Photo Friday: Earthquake Pancake

Posted by Ted on Oct 21, 2011 in Events, Memories, Photography

San Francisco shook twice yesterday, and it wasn’t from a Giants game.

Almost 22 years to the day after the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled the Bay Area during the 1989 World Series, two quakes occurred yesterday along the Hayward Fault, with epicenters several miles below the UC Berkeley campus. At 2:41p, I felt the first one (4.0) from our lab in the SoMa district of San Francisco – a rumble that jiggled parked cars on the street. At 8:16p, I felt the second one (3.8) from our much closer second story apartment in Oakland and did a mental double-take as I truly felt the house shake for a moment. Of course, Facebook and Twitter had a flurry of status updates as people all across the Bay Area shared their experiences.

When my wife and I moved here from Boston three years ago, we traded snow for earthquakes. I personally don’t mind these relatively small earthquakes, in that by relieving fault pressure they delay “The Big One“. Even when that one hits, I have some faith that it may not be as bad as what I saw in Haiti last year.

The second floor becomes the first - Jacmel, Haiti (March 2010)

Here you can see a bit of earthquake physics you might not have realized – that on multi-story buildings, it is actually safer to be higher up. Notice that the first floor has been completely crushed and the third floor is comparatively unscathed. My faith that California will weather a large earthquake better is due primarily to the three following things that Haiti does not have;

  1. Higher quality building materials – What I saw in Haiti was cement that crumbled to the touch and woefully thin rebar
  2. Better building techniques – California in particular practices seismic design principles
  3. Adherence to building codes – Perhaps most important, for without this the other two become meaningless

This is not to say that Californians should be complacent, but our awareness and continued engineering advances should give us a decent chance of avoiding the devastation that I saw in Haiti.

(Related pictures of Haiti 2010 can be found here.)

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Thank you, Steve

Posted by Ted on Oct 5, 2011 in Memories, Technology

‎”Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything … all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know of to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

– Steve Jobs

I’m not usually one to pay homage to fallen heroes, but when I think back, Apple has been a recurring part of my life since the time I was jealous of my neighbor getting a Mac Plus in 1986, while my dad had decided to get an Epson QX-10 as the house computer. Only a couple of years later, my initiation into social networking began dialing by into a 7-line DiversiDial BBS run on an Apple II on the other side of town. A few years later still, the desktop machine at my first job at Mass General Hospital was a Mac IIcx. Then I took a hiatus from Apple for a number of years, playing with Suns and Linux boxes, completely skipping OS9.

However, since taking a job at Permabit in 2002, with the powerful OSX operating system and a PowerBook G4, I have embraced Apple ever since, abandoning Windows forever, slowly moving forward with Steve’s progressive visions, sometimes being an early adopter, and sometimes lagging behind. Today, my iPhone 4 and a generously borrowed Macbook Pro are my tethers to the world of information, and to the world of people that give a richness to life unparalleled.

Thank you, Steve. Rest in peace, knowing you have built and left a legacy that will live on.

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Memories of Japan

Posted by Ted on Mar 30, 2011 in Events, Memories, Photography, Travel

At 2:46pm on Friday, March 11th, 2011, a massive 8.9 earthquake shook the island of Honshu, 230 miles north of Tokyo, 45 miles offshore where the Pacific tectonic plate thrusts underneath the North American plate. Colossal 30 foot waves washed over seawalls, bringing boats inland and leveling everything in its wake. The wave traveled as far as our East Bay home, over 5000 miles away. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the three weeks since have been filled with the growing tension surrounding the increasing levels of radiation coming from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. With relatives in and friends visiting Japan, and the tsunami wave and diluted radioactive cloud reaching the Bay Area, the catastrophe hit home. I had also seen the devastation in Haiti only a year ago. Thankfully, the Japanese have building codes, and loss of life has been thankfully minimal. Every day, the news of the struggle to contain the nuclear emergency overshadows all other after-effects of the catastrophe. The world waits as brave Tokyo Electric workers pump seawater into damaged reactors and try to restore power to the facility.

With all of this press that focuses on the tragedy, I would like to take a moment to step back and remember what makes Japan beautiful. I was lucky enough to travel to the land of the Rising Sun just over 10 years ago, when I was working for UUNET. We had been acquired by Worldcom, and were expanding into the Asia-Pacific region, and I was responsible for training the local teams how to connect businesses up to our global infrastructure. Here are a few of my favorite memories.

The offices were based in Tokyo, but I had taken a long weekend and gone down to Kyoto via Shinkansen. It was cherry blossom season, this year’s being not long from now, and they were in bloom and beautiful. One of the most magical moments was walking around the Imperial Palace when there was a light rain and the conditions were just right such that when the sun went behind the clouds, the temperature dropped just enough that the rain turned to snow, falling through blooming cherry trees.

Also in Kyoto, I stopped along a side street to act as a dark counterpoint for two beautiful white-faced Geisha.

Having already seen the recreation at the Japanese Pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, I sought out the Torii gate submerged in Lake Ashinoko, near Hakone. That was a wonderful weekend, having taken the Shinkansen down to Odawara, and then ridden trains, gondolas, and pirate ships around the region.

However, my favorite memory of all was as I left Tokyo the first time, bound for Hong Kong. Only a couple of years before 9/11, air travel was a bit more lax. On this particular occasion, I was in business class, and the stewardess excitedly came into the cabin and invited the handful of us into the cockpit to see a view that few see. There are thousands, perhaps even millions of pictures and paintings of Mt. Fuji from the ground, but we were able to look down on it from above.

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Happy Holidays, Far and Wide

Posted by Ted on Dec 24, 2010 in Events, Memories, Travel

Exactly one week ago, we were landing at JFK after 29 hours of travel from Chiang Mai. This included a 5 hour layover in Seoul between 6a and 11a, followed by 2 hours of sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to leave the gate, be de-iced, and inserted into the take-off queue, before 14 hours of flight time during which we watched 5 movies. Were it not for Christmas, we would have probably spent a week and a half relaxing in a beachside bungalow on the island of Koh Mak before flying home to San Francisco. As it is, we are now in Hawthorne, NY, about 30 minutes upstate of Manhattan, where it has been hovering around freezing – a good 55 degrees colder than what we’d gotten very used to in northern Thailand.

Re-insertion into American life has been interesting. We’re cold, jetlagged, and we find ourselves converting every purchase into Thai Baht, where every $1 is a bowl of noodles and every $4 is an hour-long massage. The first time I put on jeans and closed-toe shoes (and socks, coat, hat, and gloves) felt very odd. I’ve let slip a ‘khob-kun-krup‘ more than once. On the other hand, being able to drink tap water and flush toilet paper have been a welcome change.

Despite the chill we feel, necessitating being bundled up both indoors and out, our hearts are warm this holiday season. If we close our eyes, we can almost feel the bathtub waters off Gili Air where we snorkeled among multicolored corals and fish, the oppressive heat of equatorial Malaysia, or the warm fur of a baby tiger in Chiang Mai.

However, as is always the case, the real warmth comes from the people that we are blessed to know. We met so many wonderful people in our travels, making new friends in strange places. There was Kristie & Matt, whom we met on the boat from Bali to Lombok, Penny in Penang, with whom we shared dim sum with every morning, Katie who was waiting at the gate to Kong Lor and reading a book, and Peter & Claudia who shared the hell-boat with us up the Mekong and Ou rivers. With five weeks during which we entrenched ourselves, we met dozens of people in Chiang Mai. Between students of ITM, residents of WaLai House, and members of Team Chiang Mai, we made many friends that filled our days and nights with companionship.

Holding those we met in our hearts, they are joined by those who were already there, our family and friends that have welcomed us back into their lives. As soon as we exited Korean Air flight #81 last Friday, we were met on the jetway by a family member who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at JFK, who escorted us personally onto American soil. Liz’ mom was waiting for us in the terminal with coats. At a family holiday party the next day, everyone was excited to see us and asked about our travels. We had tea with a Boston friend passing through on her way to NJ. Christmas Day will see even more family, and next week we fly home to San Francisco, where friends and cats wait patiently to welcome us home.

Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, the reasons for celebration are the same. We illuminate the darkest nights with candles and lights, looking forward to the days getting longer. We revel in the company of family and friends, sharing in the joys of the season and a continuing presence in each others’ lives.

Happy Holidays to everyone,
and may you all be surrounded by love and laughter.

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A trip to the Post Office

Posted by Ted on Jun 18, 2010 in Memories

This afternoon I biked down to the Post Office. Usually not a notable activity, today was different. The package was special.

It all started in the small bus station in Marrakech, where we made friends with a tout named Ali, who worked for a desert camel trekking operation in M’Hamid. We rode the red-eye bus together over the Atlas Mountains. Bleary-eyed and slightly battered from the ride, we arrived at Zagora in the morning. We enjoyed a delicious avocado shake and purchased some Tagelmusts for our desert journey, as well as a beautiful hand-made mirror with henna-dyed bone inlay which I paid too much for.

Before setting out for M’Hamid by taxi, Ali insisted that we spend the early afternoon at Camping Auberge Prends Ton Temps. We were greeted by the camp’s Tuareg owner, whose warm hospitality was characterized by his deep voice – a mix of Bobby McFerrin, James Earl Jones, and Louis Armstrong.

After lunch, Belaide brought out his Oud and sang a folk song for us. “Mama Afrika Zina” is a simple song, but it made our hearts weep with joy. Two nights later, we would find ourselves sitting around a fire with him into the wee hours of the night, deep in the Sahara desert at Erg Chigaga. Being in the desert under the stars with music and fire and conversation, Berber nomads partying even later into the night just a few dunes over, that was the defining moment of our trip – ‘magical’ only begins to describe it. All the best moments must end, and so we packed up in the morning, left the desert, and slowly made our way west towards the Atlantic coast, to spend a few days in Essaouira before returning home to the States.

Three years later, the Sahara is never far from our thoughts. We were changed by the desert, and we can always feel its pull. So much were we moved by the experience, that the backdrop for our wedding ceremony was a Moroccan chill gazebo that we envisioned, and our friends created.

It was in that gazebo, on our wedding night, that I presented my wife with a gift that I had been working on for months. It started via email exchanges with Belaide after we had returned home. As English is neither his first nor second language, we use French. And since I am not nearly as fluent in French as I’d like to be, I use the help of translate.google.com. (actually, I started off using Babelfish.) I write what I want to say in English, translate it to French, and then feed that French back into an English translation. I then tweak the original until the re-translation matches. In January of ’08, I wrote the following;

J’ai une faveur pour vous demander. Je ne sais pas s’il est possible, mais il signifierait beaucoup à moi si nous pourrions avoir n’importe quel enregistrement audio de “MAMA akrika zina”. Nous nous marions en Juillet, et je voudrais beaucoup étonner Liz en jouant cette chanson à notre mariage.

After five months of communicating via email, and even after a friend of Belaide’s put an audio recording up online, I received this package in the mail. Package from the desertNot just an audio recording, but video of Belaide and friends playing the song, as well as a panoramic view of Prends Ton Temps itself. There were also two decorated votive candle holders, and two necklaces to ward away bad spirits. I was blown away by the generosity of this Tuareg musician and campground owner that we’d met only briefly. And so it was a few weeks after that when I played the video for Liz in the gazebo, with a handful of friends and family who were with us at the time.

We vowed to send Belaide a thank you box, with favors from the wedding. As months turned into two years, we picked up a few other odds and ends from our travels that we thought he’d enjoy.  Yesterday I finally put everything together in a box, and today I rode down to Fruitvale Station with the box on my back, filled out the customs forms, and sent it on its way to the Sahara.

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