Month: June 2013

Baked Potato (Updated)

After the Saturday Firewire demo in Pacific Beach, I decided to buy a Baked Potato. It’s is the perfect summer board for me: short, fat, and wide (heck, it almost looks like me!). Short means it handles well and has quick turns; wide means it provides stability in the frequently choppy/churny/crossed swell; fat means it has all the volume it needs to keep me afloat and to allow me to paddle into the better waves.

I demoed it three times already, so I feel pretty comfortable with it. The first time was at Pipes, at the Surfride demo day. I tried the 5’5″ and 5’7″ Baked Potato and thought the longer one better. It was a fairly lame day on a completely new break, so I am not sure I should have been all excited.

The second time was on a pretty big swell day in May. I happened to get into the Shores parking lot when I saw the demo canopy and decided I really had to try something. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I went for the 5’7″ Baked Potato and the Potatonator. Felt good, but I still didn’t feel I had a good idea of what I really wanted.

Then there was the demo day last Saturday. I mentioned it in a separate post, but what came out of it was that I really loved the way the BP handled itself in the backwashy surf of the day. It felt like a little aircraft carrier, always sure of where it wanted to go, but responding to my pleas to get around some section that was looking sketchy. It was the first board I tried, when the surf was still decent, but that experience sealed the deal.


Firewire Surfboards Demo: Testing Baked Potato, Vanguard, and Unibrow

unibrowvanguardbaked-potatoThe good folks at Firewire Surfboards came into town again, this time at my local break. They set up their truck in front of South Coast Surf Shop and had a good selection of boards with them. I had already tried a few here and there, but this time I wanted to give them the big test: a multi-hour session in 2-4 foot wind swell.

I got there just in time for the truck to open. Same guys I had seen at previous demos, same deal: sign a release form, hand over your drivers license, and get the board you want. You can either bring your own leash, or take one of those they have handy.

I did my research before showing up and had both the models and the sizes in mind. The guys that were there are extremely helpful, and they could direct you to the right combination for your skill level and the surf of the day.

Of all the possible choices, I first went with the short and fat Baked Potato. It is a thick board that gets to the right volume for me (about 34 liters) in a very short and wide package. I took it out first, in the 5’5″ variant, and was stoked.

Today’s surf was a choppy and bumpy wind swell, Mostly NW, but with some annoying cross-swell from the SW that made the rights real scary at times. I wondered how well the Baked Potato would do in that funky mix, especially as a demo board with no traction pad.

The first wave threw me out completely. I barely managed to get standing when I completely oversteered and landed on my butt. I was about to return the thing, but I figured it was a little (lot) silly to give up so soon.


Cloud Atlas (2013)

cloud atlasIt’s not often that I get to see a movie based on a novel I haven’t read. I am a voracious reader, but I do not like going to the movies. Cloud Atlas gave me that chance: I had read about the novel only in passing, but the movie was front and center on the Amazon home screen. A perfect opportunity!

I hear the novel was not doing so well, until it hit China and then it became a huge hit. Reading about the structure, I make sense of the cultural difference that could lead to different acceptance.

The novel is a cheap read, apparently, because the author wrote not one, but six independent stories and joined them in a very creative fashion. The plot starts out in the South Pacific in 1850. It’s a fanciful plot of betrayal and greed. About half-way through this story – poof, it turns out the whole thing was just something someone else read in 1931. That someone else has an own story that goes to the half-way mark, and then it turns out that this story was something read by someone in 1975.

This goes on until the last (sixth) story, which is set in the future and has a fighting chance to find an end. After the end of this story, the end of the story before is told, followed by the story before it. At the end, we hear the second half of the first story, the one set in the South Pacific in 1850.


Racism May Not Be the Worst Thing About Racism

I moved to America because of racism. Not the racism you find in America, but the racism I faced in back home, in Germany.

It may seem odd, but Germans were still wildly racist in 1998. Instead of targeting the (relatively) few Jews, they had chosen Southern European immigrants, especially those from Turkey, plus the asylum seekers to whom the constitution granted general welcome (but not the people that followed that constitution). An Italian looks Southern European enough. I was a target.

America has its very own problem with racism, and it’s pretty big. But it didn’t affect people that looked like Southern Europeans (at least, not anymore). I flew under the radar and could count on people’s lack of specific bias and fairness, and it worked out for me.

One thing that stayed with me, though, was a certain curiosity about racism. It seemed that racism didn’t follow much logic: not the opinions proffered, but also not the way it affected people or its distribution among them.


Old Yeller

An important change is happening right now: I am finding myself yelling more and more often for people to get out of my way on a wave. Just yesterday, I had to do it five times.

Now, you may ask, what is the reason for this change? Are people getting ruder and snaking more waves? Not so, it turns out. People are just as nice or as rude as they ever were, but I am getting better at surfing.

It used to be that I was too afraid of my incompetence to actually jump on a wave that someone else was paddling for. I would start paddling, notice that someone else was getting into the wave, and give up. I was frustrated all day long – and while much of it was the unsportsmanlike behavior of certain surfers, a good chunk was also that I didn’t want to compete, because I didn’t know how to handle the competition.

I am feeling much more confident, nowadays. I have steered around other surfers successfully, avoided hits and bangs, and I have cut out of a wave when someone snaked me badly. I also got faster on the face, estimating the correct speed and angle better, and catching a better spot for take-off.


HOWTO: Add Your Own Nation to FreeCiv

freeciv screenshotFreeCiv is an amazing clone of the old Civilization games. It got stuck somewhere between Civ 2 and Civ 3 as far as the graphics are concerned, but the game play is as much fun as in the original. Plus, it’s open source and hence hackable, has a scripting interface (at least in the soon to be released version 2.4) and has built-in hackability.

Here is a quick primer on getting your very own, private nation implemented in FreeCiv. Once you are done, you can play as your favorite city, sports team, state, or whatever grouping you like. Want a battle between the Romulans and the Klingons? No problem!

First, a list of the things you’ll need:


L’America: Starting Out

My very first days in America were slightly chaotic. On top of having to deal with a new job and a new country, on top of missing my friends and having to make new ones, I had to deal with bureaucracy that operated in ways completely different than what I was used to. This article is to explain what I learned back in the day (1998). Much of it probably still applies.

First of all, you should know that America is ill-prepared for immigrants, legal or otherwise. The country is largely homogenous, and it has a hard time with people that don’t fit the standard mold. Sometimes, you need to do some extra work just to get the same deal as everybody else. That’s not because people don’t like legal immigrants (they do), but because they don’t know how to handle their particulars.

The first thing you’ll need, even before you move, is a temporary address. That should be an address that can forward mail to you for real, and if possible should not be a P.O. Box. Your employer is a good choice, or your hotel/temporary residence. Sometimes a local postal shop will allow you to use their address for a fee.

The reason you need an address is that the very first thing you should do once you move is to get a Social Security Number. The SSN identifies you to the IRS (the tax service) and pretty much everybody that deals with you in the economy will need it. It is also (mysteriously) used as a public identifier, and you will eventually memorize the last four digits of it because a lot of places ask for it for identification verification.



Yesterday, end of day. I had nothing else to do, so I simply decided to pack up my stuff and go to Scripps for a late session. I could see that Pacific Beach was crowded, as usual, and I didn’t have the patience for Black’s. I knew I would be able to spot a spot at the pier, so I just went for it.

I wasn’t expecting much. There was the checkered flag out, which removes most of the best surfing area near the pier, so everybody was forced to huddle as close to the marker as possible to get a whiff of the waves. Plus, there was no spectacular surf in the forecast, and the cams were chatting of slow-rolling, smooth and flattish waves.

I got there and parked near Naga Way in the only spot in a mile I could see, after a double take that took me all around the Northern portion of the Shores area. Got out of the car and suited up, then zipped down the hill.

At the Shores, there were good news and bad news. The good news was that the checkered flag had been lowered, as I forgot is done every afternoon. Surfing in the pier area was allowed again. The bad news was that UCSD had a surf meet at the pier, which made the area particularly hazardous.


Addendum to PPR: Actual Numbers

In the previous post I made the claim that the Percentage of Premiums Returned (PPR) is the one number that all insurance companies should give us, so that we have a better idea of what we are buying. I also made the unsubstantiated claim that the PPR is shockingly low, despite a wealth of web sites (strangely affiliated with the insurance industry) claiming that the cost of payout frequently exceeds premiums. Who’s right?

Well, since many insurance companies are publicly traded, it’s easy enough to figure out. You just have to go to the company web sites and look for the financials. I felt like I really should do that, and picked the first insurance company that sounded big enough and well-known enough. Methodology: I searched of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. and got this list. There, I looked up the first insurance company that would insure things like autos and condos, since that’s a better comparison than life insurance (which has an investment element to it.) The biggest one was State Farm, which I happen to know from their extensive advertising.

I then searched for the company financials, as disclosed, and got this link. Now, I stress that I chose State Farm simply because it was the first one on the list. I do not think it is particularly good or bad as an insurance company, and the numbers are probably just typical of any insurer. So please no State Farm bashing!