1988 - part 2

Welcome once again to "The Guiding Lite", where Dave has discovered that the solution to most problems is to drink enough beer to forget what the problem is. Or something like that. Well, to continue the saga...

LARRY'S VISIT

On Thursday, the 14th of July, Larry Finkel once again made it into town. It appears that the software he installed at one of the warehouses down here began mysteriously to ship all smurf dolls in the place to the. White House. All attempts to determine the cause of the error lead to the IBM PC monitor displaying a glaring message that read "THE ONLY ONE CAPABLE OF CORRECTING THIS ERROR IS THE SUPREME PROGRAMMER LARRY FINKEL WHO OBVIOUSLY DESERVES AN ENORMOUS RAISE SINCE HE IS SO NECESSARY TO THE OPERATION OF THIS SOFTWARE". Both the warehouse and Larry's company found this to be rather inexplicable, so they gave Larry a big raise and sent him down to trouble shoot. He, Char and I went on a picnic Thursday evening to a local park back in the Angeles Crest Mountains where we all learned a valuable fact about picnicing; opening a bottle of wine requires a corkscrew. Fortunately, champagne doesn't, so we left the Chardonnay alone and drank the Korbel instead. This was preceded by finding an appropriate spot, which lead to yet another general rule of thumb for picnics; don't bother to bring a blanket to a park famous for "native Los Angeles vegetation", which (since LA is a desert) is cactus, of course. We managed to find a spot tucked away under a tree anyway.

Saturday, I and Larry went to the Huntington Library. This as it turned out was a very good idea since the surrounding gardens, art museum, and library (containing a Guttenburg Bible and other incredibly ancient documents) made a perfect backdrop for a discussion on one of the longest running historical and aesthetic problems known to mankind, aka women. Larry was also pysched because it gave him an opportunity to practice his Chinese on anything vaguely oriental looking that wandered by. I preferred this possible explanation better than assuming that he was really babbling nonsense after too much time in the sun.

Afterwards, we met Char back at my place and headed out to dinner about 8:00. I had 8:15 reservations at the Cafe Jacolet, a well reviewed restaurant that specialized in Franco Japanese cooking (don't ask). The Cafe Jacolet, however, appeared to interpret "reservation" as meaning "sitting at the bar waiting for a table until somewhere in the next century", a Franco Japanese translation I was slightly unhappy with. After waiting twenty minutes and noticing that there were still parties with 8:00 reservations waiting for tables, we left. Larry wanted to try China Town, so we headed into downtown LA, a twenty minute drive. By the time we found parking, it was well after nine. I was hungry enough at that point to eat McDonalds styrofoam (the boxes, not the food). Larry and Char, obviously concerned about the fainting spells I was having as a result of food deprivation, decided to immediately start on a walking tour of the area. I was not amused. Using a variety of sophisticated techniques (ie accosting strangers who were misfortunate enough to be carrying take out Chinese food) I convinced the two that I was .REALLY HUNGRY. That left the selection of a restaurant from the roughly sixty zillion that fill every nook and cranny of China Town. Mm "Oh, that seafood place had a long line" cried Larry, "it must have excellent food". Yes indeed, it had looked to me to be about a half hour wait. "Sounds wonderful" replied Char. Sometimes you just can't win.

Afterwards, we headed to the Bonaventure for a drink. The Bonaventure is a hotel in downtown LA with a revolving bar on the top floor. It was interesting, although a bit noisy for general conversion. We had the unfortunate luck to be placed at a table near the outer glass wall but next to a huge pillar that made it difficult to peer out without craning your neck. Additionally, there was a huge blinding spotlight focused on our table. I was a little annoyed, and was ready to mention something to the waitress when she returned. I was saved from displaying an intelligence almost on a par with your average vegetable stew when the pillar proceeded to rotate past where we were sitting (along with the spotlight). Rotating bar, right? It turned out we had arrived just in time; there was a fifteen minute wait about 11:00 p.m. when we walked in, but by the time we left, after midnight, the line had almost tripled.

CHAR'S DIVE

We had a scuba dive off of a cove in Laguna beach planned for Sunday. Char was joining Jeff and I on this dive for the first time. This was in order to get her back up to speed after a long diveless period prior to our planned Club Med vacation in October. Larry didn't dive, unfortunately, but Laguna is a nice beach, and I thought he could keep himself occupied. The first snag came up Saturday, when Char discovered that all the local dive shops had already rented out their gear to other weekend divers. We brought her partial gear along anyway on the chance that a Laguna Dive shop would have the other necessities. The planned departure time was 8:30 in the morning, which I and Jeff had agreed was sufficient macho but not insanely early. Accordingly, we left about an hour later than that. A half hour stop for breakfast at a donut shop who made apple fritters with enough sugar to triple the world's fly population, and we were off, arriving in Laguna about 11:00. The dive shop indeed had the equipment Char was missing, and we spent another half hour outfitting her. Then we headed for the dive point, about a half mile away. Luck was with us, and we found a parking spot close to the beach, an occurrence only slightly less likely than a political campaign based on issues rather than mudslinging. We started to don our gear when Char noticed that she had forgotten the Scuba Tank harness, which is essential only if one desires to actually survive the dive. Moving the car seemed less than intelligent. With a sigh, I told everyone to hang loose while I ran back to the dive shop and picked up the errant piece of equipment. I returned shortly, and finally we were ready to get ready to go diving.

After a short period of muffled curses and grunts of exertion, I and Jeff had our wetsuits on. Char, unfortunately, was still struggling with her "booties", the neopreme socks that keep your feet warm while diving. Wet suits are designed to do one thing very well, as I and Jeff quickly came to realize. They keep you significantly warmer than the surrounding environment, a definite plus in chilly water. On a beach in southern California with the sun pouring in billions of kilowatts of heat a second, it is no longer a plus. In such conditions, wetsuits become sweatsuits in very short order. As Jeff and I lost gallons of sweat in a feeble attempt to keep our blood from boiling, Char looked up and said "Dave, I'm sorry, these just don't fit anymore". I smiled broadly, with one of those grins where you can here the teeth grinding together from a mile away. "Here, let me help you" I replied as I walked toward her and pulled out my diving knife. Grabbing one of the booties, I slammed the point of the knife home through the neopreme near the base of the heel and yanked upward. The neopreme slit open with a satisfying tearing sound. I handed it back to Char. "Try it now" I suggested. She lookad at her now mutilated booty and mutely handed me the other one. I cut a similar slit in it. Clearly I did a wonderful job of making the gear fit since no further complaints about wrong sizes or other problems with the equipment were heard.

Char got the rest of her gear on, although she needed some help with the tank and weightbelt, and we trudged down to the beach. I and Jeff squished when we walked and left small puddles of sweat trailing behind us (small meaning "only children under 8 years of age need to worry about drowning"). The water beckoned, a cool blue siren calling the lost? the weary, the emaciated (I figure I and Jeff had lost ten pounds each in as many minutes, so we qualified). The surf was non existent, visibility looked good, and the water was warm enough that the first shock of splashing in was no more than a slightly pleasant chill. In other words, a perfect day for diving. Jeff and I hit the water at a run and were waist deep in seconds. He rapidly donned his fins and headed out for the dive point. I waited on Char. She was slowly wading into the water. One lesson you learn quickly in diving is that it is essential to get past the white water (or where the waves break) before you stop to put your fins on. Several tons of water collapsing on you while balancing precariously on one foot and jamming a fin on the other is an excellent way to simulate taking a ride in a high speed clothes dryer while someone pushes it off a cliff. Even with a small surf wariness is called for since larger waves can unexpectedly pop up. I pushed my way back to Char and impatiently grabbed her by the hand, pulling her deeper into the water and past the break point. Jeff was already several hundred yards out, treading water and waiting for us to catch up. I hurriedly put my fins on while simultaneously telling Char to move it. Char chose that particular moment to say "Dave, I don't want to go on the dive I'm already dead tired from struggling with the gear and hauling the tank and weight belt down here". I stared at her. Several options occurred to me, most of them illegal. Finally, I shook my head and helped her toward the beach.

I swam out to Jeff, and we did the dive. The only really remarkable thing we saw was a large ray, sedately swimming through the water. We had noticed them before swimming in on the surface but had never had the opportunity to swim underwater with one before. I started to swim after it to get a closer look. Despite its best efforts, I closed steadily until I was within about 20 feet of it. Then it became nervous. With the contemptuous ease of a Ferrari pulling away from a toddler on a tricycle, the ray accelerated out of view in a few seconds. Still, it was "way cool".



WINDSURFING

On Saturday the 23rd of July I and Jeff Stern headed to G. Bonnelli State Park to try a little windsurfing with some of the people in Jeff's group at work. There were several beginners, a select group that included, of course, myself. Little did I know that the whole trip was an elaborate ploy to fool those of us that were inexperienced in the basics of sailing. If you think about the principals that make windsurfing possible, some obvious conclusions come to light. For instance, the means of propulsion is clearly the wind blowing against the sail. Therefore one can conclude that a centerboard sticking into the water can cause a wind propelled vessel to veer off a straight line course, but can never result in the vessel moving upwind. In spite of the fact that any half competent kindergarden graduate can determine this, we (the beginners) allowed the more experienced windsurfers to convince us that it was indeed possible to tack against the wind. Our initial sane rejection of this puesdo scientific nonsense as a "National Enquirer story" had to be held in check when the windsurfer owners demonstrated the principle themselves. Now I know it was done with mirrors. Or maybe thin wires.

Unfortunately, I discovered this by spending an hour slowly, painfully, and inevitably getting blown further and further from my starting point. Not that the tacking maneuver described was useless; it was a guaranteed method of getting knocked off the windsurfer into the muck, seaweed, and less attractive things floating in the lake. The exciting thing about this was how rapidly it would tire you out, causing hauling up the sail to feel more and more like bench pressing a stretch limo. It also had the effect of making balancing on the board more and more akin to shaving with a food processor (aka impossible) . I was getting close to giving up the entire thing (the same way a homicidal maniac is getting close to being socially deviant) when a patrol boat came by. They looked at me. I looked at them. The world turned for several heartbeats. Then the lifeguards, noticing little details like my knees battered by constantly climbing back onto the windsurfer,the seaweed strands hanging out of my hair, the black lake water I was spitting out of my mouth, the loud cursing that was prosaic enough to make a drill sergeant blush... they decided that my momentary pause must mean that I was content to stay in the middle of the lake on a floating ironing board. They gunned the motor and pulled away, the wake incidentally knocking me head over heels as it smashed into the windsurfer. My blood began to boil, and I swore a mighty oath that I would get the damn windsurfer back to cove I started from or end up on the other side of the lake. Thankfully I was saved from the later of these two options when Jeff hitched a ride on a sailboat and took the windsurfer in for me.

It would have been much worse without Ric, who thoughtfully pulled the exact same stunt before me. Unfortunately for him, everyone was otherwise busy and didn't notice his predicament for a short while, say two or so hours. Finally someone noticed that he had drifted into the middle of the speedboat racing circle. Raoul volunteered to take the other windsurfer and head out to pick him up. I found this a bit confusing; was he planning on telling Ric to get untired? As it turned out, Raoul had a better plan; he told Ric to "stop falling of the board and sail the damn thing in". Needless to say, this was not particularly effective. Ric was finally rescued by the same technique used with me...Jeff went out on a sailboat and brought the board back in.



SIGGRAPH

I flew out of LA on Friday for Boston, where I met my brother Bill and his wife Sang Ok and stayed with them for the weekend. This included a visit with my grandmother. Sunday I continued on to Atlanta for SIGGRAPH, the yearly computer graphics conference. Atlanta's environment was interesting; I swam one afternoon and ran the next, and it was a toss up as to which activity got me more wet. It was so humid you had to look carefully to see if the group of small shapes zooming by overhead were birds or fish. Despite the weather it was nice to see Eric Raines, Al Barr, Bob Holtzman, Steve Philipson, and other graphic hackers again. Still, I was happy to board the plane for LA on the morning of the 5th of August.
Char picked me up at the airport about 2:00 pm and we headed directly to The Pageant Of The Masters in Laguna Beach. An excellent meal in Las Brisas, a Mexican restaurant that sits on top of a cliff overlooking the beach, a few glasses of wine, and I was ready to fall asleep. We did have excellent seats, however, and the Pageant was really fascinating. They recreate pieces of art with real people, appropriately made up and posed between a painted foreground and background. At first, I thought they were lying. Clearly, these were just giant sized versions of paintings with some sort of trick technique to make it look vaguely three dimensional. Finally, they put one together without closing the curtains. Sure enough, a number of people scampered on stage and assumed truly ridiculous poses while they dropped a movable foreground and rolled down a tapestry-like background. POOF! Instant giant painting. Weird but fun.

I and Jeff Stern had tickets to the Garden Grove Shakespear Festival the next day for "A Comedy of Errors", a play about a set of twins separated at birth and accidentally and unknowingly reunited many years later. He invited Nancy, I invited Jemmis, both invitations belonging to one of the most frightening categories known to mankind ... first dates. Jemmis had vivid green eyes that were the most unusual color (guess why!). The play was simply outstanding. I found it amazing that Shakespear managed to produce a play so superior to the several dozen "lost twin" copies that have hit the silver screen in the last few years.

A WEEKEND WITH THE FOLKS

I headed up to Mammoth on the 13th and 14th of August with Char and my parents. An opportunity to get away from it all, to relax and breath fresh air...I was pysched. When we arrived Friday night, I started talking about the things I had as yet to do to get the Condo in shape for the ski season. Wrong move! Mom and Char immediately began chatting about painting, varnishing, hammering, sawing, and other similar activities, all of which I am allergic too. Nonetheless, that is exactly how we spent the entire weekend.



TAKING LUMPS

My final in Digital Signal Processing was on the 16th of August. I was finally forced to take the class seriously enough to go out and buy three textbooks on the subject in order to try and make some sense out of the class notes. This gave me the decided advantage of having three completely different ways to not understand the material. Nonetheless, I thought I had a handle on what the instructor would ask for on the test. The only thing I really ignored was quantization, since he had covered it in the very last class with a murmured apology about "normally spending several sessions on it but this being a short semester and all...". Additionally, I had copies of his previous tests for the last two years, and they had about a half question each on the subject. As a result, finding three out of five questions on the final were on quantization caused me to quickly, calmly and intelligently swallow my tongue. Feigning death did not help, either. Not a fun final.

JVC AND ALL THAT JAZZ

On the weekend of the 20th, I and Char each invited a friend to go out to dinner with us. We decided "El Cholos", a spanish/mexican restaurant, would be a nice place to meet and allow Jim and Cheryl to get to know each other. Unfortunately, with the unerring instinct of the management bound for avoiding work, both Char and I decided that the other had the ultimate responsibility to make the reservations. This lead to an hour long wait for a table, a situation mitigated by the cozy bar area with its small tables and couches. We ordered margaritas, not realizing that El Cholos had run out of margarita glasses and were using gold fish bowls instead. I mean these margaritas were the size of emerging African nations. This didn't stop me from drinking three or four of them. Drinking three or four of them did, however, keep me from being able to stand. We went out dancing afterwards, which was fun in a chaotic, strobe light sort of way. By the time we made it back home, I was lost in the special effects, including spinning rooms, unstable flooring, and wavering walls. This did not make my day; I don't mind getting really plastered once in a while, but I like to plan it ahead of time and not have it occur accidentally.

In this case, it really was a problem since I was taking Elizabeth to the JVC Jazz festival at the Hollywood bowl the next day, and had even agreed to do the cooking for the six of us (including Jeff Stern, his date, Liz Naples and her date). This required getting up early, driving home, and cooking for about six thousand hours with a hangover. Not fun. I ended up leaving about fifteen minutes late for Elizabeth's house. Punctuality is a big thing with me, and I found this distressing. This was exacerbated by hitting stop and go traffic on the 110 freeway, a situation that brought my blood pressure up to roughly the same level as the inside of a nuclear reactor containment vessel. I picked up Elizabeth, and we finally arrived at the Hollywood Bowl a half hour late. Things leveled off quickly after that, and overall it was a very enjoyable evening.

The next week was . . . interesting. It was reminiscent of the "when it rains, it pours" syndrome. I told Char I would come down for the evening on Tuesday night. I told Elizabeth that I would take her out to dinner Wednesday night. I told Karen I would meet her Thursday night. Then Jemmis called, and she wanted to see me. Then I ran into Alice, a woman I had dated about two years ago and still kept in touch with, and she wanted to "get together and chat". Then Yuki, who two months before had gone on a single date with me and then blew me off for the second date, called me at my office and wanted to "do dinner". All of which lead to the obvious question of who was behind the "let's date Dave to death" conspiracy.