Friday, June 17, 2011

World's Oldest Lightbulb Celebrates 110th Birthday!

The oldest known continuously burning lightbulb hangs in an unassuming fire station in Livermore California.

Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, the bulb has been burning for-or-less continuously since 1901.  It was installed just months after the death of Queen Victoria, and two years before the Wright brothers' first flight.

The bulb has actually been off for short periods of time due to power outages, and during a move of the fire station.  It is now powered by a generator with a surge protector to prevent damage to the bulb.

The bulb has been featured in many articles, books, and television programs (including Mythbusters).  In keeping with its notoriety, the City of Livermore is hosting a public birthday celebration for the bulb on Saturday, June 18, 2011.

And of course the bulb has its own website, at www.centennialbulb.org.  Among the features on the site is a Bulb Cam which is updated every ten seconds.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Taste of Venice in San Francisco

Photo Courtesy Cindy Couling


El Cotoro enjoyed a fabulous wine and food pairing at Da Flora, a North Beach restaurant specializing in Venetian cooking.

The meal was organized by North Beach chef and blogger Gianni.  It was an afternoon event (Da Flora is normally open evenings only), allowing us to keep the door open and enjoy a wonderful fresh spring day.

The meal was a four-course custom menu, with a carefully selected Italian wine paired with each course.  My favorites included the fresh-baked focaccia, the absolutely delicious Paleta de risi frita (fried rice balls stuffed with bay shrimp with a spicy aioli), and Lombatino di porseo (spice-rubbed roasted pork medallions with sauteed fava greens, roasted asparagus and pickled red spring onions, with a whole grain mustard sauce.

Of the wines, a really enjoyed the La Montechia Piuchebello 2008 (Veneto), a white wine made from Muscat grapes.

I highly recommend planning a visit to Da Flora for a unique and unforgettable meal!

Share your review of Da Flora and RestaurantRatingz.com.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bamboo Bicycles?


On a recent visit to San Francisco's Academy of Sciences, I saw a display of a fascinating product - a bamboo bicycle.

The bicycle frames are made by Stalk Bicyles, an Oakland, California company. They've been developing the design and techniques for a couple of years.

While the frames and even handlebars can be made from bamboo, other components use traditional materials. (Stalk is currently doing research and testing of bamboo composites that could eventually be used in new ways.)

Bamboo is a fast growing, renewable resource. It can be locally grown, and while growing it absorbs much more carbon and produces more oxygen than hardwood forests.

Its strength and resilience compare favorably with the steel alloys and carbon fiber materials used for most bicycle frames today.

But just as importantly... these bikes are cool!

Currently, Stalk is producing custom frames and bikes "to order." As production expands, they will begin producing ready-made frames in standard frame sizes.

Check out the Stalk Bicycles website, and if you are in the area, visit these guys. Let your bike make a statement for sustainability.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Coming soon: Maker Faire 2011

May 21 and 22, 2011


What is Maker Faire?


The 21st century equivalent of an old-fashioned county fair. The world's largest Do-It-Yourself festival. Steam Punk meets Silicon Valley, with a bit of Burning Man thrown in.

For two days, people gather to celebrate and see creativity in all forms. Some of my favorite memories of past years include:

     

  • The crazy cupcake cars whizzing and whirling around the entryway.
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  • The Flaming Lotus Girls, combining kinetic sculpture with propane, fire and mayhem.
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  • The robot rickshaw plodding patiently through the fairgrounds.
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  • Lightning harnessed and unleashed by the enormous Tesla coils.
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  • The 3-D printer, making replicas and models directly from engineering specs.
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  • The Mentos and diet coke show (don't stand too close to the stage!)
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  • Rockets, fire, balloons, costumes, robots, art, tools and projects, and oh yes, did I mention fire?

Maker Faire began in the San Francisco Bay Area (at the San Mateo Fairgrounds) in 2006, and has since spread to New York and Detroit; there are also smaller "mini faires" in a number of other cities.

The Bay Area Faire is May 21 and 22. Get your tickets in advance and be in line when the gates open... things get crowded late in the day!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update to Reservations Reward Scam

Last month I reported on the Reservation Rewards Scam, which charges unwitting consumers a monthly fee for "special offers and discounts."

I called the number listed on my credit card statement and talked to someone at Reservation Rewards. They sent me a form to claim a refund. I filled out the form, and yes, all the fees have been credited back to my charge account.

Apparently one way Reservation Rewards gets away with this scam is by refunding money when you complain, so most people don't take any further action. Check your credit statements, and if you see charges from Reservation Rewards (or Web Loyalty, the parent company), call and demand a refund!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snow in San Francisco?


The weather service is predicting that San Francisco may get an inch of snow this coming Saturday. Hardly significant for people who are used to snow, but a historic and possibly calamitous event for people who've never driven on snowy streets.

While unusual, snow in San Francisco is not unparalleled. Records show snowfall in 1882, 1887, 1951, 1962, and 1976. (El Cotoro remembers the 1976 storm!)


The photos in this post were taken in 1882 and 1887, respectively, and are now in the public domain.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How I Got Scammed on the Internet!

I'm a pretty informed and cautious web user.

I don't reply to e-mail offering me a million dollars to help someone move their money from Nigeria.

I don't click links in e-mail I don't recognize.

I check the URL and security certificate before entering sensitive information.

Unfortunately, like many people,  I don't pay too much attention to my monthly credit card statement.  Oh sure, I look it over, but if I see a charge less that about $15 or $20, I assume it's something I bought online and skip over it.

But recently, I noticed that a $12 charge had appeared several months in a row.   The company was called Reservation Rewards, and there was an 800 number on my statement, but no other info.

After further investigation, I found that  Reservation Rewards had been charging my card since August, 2009.  (OK, that's embarrassing to admit...  but again, I think the key to this scam is keeping the monthly charge below most people's attention threshold.)

The Reservation Rewards "membership program" offers various discount coupons to members.  But I could not remember signing up for the program.

In fact, I didn't - at least not knowingly.  Back in August 2009, I ordered some flowers at FTD.com.  During the checkout process, there was apparently a box asking if I'd like to receive  discount offers.  The default was YES.  And nowhere did it say that there was a charge for these discount offers.

When I did not "opt out" of the discount offers, FTD passed my credit card information to Reservation Rewards, which began charging me a monthly membership fee.

You may find it unbelievable that a well-known and trusted company like FTD would be involved in a scam like this, but you'll be even more surprised to learn that they are not alone.  Other Reservation Rewards affiliates include Orbitz.com, AllPosters.com, Expedia.com, Fandango.com, Moviefone.com, ShutterFly.com...  and those are just the companies I've been able to identify with a casual search.  Apparently, Reservation Rewards offers a very generous payout to their affiliates. 

The  Reservation Rewards scam is "old news" - online complaints seem to go back to 2005.  But I was not aware of the program, and I bet most of my readers aren't either.

There are two sad lessons from this experience:  check your credit card statements in detail, and don't trust even well-known and "responsible" websites.

As a short addendum:  I found instructions online for requesting a refund from Reservation Rewards.  (Apparently one way ReservationRewards dodges legal action is by making it easy for people to get their money back.)  I am submitting the form, and I'll post back in a few weeks to let you know what happens.