Sun HaloWhenever there’s a light layer of cirrus clouds in the sky, I keep an eye out for halos. I catch the occasional iridescent cloud, or a faint sundog that’s only visible through sunglasses. Today I spotted a 22° halo as I walked back to my car after lunch, around 2:00pm on March 6.

It’s not as sharp as the one I caught 2 years ago, but there was more color. It was clearly reddish toward the inside and bluish toward the outside. Like last time, I didn’t have the good camera, just my cell phone, but at least this time it was a better phone!

This reminds me, our trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago was through patchy clouds, sun, and rain—perfect for rainbows. We spotted several, including one which was not only extremely bright, but actually showed supernumaries inside the band.

Rainbow along US 101

We saw this on Thursday, February 21, somewhere between Paso Robles and San Jose along US Highway 101. Katie remarked that it looked almost double-layered, I looked over, and said, “Grab the camera! It has fringes!”

I’d never seen, or never noticed supernumaries before. I’d never even heard of them until I was reading through Atmospheric Optics a few years ago. If you look on this color-enhanced picture (actually from another photo of the same rainbow), you can see several extra bands inside the violet arc, alternating green and pink.

Zoomed rainbow with supernumary bows.

The really weird thing? Classical optics doesn’t explain them. Refraction and reflection can only explain the red-to-violet band and the secondary bands that sometimes appear outside the main arc. These are actually wave interference patterns that occur if the water droplets are small enough.

On a related note, last Sunday (March 2) I saw what I’m fairly certain was a lenticular cloud, except it didn’t look remotely like a lens. It was just a long, narrow flat cloud floating above the Santa Ana Mountains. I noticed it around 3:00 in the afternoon, and a couple of very thin, also flat clouds above it, and thought it looked like the beginnings of the stack formation. What clinched it was the fact that the cloud was still there, 5 hours later (visible at night by reflected city light), despite the high Santa Ana winds. You know, after spotting two sets last summer, it looks like they form in Orange County a lot more often than I thought.

Last weekend was spent in Northern California. During the trip I wrote up Wednesday and Thursday, when we drove up to Cambria and then San Jose for Hearst Castle, the Winchester Mystery House, and visiting friends, spending the night in Sunnyvale.

Friday morning, we checked out of the motel as quickly as we could, then met up with our friends before they left for work. After reminding ourselves of why we don’t usually eat at Denny’s, we drove up the east side of the San Francisco Bay toward Napa Valley.

Hills in Napa or Sonoma Valley

I don’t really like wine much, and Katie can’t drink it, so we weren’t looking for tastings, but Katie had found a sake garden on one of the maps. The weather kept changing from partly cloudy to light rain and back again. The play of light and shadow on the hills made for beautiful scenery. It was somewhat similar to our drive along the 46, which seemed to be half ranches (the west half) and half wineries (the east half).

Unfortunately, the sake garden in question was gone. The building was deserted, and a chain stretched across the driveway. I stopped the car in front of it, and Katie dashed through the drizzle to look at the limp paper sign taped to the post in the middle of the driveway. It was a public notice for a liquor license, in a new name.

We tried to look for another place that did sake tastings, but had no success. We decided to drive into Napa for lunch. Downtown Napa is an odd mix of old and modern. One block looks like Old Town Orange, or Tustin, or Fullerton. Half a block away, there’s a shopping center that looks like it could be a section of the Irvine Spectrum. It was more or less dead, which I thought was strange even for early afternoon on a Friday, but we found a place called Christopher’s that made wraps and sandwiches, and sold interesting food.

After lunch we made our way west through Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley until we reached the 101. From there we went south (a drive which reminded me quite a bit of the I-5 between Oceanside and San Diego), crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and checked into our hotel. It was approaching sunset.

San Francisco

Once we were settled, I called my brother for directions to his place. It turned out he was just getting off work, so we met up at the train station and took the MUNI out to his neighborhood. We met his fiancee, hung out at their apartment for a while, then went out for sushi.

Back at the hotel, Katie did some make-up tests for her Sylar victim costume (which she ended up not using), we got our backpacks in order for the convention, and went to bed.

Saturday is pretty much all covered by the WonderCon convention report.

Sunday morning we went down to the coffee shop next to the hotel, then checked out and started on the long drive home around 11:30. It ended up taking 12 hours for several reasons:

  • We took the 101 instead of the 5, which follows the coast and is considerably longer. On the plus side, it twists and turns enough to prevent highway hypnosis at night.
  • It was windy and raining. The storm we’d been expecting all weekend finally hit.
  • We took a detour to Casa de Fruta, which probably added ~45 minutes of travel time.
  • And of course stops for lunch, dinner, coffee, etc.

Misty hills and the Casa de Fruta parking lot

The worst of the rain hit in two places: First, on that detour to Casa de Fruta. I filled up the car there, and got thoroughly drenched even though the gas station was covered. We stopped for lunch, I dried out somewhat, and the rain moved on. The second was near San Luis Obispo, where it rained hard enough at I could barely see the taillights of the car in front. It didn’t help that it was approaching dusk.

We stopped for dinner in Santa Barbara, and finally made it home around 11:30.

The Prius handled its first real road trip admirably. We drove 1193 miles in total. The best mileage was on the last leg of the trip home, the final ~130 miles from Santa Barbara, where we averaged 48 MPG. The worst was from San Luis Obispo to Sunnyvale, with the side trip out to San Simeon—full of twisty mountain roads, steep grades, and, when it turned into a full-on freeway, I was pushing the speed to get us to San Jose in time for the last Winchester tour. The car handled everything thrown at it, except two things: a Target shopping cart in Paso Robles, which careened into it and scratched the paint, and a piece of gravel that dinged the windshield. I was seriously annoyed.

WonderCon 2008We spent Saturday at WonderCon in San Francisco, the first time either of us had attended the convention. It’s run by the same people as Comic-Con International, but it’s more comics-focused and considerably smaller. Which is not to say that it’s tiny, and the floor did get crowded in the middle of the day, but it was a much less stressful convention than San Diego tends to be.

Update: Photos are up!

Getting There

The trip to San Francisco was spread over several days during which we stopped at various tourist traps and visited friends. We got into town late Friday afternoon and spent the evening visiting family.

Line in front of Moscone CenterSaturday morning, shortly before 11:00, we arrived at Moscone Center. We could tell we were at the right end of the convention center by the Stormtrooper waving people along. 😀 The pre-reg line ran to the end of the block, but at least it didn’t wrap us around the corner. And when it started drizzling, they opened up a ballroom as a holding area and moved everyone inside. Clearly, they decided to get people in as quickly as possible instead of worrying about ticket fraud (probably more of an issue with CCI anyway). Instead of scanning the tickets’ barcodes, printing labels, etc., they had two people standing at the front of the line: one with a cardboard box, the other with a bunch of blank badges. As we walked past, one collected printouts and tickets, checked whether it was a one-day or 3-day pass, and put it in the box. The other handed out blank badges of the appropriate type. We were in the convention proper within 15 minutes.

The Exhibit Hall

The main floor reminded me a lot more of SDCC than Wizard World Los Angeles, though everything was smaller. Continue reading

We stayed in three different hotels on our trip up to Northern California last week, all of them vastly different.

View from Cavalier at nightBest Western Cavalier Oceanfront Resort in San Simeon: Excellent. Calling it a resort is pushing it—it’s really just a motel—but we had absolutely no complaints. The service was friendly, the bed was comfortable, everything was clean and worked (including the free wifi). It’s right on the coast, with a wide lawn atop a bluff where you can sit and watch the waves come in. At night they light up firepits, and you can sit, keep warm, and listen to the ocean. Even the standard room had a well-stocked mini-bar. We’ve been talking about going back to Hearst Castle to catch the tours we missed, and we’ll probably stay here again.

Best Western Silicon Valley Inn in Sunnyvale: Lousy. I forget which one of us came up with the phrase, “The Worst Best Western in the West.” The sink leaked, the hotel was on default air conditioning (even though it was ~50°F and raining outside), the heater was a loud, grinding thing that sounded like a truck engine, the bedspread had cigarette burns in it, the towels felt like sandpaper, and the wifi wouldn’t accept the password the front desk gave us (which is probably just as well, since there were 4 access points broadcasting the same SSID, so for all I know one of them could’ve been a rogue). And the staff was taciturn at best. All this for the same price as the Cavalier.

Hotel Mark Twain in San Francisco: Good. It’s located in downtown San Francisco, just a few blocks from Moscone Center (about a 10–15 minute walk), and it’s a classic hotel. On my brother’s recommendation, we paid extra for the “deluxe” rooms. Everything was comfortable, if small, and again the staff was friendly. Never got a chance to try out the Internet access. The one thing I was really disappointed with was the room service. It’s hard to eat a mostly-done pork chop with a plastic knife and fork out of a 4-inch-high cardboard box. There was also a loud party in the room next to us Saturday night, but we were up late anyway. On the plus side, there’s a coffee shop two doors away that was always packed, though we never had to wait for a table. The rate of people arriving and finishing was perfectly balanced. One caveat: The hotel is located at the edge of the financial district, so you want to leave going uphill on Taylor or east on O’Farrell. If you go downhill on Taylor, you end up walking through the Tenderloin. Update: This is now the Tilden Hotel.

I’ve driven 500 miles in the last 2 days. We’re heading up to San Francisco for WonderCon this weekend, stopping along the way to visit friends in Silicon Valley and my brother and his fiancee in San Francisco. We ended up with an extra day at the beginning of the trip, which we used to visit Hearst Castle.

We left around mid-morning on Wednesday, driving through 2 hours of crappy Los Angeles traffic until things finally cleared up out toward Ventura. Along the way we saw something we’d never seen before: Our Prius runs in part on a battery, which is recharged by the gas engine, by coasting, and by braking. It has an 8-bar battery gage that mostly moves around in the 2–7–bar range. Heading down the pass into Camarillo, for the first time, I saw it fill all 8 bars.

We took the 101 most of the way, branching off at San Luis Obispo to take Pacific Coast Highway up to San Simeon. With all the rain we’ve had this winter, the countryside is amazingly green. The last few times I remember taking the 101 up the coast, it was summer, so the hills were all golden brown. We lucked out with the weather: instead of the constant rain I was expecting from the forecast, we only had scattered showers.

We spent Wednesday night in San Simeon. Dinner was at a restaurant called The Sow’s Ear in Cambria, which was very good.

Blurry Lunar Eclipse through cloudsWe actually managed to see the lunar eclipse. Sort of. The cloud cover was just light enough to see the bright sliver shortly before totality. It screened out the reddish light completely. I have a blurry picture of the just-as-blurry eclipse.

Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle.Thursday morning we went to Hearst Castle for the morning’s first tour. We didn’t get the one we wanted (Tour 2) because it didn’t start until 9:20, and we wanted to get to San Jose by 5:00. If I could make one change to their website, it would be to list actual tour times. We got rained on a bit, but it was a good overview of just how eclectic the house is. Basically, if William Randolph Hearst was traveling and saw a piece of a building that he liked, he’d buy it, ship it back to California, and have it built into his house.

After stopping briefly in Cambria, we took highway 46 across the hills to catch up with the 101 and head north to San Jose. Partly I wanted to avoid the long, twisty, cliffside stretches of PCH, and partly we wanted to avoid getting caught in the bike race. The route goes past cattle ranches, empty hills, and wineries. At one point there’s a fantastic view of Morro Bay off in the distance. (Update: We took the same drive a year later and caught the view in the sunlight)

View of Morro Bay and Morro Rock from Highway 46
We made it to San Jose around 4:30, and managed to get tickets for the last tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Yes, we toured two big, rambling mansions in one day. It was interesting to compare the way the tours treated the two places. With Hearst Castle, it was very much a museum tour. Everything was preserved as exactly as possible, including all the furniture and decorations, and they admonished you not to touch anything. And the docents were walking encyclopedias. With Winchester, it was much more casual. The speeches felt more canned, and the tour guide wasn’t concerned with anybody touching anything except for a few places where the floors or tiles were still original.

After the tour, we met up with our friends for dinner. I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was a tapas restaurant on Santana Row. Also quite good. Edit: Katie points out that it was called Consuelo.

Tomorrow: On to San Francisco. Not sure whether we’re going to WonderCon on Friday or not—it depends on what else is available (since they keep promising massive downpours of rain)—but we’ll definitely be going on Saturday. For one thing, I’m hoping to get to the premiere of Justice League: New Frontier. I really liked Darwyn Cooke’s original mini-series linking the dawn of the Silver Age and the dawn of the space age, and what I’ve seen of the animation style looks quite promising.

OK. It’s 11:30. Time to get some sleep.

Update: filling in a few pictures.

Continued in: Saturday/WonderCon and Friday–Sunday