Breakfast for champs…

The high-calorie breakfast of real champs

At some point in the future, I really, really want to return to Northern California and spend a couple of years there. Whenever I experience that craving, the foremost remedy that comes to mind is French toast…

Posted in Berkeley, foodish, Picture posts 2 Comments »

On giant trees

Root explosion

You may not consider trees the sexiest of things, but that is merely due to the fact that you have yet to familiarise yourself with the fascinating nature of redwoods and giant sequoias, the worlds largest living organisms. Here is a bit of information on why that is the case:

Redwoods or coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the world’s tallest trees, the biggest living ones measuring 360 feet, i.e. the equivalent of a 37-story building. Giant sequoias, which are closely related, have fatter and more massive trunks than the redwoods. Hence, measured by the amount of wood it contains, they are bigger but shorter. No-one knows the exact the life span of these trees, but somewhere in between 2,000-4,000 years would be a good guess.

Redwoods only grow in a narrow band of land stretching northwards from California’s Big Sur to fourteen and half miles up the Oregon coast, where they stop abruptly. Giant sequoias are also sparse and can be found only in a limited number of groves in western California.

Until relatively recently, the tallest redwoods were considered inaccessible towers, yet scientists have made it to the canopies – pioneering the techniques of ‘climbing’ by using not only rope in innovative ways but balloons and towers – and returned with some extraordinary findings. These include the discovery of breeding salamanders never visiting the ground, wild bonsai, hanging gardens with three feet of soil, and more generally, tales of a largely unknown ecosystem.

Redwoods dominate the ecosystems in which they appear; they tower above and leave other trees in the shade; they change the chemical composition of the forest floor; they take control over the water; and perhaps most interestingly, they shatter ‘competitors’ by throwing off their dead parts, a phenomenon known as ‘redwood bombing.’ Furthermore, sequoias do not care if they burn, they just grow back.

It is an unsolved mystery why they seem to hit a ceiling at around 360 feet. This has to do with a certain limit as to how far any plant can lift water. They transport the water upwards through a network of unbroken, microscopic pipes. It takes a few weeks for the water to get from the roots to the top, and a tree can do so against a pressure of two million pascals of negative pressure. There has yet to be engineered a system that can suck water under similar pressure, which means that redwoods are better at pulling water than any human technology.

The exact location of the tallest trees, called Titans, is a secret. They, the scientists and nature conservationists, do not want them to end up as attractions for adventurous and potentially damaging climbers.

Between the 1840s and now, close to 96 per cent of the virgin redwood forest was cut down, with only 90,000 acres remaining, scattered across patches of protected land.

The most meticulous article on this topic is, of course, to be found in the most meticulous magazine, the New Yorker. Unfortunately, you can only read the abstract – which is longer than most newspaper articles – if you are not a subscriber. [Update: The full 14,000-word article is available here, including the magnificent pictures.]

I stole most of the information above from said article, yet I have been fortunate enough to see and touch both redwoods and giant sequoias. You can see a couple of pictures from Mariposa Grove (giant sequoia) and Big Sur (redwoods) here.

You should go, too.

Posted in Berkeley, Environments, Picture posts 3 Comments »

Time to say goodbye

Punk's not dead
All good things must come to an end eventually, and so my 6-week stint in California has just about reached its conclusion. Arguably, the biggest compliment you can give to a place is that you would like to stay there, even after the sweet honeymoon days turn into everyday worries and trivialities; I could definitely live here for a bit longer! (more…)

Posted in Berkeley, Picture posts 2 Comments »

Fashion at work

The cool kids in the Valley tell me that all the really cool kids quit their jobs and switched from eBay to Google. Then, a year ago, all the really, really cool kids quit their jobs at Google and started working for Facebook. I wonder where the really, really, really cool kids will go next?

I think it is just a matter of time before an ‘online’ service with some sort of ethical/sustainable component to it will sweep users off the feet worldwide. Budding entrepreneurs should probably pay attention to Actics to learn how not to do it.

Posted in Berkeley, Ethics, Futures No Comments »

Californian entrepreneurialism II

It turns out that my ‘business connection‘ is the proud owner of an alternative mind. Below is an excerpt from a 2000-word email that just came in from said person under the subject line: “Business ethics. True social security. Writer’s Grid. Speed Writing Form.”

Hospitals will take tube beds once they see published results of great performers. Know elder people with property may rent use of one to brisk walkers doing distance. Know towns stand. Unto walking across. Before taking sleep. So stirred within. Know town blocked out. By known walk distances. Takes one beyond transit. Entire berkeley. Falls to half hour to forty minute walks so brisk. Know great seniors with best bodies. Are swimmers. Know walkers bodies second best.

Although it appears to be utter nonsense, I do not dare to delete it; what if it really did contain the recipe for success…

Any literary scholars out there who might be interested in a little joint venture?

Posted in Berkeley 3 Comments »


Prior to arriving, I got the impression that Oakland and Berkeley were mere SF suburbs. Little did I know about the bustling cultural life here and the importance of hooking up with the urbanistas in the know. And that happens to be my land lady.

First Fridays at Oakland Museum of California turns the otherwise impressive building into a living organism full of concerts, cuisine, yoga classes(!), performances, presentations and book signings, all in addition to the regular exhibitions.

What did it for me was the live show by Purirak, an ensemble mixing Korean traditional music and jazz (how refreshing for a band not to have a web presence). Performing in the all-wooden James Moore Theatre, which comes straight out of the hotel in Twin Peaks, they stood there, wearing all black, and managed to silence everyone with their über cool style. If I had only brought a camera…

Next thing on the programme was Alvin Ailey at the University. While they have undoubtedly taken body movement to the level of perfection, it is difficult to cheer when you have already had your top blown off.

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Californian entrepreneurialism

Overheard in the queue.

Man with long, white beard and very colourful clothes: You buying cold-pressed olive oil?

Me: Yes

Man with long, white beard and very colourful clothes: It is sweet. For salad?

Me: Uh-huh

Man with long, white beard and very colourful clothes: You should always add vinegar as the very last thing, it is acidic

Me: It sure is

Man with long, white beard and very colourful clothes: What do you do?

Me: Research on business ethics

Man with long, white beard and very colourful clothes: No way, [eyes sparkling] I have been working on my own project for three years. I am not an academic, but I have this idea that will make us a million bucks in no time…

To be continued?!

Posted in Berkeley 2 Comments »

Protesters deluxe

Bumper stickers
Although Berkeley is arguably the stronghold of political activism, it strikes me as somewhat peculiar to see so many cars plastered with bumper stickers. Especially when they happen to be parked outside mansions in the 1-2 million dollar bracket and every other vehicle is an SUV the size of a small country.

Posted in Berkeley, Peculiarities, Picture posts No Comments »

From the realm of jet lag

Wide awake, I am sitting in my room waiting for the sun to come up.

Berkeley is fantastic so far; the magnolia trees are coming out and the palms are swaying in the wind on a backdrop of pure blue sky.

There is a real buzz to the place, very different from that of Oxford. It is all about corduroy trousers, farmers’ markets and, of course, the White Elephant Sale.

Posted in Berkeley, Travel 1 Comment »