shannon_a: (Default)
2017-09-05 09:40 pm
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In Which We Labor to Beat the Heat

Point Pinole (Saturday). I actually wasn't that good at beating the heat on Saturday. But, when I'm not gaming, it's the day I go out and adventure, and I didn't want to waste my adventure day. So, I headed out to Point Pinole on my bike. Actually, I was sort of beating the heat, because I wasn't hiking. A carefully paced bike ride can be pretty cool in comparison, and it was quite nice until I got to the hill leading up to Hilltop Mall. By then I was a bit overheated, so I stopped, rested, and drank. Then I walked up the hill with another stop in the middle. And then it was over to the mall, which is air-conditioned (or, on Saturday, sort of air-conditioned). Unfortunately that also meant that it was quite a shock coming out of the mall, now towards 1pm or so. By this point, it was clearly hot, in the 100 or so degree range. Point Pinole is downhill from Hilltop Mall, but it was still work. Fortunately, when I made it out to the point of the Point, and sat down in the shade, it was cool, as I expected: about -10 degrees for being out at the point, about -10 degrees for being in the shade. I was stunned by the heat while r for a while, but then I was able to enjoy myself reading and writing. The bike ride back, though, that was some real work, but I only went as far as Richmond, then took BART back.

The Bedroom (Saturday).
Our upstairs cools poorly and that's a problem on a super-hot day. It was looking like it was going to be unsleepable, but then K. set a fan to blasting the bed. That worked, for me at least. K. unfortunately still found it unsleepable.

Legion of Honor (Sunday).
Where's cooler than Point Pinole? How about The City! Not on Saturday, when it was over 100, but on Sunday it had cooled down to 80 or so: a tinge of hot with a breeze of cool. Our goal was the Legion of Honor museum, where they had a exhibit about Degas and the millinery trade. I'm always happy to see impressionists. It indeed was pictures of men with hats and women with hats and exhibits with hats. We laughed long and hard at a woman (with hat) riding a geese-mobile, which is a poster I've seen before. We were less bemused by entire dead birds mounted upon hats. (In fact, K. seemed quite disturbed by them.) Overall, it was a nice exhibit, other than the avian corpses. Some nice works by Degas, Manet, and others. Some nice works by more representational artists in the same period. Some nice hats. I've decided that I should add a straw boater hat to my collection. It's such a long trip out to the Legion of Honor just to see a single exhibit that we'd hoped to then walk over to Golden Gate Park, enjoy the park, and stop in at a 'zine show there, but K. was unfortunately feeling sick by the time we were done, and so we passed.

The Hills (Monday). A holiday monday! But I didn't feel much need to wander further after two busy days. I did hike up above Clark Kerr after lunch and wrote and read for a short time on the hillside. But then it started raining! I had to put my computer and book away, but I didn't mind meandering a bit more in the warm rain. It disappeared all too quickly.

Streaming (Weekend). Over the holiday weekend, we also watched some shows on streaming: Orphan Black and 11.22.63. I've always had a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with streaming. The first streaming show we ever watched was Pirate Master, back in 2007, and it was horrible. It was a frustrating challenge to watch every episode because of constant, long pauses. Then we got a Roku, and its streaming of Netflix was really bad too. We've been OK with Netflix in more recent years, through our Tivo, but then we hit Orphan Black on BBC America this weekend, and it became obvious that streaming is still a poorly understood (and poorly programmed) art form. Not only did the show frequently pause, often losing images and even dialogue, but multiple times it also died out and restarted at the beginning. At least six times over the course of three episodes. Fortunately, we've got the rest of the season, from episode four up on the Tivo, and fortunately 11.22.63 has been doing better after some jerkiness in the first episode. But streaming: I don't get why people are so eager to use such a substandard delivery method. Netflix is literally the only streaming service I've ever used that was reliably good ... and even that was ruined when we tried to use it on the Roku, a device built for streaming!

(Tuesday). It has cooled at last.

shannon_a: (politics)
2017-08-27 07:15 pm

In Which Neo-Nazis Fail to Find the Bay Area for Two Days Running

San Francisco, Saturday: Right-wing neo-nazi enabler with permit for nazi-enabling rally decides at last minute to move his rally to some place he doesn't have a permit for. Unshockingly, city, which had prepared for right-wing violence at old location, doesn't allow last-minute move to new, unpermitted and unprotected location. Was there magic thinking that neo-nazis could find new rally location and counter-protesters couldn't? Do neo-nazis perhaps have rally telepathy? Or had neo-nazi enabling leader just realized they had almost no turn-out and wanted to be able to blame their failure on mean, mean city? Possibly, neo-nazis just couldn't find parking in city, especially not after last-minute move. Neo-nazi enabling leader then goes on run for day, ending up in Pacifica before finally returning to city for rally he called. There, he finds 20-25 depressed racists (or racist enablers) in Chrissy Fields. Meanwhile, thousands of counter protesters march the streets.

UC Berkeley, Saturday. UC Berkeley Police decide they might like to control crowds this time, rather than allow free reign to arsonists and anarchists, so they block off western crescent where Sunday's anti-hate rally is to be held. And then they go so far overboard that they literally become the fascists that the protesters are protesting against. They ban numerous extremely dangerous objects from the western crescent, like water bottles, backpacks, and liquids that aren't factory sealed. Because free speech can only be truly free when its practitioners are naked and thirsty. Berkeley residents initially respond using their favorite method: they write aggrieved letters to the editor from their home offices, looking out over their multi-million-dollar views. Not that they were going to the protest any way. Because it's not like a Safeway is being rebuilt or anything.

Berkeley Civic Center Park, Sunday. Today's bigotry-support rally is inexplicably labeled "Against Marxism", as if that's some sort of political force in the US. They might as well be protesting against Sufragettes. Maybe they're just trying to cosplay alongside the counter protesters, whose anti-Nazi protesting could be straight out of the 1940s.

Berkeley Skies, Sunday. The helicopters are buzzing the city by 10am. I imagine "reporters" perched in their vulture-mobiles salivating, hoping for the ratings-inducing violence they were denied in San Francisco yesterday. When asked, Berkeley rarely fails to produce a spectacle on command, full of drama and violence, signifying nothing. And the news vultures know it.

On the Ground in Berkeley, Sunday. I regret the fact that Kimberly, a week and a half into a sickness, isn't well enough to escape into San Francisco with me, as we'd planned, but I'll find somewhere else to go after lunch, lest the constant buzz of the vultures for 8 or so hours raise my stress to a breaking point.

Hills above Strawberry Canyon, Sunday. I bake my stress out in the blazing kiln of the East Bay Hills. As I hike higher and higher the antagonist thwip-thwipping of the helicopters soon becomes a dull roar, occasionally drowned out by the susurruss of Highway 24. I stop to write. I hike more. I ascend ever higher and as I drop behind a stutter ridge, the helicopter pollution fades away. The heat blazes to 90. The tension sweats down my back. I eventually decide to loop up to the Tilden Steam Trains and back, mainly because I can refill my water bottle there. I really need a second water bottle for some of these hikes. 

UC Berkeley, Sunday. So how do real people react to the UC Berkeley police's extreme fascism? They just refuse to enater the barricaded western crescent. Duh. Absolutely no one could have predicted that having such huge restrictions that a normal persona couldn't enter the "free speech zone" would result in people not doing so. Congrats UC Police, you have 3,000 people roaming the streets, totally uncontrolled and uncontained. Thankfully, these are the anti-hate folks, who responsibly protest according to the SPLC guidelines: away from the racists (and their racist enablers). So the UCPD's incompetency won't cause problems.

Hills above Strawberry Canyon, Sunday. I descend down some of the trails burned by last month's fire. The hillsides are dusted with white, and the path is covered with rocks. It feels like a metaphor for Donald Trump. The fire promised change, but all it did was burn away necessary vegetation, causing rocks to tumble down, creating a rubble-strewn commons. But that's not it at all, because Trump lied about everything he was promising before the election and afterward. A better analogy would be if the fire claimed there was no greenery above Strawberry Canyon, and then burned it all down, and you realized that the best you could hope for is that the greenery would eventually grow back to be what it was before Trump sullied the White House.

Civic Center Park, Sunday. The bad protesters are out at the Civic Center Park . And, I don't mean the racists (and racist enablers) because only about twenty of them show up. I mean the so-called antifa, who are our black bloc anarchists under a more publicly acceptable name. The fact that they come masked and armed to demonstrations really says it all. Predictably, they break into the park, assault people, and generally seem to create a riot all on their own. Bad news organizations call them far-left because the so-called reporters are far too stupid to understand that political beliefs do not run along a single line. It's these anarchists who have been the criminal drag on all of our Bay Area protests for the last decade. And they turn out to be the only actual problems in Berkeley today too. And beating up the racists, perhaps even the maybe-racists, that's a bad look. It lets them act like martyrs as they post their tear-filled screeds from their mother's basement. It maybe even targets people guilty of nothing more than stupidity or enabling of racists, neither of which deserves physical assault. Fortunately, the anarchists are outnumbered by a factor of ten or more, so pretty soon everyone goes to Ohlone Park to hear a sermon, and the whole day anticlimaxes just like Saturday in San Francisco.

In My Head, Sunday. My first reaction to these two days of failed alt-reich demonstrations is that white nationalists are really awful organizers, and that explains a lot about the White House this year. But a more optimistic side of me hopes that we've hit an inflection point. That the neo-nazis were morons to out themselves so publicly in Charlottesville with their zieg heils and their swatstikas. A year too late, so my theory goes, the more righteous right-wingers have realized that they're aiding and abetting awful human beings, and have decided to stop. So every right-wing demonstration since Charlottesville has been attended by just tens of people. Some have decided to demonstrate online instead, as pathetic as that sounds. Is it true? Time will tell. 

South Berkeley, Sunday. I descend from the hills. The helicopters are gone.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-08-21 07:09 pm
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In Which I Fail to See an Eclipse

Today was the solar eclipse. We aren't in the path of totality here in the Bay Area, but we were promised that a pretty big chunk of our sun would be missing, so I made plans.I'd leave the house between 9 and 9.30, walk up to the hill above Clark Kerr, enjoy the shifting shadows as I neared, watch the eclipse through my eclipse glasses, then walk home, and get a slightly late start to my work day.

Not so much.

The problem was Berkeley's frequent grayness. Friday the weather report said there wouldn't be any morning cloud cover, Sunday it said it'd clear by 9am, today it said we'd only get 50% of the sky by 11am. So I woke up and it was gray as gray, and I didn't plan to go much of anywhere.

Around 10 o'clock I walked out of the house, up to Telegraph, then looped back a few blocks up. The object was to at least be outside during the maximum eclipse that we got so that I could enjoy the eerie darkening of the sky.

Not so much.

We get such dark, gloomy gray in the mornings that if there was any darkening beyond that, I didn't notice it. So it was back at home by 10.20 or so and back to work.

Ah well.

Not the first time I've missed a celestial phenomenon due to Berkeley's gloom. I made great plans to see the first of our quartet of blood moons, but when I got up to an overlook above Lake Temescal all I could ever see was clouds; the moon was just as absent that day as the sun was this morning.

The gray gloominess is actually one of the things that bugs me about Berkeley. There was one summer several years ago now where it felt like it was gray all year long. I was going out of my mind by the end of it. And that's not necessarily figurative. I used to get depressed over winter, as the gloom really cut in, though in recent years Vitamin D and trips to Hawaii seem to have held that off.
Just this Saturday I was desperate to get away from the gloom, so I hauled my bike out to Pleasant Hill. As soon as I got through the hills (on BART) everything brightened up. I went from gray and 60 degrees to bright and 85. It was like a different world. I had a great bike ride and then when I got to the Lime Ridge Open Space I hiked around that for a while. (It was kind of hot and harsh, so I only went a mile or so and back.)

This morning, I thought about heading out to BART and going somewhere where I might be able to see the sun disappear. Orinda or Richmond. But ultimately I shrugged my shoulders. It seemed like a big disruption to the day to no guaranteed results.

So no eclipse today, though the sun had certainly disappeared.

I took to the hills in the evening, after dinner. And I saw a glorious sunset. Apparently all those clouds are good for something.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-08-20 10:42 am

In Which We Celebrate Our 17th Anniversary

Writing in my journal has been constantly lagging lately, as all of my free writing time has been going to D&D histories, and when I can manage it, a little something for Mechanics & Meeples. I think I may have turned a corner for that, but more of that in another (delayed?) journal entry.

For now ...

Last weekend, Kimberly and I celebrated our 17th anniversary. It's the furniture anniversary, and though we certainly have cat-scarred upholstery, we had no interest in buying anything new, because every new piece of furniture is something that needs to be expensively shipped to Hawaii on a container ship — or wastefully discarded.

I ran my Burning Wheel game at Endgame on our anniversary. How romantic!

But our celebration occurred afterward. Kimberly and I met at Millennium, which is now conveniently located on College Avenue, between Endgame and home (more or less).

We've eaten there for several celebrations over the years, and this is our third time eating there since they moved to the East Bay (and thus, our third year running). As usual, we had very tasty food ands great service (from our same server as last year, which Kimberly realized and I would not have). Very pleasant!

Since nothing thrilled us on their desert menu, we then went to Smitten Ice Cream a block away, which they slowly make your ice cream while you watch. It was tasty enough, but nothing amazing. But we're already spoiled by Ici, down the street. Mind you, the wait for Smitten to literally create your ice cream was shorter than the typical wait in line at Ici.

Then we had a romantic walk home through the mean streets of north Oakland and south Berkeley, with me pushing my bike and its pannier full of gaming supplies.

On Sunday, we continued our celebrations by taking BART out to Glen Park. This had been our plan, but Kimberly was somewhat reluctant because of the possibility of a big festival at Golden Gate Park making BART very crowded (especially now that they've stopped running more or extra trains for it, because BART sucks), and I was somewhat reluctant because I was feeling highly congested and wondering if I was coming down with something.

But, we persevered.

BART was crowded. And I was bemused how many dumb/new riders there were. Because if you're experienced rider going to Golden Gate Park you get off at Embarcadero, to catch the N-Judah line to the park as soon as you can, and hopefully get a seat. If you're a new/dumb rider you wait until the Civic Center, which is the last N-Judah crossover. Then you certainly don't get a seat on such a busy day, and maybe pay extra for BART too. So about half the crowd got off at Embarcadero, but about half waited until Civic Center. (And afterward the BART trains we were blissfully quiet, but we'd managed to get two of the last seats at MacArthur, so no biggie.)

We had tasty sandwiches out in the park and we enjoyed a walk out to the end and back along the bottom of the canyon.

And that was our anniversary.

Unfortunately, I indeed was getting sick. First cold in a couple of years, and in the middle of summer to boot. Very annoying! (But at least I didn't get a cold during any of my many travels last year or during this year's trip to Hawaii.)

It was never bad, but I was a bit under the weather throughout the week. Bleh.

Other stuff Kimberly and I have done lately.

We finally did another walk from our Berkeley Walks book. We had stopped around this time last year, because the returning students were making the local walks unpleasant for Kimberly, but in July we started with our third, the Berkeley campus walk. We finished it over two Sunday afternoons. Sadly, it was a bit disappointing. The authors seemed to totally punt all the discussion of architectural detail that made the southside walks interesting and also missed many historic details that we were aware of. Ah well. We did still find some interesting stuff on campus. I'd never been to the Women's Faculty Club before, because it's kind of hidden by Strawberry Creek, and I'd never been in the "new" business school, which has a magnificent court yard, where we read during our second walk.

And speaking of reading, we finished Assassin's Fate last night with a 2.5-hour marathon read, which concluded our massive 18-book read-aloud of the Robin Hobbs' 16-book Realm of the Elderling series. (We read two of the three newest books twice, once when they came out, and once as we were concluding the series, two or three years later.) It's our longest series ever to read-aloud (with the 11-book Gene Wolfe Sun series and the 10-book Roger Zelazny Amber series being next up, I think), and it's even more than that by page count, as the books tended to run 500-900 pages(!). Also a magnificent series, full of great characters, and sufficiently distant from the fantasy norm to be truly unique. We'll miss our Fitz and Fool reading, which has been part of our daily life since we started Fool's Assassin almost exactly three years ago. Whew
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-08-11 11:40 am
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In Which Our House is Sort of Repaired

Last Tuesday, Kimberly went to pop some corn in the microwave and the circuit popped instead. Or that's what it seemed at first.

I poked my head out the door, looked around carefully from druggies from People's Park (this morning's homeless hijinks: an ice-pick stabbing in front of Ben & Jerry's in downtown!), and when the way was clear scooted out to our electric box and flipped the switches that were most likely for the kitchen. (They're very poorly labeled, or unlabeled, and the circuits aren't entirely logical.) I came back inside and K. told me that she'd been able to pop corn again for several more seconds, then it shut off once more.

Further investigation revealed the problem was the outlet. If it was used for power for more than a few seconds, it went out. Not good. It kind of made me nervous, but for the moment we extended our microwave extension cord to run to the next outlet in the kitchen, which we'd replaced some years ago due to flakiness (hmmm ... I sense a pattern), and popcorn was popped.

So Wednesday I went to our fixit website of late, Thumbtack. I put out a request to fix our bad outlet, plus a problem we'd been having with a switch, which rebounded whenever you pushed it down too hard. And since I was there, I put in a second request for a tile repairman for our continued downstairs bathroom problems, after I didn't get any Thumbtack response a week or two earlier, and a third request for a handyman to fix a variety of holes and cracks that have appeared in our walls over the last 17 years.

Within an hour I had someone offering to do both the electrical and handyman work. I was a little leery of someone who wasn't a full-time electrician, but his profile listed electrician as his main category in Thumbtack. He also had good reviews, so I figured, good enough.

Sort of.

Our handyman ended up spending around six hours at our house last Thursday and Friday. The amount of work he did was uninspiring, as was the quality.

Certainly, our house has challenges. It's over a hundred years old and it's had bad work done in past times. So the bad outlet was apparently very tightly packed and hard to work with. The bad switch (and associated outlet) was jammed in between uncut tiles, had a faceplate that wasn't really the right size and after it got accidentally shattered, we learned that that size was no longer being made.

But our handyman also didn't seem that good. Oh, he could do the basic work. He clearly knew how to rewire electrical wires. And he knew the basic techniques for patching our holes in the wall. But, given anything more challenging, like a switch and outlet where there wasn't a cover that could easily slip into the old spot, he was at wit's end, leaving me to troubleshoot. And he was also very sloppy. (If I wanted sloppy, unfocused home improvement work, I'd do it myself). And, he was also very messy. I spent almost an hour cleaning up after his first day of work, seriously messing up my Thursday evening's schedule.

After those six hours of work, we have:

  • An outlet that's working again, and just slightly crooked.
  • A switch and plug that may look better than they did before (and work cirrectly now), but which aren't wholly professional, and where the plug isn't totally stable in the wall.
  • Six or so patched holes, none of which are painted (because he couldn't get us a paint match) and a couple of which look very rough (due to sloppy work and a lack of texturing).


I mean, things are improved. Our two big electrical problems aren't problems any more. Some bare wall is covered. But I'm thinking about presentation nowadays, and most of this work fails the presentable-enough-to-increase-the-value-of-a-house test, to various degrees.

Our biggest lesson out of this is: don't use Thumbtack. I think we've gotten four people from them, and three have been disappointing. There was the handyman who built us OK shelves (but failed a little bit on that presentation), but just threw up his hands over our bathroom problems after working on them for a while and even cutting holes in our wall; there was the other handyman who worked on the bathroom and made the situation worse by grouting over our grout with a different color, which then started washing away weeks later; and there was thi electrician-handyman who did OK work but was very bad at finishing and polish. We did get a good roofer from Thumbtack, who did solid work on our leaking back roof and resealing our repaired garage roof, but 25% aren't the odds I want when having someone work on our house, especially when presentation increasingly matter.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-08-04 11:10 pm
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In Which I Explore Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Last Saturday I managed a hiking trip that I've been wanting to do for a while: I explored Sibley Park.

It's a tricky trip because there's no particular good transport up to Sibley. I've been through the park any number of times, but it was always on the way from somewhere to somewhere else. I knew that if I hiked up there, explored for a few hours, then hiked back, it would be a pretty busy and tiring day (and it was).

I hiked in from the north and cut over to the Quarry Road, a pedestrian-only paved road that's all but invisible on the Sibley maps. From there my initial goal was the Ponds Trail. I always love lakes up and ponds up in the wilderness, and these were decent-sized ones, so I looked forward to them.

Except they were perhaps the most disappointing ponds I've ever seen. Oh, I've seen brackish ponds and little mud pools. But these were entirely filled with reeds. You pretty much couldn't see the water at all. The high point was actually passing by a dozen cows partly blocking the path. I don't usually pass that near by the cows out in the local parks, but I was cautious, and they seemed pretty casual.

There was a picnic table out by the ponds, and I did stop to write there. There was a bit more foliage than I like, so I carefully looked around for snakes before sitting down. Then I wrote an article, listened to the incessant hum of highway 24, which I'd been hearing for the last hour or more, and didn't look at the pond. On the way out I passed by the cows again, and then found the long black snake I'd been looking for over at the picnic table, blocking my path. I stared at it for a while. It refused to move. I thought, this is a really stupid snake that doesn't move off a path that cows tromp around. I stared at it for a bit more then carefully edged around behind it. It never moved.

(Stupid snake.)

After that I headed toward the back of the park. There were lots of high-looking hills there, and I was eager to ascend them. Eventually I ended up on the Volcanic Trail, and finally I got to see signs of the ancient volcano there at Sibley.

Most of the sign is basalt rocks that have been thrown here and there, plus some very red tufts. They were actually pretty cool to see, and I'd thrown my Sibley map in my backpack, and it had all the info on the 11 major, marked volcanic locales in the park.

Two of them were actually old quarries, where people dug out the volcanic rocks. One was just a little cul de sac, but the other was a larger area ... which turned out to actually be the original interior of the Round Top volcano. Cool!

Kimberly had once told me she remembered Sibley as being pretty barren, and I now see that it was the back of the park the she was talking about. But I soon circled back to to the more forested areas near the front, and then there was a refilling of water bottle at the staging area, then a mile or so walk down a road, until I could drop down into Merriewood, and from there cross back across 24, which put me onto Old Tunnel Road and eventually down into Berkeley.

Fitbit says I walked 16.5 miles, which is one of my best days ever (but I didn't quite repeat my 40,000 step day that I managed on my free day in New York last year). My feet were hurting by the time I got home. But it was a nice exploration of Sibley.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-07-30 07:05 pm
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In Which We See Tarzan

We closed out the season at Berkeley Playhouse this afternoon with Tarzan: The Stage Musical. It was entirely meh.

I can't totally blame the Playhouse, because it was a real dog of a show. The problem starts with its plot, which is all over the place. It's a story about a boy avenging his parents death! (And oh boy, the start of the play is gruesome with the killing of said parents by a leopard on stage and later the killing of that leopard.) No, it's about an outsider finding his own family. No, it's about an abusive adoptive parent. No, suddenly at the end of Act I, it realizes that it's a Disney play and it rather quickly introduces an insipid romance. No, it's about bad guys destroying nature. Then the big finale is about Tarzan finding out who he was, which was literally only an issue for one song, far far earlier in the play. There is no through line, and the rapid-fire introduction of all these various elements meant there was no real characterization and no real plot development along the way. (OK, a little bit, mostly about Tarzan and his ape mom.)

And the messaging is often troublesome as well. I mean, we know that Disney romances are going to be utterly unrealistic and offer bad modeling for young adults, but Jane falling in love with someone she can't even communicate with, mainly because he's mostly naked all the time ... that's horrifying. And then after a play that was mostly about finding family, Tarzan and Jane are totally OK with Tarzan abandoning that family, until he's guilted into staying by his abusive adopted father's death. And then Jane leaves her family, and that's totally OK and not even commented on, because she's the woman. Meanwhile, the ape-murderer is just wheeled away in a cage like it's no big deal (which turns out to be a [BAD] change from the movie.)

And the music, it's almost totally soulless and unmemorable. (I kind of liked "I Need to Know", which was the one thing that tied to Tarzan's who-I-am finale, but mainly because its tune reminded me of Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower")


The actors actually weren't great either, though that might have been the poor source material. The young Tark was superb: gymnastic, emotive, and enthusiastic. But she appears in one scene. The older Tark was pretty good too, but his relationship with Tarzan was one of the things that notably suffered in this horribly truncated script. Jane was the third best, but beyond that we're getting into "OK" land. (There wasn't anyone bad, because this is the Berkeley Playhouse, but just a lot of "fine".)

The best performers in the play? Actually the back-up dancers, who did many awesome, acrobatic dances. And when the backup dancers are the best thing about the play, that's a bad sign.

The Playhouse was trying to figure out how to make their Tarzan as "immersive" as the Broadway experience, and they did so by making heavy use of their center aisle and their side aisles. At one point we had a snarling leopard swinging mere feet from us. Kimberly wasn't doing entirely well during the play and was not pleased when apes, having looted the Porter camp, ran up our aisle and tried to encourage her to bang on a metal mixing bowl. No amount of frantic shaking of her head deterred the apes. I finally had to rescue her by leaning over and giving the bowl a ba-bam.

And that was Tarzan.

Next up Sister Act, which I'll have to see early on, before life becomes some amount of busy in October.

PS: The most memorable song of the day was actually Schoolhouse Rock's "Three Ring Government", which we listened to while walking to the Playhouse after talking about how Trump doesn't play well with others and thinks he's the boss of the whole gov't. I thought it kind of sad that a cartoon song overshadowed a whole Broadway play until I learned that it (and many other Schoolhouse Rock songs) was written by Lynn Ahrens, who went on to become the broadway composer of Seussical (our first, excellent Berkeley Playhouse play) and Ragtime (which is showing next year and I'm now enthusiastic about).
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-07-25 10:33 pm
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In Which I Am Reminded of the Frustration of Doctor Visits (and the Evil of Republican Senators)

Two weeks ago Friday I went to visit my new doctor at Kaiser.

I switched over at the start of the year because I just couldn't justify continuing with my Blue Shield plan, which bumped up around $150/mo this year, to almost $800. I looked into some of their cheaper programs, since they now have "silver" programs that don't make you pay for doctor visits before you hit your deductible, but the closest primary care doctors were in San Francisco, which is utterly insane, and of course made that plan useless. So I went with Kaiser and dropped my monthly cost to $500.

Now Kaiser has gotten a bad name over the years, so I was somewhat concerned. But I was never sure of how much of that was due to the fact that as a non-profit healthcare provider with centralized care, they do things different. And, I'd had Kaiser when I was growing up, and don't remember any problems. And, I'd had Kaiser when I worked at Chaosium in the '90s, and they were no more helpful or useless than any other doctor I've ever had. (Mostly useless.) Still, there was was some trepidation.

So, two weeks ago Friday. Simple visit: I wanted a new prescription written for my blood pressure med.

The hospital is a little inconvenient, since it's out at MacArthur BART, but any additional work time I lose getting there is more than offset by the $300 I'm saving a month. And, it was a nice bike ride. Warm, pleasant day.

I got there about 15 minutes before my appointment, which was later than I'd intended. I checked in, and within a minute or two they took me in. Wow! I noted they were running early, and was told that the doctor had a schedule where she had to do other things shortly after my appointment (like, perhaps lunch?) so they were making sure she was running early. Double wow!

Meanwhile, I was putting in my personal information on an iPad. Super high tech.

The doctor came in to see me shortly and we talked some. She didn't seem in the least bit rushed. She seemed happy to write me a prescription for the the metoprolol that I was using, but also told me her standard methodology for dealing with blood pressure. So we agreed to try her favored drug, lisinoprol, which she said has absolutely no drowsiness side effects. I don't have a lot of problems with my metoprolol, but it's not controlling my blood pressure as much as I'd like, and sometimes in the afternoon I fade. So I said sure.

She zapped the prescription downstairs, and I followed it a few minutes later. There was the pharmacy, which was utter chaos, with people standing all around. I went over to the most appropriate looking line, and checked in, and was told my prescription would be ready shortly. Sure enough, a few minutes later I was talking to a second clerk, and then sent off to a third place where a pharmacist came and talked to me.

Like I said, utter chaos, but also less than 5 minutes total in the pharmacy. And the default distribution was a bottle of 100 pills, none of this 30 at a time BS.

Overall, Kaiser was a little faraway and a little chaotic, but it was respectful of my time, efficient, and still personable. So, thumbs up so far.

But didn't you say something about frustration, you ask.

Yeah. Pretty much every time I've ever gone to a doctor with a problem, I've visited numerous times with no results. Back in the '90s when I had digestive problems? Nothing. I was told to eat more fiber. (I finally figured out on my own: lactose intolerant.) In the '00s when I had more digestive problems, again nothing. (I finally figured out on my own: allergy to beef.) In the late '00s I started have debilitating headaches, and I saw any number of specialists, but the only help I ever got was a neuropathic pain blocker from an otherwise worthless neurologist. (I finally figured out on my own: allergies.)

So last year I went through this rigamarole again for some new chronic problems, with something like a half-dozen visits to specialists and unnecessary CAT scans and other unpleasantness. In the end I simply just gave up without a solution. And that left me reluctant to head back to the doctor again this year and start this cycle again.

But by summer those chronic problems had faded, as they have from time to time, and I really needed to get in to see a doc before my metroprolol ran out.

So the new drug? Lisinopril? SUCKED.

I was horribly, horribly fatigued. Every day I was dragging. One day I made the mistake of also taking my allergy meds, and was almost unable to move.

And I was also in a bleak, hopeless, sad mood. Every day.

And my chronic problems from the last year revved back up again. (And have stayed with me, to this moment.)

Yep, Lisiniprol can cause depression, and that's a pretty common side effect. Ditto for the other problems. The fatigue is indeed less common, but I have no doubt that was occurring.

I was also surprised how big of an effect the change in drugs had on my exercising. You see, I went from a beta blocker to a ACE inhibitor. The new drug did seem to be controlling my blood pressure better. But I also suddenly lost the heart rate control of the beta blocker.

This was probably a perfect OK thing. I suddenly found that my muscles didn't get as tired when I pushed them hard. Because they were getting more oxygen. So I could sprint on my bike further without suddenly getting worn out.

But I also found that I would be sweating, panting, and out of breath when I climbed a hill that had be no problem just weeks earlier). Because I was pushing hard up into cardio zones that I wasn't used to. Wacky.

(But probably OK.)

The other side effects were not OK. I was really torn with indecision about continuing with the lisinopril because I was supposed to get a new blood pressure test last Friday, so I wanted to stick with the new drug until then.

But then last Wednesday I biked into Endgame. And I was totally beat. And on the way there I came to a complete stop at a green light because the pedestrian signal had gone red. And I realized I was not safe on my bike. (It was the second time I'd spaced out on the trip there.)

Not safe on my bike almost two weeks after I'd started taking the med was unacceptable. So off it I am.

New doctor's appointment on Friday. Which means I'm facing the exact frustration I feared of a cycle of useless appointments.

(I'm hoping that we come to the conclusion that the metoprolol is good enough even if not perfect, but that'll probably require another blood pressure test. But I just need it to hold over until bystolic goes generic in 2021, as I found that worked better and had no drowsiness at all, which means it could also be increased as need be.)

And today I am trying not to freak out that the Republicans in the Senate literally just voted to debate taking away my health insurance. This isn't some theoretical 20 to 30 million people are screwed. I'm the only employee of Skotos, so I get my insurance on the individual market. They want to take that away. They do not want me to be able to work for a super small company. They do not want me to be able to work for myself. They do not want me to be able to retire before I turn 65.

Because they are evil monsters.


Not freaking out.

(I was freaking out when Trump was elected in large part because I feared how they might affect me and my future by taking insurance back to the bad 'ole days where it was almost entirely tied to employment.)

I try to remember that Hawaii has a strong insurance market and did even before the ACA. And that's only a few years away.

Not freaking out.

But my blood pressure is probably up.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-07-05 11:08 pm
Entry tags:

In Which I Bid Farewell to the Endgame Cafe

On Monday, my friends at Endgame announced that they're closing the Endgame Café on Sunday, so today at my weekly boardgame night at Endgame, I followed their instructions: I visited the café one last time and I tipped like mad. Oh, and I got one last Tilden sandwich. That wasn't in their instructions, but it should have been.

Personally, I go to Endgame for the games. I supported the café because it was important to the Endgame staff: a challenge that would keep them going through the next five years. Not because I particularly cared about the café on my own. But I do have to say, they made great quality sandwiches. Great bread, great turkey, great avocado. And I never got around to their breakfast sandwiches which looked terrific too.

Shockingly, le café was almost empty tonight. I usually find it somewhat crowded, with people at several of the tables. I expected this week it would be even more jammed than usual, as people made their last visits. But tonight there was Eric V., Eric L., Jefferson, Amy, and me, and that was pretty much it. Easy to see how that didn't work out when they had two staff working.

(But the café as a whole had various problems, including a very long rollout that I suspect ate up the capitalization that would have been necessary to loss-lead things like evening hours, until they developed a clientele. And the interaction between the game store and the café never worked out like it could have. But, that's pretty much all water under the bridge at this point.)

I suspect there are some hearts breaking at Endgame this week. Hard choices. My condolences to my friends there.

And hopefully the game store will go on.

(If you're in the Bay Area, you've got through Sunday to say farewell to the café. Go visit one last, tip like mad, and eat a Tilden.)
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-07-04 06:03 pm
Entry tags:

In Which I Spend Four Days in Three Counties

The last weekend of June pretty much slipped by. I learned about Stewart Wieck's death on Friday evening. Though I only spent three or four hours writing and editing my memorial to him, it weighed on me much of the weekend.

And so the weekend slipped away.

This long Fourth of July weekend was much more active.

Saturday I went for a long hike in Briones Regional Park. HI, first-time Briones hiker. Hilly, uncovered, and hot. (I choose a day when it was only 85 degrees over the hills.) Still, it was nice to see. I was impressed by the size of the park. The view from 1500 feet, atop Briones Hill was awesome.

Sunday Kimberly and I went out to Golden Gate Park, mainly to see the Summer of Love exhibit at the deYoung. She has a membership this year, so we're determined to use it. The exhibit was mainly '60s hippy fashion and rock show posters from SF in 66-68. The clothing was the cooler of the two (thanks Project Runway). We enjoyed the exhibit, though the rock posters were getting old by the last room. But at least that final room had great music. Guthrie, the Doors, and others. Afterward we hung out in the Fern Grotto for a while and read, but it was too chilly to really hang out in the park for long. A notable change from 85 degrees two counties over the day before.

And there's now a deGas exhibit just starting at the Legion of Honor that we want to see.

Two culinary notes:

#1. We got sandwiches for lunch at the last Andronico's in the world. Safeway bought them all out last year, but for some ridiculous reason hasn't been allowed to change the name in San Francisco. Nonetheless, the store is mostly a Safeway now, including their sandwiches. Still OK, but not as good as Andronico's. I also got one of the world's last adult brownies, which lasted me three meals. And, I asked the check-out lady if I could use my Andronico's sandwich card, which had a free sandwich on it that I thought I'd never be able to claim. She said no, then took my card and gave me a free sandwich.

#2. On the way home, K. took us to dinner at the McDonald's in Berkeley. Unfortunately, it's often overrun by the homeless, which the staff do nothing about (and increasingly so in recent years). Today there was a particularly crazy guy who kept pacing around us, crawling around the floor, and playing the same 30-second clip from a movie or song on continuous loop. It didn't encourage either of us to return to that restaurant.

Monday I worked. But I spent the middle of the day in San Francisco at Blockstream.

I could totally deal with a one-day work week.

Tuesday was the last day of a holiday weekend. Even with the Monday gap. Nothing big was planned, but I made a quick walk from home to the Orinda BART station. Made it in under 3 hours, which was great.

And that was four days in three counties (Alameda, Contra-Costa, and San Francisco).
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-06-18 08:11 pm

In Which I Commune with Nature

Two Sundays in a row, Kimberly and I have bussed up to Tilden and hiked around, as part of her effort to get out and about more.

Last Sunday was very nice. We picnicked by Jewel Lake then hiked around the Loop Trail and up to the bus stop near Lake Anza along a very pleasant creekside trail that I love. We even stopped and wrote for a while at my favorite bench in Tilden, deep in the shade, near Wildcat Creek.

This Sunday was substantially less successful, because we're in a heat wave and today was apparently the hottest day of it. We picnicked by Jewel Lake again, and that was still very nice. But when we walked down the Wildcat Creek Canyon Trail we turned back almost immediately due to the heat. Then, when we were hiking through the Nature Area, Kimberly was getting increasingly overheated. When we stopped at the Little Farm she was very red-faced. After dousing her in some water, we headed back to the bus stop so that we could get her back to cooler places in the lowlands.

She still said she enjoyed the wildlife she saw, and we got smoothies when we returned to downtown Berkeley.

I actually made one other trip to Tilden in the last few days: Saturday, on my own, as part of my getting out and about on Saturdays, which I do while not gaming.

It was a fairly normative hike, from my house up to Lake Anza. Nine or ten miles. It was hot, but it certainly didn't feel as hot as Sunday.

I love being out on my own and just relaxing in nature.

I also did a lot of not-relaxing-in-nature in the last week. We had a BBQ scheduled for Thursday in advance of gaming, and that meant I had to get the backyard in order. So I spent about three-and-a-half hours between Monday and Tuesday, downing foliage in the backyard and filling our green bin. Twice.

I really don't understand how our teeny backyard gets so out of control. Our new neighbors behind us give just as little attention as we do to our (much huger) backyard. Last winter they grew clover up and over everything, totally covering their yard, but then spring came and it all died out. Now their backyard is certainly scraggly, but not particularly overgrown.

Meanwhile, we'd totally lost the entirety of our yard beneath ivy and bushes and purple flowers. It was probably an hour before the walkway leading from our fence to our back door was clear. And still the walkway around the back and side of our house are pretty impassable. (A problem for another day.)

But I definitely communed with nature. And fortunately my knee and ribs were mostly up to the task.

The BBQ that followed on Thursday was sadly less than successful. We could barely get any flames on the grill. The corn eventually got mostly cooked, but the various sausages went into the broiler, which did the job. (We think the grill was almost out of propane.)

The food was still quite tasty, despite the problems, but we did also have a less than successful game (the new Buffy co-op, which is flat-out a bad design).

Still, it was good company and that generally makes for good times.

And that was a week of communing with nature. Or at least a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday of such.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-06-11 10:39 am

In Which I Discuss Injuries, Computers, RPGs, and Vacations

Injuries. Managed to hurt myself again. Darn it. And this time it was a recycling injury. Sigh.

I was tearing down a heavy corrugated cardboard box on Monday and I was holding it up against my chest as I did, and somehow throughout all of that I managed to spasm my muscles and bruise my sternum and/or ribs. Or something like that. It's been aching for days, especially if I do anything spectacular like breathe. The worst has been sleeping. I can't cuddle with my cat at night, because that requires lying down on that side, and I can't escape her in the morning, which I usually do by turning over. Overall, the result has been a week of poor sleep.

It's been getting better day by day, but slowly. Frustrating. 

Computers. I've laid my old MacBook Air to rest. Or, at least, I'm filing it away for use as an emergency backup if I ever need it. Sadly, of all the Macs I've bought, that was the one that seemed to have some serious manufacture problems of the sort I don't generally expect from Apple.

In the end:
  1. The "1", "q", "a", and <delete> on the keyboard often stopped working, usually just when I opened it up and especially when I had it out somewhere cold. This was apparently a well-known problem with the MacBook Airs and had to do with the keyboard circuitry contracting away from the plug.
  2. The wifi constantly cut out, but would come back if I hit the little wifi icon at the top of the screen. This was not a well-known problem. Or, at least if it was, the only suggested solutions were software, and they didn't do anything.
  3. The battery was starting to die, and though it was still getting decent time with my usually low-energy use, it was to the point where the Mac was suggesting I replace it.
  4. The 120G of hard drive space was becoming inadequate as I continued to add PDFs for my work on the next Designers & Dragons book, on the entire set of TSR & WotC books for D&D. (After 4+ years of working with DTRPG, we've almost covered the full ~1000 or so, and that's a lot of PDFs.)
Only the first two were really manufacture problems, though they were extremely annoying, but the first three probably required hundreds of dollars worth of repairs, and that still left me with inadequate hard drive space. So, after getting the OK from Kimberly, I ordered a new one instead, on Monday, pretty much as soon as Apple announced the new MacBooks.

My new computer is a 12" MacBook. It's a little smaller than my 13.3" Air was, and that's taking a little getting used to, but it's still a full-sized keyboard, and my eyes are still good enough to read the screen at an increased resolution, so I think I willl get used to it. And it's 2 pounds rather than 3 pounds, which will be notable when I'm carrying it around up hills and on long hikes.

Oh, the process of migrating was a pain though. It just wouldn't work, and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was because the Air was one version back of the MacOS software, and the migration didn't work from that to Sierra. Not that Apple documents that, but some forums seemed to confirm it. So I had to unsync my RPG PDFs from my Dropbox to have enough space to upgrade to Sierra. (That's why I hadn't previously.) Then the upgrade wouldn't work either, because it couldn't install a helper. I finally managed to get the old computer upgraded after a reboot. Then I finally managed to get the Migration going after a reboot. Shockingly the Migration with both computers set next to my wifi router only took 30 minutes or so. But it took another day and a half to resync all those D&D PDFs, off of Dropbox.

Still, new computer. Very happy because of all the annoying problems with the old one.

Not being ble to type an "a" can make rticles hrd to write.

RPGs. I've been running my Burning Wheel campaign since sometime left year. I'm enjoying creating an original campaign world in conjunction with the players and I'm enjoying slowly unravelling their story. I have some qualms that the story might be too mundane thus far and that I need to be more accepting of sea changes as the campaign goes forward. But, so far so good.

My only real issue is a pretty common one: I find the prep of adventures stressful. Usually I feel like my Friday nights before games are very rushed as I try to jam together adventure prep along with my usual writing prep. And, I also feel pressure that I prep well so that we can have fun the next day.

So this week I tried something new, based on a thread on RPGnet. I modeled my prep after a game called Agon: prep an adventure with one goal, three sub-goals, and one or more complications for each sub-goal. It's very similar to the system of three complications that I was laying out for Mouse Guard that helped me to minimize my prep time there while still producing good adventures.

I've varied this up a little. I try to introduce at least one notable locale each adventure and at least one notable NPCs, and I try to reuse one or more NPCs from past adventures. So my notes include all of that too. But still, that's less than a page for an adventure, and the actual plot-ty part of the adventure is minimized, making the prep easier and keeping options more open for the players during play.

But there's another thing in Burning Wheel: it's very player-focused. So I bit the bullet early in the week and I prepped four adventures in this style, one for each player in the game. Voila! I now have full prep done, well before Friday. And hopefully I'll be able to do the simpler prep necessary for a replacement player-oriented adventure after I run each.

Sure enough, this Friday I was unstressed. Or little stressed.

The next test was whether my slightly shorter prep was sufficient to run an exciting adventure ... and sadly I didn't get to find out. When I got to gaming on Saturday, Mary could tell that I was in low spirits due to lack of sleep (from my ribs) and due to exhaustion (from offering support for K. in a hard time). So she asked without prompting if I wanted to play board games instead, and I nearly collapsed in relief into that idea. We played 7 Wonders and Agricola. I did horribly in the first and came in second in the second, probably highlighting how worn out I was.

Vacations. And we are already making plans for Hawaii next year. My step-mom is putting together a family vacation, where she, my dad, my sister and her husband, and Kimberly and I will all spend a week together on the Big Island next year. We had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone at Melody and Jared's wedding, so I'm quite looking forward to this, and it'll also be a nice opportunity to visit a different island.

Mary has also talked about doing the same thing on a different island in 2019, maybe. If that indeed happens, then we quite amusingly will not see Kauai again until we move there in 2020.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-06-04 01:43 pm
Entry tags:

In Which I Walk to Chabot Space & Science Center

One of the super-cool things about the hills behind the East Bay is that there are near continuous parks throughout them. More notably, there's a ridgeline trail which runs across them. You can literally walk from San Pablo to Castro Valley and never step off a trail except to cross the very rare street. This has long intrigued me, though it's actually an overly long distance to walk in a day.

(The Bay Area Ridge Trail actually is supposed to circle the whole bay. Heck it even goes through Ed Levin Park and Alum Rock Park, two of my stomping grounds when I was growing up in the South Bay. But it's not all complete, nor is all of it as continuous as in the hills that are just above Berkeley.)

I've walked a good range of the trails above our local area. In various segments I've walked as far south as Sibley Park and as far north as Tilden and down to the San Pablo Dam Reservoir. (Mysteriously, the ridgeline trail doesn't continue along the ridgeline to Wildcat Canyon Park.)

But Saturday I decided to make my biggest effort ever, by walking from my house, up Panoramic Hill, and above that to the Ridgeline Trail, then walking it south into Sibley, then into Huckleberry, then into Redwood Regional Park, then down to the Chabot Space & Science Center.

That final destination was chosen because it was one of the rare places up near the ridgeline where I could catch a bus back to BART.

So Saturday I was out of the house by 10 am, and it was off to the races.

The walk was glorious.

The trek up the hill was hard because I took it fast, but it got me to the ridgeline trail before 11.30. It was one of the time I was panting and breathing hard.

As usual, I had to hop a gate at the top of the hill, because EBMUD sucks and purposefully blocks access to the ridgeline trail from the fire trails that exit above Strawberry Canyon, just across the street.

The walk from the so-called Scotts Peak Trailhead to Fish Ranch Road was glorious. I love the sweeping views of eastern CoCoCo, and then you slide back to the other side of the hills. There's some close grass there that I was a little nervous about because the rains have led to a snake season. And I heard some buzzing just off the trail in some of that thick grass that made me very nervous, but I quickly moved through. And enjoyed the great views.

The walk from Fish Ranch Road to Old Tunnel Road was beautiful too. I love the heavily forested paths.

In Sibley now. The walk from Old Tunnel Road to the Sibley Staging Area was trying. It was more uphill than I remembered, and some of the path was deeply cut by running water. Still, the area remained so gorgeous.

At 12.30 I had lunch at Sibley, then wrote for a while, then fixed an issue at RPGnet, then finished my article. At 1.30 I headed on.

Following the Ridgeline Trail brought me further back into Sibley than I usually go. More forested trails. I really need to explore the rest of the park sometime. Is there really a volcano back there?

There's no sign when you cross into Huckleberry, but suddenly there's a huge valley spread out before you. You cut down into the valley, cross the stream at the bottom of it twice, then start moving back up. It was gorgeous too.

Except that heading back up revealed my one problem of the day. A .11 section of trail was marked closed until made safe. (Which usually means a 1-10 year delay in East Bay parks.) There was absolutely no other way to get through Huckleberry, from Sibley, so I decided to hike up to see if the problem was something I found safe enough or too dangerous. The answer was a big landslide below the trail. I'd actually seen it from below as I walked up the creek, before cutting back, and had been awed by it. Here it just kissed the edge of the trail and I tested the ground and found it totally firm. So I continued along, staying well away from the edge. No problem. Curiously, there was no such trail-closure sign at the top.

(And that's a trail that really needs to be fixed, as it's the only way to get through that part of the ridgeline trail. For want of a .11 trail segment, a ridgeline trail was lost.)

Huckleberry and Redwood Regional don't quite touch. But, much as in the area between Fish Ranch and Tunnel Road, there's a segment of trail through the land in between to keep you walking in beauty.

I took my other break for the day just outside of Redwood Regional, where I was pleased to see a bench. Four squares of chocolate and one issue of a comic book.

Then it was over a small ridge and into Redwood Regional, where I circled around the East Ridge Trail and the West Ridge Trail until I got to Chabot Space & Science Lab. I think of that as the main commuter trail that gets you to the interesting parts of Redwood Regional, but it's actually attractive too, looking over another big basin, this one facing south.

While in Redwood Regional, I checked Google Maps to see how much longer it would take to continue on to Castro Valley BART. Four and a half hours. Huh.

As I neared Chabot, I realized that I was going to just miss the 4pm bus, by a minute or so. So, I picked up my pace and got there at 3.59. This was the other time I was panting and breathing hard. No bus. No bus at 4. No Bus at 4.01. I finally decided that AC Transit was playing their usual game of randomly skipping a bus every once in a while. The bus arrived at 4.07.

Then it was down to Fruitvale BART. (On the bottom five of my list of BART stations.) Then it was six(!) stops home. Yep, I walked six BART stops along the ridgeline!

Total walk, 6 hours (minus an hour for lunch). So, five hours or so for reals. 13 or 14 miles. Exactly 300 flights of stairs when I got home. Hours of beauty.

A great day.

And nice to see other people frequently using and enjoying the trails. I saw people on every major segment, and quite a few people when I passed by some of the staging areas, at Old Tunnel Road, at Sibley, in Huckleberry, and in Redwood Regional. (The last is clearly the most popular, but it's also the biggest.)

I'm a little sore today, primarily my legs (from walking) and my back (from carrying my backpack with computer for writing).

And I got home from my day of walking in beauty to discover more horror in London, as another terror attack seems intended to push the British people to the conservative, Islamophobic platform in the upcoming snap election. Just as seemed to be the case in France several weeks ago. I don't even understand a world any more where terrorist groups theoretically fighting for Muslims (in horrible, misguided, evil ways) are purposefully supporting Islamophobes to in turn drive recruitment for the terror organizations. It's like the snake has eaten its tail and disappeared inside itself.

Condolences and support to my British friends, victims of terrorism and Theresa May.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-06-02 08:13 pm

In Which I Memorialize & Also Discuss Crappy Companies

No, I don't really do "relaxed" weekend.

And no, I still can't write a journal entry within a week of time.

Saturday was a gaming day. It's my Burning Wheel campaign, but the idea has always been to vary it up with other games that expand the overall world. So we started off with three sessions of Microscope over a few years time before getting into the regular Burning Wheel groove for almost ten sessions.

Then, this Saturday, I decided that I didn't want the stress of story prep intruding onto the holiday weekend, so I offered up the first of my interludes, a game of Kingdom. We learned about the Alchemist Guild deep in the past of Eligium. It went well. The roleplaying was more intense than usual, which caused some tension, and we were all pretty tired by the end. But it was an interesting game, and we definitely learned more about our history.

Sunday was a hiking day.

It began with my usual inability to find a sandwich in south Berkeley. I had found a sandwich-making place I hadn't found before called Tivoli Caffe. So I visited there to pick up a sandwich before I walked up the hill. But, they were closed for the whole Memorial Day weekend. So was Cheese & Stuff. IB Hoagies was closed and not opening until noon. Top Dog was closed. I finally ended up at Taco Bell again. Ah well.

Afterward I walked up Panoramic Hill to the fire trails, then up to the top of the hill. It was chilly and overcast, and I was literally walking up into the clouds. By the time I got to the top of the hills, I was in then.

I took a break at a bench on the Bay Area Ridgeline Trail, just over the top of the hill. It's got a beautiful view of the Siesta Valley Recreation Area, down to the teeny super-rich community of snobs in Wilder. I stopped there to write for a while, but that was about when the sun came out, and it soon became too bright to really read my computer. So I walked down through the EBMUD trails until I got to Orinda.

I'm always shocked by how short that walk is, from Berkeley to Orinda. About an hour and a half up the hill and about an hour and a half down the hill. I always think about walking the St. Stephens Trail on to Lafayette afterward, but Google Maps inevitably shows it as another hour, and I inevitably decide it's getting late and I get on the BART in Orinda instead.

So it was on Sunday.

Monday was hanging-out-with-Kimberly day.

Unfortunately, the Labor Day Salsa "block" party on the next block, which attracts huge crowds of people from Oakland to Richmond, and which results in hours of loud music shaking our house, has spread like a disease to also be a Memorial Day Salsa "block" party. So, we were definitely desirous of fleeing the house, but K. is too tired currently to want to go with far.

So, we waited until about noon and then headed out to grab some lunch (Taco Bell again!) and take it to campus.

Once there we ate, then read-aloud from Fool's Assassin, then did our own things for a while. (I had my computer, full of work, as usual.) Eventually some hellacious almost-inaudible buzzing noise settled onto the entire southeast side of campus, and we moved on.

There was then yogurt and drug stores and a haircut for me. Unfortunately, we still had a few hours of Salsa when we got home. K. and I both went to our offices to hide, but my office turned out to be not protected. It has windows on three sides of the house, and though the Salsa party was on the opposite side of the house from my office and windows, it still boomed through the room like a panel truck with its roll-up door flapping all around.

Monday was also the day we said farewell to our exercise bike.

Pretty much, Schwinn sucks. They manufacture crap.

More precisely, we got it a few years ago. It didn't work when we got it: the wheel had no resistance. So a repairman came out and fixed it and it worked. briefly.

Unfortunately for the next year, K. didn't really use it because she wasn't doing well and I didn't really use it because my doctor was keeping me off bikes.

So some 10 months or so after the repair, one of us sat down ... and found the wheel had no resistance.

Though the parts warranty hadn't expired, the labor warranty had, and Schwinn told us this was clearly labor, and so we were on our own.

But, it was an easy repair, they said, taking only a phillips screwdriver. The kind Schwinn liar even told us what pages in the manual to use to repair things.

So Sunday night we finally sat down to look at the instructions, which had been sitting around for a few months. And, they were horrible, and they had little to do with the bike we actually had. I fooled around with it for about an hour and came to the conclusion that a pedal wrench was actually needed to get things open.

We'd already decided that the bike's poor quality control meant that it wasn't worth bringing to Hawaii. Rather than having a non-functional bike in the house for a few years, we opted to drag it out on the street Monday afternoon with a free sign (and a clear statement of its condition and all the supposed "instructions" attached). Our theory was that we could at least benefit from the annoying Salsa party because there'd be people leaving and heading to their cars and one of them might pick up the non-functional bike and take it home.

Sure enough.

Mark that as our last purchase ever from Schwinn, once a sign of quality, now a sign of horrible manufacture and poor customer service.

That wasn't our only experience with crappy companies over the weekend. The other was Jack Richeson & Co., Inc. K. bought a very nice easel from them, and we tried to set that up on Sunday night after our failure with the exercise bike.

The instructions were atrocious. Worse than 10 IKEA books. There were no illustrations of many of the parts and very minimal explanations of what to do.

But, we figured it out and did fine until we got to the last part ... which required a bolt that they had not included.

So K. sent them mail and requested our '2 1/4" bolt'. They sent back the requirement that we fill our a four-page warranty form and send it back along with a receipt and a declaration of where we'd purchased it, in order to get our $2 bolt.

I did so, but I wasn't very happy about it, and I very politely told them their ridiculous bureacratia made me think poorly of the company.

So the next day, one of the owners mailed me back and apologized, but also explained why it was really wonderful that they had a system where I had to fill out and scan four pages in order to get a 2 1/4" bolt. Nonetheless, I was mollified, especially when they said they were sending the bolt priority mail, to arrive on Friday, along with some nice paint brushes for K. as way of apology.

It's Friday. No bolt. No paint brushes.

Crappy companies.

Don't even get me started on the self-righteous asshats at Spamcop, who darkened my door late in the week.

Suffice to say: I've learned that they're now buying dead domains and reusing previously valid email addresses as spam traps. Which is all kinds of morally and possibly legally wrong. Their excuse is that the domains are really old, but if they think data on the internet has expiry dates, they're fools.

(They're fools.)

So, if you're not a spammer, and you ever find the need to sue Spamcop for defamation and/or prior restraint of trade, I'm your man. I now know where the bodies are buried because an arrogant Spamcop engineer explained to me what they're doing as he tried to bludgeon me into believing he was right and I was wrong.

(And this complaint will just have to serve as a substitute for exposé that I want to write but don't want to get involved with.)

My goal in any holiday weekend is to revitalize myself for the wear, tear, and work of everyday life. I quickly discovered that I failed, because my Tuesday or Wednesday I was at wit's end about a variety of problems.

But that was due to the problems (and the ongoing stressors in our life currently) as much as anything.

Maybe this weekend.

I just plotted out a really cool hike.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-05-27 12:50 am
Entry tags:

In Which I Explore Joaquin Miller

From a post that I never got around to finishing this week because I was too busy.

So thislast weekend I had a free Saturday due to lacking of gaming. My knee was feeling 70% or so better, but I thought, "I better stay off of my hills, just in case". So instead I opted to bike up to Montclair, and from there hike around Joaquin Miller park.

My theory was that I'd do my climbing on my bike, which doesn't have much impact on my knee, and then enjoy one of the hilltop parks.

Yeah, except Joaquin Miller isn't a hilltop park. It may be 600 feet up or so, but there's a lot of steep hillside above it, going up to the top of Shepherd Canyon.

Why was the week busy? My head was down as I was working on Bitcoin documentation during the workday. Then I'm always busy in the evening writing or gaming. It was all quite interesting work though, so my days were filled, but enjoyably.

After figuring out where to lock my bike near Joe-Quinn Park, which is often a problem, I went in at the northwest entry. It was a creekside trail. Totally beautiful. Except it started climbing up pretty steeply. First there was slope, then more slope, then steps.


As I hit steps I started using my (unhurt) right knee to lever myself up. And boy that was slow, going up a single step at a time. I finally got to a crossroads above the creek and there was ... more steep slope going up.

Magnificent views, though. It was obvious that I was climbing up above canyons because green forest was spreading out below me.

Eventually I had to give up on the climbing with my right knee thing, because my right knee was starting to hurt.

And I was pretty astounded that I was getting winded, because I thought I was good on hills. But this was a lot of hill.

Tonight, at the end of the busy week, I got a bit of a reprieve. I went to Safeway for the week's groceries and it was quiet as a tomb. Astounding! The store was a little less crowded than usual, but the big difference was no students yelling in their outside-voice.

So very, very restful.

I rarely had a cellular signal when I was up in the higher hills of Joe-Quinn, which was problematic because I didn't have a map either. I knew there was a picnic area somewhere up there but I wasn't sure where exactly.

I found an old horse arena or something, with a fence fallen down.

Then I found some locked bathrooms.

This is all thanks to Oakland's lack of attention to the park, which is unsurprising; East Bay parks are better upkept, though they're been problematic too in recent years.

Anyway, I was good at finding open spaces. Then I pretty much stumbled across the picnic area. It was hidden in a curve in a road.

I sat there and ate chocolate and wrote for a while, atop the world.

Right, restful, except it's almost 1am and I'm still writing, which I'm not supposed to do near bed times.

But, I was researching for D&D histories, then I stumbled upon a link to a former website full of D&D designer posts that I was able to access from beyond the grave at Then I needed to brush up on the Kingdom RPG for tomorrow. Then there was more writing and researching. Then I was printing sheets and references for Kingdom. Then I found this partial post in my buffer.

I was a bit worried about the climb down, but I took a different route and there were no stairs, just lots of slope that was easier on my knee. It was all very pleasant walks through forested areas. I did a bit more writing at a camp, then I got to the "civilized" parts of Joe-Quinn, which are off to the southwest. I was pretty astounded that my huge uphill climb had been equalled by my easy downhill climb.

There are two dog parks in civilized Joe-Quinn, which were mostly empty, because why would you take your dog to a dog area at a huge park?

There was an amphitheater pretty much hanging off the hillside, which I'd love to see a play at before I leave the state.

There was a magnificent water cascade going down from the theatre, except it's apparently turned off.

Then it was around a few more paths, down to the road and a half-mile or less back to my bike.

I mostly managed not to hurt my knee on the hike, and yet another week later it's feeling almost normal again.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-05-17 11:38 pm
Entry tags:

In Which I Return to Lake Temescal

Monday night, I decided to bike up to Lake Temescal after work.

It was a very regular destination for me a couple of years ago, some place that I'd often visit on the weekends and in evenings, but it fell off my itinerary early last year when my doctor (pointlessly) asked me not to bike for a while.

So, I think I only went there once in 2016, when I hiked through it, up to Sibley Volcanic Regional Park. And I don't think that I've ever ridden my "new" bike up there.

My purpose was to go and see some new biking infrastructure. There's now a "cycle track" where Broadway takes the turn toward Temescal at Keith. This is a two-way protected bike path off to right side of the road (as you go uphill). I have to admit, I was confused by the usefulness of a cycle track that's just a block long, but it gets you around a tight corner and it gets you past the area where cars are merging onto 24. So, it's actually a nice bit of safe riding that gets you past the hurly-burly. (You still have to deal with cars merging off of 24 on Keith, but I've never had any particular problem with them.)

Past that one cycle track block there are now marked bike lanes all the way up to Temescal (and if Google Maps is to be believed, all the way up to the North Oakland Regional Sports Center). This is nice too, as I'd ridden that road many a time and found it slightly uncomfortable with the cars whizzing by on the previously unmarked road.

It's all about a year and a half late if I remember correctly which year this was promised (2015?), but definitely a nice addition to the local infrastructure.

Now if we could just get the promised improvements done to Tunnel Road, on the other side of 24. That's coming up on eight years late, and I can't even get Berkeley to update their two-year-out-of-date Highway 13 Corridor Improvements Project page despite two different polite requests.

One of the things that shocked me about the bike lanes up Upper Broadway is that they've totally replaced all on-street parking. Mind you, the on-street parking was totally irrelevant. It's only use was up by Lake Temescal, for people who refused to pay the parking fee in the big lot at the park. But the City apparently decided that it was more important for bikes to have a safe route on the street than for cars to have unnecessary parking ... which is really a sea change. (And something that needs to occur more often: roads are primarily for transit, not for parking, and if the two come into contention, transit needs to win.)

Of course, we'll see how that actually works out on a warm summer day. I'm actually thinking about heading back in this direction on Saturday, which should offer a prime look at whether it's yet another place where Oakland talks a good talk, but then doesn't enforce it when cars block the bike lanes. (Their regularly blocked "protected" bike lanes on Telegraph are the best example currently of Oakland's lacsadasical attitude toward enforcement.)

I was also surprised that the ride up to Lake Temescal was pretty easy. That used to be a hard hill. But maybe I was so focused on keeping pressure off my wounded knee that I didn't notice the huffing and puffing.

I was really pleased when I got up to Temescal. It was like seeing an old friend again. I hiked halfway around the lake, tossed my computer done and wrote and edited for a while, then hiked back to retrieve my bike.

The lake seemed more crowded than I remembered in evenings. Quite a few people out at picnic tables talking and eating and hanging. Much more than the handful of fishermen, joggers, and dog walkers that I used to see. Dunno if it marks a change in the last year and a half or just a busy evening.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-05-15 07:09 pm
Entry tags:

In Which My Knee Hurts for a Week

So last, last weekend, the first weekend of May, I had a marvelous Saturday hike. It was one of my favorite routes of late: east from my house, up above Strawberry Canyon, and then into Tilden. It's really nice, because it gets me on trails (or at least stairs) about a mile from my house, and from there I can go anywhere I want along pleasant hiking paths.

So on Saturday, I choose a very challenging route: up around the fire trails above Strawberry Canyon (as usual) and then into TIlden. But from there I decided to walk the southwest side of Tilden, around Grizzly Peak, then to take the western most trails along the entire length of Tilden, until I got to Jewel Lake, which is the last civilized point in the north of Tilden, on the way to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.

Most of these trails were new to me. Grizzly Peak Trail took me westward, and it was a nice trail running along a hillside, with the Wildcat Canyon to my right. It's the opposite side of the Canyon that I usually walk on. The only downside is that you could occasionally hear the cars whizzing by on Grizzly Peak Blvd., just the other side of the ridge. Then I walked Selby Trail northward for a few miles until I hit Canyon Drive, the big steep road coming out of the north side of Tilden. There was a bit of Selby Trail in the middle that was just ugly grassland, but most of it was wooded and very pleasant. Past Canyon Drive it became Memory Trail, which took me around the Nature Area and eventually dropped me down to Jewel Lake. Success!

Fitbit says I walked a total of 4 hours while up in the hills. For the day I made 12 miles and 199 flights of stairs. (Clearly my Fitbit gamification is beginning to fail me, because I didn't bother for that last fight to get my 14th Castle [200 floors] badge.)

There was one weird thing on the hike: I got up to the Island picnic area, and it was full of Porsches. There was apparently a Porsche convention, with people coming from all over the west to talk to other Porsche owners. And someone thought that the optimal place to worship wasteful spending and overprivileged living was a public park.

The cars were all sitting in the Island parking area, and about half of them had their hoods open or their trunks open or both. Some people had stuff sitting in their open trunks, which made it obvious they'd never been to Berkeley before, though the muggers and thieves don't usually make it up to Tilden. The cars all had signs in their windows identifying who the owner was, where he was from, and what model his car was. Meanwhile, the Porsche owners were sitting in the picnic area talking about their real leather seats and how infrequently they had to rebuild their engine. As I said: Weird.

There was a lot of up and down in my walk as I hit heights near Grizzly Peak and near Canyon Drive. My left knee started twinging was I was hiking down Memory Trail.

A lot of the trails in Tilden are becoming increasingly wild. Some have been "storm damaged" for years, others washed out by dripping pipes. Some of my early trails for the day were a wee bit overgrown, but Memory Trail was the worst because it had steps that look like they're maybe a foot and a half tall or so each. They've clearly expanded over time and they were all a muddy mess too. It was obvious that either no one has been back here to look at the state of the steps, or else they don't care. Anyway, as I hopped down those steps billy-goat like, that was when my knee really started to get going.

But I didn't think about it much at the time. Every once in a while when I'm on a big hike one of my knees starts twinging if I'm doing a big descent at the end. This was no different.

No different until I kneeled down Sunday morning, and I had some excruciating pain in that knee. Yowtch!

It was quite a surprise, and in retrospective I can only think of one reason that I might have particularly hurt things. I had lunch at the back of Strawberry Canyon where there's a nice bench in front of a stone wall, and I tend to sit on it sideways so that I can read or work ... with my left leg under me. So maybe I hurt the knee some then, then some more when climbing up and down hills.

Dunno. It didn't really dramatically, surprisingly hurt until Sunday morning. I guess I got something tight or inflamed or something and when I put all my weight on it kneeling down ....

So it's been mostly hurting for the last week, though I think maybe it's getting better. It's more feeling vulnerable and awkward now, rather than hurting.

I've stayed off hills for the last 10 days, and I didn't bike until last Friday. It seemed fine then. And fine for my Saturday gaming.

So apparently the biking is OK.

I'm hoping I'll be OK enough to hike on Saturday, though I may need to figure out somewhere that's not all hills.
shannon_a: (politics)
2017-05-09 07:11 pm
Entry tags:

In Which Despair for our Union

So let me get this straight.

(1) Ten months ago, FBI director Comey makes an unprecedented decision to politicize not charging Hilary Clinton for using a private email server by deriding her IT policies in a press conference, going against DoJ policy in doing so.

(2) For the next four months, Donnie Trump uses this press conference as the backbone of his campaign, saying that she's "Crooked Hilary" and we should lock her up.

(3) Russian hackers break into Democratic emails, posting them over next few months. Trump publicly encourages them to break into Hilary's emails too.

(4) Six months ago, Comey sends an unprecedented letter to Congress saying they were reopening investigations into Hillary based on what would turn out to be largely repetitive emails that Hilary had nothing to do with.

(5) Statisticians say Comey's letter probably decided the election. Trump is elected 45.

(6) When called before Congress, Comey reveals that he's been investigating Trump's connections to Russia too, for over a year. But he never felt the need to give press conference or send letters about that.

(7) Comey continues to lead investigation into Trump's Russian connections.

(8) A week ago, Justice Department is told to find an excuse to fire Comey.

(9) Meanwhile, Grand Jury summons go out related to Trump/Russian connections.

(10) Hours later, Comey is fired. Trump is shocked, shocked to find that screw-ups were going on in the Hillary investigations. Ten months ago. You know, with that press conference that Trump built his campaign on. 


shannon_a: (Default)
2017-05-02 10:48 am
Entry tags:

In Which I Replace a Fitbit & Shoes

My second Fitbit Charge HR died last week. And I really mean died. The two arms just popped right off the central watch and when you looked at it afterward, you couldn't see any indication that they'd been affixed in the first place.

It was no surprise and no shock. That Fitbit's arm bands started bubbling and getting loose a year ago, and even though it was slightly out of warranty I got Fitbit to send me a replacement at the time because it was just several months after my first Fitbit Charge HR did the same thing. But then B. over on FB suggested buying a sleeve for it. So I got one, and it kept the peeling armband from looking bad, and perhaps it kept the vulnerable components under from totally breaking, like was the case with my first one. And I got an extra year of use out of it.

So now I'm on my third and last Fibit Charge HR. Experience says it'll start falling apart in 5-9 months. And I'm sure I won't get them to send a fourth Fitbit because we're now like 14 months out of warranty.

I have really conflicted feelings about Fitbit. Their software and gamification are all spot on, but the manufacture of that Fitbit Charge HR was just awful. One of the worst consumer electronic goods I've ever bought, since two fell apart to the point where I asked for warranty replacement with 15 months or so.

Ah well. K's Charge HR II seems to be holding up, so I may be thinking about one of those come Christmas-time. If #3 lasts that long. I wish these devices could have held out for a Charge HR III though!

After work last night, I went out to buy some shoes.

I've got some gray tennies that aren't worn through all the way, but they've always been a little bit tight. And, since I started having some dull pain in my right foot lately that seemed (maybe) to get worse when I wore the gray tennies, it seemed like a time to replace them.

I biked up to El Cerrito to the discount shoe store there ("DB Shoes"). As I told K. at the time, I'm not going to get to casually bike out for this type of light errand when we live in Hawaii. But, there are pluses and minuses to every locale.

DB Shoes has been my primary location to purchase shoes for a decade or so. And, I was distressed when I got there to see big "Going Out of Sale" signs. Fortunately, the sale didn't seem to have been going on for long, as the shelves weren't yet picked clean. But everything was in complete chaos. Apparently, the sale brought in all the Ross and Wal-Mart shoppers, because they threw everything on the floor when they were done.

The chaos made it hard to find shoes, because the boxes on the shelves had little to do with the sample shoes nearby. It also looks like the tennis shoes of a year or two ago were going heavy on nauseating colors because I opened some boxes to see what they had and found florescent orange, puke yellow, red-white-and-blue, and other grotesqueries. (A few all red shoes actually caught my fancy, but not my size.)

I spoke with an older gentleman when I was there. He kept talking about how kids-these-days were ruining old fashioned retailers by buying everything on Amazon. And he could get shoes cheaper here! He told me a few times how his daughter had gotten him shoes for $70 off Amazon and they were $50 at DB Shoes. I agreed that sounded pretty dumb (and stereotypically lazy Millenial). But I said I really didn't know how you buy shoes online because the sizing is so inconsistent. He agreed with that too.

It's often hard to figure out the price at DB Shoes because they have marked prices, then marked discounts. It was even harder last night because there were multiple levels of marked discounts, and it was obvious many discount signs had gone missing and many shoes had moved. I finally found a pair that fit well and I liked, but it was marked $110. That felt like a no-go, even if the nearby 40% off sign was correct, but I brought them up to the register to check, and they were actually $40. Good enough.

I actually wanted to stock up with more pairs, both because of the sale prices and because I don't know where my next shoes will come from. But I couldn't find another acceptable pair in the whole store even with a fair amount of looking.

Farewell, DB Shoes. We sorta knew ye.
shannon_a: (Default)
2017-04-30 09:56 pm
Entry tags:

In Which We See Urinetown

Urinetown. That's pretty much San Francisco, isn't it? Maybe Berkeley too? Except the play says it's all our towns.

We actually went the play today with our friends M. and K. and daughter M. I think this is a first for us at the Playhouse, as we're usually solitaire goers. But we had a nice lunch with them at the Blue House in the Library Gardens, then a nice walk through campus (after walking a few scummy blocks of downtown Berkeley), then we saw the play. It's a nice bit of community and hanging out.

So, the play. It's satire and social commentary. It's about corporations taking over and plutocracy given precedence over human necessities. (Yes, like peeing.) It's also about rebelling, and how the rebellion can be as bad the corpocratic fascism, though I find the message gets a bit more muddled there.

That's because the play is also about Broadway, about the expectations of musicals, and how artificial some of them are. There was a lot of fourth-wall-breaking in the person of narrator Officer Lockstock. And there was a lot of exaggerated shock ("Whaaaaaaaat?") and more useless pirouetting than I've seen in two or three musicals. A lot of it was pretty hilarious, which is a good way to couch serious commentary. But the messaging got a little confusing because of those two competing issues: was the way the rebellion became what it despised actually about the rebellion against corpocracy or was it a strike against the happy endings of musicals. I dunno.

Throughout the early part of the play, I felt like every song came from a different musical, which was cool. Some of it felt very classic, and some of it felt modern. Near the end of the first act, everyone started waving flags as they rebelled, and that was the first one where I could directly spot the influence, which was of course Les Miserables. Then the second act started off with Russian dancing, which was clearly influenced by Fiddler on the Rooftop (To Life!) and Kimberly quickly recognized the finger-snapping of the next song as influenced by West Side Story. That was another fun element. (And it turned out that we got many of the direct references, though I later discovered that the wonderful gospel song that I couldn't recognize but seemed so familiar was influenced by "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat", from <I>Guys & Dolls</i>; and I've never seen two of the other influences <i>The Threepenny Opera</I> and <I>The Cradle Will Rock</i>).

Overall a fun play, a thoughtful play, a weird play, and for at least one scene a shocking play. As usual there were great actors at the Playhouse, including Lockstock (our narrator), Hope (our female lead), and Little Sally (our youngest rebel). I'd recommend it, except that was the last performance.