Bad judgement: camera phones & estate sales

I was walking home from Dolores Park today and a cardboard box with the words “Estate Sale” scrawled on the side caught my eye. I turned on to a tiny side street and there was another piece of cardboard with a hastily scrawled arrow leading me up a stairway to a dark second floor apartment. I ascended the stair, my eyes barely adjusting to the darkness after spending a few hours outside in the sun.

The apartment looked like it had either been occupied by an elderly packrat or a band of hipsters with an eye for ironic furnishings. Because it was billed as an estate sale, and most of the furnishings had clearly been in this exact apartment since at least 1984, I had to assume that the owner was closer to 80 than 20. The sign at the curb had advertised “lots of art” but the only things I spotted that resembled art were a postcard of puffins in a gold wooden frame and a poster from the 49ers last Super Bowl appearance (in the Joe Montana days).

I walked in to the back room and noticed an abundance of VHS tapes. That is probably an understatement, short of a video store I have never seen this many tapes in one place. Then I turned around and noticed a huge bookshelf full of blank tapes that were still sealed in their original packaging, sorted by brand:

VHS tapes on a bookcase

This is where the first bout of bad judgement comes into play. Instead of reaching in my bag and using my 7 megapixel digital camera, I decided to use my piece of crap T mobile camera phone to take this photo. I didn’t even have it on the highest resolution (which still looks like a security camera photo blown up 300% and reproduced on newsprint) but instead I had it set to 170 pixels wide. This photo is all I ended up with.

It’s a shame that I didn’t have my good camera out. I walked into the bedroom next to the kitchen and there was a full size bed in the middle of the room. What, you ask, was for sale in this room? None other than the mattress pad on the bed that the previous tenant probably died on. This mattress pad was selling for a whopping $10.00. There was also a large wedge-shaped pillow for sale on top of it but I didn’t see the price tag. To top it off, across from the bed was a television with a sticker on the front that read “$10. Stuck on mute. You fix.” I can just imagine the scenario now. The deaf and incontinent resident of the apartment was stuck in bed all day, and the live-in nurse broke the television by permanently sticking it on mute so that he or she didn’t have to listen to the “Price is Right” and “Matlock” reruns on full volume from morning until night.

I’m not sure if it was worse judgement to sell a used mattress pad and broken television or if it was a bad call on my part to go to an estate sale advertised via a sharpie and cardboard box. At least I got a photo.

alittlebettergasstation, or maybe not

I’m not sure if you are familiar with British Petroleum’s rebranding in the past few years, but they are trying to get away from the word “petroleum” as much as possible. Their most recent marketing tactic can be found on their new website, titled It’s tied in to a “gas station of the future” called “Helios” that BP recently built and is operating in Los Angeles.

Now, back to the website. I’m not sure how much you think about gasoline marketing, but I’m not really that convinced that people really care where they buy there gas as long as it is competitively priced and the station is conveniently located. This website is looks like BP is trying to market gasoline either to ravers or small children, and as taget markets for petroleum products I’m not sure this is a very sound business strategy:

What, exactly, is so “green” about BP? The fact that they made a futuristic-looking gas station in Los Angeles with a few token “green” features? Delving a little deeper into their website, there is a feature called “The Greencurve.” By answering a few questions, the site will give you an evalution of how “green” you are. I was anxious to see what their evalution of my behaviors would be, considering I checked the box for “don’t own a car” on the survey.
I took their little survey and found their personalized advice to be amusing. They suggested I try telecommuting and traveling at less busy times of the day to save gasoline and help the planet. Guess what BP? I DON’T DRIVE A CAR you morons. I ride my bike to work. I can ride back and forth to work and home all day and I’m not going to burn a single ounce of fossil fuel.

Taking advice from a company that has on its record both the deadliest industrial accident in the past 15 years (in the United States) and ownership of the nation’s worst polluting industrial plant probably isn’t the best way to become “greener.” Their website sure looks cool to high school kids on acid though.

Extinction: Not just for dinosaurs

Boreal ChickadeeAs if enough things aren’t going wrong in the world, it looks like the populations of many common types of birds are disappearing in North America. In an article titled “Populations of 20 Common Birds Declining” the Associated Press is reporting that birds as familiar as the grackle and the meadowlark are seeing huge declines. The numbers of 20 different birds are at least half what they were in 1967. Greg Butcher of the National Audubon Society authored the study that the article draws upon and he is quoted as saying.

“Many of the birds that are disappearing are specialists, while the thriving ones are generalists that do well in urban sprawl and all kinds of environments, Butcher said. In a way it’s the Wal-Mart-ization of America’s skies, he said.”

If you want to read more about this issue, I highly reccomend the Audobon Society’s website. They have a page about declining bird populaions.

Jesus. With a dinosaur.On a lighter night, this image caught my eye today. Monty Propps, a contributor to created it and I think it is great occaision to mention how much support there is on the internet for the concept that dinosaurs and humans coexisted on Earth within the past few thousand years. In fact, some creationists have pointed out that that Noah brought them along on the Ark! If you’ve never been to the Answers in Genesis website you are really missing out.

I never would have known that it’s entirely possible for Noah to have brought along enough animals to repopulate the earth without reading this site. Because the ark held roughly the same volume as 522 stock railroad cars, each of which can hold 240 sheep, it would have been EASY for Noah to pack a couple of dinosaurs down there below deck.

“Without getting into all the math, the 16,000-plus animals would have occupied much less than half the space in the Ark (even allowing them some moving-around space).”-

I think someone should offer a prize to take this site up on their statement that “a Christian doesn’t have to have a blind faith to believe that there really was an Ark. What the Bible says about the Ark can even be measured and tested today.” Get some wood, nails and about 240 railroad cars full of animals…

Brontosaurus Controversy

In commenting on my post “Swimming Dinosaurs”, Tony asked about the controversy concerning the name “brontosaurus.” Most of us grew up knowing a few key dinosaurs, among them the ferocious T-Rex and the enormous (but docile) Brontosaurus. As it turns out, the Brontosaurus is no more- and I don’t mean extinct, that happened 145 million years ago.

Tony points us to an Wikipedia article and asks why we continued to delude ourselves for so long. An article on The Straight Dope explains the situation in some detail. Basically, a number of heads got mixed up on dinosaur skeletons in the late 1800s. The Brontosaurus was the result of a totally unrelated head (a camarasaurus) being placed on an apatosaurus body. While it was understood by the early 1900s that the two dinos were actually the same (bronto and apato) it wasn’t until the 1970s that the entire mix-up was completely straightened out and museums started correcting their displays.

I think the reason the change never really caught on was that so many books (mostly for children) had already  been published before the names were corrected that the name “brontosaurus” was too firmly entrenched in our collective vocabulary. Add to that the generations of science teachers that taught (and probably still do) the name “brontosaurus” to their classes because that is what they learned.

Portland OR, with Photos

Portland Waterfront

Last Friday I flew to Portland, Oregon to spend the weekend with my parents, my brother Dave and my friends Chris and Sara (Dave, Chris and Sara all live there and my parents were on vacation). I was staying in Hillsoboro at Chris and Sara’s house. Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that this town is home not only to Intel’s largest facility but is also the headquarters of Pizza Schmizza. Thank you, Wikipedia.

My trip was busy. Friday night was spent eating dinner with my family at the Kennedy School, an old elementary school that has been turned into a number of restaurants and bars. I met up with Chris and Sara later and they gave me a ride back to their house where we drank Soy White Russians. This reminded me of an infamous birthday party for my friend Chad a few years back where too much vegan cake and too many Soy White Russians were consumed. I’m not even vegan any more, but I can’t give them up.

Saturday was spent wandering around Portland.

Pioneer Square, Portland This picture shows Pioneer Square downtown, a large public space that was once a famous hotel and then was a parking lot. There was a lot of activity downtown this weekend because of the Rose Festival and Twilight Parade. Later in the day, we made our way over to Washington Park to see the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden.

Portland International Rose Test Garden Portland Japanese Garden

Sunday was spent doing the Mt. Hood loop. I went with my brother and parents to see the surrounding coutryside and visited Multnomah Falls, the second highest waterfall in the U.S. Multnomah Falls The drive went through the scenic Columbia River Valley, but the real goal was Mt. Hood. Part of the Cascade Mountains, Mt. Hood looms over the city of Portland and is perpetually snow-capped. This was my second weekend in a row on a snowy mountain, last weekend’s visit to Mt. Shasta was slightly less snowy though because of its more southerly latitude.
Mt. Hood

Chipmunk? Ground Squirrel?After a small meal 6,000 ft. up the mountain at the Timberline Lodge (perhaps you have watched “The Shining”?) , I met a ground squirrel/ chipmunk/ rodent that was very unfazed by my camera. Perhaps the alititude was making it friendly. We returned to Portland and went to Chris and Sara’s for a home-cooked meal. Monday was cloudy, but we still managed to make it to the Hoyt Arboretum just as the sun was coming out. I returned to San Francisco Monday evening.

Living dinosaur, maybe.

Loch Ness Monster!

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Loch Ness Monster. Despite the fact that scientists are generally unconvinced, many people are not. Recently, Gordon Holmes of Scotland shot a video that is so “convincing” even the BBC Scotland showed it on the air. Personally, I don’t find the video that convincing but I really like the idea of the Loch Ness Monster being real so here’s the link:

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in Alabama. Following up on the “giant hog” story from the other day, a jealous farmer questions whether the 1000+ lb hog killed by an 11 year old boy was actually grown in the wild.