Saturday, January 22, 2011

Edwardian Ball

I'm breaking an unannounced rule for this post. Normally I only write about things I've done personally and can vouch for; however this event happens only once a year, and I'm about to go to it. To maximize the chance people can experience it this year, I'll post this now, and update once I'm back.

The Ball is the union of the brilliant if disturbed Edward Gorey, beloved of goths and Harajuku, with the sexy/alt/cosplay scene of San Francisco (Los Angeles, you have one too!). It occurs once a year, in three parts: A Faire, a Bazaar, and a Ball. The Bazaar, which is free, is where the crafty folk come to peddle their finest steam-punk wares. The Faire and Ball both cost money and both contain acts both wonderous and bizarre, the latter also features ballroom dancing.

Where: Several locales in downtown SF
When: Annually, in January
How Much: Bazaar — Free, Faire — $28+, Ball — $38+

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Indoor Sky Diving

Ok, so throwing yourself out of a plane is hard. If you're not up for that (yet), consider indoor sky diving at iFly. You don't get the stomach-lurching first drop, or the gentle parachute sailing, or the nerve-wracking plane ride, or the skidding landing, but you do get the part where you're hurtling down at 120 mph... at least, in a relativistically equivalent sense.  You are a mere change of reference frame away, since it is the wind, and not you, that is going at 120 mph.  You are held up on a roaring but quite comfy cushion of air, which is extremely responsive to the slightest changes of posture.  By moving this arm then that, you can spin around and straighten out, soar high up or sink down, or flip around to the consternation of the instructor.  It really is both quite fun, and quite similar to the sky diving free-fall — and also a bit longer.  If you've already gone sky diving, you can practice your maneuvers.  If you haven't, then you can prep yourself for the big day.

Web Site: iFly SF Bay —
When: Any time (discount during work hours)
Where: Union City
How Much: $50 to $55 for first time flyers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Science is cool. Really cool, and I'm not just saying that because of my background. Unfortunately, so much of the breath-taking amazement of science is lost in often dull explanation. Science museums, for the most part, just get it wrong.

The Exploratorium gets it right. They understand, at a deep level, that science will blow your mind. And they show you.  Optical illusions?  Check.  Generators that make your hair stand on end?  Check.  Hot/Cold coils that totally mess with your sense of touch?  Check.  The list just goes on and on.

As if this wasn't enough, the Exploratorium has the Tactile Dome, a geodesic dome with a winding 3-dimensional path, that's entirely in the dark.  You have to navigate using just your sense of touch (and I suppose prioperception), with strange textures and things to feel along the way.  It's just as wonderful and childlike as it sounds.

If you love science, you should go.  If you've always been turned off by science, you must go.  It'll show you things you've been missing.

Web Site:
When: 10am to 5pm, except Mondays.
Where: The Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco
How Much: $15 (or $20 with Tactile Dome)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jump out of a plane

Everyone knows about skydiving.  Most have even thought about it, if only to shake their heads in disbelief.  But many of you have thought, "Maybe.  Just maybe."

Skydiving is not for everyone.  If the idea sounds too petrifying to be exciting, or if you faint easily, then just move along.  There's no reason to throw yourself out of a plane if you're not going to enjoy the ride.  But if it seems compelling, exciting, or just plan fun, then do it.

The easiest way to start off is with a tandem jump, where you are physically strapped to an instructor.  This does more than keep you safe.  It ensures that you will, in fact, leap out that gaping port into the wild blue yonder.  Even if you are brave and logically prepared, when your feet are dangling above 15,000 feet of nothing there's a reptillian part of your brain that screams at you that this really is not a goot idea.  Luckily, the large man you are buckled to makes that decision for you.  And when you are falling down at 100+ mph, you don't have to stress about when to open your 'chute.  You just enjoy the ride and wait for the professional to do all the work.

When you go, you'll watch an instructional/promotional/legal-notification video with a spokesman who is almost as memorable as your jump.  Then they'll give you some more instructions, suit you up, take you up in a plane, strap you to them, throw you out, fall for one of the longest minutes of your life, open the chute, and then float gently but inexorably to the ground.  No problem.

There's a couple skydiving places near the Bay — all involve at least some driving, since you'll be taking off from a small municipal airport.  I was taken to* NorCal Skydiving, which gave you beautiful views of Napa/Sonoma in both your ascent and your descent.  I've also heard good things about Bay Area Skydiving, further east near Byron.

Web Sites:
When: 7 days a week.  Weekends can fill up, so reserve ahead.
Where: Cloverdale or Byron
How Much: $170 to $200, but there are discounts

Monday, January 10, 2011

Breathe and Eat Fire

You know those movie scenes where the hero takes a swig of whiskey and blows fire onto the bad guys?  I always thought that was really cool, but unrealistic.  I was half right.  Learning to breathe and eat fire is actually quite feasible, although experienced instruction is really a good idea.  Luckily, excellent instruction can be found at the Crucible.  There are two classes, Fearless Fire Eating and Dragon Breath, which take you through the basics of each, to the point where you can safely and reliably amaze your friends.  Each class takes place over two sessions.  The first, you learn how to construct the appropriate equipment (this is the Crucible, after all).  The second session you learn to actually do the deed.  I was pretty impressed with the class — I went from thinking it looked unreal, to doing the unreal.  A lot of credit has to go to Patricia, the experienced and entertaining teacher.  If you want to take it a little further and get some beautiful hand-wrought torches, she can sell you some she makes as her blacksmith alter-ego.

Also, it takes place at the Crucible, which is an awesome space which does awesome things.  I'll be writing about it again.

When: Various weekends -- check the schedule on the website.
Where: The Crucible, 1260 7th St, Oakland
How Much: $95 to $175

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lindy in the Park

Lindy Hop is an awesome dance — fun, fast, and flirty.  Each Sunday around noon, a small horde of people come to Golden Gate Park and jive away to hep tunes.  The crowd is friendly and inviting, so beginners should not feel intimidated — a beginner's lesson is even provided.  Dancing away in the park under warm sunshine with great people, how could it be better?

Here's how: it's completely free.  Isn't San Francisco great?

Lindy in the Park is the event.  And if you can't get enough (or if you're in the east bay), there's a sister event on Berkeley's campus on Saturdays.  Lindy on Sproul is the same deal, but different place and time.

When: Sundays 11:00am to 2:00pm (in the Park), or Saturdays 11:45am to 2:00pm (Berkeley)
Where: Golden Gate Park, and Sproul Plaza in UC Berkeley Campus
How Much: Free!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thai Brunch

One of the best ways to spend a summer Sunday morning is reclining on the lawn outside the tool-lending library, eating delicious thai food and absorbing the company of friends. This is the hallowed Berkeley institution of Thai Brunch, sponsored by Wat Mongkolratanaram as a merit-making activity. Whether you ascribe to the karmic view of the life or not, it's an activity that shouldn't be missed.

It's as much a cultural experience as it is a culinary one. The place is bustling, and if you manage to find a seat you'll hear a babble of Thai, English, and other languages from the uniquely Berkeley cross-section that sits around you. If you can't find a seat, no worries — a picnic on the lawn beckons.  However, do be conscientious — the neighbors aren't always happy with the event.  The temple and its brunch has its defenders, tho, and appears to be safe for now.

Web Site:
When: Every Sunday morning
Where: Wat Mongkolratanaram, between MLK Jr Way & Otis St, Berkeley
How Much: $6 for a plate of three items, sides $1 to $3