San Francisco

The real electromagnetic emissions danger

I live 1.2km away from Sutro Tower in San Francisco. At my wife’s request I was trying to calculate the safe radius at which emissions from the transmitters at Sutro Tower are of the same power as a cell phone held a meter away, with back-of-the-envelope calculations using the inverse square law and Wikipedia’s table of radio powers.

I was shocked to find out the total power from the transmitters is about 8 megawatts, not in the kilowatt range I was expecting, and once reached 29MW. For comparison, the power of France’s first-generation PWR nuclear reactors is 900MW, and a typical cellular tower is 100W to 500W. If I use 2W as the reference, this yields a “safe” radius of 2km, which excludes many desirable San Francisco neighborhoods like Twin Peaks, Forest Hill or Noe Valley.

I looked up the most recent Environmental Impact Report following the DTV transition, and it mentions a FCC maximum allowed flux level of 0.2mW/cm2, and the measured levels in the Midtown Terrace neighborhood immediately adjacent to Sutro Tower reach 4% of this max level.

On further investigation, this is not one of those situations where US standards are significantly more lax than those in Europe, as France or the UK have the same level, derived from an international NGO called the ICNIRP. Interestingly, according to the WHO the maximum allowed emissions in such environmental paragons as Russia and China are one hundredth as high as those in the US or Europe and are just as science-based as those from ICNIRP (remember, for all its faults, the Soviet Union ranked very highly in maths and physics education & research, and in health care).

The ICNIRP/FCC standard is equivalent to a 25W isotropic emitter within a 1 meter radius, or 12x 2G GSM cell phones. Anyone who has experienced the squeal of unshielded and unpowered speakers next to an actively transmitting GSM phone will be skeptical about their claims that this is a safe level. Their methodology is based solely on the thermal effects of non-ionizing radiation, as if this were a mere microwave oven shielding exercise, and assumes that cells are otherwise unaffected by electromagnetism or cumulative exposure. This seems unwarrantedly optimistic.

People worry about cancer risks associated with radio frequency emissions from cell phone towers and cell phones themselves, but the real risk comes from overlooked obsolete technologies like TV and FM radio.

What to do? Getting a site survey from a Professional Engineer using calibrated equipment costs $1,500, which is something you would only do as part of a final inspection while buying a house. Most RF power meters sold on places like Amazon, usually in the $300 range, are pieces of junk with suggested applications like detecting paranormal activity and ghosts. Most likely solid engineering and metrology are optional given their application domain. Professional T&M gear like an Agilent V3500A or a Wandel & Goltermann/Narda EMR-300 cost $2,000 and $6,000 respectively, so the DIY route is also expensive.

Update (2014-03-08):

My father worked on some projects in the Soviet Union in the Seventies. He told me their workplace safety standards were much more stringent than the ones in the West. Workers were not allowed to lift weights above 25kg, for instance.

The Wild Parrots of Forest Hill

I got an unexpected but quite welcome treat this morning for my birthday. A mini-flock of 6-8 red-masked parakeets, better known as the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, descended on a hawthorn tree in my back yard and proceeded to gorge themselves on its berries for nearly an hour.

Street sweeping reminders in iCal

Parking signSan Francisco sweeps streets twice a month in residential neighborhoods, and you will be fined if your car is parked on a street being swept. On my street, the schedule is the first and third Monday of each month, between 9am and 11am. I was trying to create reminders to myself in my calendar. Unfortunately, iCal does not have the ability to specify a recurring event with that definition.

No matter, Python to the rescue, the script below generates a year’s worth of reminders 12 hours before the event, in iCal vCalendar format. It does not correct for holidays, you will have to remove those yourself.

#!/usr/bin/python
"""Idora street sweeping calendar - 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month 9am-11am"""
import datetime
Monday = 0
one_day = datetime.timedelta(1)
today = datetime.date.today()
year = today.year
month = today.month

def output(day):
  print """
BEGIN:VEVENT
DTEND:%(end)s
SUMMARY:Idora street sweeping
DTSTART:%(start)s
BEGIN:VALARM
TRIGGER:-PT12H
ATTACH;VALUE=URI:Basso
ACTION:AUDIO
END:VALARM
END:VEVENT
""" % {
    'end': day.strftime('%Y%m%dT110000'),
    'start': day.strftime('%Y%m%dT090000')
    }

print """BEGIN:VCALENDAR
CALSCALE:GREGORIAN
VERSION:2.0"""

for i in range(12):
  day = datetime.date(year, month, 1)
  while day.weekday() != Monday:
    day += one_day
  output(day)
  output(day + 14 * one_day)
  month += 1
  if month > 12:
    month = 1
    year += 1

print "END:VCALENDAR"

Crime does not pay

Two years after the Staceycide, the spot is still vacant. At a reported rent of $65,000 a month, that adds up to a cool $1.8M loss for the greedy landlords who pushed them out of business.

Stacey's, RIP

It seems they finally found a new tenant: a CVS pharmacy occupies the premises now.

Is this a Google Street View car?

Update (2011-05-12): the answer is no, it’s a Navteq 3D mapping car with a LIDAR array. Thanks to Darrell Kresge for the clarification.

As I was walking to lunch today, I caught sight of this weird contraption, and had just enough presence of mind to grab a few snaps of it.

One strange feature is a spinning white cylinder inside the arm canted at a 45 degree angle.

It doesn’t look like any of the Google Street View vehicles captured before, nor does it have the Google markings. The Michigan license plate is a bit odd as well. A prototype, perhaps? Or is some other company is getting into this racket, perhaps Microsoft?

I love my ISP

Not only do Webpass give me fast 45Mbps symmetrical access for $45/month, with no capricious restrictions or anticompetitive shenanigans, but they are also real mensches.

My favorite hamburgers in San Francisco

(updated 2013-04-21)

See also this list of cloth napkin burgers.

  1. Bix
  2. Mission Beach Cafe
  3. Marlowe
  4. Roam
  5. Umami
  6. Slow Club
  7. Magnolia
  8. Mos Grille
  9. Custom Burger
  10. Bistro Burger
  11. Super Duper
  12. In-n-Out

As a bonus, the most overrated burgers:

  1. The Burger Bar in Macys—the Las Vegas one was OK, but the SF one is a wreck, far worse than even a McDonalds, with inedibly gristly meat the one and last time I had the misfortune to go.
  2. Zuni Cafe—the shoestring fries are lovely, but the burger itself blah
  3. Joes Cable Car—OK, but nothing to write home about
  4. Five Guys—this East Coast chain is starting to make an appearance in the Peninsula (they have a location at Tanforan), it’s OK but I can’t understand the rave reviews

MacWorld 2010 impressions

First test roll from the Fuji GF670

Yet another bag company in San Francisco

Women’s handbags have become the mainstay of the luxury industry, generating well over $10B a year in revenues. San Francisco has no dearth of companies designing, and sometimes manufacturing, bags locally, but most have an urban, not luxury sensibility. We have more manufacturers than any place with the possible exception of Australia. To mention but a few:

There is a newcomer to this list: Rickshaw Bagworks

Update (2012-07-13):

Add to the list:

Update (2013-08-07):

And some more:

xkcd reading

From the Reddit list of questions to xkcd author Randall Munro:

This is not really a question

At the EFF organized reading tonight in San Francisco:

Were you expecting an xkcd-esque alt text?

Ty Couz

One of the best values in San Francisco dining, their $8.50 scallop galette (Breton for buckwheat crêpe).

Update (2012-07-13):

Sadly, it closed a few months ago.

City government waste in San Francisco

A 33% hike in Muni fares was announced today. This will hit the poorest people in the city first, and to add insult to injury, this is accompanied with cuts in service.

San Francisco has a budget of over $6B, about the same size as much larger cities as Chicago or Paris, and exceeding the budget of 20 of the US states. It also exceeds the entire GNP of countries like Mongolia or Georgia (in the Caucasus). San Franciscans get little to show for it in services.

One reason why: SF has over 8,000 city employees making over $100,000 a year (the head of Muni is one of them, making $325,000, or more than US Cabinet ministers who make $191,000). The share of the city budget spent on those high flyers is over $1B…

Anthony’s Cookies grand opening

Anthony

Another gourmet treats shop joined the burgeoning scene in the Mission. Anthony’s Cookies opened today to a line that stretched around the corner.

Opening

As one of the officials present said, it takes courage to start a business in this economic climate. Specially in as business-hostile a city as San Francisco, if I may add.

Anthony

Inside the store was a buzzing hive of activity, with the eponymous proprietor busy preparing batches of free cookies for the awaiting hordes. At $5 for a half dozen, these cookies are a steal. I tried the double chocolate chip, it came fresh from the oven and had a strong chocolate aroma and the right texture. All in all, a great addition to a neighborhood that already has more than its share of good places to indulge a sweet tooth. I added him to my Google map of recommended bakeries, ice cream parlors and sweet shops in San Francisco.

Not-so-heavy baggage

Frequent travellers know the right piece of luggage can make or break a trip. Tumi and Hartmann have their rabid fans, as do Travelpro, but the brand I recommend is Briggs & Riley. Their designs may not be the absolute most stylish, but their warranty is by far the best – they will repair any damage, even if it is caused by the airline, no questions asked. Even Tumi does not offer such a warranty, despite the princely prices they charge for their wares.

I just bought a second Baseline 28″ Superlight from Michael Bruno on Market Street near Castro. That hole-in-the-wall shop is the absolute go-to place for Briggs & Riley, and they offer significant discounts over list prices. Most quality luggage is seldom ever discounted, so it is refreshing to get quality service from proprietor Lou Briasco as well as a very nice price (too low to advertise without incurring the wrath of the manufacturer).

The Moss Room

Another recently opened restaurant, this one in the new Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate Park. The restaurant itself is in the south wing (to the right when facing the main entrance), it is a bit tricky to find as they don’t have proper signage yet. You need to purchase admission if you are having lunch, but not for dinner. You can easily find parking around in the evening, just keep in mind parking is forbidden after 10PM, making reservations after 8PM more costly because parking in the museum garage.

The restaurant itself is in the basement floor and the decor is lackluster, just a wall covered in moss that gave the room its name. The overhead lights in the handblown glass are incandescent bulbs, a bit disappointing as you would expect a place that makes a big deal of sustainability to use CFL or LED lighting.

I had the smoked trout salad with fingerling potatoes, quail egg and horseradish as a starter. A variant on the classic French bistro dish hareng pommes à l’huile, it is competently executed but that dish mostly emphasises the ingredients and does not showcase the chef’s style. The main course was cavatini with wine-braised duck sugo, which was superb, the duck moist and tangy, the cavatini (small rolled tube-like pasta filled with ricotta and parmesan) complemented the sugo perfectly. It reminded me of a similar dish made with lamb I had at Zaré in Napa. The dessert was a chocolate torte with walnut-cocoa nib sablés. The shortbread were delicate and crumbly, and the torte itself a welcome change from the ubiquitous flourless chocolate cakes, with its two alternating textures of cake and ganache.

The service was good, friendly and attentionate, yet inobtrusive. Sadly, it seems this restaurant did not get the memo about the tanking economy and how menu prices should trend downwards. At $57 for three courses, this is definitely on the high end. It needs to go down at least $15 before I can unreservedly recommend it.

Nettie’s crab shack

This restaurant recently opened in Cow Hollow. Their sense of timing is less than fortunate, what with a predictable restaurant bloodbath just over the horizon, but they claim to offer simple crab shack fare prepared with fresh ingredients. I had a crab roll with shoestring potatoes there today.

The crab was OK, not outstanding. The shoestring potatoes were indeed cut very fine, slimmer even than Zuni’s, not the mere frites that some places try to pass as pommes allumettes or shoestring fries, but they were not served hot and really should have been put in the oven prior to serving.

It’s not bad food, but the price is too high, before we even consider the coming recession. If you’re hankering for a crab or lobster roll, the Woodhouse Fish Company on Market and Church is a better choice.

Crissy Field

One of my happiest experiences in the Bay Area was the reopening of Crissy Field as a national park. They were handing out free kites. I flew mine for a couple hours of pure, carefree, unalloyed fun, then gave it to three kids who had arrived too late to get one.

Crissy field is one of the windiest places in San Francisco, and ideal for flying kites. I am not sure who thought it would be a good place to build an airfield, though…

r n m restaurant

rnmI have just eaten what is hands-down my best meal of the year at r n m restaurant (their capitalization, not mine), on Haight & Steiner in the Duboce Park/Lower Haight district of San Francisco (not to be confused with the formerly raffish and now utterly commercialized Haight-Ashbury).

The restaurant is named after the chef-owner’s father, Robert Miner, a co-founder of Oracle. The food was so good I am almost ready to forgive Oracle for their sleazy extortion tactics…

I started with the Parisian style tuna tartare with waffle chips, microgreens and a quail egg, a very classic dish (and one too often botched by careless chefs), given a little pep with a slight acidity. It was followed by an absolutely outstanding pan-roasted local halibut on ricotta gnocchi with asparagus and morel mushroom ragout, meyer lemon vinaigrette and mâche. The halibut was crisp outside, flaky inside. The ragoût was simply wonderful, a deep, rich and tangy broth, also slightly acidulated, with a generous helping of precious black morels. To top it off, the dessert, a Peach and cherry crisp with home-made blueberry gelato combined two of my favorite summer fruit in an unbeatable combination.

Be advised the parking situation in that neighborhood is particularly nightmarish, even by SF standards. If I had realized they offer valet parking, I wouldn’t have had to park halt a mile away (after seeking a place in vain for nearly half an hour).

Update (2012-09-05)

Unfortunately, it closed at least a year ago.