Sunday, February 28, 2010

10 billion songs!

Apple just presented a prize to the person who downloaded the 10 billionth song in iTunes - a gift certificate for $10,000 worth of music.  I can't imagine what you would buy with a gift card that big.  I'd run out of ideas after a few songs.  The 10 billionth song?  "Guess Things Happen That Way," by Johnny Cash.

I am a huge fan of iTunes.  It really has revolutionized the way we buy music, and I can't even think of how many iTunes gift cards I have bought in the past few years (not to mention the number of iPods, which is a different story altogether).

But it really works.  You have to be impressed with Apple's vision on this.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

O Canada

I have to admit that one of my favorite anthems (really?) is O Canada.  I love hockey games against Canadian teams because they sing it.  And I've only heard it a few times at the Olympics - the best, I think, was Thursday night's rendition by the Canadian womens' hockey team after they won the gold medal (many of them, actually) by beating the U.S. team 2 - 0.

But leave it to Steven Colbert, in his inimitable style, to bring a new twist to this great song.  Here is he with Canadian singer Michael Buble, belting out O Canada to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner:


I think I should have been born in Canada!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A sad day for the Internet

A court in Italy has convicted three Google executives, in absentia, of violating Italy's privacy laws.  The charge relates to a video that was posted by a third party to the company's YouTube site.  The court's action is being widely condemned.

As a member of Google's legal department, I can't comment, other than to say that this is a very sad day for the Internet.  In that regard, I fully agree with Google's public statement on this issue, which I am reprinting here in full:

Serious threat to the web in Italy

2/24/2010 01:57:00 AM 
In late 2006, students at a school in Turin, Italy filmed and then uploaded a video to Google Video that showed them bullying an autistic schoolmate. The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police. We also worked with the local police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it and she was subsequently sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin, as were several other classmates who were also involved. In these rare but unpleasant cases, that's where our involvement would normally end.
But in this instance, a public prosecutor in Milan decided to indict four Google employees —David Drummond, Arvind Desikan, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes (who left the company in 2008). The charges brought against them were criminal defamation and a failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video's existence until after it was removed.
Nevertheless, a judge in Milan today convicted 3 of the 4 defendants — David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes — for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. All 4 were found not guilty of criminal defamation. In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload. We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.
But we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.
These are important points of principle, which is why we and our employees will vigorously appeal this decision.
Posted by Matt Sucherman, VP and Deputy General Counsel - Europe, Middle East and Africa

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

French cheese souffle (not an Olympics post!)

We tried French Cheese Souffle from Trader Joe's the other night.  Believe it or not, it comes in nuggets, frozen in a bag.  You put the amount you want into a ramekin and bake it - nothing else.  And out comes deliciously-browned cheesey souffles, hot and tasty!  

Not too many frozen food packages taste this good.  Worth trying. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A great Olympic story

Karen forwarded this truly heartwarming story about Bill Schuffenbauer, a member of the U.S. bobsled team in Vancouver.  Here is a guy, age 36, who could have wasted his entire life.  He came from a truly terrible background, and he pulled himself up, and he is competing in his third Olympics.  And he and his family are sacrificing hard for him to be there.  While that is not itself unusual, his story is quite an inspiration.

I'm rooting for him to win a medal this week.  

Monday, February 22, 2010

An outstanding hockey game

Going in to last night's game against Team Canada, the USA hockey team looked like a sure underdog.  The Canadian team is loaded with NHL stars - including Sidney Crosby, Jerome Iginla, and three Sharks from the same line (Heatley, Marleau and Thornton!).  And the USA team, even though it has some really good players, is pretty young.

But in a superb game, the Americans prevailed 5-3.  It was hockey at its best - great passing, great shooting, great goal-tending.  And this is just the preliminary round!

Not quite the "Miracle on Ice" from 1980, but really fun.  This tournament is looking good.

Oh, and if you don't remember that win over the Russian team, here is the big finish:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stars of Vancouver

Here is an interesting story in the NY Times about Apolo Anton Ohno.  I have to admit that, going into these Olympics, I did not have the highest opinion of him (Dancing with the Stars,really?).  But I have been impressed watching him, and this article is really instructive about who he has become over a long time.  

Shaun White was another one of those "famous" athletes that I did not focus on very much prior to Vancouver.  His performance in the half-pipe, however, was simply amazing.  It was great having the reference of all his other competitors, so you could really see how much better he is.

Pretty enjoyable Olympics so far - with lots of hockey to come!  And the hi-def broadcasts show what hi-def television was meant to be used for.  I am particularly amazed by the ultra-sharp slow motion replays.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ok, so maybe I relate better than others might . . .

But this is a really, really good show:

It's not just the subject matter that is good.  The three actors (Andre Braugher in particular) are so well-suited to their roles, so believable, that they just carry along every episode.  And the camera work is excellent, especially the sideways shots and cuts when the actors sit in the coffee shop and talk.

Just finishing its first season, so you have not missed too much yet.  Highly recommended.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A bit over the top?

Michael Bauer, the restaurant critic for the SF Chronicle, wrote a piece today about Christopher Kostow, the chef at the Meadowood Resort in the Napa Valley.  We've been to Meadowood to look around, but never have we eaten there or stayed there ($800 a night or more).

In the article, in which Bauer says that Kostow's Restaurant at Meadowood has earned 4 stars (as high as it gets) in his ranking system, there appears the following description:

The tasting menu at the Restaurant at Meadowood began with a waiter bearing a brown velvet pillow on top of which rested an amuse of house-made crackers, garnished with a minuscule flower and leaf from the restaurant's gardens. It looked like what a ring bearer might carry down the aisle. 
Then, still before the official first course arrived, the kitchen sent out a baked potato parfait, a custard cup layered with smooth potato puree, custard, herbed gelee, crispy potatoes and whole oysters, creating another example of how chef Christopher Kostow artfully marries opposing textures and flavors. 
Soon afterward we received a plate mounded with "rye dirt" where fine bread crumbs mixed with salt, and tiny radishes and carrots dipped in butter "grow" from the mixture.

The rest of the dinner was more intricate than this.  While I am all in favor of fancy meals, this seems a bit nuts.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The most lasting contribution . . .

Patrick Kennedy announced last week that he was retiring from Congress after 8 terms.  Kennedy, the youngest child of Senator Edward Kennedy, and the grandson of President John F. Kennedy, said that he was ready to take his life in a new direction.  In particular, he said that he had spoken about this with his father quite a bit before the Senator passed away last year and that they had discussed the different ways one could engage in public service.

In that regard, I was most struck by this comment in a New York Times article on his announcement:
He said he had been contemplating his decision for nearly a year, and discussed it with his father, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, before he died of brain cancer in August. They talked about the different ways a person could serve the public, the younger Mr. Kennedy said. They agreed that Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Senator Kennedy’s sister, had made the most lasting contribution of anyone in the family when she founded the Special Olympics.
I have always been impressed with the Special Olympics and its motto:  "Let me win but if I can not win let me be brave in the attempt."  

My daughter Abby has found herself in classes this year with a number of special education students, and she has taken a strong interest in helping them and working with them.  She has particularly focused on them in her P.E. class, helping them in the pool, at the ping-pong table, and at other efforts where her help is welcomed.  I think she is learning a lot from them, and a lot about herself as well.

Last week, the special ed students had a Valentine's party, and Abby was invited.  I thought that was really nice.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A birthday, missed

Today would have been my father's 80th birthday, but he passed away just over four years ago.  So we will raise a toast in his honor today, and think of fond memories.

My father, Leonard, led a very interesting life.  His professional career was spent working as a historian and exhibits specialist with the Massachusetts Historical Society, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.  I remember relying on him a great deal for his knowledge of historical events. But he also was lucky to be able to retire in his early 50s, and spent the rest of his life seeing interesting places (China, the Galapagos, Antarctica and many others).  I often lived vicariously through his descriptions of his travels.

When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in his mid-70s, he called me on the phone and told me in the most striking way.  He said, "Imagine you heard about a man who worked a normal life, until his mid-60s, and then who traveled around the world for the next 20 years, and then died in his 80s.  You'd say - that was a man who lived a full life.  Well, that's just me, but 10 years earlier."  And through the 7 months or so of his illness, he never complained.    Quite the role model.

I miss you, Dad.  Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Presidents' Day?

Yesterday was a day off for most folks, indeed a federal holiday.  And we all think that it is Presidents' Day, jointly celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and George Washington (Feb. 22).  But it turns out that is not quite right.

According to a pretty interesting article at CNN's website, this holiday has always celebrated only George Washington's birthday.  It actually became a federal holiday in 1885, and was converted to the third Monday in February (i.e., yesterday) when Congress implemented the Monday Holidays Act in 1971.  But the decision was made to keep it as a Washington's birthday celebration, and not to include Lincoln at all.

So everyone may call it Presidents' Day, but it appears not to be so.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Big waves

The Mavericks surfing competition was held on Saturday and ran into some problems when some rogue waves hurt a large group of spectators.  Here's a look at a real Maverick's wave, over 50 feet high, breaking quite a bit offshore:

We went down to Half Moon Bay the next day, just for a fun Valentine's Day, and got a glimpse of the violent sea up close and personal.  This was shot from a cliff high above the ocean - those continuous waves, breaking at the beach, are probably 15-20 feet high:

I don't ever recall seeing the Pacific so active.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

If I should fall behind . . .

This is nice song for today:

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A nice commemorative of the Olympics

In the category of "what do I want, what do I want?"

As the Olympic games get underway in Vancouver, I spotted this Olympic commemorative watch from Omega:

That is just plain gorgeous.  They are only making 2010 of them (ha ha), so I am not getting my hopes up high for one to arrive in the mail from Amazon.  But if I ever get an Omega, the Seamaster is the one I want.

(Side note: why a diving watch to commemorate the Winter Olympics?)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine lights

We decided to do a little bit of lighting for Valentine's Day this year:

Modest, but kind of fun.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Very high speed Internet

I normally don't talk about work items, but I've been working for a while on a project that was publicly announced on Wednesday: a test of building high-speed, fiber to the home networks in the U.S.  The reaction has been very positive!

Here's a good summary and here is another.  By the way, that is my good friend James Kelly in the videos.

I am pretty excited about the potential for this project and look forward to seeing where it goes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Perhaps we all need notes sometimes


Gibbs Scrawls Grocery List On Hand In Jab At Palin

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has the words "Eggs, Milk, Bread (crossed out), Hope, and Change" written on his hand as he talks to reporters in the White House briefing room Feb. 9.

?ui=2&view=att&th=126b5114fc165a2d&attid=0.1&disp=attd&realattid=ii_126b5114fc165a2d&zw(AP Photo)
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took a swipe at Sarah Palin Tuesday, mimicking the former vice presidential candidate's decision to use her hand as a notepad at the National Tea Party Convention last week.

At the daily press briefing, Gibb showed his left hand with writing on it, which apparently was his grocery list to purchase ahead of the expected snowstorm.
Scrawled on his hand were :

-- Milk
-- Bread (crossed out)
-- Eggs
-- Hope
-- Change

The press secretary said he crossed out bread, just so I can make pancakes."

Palin had seven words scrawled on her hand during the convention, which led some left-leaning bloggers to mock her, in particular, after she joked about President Obama's extensive use of the teleprompter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Change your environment

This looks very interesting - a new book called Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard.  There is a very good excerpt at TechCrunch, talking about how a problem with medication errors was changed at a Kaiser hospital in San Francisco.  I like the concept - if you want change, then change your environment:
One of the most consistent findings in psychology is that people behave differently when their environment changes. When we’re in a place where people are quiet (church), we’re quiet. When we’re in a place where people are loud (stadiums), we’re loud. When we’re driving and the lanes narrow, we slow down. When they widen, we speed up again. This may seem obvious, but when we try to make change at work, we often make the mistake of obsessing about the people involved rather than their environment. Often the easiest way to drive change is to shape the environment.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Parisian Love

A Super Bowl ad?  Kind of cute:

It's definitely getting a positive reaction.  I liked this one, from the Kansas City Star:  Google's ad best of Super Bowl's dull crop

Note that the ad has been running on YouTube for three months.  Nothing new - but nice to see it during the Super Bowl.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Comcast -> Xfinity?

Ok, so most of your customers are unhappy with your services.  Your customer support is probably the worst in the world.  Your company's name is synonymous with a bad customer experience.

What do you do?  Why, change your name of course:

I don't know what Comcast is thinking, but this new name is not going to fix anything.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Movie of the year

The Hurt Locker would get my vote for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

And if Kathryn Bigelow does not win the award for best director, then the voters were not thinking clearly.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Present and future leaders

Yesterday I had the privilege of listening to a talk by two extraordinarily impressive government officials (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron).  Alec Ross is the senior advisor to Hilary Clinton, responsible for innovation and technology.  He is bringing technology to the government and foreign policy, and bringing them both into the 21st century.  Jared Cohen is an accomplished author and a member of Ms. Clinton's policy planning staff, a role he began in 1996 under Condeleeza Rice.  Cohen is widely known for having intervened to keep Twitter online during the Iranian election crisis.

These two spoke about the need to innovate, to find new ways of reaching people.  I can't describe the details of what they had to say, but they were truly inspiring.  If, as Eric Schmidt puts it, these are the future faces of politics, then I feel a little bit better about where things are headed in this country.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Justice Jackson

I am reading "The Nine," Jeffrey Toobin's book about the Supreme Court.  It is fairly good, if a bit biased (for example, one does not have to read far to see how much Toobin dislikes Clarence Thomas).  

In the course of a discussion about the Court's decisions in religion cases, I came across a fascinating statement from Justice Robert Jackson.  It is apparently quite well known, but I either have not read it before or simply do not remember it.

The case involved a challenge to school requirements for the mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.  In 1940, the Supreme Court had upheld such requirements against a challenge by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Toobin notes the growing rise of fascism in Europe immediately thereafter and its effect on how people viewed coercive loyalty.  

Just three years later, the Court took an "almost identical" case from the Witnesses and reversed itself, holding that such requirements violated the Constitution.

Here is what Justice Jackson wrote in that case:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act.  If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”
So perfectly stated, and so eloquent.  Would that all Justices wrote that well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Update on my niece

I wrote a bit ago about my niece's application to the Rhode Island School of design - how she imposed a fresh take on the meaning of perspective in art.

Well, RISD agreed with my assessment of how good it was.  She was admitted over the weekend.

Congratulations Emily!  Nice job.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More Giants news - Jon Miller wins Frick Award

Funny to be focused on the Giants this week, but spring training is about to start, so maybe it's appropriate.  The exciting news now is that my favorite broadcaster, Jon Miller, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July.  He will be given the Ford Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting.

Miller is the best sports broadcaster I have ever heard, without a doubt.  There are many occasions where I would rather listen to the radio broadcast than watch the game on televison, just to hear Miller call the game.  The games are that much better when he is on the tv side. And his long-standing partnership with Joe Morgan on ESPN is one of the best broadcasting pairs ever.

If you have never heard Miller call a game, you have missed a real treat.  Here is a great example of the enthusiasm he puts into the game:

One of Ruben Rivera's finest moments.

Lest you doubt my admiration for Miller, consider these two tidbits.  First, I have only attended Giants' spring training in Scottsdale one time.  It was fun - the small park is a great place to see a game.  But one of the key highlights was getting to shake his hand and get his autograph.  And second, here is the bobblehead I have sitting on my desk at work:

A great bobblehead and a very well-deserved award.  I'll be happily watching the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, mainly to hear his speech.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Say Hey Kid

I've been a Giants fan since I got to the Bay area.  I went to Candlestick a lot when I lived in the City, and even for the few seasons that I had season tickets to the A's, I rooted for the Giants the whole time.  The 1989 Bay Bridge Series (with its ten-day break due to the earthquake) just about killed me as the A's swept the Giants in four games.

The one true Giant (out of many great ones) is Willie Mays.  I never saw him play - his career ended in 1973.  But I have had the good fortune to see him in person a number of times, at Candlestick and then AT&T Park.  In fact, a good friend of mine has a luxury box there that is just ten boxes or so from Willie's, just around the curve in left field.  Every once in a while he would be sitting there.  Amazing.

Apparently Willie has just cooperated, for the first time, with a biographer.  There is a new book coming out shortly, and there is a great story about it in the NY Times.  The story itself is very interesting, and tells me something I never knew:  when Bobby Thompson hit his home run to beat the Dodgers for the 1951 pennant, Willie Mays was on deck.

This is a book I think I am going to have to get.