Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spending all day online

Here's an interesting article from the NY Times about the amount of time that kids spend online.  It describes a new study from the Kaiser Foundation that finds today's kids, aged 8 to 18, spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day using electronic devices (phones, tvs, computers, etc.).

One amazing fact jumped out at me - by multitasking, they actually manage to obtain 11 hours of media content in that 7 1/2 time period.

And I thought I was on the computer too much.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Quite disappointing

I thought this new tablet from Apple might really be something:

But it just looks like a big version of my iPod Touch:

Why would anyone spend $500 to get a bigger version of the Touch, when the Touch is so perfect as it is? 

I am surprised and disappointed.  C'mon, Apple.  You can do better than that.


Friday, January 29, 2010

A really nice tribute to another artist who died too young

As the father of teenage daughters, this tribute to filmmaker John Hughes, who died last year, struck a chord with me:

You might not know his name right away, but you know many of the movies that he wrote and/or directed (in particular, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Home Alone).  I thought this was a very interesting perspective on the man, and there is some really nice writing by the author of the blog post.

Worth reading.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Where to stay in Hana

If you find yourself headed for the island of Maui, you might want to consider staying at the Hotel Hana Maui:

It's a bit of a drive - if you've never taken the road to Hana, you should, at least once.  But I have it on good authority that this is quite the place to stay.  And if you can, choose to stay in the Sea Ranch Cottages.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Advice to the unwary motorist

I saw this at a local gas station:

Good advice - put the nozzle back in the pump.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Music for Haiti

Here's a very simple way to help.  If you saw the telethon last Friday, you know how beautiful was the music that was presented.  If you didn't see it, you can hear it for yourself.

Just go to iTunes right now and, for a simple $7.99, you can download all the songs that were sung by the musicians who donated their time and their art.  For only $2.99, you can download the show itself.

100% of the proceeds will be sent to Haiti relief organizations.

A simple gesture that will make a difference.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jean Simmons

Jean Simmons passed away on Friday, at the age of 80.  She was one of my favorite actresses, but really for a single role.  She played Sarah Brown in the movie of Guys and Dolls, alongside Marlon Brando.  Here they are, with a wonderful song:

(Note how badly Brando sings, yet how he still commands the screen.)

In large part because of Jean Simmons' performance in that movie, I always loved the name Sarah, which became the name of my oldest daughter.

Farewell, Jean.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tornado warning yesterday!

Ok, the weather is getting to be a bit much here:

Twister spotted in Contra Costa

Saturday, January 23, 2010

(01-23) 13:40 PST BRENTWOOD --

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for eastern Contra Costa County today after a trained spotter reported a funnel cloud near Brentwood.

The funnel cloud was about 8 miles south of Oakley and moving southeast at 5 mph as of 1:11 p.m., the agency said.  The tornado warning is in effect until 2 p.m.

Tornadoes are rare in California and almost unheard of in the Bay Area, but this is the second time this week the weather service has issued a warning locally. Santa Clara County was put under a tornado warning Wednesday afternoon. No twister materialized.

The weather service says a basement is the best place to be should a tornado strike. If there's no basement, get in an interior hallway or room such as a closet on the lowest floor, cover yourself with blankets or pillows and stay away from windows.

People who are outside should lie flat in a low spot if a tornado strikes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sleeping in Paris

I was thinking about Paris the other day, probably my favorite city anywhere.   While doing so, I realized that there have been five women who have had significant impacts on my life - my mother, my childrens' mother, my two daughters and my wife - and I have been to Paris with each of them.

This is a beautiful song about the city:

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Golden Bear

Jack Nicklaus, one of my all-time heroes, turned 70 yesterday.  Hard to believe.  Nicklaus was the greatest golfer I watched growing up, and I was a huge fan. I even strongly considered going to Ohio State University because that was his alma mater.  I hope to get there one day just to visit the Jack Nicklaus Museum.

I got to see him play a number of times; his level of concentration and focus was amazing.  Plus, I was at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and saw him finish his final U.S. Open round - quite a thrill.

This is my favorite picture of Jack:

It's from the 1986 Masters, which he won at the age of 46 (the oldest ever).  This picture was taken as he dropped a birdie putt at number 17 as part of a 30 on the back nine.

He'll be at the Masters this year, along with Arnold Palmer, as one of the two honorary starters.  I am going there for the first time ever this April (thank you Barry!), but Nicklaus and Palmer will tee off on Thursday and I don't arrive until Friday.  Still.  

A day late, but happy birthday Jack.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A great commercial

I have to think to remember this is for Pepsi - it's not a foremost part of the commercial.  And even though it it involves some fake injuries, it is just so well done and so funny:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Off the schneid, without a doubt

Monday night the Sharks played a great game against the Calgary Flames, winning by a record score of 9-1.  In that game, 8 different Sharks players scored goals (Dany Heatley had two), but 6 of those 8 players ended long scoreless droughts.  This was what Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda called "getting off the schneid."

That is an interesting phrase - it means to end a period of negative results with a positive result, and in sports, to end a long period of failing to score.  Here is the best definition I could find, from The Word Detective:
To be “on the schneid” means to be on a losing streak, racking up a series of losing, and especially scoreless, games. “Schneid” is actually short for “schneider,” a term originally used in the card game of gin, meaning to prevent an opponent from scoring any points. “Schneider” entered the vocabulary of gin from German (probably via Yiddish), where it means “tailor.” Apparently the original sense was that if you were “schneidered” in gin you were “cut” (as if by a tailor) from contention in the game. “Schneider” first appeared in the literature of card-playing about 1886, but the shortened form “schneid” used in other sports is probably of fairly recent vintage.
The sports world is full of these phrases.  I really like this one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

100 things restaurant staffers should never do

Here is a great list (in two posts, from a good New York Times blog called "You're the Boss") of 100 things restaurant staffers should never do:

I particularly like the following:
7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.
14. When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right.
32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
51. If there is a service charge, alert your guests when you present the bill. It’s not a secret or a trick.
75. Do not ask if someone is finished when others are still eating that course.
It's a very good list, with a lot of good recommendations.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Favorite appetizers in the Bay Area

So we have found that some of the best foods in local restaurants are simply vegetables.  And much to my surprise, when thinking about our favorite appetizers, the top three are all in that category.  

But there are some unexpected results here - the top two are brussel sprouts and green beans, well above where we might have expected to find french fries.  Brussel sprouts and green beans?  Really?

Here are our top three favorites in order of preference:
1.   Crispy brussel sprouts - Metro (Lafayette)
2.   Crispy green beans - P.F. Chang China Bistro (multiple locations)
3.   Shoestring potatoes - Zuni Cafe (San Francisco)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another movie recommendation

If you have not yet seen Up in the Air, head on over to the movieplex.  This is George Clooney at the top of his game, in an excellent and well-told story (without the typical Hollywood ending).  It also stars two actresses you won't know - Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick - who are terrific.

Here's the trailer:

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My new phone

I have to admit that I love my new Nexus One phone.  It just feels right, better than the iPhone (which I really like).  I couldn't explain it until now.  

But in a piece in the New York Times, Nick Bilton explains it better than I can (relying on Chad Dickerson of Etsy):
Chad Dickerson, chief technology officer of Etsy, received a pre-launch Nexus One from Google three weeks ago. He said Google’s phone feels connected to certain services on the Web in a way the iPhone doesn’t. “Compared to the iPhone, the Google phone feels like it’s part of the Internet to me,” he said. “If you live in a Google world, you have that world in your pocket in a way that’s cleaner and more connected than the iPhone.”
That pretty much sums it up for me, too.  It's the Internet in my pocket.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Earthquake kit

While earthquakes are very much foremost in our minds, here's some quick advice on getting an earthquake kit ready.  We have a full set of supplies, but haven't checked them out lately, so we will be updating this weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Make yourself happy right now

My wife shared this list from the January issue of Health Magazine.  She said it's a "chick" list (and she's right), but a lot of it makes sense to me anyway:

1. Have the doughnut. Stop avoiding that amazing bakery. Walk in, buy that heavenly treat, and enjoy. One doughnut never killed anyone. 
2. Go ahead: vent. Shut yourself in your room for 10 min., and let it all out - laugh, cry, scream, pound a pillow. (Just don't pound the cat, OK?) 
3. Just say no. No, I don't have time to help you bake cookies for your sister's shower. No, I can't loan you 20 bucks. No, no, no, no, no! Wow, doesn't that feel good? (This is one of my biggest problems, I can never say NO!) 
4. Create an a.m. mantra. If your alarm's ring makes you groan, think one upbeat thought (it's going to be the best day ever). Now peel back the sheets, and get going! 
5. Splurge. Go for that pedicure, massage, or Pilates class you've been eyeing. Fine, they're not needs, but don't wants count for something? 
6. Repeat after us. Next time you're at the mirror and evil descriptors come to mind, say "Wow, I have a spectacular______(insert your favorite body part)" five times. 
7. Do up breakfast. Instead of skipping it (again), invite friends over for a potluck brunch-with mimosas. 
8. Slack like mad. You run around like crazy all week. This weekend, pencil in "absolutely nothing." Hello, mental-health day. 
9. Go for dessert. Hit a glam restaurant late, and just split creme brulee: 1/10th the price and calories of having the whole meal there. 
10. Say hi. Owe like 20 friends a call? Phone just one; you'll feel better instantly. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Doing the right thing in China

From the Official Google Blog:

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

Speaks for itself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prop 8 trial - update

The federal lawsuit against Proposition 8 got underway yesterday in San Francisco.  But, no streaming to YouTube, despite the judge's order allowing videotaping and uploading.  No, the United States Supreme Court decided to stay the judge's order yesterday morning, preventing any videotaping.  No explanation was given, and the stay is only in effect until Wednesday afternoon, suggesting the Court intends to rule more concretely by tomorrow.

You would think the Supreme Court would have more important things to do than block the public from seeing an important trial.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Alice!

I continually get to meet nice and interesting people at my job.  One of my favorite colleagues is Alice, who is an internal client working on energy and environmental issues.  Alice is much younger than me, but we get along very well.  Perhaps it is our Maryland connection (I grew up there and my high school graduation was on the UM campus, which is her alma mater).

We share a love of food and spend a lot of time talking about recipes and restaurants and the like.  She is smart, funny and friendly - all you want in a friend.

Today is her birthday and she has to be traveling on business.  So Happy Birthday Alice from California!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Ok, I am getting a little bit nervous.  Earlier this week we had a 4.1 and a 3.5 earthquake right near my office.  Not that big on the Richter scale, but they both sent pretty sharp jolts while I was working at my desk.  Then Saturday afternoon a 6.5 earthquake hit off the coast of Northern California, and there have been a lot of aftershocks.

Look at this image - "235 earthquakes on this map:

This is not encouraging.  And it does not even show the one from yesterday afternoon or the subsequent minor quakes.  

I think that is enough for now.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Brussel sprouts. Really?

So I am one of those people that lived his whole life absolutely hating brussel sprouts.  Worst vegetable ever.  Mushy, not tasty, ick.  Then one day we are at Metro in Lafayette and spotted brussel  sprouts on the appetizer menu.  We decided to try them and OMG!  They were unbelievable.  It turns out they quarter them and then flash-fry them for 30 seconds.  Heaven.  One time we went back and ordered a burger to share, but asked for brussel sprouts instead of fries.  As I was eating them, I said that if they told me I had to give one of the two items back, I would send the burger straight to the kitchen.

So Karen has been working on making these at home.  She isn't frying them - she quarters them, strips off some leaves, tosses the whole thing in olive oil, and bakes them on a cookie sheet.  Delicious!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Nice looking Smart Cars

I really like the Smart cars, but I've concluded they only make sense in a big, crowded city.  I first saw them in in Paris, where they worked perfectly.  When I see them out in suburbia, they sort of look silly.

Now Smart is having a design contest, asking people to customize their little cars.  Here is my favorite so far:

Hard to tell, but it looks like a map of the London tube.  A perfect city for this car!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Watching an important trial on the Internet

On Monday, trial will begin in federal court in San Francisco in  the lawsuit seeking to overturn California's Prop 8, which outlawed gay marriage. The plaintiffs had asked the court to allow the trial, which will not have a jury, to be televised live.

In an interesting ruling yesterday, the judge hearing the case denied that motion. He did, however, rule that the trial could be videotaped and then uploaded, on a delayed basis, to YouTube.  According to the S.F. Chronicle:
[Judge] Walker said this case seemed ideal for a pilot program, approved last month by the federal appeals court in San Francisco, to allow telecasting of selected nonjury civil trials.
He cited the wide interest in the case and said most of the witnesses would be campaign officials or academic experts accustomed to speaking in public.
"I've always thought that if the public could see how the judicial process works, they would take a somewhat different view of it," the judge said.
A court spokesman said the uploads would happen as quickly as possible, which could be the same day or the next day.

Interesting use of YouTube's capabilities to bring a major event to the public.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The new phone is here

I've been using my new Nexus One for about a month, but couldn't say anything until today.  Now it is released and available on line -

It finally made me stop wanting an iPhone.  Really, really nice.

Available now unlocked or with a T-Mobile plan.  But here's an important note:  it is much better financially for you to buy the phone unlocked.  Here's why:
  • The $179 subsidized price requires an $80/month plan for two years - total cost:  $1920
  • The $529 unsubsidized price - an extra payment of $350 - allows you to get the exact same plan, but without any contract, for $60 a month.  If you kept it for two years, total cost: $1440.  You save $480, which recoups the $350 extra you paid for the phone, and gives you an extra $130.
Simple math.

And if you have Verizon service, it's coming there soon as well.

Update -- here are two good articles:
a well-written, thoughtful story about this new phone and how it compares to the iPhone
a good article explaining why you shouldn't compare the Nexus One to the iPhone

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The future of 3D

I went to see Avatar in 3D this weekend, and now I finally understand what is so impressive about this medium.  The movie was so lifelike, and contained such depth, that it seemed like you were really on Pandora.  Kudos to James Cameron, who chose not to throw the 3D in your face.  None of it was gratuitous, and all of it worked.

Here's the trailer, but it doesn't do the 3D version justice:

Highly recommended.

Monday, January 4, 2010

100,000 pounds of fruit

I wrote a while back about the Urban Farmers pilot project in Lafayette.  We are one of the 20 selected families for a pilot farm, and it is underway.  I'll update when it is farther along.

Today, however, we attended a related event - the delivery of hundreds of new fruit trees for our town.  The founders of the Urban Farmers project have separately embarked on a goal to add 1000 new fruit trees throughout local neighborhoods, and today was the first delivery:

The event brought together a cross-section of the community, all committed to helping the environment in their own way.  The delivery today was of 318 trees, all soon to be growing in backyards.  Here is a picture of two of the founders of the Urban Farmers project, Siamack and his son Cameron, demonstrating the proper pruning of a new tree:

We got two trees, a White Germain apple and a Rio Oso Gem peach.  We'll be planting them this week and should have buds later this year.

One statement from today stood out.  The goal, as I noted, is 1000 trees in the next five years (and 318 is a very good start).  Each tree would be expected to produce 100 pounds of fruit over that five years.  Which means that this little project, in one small town, would produce 100,000 pounds of new fruit that otherwise wouldn't exist.  That is pretty impressive.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Homemade butterscotch sauce

Sarah made us homemade butterscotch sauce for the holidays, which we served at our New Year's Eve party and which she delivered to some of our neighbors as holiday presents.  Warmed up over Lunardi's vanilla ice cream, it was to die for.

The recipe is quite simple, with only five ingredients:  brown sugar, butter, heavy cream, vanilla and salt.  (I know, how could it not be good, with those ingredients?)  I love the fact that there are only five items in teh recipe - very pure.  (Compare, for example, the Five line of ice creams from Haagen-Dazs, which also only have five ingredients each, and which are really good.)

Here is a look at me helping to stir the simmering pot:

And the recipe, courtesy of the Smitten Kitchen (an excellent food blog):

Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce
Yield: About 2/3 to 3/4 cup sauce

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons, 2 ounces or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark or light brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular salt), plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus more to taste

Melt butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk until well blended. [A flat whisk works great here.] Bring to a very gentle boil and cook for about five minutes, whisking occasionally.
Remove from heat and add one teaspoon of the vanilla extract, stirring to combine and this is where, despite the simplicity of the recipe, you get to feel all “chef-y”. Dip a spoon in the sauce and carefully taste the sauce (without burning your tongue!) to see if you want to add additional pinches or salt or splashes of vanilla. Tweak it to your taste, whisking well after each addition. I ended up using a full teaspoon of flaky salt and the listed amount of vanilla to get a butterscotch sauce with a very loud, impressive butterscotch flavor but the strength of your vanilla and intensity of your salt may vary.
Serve cold or warm over vanilla ice cream, roasted pears or pound cake. The sauce will thicken as it cools. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated in a microwave or small saucepan.
To do ahead: This sauce will keep at least two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Definitely worth making for your next party (or your next bowl of ice cream).

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Here is a good tip from David Pogue's year-end column in the New York Times:
READABILITY The single best tech idea of 2009, though, the real life-changer, has got to be Readability. It’s a free button for your Web browser’s toolbar (get it at
When you click it, Readability eliminates everything from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else. Times Square just goes away.
You wind up with a simple, magazine-like layout, presented in a beautiful font and size (your choice) against a white or off-white background with none of this red-text-against-black business.
You occasionally run into a Web page that Readability doesn’t handle right — no big deal, just refresh the page to see the original. But most of the time, Readability makes the world online a calmer, cleaner, more beautiful place.
Download this and put it into your bookmarks toolbar.  It is a good improvement for reading web pages.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Twenty Ten

Ok, how to pronounce the new year?  Twenty-ten.  Simple.

From the web site that explains it:

Say the year "1810" out loud. Now say the year "1999" out loud. See a pattern? It's been easier, faster, and shorter to say years this way for every decade (except for the one that just ended) instead of saying the number the long way. However, many people are carrying the way they said years from last decade over to this decade as a bad habit. If we don't fix this now, we'll be stuck saying years the long way for the next 99 years. Don't let that happen!