Archive for September, 2012

Backyard beauty

September 30, 2012

Jacky noticed a spider web outside the kitchen window, glistening in the sun. I, of course, went out to see whether there might be something interesting or beautiful, or both. We start with abstract and subtle…

A few days later, Roger noticed a web on one of the lemon trees in the back yard. I liked the stripe of sunlight across it.

The difference between men and boys…

September 30, 2012

… lies mostly in the price of their toys.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Much as I hate to admit it, because the Richard Sachs bike is really nice, it just wasn’t quite what I needed. So instead of a long hike today, I dressed up in cycling clothes and rode to Redwood City.

I am also thinking of a new car, so I stopped at Redwood City Honda to see if a bike would fit into the back of a Honda Fit. They showed no interest in acknowledging my existence, so I went on. (I stopped at Anderson Honda in Palo Alto later on. Yes, a bike will fit into a Fit.)

At Redwood City Kia, I found that I could indeed fit the bike into the back of a Soul. I went back later and took the Soul for a test drive. It would not be a big surprise if I bought one, one of these days.

I went on to Carlsen Subaru, which had no Crosstreks in stock, but I’m told that it’s the same as an Impreza, and the bike fit into the back of an Impreza with no problems at all.

Well, this is all fine, but what I really intend today is to buy a new bike. I like Chain Reaction Bicycles, and Chain Reaction likes Treks. I won’t bore you with details that are of interest only to bikies, but the bottom line was that I bought a carbon fiber Domane 4.5. Nice.

I’m sure the white cork tape will turn gruddy within the first few rides, especially if I take the unpaved trail past Moffett. At some point, I will undoubtedly re-tape it black. But it sure looks nice, pristine and new!

Pretty classy, if I do say so myself!

Killer hikes and tarantulas

September 23, 2012

I spotted this little guy on the back door, then (for this picture) on the doorstep, just another of the small spiders you see all the time. More interesting when you get a magnified view.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The first day of autumn. Tarantula season ought to be getting under way, and the best places to find them are the open grassy lands of the east bay. But my car shows a Check Engine light (NOx sensor), and I don’t want to drive it excessively until I take it in and spend money on it. So I parked on Cañada road just south of Edgewood, where a one-mile frontage trail along 280 gives access to Huddart park.

I hiked up through Phleger estate and stopped at the Kings Mountain fire station to refill the water bottle. I’m told that the trail along Skyline is called the Kings Mountain sidewalk, so I took the sidewalk north to the Purisima Redwoods parking lot. Then down, the Whittemore Gulch trail to the bottom and the Purisima Creek trail and fire road back to Skyline. From Skyline back down on Crystal Springs trail to the starting point. 22 miles, 3800 feet of climb.

Does that count as a killer hike? Less than 4000 vertical feet is a little wimpy, but 20 miles is a fair distance. Yes, I suppose it counts. Sore feet. Nice day, nice hike, but no pictures.

Sunday, 23 September

Before my Achilles surgery, I could run about 3 miles, maybe once a week, with a rest day afterward.  I have been doing 3-mile runs since recovering, but I think it should be possible to extend the distance. What better time than today?

Ran from home through Stanford, detouring to the succulent garden (no pictures, wrong time of year). On up to the Stanford dish trail. I am a little short on energy from yesterday’s hike, but still able to run up most of the hills, walking for a few minutes where necessary.

Open grassland up here, and there he was, the first tarantula of the season! Cool!

One of the other hikers spotted him first, and he was in the tall grass when I went over for a look. Tall grass makes for impossible photography, so I picked him up and put him out in the short grass, where he posed for a picture or two. Thanks, big guy!

Down the hill (500 vertical feet for today), walking the steeper parts in respect for my knees, but running the gentle downgrades. I am radically extending the length of my previous runs, and probably ought not overdo it (well, not by too much). So once I got back into town, I started walking, at least part of the time. The total distance was 10 miles, and I probably ran about 8. That’s a good extension over 3, assuming I’m not limping tomorrow.

Stopped at Elizabeth Gamble House, a small park and garden. They always have nice flowers and sometimes interesting small animals, too.

The second interesting small animal of the day was a butterfly, busy nozzling up nectar from a flower.

And the third was a leafhopper of some sort, so well hidden that I kept losing it every time I diverted my attention to the camera.

Space shuttle transporter

September 20, 2012

From 2002, an air show at Moffett field, Mountain View. The space shuttle wasn’t here, but its transporter was here, a modified 747, with docking mounts on its top.

This is all very high-tech and sophisticated, as expected, until we zoom in on the stenciling at one of the docking points:

California — Small animals?

September 16, 2012

Sunday, 16 September 2012

I spent yesterday on airplanes, getting soft and fat. Today is to get outdoors, get a little exercise. I thought I might drive up Page Mill road to Montebello open space preserve and hike at least the short Stevens Canyon — Skyline open space loop from there, but the gas gauge was a little low. Also, I’m late getting started (almost 9:30 by the time I was on the trail), and rather than spend time driving, I’d prefer to leave the car and hike.

So I went to Arastradero open space preserve instead. I can hike up to Foothills park, then on into Los Trancos open space preserve, which connects to Montebello. I thought Alpine pond at Skyline and Alpine road might be a good destination: drinking water there, and the possibility of small animals in and around the pond.

I spotted the first small animal of the day before leaving Arastradero. The multiple black dots make it hard to tell where the eyes are. Do you suppose that’s a survival trait?

Because this was an ad hoc adaptation, I didn’t have trail maps. I picked up the Arastradero map at the kiosk, but that isn’t the problem. I have rarely, maybe never, gone into Foothills park from here, and ended up wasting significant time and distance getting that transition sorted out.

The higher elevations are okay; I have been here before. Even so, it was apparent that going to Alpine pond would be a stretch, and I’m not sure there’s a direct trail from Montebello anyway. If I need to take the roundabout trail, there is certainly not enough time.

When I reached the Montebello parking area, I got the high country trail map and confirmed that there was no direct trail; it was also 1:15, so I needed to consider the time it would take getting back. I should be smarter on the return trip, but still, there could be a false turning or two. So I turned back. It’s enough for one day, anyway: it turned out to be 19.6 miles, 3000 vertical feet.

Too bad I can’t refill the water bottle, but I still have a little left; I know there’s water at Foothills park, and I won’t need as much going down anyway.

When I got back into the upper reaches of Foothills park, I thought I would take Pony Tracks fire road down, rather than the trail route I had taken on the way up. I thought Pony Tracks would intersect the trail some distance down, and I could turn off onto the trail when I got there. Just a way to avoid backtracking.

Wrong. It was a steep descent and the fire road ended at Page Mill road. I recognize that part of the road: it’s a hard right turn, steep going in, and then with increasing steepness, the one most dangerous curve for a bicycle. I still sweat when I remember the first time I went through there, not having braked enough in advance…. I ended up on the left side of the road, thanking my lucky stars that there was no oncoming traffic.

But because I know the road, I also know that walking along the road is a really poor idea. I didn’t want to go back up Pony Tracks fire road to the place where I should have turned off. The alternative was a short spur called the Parks fire road, which ended at a water tank. Could there be a way downhill beyond the water tank?

I worked my way around the chainlink fence to check it out. There is an electrical line going downhill, probably also a water line. Both run perpendicular to the contours: the steepest possible route. But there was at least something of an access — I will not call it a trail.

What were the risks? No big trees could fall across the alleged path, because it was just bush. Probably the biggest thing would be the risk of  a heavy growth of poison oak, too much to get around. Of course, there was also a good chance of falling on this very steep grade, but that’s not too much of a concern.

And fall I did, three times. But as expected, it was pretty minor. Hardly any blood, and my tetanus shots are up to date.

The untrail does not descend to a ridge where I could pick up a real trail; it actually descends to the top of Wild Horse valley. When I finally got there, I found a picnic site — with drinking water. I knew there had to be something good about this.

Note to self: Self, don’t ever do that again.

Taking Pony Tracks fire road down was a bad idea, but not quite stupid. Not stupid, not within the meaning of the act. Stupid would have been risking serious injury or worse, or risking getting lost or benighted.

I drank as much as I could, and refilled the bottle. Further down, I went around Lake Boronda, hoping for small animals to photograph. There were a few dragonflies, but they didn’t want to pose for pictures. Along the shore of the lake, two more drinking fountains, and I took full advantage of them. Much better!

Back over Bobcat point and down into Arastradero. It was past beer time, and I was stepping right along, when lo and behold, a ringneck snake! Cool!

Ringnecks are fast and agile and don’t like to pose for pictures. Fortunately, this one was out in the middle of the fire road, and I was able to go around and head it off whenever it broke for the underbrush. I guesstimated at 2/3 overexposure, but didn’t have time to calibrate the results. I think a full stop of overexposure would have been better. A dozen shots, of which I think I’ll keep these two.

Both of today’s small animals were in Arastradero preserve. Mike would point out that I didn’t need to do the 15 miles in between.

Home to plunge the feet into a bucket of ice water. As they say, if you can walk away from it, it’s a good hike.

Geneva — Lausanne and Morges

September 16, 2012

Tuesday, 11 September, 2012

When the ITU meetings broke for lunch, two or three of us went to the botanical garden. Denis invited me to take a picture of a lizard.

Later, from the lakeshore, a clear view of Mt Saleve. The Grande Gorge, up which we hiked, begins just to the left of the two flags, and angles up and left.

Fairly windy on the lake.

I suggested the Awash Ethiopian restaurant for dinner, with half a dozen colleagues. A good evening.

Thursday, 13 September

I wandered past the Novotel on my way back to the hotel, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a jet aircraft, parked in the middle of the street. I think it had to do with filming a commercial for Novotel.

Next door, a Korean barbeque restaurant. I phoned Albert, who thought it sounded like a good idea and joined me for dinner.

Friday, 14 September

We had reserved Friday for possible use in meetings, but concluded our business Thursday. I looked into re-booking my Saturday flight, but the minimum cost was $4k. Maybe I’ll stay here Friday.

I went to Lausanne with my friend Jie Hyun. A pretty day, views of the Alps across the lake.

We sat in the cathedral for a few minutes, enjoying the sound of organ practice.

From the town, we agreed to walk down to the lakeshore to see what might be interesting. On the way, we detoured through Lausanne’s botanical garden, where Jie Hyun proved a quick learner at spotting small animals, in this case on a tomato in the allotment garden. The pristine condition of the tomato seems like good evidence that the beetles are carnivores!

It was a nice day, warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and we walked and talked, and after a while, decided to just keep walking to Morges, which is the next town that has a train station. We’ll catch a train there instead of going back to Lausanne station.

This is at St Sulpice, about halfway between.

The morning had been a bit hazy, but the day cleared up, to show some real Alps, including Mont Blanc.

We said our good-byes at the Geneva train station. Jie Hyun is hiking Mt Saleve tomorrow with some of the other colleagues, and good for all of them.

After a nap, I wandered down to the lake, where the view had cleared up even more.


Mont Saleve above the town. At the top of the cliff, the head of the cable car (telepherique). Just to our left, a bare patch. You can’t tell from the photo, but when we were there, we saw that it was an area of green canvas at the edge of the cliff. If you’re brave, you take a running start and jump off.

Well, if you want to do that more than once, it’s a good idea to have wings. The two dots in the photo are hang gliders.

I caught the tram to Carouge, wandered for a while, found a place for dinner. Back in the city, I stopped for a final photo of the jet d’eau, then caught the next tram back to the hotel.

In recognition of 9/11

September 11, 2012

The terrorists won. Hands down. The US has pretty much destroyed its own traditions of rights, freedom and respect for the individual.

Not stupid, they: use your enemy’s strengths against him. And they did, masterfully.

Geneva — Mont Saleve

September 10, 2012

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Shan and I met at 8, took the #8 bus to Veyrier-Douane. As usual, the border crossing into France was unattended, but we brought our passports anyway, just in case. We walked west past the golf course, and turned uphill to the Grande Gorge trail. The trail runs mostly through forest, and is steep enough that it sometimes helps to be able to grab onto a rock or tree with the hands. The photo below shows a clear view of the remaining cliff from a point maybe 75% of the way up.

According to the topo map, the bus stop is around 430m above sea level, and the top of the grande gorge trail is at 1250m. We descended from there to the top of the Telepherique (cable car), which is 150m lower, where we found water refills and munchies. Popular place; many people here by cable car, some here even by road: car or bicycle, and some of us who did it the hard way.

The view from the top of the Telepherique. Beyond the jet d’eau, the UN complex, and well to the left from the UN, the ITU buildings, where we will be working this week.

We had thought to go across the crest of the mountain and around on the backside to take the Monnetier trail down. We couldn’t find the trails marked on the map, ended up re-doing maybe 100m of the elevation gain before we gave up. So we did something like 900m of elevation gain on the day, getting on toward 3000 feet.

I had remembered the trail below Monnetier as less steep than grande gorge, maybe because, when I was here before, I came in the reverse direction, and up always seems less steep than down. Well, the down was seriously steep as well, including stretches where we had to hang onto the rail, feet slipping out on the loose gravel with every step.

But we made it down, caught the bus, and got back into town in time to go back to our hotels and clean up — greatly needed — before Shan was due to talk with newly-arrived Klaus at 5.

The view from my hotel room window. Picturesque, no? And being away from the street, it is pretty quiet.

I joined Shan and Klaus for good beer and dinner at Les Brasseurs, and Denis joined us after a while. A long evening of talk, which we finally broke up at almost midnight. Good day, good night!

Geneva — small animals

September 10, 2012

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Arrived in Geneva fairly early, about 7:15. It takes no time to get through the overhead in Geneva, so I was at my hotel by 8, which of course had no room ready for me. Dumped off my luggage and went out to enjoy the day. Sunny, a cool day to start with, but promising to be quite warm later.

The hotel (Admiral) is at the edge of the red-light district, and as I left the hotel — and again over the subsequent days — any number of nice young women invited me to be their friend. Well, maybe not necessarily that nice, and maybe not necessarily that young, but as far as I know, they were all women…

If I’m interested in finding and photographing small animals, the greenery along the shore is probably the best place to go, with the botanical gardens as perhaps the most likely to be fruitful. Lo and behold, the first small animal I found was a harvestman! In Geneva, of course, it needs a French name: un faucheur (thanks, Sylvain!).

Cool! Over the course of the next few hours, I actually found four more harvestmen. Nice to see them flourishing here.

Who would photograph a fly? Well… I would, I guess. If we hadn’t seen so many of them, we would think of them as complex and interesting animals in their own right.

The botanical gardens include a strip along a little stream, with tiny falls and rills and ponds. In the ponds, we find frogs…

And frogs that have not yet developed fully…

And water boatmen.

Not a whole lot of dragonflies, but I found one that was willing to pose briefly for pictures.

It was getting on into the afternoon, so I went back to the hotel, got my room, took a short nap. My friend Shan arrived mid-afternoon; it’s her first time in Geneva. She’s staying at a hotel called f6, which seems pretty nice.

We walked (again) through the park and botanical gardens, then checked out the old town. The high point was getting into the cathedral just a few minutes before the conclusion of an organ concert. Great sound!

We shared entees at a Lebanese restaurant and called Saturday complete.

There are small animals in California, too!

September 3, 2012

The return from Europe used all of Saturday. Sunday I went out for a little hike to see if I was still okay (pretty much zero exercise in Europe, just a few km of daily walking). 10 miles, 2000 vertical feet — yes, I’m still okay.

And there were a couple of small animals to photograph. The Käfer above isn’t as beautiful as the one we found in Bucharest, but it’s not bad. And I love the transparency of the one in the photo below.

At home Sunday evening: I headed off to bed first. When Jacky came up a few minutes later, she saw my camera lying on the dresser, not its usual place, and said, “I bet there was a spider.” She knows me far too well!

Needless to say, I didn’t damage this guy, although I did encourage him to stay out of the way of bare feet.

Monday is Labor day, and I always like to get to the Kings Mountain art fair. It was definitely subliminal this year — I had forgotten that this was the right time and place until I got partway up Kings Mt road and observed the heavier than usual traffic. As always, I left the car at the wide spot in KM road, hiked down to the Phleger estate trailhead and up the long way through the Phleger estate trails.

This vendor sells woolen yarn and fabric, and I thought the name was outstanding, especially since we’re just back from Deutschland.

I have thought for many years that it would be nice if there were a trail from the Phleger Estate Lonely Trail to the north Purisima parking lot. I talked to one of the Kings Mountain volunteer firemen, and learned that there is indeed such a trail. Cool!

I had not really intended to make this a killer hike day, but it was only noon-ish, and what else am I doing today anyway… ? True, I had worn a tee shirt on the assumption that I would be almost entirely in the forest, and there are some open stretches on the other side, but it isn’t all that bad. And I would have been short on water, but a refill was available at the Kings Mountain fire station.

Not the world’s most congenial trail, but it works, except for walking in the road for about the last hundred meters. It’s an extra thousand feet of elevation gain, exercise that I need. And a good time was had. 16 miles, 3200 vertical feet.


September 2, 2012

Friday, 31 August, 2012, Bucharest to Munich

Because Jacky is traveling on frequent flyer miles, we were unable to fly together, although we are both going to Munich today. We shared a ride to Bucharest airport, but I was unable to get a standby seat on her earlier flight, and had to spend an extra 4 hours in the airport, waiting for my scheduled flight. Moomph!

But they gave me a business class upgrade, whose major benefit — on a 2-hour flight — was not having to rub elbows with anyone. They also gave us snacks, which were welcome. The passport inspectorin (female) discussed my situation with me auf Deutsch. It’s good that mine is good enough to survive a real conversation, if not a particularly profound conversation.

Jacky was there; we went out past customs, where Friedrich and Petra were awaiting us. Very nice of them to pick us up. We drove to their place in Allach, whence we — along with Rike — walked to the nearby Wirtshaus (the Würmtalhof). No Englisch gesprochen, but we can manage, especially with a lot of help from our friends. Good dark beer: Räuber Kneißl.

A long evening of talk, and a short night of sleep.

Saturday, 1 September, Munich

After a leisurely breakfast, we drove Jacky to the airport and dropped her off for her flight to Chicago. She leaves 4 hours earlier than I, and I get to SF 45 minutes before she does. And, for once in a long while, I have a business class upgrade from Munich to SF.

Friedrich and Petra and I went to Landshut and explored. Close to the airport for the return trip, and definitely die Reise wert.

We left the car in the parking area near the top of the hill above the town. After a short walk through the woods (no small animals …), we came to the Burg, which was worth a visit.

From here, we walked down the hill into the town.

I first discovered Landshut when we lived in Munich in 1995, and I explored the environs by bicycle. Jacky and I came again later with Tim. I believe Friedrich and Petra said they had been to the burg before, but not the town. They were surprised and pleased that it is bigger and nicer than expected. Always good to have visitors from faraway places to help you discover things in your own back yard…

I liked the colours, textures and patterns in the foto above.

And here: Jacky always says I don’t take enough pictures of the people. All right, here are some real people. Tourists from Ingolstadt, maybe?

One of the things I like most about Bavaria is the whimsy. Landshut isn’t big on whimsy, but I did find a door pull that I liked and a courting scene as we walked back up the hill to the car.

And what day would be complete without a small animal!

My friends were surprised that I had even noticed this little guy, and they had never heard of harvestmen (Google translator thinks the German word for harvestman is Harvestman, but that’s probably because it just doesn’t know; Oxford-Duden says a harvestman is ein Weberknecht (m). Well, for that matter, I only learned about them myself a few years ago.

It’s noteworthy that they carry their two eyes on a turret atop their heads*, while spiders are festooned with headlights, sidelights, running lights, fog lights, turn signals and sometimes backup lights, integrated into their heads. I also notice that the upper part of the legs is fleshy, while the lower part is a thin fibre; spiders’ legs tend to be all fleshy(tarantulas, for example) or all thin (daddy long-legs).

* Head being an anthropomorphic approximation for both spiders and harvestmen.

After munchies at the car and a quick ride to the airport, we said good-bye and I once again entered the spaced-out world of long-distance travel. Passport control was again auf Deutsch — I suspect it is a new policy on their part to try German first, rather than defaulting to Englisch, and that’s fine.

My flight was at least direct, and I got the business class upgrade, so it was pretty painless. Jacky flew through Chicago, where her connecting flight had problems and she was delayed several hours.

But we made it home, glad to be home, glad to have seen another new destination, and especially glad to have seen our friends again.