Los Carneros

Wine is learning.

Los Carneros this time. San Pablo Bay. Makes me think of Paulliac, the Medoc: Thin sandy soil. Choking fogs. A fierce, unrelenting wind stresses the grapes. Alright then. This is pinot and chard country. Balanced Chardonnay, with nice acidity. Milder, more Germanic Pinot clones. Pinot as companion to food rather than Pinot as trophy. Pinot balanced for local tastes, rather than over-extracted for Parker’s or made to emulate a little strip of hills between Beaune and Dijon in France. Easy Pinot.

Pinot and Chard. The components of bubbles. Los Carneros sparking wines might lack the morning-bakery nose I adore in Champagne, but they have their own charms. Complexities beyond apricot and peach that reach towards star fruit, licorice, baking spices.

Los Carneros

And the place itself? With Bay Area eyes (I grew up with them), you might miss the beauty. An alluvial flat, north of San Pablo Bay, the hills in the distance, a sandy-clay soil that’s two steps above desert. Yet this is beauty. More-so coming in with Pacific Northwest eyes that have been trained to see green.

All of the above? Off the cuff observations. I want to go back ten times. Look back at this post and see how naive I was. This is a part of the beauty of wine: You get to spend a lifetime learning.

Mark Hopkins

During my mid-naughties de-stress weekend trips to SF, I would wander the city, pretending to be on a strict budget. Forced to hoof it around.

This was serious bullshit, as the hotel was decent and dinner was almost always something rather spendy. What can I say. I’d been reading an unhealthy amount of Henry Miller.

A few of those wondering wanders took me up Nob Hill and past the Mark Hopkins with its château-as-skyscraper architecture. I wondered what it might be like up there in one of those penthouse suites. Top of the City, top of the world.

Also, I’ve long been fascinated by a figure making a last stand in a hotel: Howard Hughes for one, or Dylan Thomas for another.

The two fascinations married as a poem and a short story. Drafts that I wrote. Neither of them went anywhere. Probably because I’d never stayed at the Hopkins, and so couldn’t really accurately draw the space inhabited by my countess making her stand against the sands of time. (I did that a lot when I was young: tried to write places and experiences I couldn’t afford in either time or money. None of the pieces were successes, but writing them did assuage a lot of the desire. But that’s another post.)

And this weekend I finally fulfilled the fantasy: We spent the weekend based out of the Mark Hopkins.

Without doing the whole ‘last stand’ thing, of course…

America’s Cup

Tall oblong sails being tugged under the Bay Bridge. Talk spreads through the market: “America’s Cup”, “Oracle”, “The New Zealand boat”. Isn’t it over? No, it hasn’t even begun yet. September. Sitting on one end of a bench, on the other is me + 40 years. Come down to look at that turquoise white-capped bay. We start talking. “How they expected a boat without a deep keel to handle the Bay. Catamarans. Some engineer’s idea. They messed up”. We wish him a good day. Good life. Others are speculating who will win. Sea, sails, speed. Everyone knows someone who sailed. Everyone’s an expert. This meme, now all over the Ferry Building Market. Market: A purposeful effort to encourage buying high and selling low. Raw emotion. Fear, greed. Stock market, farmer’s market, meme market. Word market. All the same. Words spreading into the lexicon, the fabric. What Don Delillo keeps trying to tell us. What makes Underworld such an enchanting novel. The Names so haunting. City, country, origins. When the time comes, we walk on. Back to the hotel. Keel is the word that sticks with me. A deep keel. Words come back to me at odd times: On the cable car up California (my first cable car ride after 36 years of coming to the city), over dinner at SPQR where we had good food with good wine and the pairing made it amazing. Driving down the peninsula in a Zipcar. All over the space: A deep keel. The inescapable allure of words…


Deliciousness of simplicity: An open space. A macchiato. Conversation.

Code, how design is a series of small gambles. Working with a team involves guessing which of hundreds of gambles will pay off and how. Games involving gambles.

Gary Snyder’s What You Should Know To Be A Poet “…Gambles…”.

San Francisco as geology, as watersheds, as micro-climates.

Henry Miller: “The physiology of love… think of the human race walking around with a bone on”.

Our skeletal structure. Staying healthy as we age. Michel de Montaigne, the book How To Live, “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”

What shall we have for lunch? I want oysters. Clams on the halfshell.

Shell games. Bernie Madoff made off with everyone’s money.

What about the art museum. Matisse… we should have stopped at Matisse. No, then there wouldn’t have been Magritte. Picasso came along too. Fine then.

Giants game tonight? Cubbies in town. Huggable Cubbie fans.

Remember the China Basin building? An old analogue, empty buildings. Look at all the solo/micro-prenuers around us, tapping away on laptops. New beautiful scary crazy wild paradigm.

Funny, the phone on the way here thought I said “Navigate to cycle ass coffee”. Funny.

This is an Italian city. Mediterranean in so many ways. Idleness, eye contact, mindless bureaucracy. Also a Chinese city. Henry Miller again, floating down the Yangtze. Heart of Darkness. The world’s immutable stories.

You can live here your whole life and just speak Mandarin, never learn English.

Let’s go down to the Ferry Building. Into the fog, cold, morning San Francisco 9AM Kerouac SOMA streets.

Someone left a sweatshirt outside the car. Nice sweatshirt. A Chinese guy holds it up as I start to pull away, grunts Is this yours? Not mine. He shrugs and carries it home. Speeding off, speeding away, zooming up Nob Hill…


Fog mornings in the Bay Area.

The Pacific Ocean, not done at the beach, has gone airborne and washed over the Bay. A wave. Daily frequency. From a pre-dawn peak, a fog-clogged Peninsula, Golden Gate fogswaddled, lean fingers laying low in odd inland places. Morning arrives. Sun goes to work, fog recedes. A gorgeous day in the bay: 77 in Berkeley, 81 in Palo Alto. 2PM, the nadir. The next pulse has already begun, heading ashore. In Montara around 5 o’clock that airborne ocean will race you home from the beach. Catch you. A curled world of fog and fireplaces. Chimney smoke in July? Believe it we did it.

Roll Your Own

Often when designing an application, we find ourselves faced with the question: Should I reach for the shelf, or should I roll my own?

Off the shelf allows me to directly utilize the work of others. Years, sometimes decades of thought have gone into solutions. Standards are usually adhered to. An expert can be located, should we need help implementing.

Rolling my own allows for maximum customization. It also gives me a deeper understanding than I would otherwise have; an off the shelf solution will always contain a black box (or many black boxes) where the logic isn’t quite understood. By rolling by own, I gain insight into the issues, the the tricks and traps, the pitfalls and the benefits.

The answer is, there is no one answer but a constant balancing act. A mature application platform might contain 50 to 100 (or many more) problem solutions. 30 of those might be off the shelf – by off-the-shelf I include everything from the OS to a tiny open source library for solving a specific REST issue – and 20 might be home-rolled. One of the architectural team’s biggest challenges is deciding how that balancing act works and why.

All of this is yada yada yada for folks doing application design. Here’s the twist:

I was thinking about the above in terms of a writer. And specifically the writer who uses her words to understand her world.

What is writing your own poetry or your own fiction, but the artistic version of rolling your own?

Instead of ‘using’ the canon of historical poetry and prose to understand the world, you craft your own version. Sometimes tabula rasa, sometimes starting with a copy/paste.

Always we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Whether it’s borrowing a phrase from Elmore Leonard who stole from Shakespeare who built on the work of the Anglo-Saxon language tradition, or designing an audio recording solution in jQuery which was built on javascript which is served by an IIS web server running on Windows running on x86 hardware which roots back to early work by IBM and beyond.

Great Things

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”

– Leonard Bernstein