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

Matias Tactilepro 3.0 review

The decline in computer prices in the last 10 years is not an unqualified blessing. Something had to give, and component quality is one of the areas where manufacturers skimp. There is no room in a $500 computer for a $100 CD-ROM drive, even a quiet yet ultra-fast one like the Kenwood 72X drives.

Another area where components have been cheapened is keyboards and mice. The impact on mice is lessened by the simultaneous transition from gunk-prone mechanical ball mice to more precise optical ones. The latter are cheaper to manufacture because they use solid state circuitry and far fewer mechanical components, but they are still pitched as a premium product.

Keyboards are another story. Anyone who writes or codes for a living (i.e. anyone who uses a computer for anything but games) benefits from a good keyboard. Longtime Byte Magazine columnist Jerry Pournelle used to rave about his Northgate OmniKey with a layout customized specifically for him. There are basically two main technologies: mechanical keyswitches and rubber dome ones. The first give that old-fashioned “clickety-clack” feeling, the second are quieter, but often a bit mushy (although there are some excellent rubber dome keyboards as well).

A few years ago, I bought the excellent Matias Tactilepro 1 keyboard. It uses premium Alps mechanical keyswitches, and has all the Macintosh special characters combinations silk-screened on the keys so you don’t have to remember that the copyright sign © is Option-g. I liked it so much that just to be on the safe side, I bought two.

At Macworld 2007, Matias announced its replacement by the Tactilepro 2, which replaces the Alps keyswitches by ones of Matias’ own design. They claimed the change was due to Alps discontinuing the manufacture of its keyswitches. By Macworld 2008, the 2.0 was itself discontinued, and the promised version 3 replacement kept being postponed until they finally announced a release date of January 2010. Interestingly, they are said to use Alps keyswitches. I guess they were not so discontinued after all…

While my version 1 Tactilepros are still working fine, the silk-screening on some of the keys has faded, and they have accumulated a fair bit of gunk like hairs under the keys. I ordered two version 3 replacements (I passed on the version 2, and read many reports complaining about it) and received them today.

Matias Tactilepro 1 (top) and 3 (bottom)

Matias Tactilepro 1 (top) and 3 (bottom)

The differences are subtle:

  • The top of the keyboard is now a translucent milky white instead of transparent. That should help reduce the visibility of hairs and other crud that lodges itself under the keys, and is very hard to eradicate afterwards, even with canned air.
  • The power key on top is gone, replaced by a dual-use Escape and power key.
  • The warranty was dialed all the way down from 5 years to 1 year, hardly consistent with the claims of improved build quality.
  • They now claim the keys are laser-etched and thus more resistant to rubbing out the labels. Obviously it is too early to assess the accuracy of that statement.
  • The feel of the keys is slightly different in a way that’s hard to describe. They seem a little bit quieter, but just as precise.
  • The 2-port built-in USB 1.0 hub was replaced by a 3-port USB 2.0 hub
  • There is no tacky URL on the space bar any more.
  • The typeface is no longer italic and somewhat less elegant. I am a fast hunt-and-peck typist, not a touch-typist, and they feel canted backwards, much like early flat-screen monitors seemed concave compared to convex CRTs.

The warranty change is a bummer, but the keyboard is still a huge improvement over standard ones, specially Apple’s nasty laptop-style chiclet keyboards that have been included with all recent desktop models. For people who have to type a lot, it is well worth the expense.

Update (2012-03-05):

Sure enough, the space bar on mine failed after 14 months. I contacted Matias last week for support, with no response so far.

One alternative worth considering is the upcoming Das Keyboard for Mac, which uses Cherry gold keyswitches. It doesn’t have option characters engraved on the key caps, however.

Update (2017-10-05):

I replaced my Tactilepros with the CODE Keyboard. It’s not perfect either, the black coating on the keys wore off on some keys like the corner of the space bar on the one I keep at work, but the backlit keys are a god-send and my colleagues find the quieter yet still very tactile key action much less objectionable.

Interestingly, Cherry, the maker of the key switches in the CODE and many other premium keyboards, is a sister company of ZF, the makers of the automatic transmissions in BMWs.

Panasonic GF1 first impressions

I bought a Panasonic DMC-GF1 compact large-sensor camera in a kit with a small 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens on Monday to replace my Sigma DP2 as my everyday pocket (well, jacket pocket) camera. While the 17.3x10mm micro four thirds sensor is nowhere near as large as the full-frame 36x24mm sensors on my Canon 5DmkII or Leica M9, an APS-C sensor like the one on the upcoming Leica X1, or even the 20.7×13.8mm Foveon X3 sensor in the DP2, the big draw in the GF1 is its excellent responsiveness, as the autofocus and autoexposure lag in the DP2 is that otherwise excellent camera’s Achille’s heel.

The GF1 has been extensively reviewed elsewhere, technically by DPReview and hands-on by Craig Mod, and if you are interested in this camera I encourage you to read those very thorough reviews. I will not attempt to duplicate them here. Here are just salient observations from using this camera that I have not seen elsewhere:

  • The image preview mode is deceptive. At the maximum 16x magnification, pictures appear far worse on screen than they really are. I can only assume the interpolation algorithms used are terrible. The camera’s review mode is useless for editing images or rejecting poor ones in the field, you have to return to your computer to get an assessment on critical focus.
  • The orientation sensor is inexplicably part of the lens, not the body. The 20mm pancake does not include one. Even Canon’s cheapest digital Elphs or Rebels include an orientation sensor, its absence in a $900 camera kit is inexcusable.
  • In program mode, the camera seems to always select f/1.7, even when lower apertures with more reasonable depth of field are available.

Withings scale

I received today a Withings networked body scale. This gizmo measures your weight and estimates body fat ratio using an impedance bridge, and uploads it over WiFi to their web server, where you can watch trends and monitor your progress. The scale itself is quite thin and elegant, quite unlike my older Tanita scale. The top is glass with a metallic underlay that makes it look like a large slab of photovoltaic cell. It runs off 4 AAA batteries, they must use a remarkably power-efficient microcontroller.


Since there is no UI on the device, you hook it up to your computer via a USB cable, and the installer (available for Mac and Windows) will upgrade the firmware, set up the WiFi access point and authentication parameters, and associate the scale with the account you created on the Withings website. That’s pretty much it, the process is very smooth.

Using it is simplicity itself — just step on the scale (there is no clunky recalibration scheme unlike my Tanita). The weight measure is near instant and shown on a very legible backlit LCD display that is far easier on the eyes than Tanita’s thin numerals. A progress bar starts as the bridge measures your body impedance (used to estimate body fat content) and in a few seconds the process is complete and the results uploaded. It can track multiple users as long as their weights are not within half a kilo of each other. The user interface uses more Flash than I would like, but is perfectly serviceable, there is also a free iPhone app and a JSON-based API to access the data.

I paid $159 for it on Amazon. Considering the amount of technology and design that went into the product, it is relatively inexpensive.

After using it and trying to find out more about the company, I realized it is French and the CTO, Frédéric Potter, was in my alma mater the class before mine. It’s always great to see innovative startups thriving, and I hope there are more connected devices forthcoming. I’d love to see WiFi-enabled thermometers, power meters and remote power switches using the technology.

Cocoon Grid-It review

I spied a medium-sized Cocoon Grid-It organizer in the Flight 001 store on Hayes Street last Sunday, and bought one. This is a board, roughly letter size, with a criss-crossing web of elastic bands. there is a zippered pocket in the back (not shown).


You just find a section the size of the gizmo you want to fit and slide your item in. The elastic has non-slip rubberized dots that will keep it in place. In this case, a Hypermac battery pack for MacBook Air (with cable), Novoflex Mikrostativ mini-tripod, lens-cleaning brush, spare Leica M9 battery, pencil and small bottle of sanitizer.


The good: works as advertised, useful for people who change bags often—just grab the whole thing and transfer it.

The bad: rather heavy at slightly over 300g, quite thick at 5mm or so (the stiffener inside is probably corrugated cardboard or plastic rather than a thinner material).

Conclusion: given the bulk and weight, you would be better off with a conventional zippered multi-pouch organizer