Category: Articles

Size of the Pacific…& Where Is SF?

November 15th, 2018

How much of the earth is covered with the Pacific Ocean? It’s big. If you stand at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and want to point to the far shore of the ocean, you could point out to sea.

But we can think of it another way. To point through the globe to the far shore, you’d point to the sand one stride ahead of you. The Pacific is that big. You could reasonably say it goes almost all the way to the other side of the world.

If you are, say, […]

Albino Ladybug Lays Eggs…On Me

August 7th, 2018

All sorts of things happen, out exploring the city. This time what happened was yellow, squishy and nearly microscopic.

I’m deeply sorry I didn’t get a photo. The ladybug visitor was light brown and creamy white, similar to the one shown in the upper right of this stock photo. From what I find on the internet, this means it’s some sort of albino. But there’s a bit of a gap in the internet’s awareness of this topic, like so many that I have an interest in exploring.

When she landed on me, […]

Leaping Frog Fungus!

January 5th, 2015

I just learned more about why the project to get rid of the preggie test frogs has been failing. Which frogs? The African clawed frogs that live in Golden Gate Park in the Lily Pond. Apparently they were dumped there as a gesture of goodwill.

Back in the 50s rabbits were all the rage for pregnancy tests. A pregnant woman’s urine would cause the rabbit to ovulate. Problem was that you had to kill the rabbit to find the result. Then bufo marine toads and African clawed frogs were found to […]

Atmospheric River Meditation in SF

December 13th, 2014

Here’s my 7-minute storm video, meditative and exploratory rather than my usual strict documentation.

San Francisco was blasted by a few inches of rain in a single day on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. It was an ‘atmospheric river’ (AR) blasting at the coast like a fire hose. These “rivers” contain as much water as many Mississippis, wafting through the air about a mile above the sea from the equatorial region beyond Hawai’i.

This one first blasted Canada and then Washington, then Oregon, then us (in essEFF), then Southern California.

I’ve been researching the […]

Atwater’s Geology Talk—Lecture Notes

October 25th, 2014

Living in the Plate Boundary and Through the Ice Ages

Geologist and plate tectonics animator Tanya Atwater presented a talk with the title above to our Natural History Series talks at the Randall Museum October 16, 2014.

The presentation was largely based on diagrammatic animation videos which these notes cannot describe. But you can see them yourself on Atwater’s website (or you can Google ‘Atwater animations’). I wasn’t as able to take notes as thoroughly as usual since my eyes were up on the video screen a lot.

The surface of the earth is […]

Bad Water Bond, Vote NO, Demand Better

October 16th, 2014

As a water researcher, I feel an obligation to give you the benefit of my historical perspective on this major water bond up for a vote. I’m so saddened by regional water policy that it makes me cry whole reservoirs–salty ones. (Desalination is energy intensive!)

This ‘No’ recommendation is based in great part on Marc Reisner’s tome, Cadillac Desert, about dams and western water policy which is a long read for the average citizen. If you think the below screed is too long, be glad it’s not Reisner’s nearly 600 pages. […]

Earthquake Measurement – Lecture Notes

July 24th, 2014

I really enjoyed learning about the way that seismologists relate to earthquakes. Julian Lozos gave a talk at the Randall Museum on July 17th and here are my notes.

The best part was coming to understand how mathematical modeling is based on so many different measurements. And each measurement has its limits and peculiarities. I kinda also liked his confession that many seismologists believe the chaos in the system might permanently inhibit accurate quake predictions from ever being possible.

Clementine’s Little Sister

June 25th, 2014

I was in a canyon in the Gold Country last weekend, at the Yuba River researching my usual, the storm of 1862. And going for a nice swim. The Bridgeport covered bridge has signs saying it was built to replace the one washed away by the storm.

I marveled at the beauty of the canyon, saw a sign about gold panning regulations and found myself singing, “In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for a mine….” I suddenly wondered, Is this song about the flood!? Is this yet another clue to […]

Photo Essay: Beautiful Noplace

June 24th, 2014

Do you realize how fun exploring is? It is for me! I just returned from a wildernessy road trip to places with no name. It was that remote. Okay, not as far away as my fantasy places to go canoeing on the Canadian Shield, but remote enough to stumble across artifacts which have been sitting untouched for longer than the West has been part of the USA.

If you want to see some pictures from that trip to NW Nevada and NE California, scroll down in this article. If you want […]

The SF Armory’s (Kink.com’s) “Mission Creek” Claim

January 29th, 2013

Participants in many of my water walking tours have consistently told me I must go see the basement of the Armory.

I finally did!

The building’s current owner, porn company Kink.com, gives studio tours that include a brief visit to the sub-basement. There, where many channels of water flow in rough concrete trenches, they tell us we’re looking at Mission Creek.

Our Kink.com guides, Odile and Miguel, were excited to see the official map of historic waterways in the Mission District that I’d brought along.

They noted the tributary creek that once ran past […]

A Creek Through the Wiggle & Across Market at Church St.

December 10th, 2011

We tried to put the creek into our mural. Mona sketched it on paper. Seth painted it on the wall—three times before getting it the way he liked it, with the street names of the Wiggle bike route shimmering in the water. We carefully mocked reality with brown (Franciscan chert) rocks on the one side of the creek and green (serpentine) on the other side. We even allowed ourselves interpretive license when we colored it in crayon blues.

When we designed the mural (1996 & ’97) I […]

The Earth did the Wiggle!

August 24th, 2011

My mom, Joan Straumanis, arrived home in DC just in time to feel the surprising 5.9 quake. It was the first earthquake she ever felt and she had this to say about it:

Where was I during the earthquake? In the bathroom at National Airport, just after returning from Boston. Many people around me were alarmed. But to be honest, I thought it was more exciting than frightening. It was actually sort of gentle, and different from what I had imagined: more rocking than shaking, and inspiring—to think of […]

New SF Lake Discovered

April 28th, 2011

As mentioned in my previous post, the access to old articles has increased amazingly. And that access helped me to break this story.

Or at least rediscovered…

A 25-acre Phelps’ Lake in San Francisco’s Panhandle?

I’ve just solved a mystery described in my previous research on the south area of Divisadero street. Back when it was a winding path through the dunes, Devisadero, as it was known, connected the Mission Dolores to the Presidio. The incorrect story had settled into this version over the years: San Souci Lake, located at Divisadero […]

News-digitizing making 1862 storm research easier

March 3rd, 2011

There’s great news about researching the storm. The California Digital Newspaper Collection has been working on digitizing old news, just as Thinkwalks has been doing, only with more funding. I love calling 150-year-old articles “news”! Perhaps it should be “renews.”

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know about my effort to create a detailed historical survey of the record-setting storm of 1862, which began in December 1861, lasting so long it was called the Noachian Deluge by many alive at the time; it was more than forty days and forty […]

Carl Nolte is Secret Love Child of Father Palou?

February 22nd, 2011

New rumors about Mission Dolores history have hit the papers!

In addition to Hadley’s post at Mission Local, mentioned in my previous entry, which breaks the story with a perfect synopsis of the latest research, Carl Nolte has, over the weekend, published an article printed on real paper—front page above the fold and in color in Saturday’s Chronicle. It’s a little confusing, since the headline, along with the map Nolte presents and the article itself all incorrectly state that the Mission may have been founded north of Market Street near Duboce […]

Evidence of Thinkwalks

January 27th, 2011

A reporter asked me yesterday why it’s even important to argue about evidence of a fresh water lake at Laguna Dolores, or to pinpoint the founding location of SF Mission Dolores. The sharp questioner, Hadley Robinson, is from Mission Local, the news outlet and laboratory for UC Berkeley Journalism graduate students.

Aside from my usual, “Let’s understand how the natural landscape affected our existence as a city,” I used the opportunity to proclaim the benefits of arguing and evaluating evidence. Public democracy and human planning for the future of our species […]

ARkStorm’s science challenge

January 17th, 2011

Since the Big Summit last week, ARkStorm has been getting a lot of press. Most of the coverage has been simply warning the public that a Big One could happen in the form of a superstorm, rather than a quake. The public interest is generally portrayed as being strictly about natural hazard emergency response.

Official preparation is certainly important. Information about the science and history of storms also needs to be emphasized. In fact, it’s in some ways even more important for the public to understand the implications in context, than […]

Reports from the Storm—Part 1

January 4th, 2011

In my diggings concerning the bizarre month-long storm of 1861 and 1862, I’ve come across exciting tidbits. Some, such as the gold country rains of more than nine feet depth in one month (!) are shocking enough. However, nothing has been so exciting as reading words written in the midst of it, each more dire than the previous.

Leland Stanford was apparently forced to take a boat through the streets of Sacramento just to attend his own inaguration as Governor of California. Here's the speech he gave, as reprinted […]

Revolutionary Politician Meets Revolutionary Artist

December 27th, 2010

San Francisco is lucky to have a significant share of the remarkable art and architecture produced by the New Deal’s financial support programs. Beniamino Bufano, a sculptor who lived in San Francisco, produced a number of these pieces that are now displayed in San Francisco, where he lived for many years. But some of his most unusual sculpture was privately commissioned, such as the steel and stone statue of Sun Yat Sen in St. Mary’s Square Park at the corner of California Street & Grant Avenue.

Bufano usually used an easily-recognized […]

San Souci Roadhouse

December 3rd, 2010

Maps are so unreliable. Even when they are well drawn—which hilly places never were before the advent of contour lines in the 1850s—they don’t necessarily have a key telling useful details. Sometimes a map shows what a place has or had, or what the mapmaker thought was once there. All too often, though not captioned as ‘fantasy’, they tell what someone wishes to encourage into existence in the future. (“Please invest!”)

On my tours I almost always refer to the Lower Haight neighborhood and Panhandle area of San Francisco as “San […]

The San Souci Lake–Pioche Mystery

October 19th, 2010

A report spreads for decades but makes no sense. How intriguing and frustrating. In a newspaper column from (unconfirmed date) April, 1919, Edward Morphy says that the lake in my neighborhood was destroyed by the 1862 storms with which I am so intrigued. But the detail given makes absolutely no sense. Says Morphy:

…probably the best known landmark of Divisadero street in the pioneer days was the old San Souci roadhouse which stood on the east side of a pretty little lake that then filled the space from Fulton to about […]

How Did San Francisco Become A Gay Mecca?

June 18th, 2010

Have you ever thought out why it is that San Francisco has such a large population of homosexuals? Sure, it’s historically been a tolerant town (probably due to the gold-seekers and other adventurers and wayfarers). But why gay people in particular, rather than other oppressed populations in need of safe homes? Why not runaway children or middle America refugees? (Wait a second…hmmmm)

Turns out, though, that the sudden increase from a moderate to a high number of homos in this town happened in 1942. That was when the U.S. military services […]

My report for the 7th grade

June 17th, 2010

Here’s my report about San Francisco. I wrote it for my niece, Marina, who asked me to correct her report. Nerd that I am, I corrected it but required she read my report, too. Mind you, this is a challenge, since she lives in Germany and is just learning English.

As I explained to her: Everything in this report is true. Some is strange. Maybe you’ll be surprised.

For 4,500 years, the land that is today called San Francisco was home to a few small Ohlone Indian families. There were probably never […]

Explore it, exploit it, understand its very nature

June 17th, 2010

For more than a decade, I’ve led occasional tours as a sort of hobby. In late 2009, I realized that in among all the cultural artifacts that are so important here, there is a natural dynamic most locals crave in their lives

How Steep Our Hills Are

June 11th, 2010

Liberty Hill is so steep, that at 22nd street, I feel as if I am going to bump my nose as I cross the intersection to walk up. Okay, so I have a big nose.

In the 1990s there was a “HILL” warning sign at the top of the block, before being replaced by a pictorial sign. If they bother to put a “HILL” sign on a San Francisco street, you know it’s steep!

But this block was even steeper than any normal sign could convey. Cars approaching from the level intersection […]

Shooting, spearing, grabbing, trapping

June 5th, 2010

Possibly the most popular activities of all time around Divisadero Street involved hunting.

Clever Marconi Memorial on Telegraph Hill

June 4th, 2010

Most famous people were made so by stories, more than by deeds—that’s what fame is. In addition to the popular stories, there’s the law. Guglielmo Marconi, son of an Italian nobleman in Bologna, knew this as well as anyone when he decided to claim invention of wireless communications (1895). His triumph was that he made the claim—and the English patent—stick.

A group called the Marconi Memorial Foundation incorporated in the 1930s for the purpose of enshrining this magical story in stone, on the slopes of San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill and in […]