Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Hugo Votes

Best Short Story
Ponies, by Kij Johnson. The shortest of the lot, and a brilliant portrayal of children's cruelty to one another.
Won the Nebula, and deserves a Hugo.
Best Novella
The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window, by Rachel Swirsky. A great opening, a good story. Not quite science fiction, but good enough. I'd vote for The Lifecycle of Software Objects as a runner up.
Best Novelette
Plus or Minus by James Patrick Kelly. Close one between this and Emperor of Mars by Allen Steele. I tipped Kelly's story instead because I think it reflects a good sensibility about genetic engineering: you might eventually be able to engineer your kids, but you still won't be able to get them to do what you wished them to do.

Novels and Graphics Novels will get reviewed separately. Needless to say, all these stories come recommended, especially since I'm breaking my rules about reviewing short stories.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Impressions: Garmin Edge 800

My Garmin GPS 76CSx works as well today as it did when I got it years ago. The Achille's heel of the product, however, is the bike mount. Despite mine and Pardo's best efforts, the mounting was arcane, and unreliable. On rough roads, the GPS unit would work itself loose.

So when the Garmin Edge 800 GPS-Enabled Cycling Computer showed up as an item eligible for this weekend's promotional sale for 15% off, I jumped at it. Note that just as with the Edge 500, it's cheaper to buy the unit separately from the other items in it, even if you want everything in the bundle. In my cases, I already had the cadence unit and HRM strap, so it made no sense to buy the bundle. I also ordered the Garmin City Navigator Europe NT for Detailed Maps of Eastern and Western Europe (DVD). The DVD is useful for people planning routes, but if all you plan to do is Dynamic Routing, you can buy the chip for slightly less hassle. If you're not a Windows user, I'm not sure how useful the DVD would be.

The unit weighs in at 98g, 40g more than the Edge 500's 58g. Being a color display, the battery life is also reduced, at 15g. Some friends described the UI as being arcane, but coming from the 76CSx and the Edge I found it intuitive, though I found the touch screen UI a little bit balky. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it prevents accidental shifts in display, etc. The screen isn't as visible in bright sunlight as the Edge 500, but you can turn up the brightness, though with a corresponding decrease in battery life. Since the battery itself is bigger, it takes longer than the Edge 500 to charge up, but 2 hours seemed to do the trick from 40%. The Find City feature seems easy to find, and of course, has the "Spell City" option which I love, which never made it into the GPS 76CSx.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was that Garmin majorly upgraded the connectivity with the PC. My Edge 500 sometimes took 10 minutes to download all the data to the PC. With the Edge 800, the download is nearly instantaneous. This was a pleasant surprise and very welcome, since I'd gotten used to the setting the synchronization window off to another display while I did other stuff or went for a cup of coffee.

Since I haven't bothered with US maps yet, I can't say how well routing works. Needless to say, Garmin's units at their worst outperform Google Map's bicycle routing any day, especially if you reprogram the GPS unit. The key for me is whether the unit would corrupt its own boot sector in the middle of the trip like the Edge 705 is the big question that I hope to find out during this year's tour.

In short, if you're an Independent Cycle Tourist, the Edge 800 is a no brainer compared to the Edge 500. Recommended.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath The Queen's Window

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath The Queen's Window is the fourth of my Hugo Voting Packet reads. This is the best of the bunch that I've read so far, with themes touching on magic, betrayal, love, and the justification of coercion.

A woman shaman's betrayed while serving her people and her soul placed into a magical totem for re-summoning. Her subsequent summonings, responses, and view of a fantasy history grants us the views of a very flawed narrator and her response to the world around us. The narrator is reliable but unflinching in who she is and what she is about, and overall this is a very entertaining read. The ending's a bit clich├ęd, but that's unimportant to the story. Highly recommended.

Review: The Sultan of the Clouds

Continuing on my Hugo Voting Package, next up is The Sultan of the Clouds. Geoffrey Landis is an honest to goodness scientist, and he gets all the science rights in this one. How would you construct a city in Venus, the "hell planet"? Could you terraform Venus? What would be the result? Landis answers all these questions in this novella while giving us an interesting society.

The big science fiction tropes here are cloud cities, sky pilots, and a damsel in distress. The story left me wanting more, and in a good way. Recommended. (The link points you to a free PDF, kindly posted by Asimov's Science Fiction)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Troika

I'm slowly working through the Hugo Voting packet. Alastair Reynold's Troika was next in the pipe. If you've read any of Reynold's previous stories you'll be impressed. (I recommend starting with Revelation Space)

Troika is set in a fictional Soviet Union, one very different from the one which we know now. An obviously alien object has been injected into the solar system on a wildly eccentric orbit, and a manned expedition has been sent to explore and investigate it. The results of the expedition sends one of the cosmonauts mad, and we see another one escape to try to tell his story to a dis-credited astronomer.

The plot and story is interesting, but the characters are not, and the conclusion feels empty. Upon noting that the piece first showed up in Godlike Machines, I realize that the problem is that Reynolds was writing to spec. Definitely not one of his best works. Not recommended.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review: The Lifecycle of Software Objects

I don't usually review works shorter than a novel, but this year's Hugo voting package included Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects. I reviewed Chiang's earlier collection Stories of your life and raved about it.

The novella is about digital entities (digents). It details a startup's creations of them as pets (tomagochis), the relationships between the trainers, the pets, and each other, and the eventually failure of the host companies and what happens to the digents.

This is a Ted Chiang story, so all the angles behind the technology are well thought out. The technology involved, the use of open source technology to help speed up adoption and development are all there. There's a very mild romance that leads nowhere (come to think of it, Chiang's stories rarely have any romance at all), but for me, the ending kind of falls flat. You expect a climax and resolution but instead you get a fade-away.

Nevertheless, even medicore Ted Chiang is still very good fiction, so I'll recommend this novella.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Something Ventured

I got a chance to see Something Ventured as part of UC Berkeley's alumni events. It's a movie about the early days of the venture capital industry. One of the executive producers was Paul Holland, who was at Pure Software the same time I was and then became a venture capitalist.

Part of the story is well known to many: the defection of the traitorous eight from Shockley Labs (because Shockley was hell to work for), and then the start of Intel when Bob Noyce was denied his promotion by Fairchild Semiconductor. When I tell entrepreneurs that they should strive for a culture that promotes from within, I often remind them that their engineers do have a choice to work for other companies or start their own thing, and denying good people promotion opportunities is a good way to create highly motivated competitors, and lose good engineers. This movie shows how that was a driver even in the early days of Silicon Valley.

The stars of the show are of course the venture capitalists. The producers and directors had access to legendary VCs: Don Valentine, Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins, and some legends of the early days of Silicon Valley, Mike Markula, who was Apple's second CEO, Noland Bushnell co-founder of Atari. The most poignant story came from Sandy Lerner, who was pushed out of the company she co-founded, Cisco. The movie shows the story from both Lerner's side and from the perspective of the VCs, and entrepreneurs should definitely find a way to see this movie to see why Facebook, for instance, was structured the way it is.

Holland says that he had this movie made as an archive of what it was like in the early days of venture capital, and to a large extent it has succeeded. It's definitely made the multi-billionaires accessible and personal in a way no other history of the valley has done. Holland points out that this movie has been very well received largely because unlike other documentaries of the current era, you're unlikely to walk out of the movie pissed off and ready to fight "the man."

The movie is unlikely to open at a movie theater near you, but since Holland knows Reed Hastings of Netflix, you're likely to be able to put it on your Netflix queue in the near future. I recommend that you do so if you have any interest in Silicon Valley history.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Backup/Restore Nightmare

Ok, we've established that Solid State Drives fail frequently. But the computer now feels slow without solid state drives, so now we have to learn how to deal with it. Fortunately, unless you're Google, you can't afford terabytes of SSD storage anyway, so all you have is your OS and your key applications.

On my desktop, I have a 1.5TB data drive, and attached to that a 1.5TB external USB drive to store image backups. Backups go to the external drive every night using the Image Backup Utility. When my OCZ Vertex failed, I restored from this to my old Western Digital 500GB drive just fine. It worked like a champ with one glitch: rather than restoring to the full 500GB partition, it restored to a 107GB partition, just as though I was on my SSD. At first I didn't like it and then I realized that this was pretty smart: it ensures that I can restore to the 107GB SSD when it comes back from RMA.

OK, so the RMA returns, and I install it onto my PC. I insert the Windows Recovery Disk, I try a restore from image and I get an error code (0x80042412) with 4 suggestions as to what could be wrong, including a reference to the Windows Recovery Environment. After trying everything to no avail, I finally google the error code and discover that it's because I'm restoring to a 120GB disk from a 500GB disk, even though the 500GB disk had only a 100GB partition.

Fortunately, Microsoft did the right thing and let me rollback the image back to the night before the OCZ Vertex crashed, which meant that I could restore my state roughly to where I was 10 days ago. But what about my saved data files? Never mind, I still have the 500GB Western Digital, so I cannibalized my external USB enclosure and stuck it in. Guess what, Windows takes the disk offline because it matches the diskid on my C drive!

I dig into the Windows DiskPart utility and learn to online the disk. Then I bring back that drive online and can copy my data over. The entire process took well over 3-4 hours, and I'm going to recharge my power screwdriver from all the use screwing and unscrewing hard drive screws.

My brother claims that Symantec Norton Ghost 15.0 (1 PC) will do the right thing and let me restore to a smaller drive from a bigger one, so the next time my OCZ Vertex dies, that's what I'll do.

Definitely not something I planned to do this afternoon!

Review: OCZ Vertex 2 SSD

Roberto Peon and Pengtoh had both raved about their SSDs, so when a good deal came up on the OCZ Technology 120 GB Vertex 2 Series SATA II 3.5-Inch Solid State Drive (SSD) OCZSSD3-2VTX120G, I jumped on it. 120GB is enough to install most programs, and still have enough space for the occasional video game, as long as you don't try to get more than one or two big games installed at a time.

The machine, once everything was installed boots fast. 20s boot times were not uncommon, and once you logged in, the browser would just open up in a snap. I didn't realize how quickly I'd gotten used to how fast it booted until my SSD failed last week! Fortunately, I had weekly image backups on Windows on Sundays, and the machine crashed on Monday morning. The image restore went smoothly, unfortunately, the Dropbox process got confused between drive reassignments and duplicated everything I had on Dropbox. I'm untangling the results from that disaster. Needless to say, I cannot recommend Dropbox as a back up solution since if you screw something up on one machine, you get screwed everywhere. Fortunately, Dropbox does let you retrieve previous versions of a file.

Once I figured out that it was my SSD that was having the problem, I went through OCZ's RMA process. What a disaster. It took two days for OCZ to get back to me with an RMA number. Then it took a day for them to receive the disk. Then another 2 days for them to ship me one, and I finally got my new disk back today. Installing the replacement SSD was problematic, since it shipped unformatted. As a result, I've had to make a new windows install, and then recover that way.

The net net: it took 10 days, but my machine is finally fast again. Would I do the SSD upgrade? Yes. Would I buy the same SSD? No. I'm more likely to get an Intel 320 Series 120 GB SATA 3.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid-State Drive - Retail Box SSDSA2CW120G3B5 for my laptop. My experience with OCZ has definitely soured me on any more of their products, benchmarks not withstanding.

Review: Pegasus

I rarely write negative reviews of books because I usually give up reading them before getting to the end. Unfortunately, Pegasus is one of the ones that fooled me into thinking there might be something worth reading. I remember liking previous McKinley novels such as The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

Pegasus is ostensibly a story about a girl and her horse. Uh, Pegasus. Pegasi are an intelligent group of beings that have formed an alliance with the humans against incursions of more belligerent creatures. Traditionally, the rulers of both races have been bonded at a young age as one of the terms of the alliance. Sylvi, the heroine of the story, however, finds that at her bonding she can actually talk to her Pegasus. This is unprecedented and leads to her visiting the Pegasi in their homeland, despite opposition from the magicians who fear that their prior jobs of interpretation between the two races will be at risk.

That's it. That's the entire plot. Nothing happens while all this exposition takes place. Worse, the story ends at a cliffhanger as the real story begins. Why all this couldn't be summarized in a prologue I don't understand. The positive reviews on Amazon discuss the world-building, but I don't see any world-building in the story: there's no ecology of the pegasi, since if they were on the verge of being driven extinct how could they have existed in the first place? Most of what we see has to be taken on faith. We don't even see why there's a dependence between humans and Pegasi.

All in all, I wrote this review to warn you away from reading this book. Highly not recommended.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Culture

I recently ran across a couple of articles about Google. The first was an interview with one of Jaiku's co-founders. The second was an assertion that Google needs to hire people other than engineers. Then there's the common assertion that big companies (such as Google) don't innovate enough, and finally there's the phenomenon that I've always wondered about, which was that Microsoft at its height of influence had the entire valley in fear, while startups in the valley today (and elsewhere) seem to thumb their noses at Google with impunity. One startup I talked to said to me, "Google is incapable of moving fast enough to compete with us even if they wanted to." In this blog post, I'm going to attempt to tie together all of these threads and make them coherent. Feedback, of course is always welcome.

First, it's a myth that big companies do not innovate. One of my favorite books on the topic, How the Mighty Fall, shows that even failing large companies throw more money at innovation, not less. Google's continuing to innovate on multiple fronts in distributed computing, self-driving cars, image processing, and countless other areas that has computer science faculty leaving their tenured jobs to join Google. In fact, if there's one thing that Google is really good at, it's the ability to bring computer science research from academia and make it real in products for millions of people. Google voice actions, for instance, required gobs of data, statistical machine learning, and fast servers to do what it does. The need to do so is now driving Apple to build large data centers despite Apple's notable failure at network and cloud computing. This is an area that Google has a decisive advantage and it must drive Apple nuts. Similarly, Google navigation on the phone requires a huge investment in cars that can crawl the world's streets and send back imagery and image data, coupled with investments in smart routing algorithms, not to mention the ability to stitch together all that data and turn it into maps. I have no doubt that further innovation on the front of real time data processing will enable Google to stay way ahead of the competition.

Then where does Google fail? I think it's not instructive to look at outright failures here, but to look at how Google's approach is completely different from the competition. The most popular feature of Facebook is photos. If you think about Facebook as a photo site with a few other features I think you'll not be far wrong. Why is Facebook photos so popular? It's got crap resolution, not that great a user interface, and is uninteresting. The answer as detailed in The Facebook Effect is tagging. If you look at the act of tagging, there's no real computer science involved: the amount of image processing required is minimal, since the user is the one providing the information about where the faces are. The Google answer here is to spend millions acquiring Neven Vision and then to integrate it into PicasaWeb and Picasa. Not only was this expensive and late (as compared to merely copying Facebook's hacky Face tagging feature), it proved to be nearly useless. Early versions confused people's faces enough that you couldn't trust it to run without a verification (even Google today doesn't let you do this). Further more, the "tagging" didn't copying another important Facebook feature: that of notifying your friends that they were tagged in a photo. Since all that data is locked away in the privacy of one person's account, you couldn't share, improve, and get better. And nobody used the feature. Here's the thing: the guy who did the tagging feature at Facebook probably got lots of recognition for it. Even if some smart engineer decided to simply copy Facebook's feature at Google, it would be very likely that he would be blocked at launch, or that he would simply not be recognized for doing this important work! The concept that a smart hack could be far more important than a computer science breakthrough does not exist at Google!

Once you realize this, several things fall into place. For instance, it explains why PicasaWeb's storage pricing in the early days was insane (it was something like $20 for 6GB per year). While sites like SmugMug, etc., could help defray storage costs by selling photos and revenue sharing with users, copying that feature would not have been an important computer science breakthrough, so Google never did it. While other sites made photographers happy by allowing them to change the background of their photos, Google never did it --- you wouldn't get recognized for doing this. Letting Picasa do something easily useful like stitching together photos automatically wasn't important, because that was a solved problem. This explains why gtags is still a 20% project despite a large number of engineers inside Google depending on it for productivity --- there's insufficient computer science content there for it to get engineers behind it. An alternative project with much more computer science content (and requiring correspondingly much greater resources) was funded and staffed instead.

Orkut, for instance, never got sufficient engineering resources behind the property despite the founders clearly saying that it was an important product for similar reasons. And of course, startups thumb their nose at Google because while most startups do not have the resources to put together GFS, Bigtable, or a major computer science breakthrough, they mostly have no problem coming up with and implementing great applications such as FourSquare (no computer science there), Farmville, or even finding alternate revenue sources for their great photo site. Google, by contrast, isn't hungry enough for that, and at this point, even if Larry Page wanted to change Google's culture to make it capable of recognizing such contributions as being important, there would be too much resistance from the upper ranks of the engineering organization that he probably could not make it happen.

This shows how important corporate culture is to the kind of projects Google should and should not undertake, and my guess is this is why Paul Buchheit made the statement that Google will land on the moon before it beats Facebook. Google certainly has all the engineering and product capability to do social products. Its missing the cultural capability, and that's what matters in this race.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Review: Pump Six and Other Stories

Pump Six and Other Stories is Paolo Bacigalupi's collection of short stories. You can buy a DRM-free ebook version from Baen's Webscription website. I reviewed Bacigalupi's novel The Windup Girl last year, just before it won the Nebula Award for best novel of the year.

The stories in this collection are varied: two of them, The Calorie Man and Yellow Card Man come from the same world as The Windup Girl. Many of the stories are dystopian, covering mankind's recovery from or descent into a darker age, with either technology being lost, or being slowly doled back to humanity as it "matures." Conflicts over water, food, and loss of knowledge are common themes. No stories come from the "space flight meet aliens" genre of science fiction.

One unusual story, The People of Sand and Slag, depicts a world of nano-technology made real, where humanity gains freedom from the ecosystem and body plans the evolution provided us. The result is not pretty, and in this case I think Bacigalupi's vision is too pessimistic (something that's an unusual accusation from me!). The title story, Pump Six by contrast drags us into a world very similar to that of Idiocracy, where giant sewer systems built by corporations of years past can no longer be repaired because such corporations built themselves out of business. As someone very familiar with bit-rot, I can assure you that we are not at risk of something like this ever happening.

Two stories cover the nature of childbirth. Pop Squad postulates that in a world of immortality, the only way to prevent overpopulation would be to tie the immortality to sterility. The consequences as depicted in the story seems false though. Small Offerings takes us into a world in which environmental toxins are so rampant that unusual measures have to be taken for normal reproduction.

There's only one story that's not science fiction. Softer is a character study about a murderer about to turn into a serial killer. It's also by far the weakest story of the collection.

All the stories are well written with good characters, though as pointed out above, the postulates are sometimes suspect, and perhaps the consequences as well. As with The Windup Girl, use of non-English languages, etc., is done to perfection. All in all, while not as good a read as The Windup Girl, this collection is still recommended.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Review: Nurture Shock

Someone suggested that I read NurtureShock after reading my review of Brain Rules for Baby. Coming in right after Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, this turned out to be excellent timing.

For instance, if you read Quora or other internet forums, it's filled with whining about being raised in such a hot house environment. The section on Praise explains why (contrary to the whiners) Asia isn't filled with suicidal overachievers:
the moms were told their child's actual raw score and were told a lie---that this score represented a below average result... The American mothers carefully avoided making negative comments. They remained fairly upbeat and positive with their child. The majority of the minutese weree spent talking about something other than the testing at hand, such as what they might have for dinner. But the Chinese children were likely to hear, "You didn't concentrate when doing it," and "Let's look over your test." The majority of the break was spent discussing the test and its importance. After the break, the Chinese kids' scores on the second test jumped 33 percent, more than twice the gain of the Americans. The trade-off here would seem to be that Chinese mothers acted harsh or cruel... While their words were firm, the Chinese mothers actually smiled and hugged their children every bit as much as the American mothers (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices).
(Chua, in her book leaves out any reference to this literature.)
What about Chua's strict rules, like no sleepovers, etc? Bronson and Merryman dig a little further, and finds a couple of researchers, Drs. Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell. Surprisingly enough, permissive parenting is actually less effective than strict, disciplinarian parenting.
Darling found that permissive parents don't actually learn more about their child's lives. "Kids who go wild and get in trouble mostly have parents who don't set rules or standards. Their parents are loving and accepting no matter what the kids do. But the kids take the lack of a rules as a sign their parents don't actually care---that their parent doesn't really want this job of being the parent."l... Pushing a teen into rebellion by having too many rules was a sort of statistical myth.
As with Brain Rules, the book's peppered with references to actual research and real studies about what's going on. A lot of it is counter intuitive. For instance, the section on childhood obesity pins the phenomenon neither on food/nutrition or exercise. The section on teaching self-control covers Tools of the Mind, a fascinating program for kids to gain control over their cognitive abilities, leading to incredible improvements in behavior as well as performance in school. Other chapters cover racism, lying, and IQ testing and its failures. One busts the stereotype that only childs are less socially capable than children with siblings. The book rounds off with research on how to speed up language skills in infants.

This is all fascinating stuff, and much of it is actionable. I consider it a good companion to Brain Rules, and a great follow up to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

After all that mess in the media about The Tiger Mom Controversy, I didn't expect Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to be fun to read but it was a lot of fun. Chua can definitely write with sarcasm and wit, and some of her antics as a mother are to be read to be believed.

Funny thing is, while I agree with her stance on discipline and learning (Western-style education, for instance, is not very good at getting good enough at basic skills so that higher level skills can build upon them), I'm the kind of person who finds classical music pretentious and silly, so I find it amusing that she would devote so much of her energy (and her daughters' energies) to classical music and then call it "traditional", given that none of her choices of instruments would ever be a traditional Chinese instrument. She even discusses her distaste for Chinese musical traditions in the book! Then, even though she only speaks Fujian (she calls it Hokkien, because she doesn't even know Mandarin, let alone pinyin), she has her daughters learn Mandarin while celebrating their Jewish heritages with Bar Mitzahs.

One particularly poignant story has her rejecting her daughters' birthday cards as not being well made enough. She definitely sent her message to her daughters on that one, but I'm not sure it reflects a lot of self-awareness as a person.

I am amazed by the amount of energy Chua has in bringing up her children. She has two daughters practicing 2-3 hours of music a day, in addition to scoring straight As. She stays on top of everything, and does an insane amount of driving and spends huge amounts of money on lessons, travel, and so on and so forth. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have the energy to do so.

Irregardless, I think the book was light fun reading and very entertaining. Chua's generated a lot of controversy out of the book, and claims she was misquoted (I don't think so, by the way), but as long as you have a sense of humor and an active sarcasm detector when you read this book, you'll find it enjoyable. Recommended as light airplane reading.

Mt Tam Wilflower Hike

 
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Yoyo Zhou, Tracy Ng, and I got to the Mountain Inn trailhead at 8:40am, and got started almost right away on the hike. The goal for me was to do an extra long hike on what was promised to be a beautiful spring day, 80F weather, and long clear views. Those clear views became apparent almost right away.
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

The hope was to see some Spring wildflowers. I don't know if we were too early or too late, but the hoped for wild expanses of flowers along hillsides did not materialize. We did see lots of flowers here and there in the shade and in the trees though.
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

The hope was to do the entirety of the Dipsea trail, but because of the heavy rains, mudslides had washed out part of the trail, and wiped out an entire bridge, forcing us to detour alongside a road in places, which did not look like it was in any better a shape.
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

I had not done the southern section of the Dipsea trail before, and I'm glad I finally got around to it. We had glorious views of San Francisco and the Environment:
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

Finally, as we approached Stintson beach, we got fields of poppies and wildflowers as promised.
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

Returning via the Matt Davis trail, we got shaded hiking through most of the climb, and then emerged into the hills once again for long views of the bay, and a couple of rangers toting a chainsaw:
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

The southern portion of the Matt Davis trail yielded beautiful views of Oakland, Angel Island, and Treasure Island. I'd never seen this section either, and the number of sailboats dotting the Bay gladdened my heart.
From Mt Tam State Park May 2011

By the time we got back to the car, my Garmin read 15.9miles while Yoyo's read 16.1 miles. I had auto-stop on and he didn't, and I think that made the difference. A gorgeous hike with the same amount of distance as half dome and slightly less elevation gain but much better scenery. Highly recommended.