Saturday, February 23, 2019

How to get the Santa Clara County Real Estate Parcel Tax Exemptions for Seniors

I turned 65 a year ago and am just learning the benefits of age.  A few have been a 5% discount at our grocery store, Lunardi's, on Tuesday and Thursday and significant discounts, 50-70%, on mass transit, Caltrain, SFMuni and BART. Many people know about these.
But there is another discount that many seniors are unaware of. Many Santa Clara County Special assessments and parcel taxes have senior exemptions. All that you have to do is to apply for them. I did a survey of 9 women in my wife's book club, where the average age is over 65. They started the book club over 30 years ago.
Each of these assessments has a small asterisk next to them. As a service to the book club and to other seniors in Los Gatos, here is the list of special assessments and where to apply for the exemption. The top two are due by June 15, 2019, and must be verified (applied for) each year. The bottom two are here for reference but are not available or meaningful for most residents.
  • Los Gatos -Saratoga Union High SD, Parcel Tax 2016 (718), 408-402-6330, Exemption Information - the tax is $49.
  • Los Gatos Union School District, Measure B (870), 408-355-2025, Exemption Information - the tax is $290.
  • SF Bay Restoration Authority has Measure AA  but does not have a senior discount - my tax is $12.
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District, Safe Clean Water (728), 408-630-2810, Exemption Information - my tax is $65.36. Note that this exemption is only for low income seniors, with income <$50K
Bottom line is that a few emails sent every year at the start of June will save you $339. Not bad for 15 minutes work, especially as state and local taxes are no longer deductible. As one book club member said "this could save $3,000 for just the folks at this table."  

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Swedish dinner for Ann's book club

Ann has a book club which meets at our house once a year. I love cooking for a crowd, so this is often a time for me to try out new recipes. This year twelve people RSVP'd so I knew it was time to show my creativity. [I will admit that, at times when only 5 people show up, I just throw together a quiche; this was not one of those times.]

The book for January was The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, a book by the Swedish author Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg  that takes place in Sweden.  This called for a Swedish dinner. I have included the links to the recipes, but I have also copied the recipes below the way that I modified them. Note that the women also drank shots of Aquavit to get into the Swedish mood. I had sampled various Aquavits in trips to Sweden in the past, and found a newspaper article that went into more detail so that I could pass it along. doing shots worked.

Dessert featured Swedish ginger cookies, from the NY Times Cookbook

I have only a few comments before the recipes. The comments around the meatballs were good in the recipe and on the web. I was surprised at how wonderful they were. I've learned that my two go-to cookbooks are Cook's Illustrated and the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion Cookbook for don't-fail wonderful food. I still fall back on Betty Crocker and the Settlement Cookbook for everyday.

Swedish Meatballs  (serves 4 to 6)

I tripled the meatball recipe and quadrupled the sauce, as the noodles would absorb some of the sauce. If you thought that Ikea meatballs were good, these are great.

Why This Recipe Works:  We wanted our Swedish meatballs recipe to produce substantial yet delicate meatballs with a sausagelike springiness and satisfying snap. To achieve the right texture, we combined beef, pork, bread, cream, and a surprise ingredient, baking powder, which kept the meatballs delicate and juicy. For the meatball gravy recipe, we wanted a light cream sauce instead of heavy brown gravy. To get this, we added a bit of cream to our stock to lighten it up and a splash of lemon juice for some bright flavor.

1 large egg
¼ cup heavy cream
1 large slice high-quality white sandwich bread, crusts removed and bread torn into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces ground pork
1 small onion, grated on large holes of box grater (about 1/4 cup)
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (see note)
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper


The traditional accompaniments for Swedish meatballs are lingonberry preserves and Swedish Pickled Cucumbers (see related recipe). If you can’t find lingonberry preserves, cranberry preserves may be used. For a slightly less sweet dish, omit the brown sugar in the meatballs and reduce the brown sugar in the sauce to 2 teaspoons. A 12-inch slope-sided skillet can be used in place of the sauté pan—use 1 1/2 cups of oil to fry instead of 1 1/4 cups. The meatballs can be fried and then frozen for up to 2 weeks. To continue with the recipe, thaw the meatballs in the refrigerator overnight and proceed from step 3, using a clean pan. Serve the meatballs with mashed potatoes, boiled red potatoes, or egg noodles.

  1. For the Meatballs: Whisk egg and cream together in medium bowl. Stir in bread and set aside. Meanwhile, in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat pork, onion, nutmeg, allspice, pepper, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder on high speed until smooth and pale, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary. Using fork, mash bread mixture until no large dry bread chunks remain; add mixture to mixer bowl and beat on high speed until smooth and homogeneous, about 1 minute, scraping bowl as necessary. Add beef and mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl as necessary. Using moistened hands, form generous tablespoon of meat mixture into 1-inch round meatball; repeat with remaining mixture to form 25 to 30 meatballs.
  2. Heat oil in 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat until edge of meatball dipped in oil sizzles (oil should register 350 degrees on instant-read thermometer), 3 to 5 minutes. Add meatballs in single layer and fry, flipping once halfway through cooking, until lightly browned all over and cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes. (Adjust heat as needed to keep oil sizzling but not smoking.) Using slotted spoon, transfer browned meatballs to paper towel-lined plate.
  3. For the Sauce: Pour off and discard oil in pan, leaving any fond (browned bits) behind. Return pan to medium-high heat and add butter. When foaming subsides, add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour is light brown, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in broth, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits. Add brown sugar and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is reduced to about 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream and return to simmer.
  4. Add meatballs to sauce and simmer, turning occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Swedish Red Cabbage

2 red onions, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped up
1 kg/2.2lbs red cabbage, finely sliced (many heads here in the US are 3+ pounds, so scale) 
½ cup red wine
5 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon allspice
2 cloves
2.5 teaspoons salt
Black pepper to taste

  1. Saute the onions in the butter on medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the apples and cook for 3 minutes or so. Then add the cabbage and stir and place the lid on for about 10 minutes and cook on medium heat. After 10 minutes the cabbage should have softened and wilted. Then add the red wine, brown sugar, vinegar,caraway seeds, allspice and cloves. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until soft. Season with salt and black pepper. 

Glazed Carrots

1 pound large carrots, cut into bite-size pieces 1/4-3/8 inch thick)
2 T. butter
1 T. honey (and you may want to be a bit generous)
¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

  1. Cook the carrots in boiling water for 15 minutes, or until your desired state of done
  2. Add other ingredients to saucepan to melt butter and combine. Add carrots and toss. I added the nutmeg as I tossed so that it was fresh

Bacon Fat Gingersnaps

¾  cup rendered bacon fat (from cooking 1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon), chilled
1  cup white sugar, plus extra for rolling
¼  cup molasses
1  egg
2  cups grams all-purpose flour
1½  teaspoons grams kosher salt (I used 3/4 tsp salt)
2  teaspoons baking soda
1  teaspoons ground ginger
1  teaspoon ground cloves
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners (this is very important when the cookies are crispy).
  2. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, or a mixer with a heavy beater paddle, combine all ingredients. Pulse until a smooth, stiff dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.
  3. Drop the dough in 1-tablespoon lumps on a cookie sheet, form into balls the size of a small gumball, roll in sugar, space 2 inches apart and press flat with fingers. Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until dark brown. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to finish cooling.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

To Minsk and Back: a tale of Tourism, Politics and Drought

My last blog post described how I was going to be in Minsk while the MS ride was happening.  I wanted to prove that to you through some pictures and a few stories.

Minsk was a lovely city. While not on par with Amsterdam or Stockholm, it was great for a town that was 80% destroyed during World War II (or, as they call it, the Great Patriotic War). Besides the great people and beer, I learned two major things. The first was that there was a Stalinist style of architecture. This can best be seen in the two towers, known as the City Gates, rebuilt after the war. This style was significantly more ornate than I had counted on. The statues above the fifth floor represent the roles in the Communist ideal: a worker, a collective farmer, an engineer and a soldier. They are iconic buildings, directly across from the train station. I was glad to be there in the early fall, as the weather was quite temperate. It never got below 50F, although I 'm told that -40 is common in the winter.

The other lesson was political. I arrived two weeks before Belarus’s elections.  Lukashenko was running for his fifth five-year term as president.  There were banners for the election throughout the city.  This is a picture of a 12-story-tall banner, the largest I saw, on Lenin Square. What was strange was that I could see identical signs throughout the city (three from my hotel window, for example) but never any sign for a candidate. I’ll just say that the government locked down the opposition and Lukashenko won with 85.3% of the vote. If interested, you can see there views of the election from the apathetic voice of the people, lead-up to the election and the final results. It was refreshing to be back in the United States with our somewhat chaotic election process.

We also had torrential rains the weekend that I had to be a tourist. It’s been a long time since I saw rivers of water two inches deep coursing down street gutters.  After the drought of California, it was great to see. The rains finally did abate on Sunday afternoon, so I was able to go out and be a tourist in the city.

Speaking of drought,  I came home to the depleted reservoirs of California. I decided to see this first-hand on a mountain bike: two pictures show this very well. The first is the selfie, my first one posted on Facebook, of me as I biked out onto the old road, Old Santa Cruz Highway, which was in place before the reservoir was built. That is the picture from the ground level.  A week later I was hiking on the hill above the dam and shot the picture below. I put a red dot on the highway, just left of the center, where I shot the selfie. This gives you a perspective of the low level of the reservoir; it is currently at 18.7%, the lowest of any reservoir in Santa Clara County. If you are interested in the history of towns now coming back above water, this article does a great job describing what has been submerged at Lexington for half a century.

It’s great to be back home.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I'm riding in support of Multiple Sclerosis in Waves to Wine 2015.... in a way

With a well-deserved beer and my
Waves to Wine jersey and kit
at the end of the ride
I've been riding my bike for MS, or intending to, every year since 2003, and this year is no exception. While I did have this on my schedule and the ride is happening this weekend and September 26 and 27th, I had business plans that took me on a different route. I'm spending the weekend in Minsk in Eastern Europe, and am just finishing this on Monday morning.

People have accused me of being long-winded when talking about MS.  I’ll be concise this time.
  • While I had intended to ride and had trained for it, I traveled instead, flying out on Sunday, the 20th. I did do a ride in the 100+ heat last weekend, September 19, before I left for fundraising: I am still serious about supporting the cause.  You can see the map below. It was one of the tougher rides I have done, due to the heat and the fact that I supported myself rather than having a team of volunteers; I appreciated their work all the more.  I took two “time outs” at a Subway and Starbucks to cool down and hydrate, with a few quarts of water each time. But I finished the ride.  I greatly enjoyed a few parts, such as the trip in the hills east of Gilroy, back by Gilroy Hot Springs. I rode for an hour back there without another vehicle on the highway, and stopped to hear the woodpeckers and the breeze in the trees: quite beautiful. I also had a flat tire about 1/4 mile away from home. Of all the times it could have happened, this was the "best."
  • Close to three thousand people are riding on the 26th and 27th.They hope to raise $2.8 million dollars to support local and national multiple sclerosis programs and research. They need your support, so you can support MS and me by contributing at their website,
  • If you have donated to MS already, thank you.  If not, you can still make contributions to the ride and cause through the middle of October.
  • I’ll be riding again next year. And I'm not planning any trips to eastern Europe during that time.
I did do fundraising this year by postcard, custom printing the message and address with the software I wrote 39 years ago, Pager.  If you’re one of my email-only people, I did not do a custom email for you, but you can see a generic version of the postcard, both front and back, below.

Here are a few pictures for the ride
The 101 mile route, to Gilroy and back. It was about 4000 feet vertical
The 2014 thank you note, used for 2015. It was custom-published with software I wrote back in Chicago.
Thank you all for your continuing support.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bourbon-basted salmon from this year's book club party

We had our annual book club summer party at the Scott's last Saturday for the second year in a row. For those of you who don't remember it, the Myers had the party two years back... the recipes were blogged back then, including my special shortbread cookies. I'm continuing the blogging tradition, but without hosting the party.

Steve and Sally cooked their wonderful Salmon recipe both of these years. Here are the details.

The recipe Steve uses is Bourbon Basted Salmon from the Junior League Centennial Cookbook.
We have used the wild caught or the aquarium-approved farmed fish from Costco although the original recipe calls for 6 skin-on fillets.

The important thing is the marinade:

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 T Bourbon whisky (We use Jack Daniels)
3 T chopped scallions
2 T soy sauce
2 T vegetable oil

Marinate in zip-lock bag for an hour or more (we do it overnight sometimes)
Grill about 5-7 minutes per side, basting with reserved marinade: the more you put on, the sweeter the fish.

There are some great tips on buying and cooking salmon available online, including Better Homes and Gardens. If you're lucky enough to have a great thermometer like a Thermapen, I'd cook the fish to 130 as opposed to the 140 they recommend in the article.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Twelfth night, king cake and 3D printing

Most people don't know that Christmas is actually a period of twelve days. The only remnant of this in our culture is the carol "The twelve days of Christmas." The aforementioned days of Christmas in the song are the twelve days between the birth of Christ (Christmas, December 25) and the coming of the Magi (Epiphany, January 6). What better way to celebrate this at a twelfth night party on the tenth night than with king cake, or in our case, king cupcakes. What I did not realize until I researched for this blog is that Mardi Gras begins on Epiphany and ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Now that we have the liturgical roots handled, let's deal with how I made these cupcakes. [I should point out that the idea for the party and the cupcakes was Ann's idea... I just executed it and added the 3D printing into the mix.]

  • The cupcake recipe comes from King Arthur Flour. The recipe was very easy and the cupcakes came out great. Even though it's not a yeast dough, it was quick to prepare. And it gave me another place to use my favorite baking seasonings, Fiori di Sicilia.
  • The cupcakes looked great with the yellow, purple and gold sugars, but I was looking for a way to make it a bit more special. It turns out that I have a plastic manufacturing machine in my garage. I have a Makerbot Replicator 2 in my garage, and I'd given thought to how manufacturing fundamentally changes when you have the local means of production, as well as 6 different colors of plastic including yellow and purple. I went to Thingiverse and did a search on "crowns" and found a size ten crown ring. I scaled this up 20% for men, made a model for six of them and produced them in purple on the printer. I then produced another six for the women and smaller fingers at normal size in yellow. They were a hit at the party and I did have to give a tour to the garage to see the printer in action. This is the kind of item that you'd never go to a store to buy. But it becomes possible when you control the means of production and designs like this are openly shared and licensed.
Everyone enjoyed the cupcakes, and we checked to make sure that people were wearing their rings at church on Sunday morning.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Report at the end of the third year of solar electric (photovoltaic) panels on our house

I'd written an article two years ago when we reached the end of our first year of solar power. This is just a quick report, but I'll summarize it as "the system is holding up well, and is still cost effective." It's interesting that many of my neighbors talk about their monthly electric bill regularly being $200-300, and can't believe that we pay roughly the same amount for a full year.

The factors that changed in the past three years are:
  • The overall production from the panels was down.  While it was 6.5Mwh in 2011, it was 5.8Mwh this year.
  • PG&E changed their billing in ways I can't comprehend. While the true-up was smaller in 2011 and had connection charges added, my bill this year was $30 less than the true-up.
  • The trees around the house were trimmed better in 2011, and have grown a bit.  It's time to prune back.
  • We had three people living in the house from September 2012 until April 2013. While it was great to have Claire here, it increased power usage.
Here is the report for 2012-2013.  We're being more aggressive with power savings, from improved appliances to a greater reliance on LED bulbs (my favorite is the Switch LED bulb, now available as 100W). I'm looking forward to reporting next year.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Barbecue to die for

Ann and I hosted the summer couple's party of her book club this weekend in 2013. It's a fun group of folks, all around the same age as our kids all wet to school together.  With 20 people and wonderful weather, it only seemed appropriate to BBQ.  We had some great items, and I received many requests for recipes.  Some of these came out of tried and true cookbooks with family modifications scribbled in, and some brand new recipes were found online.  If you're planning a summer celebration, give these a try. You won't be disappointed! And yes, it did take two years for this to finally be posted, in 2015. I dated it back to 2013 to prevent timewarps.

The main component of any BBQ is the meat, and we had a couple choices.  This Bourbon-Mango Pulled Pork was delicious, and best of all, easy to make.  It's the epitome of a "set it and forget it" dish.  Nothing worse than hosting a party and spending the whole time in the kitchen!

Bourbon-Mango Pulled Pork

Recipe makes 10 servings

2 mangoes
1 4 lb. pork shoulder roast
2 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
2 tsp honey
1 (1.5 fl. oz.) jigger bourbon whiskey
2 (12 oz) bottles of barbecue sauce
  1. Peel the mangoes and remove the pits.  Place the pits into a slow cooker, then roughly chop the mango and set aside.  Place the pork shoulder into the slow cooker, and season with the black pepper, kosher salt, and 1 tsp. chipotle powder.  Pour in the balsamic vinegar and water.
  2. Cover, and cook on low 5-8 hours until the meat is very tender.  While the pork is cooking, puree the chopped mango in a blender until smooth, then combine with honey, 1 tsp. chipotle powder, and whiskey in a sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently until the mango has reduced and darkened slightly, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the barbecue sauce and remove from heat.
  3. Once cooked, drain the pork, discarding the cooking liquid and mango pits.  Shred pork with two forks.  Return the shredded pork to the slow cooker, and stir in the mango barbecue sauce.  Cover, and cook on high 1-2 hours until the pork absorbs the barbecue sauce.

We also served Black Jack Chicken Breasts.  Black Jack Barbecue Sauce gets its name from the jolt of strong coffee that is added to it.

Black Jack Chicken Breasts

2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tbsp minced shallots
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
8 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 cups Black Jack Barbecue Sauce

  1. To make the marinade: Combine the apple cider, cider vinegar, shallots, garlic, 1 tsp of the the salt, and 1/2 tsp of the pepper in a zip-close bag.  Add the chicken pieces and seal the bag, pressing out the air.  Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 and up to 12 hours.
  2. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high; leave one burner off.  If you are using a charcoal grill, build a fire and let it burn down until the coals are glowing red with a moderate coating of white ash.  Spread the coals in an even bed on one side of the grill.  Clean the cooking grate.
  3. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drain off.  Season with the remaining salt and pepper.
  4. Grill the chicken over direct heat until marked on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Finish cooking the chicken over indirect heat, covered, turning every few minutes and brushing with the barbecue sauce, until the chicken is cooked through (165˚F) and the juices run clean, 10-15 minutes more.
  5. Serve on a heated platter or plates.

Black Jack Barbecue Sauce

Makes 4 cups

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced small
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tbsp minced jalapeño, or to taste
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup brewed coffee
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the chili powder and jalapeño, and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes.  Use immediately, or let cool to room temperature before storing in a clean, covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

It wouldn't be a BBQ without baked beans, and these are a surefire hit.

Baked Beans for a Crowd

1 (15 oz.) can cannellini beans
2 (15 oz.) cans butter beans
1 (16 oz.) can green lima beans
1 (16 oz.) can red kidney beans
1 ½ jars B & M baked beans
8 slices bacon
4 medium onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 ½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
½ cup vinegar

Drain and rinse all beans, except B & M baked beans.  Fry bacon until crisp, and break into pieces, reserving drippings.  Sauté onions and pepper in bacon drippings.  Combine brown sugar, dry mustard, garlic powder, salt and vinegar.  Stir well.  Mix with beans, bacon, onion and green pepper mixture in large baking dish and bake at 350˚ for one hour.  OR cook in crock pot for approximately 3 hours.  Serves 16-20.
From the Los Gatos Eastfield Ming Quong cookbook from their retail store, The Butter Paddle.

And what would a party be without dessert?  This shortbread recipe from King Arthur Flour is one of my family's favorites, and is always a great choice for its simplicity and neverending possibilities.

Shortbread cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at cool room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (the recipe called for 1 teaspoon, but I have reduced it... also, use the best quality sea salt)
2 cups (8 1/2 oz).King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, cream the butter, sugar and salt together with a mixer or by hand. Add the flour and blend until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal. To shape, roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, press with a cookie stamp (or the bottom of a glass, dipped in sugar, to prevent it from sticking) and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking. Or, form the dough into a long roll, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, cover with parchment paper, and freeze until very firm. [You can keep this in the freezer for weeks].
  2. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. If you've made a roll of dough, slice the roll into cookies no thinner than 1/4 inch and prick each cookie twice with a form (or stamp with a stamp). Bake on ungreased baking sheets for about 20 minutes (or a bit more). Watch the cookies carefully - when the bottoms are a light sand color, remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

The shortbread paired surprisingly well with our homemade limoncello! (and link to my other blog)

These were all hits at our party and helped make it a great time with great friends.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Umunhum and Almaden AFS: One last post before the MROSD meeting

I've written numerous posts on Umunhum over the past few years. All of the writing and advocacy seems to be paying off, from the newspaper to change,.org petitions and even a website for the station(I may be .1% of that effort, but you do what you can) The final decision date on the fate of the historic landmark Mt. Umunhum Radar Tower is Wednesday, October 17th @ 7PM in the Historic Del Monte Building in downtown Sunnyvale (100 S. Murphy Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA). I will not be at the meeting, but this is a great time to refresh people on the issue and recent progress: the public is welcome (and encouraged) at the meeting.

Post-meeting update: The MROSD has elected to preserve the tower for at least the next five years, as more funding for preservation is lined up by supporters. You can read more in the Mercury News article on October 18.

Before you go to the meeting, you should read the two web pages that the Mercury News has set up. Scott Herhold has an opinion page, and the newspaper has an topic page. This has been a dynamic news area, as people have come up with creative ideas on how to shift ownership to Santa Clara Parks, donate money for preservation or just handle this well enough to open up the space, not destroy the cube and let other solutions develop. The Mercury News has done a great job reporting on this and being a public forum so that good ideas can come forward: they are fulfilling the role of local journalism.

I did attend the public meeting in Cupertino in July. The MROSD was prepared with clear charts and scale models and was open to public input. However, I think they were shocked at the number of people who attended: they had to set up almost twice as many chairs as planned and there were still many people standing. I give the district board the credit for having such a well run and informative meeting. There were over 200 people and, even after they brought in chairs to fill the room, there were still people standing. Above is a picture of the room around 9:30, when a few of the people had left. The E Clampus Vitus folks are in the foreground, in their red shirts and unique hats: I appreciate their appreciation of California history and the plaques that they have set up in so many remote and historical sites. [See the pictures at the end on dot-voting for public sentiment capture.]    

I would like to give a personal spin on things. First of all, let me explain that I am the child of an electrical engineer from Cold War. I grew up with plans of fallout shelters, and pictures of all of our missiles, from Talos to Nike Hercules. I even knew the difference between a Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules. My father worked for RCA on radar systems and television systems like Ranger, the first probe to the moon. Even if my dad didn't work on this radar system, he worked on its siblings.

It was sobering to hear the discussion of the Soviet threat and the effect of nuclear bomb blasts in Marin and the South Bay if there had been a nuclear war. We don't think of those things today (even if the threat of a nuclear accident with the world's aging arsenal is just as real now as it was then).

What impressed me the most were the stories from veterans of Almaden Air Force Base and similar radar stations that defended our borders and the engineers who designed and built the systems. These people brought a personal perspective that has been lost in many of the debates about the tower.

The first was a veteran from a similar radar station in Montana. He described driving to the top of that mountain in Montana with his young daughter, only to find that every trace of the base and artifacts of his service had been wiped clean. While the natural state was wonderful, it may be difficult to explain to his daughter what he'd done for years. His hope was that the tower at the Almaden AFB would remain a visible artifact of service that he could use to explain his service to his children and grandchildren.

Two other people drew analogies to other war artifacts. The first was Fort Point, the 1853 fort under the Golden Gate bridge. People called for that to be torn down as an eyesore when the bridge was constructed, but it was preserved. It is now a San Francisco destination. The other was Normandy, where Nazi bunkers litter the shores. These have been preserved as monuments to those dark times.

Finally, a few engineers from IBM brought us back to roots of the Valley. They pointed out that the radar and tower were the visible aspects of our SAGE air defense system. In its time, the early 60s, this was the most advanced computer system in the world. Remnants of this are at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, but the tower gives evidence of this technology to millions of people and not just a select few who visit this museum.

This tower is part of our history, no matter whether we consider it as a pinnacle of technology, a monument to the service of our soldiers or a dark period in our civilization when we were poised on the precipice of annihilation. Let the tower be preserved.

Dot-voting public input

The MROSD worked to get public input quantifed beyond the speakers. They let the audience vote on what they considered most important. This input went to multiple pages once the "historic value" on the first chart was full. The areas with the most votes were historical value, public sentiment and input and visitor experience. They asked for our input: today is their time to act upon that.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sometimes it takes thirteen years for a market to develop

This is been a week for trips down memory lane: renewing old friendships and product ties. The first was on Monday, as I was at JavaOne working in the Datalogics booth, as they are now selling Adobe's Java PDF Toolkit. What made this memorable was that I was manning a booth 13 years ago as Adobe test launched our "Adobe Acrobat Viewer for Java." I wore the same shirt for part of the day and the picture (even with terrible backlighting and underexposure). All told there were five PDF vendors at JavaOne: I was impressed. The conference did seem to be booming, with the infusion of Big Data and Spring. It was not the giant conference from the starry-eyed days of fifteen years ago for Java, but certainly did seem to be a sustainable business.

One company, ICEsoft, was even selling a Java-based PDF viewer, ICEpdf.   While it wasn't clear that this was a major moneymaker for them, it did show that there was a market. It's just not clear that Adobe would've been willing to wait 13 years for the market to develop. 

A second and related Java development is that I am now consulting with Datalogics to aid the commercialization of Adobe's Java PDF toolkit and Reader Extensions for customers who choose to embed the Java PDF toolkit. Best why I was in the Datalogics booth and then contributing to their new blog, where I will be a regular contributor.
I am working on new things as well, but that will be described in the near future.