Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pacific Grove & Cypress Point

October 19, 2014

Pongo and I drove down to Monterey for the afternoon on Sunday.  It was a quiet, cloudy day.  We didn't see any whales or dolphins.  We saw a number of sea otters, although they were too far out for pictures.

Pacific Grove, CA
It's been hot and sunny the last few weeks in the Bay Area.  I prefer the cloudy, somewhat foggy and even slightly drizzly skies of the coast, and Monterey did not disappoint.  The weather was great in that sense, and the stretch of coastline from the aquarium to Point Lobos is as interesting as it gets along along the Pacific shores of the US.  It's a good place to go to refresh the soul, even though it's highly developed and always full of people and tourists.

Pacific Grove, CA
Harbor Seal -- Pacific Grove, CA
We spent some time at the beach at Spanish Bay.  Pongo decided it was his job to clear the beach of those pesky birds.  He did a pretty good job, too.  It's a good thing he came along, they looked like they owned the place or something.

Black-bellied Plover -- Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, CA
Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, CA
We ended the day by driving into Carmel Valley to see some cows.  Pongo loves cows.  Actually, we also drove out to the mouth of the Carmel River, but dogs aren't allowed on the beach there.  Bummer.  We saw some horses, though.  Pongo seemed a bit confused by the horses.  Such strange creatures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pacific Pinball Museum


October 12, 2014

It was a change of pace weekend for me this weekend.  I had to stay close to home, so I decided that I'd spend the early afternoon at the Pacific Pinball Museum.  It's in Alameda three miles or so from my house.  I love this place.  The only way it could be improved would be if they sold beer.  I'll probably never leave if they ever make that move.

The museum has about a hundred pinball machines on display, all but a few of which are playable.  The oldest machines were built in the 1930s.  the ancestors of pinball date back to eighteenth century Europe, but the story told at the museum is purely twentieth century American.  These old games look more like Japanese pachinko machines than American pinball machines.  The balls are shot to the top of the tables then roll down, bouncing off nails until they either fall into scoring holes or fall out at the bottom.  There are no flippers.

The wood rail machines from the forties and fifties are modern machines.  They have lights, bumpers and flippers.  All of the machines are slow and rolly.  I think that has as much to do with how the museum tunes their older machines as anything.  Even machines from the seventies and eighties play slow, much slower in some cases than the same machines I played when I was a kid.

The games from the sixties and early seventies are generally straight-forward.  There are usually targets to be knocked down to advance the score.  Some of these machines are a lot of fun because there are obvious goals to achieve.  A good set of challenges always trumps gimmicks like multiple flippers and levels in my book.  Well, almost always.  I can fall for a really good gimmick.

I also like the lower scores on these older machines.  Rolling numbers are so much cooler than digital numbers, and for whatever reason a final score in the hundreds or thousands somehow seems more honest than the scores that end up being in the millions.  These are merely matters of aesthetics, obviously.

Companies went a little crazy with their designs in the seventies.  Games like Genie and Captain Fantastic are loaded with flippers and things to hit.  They can be a mess to play, though.  I tend to prefer the simpler machines from this era.

Disco Fever was a game I played a lot when I was a kid.  It has curved flippers.  I don't think the funky flippers have much of an impact on game play.  The table itself is pretty simple, the kind of older machine I find very playable.

To me, Black Knight has always been the Babe Ruth of pinball machines.  It was the first multi-level and modern multi-ball machine.  The machines I played when I was a kid were usually very fast.  I think owners usually tilted it steeply to make for quicker games, which obviously created more opportunity for more money.  It was an exciting game.  The machine at the museum is slow and rolly.  It wasn't as fun to play as I recall.  There's not a whole lot to shoot at.

Fun House has to be my all-time favorite machine.  It's perfectly balanced when it comes to gimmicks, playability and goals.  I can play this machine for hours.  I have played this machine for hours.  We had one at the office for a few months earlier this year.  I'm pretty sure my productivity dropped a bit over that time period.


There's an entire room of more modern games at the museum.  They don't interest me as much as these older machines.  Too much silliness, not enough game play in a lot of those machines.  They're not all bad, they just don't interest me as much.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Point Reyes National Seashore: Tomales Point

October 4, 2014

Sam and I hiked out to Tomales Point on Saturday.  This is a hike I'm starting to make an annual event.  The trail goes straight through an elk reserve.  There are no fences or barriers.  the elk are right there, sometimes right on the trail.  In the fall, when the elks are in rut, I have a hard time imagining a better place to spend an afternoon.

Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Tule Elk
The weather has been extremely warm recently.  It was one hundred degrees out on the Point on Friday.  Saturday cooled down to a more respectable seventy degrees.  Well, at least until the fog rolled in late in the afternoon, then it got downright cold.  Perfect weather for a six mile hike out to the pond and back.

I always think of this as a fairly flat, simple hike, but it's actually kind of hilly.  It's not too tough, but I was surprised it wasn't as flat as I recall.
Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The pond is three miles out from the parking lot.  There's usually a bunch of elk hanging out there.  As we rounded the bend that looks down on the pond, we were disappointed to see that the fields around the pond were empty.  What a disappointment.  We'd come very close to some elk along the trail, but this has always been a great spot to watch the elk in their rut behavior.  I thought we'd made the hike out there somewhat in vain, then we looked up the hill in the opposite direction from the pond.  There were probably twenty bachelors hanging out on the hillside.  A few of them were posing on the top of the ridge, others were scattered on the hillside with a few fairly close to the trail.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Coyote -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
We stopped for a break after climbing the hill from the pond.  We chilled out for a while, then we noticed a coyote was keeping an eye on us from the top of the ridge.  I guess he decided we weren't anything to worry about and wandered off in the direction of the bachelor elk.

Coyote -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
We bumped into another coyote a little farther down the trail.  He/she was taking a stroll right along our trail but headed in the opposite direction.  This coyote simply ignored us as it passed by.  That was the closest Sam had ever been to a coyote.  I have had one closer encounter in Death Valley, but it was spectacular seeing this animal so close.

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Our hike ended in fog.  We'd been watching the fog bank rolling in from the Pacific over the course of our hike.  Even so, it pounced quite suddenly.  I'd been telling Sam earlier how much nicer Pierce Ranch looked in the fog.  I'm glad he was able to experience it.

Pierce Ranch, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Pierce Ranch, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA