 28 August 2013

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Good Evening:

A whole heck of a lot of art has erupted on Divisadero between Grove and Hayes. I have never seen such an outburst before and don’t know if this will become an annual event, but at least for this week, every available square inch of wall or door has become the frame for various works of art. Of course, we do have a vendor on the block…

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…but he’s selling used zines and poetry, not the usual T-shirts and ball caps. True San Francisco. One blues singer and mouth harpist has turned himself into a sort of living performance art by ensconcing himself in a plastic cage as he performs for tips…

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…but mostly, it’s the art. On Grove Street…

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Believe it or not, that is all fiber art, even the sculpture’s covering over the mannequins. Literally knitting. The anti-materialism theme of the works does represent a typical theme of San Francisco painters, sculptures, printers, writers, et cetera, but I feel compelled to observe that the funding for this arts festival came from a company that produces grossly overpriced imported vodka.

Some more works (some pictures are extreme closeups of bigger art).

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Corporate sponsorship or not, another eccentric outlet for interesting artwork, and yet another reason why I so bleeping love San Francisco.

Vonn Scott Bair

Of Sergio Romo, A Summer of Box Office Bombs, & My Newest Picture Puzzle!

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Good Evening:

If you follow the San Francisco Giants, you know: that Tim Lincecum allowed only a few walks when he threw his no-hitter this year; that Jonathan Sanchez came within an infield error of hurling a perfect game a few years ago; and that Matt Cain threw his perfect game in 2012, the 22nd (of 23 ) perfect games in major league history, a history that goes back to Lee Richmond (June 12, 1880!). You might not know that Sergio Romo retired 30 consecutive batters in 2011. Three pitchers have thrown 10-inning no-hitters; no one has thrown a 10-inning perfect game. (Data courtesy of Wikipedia, of course)

You don’t know about Sergio Romo’s achievement because he is a relief pitcher.

The first picture of my latest puzzle. I don't intend my picture puzzles to pose perplexing problems. First I show a series of extreme closeups...

The first picture of my latest puzzle. I don’t intend my picture puzzles to pose perplexing problems. First I show a series of extreme closeups…

...in this case, closeups of a mural at the Outside Lands Music Festival 2013...

…in this case, closeups of a mural at the Outside Lands Music Festival 2013…

Sergio Romo retired 30 consecutive batters over the course of fourteen games, only the fifth pitcher to throw the relievers’ equivalent of a perfect game. But he has to be the least intimidating looking pitcher in the majors, with the possible exception of Lincecum. Romo is a short skinny guy who favors oversized jerseys that make him look like a teenager who glued a Brillo pad to his chin to make himself look older so he could sneak onto the field. His so-called “fastball” crawls toward home plate at a maximum speed of 90 mph.

And yet he got Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, the American League’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967, to stare at the last strike of the last game of the 2012 World Series. Romo is the Bugs Bunny of baseball, using brains, cunning and guile to outwit batters much as Bugs outsmarted The Crusher and Gossamer the Monster.

And as I watched the Giants beat Pittsburgh 4-0 on Sunday–a game in which Romo did not pitch!–he suddenly gave me an inspiration on how both movie studios and theater owners can recover quickly from the sort of box office bombs that have plagued the big screens this summer, minimize their losses, and perhaps even profit.

Please bear with me.

...study these closeups carefully, the purpose will become clear at the end.

…study these closeups carefully, the purpose will become clear at the end.

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Yes, I realize that not watching a relief pitcher is not normally the best way to come up with such an inspiration (and note that I call it an inspiration–I do not [yet] call it a good idea). Please bear with me.

Typically, a major big-budget release appears on multiple screens in a multiplex, let’s say 4-6 out of 16 (remember when movie theaters almost always had only one screen? Primitive, I say, primitive!). If it bombs, the theater is losing money on a minimum of 25% of its screens. Furthermore, when Paranoia, R.I.P.D., or The Lone Ranger crash and burn, they crash and burn for weeks.

The funny thing is that this summer has in fact proved a very good one for movies! Here and there, if you do a special search, you can find excellent low-budget no-FX movies that cost trivially low amounts of money by Hollywood standards to produce. At the same time, these excellent movies have to scratch and claw for a screen, somewhere, anywhere, and the stars will barnstorm the country on their own dime, show up after a viewing, take questions from the audience, pose for pictures, and basically beg people to spread the word via tweet, Instagram, Facebook, et cetera.

That’s my inspiration: Hollywood needs Sergio Romo.

Hollywood needs relief pitchers.

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Since even a Joss Whedon film like Much Ado About Nothing (very strongly recommended!) has very low expenses, it would not cost a studio very much money to pick up these inexpensive wonders and package one with each big-budget “tent pole” picture. So let’s say Big Explosions 3: The Prequel to the Sequel gets 4 screens and something like Fruitvale Station (part of the package) gets 2 of the smallest rooms in the ‘plex. If BE3 tanks, it’s a simple matter for the theater to adjust the ratio so that the disaster gets 2 screens whilst the low-budget film that makes more money per screen expands to 4 screens and gets a chance to reach more people and alleviate the losses to both studio and theater–perhaps even salvage a small profit! If BE3 does become a hit, the ratio can switch to 5:1 in its favor.

I have had trouble keeping up with the excellent low-budget movies this summer–I haven’t seen In a World… or even Blue Jasmine, which Woody Allen filmed in my neighborhood! Packaging them with the big boys would put them in front of more people and at the same keep them ready to appear on even more screens in case of emergency.

Here is the entire mural. I present your puzzle challenge: can you locate the closeup sections in their proper places within the context of the mural as a whole?

Here is the entire mural. I present your puzzle challenge: can you locate the closeup sections in their proper places within the context of the mural as a whole?

You might recall that March of the Penguins had an excellent return on investment in the summer of 2005. However, it could have done even better, as it languished in sold-out single-screen art houses for weeks before finally breaking out to the general public. Given that this summer the tent pole films have fallen over quite frequently, my little inspiration might prove a better means of getting more good movies in front of more good people and put more good money in the pockets of theaters and studios.

Of course, I have no expertise on the economics of film distribution, and I have no doubt my “relief pitcher” idea has already been considered–perhaps even tried–and found wanting. Who knows? Perhaps even technically illegal. It just seems to me that a more efficient way must exist to maximize the profits of the most films and minimize the losses of the big-budget box-office bombs.

Incidentally, Romo acts pretty well on the Giants’ TV commercials. He reminds me a little of Cantinflas.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Q: If you see Big Explosions 3: The Prequel to the Sequel, what film are you seeing? A: The original movie!

San Francisco Giants 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 0 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus)

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Good Evening:

Apetrue, no make that aperture, has always baffled me. Can’t even spell it right. But I already had a ticket to see today’s ballgame, and WordPress had given us Focus as our Challenge, so I could hardly resist multitasking.

Aretepure remains a challenge. Still not clear on what it does and why small numbers equal big apreturrs, and large numbers equal small arptuers. I also discovered the hard way that my polarizing filter seems to have some spots, blemishes, or some other problem. All of these shots are unedited, taken with my Nikon D40 DSLR.

My strategy was simple; pick a scene, shoot it roughly 15 times using each and every artreprue setting from smallest number to the largest. The first shot is the only one here using the smallest number available (it was 5; sometimes the smallest number was higher or lower).

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The next batch all featured peartrues of at least 25. Obviously, I cheated: using such inherently spectacular scenery gave me excellent chances of accidentally taking a decent picture.

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The gentleman wearing #32 at the bottom of the third picture is Ryan Vogelsong, the starting pitcher for the Giants. He threw 8 innings, allowed only 2 hits, and thoroughly earned the victory.

I don’t remember what setting I used for this last: I might have switched to the default Landscape mode, but it seems possible that I still had an pertarue setting in the high 20s. I think this one might prove worthy of careful editing to cure the tilt, increase exposure, et cetera.

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Ah, well; one of these I shall suddenly “get” what everyone else understands instinctively. Meanwhile, I shall flail away at the buttons on my camera. Have a good week full of accurate aperture settings–and spellings.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle, Part II, 23 August 2013

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Good Evening:

If you haven’t read Part I, you would do well to start there.

First thing when I arrived at work this morning, I headed straight to the cubicle to see the results of our experiment. And this shows you what I found.

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Yes. Both dollar bills gone.

The gentleman who contributed the second dollar bill (as Adam Savage might say, “We do this for science!”) had believed that after a few weeks both bills would still remain on the cubicle cabinet and had planned to keep adding dollar bills until at least one finally disappeared. As it happens, no security video cameras cover this part of the office; hence, we have no way of identifying the person(s) who took the bills. And it could have been anyone. No point in trying to guess who might done the whodunnit.

Yet whilst the bills have gone, other questions remain.

  1. The big one: who took them?
  2. Why was one bill ignored, yet two snapped up immediately?
  3. If the second bill also had a sticky note, would either have been taken?
  4. What if the lone bill had been a fiver, a ten-spot, or a Benjamin? Would it still have lasted as long as the George Washington?
  5. What would have happened had two $1 bills had been taped to the cubicle cabinet from the beginning?
  6. And what about motive? In this ridiculously expensive city, $2 can still get you a small-sized coffee in many places, including tip. It will also allow you to board the bus. Sounds like motives to me. Or perhaps the taker realized that somebody was conducting an amateurish experiment, decided that the whole stunt was silly, and took the money as a form of retribution?
  7. Would the results have been different if the location was the office of a charitable foundation? A mutual fund firm? A Congressperson’s reelection HQ?
  8. What if the experiment had taken place in New York City, New York or Midwest City, Oklahoma? Would the results have differed?

Believe it or not, location is relevant. Back in college, one of my Psych classes studied a curious social experiment from the 1960s. The experimenters parked a car on a sidewalk in Manhattan and propped open the front and rear hoods, to give the impression that the car had been abandoned. They wanted to see how it would take before someone started looting, and they wanted to see who the looters would be. After a few hours, a car with an upper-middle to upper class Caucasian family (mom, dad, son, daughter) stopped next to the test car, and those nice, clean cut white people stole a few items from the vehicle. As time went on, more and more looters stopped by for plunder, each group poorer than the previous. The final looters were African-American.

The experimenters repeated the same test in the San Francisco Bay Area. And waited for the looters.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After days of boredom, one of the experimenters finally threw a brick through the windshield. Then and only then did the looters appear, and in roughly the same order as the Manhattanites.

But getting back to our little bit of science, we three pseudo-scientists rated it a fun experiment overall, aside from the lost dollar. Worth trying in your workplace, I daresay.

Incidentally, after work today, I espied two lonesome pennies lying together on the sidewalk. I scooped them up.

Later, as I waited for the bus, I watched a woman crossing the street as her scarf fell off her neck, yet she didn’t notice. Three men, including yours truly, shouted, “Wait! You dropped your scarf!”

Selective altruism: another reason why human critters are such odd ducks.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you have not yet visited the Mythbusters’ Breaking Bad special on the Discovery website, I strongly recommend visiting. The Ozymandias parody is sheer brilliance.

The Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle, Part I, 22 August 2013

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Good Evening:

Shhhhhh…don’t tell anyone.

Before you I now present one photograph of the almighty dollar; well, one photograph of one almighty dollar. Um, OK, one photograph of one once-almighty dollar–a dollar packed a bit more oomph when I was much younger than it does today.

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One of my co-workers found it and taped it along with the sticky note to the entrance of one of our empty cubicles for its owner to claim. That dollar bill has remained in its place for over two weeks. I hope this says something (positive) about my fellow workplace denizens. I have written in many places that my workplace is a bad place for a diet, and even better, we don’t take what isn’t ours.

But what shall we do with one dollar?

I had an idea that maybe we could buy a lottery ticket for the group; a small prize would get reinvested until we went bust; a medium prize would buy the gang donuts, coffee and other goodies (I said my place is a bad place for a diet); and we would divide any big prize among us in dollars.

One of my co-workers had a better idea. See below.

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He taped one of his dollars next to the first. He and I, plus one additional co-worker, have begun an experiment. How many dollar bills will we attach to this cubicle cabinet before one or more start to disappear? It’s our own little social experiment. All three of us happen to know about the “marshmallow experiment,” testing and measuring the ability of children to delay gratification. Essentially, each child had a choice: either take a marshmallow right away, or wait and for each minute they waited they would get an extra marshmallow. So we will see what happens to our one dollar “marshmallows.” Incidentally, if I had been one of the children, I would have asked for strawberries, but I always was a strange kid.

Speculation, reasoned arguments, wild guesses, and examples of earlier and similar experiments welcome in the Comments section. Let your imagination run wild: we did. Or you can the results in Part II.

Vonn Scott Bair

Outside Lands 2013 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree)

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Good Evening:

Even with last week’s self-imposed  Weekly Photo Challenge “homework,” the 2013 festival proved a fun, carefree day of music and food. Outside Lands is a three-day affair, and I could only attend one day. I went with Saturday because of the five bands I most wanted to see, four played on that day (Murphy’s Law, Paragraph 482a: the band I most wanted to see, The National, played on Friday). I arrived early just to see how the crowd would grow and take some “before and after” photographs, such as these two:

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, "Land's End" Stage, Early in the Day

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, “Land’s End” Stage, Early in the Day

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, "Land's End" Stage, Later That Day

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, “Land’s End” Stage, Later That Day

One funny irony consists of how totally wired the festival has become (complete with its own iOS app!), and yet at the same time they try to tamp down the “wired-ness” of the concert-goers. Evidently, folks have complained of people screeching into their phones, “WHERE ARE YOU? I’M OVER HERE!!” Hence this sign on one of the portable toilets:

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The people have taken notice, and come up with their own interpretations of “funny flags.”

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The festival must have had a hundred food vendors of all sorts. Of course, since we are San Francisco, we can’t do normal festival carnival food. San Franciscans do not do junk food: we do le food de junque.

Les Junque Food Stands, "Land's End" Area, Outside Lands 2013

Les Junque Food Stands, “Land’s End” Area, Outside Lands 2013

Gourmet S'more, Outside Lands Festival

Gourmet S’more, Outside Lands Festival

The Biggest Paella Pans I Have Ever Seen, Outside Lands 2013

The Biggest Paella Pans I Have Ever Seen, Outside Lands 2013

A whole day of eating adds up after a while (all include tips):

  1. Fried Egg Sandwich w/Bacon & Provolone (excellent) $9
  2. Garlic Fries with Chimichurri $9 (half-pound, but still…)
  3. Coffee $6 (seriously?!)
  4. S’More (excellent) $6
  5. Lamb Paella (very good, but mine is better) $11
  6. Social Kitchen & Brewery Pilsener (excellent) $10
  7. Pacific Brewing Laboratory Squid Ink Beer (outstanding) $11
  8. Hot Chocolate (very good) $6

The beers are worth a special search if you’re so inclined.

I did see a fairly large number of smokers; however, only one of these smoked tobacco. The rest smoked–well, I think you know what I mean. Two of the cops I spotted were trading air guitar licks with each other, so I have a funny feeling the local constabulary did not make a large number of arrests.

Lots of people arrived and partied in costume, as one might expect. For myself, one great peculiarity is the recent trend (possibly unique to San Francisco) of wearing what I will call “neo-Hippie) clothing. outfits that maybe perhaps possibly kinda sorta somewhat partially echo the clothes worn by hippies during the Sixties. Back then, hippies couldn’t afford anything more expensive; today, neo-Hippie fashion looks if anything too expensive.

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Have you ever heard of “furries?” In San Francisco, the term refers more specifically to sexual activities than elsewhere (surprise, surprise). Furries like to engage in various X-rated antics whilst dressed in costume as their favorite furred critter. The furries were out in force on Saturday. As jaded as I have become to people’s personal private peculiar playtime peccadilloes, I must admit that SF’s furry community remains the only sexual sub-genre that can make me stop, stare and say “What the bleep?”

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Some miscellaneous pictures.

If It Isn't Digitized, Did It Really Happen?

If It Isn’t Digitized, Did It Really Happen?

Noon, and Already Exhausted

Noon, and Already Exhausted

Land's End Stage, Soft White Sixties Performing

Land’s End Stage, Soft White Sixties Performing

Mural Artists

Mural Artists

The Most Expensive VIP Seats and Yet Over 100 Yards from the Stage

The Most Expensive VIP Seats and Yet Over 100 Yards from the Stage

The music itself? Overall, a very good show, got lucky with my choices. Land’s End opened with the local group Soft White Sixties (new to me), which played solidly for forty minutes, then something clicked and the last 20 minutes scorched the stage and left the crowd crying for more. At Sutro Stage, Milo Greene (named after a non-existent music agent) played the last show of a two-year tour with the energy of musicians who know they can cut loose because tomorrow they can sleep late.

The bands I wanted to see on Saturday began with Gary Clark, Jr. and everyone with whom I spoke agreed that if one group had a monster breakout performance, it was these guys, a hard rock quartet with not one but two reincarnations of Jimi Hendrix (they were that good). If you like guitar, you have to see these guys live. Young the Giant followed and were the only disappointment for me. Thai & The Get Down Stay Downs (new to me) turned in a pretty interesting performance. Jurassic 5 gave my second favorite show of the day and were by far the most danceable of the bands. The Tallest Man on Earth (new to me) performed an impressive quiet little set at Sutro.

The top-billed acts were Nine Inch Nails and Phoenix, and this posed a dilemma. I used to like NIN until Elvis Presley bent Trent Reznor over his knee, spanked him but good, and said, “This, young man, is how you ‘Hurt.'” On the other hand, whilst Phoenix’ music has received generally excellent reviews, I had not been quite as impressed as the critics.

I went with Phoenix in the end, and paradoxically, they played such a good live show that they justified my opinion of their studio work. As technically competent and well-written as their songs sound in the studio, in a live performance Phoenix have an edge, urgency and intensity that sends their music several levels higher.

Phoenix - Purple

Phoenix – Purple

Phoenix - Red

Phoenix – Red

That was a good day. Sunday I did the dishes, bought groceries, made my lunches for the week. A care-full day indeed, but it feel great to settle down and watch the first of the last eight of Breaking Bad.

Vonn Scott Bair