Seeing our Solar System to scale

This wonderful video beautifully illustrates the magnitude of our Solar System on a smaller scale in the middle of a dry lakebed in Nevada. Too bad they did not include Pluto. A film by Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh.


Inspiring Architecture Offices

This is what I hope to achieve one day… to have a beautiful live/work space where there is plenty of natural lighting and where you feel like you are connected to nature. I would love to revisit and possibly do a project in the UK, Switzerland, Austria, and closer to home, Squaw Valley and Los Angeles.

07 HAUS ZUMTHOR 2I 01(above) Atelier Zumthor  Chur, Switzerland

e264eb42729f7460bc4fd04ece18310a 2a86bbd97086fbce3d276a735314fdc8(above) Nicolas Tye Architects  Bedford, UK

0d0ae75e0fa45b9559f8bb7e8a3a5690 10-RubioAve_1000(above) Rick Joy Architects  Tucson, AZ

06mk27 21mkstudio(above) mk27 studio  Sao Paulo, Brazil

11mkstudio 28mkstudio(above) mk27 studio  Sao Paulo, Brazil

image(above) I have always dreamed of occupying the second level of this Georgian Colonial brick building on Burlingame Avenue.

A Classic

Well written by someone who greatly appreciates the designs of classic sports cars.

At Home & Afield


When you climb into the driver seat of a Porsche 356 from the early 1960’s, you are not greeted by the smell of supple leather or the feel of lush carpet beneath your shoes but, instead, an overwhelming smell of fuel, burnt oil and crumbling horse hair. A steel steering wheel, cold to the touch, necessitates the use of leather driving gloves—not as some “stylish” accessory but as the only means of maintaining a grip on the slick painted surface under spirited driving. A chromed handle on the right side of the dash is the only place for a passenger to hold on for dear life while flying around the winding corners.

6 1961 Porsche 356. Track day at Harris Hill. Photo by author.

The interior is spartan and with minimal creature comforts, save for the chrome plated ashtray and optional Blaupunkt radio. This sports car, like many others from its…

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Pluto is a planet again

The New Horizons space probe, which launched on January 19, 2006 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, has been traveling at a rate of 36,373 mph towards Pluto. New Horizons reached its closest approach to Jupiter on February 28, 2007 when it was about 1.4 million miles away. The flyby helped launch the space probe’s speed by 9,000 mph, thereby accelerating the probe to a velocity of 51,000 mph and shortening the journey to Pluto by three years. These calculations by Alan Stern, a former NASA Associate Administrator, and his New Horizons team had to be precise with very little margin for error in order to achieve this goal. On July 14, 2015, New Horizons reached the first close-up flyby of this “dwarf planet” in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. Downgraded to a “dwarf planet” in August 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Pluto has attracted much attention recently as New Horizons began sending highly detailed images of its icy mountains back to Earth. This suggests that Pluto is made up of differentiated geological layers; a rocky core that is covered up by a mantle of ice. In addition, the planet is orbited by five moons and a thin atmosphere, unlike a majority of the Kuiper belt objects, which are mostly rocks and ice balls.


To get a sense of the scale and distance between Earth and Pluto, the latter is about 2.66 billion miles away from the former. If the Earth is a size of a basketball, then Pluto (1,430 miles in diameter- roughly the size of the United States from the Canadian border to Mexico border) would be equivalent to a golf ball (1.68 inches in diameter). At that reduced scale, the basketball and the golf bar would be approximately 50 miles apart. If time is constant with the nine year journey of New Horizons between Earth and Pluto, then a microscopic space probe leaving the basketball would have to travel approximately 5/8″ per minute for nine years until it reaches the golf ball 50 miles away, assuming that there is no air resistance.

Venus and Jupiter conjunction

Tomorrow on June 30, 2015 at approximately 2:17 pm Universal Time (7:17 am PT), we will witness a celestial event in which Venus and Jupiter will come closest to one another as the two planets race around the Sun. This can be visible from just about anywhere in the world. Although it is most optimal to view this phenomenon in complete darkness, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Just try to observe it after sunset. According to astronomers, the two planets will come close to less than half a degree. So close that observers can cover both planets with their pinky finger held at arm’s length. IMG_9595Distant view of Jupiter (left) and Venus (right) on June 29, 2015 from our house. IMG_9601 I used the GoSkyWatch app to track the location of both Venus and Jupiter. The yellow diagonal line represents the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth’s revolution about the Sun). Notice that this photo was taken at 9:19 pm. If you look for the two planets an hour or two later, the two planets along with the constellation of Leo (the lion) would have disappeared behind the western horizon. We must keep in mind as we look at the names of the zodiac constellations that at any given time of the year, our Sun is actually in between the Earth and one of these constellations. For example, if you were born in late April to mid May, you wouldn’t be able to see your zodiac constellation of Taurus (the bull) at night, but instead it becomes a daytime constellation, which makes it impossible to see! IMG_9600The reason Venus will appear brighter even though it is 1/10 the size of Jupiter, is because it is covered with reflective white clouds, and it is only 56 million miles (90 million kilometers) from Earth. Jupiter is over 10 times farther at some 550 million miles (890 million kilometers). Just think that there is an empty space of 500 million miles between the two planets but it’s easier to visualize this when we look at a simulated orbital view of our solar system. Unlike solar and lunar eclipses, conjunctions are not as rare but they are still spectacular nonetheless. Tomorrow’s conjunction will not be as tight as the one that took place on August 18, 2014, and will be even further apart at their next encounter on October 26th. Jupiter travels around the sun at around 8 miles a second (28,800 mph) while Venus is blazing by at 22 miles a second (79,200 mph) catching up with Jupiter. In other words, it would take Venus only 225 Earth days to make one revolution around the Sun while 11.86 Earth years for Jupiter!


In this simulated orbital view, all the planets are orbiting around the Sun in a counter-clockwise direction due to the initial conditions in the cloud of gas and dust when our Solar System was formed. As Venus orbits around the Sun at a velocity of nearly 80,000 mph, it seems to catch up with Jupiter when viewed from our planet.

Google Street View Reaches New Heights

Ever wonder what it would be like to free-climb the Dawn Wall on El Capitan, a vertical sea of smooth granite that rises 3,000 feet from the Yosemite Valley floor? Now you can, well virtually. Google Maps has taken its Street View technology vertically by stitching 360-degree photos of the face of El Capitan from various spots along the infamous Nose Route. You can virtually pull yourself up or rappel down a city block one click at a time, and look all around you- seeing Yosemite Valley below or Half Dome and the other granite monoliths in the distance or staring closely at the surface and cracks of the wall itself. Watch as legendary climbers Lynn Hill, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell scale the sheer vertical face of the Dawn Wall, which many consider to be the most difficult free-climb in the world.

Check out the interactive 3-D model of the Dawn Wall:

Movie Homes from the 80s & 90s

I don’t know what it is but I have always been fascinated by the film locations of movie homes, particularly the ones from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, and Father of the Bride. Aside from the fact that these homes are traditional in appearance with their symmetrical windows and painted wood shutters and a stately portico out front, these houses have come to symbolize the American dream of living in a picturesque, quiet, suburban neighborhood with tree-lined streets and white picket fences. Although the setting for both Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone take place in and around Chicago, the iconic 2-story 93-year-old brick Colonial belonging to the McCallister family was actually filmed in Winnetka, a wealthy suburb 16 miles north of downtown Chicago.

11507350366_d3c87b95f9_b Home-Alone-Home-Coldwell-Banker 9a0240ca5a5560a8d71e623670c17f17 Home-Alone-house-today-foyerThe Home Alone House during filming (left) and what it looks like today (right).

20626292 Ferris_Bueller_house_southeast_viewFerris Bueller’s home during filming (left) is actually located in Los Cerritos, a neighborhood in Long Beach. The house hasn’t changed much except the window shutters are now blue and that some of the trees have been trimmed. The residence of Ferris’s best friend, Cameron Frye, was shot in in the suburban community of Highland Park, IL. The house was designed in 1953 by A. James Speyer, a student of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, for textile artist Ben Rose. Twenty years later, Speyer’s protege designed a glass pavilion nearby, which was made famous by the Ferrari crash scene in the movie. The 4-bedroom, 4 bath house is perched like a tree house on a 3/4 acre wooded lot, and is thankfully protected from demolition by the town’s landmarks ordinance. Note the direct contrast between the colonial revival house and the mid-century steel and glass house, and the opposite personalities of the rule-breaking, overly optimistic Ferris and the introverted and neurotic Cameron. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone were written (and directed) by the successful director, producer, screenwriter and Michigan native, John Hughes, who sadly died of a heart attack on August 6, 2009 in New York City. Fellow director Chris Columbus directed the latter film.

ferris-bueller-house-for-sale-cameron-12 article-0-1BB1838300000578-733_638x414The Ben Rose House and Pavilion during filming (left) and present day (right).

In the 1991 remake of Father of the Bride, who could forget that memorable scene when Steve Martin’s character George Banks happily pulled up the driveway in his black Austin-Healey 3000 after hearing that his 22-year-old daughter Annie just returned from Europe? From the wide shot of their lovely tree-lined avenue, the camera pans over to their ivy-covered, white colonial revival with Annie’s theme from Alan Silvestri’s original score. This is probably one of my favorite houses shot on film, aside from the Villa Von Trapp, which was filmed in two different locations in Salzburg for the movie The Sound of Music.

832 s el molinofatherofthebrideThe Father of the Bride house was actually shot in South Pasadena, but the story takes place in the beautiful little town of San Marino. If you pay close attention to the film, there was another house that was used to capture the outdoor basketball scene between George and Annie on the night before her wedding.

father-of-the-bride-house-basketball-hoop-night article-2006316-0CAA2DC300000578-29_634x326

La Sagrada Familia

“There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated”. – Antoni Gaudi

I recently watched Sagrada, an intriguing documentary on Netflix directed by Stefan Haupt, about architect Antoni Gaudi and his magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia (or Holy Family) Roman Catholic church in Barcelona. It began construction with its apse crypt in 1882 by architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano. However, due to disagreements with the promoters of the project, Villar resigned and in 1883, the 30-year old Catalan architect Gaudi, relatively unknown at the time, continued on the work until the crypt was finished. He then proposed a radically new and grander vision based on the curvilinear Art Nouveau style, which is influenced by natural forms and organic structures. It is said that Gaudi was inspired by the finger-shaped rock formations in the mountains of nearby Montserrat. The church, which was consecrated on November 7, 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is estimated to be completed in 2026.

sagrada-familia-11_march-2009(above) Interior of the nave

The documentary covers in-depth interviews with the living relatives of assistants and workers who knew Gaudi. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the church construction came to an abrupt halt and merely all the written documents were destroyed, including many of Gaudi’s plaster models that were used during construction. Due to the lack of construction funds, he went from door to door asking for alms and donations. In his later years, Gaudi dressed simply, ate frugally, and neglected his appearance that he was sometimes mistaken for a beggar. The architect spent the remainder of his life dedicated to the building of this church until his death at age 73. He was struck by a tram and lost consciousness. Assumed to be a beggar, he did not receive immediate care until a policeman brought him to a hospital by taxi. By then, it was too late. His funeral procession was followed by thousands of mourners lining the streets of Barcelona to the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia where his body was laid to rest.

Sagrada_Familia_nativity_facade_detail2 es_20071227_1_5034529_captured(left) Sculptures from the Nativity Facade were the first facade to be completed between 1894 and 1930. These are more characteristic of Gaudi’s naturalistic and ornate style, depicting scenes and images from nature. (Right) In contrast, the angular sculptures from the Passion Facade, which began in 1954 following Gaudi’s instructions for future architects and sculptors, depict the suffering of Christ during his crucifixion and the portrayal of man’s sins. The facade is austere and plain with an emphasis on harsh straight lines to highlight the severity and brutality of Jesus’ sacrifice. Josep Maria Subirachs, a Spanish sculptor and painter was hired to lead a team of sculptors to carry out the work, which was often met with harsh criticism for breaking away from Gaudi’s style, and yet it has also been praised by many people including architect Jordi Bonet i Armengol, the son of Gaudi’s architect disciple Lluis Bonet Gari.

Gaudi was nicknamed ‘God’s architect’ when he was remembered for saying, “My client is not in a hurry,” referring to God, whose work should not be rushed. Whereas most architects are possessed by the need to create, Gaudi believed that “only God creates,” and “… man does not create… he discovers. Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator. Copiers do not collaborate. Because of this, originality consists in returning to the origin.”

His philosophy had a profound impact on admirers like Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese sculptor who visited Barcelona in 1978 and became strongly influenced by Gaudi’s work and later converted from Buddhism to Catholicism. In one interview, Sotoo stated:

“I tried to look like Gaudi, this direction, nature. This time, Gaudi entered my heart. And I entered the same. This is very simple: Gaudi is a christian. Okay, (that’s what) I have to do. I am a Christian. Same place, same place as Gaudi. And you have to do the same as Gaudi. Not LIKE Gaudi. And LOOK to Gaudi, no. You have to do the same as Gaudi.”

Model-La-Sagrada-Familia-Museum-Spain(above) Model of La Sagrada Familia

A Few Of My Favorite Things

“At last the lake burst upon us–a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft three thousand feet higher still! As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords.” – Mark Twain

Lake Tahoe has been a frequent vacation spot for us since my wife and I spent our fourth of July weekend there in 2005. We have been going there at least once every two years ever since. Like most people who visit this natural wonder, we are drawn to the beautiful, turquoise waters of Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor, and especially the alpine scenery of Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games.

My 8-year old daughter at the time was amazed at how the wide open pastures and the granite mountains of Squaw Valley remind her of the beautiful scenes from The Sound of Music. We have a fond connection with both this place and the film, and hopefully one day we will travel to Salzburg and see the Austrian Alps for ourselves.

IMG_9126(above) Squaw Valley

Day 1

We spent this past weekend at Squaw with our good friends from LA. Now at age 9, my daughter enjoyed the trip this time around even more, because her friends were there. We stayed at a 2-bedroom condo at the Squaw Valley Village where we were surrounded by the tram plaza below and distant views of Squaw Peak- nearly 2,700 feet above the valley floor (8,900′ above sea level). It was their first time visiting Squaw Valley so we showed them around the village shops and restaurants as well as the beautifully located Squaw Creek Resort nearby.

11390355_10153072105116492_1597597638011852830_n IMG_9141(above) Living room inside a 2-bedroom condo at Squaw Valley Village

IMG_9160 IMG_9158(above) Squaw Creek Resort with 18-hole golf course

Day 2

The aerial tram tickets up to High Camp were so expensive that we opted to hike up Shirley Canyon trail instead. Granted our friends would be missing out on their first-time experience of the aerial tram, we decided that we would reward ourselves with the beautiful views of the valley below and enjoy the roaring waterfalls along the trail. We hiked up to a series of flat, granite plateaus at the edge of the waterfall and plunged our feet into the icy, cold water. In a time when we are constantly checking our emails, seeing the latest updates on Facebook and Twitter, etc., it was nice not to pull out our iPhones and Androids except only to take photos and videos of what was going on around us. My daughter and her friends ambled cautiously over the rocks by the rushing stream to observe water bugs and tadpoles while the rest of us laid down on the hard granite rock and soaked in the view from afar. As we were drying off our feet, I was looking up at all the conifer trees around us and thought about how humans have only been around for a blip in time when compared to the lifespan of giant Redwoods and Sequoias. Imagine how long ago it was when the first streams fed through this canyon, carving away granite boulders, twisting and turning their way down to Squaw Creek, and then connecting with Truckee River, the only outlet of Lake Tahoe, and eventually emptying into Pyramid Lake in the Great Basin of Nevada.

IMG_9177 IMG_9195(above) Little explorers making their way up to Shirley Canyon Falls

Many years ago, I was surprised to find out some interesting facts about Lake Tahoe. It is the second deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1,645 feet. It has about 72 miles of coastline with a distance of 22 miles long at its longest and 12 miles across at its widest, nearly the same size of the SF Bay. Interestingly, there are 63 tributaries that feed into the 39 trillion gallon lake and only one outlet as previously mentioned. If the lake was drained entirely, it would take 700 years to fill it up with precipitation, runoff and snow melt. Even more interesting, if the lake was drained into an area the size of California, the water would be 14″ deep!

sfbayarea lake tahoe map overlay

We continued up the trail, despite some resignation from the little ones, but they trudged onward with the expectation of ice cream later. Surprisingly, that wasn’t their only motivation. As we climbed out of the forest, we could see the mountain before us. They scrambled up the steep, rocky slope while we picked up the pace to catch up with them. It was not too long before one of them gave up and broke down in tears when she lost her footing and scraped her leg. Thankfully, it wasn’t serious and I realize now that we should have turned around sooner. Nonetheless, we are so proud of them for having made the 3 1/2 mile long trek.

IMG_9203(above) Off the beaten path

That evening, we ate dinner at the picturesque Sunnyside Restaurant on the lake in Tahoe City. The sun was setting and the sky had a purplish tinge. Two of the memorable dishes were the Durham Ranch Elk Strip Loin served with potato rosemary gratin, arugula, Sonoma goat cheese, hazelnuts, and cherry compote, and the Seared Nantucket Scallops with roasted lobster, sun chokes, ruby grapefruit, pomegranate, and passion fruit butter sauce. It was the perfect setting to celebrate the end of our quick weekend getaway.

IMG_9216 IMG_9235(above) Seared Nantucket Scallops at Sunnyside Restaurant

Day 3

On our last day, we stopped at Donner Lake since the kids wanted to go fishing, or should I say, attempt fishing. Despite the wind and the cold, we did enjoy the scenery, and the sun managed to peek out from behind the clouds. But between the wind and the lack of patience, we decided it was time to head back home. When we did get back, my daughter felt a little nostalgic, because the trip went by so quickly. She missed her friends as well as our home away from home.

IMG_9246 IMG_9248(above) Donner Lake

Map overlays

Ever since I was a kid, I have always had a great interest in geography, whether it be a map of the United States or California or the entire island of Manhattan. I don’t know if this attributed in any way to my better than average sense of direction, but either way, I remember poring over books and maps, studying locations of famous landmarks and trying to relate to the distances between one city to the next. I even fancied the thought of becoming a cartographer.

A couple years ago, I created a map overlay of Manhattan and the San Francisco Bay Area. I was curious to see how big the Big Apple really is compared to the City by the Bay. I went onto Google Maps and downloaded a map of each city and its surrounding metropolitan areas and then scaled them proportionally to one another while centering the map of New York City somewhere in the middle of the SF Bay. I outlined the island of Manhattan using Photoshop while inverting the rest of the layer so that it almost looked like an X-ray scan. If you were to align the tip of Harlem with the Presidio, the length of Manhattan would stretch all the way down to SFO International Airport.


I did another map overlay of Central Park and Golden Gate Park, and to my surprise, the width of both parks are nearly the same, but the latter is longer by 10 blocks running east-west. I rotated the map of Central Park so that its north-south axis is aligned with the east-west orientation of Golden Gate Park. Regardless of size, I will always have a fond connection with Central Park despite having grown up in the Bay Area, but that’s another story.


A few weeks ago, I came across a website titled ‘Manhattan Elsewhere’ and someone was thinking the same thing on the size comparison of Manhattan with San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, to name a few.


To see other comparisons of Manhattan, click on

I think that this fascination stems from the fact that I have dreams where I’m in the middle of Manhattan (or some version of it) and then I’m crossing a bridge or riding in a subway and then I end up in San Francisco or Hawaii or some distant location. I realize that each place that I visit in my dreams is recognizable although the locations and orientations of familiar landmarks and streets are distorted. My collection of conscious memories become distorted and inserted into a subconscious world. When the 1998 film noir Dark City, directed by Alex Proyas, came out in theaters, it reminded me of my dreams, minus the Orwellian depiction of urban repression, propaganda, denial of truth and mechanism.

If such technology exists, I often wondered if it is possible to record the places that we visit in our dreams. How real would it be if we were able to consciously watch our own dreams?