Use Your Smartphone to Swim Underwater With Bernal Author James Nestor


Through the miracle of modern media technology, you can go scuba diving with Ellert Street neighbor and celebrity journalist James Nestor as he dances with dolphins deep below the ocean surface. Right now.

Neighbor James is the author of Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, an acclaimed book about people who dive deep in the oceans without using external oxygen tanks. More recently, he wrote a beautiful article for the New York Times about what scientists are learning about how dolphins and whales communicate with one another. Now, as an added bonus, the Times has produced a stunning virtual-reality version of that story that lets you use you use your smartphone to experience what it’s like to explore a sunken ship and swim underwater with whales.

Neighbor James tells Bernalwood:

Since Deep came out, people keep asking me what it was like to have your body vibrated by the click vocalizations of sperm whales, the world’s largest predators. I’d usually offer up a few clumsy adjectives, then shake my head and say, “Oh, you just needed to be there.”

In November, the NYTimes approached me and director Sandy Smolan with the idea of developing a virtual-reality (VR) piece based on Deep, specifically focused around cetacean freediving research. “The Click Effect” is the result. We just premiered it at Tribeca Film Festival.

I’d never seen VR before working on this film. I suspect most VR will be used for video games and porn, but it’s also a cool way to bring people into a world they’ll never see to get face-to-face animals they may not have known existed.

VR really is the closest thing to freediving deep and communing with these majestic, watery beasts that I’ve seen. And the best part about it? You don’t even have to hold your breath.

Tongue-in-cheek comments aside, The Click effect really is an amazing thing to experience. It’s optimized for VR rigs like Google Cardboard, but it also works as a simple 360-degree video that you can watch and explore simply by moving your phone to look around. (Headphones strongly recommended!)  As an added bonus, Neighbor James makes a cameo in a wetsuit. Raaawr!

The Click Effect is available for iPhone or Android, and you can experience it by following the download links at the top or bottom of his article. Try it!

PHOTO: Screengrab of Neighbor James Nestor in The Click Effect. Raaawr!

Hundreds Gather on Bernal Hill to Watch Supermoon Eclipse, Have Close Encounter



At sunset last night, a massive crowd of hundreds of people gathered on Bernal Hill to watch a once-in-a-generation event: a supermoon lunar eclipse. PBS Newshour explained what the fuss was all about:

Sunday night, the sun, earth and a full moon will be in a straight line, making the moon, which is in its closing point of orbit, appear much brighter than usual. This phenomenon, referred to as “supermoon” total lunar eclipse, hasn’t happened in 33 years and won’t for another 18 years.

Basically, at the very moment when the moon’s orbit put it closest to Earth (making it a supermoon), the moon, Earth, and the sun were also arranged in a line (creating an eclipse). This gave the big moon a creepy red color, which is why lots of people also call this a “bloodmoon” (or, in the contemporary argot, #bloodmoon).

Like many others, Neighbor Susie was drawn to Bernal Hill to watch the spectacle, and she shared this photo of the scene:


Here’s a panorama perspective from Neighbor Art:


For all the celestial pilgrims who stuck around, it was well worth the wait. Neighbor Rusty shot this image from Holliday Street:


The super-duper blood moon was amazing. Yet later in the evening, things got even more intense. Here’s some EXCLUSIVE footage of what happened at Sutrito Tower shortly after the bloodmoon eclipse reached its apex:

UPPER PHOTOS: Top, supermoon, Sept 27, by Rusty Hodge. Middle, crowd on Bernal Hill by Fred Sharples. Bottom, supermoon over Bernal as seen from Billy Goat Hill, by Charlie.

Space Station Astronaut Captures View of Bernal Hill from Outer Space


Good morning, earthlings of Bernal Heights! Perhaps you saw that tweet from ISS astronaut Scott Kelley on Saturday morning? The one that had a remarkable image of San Francisco, as seen from the International Space Station?

If you saw the image, you were probably grateful for the extensive training you received as a Bernal Heights astro-navigator. You remember, right?

Locating Bernal Heights from outer space is actually pretty easy. The trick is to know what local landmarks to look for.

Bernal Heights sits roughly at the intersection of two imaginary, perpendicular lines that extend from Islais Creek Channel to the east of Bernal Heights and Aquatic Park to the north. Both of these have a distinctive, easy-to-spot profile when viewed from above, so just find the intersection where the lines come together and then… hey, you have located your home, Earth creature.

As you can see, that technique works quite well with the image Scott Kelly shared over the weekend:


Here’s an unedited version of the image. Can you find your house?

What Is the Mysterious, Reverberating Sound We Hear in North Bernal?


This week, several residents of Precitaville have heard a strange, deep-throated rumbling sound echoing through the air.

It’s been a topic of discussion in various neighborhood mailing lists — and Bernalwood’s inbox.

Indeed, your Bernalwood editor has actually heard the sound a few times as well. Personally, I thought it sounded like a very large diesel engine at idle, or a massive extraterrestrial spacecraft hovering over Bernal Hill. Or, at least, what I imagine a massive extraterrestrial spacecraft would sound like, if it was hovering over Bernal Hill.

Yesterday Neighbor John wrote to Bernalwood:

Does anybody know what that rumbling sound is?  I’ve heard it for a couple of days now, runs through the night too.  Weird.

Neighbor Linda heard it again this morning:

The noise is back. Time for some sleuthing.

As far as I can tell, it started on Monday afternoon/evening and continued until Tuesday morning. It started again Tuesday around noon, but quieter. I’m going to attribute that to the weird atmospheric noise bounce we get sometimes (remember Beyonce?). It’s also possible it was going the entire time and I just didn’t hear it.

Right now it’s loud and clear.

I can’t figure out where it’s coming from.

Yesterday evening I set out to figure it out. I walked Bessie to Precita to Shotwell, across to Cesar Chavez, down Cesar Chavez to Folsom, all around St. Anthony’s, up Folsom to Precita to Flynn school, and down Harrison to Cesar Chavez. Most of the time it was really quiet and of course the noise from Cesar Chavez made it inaudible. But when I crossed the pathway in the park I could hear it distinctly on Precita between Treat and Harrison.

I gave up and went home. Based on this I’m guessing it’s coming from the other side of Cesar Chavez, maybe down Harrison. I might try to drive around later but don’t have much time.

Maybe an intrepid reader of Bernalwood knows what this strange sound is.

Neighbor John says it sounds familiar:

Back before the Iraq invasion, the Navy did lots of training on the Bay. Might be the same. Seaborne pilot rescue. As I recall, they were doing some kind of mine clearing operations back in ’02 that had those big Sea Stallion helicopters dragging some kind of device thru water. Sound carries real well over water. Might be it.

I had a somewhat similar thought; that the noise might somehow be connected to Fleet Week, which happens this weekend. Or, possibly, the arrival of the amphibious assault ship USS America in town on Monday morning, which could validate Neighbor John’s Navy helicopters-at-sea-level theory.

Neighbor Andy was on the scene to report the USS America’s arrival:

So, maybe that?

Or, a massive extraterrestrial spacecraft hovering over Bernal Hill. Possibly with a cloaking device.

UPDATE 5;17 pm: Neighbor Rusty did some field research, and he thinks the noise is definitely coming from the USS America:

I’m 99% certain it’s the USS America (LHA-6) which is docked at the end of Bryant street at Pier 32. It’s the same sonic signature that I hear from north Bernal. I drove down to Mission Rock and could hear it coming from the direction of the Bay Bridge. Drove down the Embarcadero and sure enough the sound was quite apparent over the sound of traffic right in front of where LHA-6 was docked.

Here’s a visual of USS America here, now, courtesy of Raul:

USS America (LHA-6)

And, a corroborating video!

Science Says Awesome Neighbors Have Fewer Heart Attacks


There are many good reasons to be a fantastic neighbor, not the least of which is that fantastic neighbors are fantastic. Not coincidentally, Bernal Heights is famous for being fantastic, in no small part because Bernal Heights has a long tradition of highly engaged neighborliness.

That’s great for Bernal Heights, of course. But it may also be good for you. A new study suggests that people who feel more connected to their neighbors are less likely to experience a heart attack.

Writing for The Atlantic, James Hamblin explains:

According to new research published today from psychologists at the University of Michigan, I’m less likely to die of a heart attack than I would be if I gave in to my more introverted tendencies.

Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.

“There’s evidence suggesting that negative factors of the neighborhood, things like density of fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality impact health,” lead researcher Eric Kim, a psychologist in his final year of doctoral work at the University of Michigan, told me. I’d add broken windows. One 2003 study found that “boarded-up housing” predicts high rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood, as well as premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. (And murder.) More recently, researchers from University of Pennsylvania looked at the health detriments associated with vacant land. By their understanding, abandoned buildings lead to isolation and erosion of social relationships, mutual trust, and collective efficacy, which leads to poor physical health.
Kim’s team is focusing on the other side of things: the positive elements of a neighborhood that “might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health.” For a young scientist, Kim is precociously well versed in the language of hedging.

The study du jour, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is based on assessments of social connectedness in 5276 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The subjects rated how strongly they agreed with the following four prompts:

  • “I really feel part of this area.”
  • “If [I] were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help.”
  • “Most people in this area can be trusted.”
  • “Most people in this area are friendly.”

The responses landed the participants on a seven-point Likert scale. And then they were followed. Four years later, 148 of them had experienced heart attacks.

“On the seven-point scale,” Kim explained, “each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”

“If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion,” Kim continued, “they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”

Citizens of Bernalwood, you now know know what to do.  Sally forth, be fantastic, be neighborly, and live longer.

PHOTO: Fantastic Elise Street neighbors in 2011 demonstrating how to reduce the risk of heart attack. Photo by Adrian Mendoza

Bernal Neighbor’s Research Links Smarter Brain to Longer Life


This story slipped between the cracks a few weeks ago, but fortunately it’s as timeless as life itself…

In early May, a team of UCSF researchers published published an article that identified a gene which enables both high cognitive functioning and unusual longevity. In other words, there’s a gene that that makes you smarter and live longer — and vice-versa. And science now knows this because the research was organized by none other Neighbor Dena from Banks Street!

Off-hill, she’s known as Dr. Dena Dubal MD,, Ph.D., and she leads the Dubal Lab on Aging and the Brain at UCSF. Here’s what the Chronicle had to say about her recent conclusions:

A gene variant that scientists already knew to be associated with longer life also seems to make people smarter, and may help offset the effects of normal cognitive decline in old age, according to a team of San Francisco researchers.

The findings, published [on May 8] in the journal Cell Reports, are encouraging news for the roughly 1 in 5 people who have the genetic trait, which is a variant of the klotho gene.

Beyond that, scientists hope the findings will help them develop tools for retaining, or even boosting, intelligence in people who have suffered cognitive losses, either from disease or through the normal course of aging.

“What we’ve discovered is a cognitive enhancer,” said Dr. Dena Dubal, an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF and lead author of the study, which was done with researchers from the Gladstone Institutes. “This may represent a new way to treat problems of cognition in the brain.”

You can read lots more about Neighbor Dena’s research, or, in this glamorous video, you can watch as she explains it herself:

NPR Spotlights Science Education for Bernal Students


National media alert! On NPR’s Morning Edition this week, a group of students at Bernal’s Paul Revere School were the focus of a story by Eric Westervelt about Mission Science Workshop, an innovative program to make science education more unboring:

On a recent afternoon in San Francisco, 9-year-olds from Paul Revere Elementary in the Bernal Heights neighborhood are captivated by a large Van de Graaff electrostatic generator — and the prospect of gently zapping a reporter. They implore me to put the metal part of my microphone on the machine — all in the name of science, of course.

It’s semi-controlled chaos here, but that’s the point. This is free-form explore time at the Mission Science Workshop in San Francisco. The program works with low-income and underserved public elementary schools to get kids excited about science. The program does it by mixing lots of hands-on learning with specific experiments that teachers can continue back in their own classrooms.

There are a lot of live reptiles, whole animal skeletons and a handful of project stations throughout the room, a large former high school auto shop-turned science lair. Think mad scientist meets Willy Wonka, with limited impulse controls. Fourth-graders Matthew Rivera and Jamal Damon gently tussle over two pythons while teacher Sarah-Jayne Reilly stands by.

“I grew up in Ireland and really didn’t do science until I was much older,” Reilly says. “And when I came here the first time, my mind was like, ‘Wow! I just love the way the children are learning to think.’ ‘

“We always tell them, ‘Don’t just believe me, try it for yourself, test it for yourself. It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to say what you’re thinking,’ ” she says.

For teacher Sam Haynor, the science workshop is about using imaginative experimentation to spark learning, and to counter the idea that science is a set of known facts that students should sit back quietly and receive from on high.

PHOTO: Student at Mission Science Workshop, via NPR

Time-Lapse Photo of Venus and Crescent Moon Over Bernal Hill Is Space-tacular

Venus and Moon Sequence over Bernal HeightsLast month, Potrero Hill photographer Daniel Leu snapped a terrific photo of the moon and Venus setting over Bernal Hill.

This month, Leu ups the game with a new photo that shows the moon and venus in action again over Bernal Hill, in dynamic time-lapse mode:

I set up my camera to capture the sequence of the moon setting behind the hill. Since I didn’t know how much the moon moves in a given time span, I took an image every 30s. This was way too much. As it turned out, one image every 6 minutes is all I needed to create my little sequence.


PHOTO: Daniel Leu

Meanwhile… Bernal Heights Is Just a Tiny Rock Traveling Through Deep Space

Moon and Venus over Bernal Heights

Amid the unpleasantness of current events, it’s good to remind ourselves where we stand right now…. in the grand scheme of things.

Photographer Daniel Leu snapped this remarkable photo of the Moon and Venus rising over setting above Bernal Hill last week:

 I saw the beautiful pastel colors in the sky, but didn’t have time to leave home to try to capture this. But a little bit later while preparing the BBQ to cook dinner, I saw the moon and Venus over Bernal Heights. This time I couldn’t let it go.

To assist our celestially-challenged readers, Bernalwood consulted with the experts from BASA’s Office of Astro-Navigational Cartography to provide this helpful orientation guide. Follow along:


PHOTO: Daniel Leu

New Evidence Supports Theory That Mars Rover Mission Is Actually a Bernal Hill Hoax


David L. Kutzler, Major (Ret.), USAF lives in Tucson, Arizona, but he is a Bernalwood reader, and has been closely following the recent allegations of a government hoax to conceal evidence that NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is not really roving the surface of Mars — but actually driving on the surface of Bernal Hill instead.

Mr. Kutzler has been studying NASA’s recent photo releases from the Curiosity mission, and he has uncovered some explosive new evidence to support the Mars/Bernal Hill hoax theory.

Mr. Kutzler writes:

I stumbled across your August 24, 2012 post on the “Mars Rover” hoax. Props to you for your good investigative work. I wanted to share with you further evidence of this cruel hoax. NASA recently released a “blink” gif image that was supposed to compare before and after images of a rock drilling made by the “Mars Rover.”

Apparently, they mistakenly released an earlier version of the gif where they hadn’t yet edited out the moving insects that were in the scene. I attached a version of the gif where I have circled what are obviously moving insects in the scene.

Of course, NASA is going to claim that the “insect-like movement” is an “artifact” caused by shifting of debris due to the vibration from the drilling activity. That’s what they want us to believe!

Using my own proprietary technique, I was able to zoom and enhance the image of the “artifact,” and I have attached it for all the world to see:


“Mars Rover” my ass! Formica rufescens is a common species of ant in California. The Rover is continuing its mission from Bernal Hill!!

Oh, and that giant space rock that crashed into Russia yesterday? When scientists dredge the debris from the bottom of that frozen lake, don’t be surprised if subsequent analysis concludes that the meteor was comprised of red Bernal Hill chert. Just saying…

Bernalwood’s Rainbow Situation Room Tracks Effects of Multiple Rainbow Strikes Across Bernal Heights


It was a very busy Saturday at the Bernalwood Rainbow Situation Control Facility.

As a series of intense storms brought rain to Bernal Heights, intermittent periods of sunshine generated primary and secondary rainbow aftershocks across our neighborhood. Using the latest high-tech monitoring tools, our Rainbow Situation Control Room tracked the effects as multiple rainbows touched down in and around Bernalwood.

I phoned in this photo taken from my back yard, looking toward downtown:


Neighbor Michael captured an impressive Dual-Halo Total Arc Perspective on the primary rainbow event from his perch in Precitaville:


Neighbor Anita recorded a confirmed Double Rainbow from her South Bernal observation post:

Double rainbow over Bernal

Neighbor Jessica got so swept up in the euphoria that she was inpired to make a nomenclature suggestion:

Molly was there as a team of scientists on Bernal Hill tested the physiological effects of a new Rainbow + Mimosa + Miniaturized Sutro Tower compound they developed. After mixing the ingredients, you won’t believe what happened next: Sudden levitation!rainbow.levitation

Neighbor Craig looked to the east just in time to see Larry’s Ellison’s glamorous America’s Cup facility take a direct blast of highly concentrated rainbow energy:

The rainbow ends somewhere near Islais Creek and team Oracle USA headquarters

It may just be a coincidence, but several hours later Wired reported that Larry Ellison was seen walking down a street in Dogpatch while wearing peach-colored robes and chanting:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

Over in the La Lengua Autonomous Zone, rebel spokesblogger Burrito Justice was thinking about the potential economic impact of the sudden rainbow barrage:


Meanwhile, Neighbor Jean was watching Bernal Hill from a temporary perch in Noe Valley. She witnessed this stunning touchdown event as a double rainbow crashed right into Bernal Hill:


Visualizing Bernal Heights After Lots and Lots of Sea-Level Rise



Burrito Justice, chief spokesblogger for the La Lengua separatists, recently joined forces with Brian Stokle to provide a detailed examination of what San Francisco would look like following significant sea-level rise caused by global climate change.

As you may recall, Burrito Justice took an initial pass at this project earlier this year, with a whimsical map that envisioned the “San Francisco Archipelago” following a colossal 200-foot sea-level rise. The new maps add a detailed street grid, as well as a visualization of what Our Faire City would look like following a somewhat less apocalypic (and somewhat more Sandy-like) 25-foot surge.

The resulting maps of the City are both hilarious and alarming. Yet because we are very vain here in Bernal Heights, let’s just focus on what they tell us about potential scenarios for the future of our own neighborhood.

Let’s start with the eminently possible 25-foot scenario:


As you can see, Bernal fares relatively well in this scenario, with fashionable views to the east overlooking Islais Bay. Bayshore Avenue simply becomes part of the bay, which means that Lowe’s, the Silver Crest Restaurant & Bar, and the (New) Old Clam House are lost to us.

Things look very different if the waters rise by 200 feet:


In this scenario, Bernal Heights is an island. The issue of La Lenguan sovereignty becomes moot, since all of La Lengua is underwater. My house on Precita is underwater too (but lives on via an eponymous marina). Happily, the Cortland retail strip survives, no doubt having morphed into a string of Nantucket-style boutiques selling nautical art, chocolate fudge, and nostalgia-themed t-shirts.

I’ve been giving some thought to how Bernal might adapt to the 200′ scenario, and I’ll have more to say — and show — about that in the new year.

Rainbow Alert! Exceptionally Fortuitous “Triple Twelve” Double Rainbow Spreads Euphoria Across Bernal Heights





This morning at approximately 8:08 am, scientists at the Bernal Heights Prismatic Observatory recorded a massive Category 4 rainbow arcing across the northern sky, just west of Mission Street.

At the same time, a faint, secondary halo was seen just above the primary arch, earning this event official Double Rainbow certification.

Because of today’s date — December 12, 2012 — today’s sighting was quickly dubbed the “Triple Twelve Rainbow.” Meanwhile, the unusual combination of high rainbow clarity and profound numerological symmetry was predicted to have a fortuitous impact on Bernal Heights and the surrounding area.

There have been scattered reports of sudden-onset euphoria occurring throughout Bernal Heights this morning, so motorists are advised to be on the lookout for blissed-out pedestrians wandering aimlessly on local sidewalks, streets, and byways. On Bernal Hill, dog-owners are asked to keep their pets under close control, given the high probability that unicorns will be grazing there during the day.

Finally, please note this stunning image captured by Neighbor Jason, which will be even more mind-expanding if you click here to embiggen:


PHOTOS: From top, Aaron Ximm, Ben Simon, @jessstopp, Steve Rosenberg, Jason Brown