The Presidio Brat

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Magical Seascape

I've never actually seen the tide this low at Baker Beach, low enough that you could walk clear to the south end and through a gap in the rocks.

It was a magical seascape, a phantasmagoria of shells and colors and critters. Mussels seemed to cover every rock.

Things were still living, and up close, the colors were extraordinary. There were dozens of green anemone-like blobs that closed themselves off if you touched them.

Crimson slices of color inside white mini-clams.

The iridescent hues of what looks like calamari.

The muted pinks and black orchid tones of this weird kelp.

Bright pink and orange starfish

Tooth-like white shells, black and amber streaks

A deep, gorgeous indigo of shells

And the brilliant orange of a starfish against a purpled rock.

It's a rare glimpse into an overlooked part of the Presidio -- the underwater world that touches its shores. I recommend a peek, but watch out for the rising tide.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This Blows the Mind

This is really unbelievable. Arlene Ducao, a computer programmer at the Media Lab’s Information Ecology Group, has created the MindRider, a bicycle helmet that reads your mind and then telegraphs the emotional contents to passing motorists with a series of flashing lights based on traffic colors – green for good, red for bad. The helmet contains an EEG sensor that can distinguish emotional states in the brain – like fear and panic, or maybe just “being in the zone.”

If I were wearing one of these right now, it would be flashing red. This invention implies that drivers and other bikers need to be made more aware of a biker’s mental state, which in turn suggests that the bikers themselves shouldn’t have to take responsibility for their state.

Now a biker no longer needs to tell himself “I’m getting crazy and not paying attention. I’d better stop.” Instead, a flashing red light tells everyone else to stop?? This device shifts the responsibility onto everyone around the biker by suggesting it will help drivers if they are made more aware of the biker’s mental state (something that is patently obvious in most cases anyway). And the various flashing light patterns on a biker’s helmet conveniently provide even MORE distraction to drivers.

Folks, the average person can distinguish 5,000 expressions on the human face. I don’t think we have trouble recognizing aggression or panic in a human posture. Shit, babies can do it.

There is always the small chance that, if this technology were to come into popular use, the police could begin to issue tickets for aggression as well, since now they’d have proof that the bikers really were thinking those hostile thoughts while they cut you off and refused to stop for traffic signs.

Now put these helmets on everyone and imagine the creepy, 1984 feel to knowing people’s moods based on colored lights flashing from their heads. This would put an end to dating forever, maybe even marriage. Yoga centers would start promising you’ll “leave in the green.” Flocks of good citizens could gather on the cliffs to help passing ships navigate the dangerous coast.

I file this under “there are a million ways to use technology to improve lives and this doesn’t look like one of them.” 

Before the Bridge

AND on the subject of humans relating to the sea: go see the main post exhibit "Before the Bridge" before it closes. It's a visual and historical feast of information about the Golden Gate straits before the bridge was built.

Shipwrecks galore!

For a Presidio geek like me, it's a fantastic place, but it provides a wonderful look at Bay Area history, too. For example, the Spaniards sailed along the coast for 200 years before noticing the opening to the bay. (Spaniards, I feel you: apparently I've sailed right by San Francisco history for 200 years before learning half the things I did at this exhibit.)

It's free and open to the public. Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm, until December 18th.

Photo courtesy of GGNRA Interpretation Collection.

The Human Shore

In this recent radio interview on KPFA, author John Gillis talks about human beings' relationship to the sea.

Did you know that a "great migration" occurred over the past fifty years, and that now about half of the world's population lives within 100 miles of a coast? Gillis thinks that we should be moving away from the seashore.

I think this is a barmy idea, but I like to imagine anyway a world in which we radically change our way of existing beside the sea. Stop overfishing. Stop polluting. Stop conglomerating in cities. Let's spread out a little bit and give something back.

Quoting Gillis:

"The the most unnatural place on earth. It has been scoured, it has been sanitized, it has been moved and changed so that the classic beach of the tourist industry is completely artificial."

"We have managed, in this country, to destroy about 80 percent of the ocean's wetlands."

"A cultural change...has transformed the sea from an object of fear and of something that is a real asset, our wilderness, the one place on earth that we can experience something we can no longer experience in our cities: the sublime. It's the idea of encountering something that is larger than ourselves. It's become the secular god of a lot of people. And they flock to the shore to experience this."

The Presidio's trails are pretty damn sublime, but perhaps I underestimate how important the sea is to the whole experience.

Gillis' book, The Human Shore, seems like a call for sustainability near the seashores. Curious to read more.