Monday, November 30, 2009

A full time supporter of iPods

I added another new iPod to my collection - this time the 32G iPod Touch.  I already had one of these (a 16G version), but Karen has taken quite a liking to it.  So I transferred my old one to her and got the updated version.

This is now my fifth iPod.  I started with a Mini, received a Shuffle as a gift, then went for the square little Nano (with video!).  The iPod touch seemed like the perfect version - a mini computer in my pocket, with movies and music.  So one with a bigger hard drive, updated software and better headphones can only be an improvement, right?

Somebody has to keep Apple in business.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thoughts on Richard Nixon

I finally got around to seeing the movie Frost/Nixon.  It is very well done; though it took me a little while to get past the background on David Frost (which turned out to be an absolutely necessary set-up for what was to come), the interview scenes between Frost and Nixon were riveting.  Frank Langella's portrayal of the President is stunning, not because he looks or sounds just like Nixon (he doesn't), but because he channels his very being so well.  You lose sight of the fact that these are not the real interviews.

We lived in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., when I was growing up.  I was in my early teens when the Watergate scandal broke, and I still vividly remember my father taking me to stand in line outside the Senate Office Building where the Watergate hearings were being held.  We eventually got to go inside for our 15-20 minute period, and I watched carefully as Senator Sam Ervin led the committee through its hearings.  I don't remember who we saw testifying, but I remember being there.  And I remember all the subsequent events very well, right up to the moment that Nixon announced he was leaving office ("Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow"):

One key moment caught me in the movie.  When Nixon is finally breaking down, admitting in his own way that he had done wrong, he says something about how bad he felt about all the young people who would be turned away from politics because of his actions.  That is me, spot-on.  I was very interested in politics - in fact, I did end up majoring in political science in college, and I worked all four summers of college on Capitol Hill (though not directly for any politicians).  After Watergate, I didn't really want to have much to do with politicians or politics.  I saw the entire business as corrupt and wanted no part of it. 

When I headed to law school, it was to California, as far from Washington and its corrupt political process as I could get.  Even today, I see politics and politicians in a bad light.  Yet only now do I realize that it is almost entirely due to Richard Nixon.  

(Side note - Nixon helped fuel this further by choosing our Governor of Maryland, Spiro Agnew, to be his Vice-President.  That didn't work out so well either.)

It is interesting, so long after the fact, to have a realization like this.  Just another example of the power that a good movie-maker has to tell a story the right way.  If you haven't seen Frost/Nixon, it's a good rental choice.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday shopping

So this is something I always avoid -- shopping on Black Friday.  Today it seemed particularly hyped by the media, but I am about to take two trips to the East coast and needed a nice winter coat, so I decided to brave the crowds.  

I remember one year I actually went to the mall on this Friday and literally could not find a parking space.  This year, not so much.  I arrived around 9:00 am (no, I did not go out for the first store openings at 4:00 am!).  No problem parking, no huge crowds.  The mall was busy, but manageable.

Prices definitely were low.  I found some very nice shirts at very low prices.  My search for a coat took a bit longer, but I ended up with a nice Joseph Abboud wool coat for quite a discount.  And I managed to snag a few DVDs for Christmas presents, just $3.99 each at Target.  (I do think the end of the DVD era is coming very soon.)

Everyone talks about electronics being the big sale item for Black Friday.  I went to a couple of different electronics stores and didn't see much.  These days, electronics are so heavily discounted on a regular basis that the discounts I did see just didn't seem very enticing.

So I considered my trip a success.  I followed it up with my (now) daily visit to the gym, and I didn't feel so bad when I sat down to some delicious turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce leftovers later in the day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who wants pie?

Another delicious Thanksgiving dinner last night.  My personal contribution was homemade cranberry maple muffins and sweet potatoes (from the farmer's market) covered with mini-marshmallows.  Sarah (home from college for the weekend) and Abby decided it was time to make the pies for dessert.  Here they are collaborating at the stove:

Sarah made two delicious sets of crusts, and then put together a beautiful lattice cherry pie.  Abby took one of Sarah's crusts and made a coconut cream custard pie from scratch:

I only wish I had had more room after all that turkey!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's hoping you are as thankful this year as I am.  Thankful for my family and my friends, and looking forward to a very joyful holiday season.

Oh, and course, thankful for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Charles Dickens

One of my favorite quotes is from The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens:
I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.
I once found the quote on a Mary Englebreit gift card:

I like to send this card to people who have just had a baby, usually with a note that says "I hope that your child brings you as much joy as my children have brought to me."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Changing the music in my car?

With a long commute, good music is important.  I use my iPod a fair amount, but I don't have the largest collection of music, so it can get repetitive.  That is why I have XM radio in the car.  It's just a little device, but it gives me a wide range of choices.  And given how much I do drive, the $15 a month charge seems fairly reasonable.

When I am on my computer, I often listen to music via Pandora.  This online program lets me pick my favorite songs or artists and create "radio" stations that play similar music.  So I can have one that is classical piano, another based on Elton John, another based on Rosanne Cash.  And I can combine different stations into a "quick mix," which gives me more variety.

I realized the other day that the Pandora app on my Droid cell phone works just like the program on the computer.  And since it is mobile, I can easily use it in the car.  So I am testing out Pandora as a free substitute for XM radio.  

It's an interesting option - not sure which I will choose.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday week

We had a pretty quiet weekend, and now I am looking forward to an enjoyable holiday week.   Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, both because it brings a nice four-day weekend and because it is the beginning of the holiday season.

This next month is going to be busy.  Abby and I are going to take a trip to New York for some Broadway shows, plus some festive sightseeing.  I have a business trip (back to the East coast) right after, and then Sarah and Sam come home from college for their winter break.  And this year, my mom and Al are coming to visit us for Christmas, with lots to do while they are here.

So just a bit more relaxation before things get really hectic.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Big Game Day

It's the traditional Big Game day - Cal vs. Stanford for the rights to the Axe.  This game is down on the farm (aka Stanford Stadium).  And while we always root for the Bears, this one has special significance - if Cal wins, then Oregon's chances to get to the Rose Bowl lie entirely in Oregon's hands.  Sam's freshman year, and a Rose Bowl berth - wouldn't that be something!

Go Bears!   Go Ducks!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chrome OS - Changing the way we use personal computers

I don't plan to discuss Google things much here, but yesterday's release of the code for the Chrome OS merits special attention.  Today we use different browsers (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and, yes, Chrome) to access the Internet.  But we have to have an underlying operating system on the computer - which is Windows for most people.  Apple has its own OS, of course, and computer geeks use Linux.  But the operating system has to be there, even if we don't really understand it and, in many cases, we don't really like it.  What we like is getting on the Internet.

Chrome OS is going to simplify all that.  With Chrome OS, the operating system is the browser.  Applications work like they do now, only way faster and up in the "cloud."  (I know, it sounds like a trite word, but it is pretty accepted already.)  I am only mentioning this big announcement today because it is going to change everything we know about personal computers.

Here is a simple but effective explanation -- watch this video and you will see the future of the PC:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A new Woot find

Available yesterday, during the current Woot-Off  (alas, I have no pool, so I didn't get one).

The radio-controlled snack float:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Speedy math in your head

I like this bit of trickery, from Wired's How-to Wiki:

Do Speedy Math in Your Head

Illustration by Lab Partners
Illustration by Lab Partners
Arthur Benjamin is a wizard at math. Literally. At Hollywood's Magic Castle, the world-famous conjurer's club, he wows the crowd by multiplying big numbers — quick, what's 57,682 squared? — faster than you can use a calculator. Here he shares three cool tricks. (The answer, by the way: 3,327,213,124. See how easy it is?)

Square off

To square a number like 14, identify the closest round number — in this case, 10. Since you subtracted 4 to get 10, add 4 to 14 to get 18 and multiply that by 10. Add to that the square of 4: 180 + 16 = 196.

11 times any two-digiter

To multiply, say, 11 x 32, add the digits of 32 (3 + 2 = 5) and insert the sum between them: 352. Numbers with two-digit sums use a slight variation: For 11 x 84 (8 + 4 = 12), add the 1 from 12 to the 8 and leave the 2 in the middle: 924.

Magic number

Ask a fan to think of any number. Then have them double it, add 12, divide by 2, and subtract the original number. Before they're done, tell them the answer: 6. It will always be 6.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

xkcd on the Verizon Droid

And the Droid wins:

iPhone or Droid

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dining in Yountville

We have been going up to Yountville for years.  It's a small town in the Napa Valley, about an hour north of where we live, most famous for being home to The French Laundry.  We almost always eat at Bistro Jeanty, a charming French restaurant there that makes us feel like we have escaped to the French countryside (with perfect cassoulet).  But Yountville has become a dining mecca, with a series of extraordinarily good restaurants within a few blocks each other.

Besides The French Laundry, Thomas Keller also has Bouchon, a bistro with killer profiteroles, and the Bouchon Bakery, which is like the ones you find in Paris.  About 3 or 4 years ago, he opened a temporary restaurant down the street from those three, which he planned to use for testing purposes.  That restaurant, called Ad Hoc, remains open to this day.  Their motto:  "For temporary relief from hunger."  

Last night we went up to Yountville with our friends Theresa and Doug, with whom we have shared many wonderful dining experiences, to try out Ad Hoc for the first time.  This turned out to be a very good idea.  The restaurant is casual and fun.  They serve a single prix-fixe dinner five nights a week, four courses for $49.  But these were no ordinary courses.  Here is the menu from our dinner:

The salad was perfect, simple and delicious, with a wonderful apple vinaigrette dressing.  The shortribs were cooked in the sous vide method, for 48 hours, which left them soft and smooth.  The highlight of that entree, however, was the pappardelle pasta, better than any pasta the four of us had ever tasted.  The cheese course was a very simple cheddar cheese - our waiter said, "there is nothing uncheddar about this cheddar."  Just the right description.  And the dessert was superb, fabulous ice cream with homemade banana bread.

Ad Hoc is now very high on our list of top-notch Bay area restaurants.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Not so smart dog?

An article I saw the other day listed the top ten smart dogs and the top ten not-so-smart dogs.  Daisy is part Basenji, part Beagle, and she didn't do so well.  Basenjis are no. 2 on the not-so-smart list; Beagles are no. 9.   

At least it turns out the list is from a study done in 1994.  Maybe these breeds have moved up since then.  If you are interested, here are the lists:

Top 10 smartest dog breeds 
  • 1. Border Collie
  • 2. Poodle
  • 3. German Shepherd
  • 4. Golden Retriever
  • 5. Doberman Pinscher
  • 6. Shetland Sheepdog
  • 7. Labrador Retriever
  • 8. Papillon
  • 9. Rottweiler
  • 10. Australian Cattle Dog
Top 10 not-so-smart:
  • 1. Afghan Hound
  • 2. Basenji
  • 3. Bulldog
  • 4. Chow Chow
  • 5. Borzoi
  • 6. Bloodhound
  • 7. Pekingese
  • 8. Mastiff
  • 9. Beagle
  • 10. Basset Hound

The article also offered a dog IQ test.  We are holding off on trying this on Daisy.  No need to rush things, is there?

Besides, in the photo above, she is happily sleeping on our bed.  Seems pretty smart to me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A new library and learning center

Today is the opening day of the new Lafayette Library and Learning Center.  This beautiful new facility has been in the planning and building stages for years - so it is a great event for our town that it is finally here.

This new building replaces our small, cramped, 60's era library with a wonderful new central spot for Lafayette.  As a former mayor and the current mayor explained in a recent article in the SF Chronicle:
Lafayette citizens reimagined the library as a place for lifelong learning and collaborated with 12 of the region's leading arts, science and educational institutions to showcase their traveling programs. Called the Glenn Seaborg Learning Consortium, this collection of nonprofit organizations honors the UC Berkeley scientist and chancellor who called Lafayette his home for more than 40 years.
We were early contributors to this effort and have special libary cards to show for it!

There will be an all-day celebration today, but in reality the celebration will be continuing, as Lafayette opens a library that all towns should aspire to.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Spider Awards

From the somewhat creepy file - Wired Science has announced its Spider Awards:'s Arachnid Hall of Fame.  There are ten of them in all, but just the first one is enough to fuel your fears of these guys:

I hope I never see that in my living room.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

66% more people chose fun

This is just great.  It's The Fun Theory - a website "dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better."

Just watch:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speaking with passion

We get a lot of interesting speakers at work.  This Monday a large crowd turned out to hear from Al Gore, who made a passionate speech about his new book on the subject of climate change.   I was privileged to host several of Mr. Gore's friends, which entitled me to a seat in the front row.  It's not often I sit so close for a speech by a former Vice-President, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Oscar winner, all rolled into one.

Gore is very passionate about the issues related to climate change.  I thought most of his points were fairly well-stated, though his lukewarm support for nuclear power ("I don't necessarily oppose it," he says, "but watch out for how easy it has become to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons") is a bit condescending.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that he knows his stuff in this field.

I've always had this (fairly universal) view that Gore is stiff and lacks charisma.  Not so - in person that is not the case at all.  He was interesting, well-spoken, funny and generally pretty charming.  He definitely knew how to work the crowd (always a politician, I guess).

So perhaps this was not the speaker whom I would first choose to see, but it is certainly an amazing opportunity I get at this job to see such interesting people up close and in person.  Some of the highlights - Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Magic Johnson, Chef Thomas Keller, and an amazing concert by Carlos Santana.  I feel pretty lucky.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The perfect use for Twitter and its "real-time updates"

 Every hour, on the hour - just the right number of bongs at Big Ben:

(Thanks Tasha)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ace of Cakes

So I have somehow missed the show Ace of Cakes on the Food channel.  But if you have too, you should take a look.  They highlight cakes made at Charm City Cakes, in my college town of Baltimore.  

Charm City Cakes makes the most amazing, astonishing cakes you will ever see.  A couple of examples.  First, Fisher's Pop Corn (from Ocean City!):

And here is a sandcastle:

These are handmade, custom-designed cakes.  The minimum order charge is ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS, and they will make anything you can describe.  But they are already booked solid through the end of 2009.


(Side note about Baltimore - if you have never seen Diner or Avalon, you should rent them right away.  Two great movies, both from the great director Barry Levinson.  Avalon begins with a wonderful opening line about Baltimore being the most beautiful place you have ever seen.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Golf in Hawaii

From the Challenge at Manele, on the island of Lanai:

I made a par here - and shot 72 for the round (2 under par on the back)!  

Hard to keep your mind on golf, though.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crazy Chocolate in NYC

I am headed to New York next month and may visit Max Brenner, an insane-sounding chocolate restaurant on lower Broadway.  This is an Australian company that has made its way to the U.S.  They seem to take chocolate to the extreme:

Consider the following page from the menu:

Chocolate crispy egg rolls.  Hard to complain about that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Prolific in the theatre

My daughter Abby is only 15, but she is very accomplished in the theatre.  We were talking about her past year and discovered that she had been in or on the production crew of eleven different shows between August 2008 and October 2009:
Peter Pan - teen assistant
The Graduate - stage crew
The Importance of Being Earnest - Lady Bracknell
Rabbit Hole - assistant stage manager
The Pajama Game - Mabel
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Peter Quince / student director
You Can't Take It With You - Reba / props mistress
Tartuffe - assistant stage manager
The Little Mermaid - teen assistant
Art - assistant stage manager
Dracula - stage manager
She is on a bit of a well-deserved break, but she is aching to get back to the theatre.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Beautiful offices

I like where I work - it's sort of like a college campus, with low-rise buildings and lots of trees.  

But some people work in spectacular offices, even outdoors ones that are hard to believe:

Here's an article on 10 amazing offices around the world.  The pictures are simply fascinating.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Health care reform

I am still not decided on what we should do about health care reform.  I have a good job, with good insurance for my family, but it was not that long ago that I was self-employed and worried that my family's insurance oculd be cancelled on a whim.  So I am happy that Congress is trying to do something.

The bills now being considered are far from perfect.  And it is hard to get excited about Nancy Pelosi's claims that the current House bill will save $30 billion from the national deficit over the next decade, when in the past year the rate of spending on bank bailouts and military campaigns has just exploded.  But we have to put our trust somewhere.

Paul Krugman, the Princeton economist, Nobel laureate, and op-ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote a good piece the other day, entiled "The Defining Moment." He begins, "O.K., folks, this is it. It’s the defining moment for health care reform."  And he concludes:

"For this is the moment of truth. The political environment is as favorable for reform as it’s likely to get. The legislation on the table isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as anyone could reasonably have expected. History is about to be made — and everyone has to decide which side they’re on."
Everything in between is well stated.  I recommend his column.  It makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book recommendations: # 1

I am always reading a book or two, getting through them when I find the time.  I like offbeat novels and I enjoy non-fiction that is told in highly-readable way (think David McCulloch or Tracy Kidder).   One of my favorite novels ever is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a Pulitzer prize winner from Michael Chabon:

In its simplest form, it is about the invention of the comic book, but it is so much more than that.  Chabon is one of those writers who has such a way with words that you will stop and re-read his sentences, simply because they take your breath away.  The characters in this book are particularly well-developed and, well, fascinating.

I recommend it highly - as the first in a series of recommendations I will post here from time to time.

(Side note:  Michael’s wife, Ayelet Waldman, is an old friend of mine.  I worked with her 20 years ago and have kept in touch as her own career as a successful novelist has bloomed.  Oddly enough, even though they live in Berkeley, I have never met her husband.  How strange is that?) 

Monday, November 2, 2009

A hidden gem: Pescadero

One of our favorite places to go is down the coast a bit south of San Francisco.  Half Moon Bay is a quiet town about an hour from SF; it has a traditional Main Street with a comfortable feel to it.  There are good places to eat (I recommend Sam's Chowder House on the ocean).  But every time we head to HMB, we make a point of driving a bit further south, to Pescadero.  This is a really small town, with a downtown about one block long.  Duarte's is a long-time staple there, and an excellent place to have lunch. 

Our big secret there, however, is Harley Farms Goat Dairy.  It is a real goat farm, with big goats and little baby goats wandering around the fields out back:

Inside the Harley Farms shop, they offer all kinds of goat cheese for sale.  The Chevre Dill Log is our absolute favorite: 

But I am a big fan as well of the Cranberry Walnut goat cheese: 

And I usually bring back a small goat cheese button, covered in edible flowers, for our friend Jen:

Next time you are near Half Moon Bay, make a detour to Harley Farms in Pescadero.  You will love it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Not just a dog

I talked a bit about Daisy a while back.  We also have two cats: a Russian Blue named Milo and a ragdoll named Snow.

Milo is a bit of an odd cat.  He seeks attention all the time, but he doesn't act like he always wants it.  He will wait for you to walk by and then reach out and hit you. And he doesn't get along with Daisy so well.  I think he is jealous of her.  I like Milo a fair amount, but I am in the minority.

Snow is much more mellow.  If you don't know the ragdoll breed, suffice it to say that they are bred to sleep in your lap.  And they are very large.  Snow fits both of these characteristics well.  If she didn't meow so loud and insistently when it was mealtime, she would be a perfect cat.