Saturday, July 16, 2011

California for fun...

Recently returned from a week in California, where I had a chance to see my daughter and her husband.  (Here they are, relaxing in their townhouse and probably wondering why in heavens name they let the old man stay for a full week)  As well, I got to visit with some old friends, sail on San Francisco Bay, give a paper at a conference at Stanford, and play music with friends in the Silicon Gulch Jazz Band.  It was a packed seven days, and I am still recovering ... Penelope says I have jet lag, and I suppose that's probably it.

Although I had planned to make a trip to visit my daughter sometime at the start of summer, the invitation to give a talk on the early history of Silicon Valley at the Triple Helix Conference at Stanford cemented the dates.  I had written a paper back in the 1990s that traced the evolution of Silicon Valley from the early electric power and radio communications industries in the Bay Area.  (It used to be on line through American Heritage: Invention and Technology, but it is no longer available.)  I revised it and cut it down to fit into the requested 20 minutes with a power point presentation, and offered just about the only bit of history on the subject of how the synergistic interplay of university, industry and government (the "triple helix") evolved in the Bay Area into what we know today as Silicon Valley.  Others have written on the subject since I did, but of course you must know they stand on the shoulders of a giant.  :)

I spent a morning traveling up to Vallejo via BART and the Vallejo Ferry to sail back down to South Beach Harbor in San Francisco with Bruce and Gail and their dog Lulu on their "newish" boat Aquavit, a really nice 1988 Swan 36, which they had just bought in Seattle and had trucked down.

With an almost seven-foot fin keel, Aquavit simply cut through the water and with a reef in the main and in the Genoa, we sailed at over eight knots in the 17 to 20 knot breeze across the back side of the Slot.  And, although it was sunny at the start of the sail in Vallejo, fog was prevalent for most of the way through San Pablo Bay and down to the Bay Bridge.  Foolish me, I did not have sunscreen on and the fog magnified the UV rays and I got a major burn by the end of the my sailing that weekend.

The next day I hadn't planned on sailing.  Rather I drove up to Alameda to have a late breakfast with my longtime friend Rob Bastress, boat builder extraordinaire, but the sun was out, a light breeze was blowing on the estuary, and he talked me into a couple of hours aboard his little 27-foot sloop before I headed out to San Francisco to spend the afternoon and have dinner with some of the Cowan family clan.  We puttered about in light winds and I continued to bake my face, which I can safely say I am still regretting.

It was truly a treat to see Ruth Cowan and her daughter Sarah and son-in-law Andy.  Ruth's darling Neil died in March, and neither Penelope or I had really talked with Ruth much since then.  She was in good spirits and, although Penelope hadn't come with me on this trip, we had a conference call for almost an hour that Pen said made her feel like she was with us.  It was all by chance that she was in California when I was (she teaches at Penn and her home is on Long Island), but she was there for a conference on genetics and technology in Pacifica (right on the ocean below San Francisco).  Rather ironic that we both were out for conferences, I thought.

Finally, after all this I went to the conference at Stanford and gave my talk in the opening session on Monday afternoon.  The next morning I went in for a "meet-the-authors" breakfast ... the organizers had gotten copies of all the featured speakers books and had them for sale ... and I briefly commented on my book, Energy and the Making of Modern California, and how I had discovered the history of electric power on the Pacific Coast and how it evolved quite distinctively from electric power in the midwest and eastern part of the country.  It was this that led me to understanding the early significance of university, industry and government in the creation of what would 80 years later become known as Silicon Valley.  And, my goodness, at least one copy was sold to conferees, because I was asked to sign it!  Hey, and Akron Press has it on sale now for only $7.95.  That's a deal.

After having a late lunch that day with my De Anza buddy, Ben Kline, I relaxed a little and then made my way up to the Swing Door Pub in San Mateo to hear the Silicon Gulch Jazz Band.  Henry Etzkowitz, organizer of the Triple Helix Conference, had asked me if I knew of a band to play at the event's banquet, and since I'd played with the Dave Kawamoto who leads the Silicon Gulch Jazz Band in my own group, Article 19, I suggested his band.  Well, they hired him, and I was to play with them the next night at the banquet, so I thought I'd drop in and see how everything was working out at their regular gig.  As luck would have it, another fellow had brought in a keyboard and was more than happy to have me sit in for a couple of sets, which was a nice warm up for the banquet gig.  

Our gig at the banquet turned out wonderfully.  They are all such great musicians and I truly love playing with them.  Joyce Taylor and I actually first played together back in the pizza parlor ragtime days of the 1960s, as a piano-banjo duet for a time, and later with a fellow who played clarinet (and who's name I've long ago forgotten).  Over the years, Joyce and I have crossed paths occasionally, and discovered we had somewhat similar interests: she had a career teaching and she also has been a sail boater and now power boater ... we bumped into each other in front of the Oakland Yacht Club several years ago, when I was walking past it to go to my club, the Encinal Yacht Club, just down the street.

Well, enough of that reminiscing.  The California trip was great fun, but I am so glad to be home in the arms of my sweet love, Penelope.  It's where I know I'm supposed to be!

More photos

Friday, July 01, 2011

Short, hot weekend at the boat ...

Pen and I went over to St. Petersburg on Saturday, after celebrating her and her twin sister Patricia's birthday on Friday night.  Drove part of the way through a driving summer thunderstorm ... this is the rainy season in Florida and you can almost count on afternoon storms ... but otherwise it was a nice scenic drive.  We didn't plan to go sailing, since the temperatures are in the 90s and the humidity makes it feel much hotter, but we did have some hurricane preparation to do: removing the headsails and taking them into a loft for new leach sunbrella, taking the dinghy Bertha off Alizee and putting her in dry storage for the duration of hurricane season, flushing the water maker (which must be done monthly), and making final arrangements with Jeff of Ohana Sailing Services to prep the exterior teak for varnishing in the fall and to wash, wax and polish Alizee.

Meantime, during the heat of the day, we did a lot of reading.  Pen has been scanning and transcribing her father's War two letters home (over 150 of them) and we've both been doing research on his experiences.  He served in the 60th Field Artillery, 9th Infantry Division from 1941 to mid-1945, landing with Patton in Morocco in 1942, then in Sicily in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944.  He was just a dog face, not winning awards but always there, steadfast through four years of war.  He rarely talked about it and when he did only talked about hi-jinks and his getting busted from corporal to private and getting the rank back more than once.  But we've found an amazing amount of material on the web and gotten in touch with another daughter of a fellow who served in his battery in the 60th and kept records which she's shared with Pen.

All this led us to read the first two volumes of Rick Atkinson's history of the European theater: Army at Dawn, the north Africa campaign (which won a Pulitzer Prize in history), and The Day of Battle, the Sicily and Italy campaigns.  His third volume, on France and northern Europe is not scheduled to be out until 2013.

Anyway, we spent the weekend on the boat reading the first two volumes and cooking some nice meals.  It was quite wonderful.

If you're a fan of really good writing and interested in War two, then you real should treat yourself to Atkinson's work.  You'll find a nuanced understanding of all the big names from Churchill and Roosevelt to Patton, Eisenhower, Clark, Rommel, et al., and you'll be stunned at what a cluster-fuck the whole thing was from start to finish.  For our parts, we're wondering anew why anyone ever wants to fight wars.  What a dreadful waste!!