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

Friday, January 7, 2011


Imagine a room which was nothing but trampolines. Imagine that even the walls are trampolines. Imagine room like this with continuous dodgeball games. Imagine doing flips, higher than you've thought possible. Imagine a foam pit.

This is all real.

If you're like me, you are already sold.  If not, then watch this.  You won't be this guy, or see this guy, but for a brief second you might feel like this guy.

Sky High, in Santa Clara, is a bit of a hike but worth it.  I've gone there several times.  Recently, House of Air opened up in the city (if you can call Fort Mason "in the city") which I haven't tried yet, but will soon.

Web Sites:
  • Sky High Sports —
  • House of Air —
When: Whenever you want, until midnight Fri/Sat
Where: Fort Mason, SF (House of Air), and Santa Clara (Sky High)
How Much: $10/hr

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Get Mortified, so awkwardly wonderful

You know those painfully awkward poems, diaries, and stories you wrote in the tender middle- and high-school years?  The ones that were so earnest, so true, so meaningful then — and so cringe-worthy now?  We all have them, but it took the genius of Mortified to drag them, pouting and misunderstood, into our adult lives.

Mortified is a touring, rotating show of brave souls, reading their most embarrassing and endearing adolescent work in a hilarious catharsis.  This is a show you simply must see at least once in your life.  You will laugh so hard you'll cry, all the while thinking that it could have been you writing those words.  Since the lineup also changes with each tour, it's also a show you can come back to again and again and get just as much out of it each time.

Get there early — it will be packed.

When: Periodic; check website.
Where: Make-Out Room, 22nd and Mission, SF
How Much: $12 advanced, $15 door

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


When I was a kid, I always thought handstands were easy. Not that I ever manage to do one for more than a second, but I figured I just hadn't found the trick yet. As I got older and less willowy, handstands seemed even harder. Luckily, I found someone to help me get to my goal. Sam, Shira, and co at the Athletic Playground are excellent teachers that start you off safely, no matter what your level, and can challenge you with advanced exercises once you have the basics down. It's a great class to drop in on and learn a bit, but you might find yourself coming back to perfect your art. It's also a great workout for your core and to strengthen your shoulders and wrists, which is important for code-monkeys like me.

Want to feel like a kid again?  Get upside-down for a bit.

Website: Athletic Playground Handstand class —
When: Multiple classes per week
Where: Athletic Playground, San Pablo and 48th Str, Emeryville
How Much: $15 drop-in, bulk and monthly plans available.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Culinary Classes

Food is good.  Good for eating, good for making.  For me, cooking with and for friends is one of the most satisfying experiences around.  I love architecting a meal so that the dishes compliment each other, tasting a dish as its flavors come together, and having everyone enjoy the results.  I live in a house with eight people, and we take turns cooking for each other.  Each meal is a fun production, but it's also a production — often about three hours of cooking.  By picking up preparation techniques or understanding core concepts of cooking I not only expand my repertoire, I also speed up and streamline the cooking process.

Cooking classes just make sense.  They are often pricey, but consider that a good cooking class will increase the quality of your food for the rest of your life.  I find classes that emphasis core concepts (how to balance flavors, what cooking techniques to use for what foods, etc) most useful — I don't remember most of the recipes I'm taught, but I'll always remember for Thai dishes you must balance sweet, salty, and sour.  Knife skills classes are particularly useful.  Chef Joe's class has transformed dicing garlic from a slow chore to a step so fast I'm finished before I realize it.

I've taken classes a few places, two of which are in San Francisco.  One, Chef Joe's, is a small boutique school near Duboce Park.  Tante Marie's is bigger, with the greater class size and spacious facilities that implies.  I can heartily recommend both, but a quick google search will turn up half a dozen that are likely just as good.

  • Chef Joe —
  • Tante Marie —
When: Classes are most days of the week.  But RSVP early — they fill up quickly.
Where: Various locations about the Bay
How Much: $60 to $150+

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spy Games

I love spies and the games they play.  A couple months ago, I came across a game of Jericho, billed as a spy game with skulking, hats, and nerf guns.  All of these things are awesome.  I had high expectations, which were handily exceeded in an afternoon of stealth, strategy, ambush, flight, deception, and bad-ass shootouts.  If you secretly want to be a spy or secret agent, this is the game for you.

When: Generally Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons
Where: Downtown SF.  Often starts at Union Square.
How Much: Free

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chinese New Year's Treasure Hunt

An annual and annually awesome tradition in San Francisco is the Chinese New Year's Treasure Hunt.  For several twilit hours you search throughout downtown, examining signs and awnings, skulking past other teams, and dodging dragon-headed dancers, dressed in your finest Noir fedoras and trenchcoats.  The clues are intelligent and often quite challenging, and while you can make progress on them right from the start, you can only complete them by going to the nooks and crannies of SF.  The hunt comes in 4 difficulty levels, so beginners and veterans alike can work their grey matter.  You'll want a team to attack the clues in parallel, so you can plan your route most efficiently -- having to double back for a clue will ensure you don't place first.  However, the real benefit of the treasure hunt is exploring the city and discovering dozens of charming places you didn't even know existed -- things that you walk by each morning on the way to work but never noticed.

When: The evening of the Chinese New Year's Parade.  In 2011 it's Saturday, February 19th.
Where: Downtown SF, starting at Justin Herman Plaza (near the Ferry Building), but ranging over many blocks.
How Much: $30 advanced, $40 door

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Looking for treasure!

I like to do fun things.  Luckily, I live in one of the funnest areas in the States -- the San Francisco Bay Area.  Spurred on by a friend's request, I'm compiling a list of fun things to do around here.  Since there are so many things one can do, I'm using the following selection criteria:

  • Fun: The most obvious and subjective criterion.  Since I'm compiling the list, it will be biased towards things I find fun -- active, athletic, quirky, adventurous, or helpful preparing for the apocalypse.
  • Drop-In: Things that you can do once and get something out of it. Some, like flying trapeze, you certainly won't have mastered and you might be inspired to pursue more seriously, but you'll still come away having a great time.  This does mean, however, there are a lot of great clubs that I won't be showcasing, because to get something out of them requires a bit more commitment.
  • Recurring: Events that happen regularly, and ideally frequently. Some, like the SF Chinese New Year's Treasure Hunt, happen once a year, while some, like Handstand classes at Athletic Playground, happen multiple times per week.  One-time events, even awesome ones, won't be featured.
I'm also always on the lookout for new and fun things, so feel free to give suggestions!