San Francisco In Decline

Corner of Market and Montgomery in San Francisco

Corner of Market and Montgomery in San Francisco

I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I moved there in 1988 and left in 2003.  I lived up in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I loved it.  The combination of rural Marin County and cosmopolitan San Francisco was hard to beat.  Hike a waterfall on Mt. Tam during the day and then go to out to the theater and dinner that night.  What a life.  I thought San Francisco was the best city in the world.  And, at the time, it probably was.  The lifestyle and cultural diversity were intoxicating with a new discovery always a block away.  The city always looked and felt pristine.  But that was 10 years ago.

I recently went back for a visit for the first time in 10 years and I was a bit disappointed.  The city looked like it could use a coat of paint.  I thought I would leave this trip wishing I still lived there, but I didn’t.  Things seemed more run down than I remembered.  Even places like Union Square.  The average person you met on the street seemed more refined and well groomed 10 years ago.  I felt like the dirty, crusty-ness of the Haight has exploded beyond the district’s boundaries and was taking over the rest of the city.  Areas of San Francisco even had an unsafe, ghetto look and feel like Oakland.  I am not talking about the Tenderloin here, I am referring to streets that used to be reasonably nice that are now run-down with abandoned buildings and homeless vagrants loitering all over the place aggressively panhandling.  Places that were doing vibrant commerce 10 years ago are now nearly empty.  Cannery Row and Ghiradelli Square both were bustling with shops and restaurants when I left 10 years ago and now are nearly empty and vacant.

It is clear San Francisco is in decline.  I used to live in New Orleans and thought they two cities were similar with the Victorian architecture with the big differences being the overall natural beauty inherent to the Bay Area that few areas can match, AND San Francisco was a city that was well maintained.  New Orleans has a run down look and feel.  Like the city doesn’t have enough funding to maintain itself.  San Francisco always presented like a city that was very well-managed.  But now it looks like San Francisco might be drifting towards becoming New Orleans West.  What a shame.


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Bamboo You


I have always liked bamboo.  I am not sure why.  I like the way it looks and feels.  I have always wanted to grow bamboo but I thought it was too invasive and would be too hard to control and take over the yard.  Fortunately, it turns out that is not necessarily true.

Bamboo is really an amazing and versatile plant.  It is actually a grass and one of the fastest growing plants on the planet.  Young bamboo shoots are very good to eat.  Mature bamboo is light, strong, and flexible making it an excellent construction resource.  Bamboo is also the fastest growing, sustainable biomass available making it a viable energy resource.

Bamboo comes in 2 main varieties: running and clumping.  Running bamboo IS invasive and can take over your yard or even neighborhood if not managed correctly.  Running bamboo will send its roots (called rhizomes) out several feet in all directions before sending a new shoot up.  Clumping bamboo pretty much clumps.  New growth stays close to home with shoots coming up just inches or so away from existing canes (called culms). Since I don’t live on a ranch and I don’t want to work hard at managing bamboo growth, I decided to grow clumping bamboo.

I wanted a large, fast growing bamboo that could keep afternoon sun off my house.  After doing a little more research I learned that Giant Timber Bamboo is one of the more common clumping bamboos in the US and is cold tolerant down to 20 degrees F.  Giant Timber Bamboo (also known as bambusa oldhamii) grows up to 60 feet high and produces 4-5 inch dark green culms or canes.  I located a local nursery that sold bamboo and purchased a 15 gallon pot of Giant Timber Bamboo for about $70.  I didn’t do anything special when I planted this other than dig a hole and water it.  So far this bamboo has been growing like a week.  It has been a blast watching this bamboo grow.  The new bamboo shoots coming out of the ground seem to grow a couple of inches a day.  I really can’t wait to get up in the morning and see the new growth.

With the success of the oldhamii, I went looking for another bamboo to plant.  I took notice of a couple of black clumping bamboos.  One is called Black Timor Bamboo (bambusa lako) and the other is called Tropical Black Bamboo (gigantochloa atroviolacea).  Both are very similar, but the lako produces a glossy culm or cane that gives it (in my opinion) a slight aesthetic edge over the Tropical Black (see picture below).


Both are very nice bamboos, but I liked the lako just a little better.  These bamboos are not quite as hardy as the oldhamii as they are only cold tolerant down to about 28 degrees F.  If they do get cold damage it is generally the culms/canes that die but the roots don’t so you will usually get new shoots the following spring.  Both of these black bamboos will grow to about 40-50 feet high and produce 3 inch culms.  Our local nursery carried both varieties of bamboo but of the specimens they had available, the Tropical Black one seem in much better condition.  So even though I really wanted the lako, I purchased the Tropical Black Bamboo.  This bamboo, like the lako, is a bit more expensive than the oldhamii.  A 15 gallon pot was $125.  I will go back for the lako in the spring.

I planted the Tropical Black near the oldhamii and in similar fashion.  Dug a hole and watered.  So far, the Tropical Black has been growing almost as fast as the oldhamii.  The culms come out of the ground green and then over the course of about a year they turn dark purple to black.  They are very attractive and I get a lot of comments on the black bamboo.  Another clumping bamboo I am going to plant is called Hawaiian Striped (also called bambusa vulgaris vittata).  This bamboo is yellow with thin green stripes that almost look like they have been painted on.

So as we push through the winter and into spring I recommend that you give bamboo a serious look for your garden or yard.  I know I will be.

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100 Miles Per Gallon – The Great Oil Conspiracy

A long time ago, well about 30 or 40 years ago, 2 guys around here name Mike Shetley and Mike Moody developed a carburetor that they used to modify a gas guzzling Ford into a 100 Miles Per Gallon (MPG) fuel miser.  Not only that but the performance was greatly improved and the emissions were almost non-existent.  They made the local news and the car was called the Moody Mobile.

They were about to take it to the next level when they announced they were moving to North Carolina where they disappeared.  And their car was never heard from again.  I am suspicious they were paid to quit pursuing their invention and retired comfortably.

So what was so special about their carburetor?  Well it essentially provided a way to mix a little bit of water with the fuel and air.  Why water?  Because water turns into steam when heated.  And as we all learned in college thermodynamics, when steam expands almost nothing can stop it.  So the carburetor provided a mixture of air, fuel, and water which it would then inject into the cylinder.  The piston would compress the mixture and when the fuel is ignited by the spark plug, the 3500 F combustion turns the water vapor into steam which then rapidly expands.  The expanding steam not only reduces the amount of fuel required, but it increased the horsepower because, as I said before, when steam expands, nothing gets in its way.

I wonder how many other ideas like this have been “retired”?

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The Light Bulb Conspiracy

The incandescent light bulbThe schools down here require each kid to participate in science fair from 3rd grade on.  This is not necessarily a bad thing in our house as I am an engineer and everyone in the house has similar interests.  This year my son decided to do his project on light bulbs.  Specifically he wanted to compare the brightness and power consumption of the different types of light bulbs.  We narrowed our sample set down to 3 different kinds of light bulbs: the Edison style incandescent, the compact fluorescent (CFL), and the LED.  What he found out was surprising.

He settled on 6o watt equivalent bulbs or the equivalent.  He one-by-one put the bulbs into a table lamp connected to a watt meter.  He then used a light meter app on the iPhone to measure the brightness of each after a 5 minute warm-up period.   The first thing he discovered was the CFL people are liars.  They advertised on the packaging that the CFL would put out the same light as a 60 watt incandescent for 15 watts.  Not only was the incandescent noticeably brighter than the CFL, the CFL pulled a full 38 watts!  The incandescent only pulled 58 watts and was considerably brighter.  And the CFL cost more than 8X the incandescent.  The LED only pulled 14 watts and was considerably brighter than the incandescent but it cost 80X more than the incandescent.  In fact, the cost analysis to determine how long it would take to make your money back in saved electricity indicated it would take about 24 years to get your money back based on 2011 electricity rates.  And that assumes you only have to buy 1 bulb in that time.  Stick with Edison!

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Current California Radiation Levels

I am what most would consider an enthusiast photographer.  I put some money into it and I spend time on it and I am probably average at best.  But I want to get better so I am constantly searching the internet for ideas and information.  One of the sites I read almost daily is which is, of course, managed by a guy named Ken Rockwell.  From what I can gather Ken lives in Southern California and is a former electrical engineer who now runs his web site full time.  I believe he is a very smart guy and he is constantly reviewing different cameras, lenses, all sorts of photographic gear and other electronics.  I have found that the facts, data, analysis, and explanations Rockwell presents are extremely helpful, his opinions are less so.  Overall though, is a tremendous resource that I encourage any photographer to checkout if they have not already.  So what does all this have to do with the current radiation levels in California?  Well Rockwell has purchased himself a Geiger counter and he is posting daily radiation levels on his web site.  He also has a very good explanation of what it all means and how it affects you.  This is interesting now because of the terrible disaster in Japan has caused radiation to be released into the atmosphere and it is spreading across the globe.  It is also interesting otherwise because Rockwell lives near other potentially toxic sites and he has taken radiation readings nearby.  To summarize his findings, there is currently no danger of radiation exposure in Southern California, but check it our yourself:  Current Radiation Levels In California

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Bullish On Lighting Science

I live in Satellite Beach, Florida, and right down the street is a little company called Lighting Science.  At least I thought it was little.  Lighting Science makes, as you can guess, lights.  But they specialize in state of the art LED lighting.  Locally, they have been on a hiring spree and they have just acquired some new manufacturing space.  I believe that Lighting Science sells directly to big box stores like Home Depot and they sell material to other manufacturers like Sylvania.

I started to think about what was going on in the lighting business.  A few years ago when you walked through Home Depot or Lowe’s the only light bulbs available were Edison style light bulbs – the standard incandescent type.  Then, almost overnight, the twisty-flourescent type of light bulbs were all over the place.  It seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.  But drawbacks with toxic mercury and ballast issues have caused the public to sour on them somewhat and I really expect that one morning I will wake up and all the light bulbs on the store shelf will be LED”s.  And why not?  They have low power consumption and consequently low heat, and long life.

There are a few hurdles to overcome before they dethrone the current lighting kings – they are not bright enough and they are not cheap enough.  I met one of Lighting Science engineers at a party and he said they are finding ways to make their lights brighter every day.  There is probably some hyperbole there, but there is probably some truth there too so I think the brightness issue will resolve in the near future.  I also believe that the pricing issue will resolve in time as well.  I have been shopping LED lighting for awhile now and I have seen a 50% drop in price in the last year from about $50/bulb to $25/bulb.  That is a positive sign, but still above my “buy” threshold.  Another 50% drop would probably do it though.  Remember, the twisty-flourescent lights started out fairly expensive and now you can get a 3-pack for under $10.

Another data point is Lighting Science does all their work right here in Satellite Beach, FL.  Design, test, and manufacture are all done right here in the USA.  That makes me think they still have room to improve costs by moving some manufacturing overseas if they ever needed or wanted to.  So we have a small, solid company that is experiencing significant growth in the sweet spot of the lighting market.  This could be the Google/Microsoft/Apple of the lighting industry.  It could also be a juicy acquisition target.

Well, awhile back I put my money where my mouth is and I bought a bunch of this stock.  I got in at around $2.00/share.  It went up to around $5.20/share and then back down to about $4.00/share where it has been hovering for awhile.  I am thinking about buying a bunch more as I really don’t see a downside short of a global market meltdown – which is a real concern in this current political/economical market.  I would be interested in other opinions on Lighting Science so please leave a comment and hopefully we can make some money.

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Yo Ho Ho…

My friend Mike is a freak about rum.  He is always pouring several different kinds of rum and is constantly on the lookout for something new.  Because of his rum habit, I too have been exposed to many different kinds of rum and I have come to appreciate a fine rum.

When most people think of rum they usually think of Bacardi or Captain Morgan’s, both of which are good rums.  But to truly appreciate the fine qualities that rum has to offer you need to branch out and try some of the more premium brands out there.  One of the big upsides of being a rum connoisseur is that unlike, say scotch where you could easily spend $150 a bottle, the average rum is only about $20 a bottle.  And the really good rum is between $30-$50 a bottle.  Sure there are some speciality rums that I am sure run much higher, but I haven’t really seen them in the liquor stores and I have been really pleased with the stuff I have been able to buy locally.

Whenever we entertain, I will often encourage my friends to try some of the good rum.  strangely, it does not seem like a lot of people have really explored the different rums out there.  When pursuing bigger and finer tastes, most people seem to focus on beer, wine, scotch, and tequila but not really rum.  The best you can usually find at a restaurant is usually a premium Bacardi like Bacardi 8 (which is good).  So most of my friends haven’t ever really heard of or tried any of the top shelf rums.  When they come to my house and I serve up some good rum (like Mike did for me) the reaction has always been very positive.  They love the stuff and start looking more into the different rum offerings out there.

I have been drinking rum for about 2 years now and I think I have converged on a favorite.  There a several that are at the top of my list, but one has clearly emerged as my favorite.  That one would be Diplomaticao Reserva Exclusiva.  There are several Diplomatico’s and I have not tried them all, but this one, the one with the green label that cost about $32 is really, really good.  The one with the orange label, the Reserva, is also very good and cost only about $24.  I never get the orange label though, I always spend the extra money and get the green label.  I have not tried the others, but I am willing to bet the Anejo is even better and I look forward to trying it out.  So if you are the kind of person who likes to seek out the finer things in life, be it music, cigars, cars, booze, or anything else you should try Diplomatico Reserva Exclusva rum.  You won’t be disappointed.

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