Monday, November 28, 2011

Yikes! What Bikes!

Bike mower -- could this work?

Ho Chi Minh Trail technology
Madsen cargo bike

E-Solex electric bike
  If  bike shops (outside of California) stocked some of the exciting new interpretations of that most efficient and economical machine, would they sell?  Highly featured and shockingly expensive baby strollers have found outlets and eager buyers, but they speak status rather than eccentricity.  Acceptability might follow the usual path of early adopters in vanguard enclaves, notice in the media, and then a favorable mainstream attitude vis-a-vis entertainment value + utility.
When huge and growing demand for fossil fuels slams headlong into declining supplies, we'll still need transport; the many ingenious varities of bikes and trikes now used for practical purposes in the third world might be one solution to the problem -- for the few fit enough.  I doubt if you see 350-pounders on Rascal scooters in the bicycling nations such as the Netherlands or China.
They do work, though -- the rickshaw trike can carry up to 500 pounds; for up and down hills I think you'd need an electric assist and sturdy brakes.  The North Vietnamese walked their heavily-loaded cycles through jungle and over mountains, but the Madsen cargo bike's design would do the job well for an urban guerilla going to Lowe's today.  And they're only about $1000; a car costs about $8000 a year to operate after a five-figure purchase price and sales tax to boot.  Not that a car, without public transit to use when distance and weather pose difficulties, wouldn't still be in the picture for most people.  Hybrids and all-electrics will make that possible.  Bicycle-based alternatives for light transport are out there, and you just may see them on the road someday soon.
The 50cc motorbike, moped or scooter has been used by millions in Europe and Asia; the Solex brand debuted in 1946 in France alongside the Vespa in Italy and they're still going strong due to well-focused design and quality.  The new 400 watt electric-motor E-Solex isn't available in the U.S., but at $2100 it's an attractive combination of trusty old and beautiful new.  Unfortunately, most of what is available here in electric bikes and scooters is made in China and promises a short life to disappointed buyers.
The Studebaker family knew when to transition from wagons to automobiles, and we know what a leap in transportation technology the Wright brothers' bike shop produced.  There are some inventive Wilburs and Orvilles at work around the world, and that's a comforting thought in challenging times.
ElliptiGO -- something really new

       (7/2012 update)  I just found out about the ElliptiGO, a real innovation, the brainchild of two former Ironman triathletes.  It was first introduced in California (of course) in 2010, and four arrived in a local (Camp Hill, PA) bike shop this year, which sold immediately.  If you ever wanted to take your indoor exercise equipment out into the fresh air, this is the way.  Described as looking a lot like a preying mantis, it will probably elicit a variety of reactions out on the roads!  This combination elliptical trainer/bike weighs about 37 pounds, has eleven speeds, can do 25 MPH and climb hills, while exercising older or beat-up limbs and joints safely.  The three models range from $1800 to $3500.  Looks like fun.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Galt's Gulch in the Seaweed

Ready-made island fort for sale!
James Bond villain's lair

As if the James Bond series were prediction, not fiction, we learn that yet another billionaire proves the rule that with great wealth comes great sociopathy.  PayPal founder Peter Thiel has put up $1.25 million to start the process for floating autonomous libertarian "countries" at sea.  Whereas the Bond villains wanted to take over the world, the real unbalanced superwealthy just want it to go away. 
For a little more, Peter could buy, for 4 million pounds sterling, an island fort built in the Victorian era (so perfect for a steampunk theme!) sited in the English Channel.  It has a 21 room luxury hotel, two helipads (a must-have for evil geniuses), a heated indoor pool, and can bristle with armaments again as it once housed 49 cannon as well as antiaircraft guns.  Peter, like all libertarians, really just wants to avoid taxes, so his plan is to head 200 miles west of San Francisco and eventually link up other oil-platform "islands" to make a nation recognized by the U.N. (a little libertarian contradiction inherent in that, but our Ayn Rand robo-clones today can't recognize cognitive dissonance for beans).
A Cato Institute utopia will not, as he might think, result in Plato's Republic; billionaires with limitless guns served by indentured serfs are no philosopher-kings  -- they're just mob bosses in a closed, rigged system (feudalism run by unrestrained aristrocrats and Church magnates all over again).  Yes, we had, in the 14th century, the "moral order based on freedom and individual responsibility" and "restrained government" that libertarians sputter about, and you can see it now in 15 failed states around the world.  Haiti is the exact image of what a libertarian nation is all about.
Aside from this silliness, islands of wealth effectively detached from the broader body politic have been established in the exurbs of cities such as New York, L.A., Philadelphia, Miami and Denver.  These wealthy enclaves, through local control, can fund large and well-equipped police forces supplemented by layers of private security.  Anyone looking out of place can be expelled and fined quickly.  They want or need nothing from the state and expect the same.  Meanwhile, a city in Michigan has removed its no-longer affordable street lights and miles of roads are returning to gravel all over the nation.  Mirroring the disappearance of moderates from Congress, families living in middle-income neighborhoods have declined from 65% in 1970 to 44% today.
The extremism of concentrated wealth here and the extremism of levelling (Mao's Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot's Stone Age ideal) are two faces of the same coin.  Neither ideology goes anywhere but off the cliff.  As Aristotle said, virtue always lies in the middle.

(The Hipcrime Vocab blog is the inspiration and principal source for this post.) 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Name Game

To answer the old question, there's a lot in a name.  Our individual names (given and surname both) come from somewhere ("Melissa" comes from the Greek for "honeybee;" I hope no one's name means "jerk" in some old language).  Jack Kerouac's family name can be traced to an ancestor from a "wet place" in Brittany; Henry VII Tudor's family name came from a  time when ordinary people only had a first name, in this case, Tedwr (Theodore).   Place names everywhere usually hide an intriguing story, and we don't call other peoples and their countries by their real names at all.  Egypt is from the Greek word for the place; it's called Misr in Arabic.  India is really Bharat.  The Chinese transliteration of America comes out Mei-kuo, which literally means "beautiful country."  The Hungarians have always called themselves Magyars, and the Greeks call their country Hellas.  Finland is Suomi:  not even close.
That emerald isle we commonly refer to as England has changed its official name to reflect expansion (unlike the United States, but they've been around a lot longer): England and Wales comprise Britain; add Scotland and you have Great Britain; add Northern Ireland and today it's the United Kingdom.  The English St. George, the Scots St. Andrew and the sort of made-up Irish St. Patrick crosses comprise the Union Jack (the Welsh dragon didn't make the cut).
The ancient Phoenicians didn't call themselves that; they were Canaanites but identified with their individual city-states only.  If the names we use are those bestowed by the "winners" of history, they often were or still are derogatory:  the adjective "Punic" used by the Romans to refer to the Phoenician Carthaginians had negative connotations due to their centuries of rivalry and war.  The followers of the Roman polytheistic religion were called "pagans" by the Christians, which derived from "peasant."  I think those referred to in the Old Testament as the people of Dan were actually Minoans, based on their superior metalworking skills.  So many lost peoples and places are referred to in the Bible, it makes you realize how little knowledge we have compared to what has vanished and appears only in a shadow of a memory.
When Europeans expanded over the New World, native names or versions of them were retained, but often misunderstood.  Sewickley, a borough near Pittsburg, claims its name means "sweet water," but it probably has a source in a contraction of the name of one of the seven clans of the Shawnee.  I think Michigan actually means "sweet water," but who knows for sure.  Chicago may mean "stinking water!"
The French explorers heard of the Sioux before they met them; that name which we've adopted comes from the Algonquin word "nadouessioux," which means either "foreign speaker" or "enemy."  The Sioux themselves refer to their allied nations as the Seven Council Fires.  The French also unkindly named the Atsina "Gros Ventres," or Big Noses, and the Wyandot they called "Huron," which just referred to their hair style.  Most native nations called themselves simply "the people," or added a distinguishing adjective such as the "raven people" (Crow in English, Absaroke in their language).  The tribal group in northwestern Pennsylvania wiped out by the Iroquois known to us as the Erie or the Neutrals called themselves the Cat People.  Too bad we don't know anything more about them, but they ticked off the mighty Iroquois, which was a fatal mistake in those days.
The French have the greatest variety in surnames, and the Koreans the least; I think all Sikhs are named Singh.  Makes their phone book pretty hard to alphabetize... Barcelona got its name from the Barca family of Carthage (of which Hannibal was the premier member); did their reputation for business acumen come from those Phoenician traders, who established that and many other still-vital Spanish cities?
It amuses me to chase down facts through history, but I'm guessing "page views" for this post will be 0.
And the only comment would probably be, "get a life, dude!"


Monday, November 21, 2011

Badass Baldassare

Angelo Roncalli was elected pope in 1958, and by choosing the name John XXIII probably irritated the gentleman above who had the same appelation, and now rests in the Baptistery in Florence inside a lovely tomb inscribed, "John the former pope." With all those Johns, some confusion has set in.  It began back in the 10th century when there were two John XIVs, and, two hundred years later, no John XX.  There may well have been a female pope named Joan, but that's a tale for another time.  All this sort of skews the infallibility thing, it seems.
Our forgotten first to be the twenty-third of his name had a beginning that was consistent with his end:  born to a noble family who alleviated their impoverishment by becoming pirates, he was ambitious, larcenous and quite successful as a soldier. But he was more the Godfather than a saint.  Baldassare Cossa had risen high enough in the Church hierarchy to be one of the three claimants to the papacy in 1409, and with the death of one, moved into the job, making his fortune quickly by naming the Medicis the Vatican bank on one hand and selling indulgences all over Christendom on the other.
His rivals, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII, didn't go away quietly and had sufficient support to have a Council called at Constance, Switzerland to resolve the dispute.  Always the operator, Cossa tried to distract the gathering by luring the Bohemian "heretic" Jan Hus to state his case there, guaranteeing his safety ("not a hair on his head shall be touched").  Poor Jan, denied any chance to speak, was thrown into a refuse-pit cell for a year, then burned alive (at least we only get pepper spray -- so far -- today).  The sideshow did not work as planned, as Cossa was charged with several heinous crimes and deposed in 1415. Then our former pirate and pope was removed from the official list; no one wanted to share his name for quite some time.  Cossa was imprisoned like his victim, but the Medicis repaid  favors by ransoming him and providing the fine final resting place a few years later.
They don't make 'em like that any more.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tuscan Bean Soup

                                         The new Fiat 500, 2007
                                         1959 Fiat Abarth Zagato
Consider the white canneloni bean, and its unexpected grand moment when it stars in Tuscan bean soup.  The genius of north-central Italian cuisine is to raise a modest number of humble ingredients to new sensory heights with thoughtful combination and exactly the right spices.
The cute Fiat Cinquecento (500), produced en masse from 1957 to 1975, was the kidney bean of cars:  utilitarian, inexpensive, adaptable; but since it was from the smoky industrial center of Torino, it had no spice and zero street cred.  The Renaults, Yugos and Fiats disappeared from the American market for very good reasons (the Citroen, too advanced and too weird for its time, did not die out because of any similar lack of quality and safety).  Yet, for a year to so, a Fiat Frankenstein lent a little color, not to mention a lot of blue exhaust, to our otherwise dull suburban enclave in the far western reaches of Richmond.  Even in the desert, a flower blooms once in a while.
Around the corner and up a block, my friend Bob Freeman was the only child of well-educated, slightly eccentric parents.  He was born in Rome (!), since his father was in the Immigration Service and did a lot of good work helping resettle refugees after WWII.  He could identify exactly where someone came from by their last name or accent; I thought that was a pretty unique skill. They also, like one other adult couple I knew of, had a library.  The family next door to them had a classic ketch (small yacht) and an impossibly gleaming black Steinway grand, so maybe the desert had more flowers than I thought.
Bob liked things I did, with great enthusiasm:  Bob Dylan, New Directions avant garde paperbacks, the two cuties in the Steinway house,  We weren't snobs, either; we liked 'em all if they had personality, Chevys or Jaguars or Corvairs.  His parents eventually gave in to his pleading to acquire something more interesting than the utilitarian sedans they got every three years or so from the tiny Chevrolet dealer way out in Crozet (I went along a few times), so first they got a Renault Dauphine for him with windows so cheap they mostly didn't work after six months, and a three-speed stick on the floor.  Thus began Bob's long and surprisingly lucky career flipping cars over.
The deadman's curve where Quiocassin turns into Gaskins destroyed the tin Renault after the second flip.  His wonderful 'rents then got a burgundy Corvair Monza with a FOUR-speed floor shift and a sexy black pleated fake leather interior.  One hundred and twenty horsepower and faulty weight distribution = another 360-degree spin and into the ditch at deadman's curve. Minor repairs to Bob at the emergency room, a short time-out on the driving, and then, damned if he didn't call me to come see his 1959 Fiat Abarth 750 pocket rocket (he paid for this one himself).  Already staining the driveway with oil and other fluids, there it was in its gleaming silver aluminum body, the craziest and most, uh, unusual Class H slalom racer anywhere.  Others in the Virginia Motor Sports Club (which we quickly joined) were always excited to see it, turning away from the suddenly mundane Austin-Healy Sprites and MG Midgets, frankly amazed it was running (it was built on a Fiat, after all).  My 1958 Mercedes 180 with its fierce Lucas foglights was mostly ignored, but what it lacked in performance (everything) it made up for in adorability.
A little background, since people have heard of and seen the products of better-known racing/tuning shops, like AMG, Shelby and the BMW M series:  Carlo Abarth (a Scorpio, thus the cool scorpion logo) allied his fortunes with Fiat a few years after starting his company, producing what he called "small, but wicked" racers along with his renowned exhaust systems.  It was acquired by Fiat, morphed into its racing division, and then for the past couple of decades has been mostly just a name with cachet.
I have no idea where Bob found it in the mid-60s, as there were very few Abarths around in the U.S.; only 600 of the 1959 - 1960 Zagato750's were made, and they were useless for transportation.  Our houses had no garages, so he worked on it -- endlessly -- in the driveway, sometimes under a tarp in the rain.  When ready, he drove it up at the Puddleduck raceway north of Richmond and had a ball leaving the Sprites in his dust and smoke.  It didn't always make it back home on its own, but glory and a few quite small trophies did.
Flip #4 came late one night in the Willow Lawn parking lot, where Bob was practicing his chicanes.  Miss Abarth was in peak condition and I guess her driver got a little overenthusiastic.  I was across the street at the radio station, and after signing off at midnight, came out to see the police and ambulance lights flashing, surrounding the fleet silver bug.  She was greasy side up, but went out the way she was destined to, the diva.
Bob's accident #5 occurred in Aix-en-Provence, France, on a mobylette in a medieval alleyway, but that's a whole other story.  Like several of my friends, he was lucky enough to enlist in the Coast Guard; he went off to the Chicago area to defend Lake Michigan and we lost contact.
With the retro trend still strong, the Fiat Abarth has been born again along with the VW Beetle and the Mini Cooper.  Based on the new regular 500 reintroduced in 2007, it is "wicked" again, in red and black with 160 turbocharged horsepower, racing suspension and brakes.  It's no 750 Zagato, but that's probably wise.
Wherever he is, I suspect Bob's on the waiting list for a shiny new Abarth.  If you own a shopping center, I'm warning you now.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Story for All Times

Science fiction is like country music.  There's the real thing, like Johnny Cash, the Stanleys, the Carters or Merle Haggard and Willie; then there is what mega-sells, the plastic neo-Nashville hat acts (three chords and a cliche, as I refer to that dreck).  Classic SF is anchored in the real, and the author has something authentic to say that would be as true set hundreds of years in the past as hundreds in the future.
For all the cheap production values and deliciously hammy acting (fun to enjoy in itself), Star Trek was and is a worthy successor to H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke; without the props and sets, it told us stories that improve with age.  Stories that we want to go back to and find deeper meaning.
Episode #76, aired 2/28/69, "The Cloud Minders," is so relevant today it is startling. 
The Enterprise arrives at planet Ardana to obtain a mineral, Zenite, much needed on another planet to halt a crisis.  Kirk and Spock beam down to the Zenite mines to negotiate, somehow not knowing what Ardana's deal is.  The miners are acting violently, but the security forces of the leaders who dwell in the floating cloud city above disperse them and invite our intrepid Star Fleet emissaries to meet with them while order is restored and the mineral can be gathered. 
They observe that Ardana society is divided between the laboring Troglytes in the mines and the elite in the luxurious city above.  Turns out that the mines were in the midst of a rebellion, and Kirk and Spock get involved with Troglyte infiltrators who have managed to enter the city.  Dr. McCoy, meanwhile, has discovered that the Zenite emits an odorless gas which degrades the Trogs' mental capacity and plays havoc with their emotions.
The infiltrators, free of the effects of the gas for the first time, begin the realize the full extent of their mistreatment.  After several tussles and reversals, the rebels accept the filtering masks the Enterprise crew has devised, and clearheaded, with Kirk as ally, demand equal treatment.  The Enterprise departs with its mineral shipment; a good week's work done.
You can see the disorienting gas as advertising/broadcast propaganda/sickening pollution; the cloud-dwelling elite as the globalized 1% in control of commodities, production, and labor; even the infiltrators as the OWS and the Arab Spring.
When that 1% go too far with unaccountable authoritarian capitalism and the always-bad decision making of centralized control, they won't collapse and go away.  They are already using their billions in cash, which they understand will be devalued by inflation and eventually worthless, to buy agricultural land and establish safe havens (look back to a previous post, "Mystery Ranch," for a description of Dubya Bush's well-prepared, off-grid Crawford TX retreat).  One hedge fund group is already the 15th biggest farmer in the U.S.  A former hedger, with millions to spend, is buying large tracts of farmland in eastern Sudan and western Ethiopia (good soils, Nile river water, dirt cheap labor).  They are as good as the best SF writer at looking into the future.  Better, actually.
As has been the case in feudal societies and for a while in South America, the superrich are building up secure gated compounds, with high walls and security guards (thousands of soldiers will be coming home, to what other employment?).  Greenwich, CT and Cali, Columbia: the same scenario.  Many mansions now have large Cummins generators and plenty of diesel fuel to power all the conveniences their owners are accustomed to and do not intend to lose.  Several years ago I knew, in contented little Elizabethtown PA, a local baron (fortune and land from his father's trucking company serving Hershey Foods) with many acres and a garage-size building housing a generator, backed up by a pair of fuel tanks behind a fence.  There were two repair shops loaded with tools and parts, and you can bet on less visible alarm systems, guns and ammunition.
The elite in Beijing, China, are now insulating themselves from the killing air pollution by installing advanced air filtration systems in their buildings and homes.
The cloud city imagined on Star Trek  -- it's not fiction.


Friday, November 11, 2011

News to Me

For the past three days, the newspaper has been 80% about the scandal-du-jour, this one at Penn State; before that it was the bankrupt capital city, of course.  Before that, miscreant weather.  Seemingly serious stuff, but exciting and diverting, too.  The smaller filler entries are always taxes, crime and fires.  A lot of people would agree with old Will Rogers ("All I know is what I read in the papers..."), but would have to update that with the addition of other, noisier and trashier media (tabloids, AM radio, overexcited cable right-wing propoganda).
If we had any to start with, this constant assault displaces any sense of  proportion between what's entertaining and what trends and events will actually be important to our lives.  Do the yeast cells in the wine vat, living it up consuming the delicious sugar in the grapes, notice that it will all soon be gone and they will die in the alcohol wastes?  We think we're the crown of creation, each one of us a sacred personhood, but it looks as though we're a lot more like those mindless yeast cells.
The hares in the snowy north multiply, like every species, as much as they can, taking more than full advantage of all shelter and food resources.  The foxes follow suit, and their population collapse soon follows that of the hares, who in their numbers ate everything.  My point is that the only news worthy of 80% of the paper is this:  7 billion people on the same earth.  William Catton noted way back in 1981 that the resource-depleting indistrial age which allowed such astronomical population growth was not proof of the inevitable march of progress, but came about due to two non-repeatable achievements:  the discovery of a second hemisphere, and development of ways to exploit the planet's fossil fuels.
"Use of oil has quadrupled earth's carrying capacity since 1900." (Paul Chefurka, 2007)  The normal carrying capacity of non-industrialized earth is about 1 billion; a sevenfold increase in humans obviously overshoots the fourfold increase in capacity.  Memo to the foxes:  the huge supply of hares (oil, arable land and usable water) is temporary.  You can conserve and limit your numbers or just live it up today.
We foxes don't want to hear it.  "As President Carter discovered, it is not easy to take a country conditioned to believe that every problem has a technical solution and to persuade its citizens that a major change of orientation has become necessary."  (Stewart Udall)
We are amused at the cargo cult beliefs of the Melanesian islanders during World War II, who saw the advanced Westerners in their midst get every good thing from the sky. And how do our deepest beliefs differ? We in the United States virulently rejected the few Cassandras who saw beyond today (Carter, Dr. Hubbert, the 1952 Paley Commission, Udall and those damn granola-crunchy commie tree-hugger environmentalists) and bought the "Morning in America" meme that since we're exceptional, resources are either inexhaustable or technological substitutes can always be found.  G.E. will just bring good things to life (Ronnie R. was paid to say that; he was well-paid by Big Oil and Big Medicine, too). Well, technical superiority failed in Vietnam, the oil embargo coinciding with the 1970 peak in domestic oil production was not noted for the huge economic-political impacts it had and will have, the atomic age was overestimated, and we don't notice the stark reality that 95% of the world's fossil energy has been discovered and everything in the developed world moves by or is made of it.
There was no mention in the print or broadcast media of what was discussed at the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) conference in Washington last week; boring stuff, I guess.  There was a little room left for the dozens of paragraphs about awards, local politics and crime that padded out the full-pages coverage of the latest scandal.  As long as we keep things in perspective...


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Coffeemaker on The Wonder Years

"...In many households, Green Stamps were the primary source of disposable family mother saved Green Stamps like my college education depended on them.  She took comfort in knowing that, as long as my father could buy food, there was a better than average chance that Santa Claus would find our house come Christmastime.  She gazed longingly at drab photographs of TV-dinner trays, basketball hoops, vacuum cleaners, pressure cookers, wall clocks, and camping equipment as if she were looking at film stars in a movie magazine.  All because of the little green stamps, a wonderful selection of shoddy merchandise was sometimes attainable in a life otherwise devoid of entitlement...Were I to meet whoever invented these stamps, I would pledge them eternal gratitude for offering my mother hope in times of despair."
                                              -- from Rodney Crowell's autobiography, Chinaberry Sidewalks

The S&H album pictured above was the style in use when my grandmother methodically collected those stamps, mostly from the local Weis grocery store chain.  Gas stations were the other main source, but the free drink glasses offered in the summer were better premiums; in times of fierce competition, you could score both at one purchase and feel like you'd really won.
When I was visiting in Pennsylvania in the summer, I'd get to install the miniature stamps in the albums (using a small sponge instead of a quickly gummed-up tongue) while perusing the catalog for whatever weapon or outdoor gear item called out to my greedy young heart.  Fifty points completed a page; 1200 an album.  The large stamps were 50 each rather than one or 10; getting one seemed like a lottery win, if I had known what that was.  And it took a looong time to fill that album.  Patience is in shorter supply when you're young than time is; like the similar long stretch to Christmas, it made the long-sought moment of acquisition as sweet as anticipated.
How many kitchens, thanks to Green Stamps, had a three-piece set of red and white plastic containers labeled Flour, Sugar and Tea from the catalog (seductively named The Idea Book)? And more than a few clocks, Faberware pans, and (oh yes!) those TV dinner trays -- what home didn't have those?  Ours (in Richmond) came from Best Products, which was no step up in class from trading stamps, believe me.  My grandmother was quite pleased with the large, square electric fry pan that cost many filled books, and used it often for years.  If I'd gotten that bow and arrow set, the impertinent groundhog raiding the back of the garden would have been in for a rude surprise.  Or a good woodchuck chuckle, more likely, as I would have missed and taken out corn stalks rather than clever rodents.
The heyday of the stamps was from the 1930s through the 1980s.  In the 60s, the catalog was the largest publication in the United States.  S&H was sold to a company who tried to modernize them as points for online purchases, but that may have faded away by now.  But comparing the two, I'd say stamps were a much better and more satisfying deal than frequent flyer points today.
And the coffeemaker the mother liked so much on The Wonder Years?  From S&H.  She felt like a winner.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Off the Road

From the Dead's AOXOMOXOA, taken at Olompali
Jack Casady, Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart playing at Olompali in 1968

Rancho Olompali State Park
I have a feeling that despite spending two weeks around the central coast of California recently, we did not get to nearly enough of it.  The tone was relaxed and the main goal was pretty much just to explore the Napa Valley, which was just fine.  Not knowing our way around very well, we picked a few things to concentrate on rather than spending large amounts of time lost on the highways (although the signage was good, and with a GPS we could have done all right -- without a good map or electronic help, I could not, however, find a shopping center a mile away in compact Carmel). 
The trip down Route 1 from Napa to Carmel was a delight.  We passed by many towns I had heard of and I was fascinated to see how they varied:  some dry and flat, some hidden in wrinkled, green hills, some hugging the San Pablo Bay shoreline, some intensely agricultural, some rich, some forlorn, their industries and military facilities long abandoned.  Legendary poets of the 40s - 70s had lived all around:  Snyder, Whalen, Ginsberg, Lamantia, Kyger; musicians like Suzanne Ciani, Mimi Farina, the Bay area bands, ol' David Freiberg and so many others. The parade of over a dozen Ferraris that zipped by was a nice surprise -- confirming the belief that anything can happen in the Golden State, and does most every day.
The day trip to San Fran couldn't have been better:  a rare balmy sunny day, a  peaceful and uncrowded ferry ride from and back to Vallejo, introduction to the famed Blue Dog coffee stand in the terminal upon arrival, the vast farmer's market, an excellent Italian bistro (across the street from where John Phillips and his associates were once the house band), and finally up to the Coit Tower and down the famed Filbert steps, where Tales of the City was set.
We did go through the western neighborhoods of San Fran from the Presidio through Golden Gate Park, outer Sunset and outer Richmond, which we'd never been near before, and stopped in so-funky Santa Cruz for some creative food and atmosphere.  What to do?  There are years' worth of places to explore just in the SF peninsula, but I looked back to the north-of-the-bay counties like Marin, thinking we'd missed too much even though we'd gotten around more than on previous trips.
Although it's mostly memories now, and peaceful, not looking much like its notorious past, I'd really like to go back and visit Olompali, which I'd first found out about in a couple of old books about the Grateful Dead.  While searching around to find out the who, where and when of this oddly-named place (it's Miwok for "southern village"), I realized that a novel I'd read by T.C. Boyle, Drop City, a Lord of the Flies-like take on a mid-sixties commune set somewhere in Marin, was pretty much the factual story of what occurred at Rancho Olompali just after the Dead, the Jefferson Airplane and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were there in 1966.  The title is actually the name of another, longer-lasting artistic commune in southern Colorado (their story is related in a book by founder Peter Rabbit, but is hard to find).
The Acid Tests put on by the Pranksters, with music by the Dead, were getting a little too much scrutiny in the city, so they all headed northward and spent some summer months at the old mansion and on its grounds, playing away and freely using still-legal LSD. Janis Joplin, tight with Pigpen for a while, added her own considerable color.
The Rancho was a white stucco mansion built in 1911 by the grandson of a dentist who became wealthy by inventing dental powder.  The dentist in the late 1800s treated his mother-in-law who died while under anesthesia, driving his father-in-law, James Black, to drink and an accidental death.  The first home there was an adobe (still extant) built in the 1830s by a Miwok headman named Camilo Ynito.  He was conned out of his land and home by the illiterate, clever but ill-fated James Black for $5200.  The gold coins were hidden; Camilo may have been murdered for them and it's said they were found, with a metal detector, under the floorboards of the unhappy house after it burned in 1977 (faulty wiring or malcontent ghosts?).  The property passed from the family in 1943 when it was bought by the University of San Francisco for use as a retreat, but it was mostly either empty or leased out for the next 34 years until it became a state park.
From November 1967 to August 1969, a commune called The Chosen Family was set up by former businessman Donald McCoy who leased the Rancho and went through hundreds of thousands of his family's dollars supporting it.  It was no model for an intentional community, as McCoy's only principle was doing whatever came to mind, which was mostly large quantities of drugs.  About a dozen children were there, and according to those who remember that time, they were actually the most responsible and turned out well -- except for two unfortunates, very young girls who fell into the unfenced pool while riding their tricycles.  CPR was bungled; cars wouldn't start, and they did not survive.  Two drug raids had scattered the founders, the money was gone, and the deaths deflated what energy was left.  County officials and armed sherrifs moved in, cited code violations, and ordered everyone off.  The pool is filled in now, just a grim ring of grass.
On top of all this strange history, the Bear Flag Revolt staged its first battle in California with the Mexican authorities in 1846 at Olompali.  I doubt if they could have imagined an Acid Test there 120 years later.