Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Top-notch customer service

The hard drive on my computer failed recently, and I had to install a new one.  Luckily I had backed up my data, so the replacement went well.  But I use Quicken to keep my financial records, and look as I might, I could not find the software disc anywhere.  Backup data is not of much use without the software.

So I was resigned to buying another copy, when I thought of contacting Intuit directly.  The web site said that telephone support was not available, but live chat support could be obtained.  So I logged on and soon began a very pleasant customer service chat.  

I explained my problem and fairly quickly was offered a replacement disc, at about half the retail price.  But I knew that Intuit offered downloads as well, so I pointed out that I had bought this program 5 or 6 times over the years (it is often upgraded) and that I buy Turbo Tax as well every year to do my taxes.  I asked if I might get a free download replacement.

Then the magic customer service words: "I accept your request."  :)  I was given a download code, was easily able to download the software, and was up and running again.  No hassle, just the result I needed, in a friendly way.

That is how customer service should always work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eating vegetarian

San Francisco is home to Greens, one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the United States (perhaps the world).  We are talking Chez Panisse quality, but in a vegetarian sort of way.  It has been here since 1979, but I hadn't been there in years, so we recently celebrated a special occasion with a dinner there.

The restaurant is located in Fort Mason, in S.F.'s Marina district.  It was a typical cool evening in SF, and of course we had not dressed for it, coming over in the convertible from the hot East Bay.  But once we were seated, with a beautiful view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, that hardly mattered.

It is hard to describe how good Greens really is.  I'll just tell you what I had.

First, an Andante Dairy Crottin, with Mediterranean cucumber, radish and frisee salad and olives.  Accompanied by Acme pain epi with Strauss butter.  Here's a look (it is better if you click on each picture -they look much better when they are larger):

(Side note - Acme bread is the best in the world, and Strauss Creamery makes perfect butter.  We ate too much of those.)

For my appetizer, I had a wilted spinach salad with mutsu apples, goat cheese, slow roasted almonds, roasted torpedo onions, cider vinegar, and hot olive oil.  A compilation of tastes that balanced each other out very well.

The entree, not surprisingly, was the best part of the meal.  Mine was a Masa harina crepe with corn, grilled onions, poblano chilies, chedder, marjoram, sage, tomatillo sauce and fire roasted salsa.  It was served with grilled cousa squash, Green Gulch rainbow chard, beet greens, and lacinato kale.  You'd have to taste this to believe how good it was:

(I don't even know what many of those items are, but the entree was incredible).

Dessert for me was simple - blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry sorbets, with lavendar shortbread cookies.  Sorry, no picture.  But here's one of the sunset looking at the bridge:

If every meal was like this one, I would, indeed, become a vegetarian.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Language

I have always been interested in proper grammar and the etymology of words.  One of the most important figures in that field died yesterday.  Willam Safire was a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for the New York Times.  He wrote the "On Language" column in the Times from 1979 until earlier this month - this is his last column.  It was always a source of amusement and information.  

Every time I hear Julie Andrews singing as Guenevere in Camelot, asking "whence this fragrance wafting through the air," I think of William Safire.  He taught me, in one of his columns, that "whence" means "from where." It is thus wrong (though exceedingly common) to say "from whence it came."  

He was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon as well, but nobody's perfect.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cappucino at home

I searched high and low for a home espresso machine, and finally settled on the Starbucks Sirena.  Here is a recent result - mmmm!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Georgia in the springtime

My brother stunned me last week with an incredible birthday present - a trip to the 2010 Masters.  My whole golfing life I have wanted to see Augusta National, and now I get to go to the third and fourth rounds of the tournament next year.  I could not be more excited if I won the lottery!

Lest you think this is no big deal, look at this from the official website of the 2009 tournament:

Tournament Tickets 
Tournament or "Series" Badges (Thursday through Sunday) have been sold to those on our patron list which was closed due to demand in 1972. A waiting list began in 1972, and was closed in 1978. It reopened in 2000, and it too is now closed.  No applications for "Series" Badges are currently being accepted. 

That's right, the ticket list closed THIRTY SEVEN YEARS AGO.  One waiting list was opened that year, but it closed 6 years later, then another waiting list was started, then that list was closed as well.  

So my chances of ever getting there were small.  Thanks Barry.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A bit foggy on the coast

I spent a couple of days in Monterey this week - on business!  How nice is that?  The Monterey area is one of my favorites, particularly because my wife and I were married at Pebble Beach.  And this trip there was quite a bit of fog, which was a nice change from the late September heat wave we have been having in the Bay area.

Here's a look at the fog on the Monterey Bay:

Always a beautiful sight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A very special birthday today

As the month of September winds down, our family pauses today to celebrate my mother's birthday.  She is 75 years young today, as busy as ever with her acting and directing and her Board of Directors' commitments and who knows what else.  My mom continues to live her life to the fullest - I hope I can continue to learn that from her. 

Here's a pic I really like, from a trip we took to my brother's vacation spot in Ocean City, Maryland earlier this summer:

Happy Birthday Mom!  I hope you and Al have a great day together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cat in the ?

Perhaps I shouldn't leave my drawer open and walk away?

This is one of our cats, named Milo:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall in Lafayette

This weekend was the annual Lafayette Art and Wine festival.  We spent Sunday morning there, on a day that turned out a bit cooler than forecast.  The festival was crowded, as always, and full of new exhibitors. I especially liked the designs on the t-shirts by Ataraxia Designs (website not working at the moment, but some available here).  I also loved the pop art of Nelson de la Nuez.

It's nice to live in a small town where you run into friends and neighbors on a regular basis.  Sunday was no exception.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Birthday cake!

My daughter Sarah loves to bake, and she is quite good at it.  Last week I asked her if she might make me a German chocolate cake for my birthday.  I wasn't expecting anything fancy; how foolish of me.  I received a masterpiece!

Sarah turned to a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, David Lebovitz, who now (among other things) writes a blog called living the good life in Paris.  He provided a recipe from a friend of his, Mary Jo Thoresen.  You can find the recipe here, but be forewarned, you will gain weight just from reading it.

The cake turned out perfect:

Here is a slice - just before I ate it:

Thank you Sarah!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Swine flu paranoia

This is how I feel about all the news coverage of the swine flu: 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Leavin' on a jet plane

I was recently in the Denver airport, and while waiting at a gate, these three little birds hopped up:

They somehow got into the airport terminal and weren't finding an easy way out.  But at least they offered me a nice distraction.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's just ban music

The music industry has apparently decided it's not enough to sue people for downloading a few songs off the Internet.  It now apparently wants to collect royalties from Apple for those 30-second song clips on iTunes.  

Nicholas Deleon at CrunchGear has come up with the solution to all of this craziness - let's just ban music altogether:

I’m sorry, but we have to ban music. That’s just the way it is.

by Nicholas Deleon on September 17, 2009
It has come to my attention that the music industry now wants royalties for those 30-second clips of music you hear in iTunes. That, I think you’ll agree, is bullshit. Seeing as how we’re a solution-oriented blog here at CrunchGear, I want to offer a completely fool-proof way to save the music industry and put an end to the years and years of nonsense we’ve seen since Napster was first released: let’s ban music. That’s right, let’s pass a law that says “the creation or performance of music, in any form, is hereby banned. Any violation of this law will be punishable by death.” Problem solved, let’s all play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

(article continued at this link)

Tongue-in-cheek, no doubt, but the world just seems to go a little bit crazier every day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh say can you see?

This evening I will be in the Oakland Coliseum for the game between the Oakland A's and the Cleveland Indians.  Why, you may ask.  Neither team is having a very good season, and I am a diehard Giants fan. 

I don't even like the American League, mostly because of the designated hitter rule.  In the immortal words of Crash Davis:
"I believe in the soul ... the small of a woman's back, the hanging curveball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter." - Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in "Bull Durham"
So why am I going?  Because my youngest daughter Abby, along with 20 or so other girls in her high school chorus, is going to sing the Star Spangled Banner before the game.  That's right, they'll be down there on the field, walking across the green turf and the infield dirt, to entertain the crowd with their own version of our national anthem.  I've never even been on a major league baseball field, despite having attended hundreds of games.  

So I'll be there in the stands, smiling and cheering at the end of the song, for the members of the Bella Voce Chorus of Acalanes High School.

Let's hope it's not a rainout.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On this day in history . . .

On September 15, 1959:

  • Shirley MacLaine appeared on the cover of Look Magazine
  • Groucho Marx was the guest on The Jack Paar Show (otherwise known as The Tonight Show)
  • It was a Tuesday, just like today

And, in Boston, Massachusetts on that day:
  • Roberta and Leonard Faber celebrated the birth of their first son at Beth Israel Hospital (which is a major teaching hospital of Harvard University and, coincidentally, is the only hospital with its own facility inside Fenway Park). 
Well, I've made it through 50 years.  Let's see how it goes from here . . . .

Monday, September 14, 2009

Are you reading the comics?

The world is full of comic strips. Most require some significant drawing skill, and gain a lot of their attraction from the pictures as well as the words. But one of my favorites is drawn almost entirely with stick figures. It's allure comes not from the drawings (though they are remarkably good for the style), but rather from the depth of the thoughtfulness that the writer puts into his work. 

I know, it's a bit geeky, but I am talking about xkcd, by Randall Munroe.  It can be very tech-oriented (perhaps one of the reasons I like it), but it is also very creative. Consider this take on James Bond and centrifugal force:

It can also be very heartwarming. Here is one of my favorites:

When my daughter headed off for college, I had this one printed on a t-shirt for her:

Even the footer on the home page is good:

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

xkcd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license, which is why I can reprint them here.  Nice.  I am a big fan of the Creative Commons license.

New strips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Well worth bookmarking.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Good music for a long commute

I've been working on my iPod music lately, looking for songs for my long drive to work.  I have long been a fan of Audra MacDonald - such a perfect voice.  My daughter and I got to see her a few years ago at Davies Symphony hall.  She was simply spectacular.

Her pairing with Brian Stokes Mitchell, singing "Sarah Brown Eyes" from Ragtime (which is returning to Broadway this fall), is one of her best.  If you have never heard it, you have missed a treat.  It would be a good song to add to your collection.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


In the San Francisco area, we have two seasons:  the dry season, from April/May to November, and the rainy season, from November to March.  They rarely overlap - it almost never rains during the late spring, summer or early fall.  And we can have day after day after day of rain in the winter. 

What we don't have is thunderstorms.  I've been here almost 30 years, and I can count the number I have seen on one hand.  It's one of the great reasons to go back east or somewhere like Chicago; when I do, I hope and hope I'll get to see a big lightning storm.

So imagine the surprise in our pitch-black house at 5:30 this morning, everyone sleeping soundly, when a huge flash of lightning lit up the sky, followed by a crashing thunder clap.  Our dog panicked like there was no tomorrow.  This went on for about 30 minutes, with 5 or 6 large lightning bolts and big boomers immediately following.

The sky at sunrise (I went off to the gym) was full of the types of clouds we don't see here often:

What a nice way to start the weekend.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Good local community theater

I recently had the privilege to spend several years on the board of directors of my local community theater.  Town Hall is a professionally-run theater, with brilliant mainstage shows and a spectacularly successful education program (go Janice!).  I've been seeing shows there for years, plus I have been lucky enough to produce a few of the youth shows.

It is everything you want in a local theater: small confines, friendly atmosphere, food and drink (don't miss the ginger cake, generously donated by Chow), and wonderful entertainment.  There is nothing better than going to see a professional, high-quality performance and only having to drive five minutes to get there!

The current production, running through Oct. 4, is "Art" by Yazmina Reza.  It has won many awards, including a Tony award for Best Play.  I haven't seen it yet, but will be going soon.  And I have it on very good authority that this production lives up to the high standards Town Hall Theatre has set for itself.  There are performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, plus Sunday matinees.  Ticket info can be gotten here - I recommend you get to the theater to see it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glad that Apple has us covered

You probably don't read the terms of service when you download software from the Internet.  I know I don't most of the time - and I'm a lawyer.

Yesterday I downloaded Apple's newest version of its iTunes software.  And much to my astonishment, Apple's TOS for its software has a remarkable provision hidden deep in its fine print:

You may not use or otherwise export or re-export the Licensed Application except as authorized by United States law . . . .  You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.

There, don't you feel safer?

Significant Birthdays

This month sees three significant birthdays for me.  The first is today - 80 years ago, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Arnold Palmer was born.

I have played golf most of my life, something that brings passion and calmness both at the same time. And through all the years of playing and, yes, watching, there have been only a few golfers that have truly inspired me.  Arnold Palmer is at the top of that list.  His style was exciting in a game that mostly is not, and his sportsmanship and gentlemanly approach (in a field full of those qualities) stand head and shoulders above almost everyone who ever played the game.  He truly introduced me to golf, and his ongoing competition with Jack Nicklaus made me want to be a better golfer.  Now he is 80, and he is still the King.

(Side note:  I recently mentioned Arnie's birthday to a friend of mine in her 20s.  She said, "Isn't he the one who invented the iced tea drink?"   Oh well - we all get remembered for something.)

Happy birthday Arnie.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

(Sub) Urban Farming

We go every week to the local farmers' market, and we love supporting local farms, but we'd really like to grow some of our own fruits and vegetables.  Yet other things always seem to get in the way, so we never manage to get going with a home garden.  In short, we have the space, but we don't have the time (or, really, the expertise).

But recently I came across the group Urban Farmers. They aim to farm your backyard for you.  You supply the land and water and they supply the labor and expertise, paying a living wage to their workers.  According to their requirements, all you need is 300+ square feet of growing space.  You receive all the food you can eat and the excess is distributed to neighbors and charities.

Urban Farmers is planning to pilot the program in my hometown, so we have offered to participate.  We are awaiting a review of our property to see if we make the cut.  If so, home-grown fruits and veggies!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An SF-style restaurant in the East Bay

We have a lot of good restaurants in the East Bay of the San Francisco area, but they don't tend to measure up to the quality of good SF restaurants. Yet right in Lafayette there is a gem - simply called Metro Lafayette. And even though it is located in a shopping center, between a bank and a liquor store, you feel like you have headed into SF when you walk in the door. There is a sophisticated feel, a terrific bar (very well-stocked), and a menu that is consistently good. That it is reasonably priced is just a bonus. Our favorites include the chopped salad (with bacon, avocado and buttermilk blue cheese dressing), the Croque Monsieur (with top-notch fries), and the fettuccine (with peas, asparagus and leeks). When we go, we feel like we have traveled far from home, without having to make the drive.

HDMI Switching

I have a big tv, but it's not very new, so it only has one HDMI input. And I wanted to plug in a cable box and my PS3/Blu Ray player, which called for two HDMI inputs. In search of a solution, I looked at HDMI switchers (too expensive), AV receivers (too much equipment), and a speaker system with HDMI inputs in the subwoofer (too many wires). Then I happened on this - the Mad Catz HDMI switcher built especially for the PS3. It fits perfectly, it works perfectly, and it has a bonus: a remote that controls the Blu Ray player in the unit. Amazon wants $76.99 for this, but I got it at Fry's for $12.95! A little research, and a perfect solution.