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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

23,000 labor hours, 4 cranes, and a lot of fire

  cloudy day photo of metal sculpture from Crude Awakening, West OaklandOne of the fun features of my bike ride through West Oakland is a pair of two massive, metal sculptures that were once shown at Burning Man (, the spectacular desert festival held annually in Nevada. (See cloudy day phone photo at left.) These sorts of giant sculptures, plus intricate temples and all manner of other fabulous, gorgeous, interesting installations that appear around the Bay Area during the summer months, represent the large-scale creativity that had made Burning Man conceptually amazing to me.

I can be impressed by really big art, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

I love the temples built by David Best (especially The Temple of Honor and the Temple of Joy (see also this Temple of Joy interior view) all at, The Waffle (seen here as a gigapan panorama at, the Man (of course), and Black Rock City itself.

Yes, Black Rock City. The logistics of setting up the 7th or 10th largest city in Nevada, a city of 50,000 or so people on a temporary basis, are quite stunning. And to do so in a way that looks this cool in a satellite image is a major feat. Here, I'm adding a link to a NASA satellite image of Black Rock City which links to a larger version at Wikipedia. NASA image of Black Rock City from Wikipedia Commons (I [heart] Wikipedia.)

Strangely, my fascination with these large projects may be the reason I have NOT been to Burning Man. It seems like the most fun way to participate would be to work on a BIG project that is already planned out, and I don't have friends who work on this sort of thing (or, if they do, they've been keeping their work secret). I've received lots of abstract encouragement to attend, but no invitations to wild sketching & stitching sessions to build massive, self-supporting tensile structures to shelter a camp of crazed, costumed, tensile structure designers and vegan chefs who dance non-stop to downtempo electronica and provide first aid and vegan cookies to random passersby (<-- my fantasy first BM experience). This {excuse} has allowed me to avoid the near-impossible struggle to actually get a week off before Labor Day to participate, though the struggle would be worth it.

Speaking of projects completely beyond my abilities, I want to share a link to Headless Point: Crude Awakening 2007 (, the massive project that the West Oakland metal men belong to. 180 people invested 23,000 labor hours to make this project go. 5,000 pounds of explosives, 400 gallons of jet fuel, 300 gallons of gasoline, 1600 gallons of propane, and 64 tons of steel (61 of that salvaged) were used in this project and its flaming finale. WATCH THE VIDEO. Yes, it took four cranes to raise the model oil derrick. Yes, I got a bad case of crane envy just watching.

This page provides interesting environmental comparisons about the impact of the fuel and materials they used against what you consume in your daily life. (When was the last time you thought about how much fuel the plane used to carry you to your vacation destination? Or the amount of fuel used to ship the items in your house from where they were made to the store where you got them? There are questions people will ask about art that they will never ask about the things they choose to do every day.)

It's satisfying to see the story behind these sculptures, and to know where they were made (in another building I bike past), and how they were hauled out to the desert, lifted into place with cranes operated by professional operators, rigged with explosives by pyrotechnicians, and viewed by thousands of people.

Collaboration produces some incredible results!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:55 PM

Friday, September 04, 2009

The most adorable sleeping squid you have ever seen

  Look at this. Look at it! Awwww!!! Do squids dream of swimming sheep? on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Possibly even cuter: the sketches she (Justina Kochansky) submitted to the Black Pebble Arts Foundation with her grant application to create and install this work at Balsa Man ( (scroll down near the bottom of the page).

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:15 PM

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas (and all other Solstice Celebrations!)!

  Christmas light abstract image by A.E. GravesBest wishes to you and all those you hold dear throughout the winter solstice celebration season!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:08 PM

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A photo of me in glasses that I can actually tolerate!

  OF COURSE I staffed the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's annual Winterfest fundraiser and party. How could I not?

No, I didn't wear a corset this year. It's just been too cold, and I don't have any new ones to show off. But, despite this, there is a photo of me from the event that I can bear, among the other many fun photos from the event: The CrackBerry Chronicles: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Winterfest | Fog City Journal ( (Scroll down. You will notice that Phaedra is working hard, while Sue and I mug for the camera.)

Thanks for finding this, Larry!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:35 PM

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween Redux, part two

  strangely lobed winter squashIt's been a very long week! In more ways than I can tell you... The festivities included not one but TWO pumpkin (jack o' lantern) carving parties, costume making, Halloween celebrations at work, Halloween wanders after work, dinners with friends, greeting a friend flying in from abroad, an All Souls Day party, and, coming up, a wedding reception.

I am so tired. But I am also very well fed.

Jack o' lantern: blow-by-blow.

first face of jack o lantern carved into strangely lobed winter squashsecond face of jack o lantern carved into strangely lobed winter squashthird face of jack o lantern carved into strangely lobed winter squashThe photos I am attaching here are of a three-faced jack o' lantern that I carved at my cousin's home. I had run out of pumpkins by the time I was supposed to go over to his house, and asked him to pick up something "strange" for me to carve. He and his friends found this enormous, irregular squash, which I suspect is a combination of blue Hokkaido and... an alien.

If you do a lot of cooking with squash, you know that some of these are just plain solid: you cannot actually get the stem center out, let alone hollow out much of the rest of the squash. Also, these types of green-to-white fleshed squash often have a lovely, sweet, melon-like scent, which is really pleasant.

I am a skilled pumpkin carver, but even I had a heck of a time getting the stem piece out of this squash. I had to carve out one of the mouths on a lobe and work my hand into the hollow of the lobe, and then work the stem out from beneath. (With my hand up past the wrist in the mouth of the lobed squash, I had to make jokes about obstetrics, were generally moaned over.) The clearance in the center of the squash was very limited, but each of the lobes had a hollow beyond the very thick walls of flesh that I was able to clear out enough so that a single candle could light all three lobes. (One of the nice things about making multiple faces on a single squash is that, if you happen to be a photographer who can take long exposures on your camera, you can have one or more of the faces pointed at your camera, and the rear faces pointing toward a nearby wall, where the rear faces will be projected in candlelight. It's a great effect!) Note that these whitish squash bruise easily: those aren't pen outlines around the cuts, but are bruises that the knife made by piercing the skin.

Aside: Yes, there are more photos from the carving at our place, but those haven't been shared with me yet.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:40 AM

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween Redux, part one

  Halloween Critical Mass, San Francisco, 2008So many rainstorms! Waves of rain are rolling in even now, soaking the garden. You can nearly hear the plants sighing happily. The storms posed quite a threat for Halloween - they put quite a damper on people's plans (ha ha - ouch! Sorry!). But there was a big, strangely warm and still break between storms, and it lasted just long enough in San Francisco for Halloween revelers to enjoy the gorgeous night for a few, relatively dry hours.

Halloween group of Antarctic researchers with local penguinsI had been working on a very warm, soft costume for a while, and managed to come up with an extraordinarily simple design which I was able to hand-sew in just two evenings. To coincide with a silly story I'm telling in the office (about my new space being as isolated as Antarctica), I decorated my office to look, well, Antarctic, and encouraged my colleagues to wear appropriate parkas. I came as a gentoo penguin. (I'll post more about the costume design some other time, if only so I can use the same principles in future costumes.)

Yes, I did write BART as a penguin. (Playing the commute straight while in costume is one of the more subversive joys in life.) Yes, I did walk to BART as a penguin. Yes, the group of school children waiting for their school bus did let me know that my costume was easy to figure out, especially the little boy who followed me half way down the block on the other side of the street, singing a song I didn't recognize and shouting "ba da da da da da da - PENGUIN!!!" with his fist in the air.

I was also impressed with the costumed turnout at work - much higher than I had feared - and the overall excellence of holiday-themed desserts that were entered into our office competition. (Your office didn't have a Halloween dessert competition? Well, it sucks to be you, doesn't it?)

While my train ride to the east bay had been devoid of decorå†ed adults, the BART ride back into the City was filled with costumed adults, many of whom were heading toward Critical Mass. Which I was also heading for.
Steven Pitsenbarger as Robot, San Francisco, Halloween 2008, photo by A.E. GravesI had gone out of my way to design a costume that was bike-friendly so I could ride in Critical Mass. I did this because of the clarity of the design that came to me, and not merely in rejection of the 'couples costume' which had been proposed to me by my partner: namely, that I be a large, cartoony hammer with a mean face, and that he be a nail with a sad/frightened face. [Insert your interpretations of our relationship here.] Once I made it clear that I was not going to participate in his suggestion, he was maniacally inspired to come up with a remarkable, nearly all metal robot costume. It took many days of looking for parts, and many more of assembling and testing. But his robot costume is a wild success. A stellar photo of Steven's Robot is featured here on, and made it onto the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle today.

We had a lovely time milling around and seeing all of the Massers in costume (and yes, I longed to ride); went on a long, gorgeous walk around the Ferry Building and Embarcadero; met up with Peter for dinner; waited for Alex, flying in from Okinawa, to escape the airport and catch up with us; hung out at Peter's place; scoped out some of the costumes in Peter's neighborhood... May I say here that any costume that can be described as "Sexy __________" or "Slutty __________" is painfully, painfully conformist and boring? I'm not saying it's not hot; I'm just saying it is BORING. For those of us who are not 'into' women especially. DULL. Please.

San Francisco Ferry Building and Skyline at night, Halloween 2008It was an absolutely gorgeous evening - everything was wet, reflective and shiny; people were merry; the air was fresh; the City lights were gorgeous; and it was possible for me to be comfortable in my very plush costume, but also warm enough for the folks in skimpy wear to avoid goosebumps as they rolled through town with their blinkies on "fast."

We skipped one party, failed to reach the host of another to be buzzed in, and headed home to be met by enthusiastic rainclouds. They had held off just long enough!

Special thanks to Peter, who provided us with refreshments, his restroom, a chance to freshen up, and space to engage in minor robot repair.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:50 PM

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Insomnia and Returning from the Dead.

eatbrains08, SF Zombie mob, photo by Steven P.I have looked exhausted lately, largely from an unusually severe, multi-day bout of insomnia.

Only some of this insomnia is induced by Peet's products. I swear. Peet's soy chai induces the tastiest insomnia anywhere!

But I don't look as bad as I do in this photo. (And I hope not to for about 60 more years.) This was an outtake from photos Steven took of me participating in the San Francisco Zombie Mob (, which is how I spent my Saturday afternoon. Yes, I was a zombie, a member of the undead, and I wandered through downtown SF with about 350 of my closest undead friends, crying out for fresh brains.

It is terribly... liberating. We are told to look "nice," to dress tidily and modestly, not to stand out, not to make noise, not to be weird (as if I have ever listened to that), and suddenly we get to set all of those silly rules aside and roam, dripping blood, to maul our happy (and clearly marked) victims whose silly drama in their futile resistance matches our own silly drama in mauling them.

It is delightful, in so many happy ways.

Special highlights: an early victim, looking so innocent with his (empty) paper coffee cup, milling about, waiting to be mauled... The victim with an armful of balloon animals, and the fabulous faux-horror facial expressions he made as we converted him to one of our kind... The group in Chinatown that attempted to fight the zombies off with toy swords... And the best part, the absolute best part, was the meeting of the two zombie groups on Grant Avenue in Chinatown. Oh, the sound!! The happy, happy, happy sound! We took up the entire block. It was truly beautiful.

Tourists loved it. Tour bus operators loved it. Passersby faked screams and ran away, smiling. Non-participants feigned attempting to defend their storefronts from us. The people who couldn't deal with it were also a riot: there is something so inherently ridiculous in pretending not to see hundreds of passing zombies and making tight-lipped little frowny faces of disapproval and scurrying off. The people who demanded rational explanations were just as funny. Must everything have a rational explanation? I've seen television: I know people are willing to suspend rational thought for vast periods of time.

Flickr is filled with pictures tagged "eatbrains08," many of which contain gloriously ghastly images of me. My favorite video of the zombie march so far is Zombie March, August 16, 2008, by ( I'll post a link to Steven's photo/video montage when he has it posted.

I posted a small set of images to, yes, of all places, Facebook: Oh, the horror! Zombies roam the Streets of San Francisco!: photos by Steven, cropped and posted by me. (You can view these without a Facebook login.)

The event was delightful, and I believe I've recruited many people to participate next time, when it will be even more gory and grand.

Zombie Beauty Tips:
-a clay and avocado mask turns you a truly alarming shade of gray-green, and leaves your skin soft and pleasantly scented. Be sure to put some on your lips: zombies have dead-looking lips.
-that dark eye makeup that you regret buying, the nearly black one with red glitter in it, is PERFECT for making your eyes look sunken-in. If you have an eye-shadow primer, use that to ensure that it doesn't wipe off unintentionally.
-cheap, nasty lip gloss makes good blood-substitutes, despite the nasty bubblegum scent. Smear some down the side of your face, and onto your shirt.
-clothes that don't fit well, which can be hacked at with dull scissors without any regret, looks best on zombies. I'm sure you have some around.
-rely on other, organized zombies for high quality, washable blood.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:41 PM

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The last night of this year's Zeitgeist International Film Festival is Monday, August 11th.

poster for Zeitgeist International Film FestivalZeitgeist International Film Festival 2008-MAIN (overcooked has the program details up. Yes, it's late on a 'school' night, but Frank's film, Since You've Been Ong ( is screening there, and I've never been able to watch it with a live audience before, I'm going. Assuming I can get in: I've heard it's a zoo.

Be a local: wear/bring LAYERS. (Gillian thinks I'm going to freeze. Gillian doesn't know how much synthetic fleece I own.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)4:07 PM

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Leaving the house now and then.

I have been out eating and drinking entirely too much lately, and it is beginning to show in the way my pants (fail to) fit. I would whine and carry on about how cruel life is... but good food is not exactly a curse, so it's not like I will earn your sympathy.


My efforts to reclaim my nightlife have been reasonably successful, especially with regard to live music. The first week of July I was able to enjoy the Charlie Hunter Trio ( at the Great American Music Hall ( It has been a few years since I've been able to see CH, and his show was excellent. I was wary at the beginning of the first set for no particular reason, but as the set became more intense, I remembered how fabulous a musician he is...

The first set, strangely enough, featured an arrangement of Blondie's Heart of Glass, which was done so cleverly that it took a while to identify itself, since it came through as pure jazz... And the second set was even better than the first.


The following week was the stellar Black Francis show, which I wrote about previously.


The Definite Articles at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008This past week brought me back to the Rickshaw Stop for The Definite Articles (who have a new song!), the Brass Liberation Orchestra (who gave themselves a longer-than-scheduled set, from what I understand), and Mucca Pazza (, who were fun fun fun fun fun.

Mucca Pazza at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008Who can I compare Mucca Pazza to? ("Your band is like a summer's day...")

They are like... The Extra Action Marching Band, except they all keep their clothes on!

They are like... The Infernal Noise Brigade, except they are still together and they wear mismatched costumes!

They are like... people I might have hung out with in school, if I had actually signed up for band/orchestra, which I did not, but those of you who were in band/orchestra who I do hang out with could have turned out to be these people if you had been... significantly less sedate and more inclined to grow facial hair?? Maybe?

MP is extremely fun. Talented musicians! Energetic peformers! They dominated the Rickshaw Stop. The show was enthralling, and audience bounced out merrily into the streets at the end of the encore.

Mucca Pazza at the Tour de Fat, San Francisco, July 19, 2008Little did I know that I would be able to enjoy Mucca Pazza live TWICE in the same week, for they were also the headliners at the Tour de Fat ( The Tour de Fat is New Belgium Brewing's fabulous summer festival series dedicated to raising money for biking and open-space causes in the localities where they put up their tents. Which means that people can come out for a day of free entertainment, show off their fancy custom bikes, and buy delicious, 16 ounce New Beligum beers with all of the proceeds going to organizations I love dearly, especially the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The weather was terrible for an outdoor festival, but the festival was a blast, and I was there from 8:30 until it shut down.

Have I mentioned that I love bike people? I love bike people.

Visit the bands' websites to hear their great stuff.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:37 PM

Sunday, July 22, 2007

  Tour de Fat ( It was fabulous: Speedway Meadow, sunny weather, 6,500+ people attending, 100+ volunteers (like me, carding and tagging people who wanted to enter the biergarten), wacky circus acts, a performance by the Sprockettes, "Portland's Original Minibike Dance Troupe" that left me in tears of laughter... It was a day of fun that benefitted my beloved bike coalition to the tune of $10k+.

All that, and I learned that there is a beer I like. Appropriately enough for me, considering my habits, it is a beer made from an obscure recipe. New Belgium ( (who set up a very well designed, interesting website for their activities like the Tour de Fat, their eco-friendly recycling projects, etc. at have a tasty, dark beer called 1554, a "Brussels style black ale." I don't usually drink beer, and so I'm not sure how to describe it in beer-y (or ale-y) terms. It has a lovely flavor, deep without being too bitter; it has a lovely color, a rich hue that appeals to me the same way good coffee does; it tastes clean in my mouth... It's just plain pleasant, and I plan to buy and drink more of this.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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