Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new decade


Well, that was a pretty eventful 10 years.  Too many things to mention.  Karen and I got married, we sent Sarah and Sam to college, we watched Abby in many plays, we started and ended a number of different jobs, we added Milo and Snow and Daisy to our family.  We said goodbye to both of our fathers.

We did a lot of interesting things and traveled to many places around the world.  Let's hope the new decade brings much more enjoyment and happiness and good health, for us and all of our family and friends.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A sense of relief



We got H1N1 flu shots yesterday, courtesy of our local county government.  No charge, and not a very long wait.  I have often scoffed at all the media hype about a swine flu pandemic, but I have to admit that I felt a real sense of relief at having received this vaccination.  Weird.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holding to the Ground

I listen a lot to the On Broadway channel on XM radio.  One of the nice features is that I sometimes hear a song I have never heard before, from a show I have never heard of.  They recently played the song "Holding to the Ground," from the off-Broadway show Falsolettoland.  I don't know this 1991 show, but I really liked this song (sung by Faith Prince, from the original cast album):


Listen to the lyrics - very meaningful.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Russian bakery in SF

All four of my grandparents came to this country from Russia.  So it was a bit nostalgic for my mother last week when, driving through SF out toward the ocean, we passed an old-fashioned Russian bakery:



She saw it and said she'd love to go there sometime to see if they had real pumpernickel bread.  Being the good son I am, I turned around and headed back, dropping her and the rest of our party by the front door (since it was raining):


It was late on a Sunday afternoon, but the bakery was packed.  Sure enough, they did have fresh pumpernickel bread, along with lots of other traditional Russian choices:



I especially liked "any kind of Piroski" and the spelling of "blinses."

There must be a strong Russian  community in that part of SF.  They certainly have a good place to go for their bread and pastries.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A balanced life

Along the waterfront in Sausalito there is a man who spends his days balancing rocks, one on top of another.  They are simply balanced; he has a sign that says "No Glue."  He works very diligently at it:





I am not sure what value he gains from this pursuit.  He certainly is not collecting money.  I guess he does it for the peacefulness - it is a beautiful setting.  


Here is one final result:



Intriguing.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Building the Eiffel Tower (full-scale version)

So it's just past Christmas, and you are looking for something to do.  How about building your own Eiffel Tower?  You'll need a lot of steel and big construction crew, but a number of the original blueprints are available to the public.  Here's a full-on view:



It's almost like a Lego set, only bigger.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A song for Christmas

One of my favorite performers is Kristin Chenoweth.  Here is her recording of "Sleep Well Little Children/What a Wonderful World," from her album "A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas."





Enjoy this beautiful song, and Merry Christmas to all.



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ice skating in San Francisco

A quick look at the ice skating rink at Embarcadero Center in SF:



A little rainy, but everyone was having fun - even skating backward!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Finding a flu shot

Looking for a flu shot (regular or H1N1)?  Here's a nifty little tool from the U.S. government and my company.  Just type in your zip code, and the tool will take you to a Google map with the locations nearest you that offer the vaccines – both the nasal spray vaccine and the shot.

This actually came from the White House Blog, posted by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Resources.  Another good use of available technology.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Astonishing animation





This short film is from Rodrigo Blass of Pixar (as shown on Vimeo). It is crazy good - watch it in full-screen format.





 It is only going to be up for a short time (through Dec. 31), so watch it now!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fancy strollers?

We were out on Sunday and saw a woman pushing a baby in a pretty fancy stroller.  The thing that really caught my eye was the fact that it had two (!) cup holders for the person pushing the stroller.  Back when my kids were small, we didn't have cup holders; we didn't even really have lattes to go. 


So when I took a look online, I found a whole world of ridiculously expensive strollers.  Here is the Cameleon from the Bugaboo line:



The Cameleon costs $920!


But then I found having a fancy stroller is not enough.  You apparently need to have it detailed to get that "just right" look.  There is a company in San Francisco called Buggy Bubbles that will do stroller detailing for you - their slogan is "Put the pride back in your ride."  The top of the line service is this:



"Ooh La La" Ultimate (most single sport utility strollers) $79.99- $89.99  

Includes:
  • Upholstery, Canopy and Under Seat Bag Spot Clean and Gentle Hand Wash
  • Chassis and Bassinet Frame Scrub Down and Detail
  • All Wheel Power Wash, Clean Out, Air Fill and Shine
  • Chassis, Brake, and Wheel Lubrication
  • Total Buggy Polish and Steam Clean



I am thinking we may be going a bit overboard here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Visiting San Francisco for the holidays

My mom and her husband Al have come to San Francisco for the holidays (they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this year!).  We met them in the City for dim sum lunch on Saturday (yum!) and sent them to Greens for what should be a great dinner (waiting for a report).  Today our whole family will head there to see them, and later this week they will transition out our way for Christmas.


Here is a nice pic taken in front of some holiday decorations:





We are looking forward to a nice visit!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Astonishing panoramic photo

The photo found here is an incredible 360 degree image of the city of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.  It is made up of 600 individual photos, stitched together into a panoramic view.  You should load this in full screen mode, and then you can pan and zoom throughout the city.  Each time you zoom in, the images get sharper and sharper.





This photo was put together by Jeffrey Martin of 360 Cities.  It is another example of how technology continues to amaze me every day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Concerts

Earlier this week I was at Acalanes High School to see the winter choral concert.  Abby is a member of the Bella Voce choir and she was performing with her fellow students, along with a number of other choirs. The theme of the concert was Starry Nights.  In a couple of hours, we heard 8 different choir, including a terrific men's a capella group. 



One of the pieces they sang was a world premiere called "Awake," by Eric Barnum.  Abby's choir sang this along with the members of the Chamber Singers. The piece focused on dreams and awakening from them, but not necessarily in that order.  I thought it was very moving and that it was sung beautifully.



There was even a little bit of holiday music - Abby's choir finished with a lovely rendition of Silver Bells.  I don't have a recording, but here is a nice version by Johnny Mathis:





All in all, it was, as usual, a wonderful way to spend an evening, listening to your child singing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Art for a college application


My niece is applying to college this fall, and among her choices are several art schools. She is a very talented artist (probably among a number of other talented applicants, but still).  One school she is applying to is the Rhode Island School of Design.


As part of the application process, and in addition to their portfolio, each applicant is required to submit three specific drawings.  One of them is an assignment to draw the same item, but from three different perspectives.  Now you and I would think that meant you should show the item from three different angles.  But my niece is cleverer than you or I.


She chose to draw a Barbie doll, and she did the three drawings from the perspectives of a 5 year old, a 16 year old and a 35 year old.  So the first Barbie looked like an ordinary doll.  The second showed the Barbie sticking out of a trash can, legs first, with an iPhone in the foreground.  The third showed a Barbie pictured in a Toys R Us ad, along with a purchase receipt.


The drawings were very good, but I think that RISD may find this approach to be particularly impressive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!


This evening we went over to the home of our neighbors Mindy and Dan to celebrate the fifth night of Hanukkah.  They had a good-sized gathering, with friends and neighbors of ours enjoying an evening together.  


One of the nicest parts were all the kids, ranging in age from Dawn and Tom's 1-year-old daughter all the way up to both of our college age children, enjoying the fun together.  Mindy made delicious potato latkes, we lit the traditional Hanukkah candles (it was the first year for their son Jake to take on that responsibility), and we had an all-around very enjoyable dinner.


I love the holiday season - and it is nice to have such wonderful neighbors.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Free Wi-Fi in the airport


While waiting at Dulles Airport for my flight home this weekend, I decided to get a little work done.  I didn’t have a real need to spend the $10 charge to get access to wi-fi in the airport, but I had some items on my computer that I needed to review.  However, when I booted up my computer, I got a surprise.


My internal wi-fi is set to scan for open networks.  And when I turned on the computer, the first thing I saw was an open network entitled “Google Free Wi-Fi.”  I had forgotten that my company was offering free wi-fi in a number of airports this holiday season, as a gift for weary travelers (like me!). 


Here is part of the blog post announcing this holiday gift:
If you're one of the millions of people who will be flying during this busy travel period, chances are you may spend more time in the airport than on the plane itself. So, starting today and lasting through January 15th, we're happy to announce that we will be offering free WiFi in 47 (now 54) airports across the country. You can see the full list of airports here. This is one of our holiday gifts to our users, and, when you connect, we also hope that you'll take the opportunity to try some of the latest Google products. Our hope is that being connected for a few extra minutes (or hours, if you're delayed!) will help make things a bit easier. Be sure to look for the Google signs in an airport near you.
So I was able to log on, pick up some email, and even have a brief conversation with my wife.  All courtesy of Google, and available across the country, with no advertising (just a brief preliminary offer to try igoogle).  


If you are traveling through one of these 54 airports in December (through Jan. 15), make sure you take advantage of this nice option.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Back home

It's nice to be back home.  I had a really good visit with my brother, his wife Susan and their kids.  They really enjoy the holidays and I got to help them a bit get ready.  But I can do without travel for a while.

Here's a nice picture of Susan and Barry with some holiday decorations - that's a big tree!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Congrats Abby on another good role


Last year Abby stepped into the role of Lady Bracknell in her high school's production of The Importance of Being Earnest.  The girl who had the role became ill and Abby took over just a month before the production.  She did a great job!

Now our local theatre is putting on the show, and they are going to have a teen shadow cast.  Each role will have a teen selected for that part and the teen will work with the adult actor playing the role at all rehearsals.  Then the teens will get to put on their own performances.

Abby tried out, got a call back for two different parts, and was cast in the role of Cecily.  It should be a great teaching experience for her.  I am quite proud!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ok, I found a use for Twitter


Last week when we were getting ready to go to New York, I wanted to find out what tickets were available at the TKTS half-price ticket booth in Times Square.  I went onto twitter.com and entered TKTS in the search box.  Within moments I found a Twitter stream (it turned out it was from a TKTS employee) listing the shows available that night.

Very convenient and very helpful - it told us the show we wanted the next day (A Little Night Music) was available.  Turns out it was only 40% off, not half-price, but still.

Real-time information on a subject that I needed.  Helpful.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Good Morning Baltimore


I am leaving DC today and heading up to Baltimore to visit my brother and his family for the weekend.  I don't get back to visit enough, so I am looking forward to seeing them for a bit. 


Baltimore holds a lot of memories for me, from my college days at Johns Hopkins, to the many visits there to see my brother's extended family, to the trips I took there during the last few years of my Dad's life.  It's a real American city, with a lot of history, and really good Chesapeake Bay crabs (though probably not this time of year).


In honor of my visit, here is one of my favorite songs (from Hairspray):




(Music on my blog.  Who knew?  Thanks Alice.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top gadgets of 2009

Time has listed out its top 10 gadgets of 2009.  It's a pretty good list - if you like gadgets, these are all worth taking a look at.

No. 3 is fascinating - a fan from the inventor of the Dyson vacuum.  I had heard about this before; it's very innovative:




No. 1 is a very good choice - the Motorola Droid:



I could buy all 10 of these and be quite happy.



Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More on our trip to Broadway

Our trip to Broadway over the weekend was quite successful. We got to see quite a bit of Manhattan and some of Queens, ate a few good meals, had a nice snowstorm, and saw three Broadway shows in three nights. I already wrote about Ragtime, but the other two were highlights as well.


First, we saw Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Being the Broadway fan that I am, I have been a bit slow warming up to Sondheim, though most consider him a genius. But I did enjoy a concert production of Follies and a local production of Assassins, so I am getting there. A Little Night Music, however, pushed me over the top.

It is as if Sondheim was the Shakespeare of the musical theatre world. His dialogue is witty and thoughtful, truly intellectual. And his songs are superb, full of meaning and interaction with the show that you rarely see. The show is a period piece, both a farce and and a drama at the same time. It has only one famous song in it, Send in the Clowns, which most people know as a stand-alone iconic piece, but which, when fit into the context of the show, is something that works perfectly with its setting.

This production had the added star power of both Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones as its two leading female characters. Yet neither of them rested on their laurels – they played their parts beautifully. Lansbury, whose character spends most of the show in a wheelchair, made joke after joke without ever cracking a smile. And Zeta- Jones fit in perfectly and truly demonstrated her musical theatre roots, which substantially pre-date her turn as a movie star. Her rendition of Send in the Clowns could not have been better.


Following this, plus an exemplary performance of Ragtime on Friday night, we went on Saturday night to see Next to Normal, which Abby was so excited to see. It is a true rock musical, performed by only six actors, three of them teenagers. And it is no happy Broadway musical – the show tells the story of a family torn by bi-polar disorder, manic depression, suicide attempts, and death. Not light fare – but it was extraordinary. All six actors (one of them an understudy, no less) were superb. The singing was sensational, the acting just as good, and the tension and sorrow were almost overwhelming. Alice Ripley won a Tony for her role in the lead – hard to imagine how she could not. But all of the cast was terrific, and if you get to NYC, you should see this show.

So, three Broadway shows, all with their original casts. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow - in California?

So we got back to the Bay area last night, after a nice bit of a snowstorm in New York.  And what did we wake up to?  That's right - snow:



Even Daisy looks surprised by the snowman built by the little boys across the street:

Certainly not a very common sight, but fun.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Optogenetics

Sarah is studying biological anthropology at UC San Diego.  A biochemist and professor at her school, Roger Tsien, won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year.  Nice to see the faculty of her university doing so well.


As part of his research, he is heavily involved in studying a new field, called optogenetics.  In its simplest description, optogenetics allows scientists to turn on and turn off neurons using light.  And they are figuring out how to do this in the brain, which means a potential cure for Parkinson's and depression and who knows what else.


Wired magazine ran a fascinating story on this recently - Powered by Photons.  This article describes the process of getting a mouse's brain to react to light in a way that caused it to engage in a specific behavior:

In the summer of 2007, a team of Stanford graduate students dropped a mouse into a plastic basin. The mouse sniffed the floor curiously. It didn’t seem to care that a fiber-optic cable was threaded through its skull. Nor did it seem to mind that the right half of its motor cortex had been reprogrammed.
One of the students flipped a switch and intense blue light shone through the cable into the mouse’s brain, illuminating it with an eerie glow. Instantly, the mouse began running in counterclockwise circles as though hell-bent on winning a murine Olympics.
Then the light went off, and the mouse stopped. Sniffed. Stood up on its hind legs and looked directly at the students as if to ask, “Why the hell did I just do that?” And the students whooped and cheered like this was the most important thing they’d ever seen.
Because it was the most important thing they’d ever seen. They’d shown that a beam of light could control brain activity with great precision. The mouse didn’t lose its memory, have a seizure, or die. It ran in a circle. Specifically, a counterclockwise circle.

The article goes on to explain this process in detail and describes how it could be used someday to completely correct problems with the brain.


It's a well-written article, one well worth reading.  And you should remember this word - optogenetics.  It could have an important effect on your life one day.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Great Eggo Shortage


You may have to look for something different for breakfast for a while.  Kellogg has had an Eggo production disaster and has had to shut down its production lines.  According to CNN:


Leggo your Eggo: There's a waffle shortage
Kellogg is rationing its Eggo products due to flooding and equipment problems at two bakeries. The shortfall could last through mid-2010.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Better hoard your Eggos!
Grocery stores will be experiencing a shortage of the waffles until mid-2010 due to problems at two bakeries, a Kellogg's spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
Flooding at an Atlanta bakery during heavy rains in October forced Kellogg, which makes Eggo products, to shut down production temporarily, said company spokesman Kris Charles. Plus, equipment at Kellogg's largest waffle facility, based in Rossville, Tenn., needs extensive repairs.
"We are working around the clock to restore Eggo store inventories to normal levels as quickly as possible," Charles said in an e-mail.
Remaining inventory will be rationed to stores across the country "based on historical percentage of business." 
All I can say is thank goodness there are still real foods to eat for breakfast.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

A great New York museum


While in New York, we are going to visit the Museum of the Moving Image.  It's located in Astoria, Queens, and it is dedicated to the making of films and television shows.  I was there many years ago, when it first opened, so I am looking forward to going back.


The museum is undergoing a major renovation, so they only have one core exhibit available.  The exhibit is called "Behind the Screen" - here's a description:
The Museum's core exhibition, Behind the Screen, illuminates the many processes involved in producing, marketing, and exhibiting the moving image, with more than a thousand film and television artifacts, computer-based interactive experiences, commissioned installations, audio-visual materials, and demonstrations of professional equipment and techniques. 
 Sounds pretty interesting to me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ragtime


Tonight we are going to see the revival of Ragtime, showing at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.  I have never seen it before and I am very excited - there is some wonderful music in this show, and I just like the style a lot.


One of my favorite songs is from this show.  It's called Sarah Brown Eyes and it's a beautiful duet.  Maybe I am partial because my Sarah has brown eyes.


If you'd like to hear it, here's a version sung by two high school students with remarkable voices (think Glee, but in real life):


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leavin' on a jet plane


Headed to New York this morning with Abby.  This is a repeat of a trip we took two years ago, three days in New York seeing the sites and some Broadway shows.  Last time we crammed four shows into the three days; this year, we're going a little bit easier, with only three shows planned.


We're staying right in the heart of Times Square:





But we have plans to do some traveling around, including a visit to The Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, Queens.  I was there back when it opened in 1981, and I'm looking forward to a return visit.  Abby wants to tour Central Park (maybe even some ice skating!).


Plus, there is some snow in the forecast for this weekend.  Perfect for December in New York!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Nutcracker

As we move into December, lots of people turn to the holiday performances of The Nutcracker. I am going to see the production put on by the San Francisco Ballet this year - looking forward to it.


But for a number of years, my wife was an executive with the Oakland Ballet (which shut down in 2006 but has now been resurrected).  Every year she was there, The Nutcracker was the financial highlight of their season.  The music got to her after a while - she won't go see it anymore.  But I always enjoyed the holiday excitement of the production.


For a number of years, the Oakland Ballet participated in the City of Oakland's Holiday Parade.  And one year, Sam and I got to be in costume on the Oakland Ballet's float.  Here he is with some of his friends:





And here I am, dressed up in my mouse costume (that's me on the right, next to my friend Jen):





One key advantage of doing this was that we were in the parade right behind the Oakland Raiderettes.  So it only seemed fitting that I should have gotten to meet some of them:





My one and only chance at Nutcracker stardom!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Salt and pepper, delivered

Fresh from the UK, walking salt and pepper bots.  They have to be seen in action to be believed: