The end of January

We had an awesome week for events. On Wednesday, we heard an on-air performance by Scars on 45 on KFOG and decided to check out their show that night at Cafe du Nord. Since I was having a particularly rough work week, I decided that live music was a great idea.

The opening acts, Dangermaker and Dylan in the Movies weren’t as good as the hot chocolate I had at Cocoa Bella before the show. They were about on par with the ramen noodles I had at Ajisen Ramen for dinner. In other words, not at all interesting but digestible.

I really enjoyed Scars on 45. They brought energy to the stage and were very brave, letting a heckler join them onstage to perform a cover of Wonderwall and doing very well for their first headlining show ever.

Thursday, I picked up a free MacWorld badge, as we decided to see Atomic Tom perform at MacWorld on Saturday and were able to get free passes via a Twitter post from Hank Shocklee. I got my pass within a minute, walked onto the expo floor and walked right back out again. Then I had a quick dinner at Soup Freak and visited Yelp’s super secret headquarters for a Lytro presentation and demo.

My dinner, a “freakin’ cheeseburger” was a sirloin tips/brie cheese sandwich that was very tasty. I’m glad I got it because the pizza available at Yelp was pretty gross looking.

There was a 75 year old man trying to smuggle himself into the demo. Security had none of that. He didn’t have the proper credentials and kept demanding to talk to someone from Lytro. Security said he could talk to whoever he wanted but it was a Yelp event, not a Lytro event.

I am very impressed by Yelp’s cereal bar. It was locked. Sad I couldn’t have had some. They had a huge selection of beverages. I grabbed a Vitaminwater and enjoyed.

I sat next to a new Yelp employee named Reed. Eric Cheng, director of photography for Lytro and fellow Vienna Teng fan, was not there. His boss was there and said he was probably in Bali.

The Lytro presentation didn’t really share much that I couldn’t read on their website. It was a beginner introduction to light field. The Lytro camera doesn’t capture images or take photos. It doesn’t deal with megapixels. It deals with megarays and takes living pictures. They described film-based cameras as Camera 1.0, digital cameras as Camera 2.0 and their product as the next progression.

The product demo went pretty shakey due to connectivity issues with Yelp’s network. The desktop light field engine software can share living pictures to Facebook or Twitter and Lytro.com and you can embed a living picture on your own site. While you can share the raw Lytro files, users will need to install the desktop program to be able to view and process the pictures.

After the product demo, they did a Q&A. I asked the final question. Most of the crowd were photographers and technology industry members. I work for an insurance company and take bad photos to try to capture memories. The questions before mine related to comparing the science and techology of the camera to what the audience were familiar with.

While Chris and Kristen fielded some questions, Charles, the CEO of Lytro took over at one point and discussed the possibility one day of a light field video camera. The reason that is still years away is due to cost. Just like the RED 4K cameras, a light field video camera would be cost prohibitive in today’s market to most consumers. They talked a bit about other industries. Security cameras may have been an interesting market to pursue as one example. But they chose to go with normal consumers for many reasons.

There were questions about the lens, the resolution, how the camera’s one lens could focus in multiple places, etc.

I asked Charles how the camera performed in low light.

He said very well and introduced me to Gretchen, who works in marketing for Lytro who let me test it out in a darkened Yelp conference room and my pictures looked pretty good. With practice, I could see low light concert living pictures working out quite well for me in the future.

Gretchen let me take some pictures of the streets outside through the window with another audience member reflected in the window. I could then zoom, focus on him, focus on the streetlights and cars below or focus on the light from inside the room reflecting on the window.

I was impressed with the clarity of the cars on the street most. The tiny little camera took images that even objects far away and originally out of focus looked great when refocused.

Last, Gretchen shared some pictures a Lytro employee took at another Lytro employee’s child’s ballet recital. They were shot from the second row and were pretty amazing. Not using a flash and with the big lens glass, the Lytro camera doesn’t wash or blow out the images like a “camera 2.0″ would in my hands.

I thanked Gretchen and moved on to an engineer’s demo of not-yet-ready for primetime features like All in Focus and 3D pictures. Watching him refocus a photo of a staggered line of six standing men focusing individually on them or in groups then pulling all of them into focus was like watching a well done magic trick. I can’t see 3D, so I didn’t throw on a pair of glasses to try out 3D mode.

On my way out, the nice Yelp folks unlocked the cereal bar so that I could take a photo.

It was a fun night. I am now on the fence and considering the potential purchase of a Lytro camera to use when my family visits Disney World this May.

After the Lytro/Yelp event, I took the BART to Millbrae and Caltrain to Redwood City and met my wife at a bar a friend works at and played Fact or Crap, beating my wife 18-3. Somewhere in the middle of that game we did a bad duet karaoke version of Eric Cartman’s “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch” where the words went by too fast and I just did a simple “bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch” as a backing vocal as my wife tried to sing along properly. It was a fun night out.

Friday was completely insane. I had an awful day at work. The only saving grace was that I ended up getting us pretty good lower balcony center seats for Pulp at the Warfield in April! I had planned to go to three concerts but bailed and went home. My wife somewhat surprised me when she arrived home a little while later. I assumed she would just head straight to the concerts after work. We ended up going to two of the three.

Dina Maccabee Band and The Bluebelles played at Viracocha. I’m really glad we made their show. We’d never seen The Bluebelles, which are one of Karina Denike’s many bands. Dina’s band included Eric Kuhn on drums, Eric Pearson on banjo and guitar, Daniel Fabricant on bass and Dina on fiddle and guitar and lead vocal. Karina guested on a couple of songs on vocals and the set included a lot of material we’d never seen or heard Dina perform.

After the Dina Maccabee Band set, we raced across town to Hotel Utah to catch Atomic Tom’s headlining set.

I had a bad day on Friday. Atomic Tom had a stressful night. Technical difficulties delayed their performance for around an hour and to make up for it they gave everyone in the crowd a free copy of their EP. I still wouldn’t really call myself a fan after that show, but it was great to see Phil. I really liked their encore of Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down and their cover of Don’t You Want Me is another favorite.

After the show, we had a late dinner at IHOP. I had a balsamic glazed chicken and salad. It was tasty but had too many mushrooms on it. My wife had some kind of strawberry filled French Toast. It looked sugary.

Saturday we somehow got out of bed and went to MacWorld. The South Park museum they had with actual construction paper storyboards and memoribilia was great. The free drum that the drum circle people gave out was awesome. The “free” cellphone camera stabilizer would have been cool if it didn’t only work with iOS devices and require the purchase of a $7.99 app that wasn’t very good. Other than those things, I can’t say I was all that impressed by the expo. Lots of booth babes and screen protectors in millions of varieties, not much in the form of innovation. I love PAX because it has rules against having booth babes and the focus is on fans and cool stuff. I appreciated that MacWorld had Atomic Tom do an interview and performance and after Saturday’s show, I was sold. I can now proudly call myself an Atomic Tom fan. I really enjoyed the show, even enough to tell the band and get a photo with them afterward.

We had a great dinner at Cafe Madeleine. A turkey sandwich and a brownie so tasty that I don’t think another brownie would ever compare. While there, Math the Band announced that they would be opening dates, starting with the San Francisco show at the Regency Ballroom, for Andrew WK’s I Get Wet anniversary tour. I bought tickets on my phone’s web browser. Can’t pass that one up.

We went home for a couple of hours and then headed back into the city for SF Sketchfest’s Drew Carey Improv-a-Ganza. I was a big fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway when I was a teenager, and wanted to experience it live. The performance was just like I expected. Drew Carey was completely unfunny. Everyone else was hilarious. On the way to the event, we saw at least ten buskers. One, Nellie Fitzgerald, was at least good enough to tip. I downloaded her EP from bandcamp but haven’t checked it out yet. As much as I enjoyed Improv-a-Ganza, it wasn’t the funniest sketchfest event we went to this past weekend.

After Improv-a-Ganza, we went to Cheesecake Factory and got a slice to go and ate dinner at Bangkok Thai. I was disappointed at the lack of Christina DVD.

Sunday was our not-wasted trip to Hayward in the afternoon, followed by our far better SF Sketchfest event, W00tstock Founder’s Night. While hosted at the same venue as Improv-a-ganza was, the Marines Memorial Theatre, W00tstock was far better. It was everything previous W00tstocks have been and more. The most hilarious part of the night and weekend was Adam Savage, Chris Hardwick, Paul and Storm and Wil Wheaton giving double middle fingers and dancing around during The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, but there were plenty of other highlights as well.

P&S did a new song about George RR Martin, followed by their song pleading to George Lucas and some familiar staples. They did a keynote about inappropriateness, using Sarah Mclachlan’s ASPCA ads as the reference material. They replaced the music in the background with less and less appropriate songs each time, using “Black Dog,” “Who Let the Dogs Out,” “Walking on Sunshine,” “Keyboard Cat” and “The Benny Hill Theme”. Wil Wheaton shared some stories about his relationship with his wife and then did the retired from W00tstock Rocky Horror story with musical accompaniment by P&S.

Post-intermission, Wil introduced their surprise guest, Chris Hardwick… who wasn’t funny. Thankfully, Adam Savage’s new material, a story about him and his wife’s experience with Ambien followed by a story of his epic failure that made me rethink all of mine, and a touching first time performance of a cover of “The Commander Thinks Aloud” on keyboard and vocals with Paul and Storm on backing vocals brought the show back to the high standard it deserves to be at. The closing The Captain’s Wife’s Lament included Wil getting swapped out for an alternate Mythbuster, Grant Imahara for a few minutes and lots of silly things that happen when you extend a pirate shanty into a thirty to forty minute encore.

Overall, a lot of great moments throughout the week to balance out the horrible stuff going on outside of the good stuff.

Today, to close out January, Ronza returned in Mousehunt and for once we could afford all of her limited edition goodies without going broke. Of course, then I spent the rest of my gold on the Marketplace to buy a Sphinx Crystal for a rare and powerful trap. We also got an announcement from Garbage of a pre-tour date at the El Rey in Los Angeles that we can actually make it to on April 10, if we have insanely good luck and can get tickets this Saturday morning.

So that’s what happened during the last week of January. Hopefully the rest of the year has more of that good stuff and less of the horrible.

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