A layperson’s question for all of you working in the tech industry: Is Elon Musk going to change the world? Or are these promises he makes, these ideas he floats out to the world, actually too good to be true?
I ask that now because I’m in love with the idea of the hyperloop that he’s proposed to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Half an hour to make the trip, he promises, and at a cost of only $20. Travel would be revolutionized. Pretty soon, I guess, we’d be going to New York for dinner, popping up to Seattle for coffee with an old friend. It’ll be just like in all the Phillip K Dick novels I’ve been binge reading lately. And he, Musk, talks about it like it’d be a pretty simple thing to get together. He’s got the design all in order, it’s just a matter of whether he can be bothered to take the time away from his other projects. We should all write to him, I thought, reading about it, beg, plead, send flowers and homemade pies. Please make us a hyperloop, we’d say, and soon enough he’d acquiesce and we’d get to live in the future.
But then I read a little further. He’s a very glamorous man, Mr. Musk, clearly brilliant and bold and visionary, but nothing has QUITE worked yet. Tesla has only made just a few cars. SpaceX launched one rocket. He himself seems to be really actively hoping it all goes well. He’s certainly giving us a vision of what could be, but is it unsafe to get emotionally involved in his vision of the future? Is it wiser to look at his two divorces and use that as an indicator of just how prescient he really is? What are you all thinking about this wild and wondrous man?
Here’s an obscure fact for you: According to Chinese medicine, too much laughter is bad for the heart. An excess of joy, it’s said, is overwhelming to the system. A story of a young boy in a small village explains a bit further. The boy in question did very well on a civil service exam, which meant a move to a big city and a better life for his whole clan. He and his family were so excited that they began parading around the town, receiving congratulations and cheers from all their friends and neighbors. But when they came to the town sage, that wise man looked into the boy’s eyes and said that the child would die in seven day’s time. The party halted and the family went into the sad business of preparing for the loss of their shining star. Seven days later, though, the kid was as vital and alive as ever and his father marched over to the aforementioned wise man in a rage.
“How dare you?” he demanded.
To which the old man replied that he had saved the boy’s life. The young man was so overcome with joy, the sage said, that he was sure to have died within the week had someone not doused him with a little grief.
With that warning, I’d like to remind you that we’ve got a bit of a special arrangement with Rooster T Feathers, our friendly neighborhood comedy club. Ask for details at the front desk, if you dare.
I made a great discovery this last weekend that I’d like to share with you. About a year ago, apparently, a cavernous old building in downtown San Jose that, over the years, tried to be many different versions of a nightclub but could never quite figure out a consistent crowd, finally gave up and decided to be a climbing gym instead. The thing is, it seems that this poor building must be cursed because although it’s been turned into a fine example of a climbing gym, and although I was in there at a time that every other climbing gym I’ve ever been to has been stuffed to the gills, the place was nearly empty.
Climbing gyms are great. Whoever invented the idea of bolting fake stones onto the sides of warehouses so that people could have a place where they could climb the walls was a genius. But they can be a little intimidating. There are far too many young men who have nothing better to do than get better and better at climbing walls, and the scrutiny of young men can be harsh. Especially when all the time you’re spending on the wall is taking away from their time on it. The unpopularity, then, of this place downtown, The Studio, it’s called, is a huge blessing. It’s a place to go and be awkward and take too much time and screw up and have fun being a total beginner. If you’re someone who’s always wanted to go give climbing a try, but shied away because of social fears, this is a place you want to know about.
Lily was here last Sunday afternoon, getting a few things organized for the upcoming week. No one expected her, it was this nice little treat, and before she could get the work she had come to do done, she had to make the rounds, giving everyone their turn to hug her. Why was it so special for Lily to come in on a Sunday, you ask? Well, friends, the sad truth is that Lily doesn’t work here anymore. The business she came in to attend to was about finishing up the last details of handing the job of front desk manager over to her successor, before going in on Monday for the first day of her new job.
This wasn’t a surprise departure, of course. Lily has been working her butt off for a long time and we always knew she meant to move out into the world. She’s at First 5 now, an organization devoted to, well, the first five years of the lives of children in the community. She’s preparing her grad school applications, with ideas of going into teaching, but also of continuing on with Chicano Studies. Unsure as she is of the specifics, it’s clear to her that non-profit, community outreach needs to be a part of her range of experience, and so she left us.
We’re so proud and it’s just awful. She grew up here with us. We watched her become the intelligent young woman she is now and she’s only going to get better, except we won’t get to be her daily reference point anymore. And for those of you who remember that her mother works here, or who know that she has so many friends here and assume she’s going to keep hanging around here even if she doesn’t work here, listen to this: She’s applying to UC Santa Barbara! Oh, why must love be so painful?
This newsletter has, admittedly, been in a bit of a San Pedro Square Market rut over the past few months. I apologize, and promise it’ll be over soon, but it does seem that there’s one more part of it that’s worth mentioning. For those of you who haven’t yet ventured out there, what’s interesting about the San Pablo Square Market is that it’s essentially an upscale food court. A whole bunch of restaurants are sharing one big building and you, the customer, are free to wander around, mixing and matching as you choose. Normally this is an experience reserved for places like Panda Express and California Crisp, but here you can have an artisanal pizza and your date can have fresh sashimi. And not a Styrofoam carton to be seen.
One more sweet little detail of the San Pedro Market experience is that one of its many establishments is a bar. Which means that the beer wine or specialty cocktail that accompanies your meal comes from a place whose only business is beer, wine and specialty cocktails. Ditto your after dinner coffee or tea.
This may seem like a lot of hassle. Maybe you’d prefer to be in a place where you can just sit down and order what you’d like. Not an unreasonable desire. Still, it’s a neat little environment they’ve got going on over there. Everyone little detail of your dinner is done in a place that specializes in that detail, so there’s no compromise. At the very least, this is a good place to keep in mind when you’ve got a picky group to try and please.
We’ve recently begun ordering wine from the Zotovich Family Vineyards, a winery about an hour north of Santa Barbara. It’s a new operation, only in operation since 2010, and a collaboration between an uncle and his nephew, hence the word family. The nephew is young, the ink on his undergrad degree in wine and viticulture is probably still not quite dry, and the uncle doesn’t even bother to mention his own credentials, whatever they may be. There is no sense, however, of the humble up-and-comers hoping to make their way in a venerable old art. Rather, they seem to be taking the position of brazen young rebels, thumbing their noses at Napa. Perhaps not unlike Napa once thumbed their noses at the French.
Here are a few select quotes, because it seems that they make the point a lot more colorfully than I could:
About going winetasting in the “Lompoc Wine Ghetto”, a string of wineries within walking distance of one another, they say, “No more roshambo with friends where some unlucky sap saddles up on a Saturday as the designated driver. That would be so … Napa.”
About their rose wine, they say that it “pairs extremely well with… warm weather and patio furniture.”
They have a winemaker named Dan Schuler-Jones whom they say has his degree in Underwater Basketweaving, which, if you’re unfamiliar with that old joke, means that he did nothing useful in college and seems, in this case, to mean that he was a college buddy of the younger Zotovich, hired with no experience or training.
In talking about a low yield crop they say that it’s because Mother Nature was “stingy” with them.
All this is great, the arrogance and bravado, the open sloppiness. It’s human and it’s, in a way, the most lovable form of brash American entrepreneurialism. And lucky for you, we’re buying your first taste.
Not to stereotype, but I went to an event last night that I think a lot of you all may have enjoyed. It was called “Science Neat” and it was held at a bar in San Francisco, so, in spite of the sting of the typecast, I’ve just mentioned a couple of your big interests, no? There were booths set up all around the outdoor space with hands on experiences to try for yourself, all relating to the night’s theme of color. We were invited to mill around for a bit, delighting ourselves with color based optical illusions, a chance to experiment with color combining, and a few other random little treats. Then we gathered around, with our drinks and our friends, to listen first to a PhD candidate in marine biology, who told us why fish are different colors, and then to a doctor of neuroscience/amateur magician, who told us why we can’t observe magic tricks. In short, it was an awesome night out.
The thing about this “Science Neat” is that it’s a copycat of a thing called Nerd Night that’s been happening in cities all around the world. There are two official Nerd Nights that happen in the Bay Area and they sell out, especially the San Francisco one, and there’s enough overflow to support copycats, like the one I went to last night, which, incidentally, was stuffed to the gills.
Next Monday night is the next East Bay Nerd Night and it hasn’t sold out yet. There’ll be presentations on the strength of materials, on platypuses and on oysters. And there will, of course, be beer. I so very highly recommend this.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom to be found lately, war, economic crisis, impending environmental catastrophe, and a dysfunctional congress being only just the first, most obvious points to hit. It’s easy to fall into an idea that humanity is kind of on a dead end trip. Recently, though, there was a tiny little story that carried with it the thought that there may, actually, be infinitely more ahead of us. NASA admitted that they have a tiny little project devoted to warp speed. Warp speed!
Not pretending to understand the first thing about physics, and knowing for certain everyone reading this knows more about it than I do, I can only repeat what I read. What I read, though, is that there is a small team at NASA that understands that new discoveries about the nature of the physical world must be made to achieve this science fictional goal, but that they kind of believe they can do it. That is, they believe that they can demonstrate the possibility of technology that fractionalizes the time it takes to travel between planets and stars.
I apologize for whatever ignorance I’m betraying here, I understand that I’m on shaky ground writing to tech people about science. This is a little bit exhilarating, though, from my humble layman’s point of view. Space travel could become more accessible, meaning that the frontiers could get burst wide open, with unimaginable possibilities lying in waiting. The things that made up the fantasies of my childhood could actually become practical realities. I feel foolish even writing this, and yet as I’m writing it to the people who brought us the weird and magical internet and all its wonders, I get the sense that maybe you understand. There’s a lot more possibility in the world than what we can see.