Monday, December 17, 2007

Life Imitates Art

If you have ever seen The Shawshank Redemption (and if you haven't, you really should), you know how this story works: "Pinups of Bikini-Clad Women Hid Jailbreak Route, Officials Say." I can't believe it actually worked.

The authorities should probably check Zihuatanejo.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The End of the Playoff Road

Kelly's soccer team, the Lemonheads, went down to defeat Saturday and Wednesday, ending their season. The campaign was a successful one, though, with a final third place ranking out of twenty teams. Strong defense was the team's hallmark all season, as it almost always is with good teams at any level. After squeezing through with two 1-0 playoff wins the week before, the Lemonheads lost 1-0 last Saturday. Then, in the game they had to win to get to the championship game, the Lemonheads staged an epic battle against the Beckhams, taking a 1-1 draw through regulation time and two overtime periods, before finally bowing out, 4-3 on penalty kicks. The game could not have been more tightly contested. (Ironically, the coach of the team that won is the same coach that led the team that knocked Kelly's team out of the playoffs two years ago.) The girls were disappointed, but are to be congratulated for playing so well as a team and competing with such intensity.

The last two games were played at the Glendale Sports Complex, on a full size artificial turf field. The very last game was actually played at night under the lights, in unexpectedly cold temperatures. There was a real East Coast feel to the whole experience (that many of the West Coasters did not adapt to well). It was a good way to wrap up the season. The girls will remember the experience of it much longer than they remember the result.

We will miss this AYSO region. It is exceptionally well organized and supported by the community, and has greatly enriched the lives of countless families, not the least of which our own.

Flight of Fancy

Last night's Mythbusters tackled one of my most cherished Walter Mitty fantasies: a civilian landing a commercial airliner. With all of the flights I have made lately (20 since mid-September), and my lifelong love of flying, the thought of playing the dashing hero who brings the airplane in safely after the pilots are mysteriously incapacitated is one that has played out in my head many times. By golly, I know lots about how planes work. For instance, I know airplanes have flaps! That ought to count for something.

Using a huge NASA simulator, the Mythbusters guys tried to land what appeared to be a 767 in Denver. In their first attempts, without any assistance from a controller, they both failed in spectacular fashion. Interestingly, with the guidance of an air traffic controller, both novices managed to land the plane smoothly right on the centerline of the runway.

I felt a lot better about my prospects for future glory. However, there are two additional facts to consider. First, a civilian has never been called upon to land an airplane in American commercial aviation history. Second, in the most modern airplanes, there is literally a button that can be pressed on the autopilot, marked "APP" (for "approach") that will essentially land the plane on its own. Drat.

Well, at least I know about that button now. Frankly, I wish some of the Southwest pilots would use it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pointless Internet Game of the Day

This is an interesting exercise in mouse control, spacial awareness and anticipation. A completely unfounded rumor has it that the Air Force requires its pilots to survive this for at least two minutes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Linguistic Nitpick of the Day

Those colorful stones and other shiny adornments?


Not Jewlery.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hoops Renaissance?

Don't look now, but the UCSB Gauchos may be on the rise again. Well, what counts for a rise when you are a mid-major men's basketball program.

The women's team has had most of the success over the past 15 seasons, routinely winning the conference and making nine consecutive NCAA tournament appearances along the way, while the men's team has not made it back to the NCAA tournament since 2002, and has not really had a great team since 1992, when the Gauchos made it into the second round. The assistant coach for that team, incidentally, was Ben Howland, now head coach at UCLA, and a graduate assistant was Jamie Dixon, now head coach at Pitt. UCSB's other great teams all played between 1987 (the Brian Shaw years) and 1993 (including a win over eventual NCAA Champion UNLV, then at the height of its powers). The program has had modest success over the intervening years, but nothing resembling those exciting times.

This year, the Gauchos have started 8-1 after a victory over Pepperdine last night. Although conference games have not yet started, and most of the games have been at home in the Thunderhome, there is reason for Gaucho fans (or fans of small programs in general) to be optimistic. The team brings back a senior guard, Alex Harris, who is among the NCAA scoring leaders, and a solid, experienced supporting cast. Lacking a dominant center, UCSB is unlikely to be one of the disruptive mid-majors that Billy Packer hates so much, but the prospects are looking good that the Gauchos may go to the big dance.

Okay, it's only December, but the rabid support of all things Cal around here puts me in a college frame of mind. Expect to endure read more here as the season goes on.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All We Like Sheep

Southwest Airlines takes a lot of flack for being the Greyhound of the skies: the pack in a lot of people with no frills. In its favor, Southwest has always had good fares compared to its competition, it has a lot of flights since they are almost all relatively short-haul, and, in this era of rapidly disappearing onboard services, Southwest’s relatively austere cabin service no longer is out of step with the industry. In fact, with complementary drinks and peanuts (two packs!), Southwest is now ahead of some of its rivals.

[Okay, that may be the Stockholm Syndrome kicking in. Moving on…]

Southwest has recently overhauled many of their procedures, the most visible of which is the boarding process. Southwest has never assigned seats, favoring instead open seating, which had the downside of adding to its cattle-car reputation. Back in the day, they used to hand out California-shaped plastic, numbered boarding passes that you had to acquire at the gate, then surrender on the way to the airplane. They eventually did away with that in favor of three boarding groups, one of which would be designated on the boarding pass that the passenger would acquire from the ticket agent or (glory be!) his or her own printer. The problem with that system is that people would begin to line up at the A, B or C posts long before the scheduled departure time, often before the aircraft had even arrived. In my experience, as a person who, like most, does not like to sit in the middle seat, this would lead to some discord in the boarding area. People would keep an eye out over their reading materials to see if other passengers were starting to line up in significant numbers. It never failed that at a certain point, like solids precipitating out of a solution, a stampede to fill out the line would take place, forcing everyone out of their seats and into a line, only to stand there for the next half hour. (That’s a psychology experiment about crowd behavior waiting to happen.)

This past month, Southwest modified its procedure to subdivide the A, B and C boarding groups into groups of 5. Each boarding pass now has a letter and a number, and at the appropriate time (not before!), the passenger goes to the set of stainless steel posts in the gate area that display the number sets; a television monitor or rotating sign displays the letter at the front of the line. There are six posts; five passengers are to stand between each set, up to 30. Numbers 31 to 60 stand on the other side of the posts. The gate agent calls A 1-30; after they board, A 31-60 board while the people with boarding passes B 1-30 line up in the space the first A group just vacated (the TV or sign switches from A to B), and so on. The procedure takes up much less room and, more importantly, relieves everyone from competing with their fellow passengers for space in line.

Sadly, this appears to be far too confusing for some of the fine folks who live among us. I have made several trips under the new regime, and each one has featured several people wandering among the properly assembled boarders holding their boarding pass in front of them like a lost tourist with a dimestore map. These poor souls then complain to those of us who will listen (who had no trouble matching the number on our boarding pass to the number on the big, shiny posts arrayed in the middle of the boarding area) that this process just doesn’t make sense, it’s too confusing, etc.

I confess that it makes me sad that people can be so easily befuddled, especially when the actual result of the new scheme, if they could manage to think about it clearly, makes their lives better. These lost people did not have to stand in line for 45 minutes (where they surely griped about having to get in line anyway); even better, the entire boarding process takes only about three minutes from the order to assemble to the procession down the jetway.

Change simply for the sake of change can be a step backward. Sometimes, though, it is for the better. The refusal of some people to recognize this, and their apparent joy in complaining about “the new,” is baffling to me. Less time spent standing in line, more time for relaxing, eating, buying trinkets (whatever you do in an airport to pass the time)? Bring it on. If you can’t handle it, trade in your A pass for a C pass, take your seat crammed between two people who knew what they were doing, and eat your peanuts in shame.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Creeping Oldfogeyism, Part One of Many

In other "I'm getting old" laments, a remastered edition of U2's "The Joshua Tree" was released today. How can that be? Remastering is only done for old albums! It cannot be that the most meaningful album of my generation (I will defend that to the death) is old, can it?

The day you hear a Muzak version of "Bullet the Blue Sky" in a dentist's office, just take me to the nearest ice floe and set me adrift.

Nostalgia Tour

I finished a court appearance in San Jose today with enough time to dawdle in the South Bay before heading home for the evening, so I took the opportunity to pass through some of my old haunts. I've been by the old homes a time or two over the past number of years, but I had not been able to take the time to just soak up some of the more prosaic aspects of my old hometown. It was the kind of trip that would bore my wife and kids to tears, but just driving down roads that I took countless times in my youth is as meaningful to me as going to an old home.

I was pleasantly surprised at how bucolic Sunnyvale still is. I feared that I had romanticized it over the years as some Utopian Everytown, USA -- if not the perfect town to grow up in (which even I would not suggest), at least better than anyplace else I've been. The city center, including the library, really is a great expression of civic pride. Meandering through town today, tracing some of my many formerly habitual routes, I was amazed in particular at how wide the streets were. Even in the middle of neighborhoods, the streets allowed plenty of room for traffic, parked cars andbikes. Of course, in those days, my primary mode of transportation was bicycle. Buried deep in my psyche is a recollection of which streets were extended gradual uphill grinds; the slightest grade, as I learned back then, made all the difference in my enjoyment of the ride. Or, to put it into teen angst mode, my resentment at not being able to borrow the car. I must say, I got a bit of a kick out of toodling around the old neighborhood in my current ride. I never came out of the Sunnyvale Library to get into that.

For all of the deep resonance that just being in the same old neighboods brings, nothing stays the same forever. My first Sunnyvale home has been painted baby blue (a highly questionable choice), and both the apricot and pine (fir?) trees have been removed, the latter very recently, to judge by the wood chips and fresh, huge stump. Victoria Station and the Velvet Turtle, the only fancy restaurants I knew of as a kid, are both gone. The Victoria Station still has the railroad cars that comprised the restaurant, but now it is a Vietnamese restaurant. In fact, just about every business in that immediate area, including our old church, caters to either Mandarin or Vietnamese population that must be very prominent in that neighborhood now. I did deposit a check at the Bank of America that was my first bank, though. I even went inside just to see the old counter where I used to deposit my meager minimum wage checks.

In the course of being back in the Bay Area, I have learned how little I actually knew about my home when I grew up here. People at work now ask me questions about the South Bay, and I find that I have very few answers. I was out and about a lot back then, but, as it turns out, only within a very narrowly drawn area. I did very little more than about five miles from home. My travels encompass a much longer radius now. I'm thankful, though, for all the living I packed into those few miles. It is not likely that I will live there again, as much as I would love to do it. Still, it's nice to be able to visit now and then.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Serious Winter Storm

It appears that my many family members and friends in the Pacific Northwest are facing a particularly vicious winter storm, with hurricane level winds and 40 foot high waves at the coast. Certain details of news reports have me particularly concerned:

Mudslides halted north-south Amtrak passenger train service between Eugene, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, fallen trees and flooding blocked all highways into Tillamook, authorities said.
Think of the cheese, people, think of the cheese.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Shortening My Life, 60 Minutes at a Time

It's December, which means Kelly's soccer playoffs, of course. She was fortunate to be on another good team this year. She has been a solid contributing member of the team, usually playing right wing, in spite of the fact that she is the shortest kid on the team, and usually the gameday field as well. Her team went 9-1 to win their division outright, giving up only six goals along the way (four of those in one game alone).

The playoffs began yesterday, where they managed a 1-0 win. The other team finally mounted an attack right at the end of the game, but our goalkeeper stuck herself into the scrum to save the day. The next game was this morning against the team we beat in the first game of the season. We won that first game 1-0, with Kelly netting the only goal. That team went on to finish 8-1-1, with their only loss coming against us. It was no surprise, then, that the teams were evenly matched, with the flow of the game going up and down the field throughout the match. We got a nice putback goal midway through the first half, and we withstood numerous fierce challenges the rest of the way to finish up with another 1-0 win.

While most of my weekend trips home this fall have been a nice relaxing respite from the work week, I have slept poorly this weekend. Gameday adrenaline has roused me in the predawn hours each day, and I'm still bleeding off the tension of today's game, a couple of hours later. Fortunately, Kelly seems to handle it far better than I do.

With one more win, we're in the championship game, although it is likely we will have to go through a 10-0 team that scored five goals a game to get there. More sleepless nights ahead.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shadows and Fog

Living in San Francisco for substantial portions of the last three months, I have spent more time in fog in that time than in the last three years combined. The hilltop home that I have called home thanks to the incredible generosity of my sister- and brother-in-law manages is either in fog or above it more than just about any other part of San Francisco. It is the fun, thick kind, too. On one occasion I missed a turn because an opposing car's headlights turned my view into an opaque white wall.

This week, it turned out that getting out of The City didn't get me away from the fog. Burbank experienced an unusual spate of ground fog this past weekend. As it turns out, my Friday night flight was lucky to land. We could see the fog hugging the ground, but it lifted sufficiently above the deck to allow the airplane to touch down. Sunday night was a different story; the fog shut the airport down. Unfortunately, that meant that there were no airplanes staged to take Monday morning's departing passengers, including me. So when the fog remained, closing the airport until the fog dissipated around 9 am, nobody went anywhere because there were no airplanes there to do the work. Worse, the aircraft were not released from their points of departure to get to Burbank until the fog was gone, so we had to wait at least an hour for any of the airplanes to show up. The first Southwest airplane in came empty from Las Vegas, and then planes started arriving in bunches, stacking up on the small airfield.

My 7 am flight was cancelled, but I rebooked on a 9 am flight while I stood in line with 200 other bewildered passengers at the Southwest checkin desk. After rebooking, I jumped out of line and picked up my new boarding pass at the electronic kiosk. I love living in this era.

Of course, my new flight was delayed, too. We finally boarded our airplane at 11:20, but it did not take off until noon. I finally got to the office by 1:45, after having arisen at 5:30 that morning, expecting to be in the office at 9 as usual on Mondays.

I was impressed that just about everyone kept their cool. The problem was as obvious as looking out the window: the fog was impenetrable, except to confirm that there were no airplanes to take us anywhere anyway. Everybody accepted their lot that day, and dutifully boarded their adjusted flights whenever the planes could jockey into position. There is hope for humanity yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lost in the Sunset

Former Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O'Connor retired from the Court two years ago, in part to care for her ailing husband of more than 50 years. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1990, and is now living in an assisted living center for Alzheimer's patients.

The O'Connor family disclosed this week that John O'Connor had struck up a romance with another patient in the facility. According to the O'Connors' son, Mr. O'Connor was nearly suicidal at the thought of entering the home, knowing that his end was near, but then rebounded like "a teenager in love" shortly after moving to a new part of the facility. Justice O'Connor is reportedly "thrilled" that her husband is finally relaxed and happy.

Considering Mr. O'Connor's state of altered reality, the story cannot be anything but bittersweet. Having seen dementia up close, I know that it is terribly hard on the family. Although it must be crushing to be the spouse innocently left behind, however, I can also understand the sense of relief that comes from seeing someone who had previously been depressed and confused transition back into happiness. It is a gracious person indeed who can watch the transfer of affections happen and still find some comfort in it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remembering the Last Veteran

There now remains but one American veteran who saw time in Europe in World War I.

Consumer Goods of the Masses

There was a time, a couple of decades ago, when the mysterious retail center known locally as "The Price Club" worked its way into the edges of the collective consciousness. Odd tales of relish jars as big as toddlers and packs of toilet paper large enough to swaddle the White House worked their way into society like modern folklore. Only a privileged few were permitted to pass the gates of this fantastic place, however, the right to enter apparently based on come arcane formula of vocation, location and, possibly, ritual sacrifice.

The Price Club eventually merged with Costco and bacame a much less mysterious, and much more prominent, force in the American retail world. As with any purveyor of commodities in bulk, Costco has had to fight, accept or otherwise deal with an image issue that assumes that anything sold in such vast quantities must be of low-rent quality. Value, of course, has never been the guiding light of the shopping rich (also known as the idle rich, when they rouse themselves to wear out the AmEx). Scarcity, and its attendant high price, often seems to be the impulse behind the purchase. Why buy a Camry, to top selling car in the U.S. and a fine, competent machine, when you can have a Maserati Quattroporte, an exceedingly fine, and exceedingly rare Italian import? Costco, buy selling everything in staggeringly large quantities and, it must be said, at favorable prices, appears to appeal to the lowest common consumer denominator.

It must be said, however, that Costco is not quite the lowbrow affair its huge warehouses would indicate. Costco has developed a well-deserved reputation of offering high-quality baked goods and meats. Costco sells well known brand names, of course, which carry their own indicia of quality. But Costco also brands its own merchandise, everything from shredded cheese to slacks. Far from the dubious quality of "store brand" labels that we all know and avoid if we can help it, the ubiquitous Kirkland brand is not an identifying mark of cheap, marginal goods. While it is all well and good to wear Armani suits and Gucci loafers, sometimes you just need something that gets you through the week without looking like you are still buying out of the 1985 J.C. Penney's catalog, and without the risk that you will regret your newly-threadbare purchase before the season is out.

America, I'm here to report that you can trust the Kirkland brand T-shirts. Folding my laundry this morning (one of the hidden consequences of being half a state away from Cheryl), I found that the well-known and presumably trusted Jockey brand T-shirts demonstrated all the staying power of the typical overpriced concert shirt, whereas the Kirkland models had retained their size and heft. Economy and quality; whoda thunk it?

That was a long way to go just to find out that one brand of T-shirts is better than another, wasn't it? Man, I love blogs.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

House Sellin' Blues, Verse 2

We're finally running up against some dates that will require action. If we cannot get our house sold within the next couple of weeks, we will not be able to get into a house in the Bay Area in time for the kids to start school in January. Plus, the real estate market typically goes into hibernation from just before Thanksgiving until the spring (or February in California).

We have had what appear to be some serious viewers (would you spend 90 minutes at an open house if you did not intend to buy the house?), but still no offers. We have asked our realtor to lean on a few of these folks as much as he can. We're now into the "if you call now, you will also get these fabulous gifts absolutely FREE!" phase. If we can't induce someone to jump on it within the next 10 days or so, though, we will have missed our window of opportunity for the fall.

Fortunately, we're not trying to fund two mortgages, so we can still afford to be patient. We figure were are within about 5% of the final selling price, but nobody is willing to take the final plunge. The house we like up here is still available, but will it be there in March? Will conditions be better in the spring?

I thought it was my birthright as a Californian to have buyers clamor for the opportunity to outbid each other for my home. Turns out that the old maxim, "location, location, location" has a seldom-quoted codicil: "timing."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Them Ol' House-Sellin' Blues

A quick update on the houseselling front. We have had several open houses now, with varying degrees of interest. The first were attended mostly by neighbors. The most recent was hardly attended at all, but has generated the most serious interest. We ended up with a personal showing this afternoon and two tomorrow. We have been whipsawed so many directions emotionally during this time that we do not know whether to be cautiously optimistic or hopefully cautious anymore.

Ironically, an article about our community's real estate market came out in our local newspaper this week. The recent rate reductions by the Fed are some positive news, but mostly the news is bleak. It is my belief that this has helped contribute to an artificial standoff between buyers and sellers, in that buyers seem to be stuck on the notion that all news is equally bad everywhere, and that therefore all real estate is overpriced everywhere. Without making offers to prove the point, however, that is nothing more than empty rhetoric designed to make the seller bid against himself, not an open market in which the true value of the property can be ascertained.

Okay, so I'm a little tired of people coming to our 95-year-old house and saying in surprise, "ooh, it's old." Well, of course it is. When you saw the ad for the "1912 Craftsman," what exactly did you think those funny little numbers at the beginning meant? Age seems to be an excuse to automatically deduct sums from the perceived value of the home. Again, that's not a free exchange market, that's huffing and puffing. We just want someone to make a real offer. Then we'll see what the house is worth.

Today's Brainless Entertainment, Take 2

Just when you thought you had killed off all the bloons, they're back! I haven't had time to play this one yet, but rumor has it that the "hard" game is pretty tough. Go monkeys!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This Is Depressing

And I'm not even suffering this loss.

Here is a list of addresses of homes lost in Rancho Bernardo so far -- ten pages of them. It looks like some entire neighborhoods are gone.

Thick Skies Over SoCal

Here is a recent satellite radar image of southern California:

Despite what the legend says on the map, I assure you that this is not a record of rainfall. The smoke and ash is so thick that the radar interprets what it sees as rain.

The 250,000513,000+ people evacuated from their homes should be so lucky.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sherman Could Only Dream Of This

I've experienced a number of disasters in the years I have lived in Southern California: a huge earthquake, record-setting rains, catastrophic landlides, and fires. Lots of fires. We have had a couple in our local hills, but the big ones have usually been some distance away from the house, although close enough for the smoke to obscure the sun.

The fires seem to come in groups, and the gathering storm in Southern California today is scary in its breadth. What began yesterday as a fire in Malibu and a couple of fires in San Diego County has become a set of fires that threatens to jeopardize most of California south of Oxnard and stretch firefighting resources to the breaking point.

The fire in northern San Diego county has overtaken the more glamorously-sited Malibu fire as the true concern. Following a path similar to that of the Cedar Fire from a few years ago, a quarter of million people are under evacuation orders. This is a staggering number of people, many of whom already have no home to return to this evening. Many acquaintences of ours are among those who have been forced out of their homes today, with guarded hopes of being able to return a few days from now.

It now seems like fires are popping up all over the place. Fires have erupted in Lake Arrowhead, Irvine, and now Valencia, which is the first to directly threaten the San Fernando Valley.

So far, we are okay, as the Verdugo Hills have not caught fire. Yet. Like four years ago, our timeshare outside of Ramona is once again in the path of a big San Diego county fire. As of three months ago, the burn scars from the last fire were still clearly visible less than a mile from where we enjoy swimming, tennis and golf every once in while.

It is disconcerting being so far away from these events that are understandably dominating the news in SoCal. Here in the Bay Area, under spectacularly clear skies and mild temperatures, the fire story could be occurring anywhere else in the world for all of its lack of immediacy in the media (also understandable, I suppose). While I wish I were at home to keep a close eye on things, I'm glad I don't have to breath the smokey air.

If it were my home threatened, though, I would trade a few days of labored breathing for a nice big helicopter drop of water on my house.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Maestro, A Touch More Strings, Please

The musical score has been an important implement in the moviemaker’s toolbelt since before “movies” were “talkies.” In the hands of an unimaginative director who can only muster slavish adherence to convention, a score can give away the game, clumsily seeking to manipulate the viewer with too-overt foreshadowing. Talented filmmakers, however, such as Mr. Hitchcock to name one, can turn the score into a character all its own, bringing depth and meaning to the production wholly apart from, but in close coordination with, the visual images.

Francis Ford Coppola is one of those cineastes who has turned a score into its own, compelling character. The theme for The Godfather, composed by his father, is a theme that manages to contain within it all that is great and fascinating about those films. One need not have seen the movies (but if you haven’t, what wrong with you?) to hear in the melody the languid sunbaked hills of Sicily, the mourning what was left behind in the Old World coupled with the hope thought to exist in the New, and under it all, menace in the not-quite-major, not-quite-minor sequence. It is a beautiful little piece of music, used by Coppola to brilliant effect in the Godfather movies as the central conceit, the Maypole around which the story revolves.

Real life does not come with a musical score. Unlike the popcorn-noshing viewer in a darkened theater, we never receive advance warning from dour cellos that life is about to take a turn for the worse, nor does a crescendo of lush violins herald a romantic encounter.

As someone who believes and thinks about such things, then, I was not sure how to react when at lunch today the faint strains of the Godfather theme wafted through my local diner. Songs on a sound system I can understand. We hear songs everywhere. A score, though, can actually be experienced as an enhancing backdrop even to a scene in real life, since that is how it is used on screen. I allowed myself the brief, unsettling sensation of imagining that I had dropped into the movieworld of the Corleones, that in a moment Vito Corleone would shuffle in to buy some oranges. An amusing moment in the middle of an ordinary day. There is nothing quite like music that carries the potential to lift you out of your present and dispatch you to a world far away.

Of course, if the Darth Vader theme had come on, I would have scurried out the back door as fast as I could.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The End (of Social Security) Has Begun

The first Baby Boomer has applied for Social Security.

That sound you just heard was Gen-Xers running their annual Social Security statements through paper shredders, thereby dramatically increasing the value of their investment.

Friday, October 12, 2007

It's Time For Some October Baseball

This is why I love baseball. Without the “enlightened,” highly regulated salary cap approach of other major sports leagues (and the NHL, too), major league baseball has managed to put together a post-season dominated by solid, deserving teams that are nevertheless considered underdogs because of their finances.

The Cleveland Indians (23rd highest payroll out of 30 teams), Colorado Rockies (25th) and Arizona Diamondbacks (26th) have proven, yet again, that a team of highly motivated, talented young players can succeed against the teams that spend lavishly for established stars. This speaks well of the team nature of the sport of baseball, as well as for the intangible factor of team chemistry. It is often the case, as it is with each of these three teams, that the low-priced youngsters have played together for many years within the organization prior to getting to The Show. It may be anecdotal evidence, but the results are compelling. The happy result for fans is that we get to see young players who still love the game for what it is, not necessarily for what it can do for them. I defy to to not crack a smile when grown men, playing a boy's game, cheer for each other and their team's accomplishments as if they were still the boys that, in their hearts, they still are.

It is worth noting that so far in the playoffs, these teams have taken down the teams with the highest payroll (New York Yankees), the 8th highest (Chicago Cubs) and the 13th highest (Philadelphia Phillies).

Of course, each of these teams is likely to be crushed by the other team remaining in the playoffs, the Boston Red Sox (2nd highest payroll, who defeated the team with the 4th highest payroll, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, United States of America).

[Incidentally, one of the other major leagues of world sport that operates without a salary cap, the English Premier League, has come to a completely contrary result. English football is known by its “Big Four”: Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Spending money in quantities that make George Steinbrenner look like a penurious miser, those four clubs have rarely finished anywhere but the top four places since the Premier League came into existence in 1992. Oddly, English football fans seem to like it that way. If ManU ever goes into a rebuilding cycle, it is certain that scores of supporters will be found blundering about the stoops of pubs the world over, babbling incoherently about how the end is nigh, and that ol’ Sir Alex would nevah’d alloowed this ta ‘appen on ‘is watch.]

Monday, October 08, 2007

Missed It By That Much

I was just reflecting this morning, as I walked through the concourse of the Southwest terminal of the Oakland Airport for the fourth Monday morning in a row, that I have probably made more flights into and out of that airport than any other except Burbank. So my newfound familiarity with the place added to my surprise when I heard that the Oakland Airport was evacuated a couple of hours ago due to a bomb threat.

The Oakland Airport is an unspectacular facility, but it handles a tremendous volume of Southwest flights every day. This event will probably ruin Southwest's day across its entire schedule. I'm just glad I got through this morning before the place shut down.

I trust (hope) that, as with most disruptions of this nature, this ends up only being a scare and not a real threat.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Requiem For A Talent Wasted

Former U.S. Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones has confessed to using steroids prior to the 2000 Olympic Games. She raked in five medals, three of them gold, in dominating her competition in Sydney. Since then, however, her career has been dogged with suspicion that she was a steroid user. She was connected to BALCO, the organization at the center of the Barry Bonds story. Her ex-husband, a shotputter, was run out of the sport for doping. The father of her child, a sprinter, has been connected with BALCO and has been stripped of a world record as a result.

Through it all, Jones adamantly proclaimed her innocence. She even sued the founder of BALCO for defamation stemming from his identification of her as one athlete who was supplied with his company’s products. Today, she has confessed to lying to federal investigators in connection with a steroids investigation. In one stroke, she has confirmed the spread of BALCO’s influence, irreparably tarnished her legacy, and ended her career. Ironically, for someone raised in a town known primarily for its prison, Jones may now spend some time behind bars.

This story makes me sad, but not because of the admission of steroid use, which comes as no surprise, and not because the vehement denials turned out to be utter lies. The time has long since come to stop trusting what comes out of the mouths of star athletes who stand to lose millions of dollars in an instant if they do anything other than declare their innocence.

What saddens me in particular about this story is that I remember Marion Jones from long ago. I remember when she was a brilliant, gifted talent on the rise. She spent her high school years in Lompoc, just up the road from Santa Barbara during my time there. The local papers were full of her exploits as a prep-school track star. It was impossible to deny that her future was bright. She regularly dominated her competition; it is rare that Olympic greatness can be forecast with as much certainty as it was for Jones. She was a superior athlete, she was pretty, she had personality … great things were inevitable, and it was fun to have been there from the beginning.

And yet she had the misfortune to be an insecure star in an era when doping became the way to ensure greatness. Jones is much like her BALCO stablemate Bonds: she was undeniably talented, perhaps the greatest of her generation, yet suffered from a peculiar crisis of self-confidence that led her to surround herself with people of questionable character, among those people who led her to use substances that would assure her of the greatness that already lay within her grasp. She cannot be excused for the choices she made, but it is no less frustrating and sobering that another transcendent talent has been relegated to shameful recollection as a result.

She had the potential to be great, but risk losing; she chose to guarantee that she would win. In the gap between the two is the divide between sport as competition and sport as commerce.

But The People In There Walk Funny

Maybe it is because of our recent activities (see Michael's 6th birthday post), but every time I look at the Oakland federal building, I see the product of an architect who played with Legos as a kid:

With a couple of Saturday afternoons, I'm sure Michael could build a nice scale version on our dining room table.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Happy 6th Birthday, Michael!

A week ago Friday, Michael turned six. This was the year, as it was with Kelly before him, when the birthday party became a more intimate gathering of good friends rather than a swarming mass of all children known to Michael or us. After two years of Thomas the Train Engine, followed by two years of Star Wars, this year's theme was Legos. Cheryl managed to pull off a very effective Lego party, all the way down to Lego-shaped mini-cakes and Lego-shaped ice cubes (in appropriate colors, even).

Lego kits comprised a significant portion of Michael's birthday gifts.

As much as I wished for but never received Legos when I was a kid, those blocky houses had nothing on the elaborate, specialized kits available these days. Michael spent the rest of the weekend, as well as this past weekend, working on his kits, which included Star Wars ships, a medieval carriage, a gas station and carwash, and two airplanes and an airport. A large apartment building waits in the wings as next weekend's project.

He needs very little assistance assembling these several-hundred-part kits, which can only mean good things for the development of his spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination and organizational skills.

Hey, we have to justify the cost of those kits somehow.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mr. DeMille? We're Ready

It's official: the house is on the market. Not only that, it is on the cover of the local insert to the LA Times Real Estate section for this weekend.

Step right up, step right this way.

Soon, please.

[Incidentally, I agonized over whether to post any details about this, other than the fact that the house is on the market. In my family, you see, money was nearly the taboo of all taboos, or at least it felt that way to me. As a result, I am irrationally cagey when it comes to discussing anything of a personal financial nature. Thus, it wounds me a little bit to bring attention to the ad that necessarily has the asking price on it. However, anyone who wanted to could easily look up the MLS listing for the house and find out all about it (including more pictures -- the house has never been this clean!). Plus, nobody (except the real estate agents) is getting rich off of this deal; it's just as expensive where we're going. Owning California real estate is a bit like being a floaty toy in a filling bathtub. Once you get in (which, admittedly, can present a considerable challenge), you just rise up with the water level. That doesn't make you a bigger or better toy, you simply find yourself at a higher level than you started, through no effort or merit of your own, with a whole bunch of other equally bewildered bathtoys.

So, for my family and friends who are horrified at the disclosure of the selling price, get over it, even if I have trouble doing so. And forget about the final selling price; I'll never tell!]

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New-Kid Syndrome

I have a theory about human social interaction that, I fear, may only apply to me. It was true in childhood, and has remained irritating faithful into adulthood. It seems that if there is ever a time when I am going to trip over a threshold and scatter several hundred pages of carefully collated documents over an office floor, or have a waiter dump soup in my lap, or be the recipient of a seagull’s potty break, it is when I am a recent arrival among the people who are the unfortunate witnesses to such disasters. As an established member of a social group, I can remain neat, tidy and embarrassment-free, but as a newbie, I feel that I am doomed to suffer some kind of inexplicable humiliation.

I had my moment earlier this week. While at lunch at a local lunch grill, I was in the process of dressing my cheeseburger when I dimly sensed that I had stepped on something with my heel, which was coupled with a rather loud “pop.” Looking down, I saw that I had stepped on a ketchup packet. Irritating, but no big deal.

A moment later, after locating pickles for my burger, I looked down again. Usually when you cause a ketchup packet to explode (and who hasn’t done that on the schoolyard at least once), there is a satisfying fan of ketchup arrayed outward across the floor. At first glance, I did not recall seeing any ketchup. Looking again, I confirmed that there was not the spray of ketchup that I would expect to see. I returned to applying condiments to my burger when the awful truth hit me.

Look down yet again, but not as far as the floor this time, I saw that the ketchup had somehow slipped the surly bonds of earth and leaped up, depositing many generous globs of ketchup up the inside and back of my left pant leg. It then dawned on me that I was in full view of a dozen or so people. If random spots of ketchup blotting the walls in my immediate vicinity were any indication, it was possible that some of them not only watched me soil my light beige slacks, but also suffered the indignity of being sprayed as well.

I did what any normal person would do. I scurried as swiftly as I could to a table in the corner to disassociate myself from the scene and survey the damage. In my haste, of course, I neglected to pick up napkins. Thus, I found myself at a raised table in the corner of a busy lunch grill examining my inseam for blobs of ketchup (which is not a dignified process under the best of conditions), one hundred yards across a busy city square from my office and privacy, armed with nothing but a magazine and a single Kleenex.

I dabbed at the ketchup as best I could and ate my lunch calmly. I then scurried back to my office while holding my magazine in unnatural positions in a futile effort to hide the evidence of my mishap, hoping to spend the rest of the day seated in my office until everybody went home for the evening so that I and my shame could slink away for home in peace.

This could only happen to the new guy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

End of an Era

It is Barry Bonds' last home game as a member of the San Francisco Giants tonight. The weather is beautiful here in the Bay Area today; it is tempting to drop by Pac Bell Park SBC Park AT&T Park to watch the most accomplished hitter in the history of the game say goodbye to the team and city where he spent the bulk of his career.

Bonds is obviously a controversial figure, as he is Exhibit A of the Steroid Era. I feel oddly detached from that debate, however. I moved away from the Bay Area the year before Bonds joined my beloved but frequently inept Giants. He became an immediate force on one of the best teams I’ve ever seen, which was involved in one of the best season-long pennant chases in baseball history.

(ESPN has a good summary of the 1993 season in which the Giants won 103 games but did not make the playoffs because the Atlanta Braves fleeced the blankety-blank San Diego Padres, giving up a sack of potatoes and some pocket lint for slugger Fred McGriff. The Braves went 51-17 the rest of the season, finishing one game ahead of perhaps the best Giants team ever.)

Now that I’ve moved back to the Bay Area, Bonds is leaving. I appreciate that Bonds always managed to keep my favorite team from being horrible, so I have never hated him the way most of the rest of the sporting world does. However, because I was not in town during his entire tenure, I also did not soak up the irrational local loyalty that leads otherwise sane people to say that he’s a good guy who never did anything wrong. I am left ambivalent about Bonds’ departure, and concerned that the Giants to come will closely resemble the Giants I knew and loved from years ago, perennially mired in the lower half of their division.

This area will be sad to see Bonds go. It is time, however. Although his bat is nearly as dangerous as it always has been, he is 43 and a liability as outfielder. The franchise will also probably benefit from the absence of his clubhouse ego and the media sideshow that followed him everywhere.

So I pick right back up where I left off, looking for the next Will Clark.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I Am Easily Amused

As I work my way through a file, typing furiously, I have been known to make a typing error or two. Sometimes they provide a felicitous glimpse at the true nature of the thought I am trying to express. These caught my attention today (with the fun parts accented for clarity):

poollution; and

Okay, so maybe that was only funny to me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sporting Espionage

The sports pages these days are atwitter with concern about the NFL's New England Patriots getting caught videotaping the opposing team's coaches during a game two weeks ago in a attempt to steal the other teams play calls and signals. The sports world is shocked -- shocked! -- that a professional sports team would go to such lengths to achieve a competitive advantage. The NFL struck back, swiftly and decisively. The coach has been personally fined $500,000, and the team loses its first round draft pick next year if it makes the playoffs this year (which it certainly will), or its second and third round picks if it does not make the playoffs.

Although the use of recording devices makes the offense more repugnant by its obvious premeditation, relatively benign forms of "cheating" are a part of competitive sports. Baseball teams try to decipher coaches' signs, basketball players lean on each other in ways that go unseen by referees, golfers use clubs built from exotic materials that are beyond the scope of the game's rules. The essence of sport is competition, and the more fierce the competition, the more motivated the practitioners will be to probe the limits of the rules. It has always been thus, and will always be so. As long as the "cheating" derives from the spirit of competition within the lines, rather than an external influence designed to take the fate of the contest out of the hands of the participants (i.e., gambling), it will not irreparably harm the league in which it occurs.

While the American press frets about one team videotaping another coach who stands in full view of thousands of spectators, and millions more on television, it has largely missed a much more dramatic story affecting one of the most glamorous and wide-followed world sports.

A $500,000 fine? Small potatoes. Try $100,000,000 on for size.

That is the fine imposed against the McLaren Mercedes Formula One team last week. The team also lost all points it had accumulated over the course of the 2007, dropping it from the lead and sure championship to dead last. McLaren did not commit so prosaic an offense as spying on its competitors at a race. Every team in Formula One spies on every other team as a matter of course; the cars are out there for everyone to see. The effects of this conventional spying are obvious. Whenever a leading team comes up with a new aerodynamic device, it is usually pops up on other cars in the field within weeks.

McLaren's sin was considerably more sinister. The essence of Formula One is that each team is required, by the regulations that govern the sport, to design and build its own cars. This sets it apart from nearly every other racing series anywhere in the world, in which teams typically buy cars from a limited number of race car manufacturers. Because the teams must design and build their own cars, the intellectual know-how possessed by key engineers is crucial to the very existence of the series and jealously guarded. Earlier this year, however, Ferrari's designer gave McLaren's designer a 780-page Ferrari technical manual. This is espionage on a grand scale, no different that large companies stealing intellectual property from each other (which is precisely what happened).

When the disclosure was discovered, Ferrari fired its man, and McLaren suspended theirs. The governing body initially cleared McLaren of any wrongdoing, believing that the team had not made use of the information. In a twist that revealed just how deeply a rift between the team's lead driver and his bosses had become (a different story I should have blogged about before, full of intrigue, petulance, revenge and doubletalk), it was eventually revealed that two of the team's three drivers had communicated with their engineers about the technical data contained in the Ferrari documents, and sought to make use of the information during tests and simulations. The World Council of Motorsport convened a hearing last week and imposed the astounding penalty.

The fallout from these developments are manifold. McLaren will likely lose its lead driver, two time defending world champion Fernando Alonso, as he is expected to find another team next year that will treat him like the prima donna he has become. McLaren may still be barred from earning championship points next year if it is determined that the use of the Ferrari information was more widespread that already revealed. Teams throughout Formula One are more concerned about the movement of engineers between teams, heretofore a common occurrence; if one team acquires an engineer from another team, will the old team accuse the new one of stealing trade secrets? And McLaren, second only to Ferrari in success and sheer glamour, has taken an enormous public relations hit from which it may take a very long time to recover, which may manifest itself in fewer sponsorship dollars. In a sport in which the leading teams such as McLaren spend close to a billion dollars for a single season, these considerations carry serious weight.

See what you miss when you don't get up at four in the morning every few weekends to watch a bunch of Euros you've never heard of parade around in bright, noisy race cars?

Monday, September 17, 2007

So Far

A brief progress report:

Life in Oakland is off to a good start. After a week and a day, the job is exactly what I expected it to be. I am doing the kind of work I wanted to do, which is what they told me they needed. The people are good-hearted and smart, the staff is extremely capable, and the firm management is, refreshingly, competent (high praise, considering my most recent experiences).

Although I am back in the Bay Area on a permanent basis for the first time in nearly 20 years, it doesn't really feel like home, since I did not spend much time in San Francisco as a kid, and never went to the East Bay back then. I only entered mind-warp territory when I met Andy for dinner in San Jose, although so much has changed there that even that area didn't feel too much like home.

Some random observations based upon my first few days as a returned Bay Area resident:

There is weather here. Clouds, which sometimes make an appearance in SoCal on a quarterly basis, are a fact of daily life around the Bay, even if they burn off completely by the afternoon. Plus, the daily temperatures are about 10 percent cooler (not counting San Francisco itself, which is a microclimate unto itself).

I still unconsciously pat my pockets as I approach the office building, my muscle memory recalling that I used to be required to run a key fob over a security sensor.

I have to remind myself from time to time that I am not hearing by former boss's voice in the hallway outside my office.

Northern California drivers, at least those trying to cross the Bay Bridge, are the most aggressive shoulder-drivers I've ever seen. If there is a patch of open asphalt as wide as a car, they will use it, regardless of whether it is actually a lane.

Kin of the computer that gives Stephen Hawking his voice have found work as platform announcers in BART stations. One might reasonably think that in this area of the world's greatest technological leaps forward, state of the art computerized vocalization would have advanced past the garbled Casiotone level.

The NFL is not just a theoretical proposition here. Of course, SoCal is not without professional football. USC could probably give the Raiders a pretty good game.

I love the buzz of working downtown, even if the downtown is Oakland. My office is one of several such buildings in a large complex across the street from city hall, with restaurants and shops in abundance.

So far, so good.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Opening Day

Soccer season has arrived. After several weeks of practice, both kids had their first games today. Kelly is newly arrived in the Under 12 division, so she is the youngest on her team. She is also the smallest (as reflected by her jersey number 2), as the Under 12 girls are starting to really grow. The size differentials can become substantial. However, Kelly has impressed her coaches from the first minutes of the first practice with her ball handling and passing skills (a soccer academy she attended just before the practices began probably helped), and she has performed well in practices.

Although she is small, the coaches played her at right wing for three quarters of the game today, and then at left back guarding the other team's best player when she was scheduled to be out because one of her teammates, a strong defender, fell ill. The field is full size now, although they also now play with eleven players instead of seven. Remarkably, although there are a couple of stars on the team, Kelly scored the lone goal, which won the game.

Predictably, of course, I missed it, because I was dashing back to the car to retrieve the post-game snacks I had inadvertently left behind. I heard the excited cries of the parents, though, so I suspected somebody had scored (much like the roar that arises from Dodger Stadium as we proceed through the parking lot in the eighth inning as one of the Dodgers hits a home run, except on a much, much smaller scale). As I headed back to the field I could see that the other team was kicking off, so I knew that at least our team was the one that scored. I knew there was a chance Kelly had been the one to score since she was playing forward, but I was still surprised and, obviously, pleased to confirm it.

Scoring and winning are fun for the girls and coaches in the short term, but I suspect that Kelly will derive longer-term benefits from her performance today. The coaches have recognized her abilities and heart, but now her teammates and their parents see her with a new appreciation for her consistently high level of play all game long. She has been a bit of an outsider at practices; I imagine that will change. Soccer in general has been a profoundly useful socialization tool for Kelly; she connects with kids she would never approach otherwise whenever a soccer ball makes an appearance. She identifies herself as a soccer player (among other things), and the sense of confidence that comes with it is priceless.

Michael also had his first game, playing a split-squad three-on-three format like last year, although this year the team has ten boys instead of five, and they have a weekday practice. Michael has no problems with socialization, and soccer is just one more opportunity to play with some new friends. Although most of the boys on his team already knew each other from other activities, Michael has jumped right in and made a lot of friends. He also plays well, uses both feet well, and generally has a good time.

My relocation means that I won't be able to attend their practices any more, which is a significant loss for me, especially with Kelly. I have become a personal coach for her, not because I insist on it, but because she constantly seeks advice on how to get better. It is great fun, as a result, to see her play so well in the games. Fortunately, I will be around for all of the Saturday games. Saturdays in the fall would not be the same without them.

As I Start To Put Flowers In My Hair

I leave for San Francisco tomorrow, to start work in Oakland on Monday. One might think I would have spent the last week out of work basking in the late summer sun while fretting about the new job.

One would be wrong.

We have been consumed, in thought and action, with the preparation of our house for sale and figuring out how to buy a new house in the Bay Area. We have boxed, painted, pulled carpet, made phone calls, and lost sleep. I have not spent any time worrying about or even thinking about the new job. I'll have time enough to be stressed about it once I get there. Until then, we have an endless list of tasks to complete and not enough time to do it.

I'll share more details in the coming days. Until then, I'll tide you over with a shot of Michael at the edge of Lake Superior in Duluth, where we spent a great weekend participating in the wedding of a dear friend.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over

Yesterday, my last day at work gave form and substance to T.S. Eliot's proclamation, "This is how the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper." Without going into imprudent detail in this quasi-public forum, just in that one day I was given ample reminders of just why it is that I'm leaving this job. Ironically, it cleansed me of any impulse I may have had to be sentimental in my departure. Managerial incompetence and arrogance: the no tears formula!

The first half of my day was spent finishing up actual work; the latter half was spent writing memos about where all the bodies are buried and cleaning out what remained of my things. Surprisingly, I was utterly exhausted by evening, finally falling asleep in the middle of Survivorman at 9:30 after nodding off briefly before the kids went to bed two hours earlier. Since the tension of the last many months have conditioned me to about five hours of sleep, I got up at five this morning, an unemployed man.

Who has a tee time at 7. Onward and upward!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

All Your Paycheck Are Belong To Us

As if public school teachers in Los Angeles don't have a hard enough job as it is, now many of them are being underpaid or not paid at all due to a massive computer glitch. A friend of ours, a school administrator, has fallen victim to this. In order to get paid, he had to appear personally before payroll personnel, who then issued him a handwritten check. Of course, that check never made it into the system, further exacerbating his troubles. An employer can mess with a lot of things and still retain its employees, but don't screw around with the paychecks.

Let me just say, I can relate.

The End Of Time

It's true: time has nearly run out in California. As of September 19, 2007, Californians will no longer be able to pick up the phone, call a number (the venerable POPCORN in Northern California) and receive, at the tone, the most current time. AT&T has decided to discontinue this service, which has been in effect for more than half a century. The advent of cell phones and other electronic devices that keep current time, as well as the need to have access to more telephone numbers (dropping the "time" number prefixes in the two halves of the state will open up 300,000 new numbers), have led to the demise of the time service.

It is truly the end of an era. Dialing "time" was one of the few numbers I could call as a little kid, so it is tinged with the thrill of big-kid-ness in my memory. Plus, there was always a strange sense of comfort knowing that, whatever else was going on in the world, we could all be united behind the kind woman on the other end of the phone who always knew exactly what time it was. At the tone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

For The Win!

If you want to see a little bit of what I do for a living, feel free to check out this opinion of California First Circuit Court of Appeal that was filed earlier today. [Please note that the subject matter is a bit unpleasant, and the ultimate conclusion is that our client, an insurance company, did not have an obligation to defend or indemnify the company that employed the perpetrator of the crime described. If this causes you distress, I would be happy to explain to you sometime how in fact I do sleep at night.]

This is the happy culmination of the effort I undertook in June, and many months before that. It gives me more than a little satisfaction to see the Court's analysis tracking so closely with my own.

The most interesting aspect of this result for me personally is that the opinion has been "certified for publication." This means that the decision will be published in the official reports of the Court of Appeal of the State of California. The basic import of that status is that the opinion can now be relied upon as precedent by other parties in future litigation. Selfishly, I now know that, so long as the American legal system endures, my name will be shown in perpetuity in connection with this case. I may have no other effect on the world at large in my days, but I do know that, should a descendant of mine enter into a law library some years or decades in the future, he or she can point to this case and say "my [dad/grandpa/great grandpa/ancient ancestor] did that."

Not a bad way to close out my tenure in this office.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Today's Brainless Entertainment

It is only by working diligently, scouring the internet, that I am able to bring you gems like this. Shoot the bloons!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

On Departures

I have worked in a few high-tech companies in my time. Whenever an employee quit, unless it was an end-of-summer thing as was always the case with me, that employee was ushered out the door that same day. I have always assumed that concerns over theft of intellectual property, either actively or passively, was the driving force been such summary treatment.

The law world has been somewhat more conventional. Associates typically give two-weeks notice of their impending departure, and within that time their caseloads are redistributed to other attorneys, while the departing attorney prepares transitional memos to tell the next person where all the bodies are buried. I did that once myself, and it was relatively painless. Some people are sorry to see you go, and some write you off. It is as if you had been engaged in conversation with some folks on a train, but as soon as you announce that you are getting off at the next stop, the conversation stops since their stories will take longer than that to finish. Having seen many associates leave since I've been a partner at my current firm, I have developed the necessary skill of detatching easily from departing associates. It is a part of the business, and it is easier for all concerned to simply move on as swiftly as possible.

All of this makes my own departure, as a partner required to give 30 days notice, an awkward event. I understand the need taking enough time for smooth transition, but I have known plenty of partners who, once they announced their intention to withdraw from a partnership, were shown the door immediately. My circumstances are such that the reasons for taking such action (protecting the firm's clients) is unneccessary in my case. Intially, I also felt that it would be a detriment to all, especially young associates, to see the "disloyal" partner hanging around the office for a month. More recently, I've come to realize that another side effect of a long goodbye is the dwindling work and, frankly, motivation of the person leaving. By design, my work has tapered off. By circumstance, my head is also several places at once now. I'm working, and getting work done, but it is almost down to a charade now.

The benefits that I bring to the firm at large are diminishing rapidly ... but again, by design. I just don't think this dying on the vine business is healthy for anyone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Carnegie In Sneakers

It looks like Phil Knight has recovered from his angst over his alma mater's joining a group that promotes the rights of overseas workers. Then, Knight withdrew a $30 Million donation to the university. Now, Knight, who co-founded Nike, and his wife have pledged $100 Million to the University of Oregon. Or, more precisely, the University of Oregon athletic department. A computer in every dorm room? No, more likely a widescreen TV in every locker. (U of O has gone down this road before; its $100 Million football facility features lockers wired for video games and internet access among other amenities.)

Carping about Knight's focus on atletics is easy and cheap. The fact that he has contributed vast sums of money toward an educational institution (and has perhaps freed up spending for academics by essentially single-handedly funding sports) is, in a broader sense, laudable. If only other modern industrialists were so inclined. If, for instance, one of my high school's graduates were similarly committed, Homestead High School might be the technological envy of the educational world, to the benefit of its students and their future.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Bourne Hyperactivity

I like the "Bourne" set of movies. The first one, "The Bourne Identity," is one of my go-to favorites, hands down. Good suspense, thrilling action, a little romance thrown in, set in exotic locales across the world ... I'm an unabashed fan. I liked the second movie, "The Bourne Supremacy," but slightly less. The reserve I have is not from the story, but in how it was shot. The final car chase, in particular, is exciting, but shot is such a jumpy, jangling manner that the action is actually a little hard to follow.

It turns out that the director of that movie, who also directed the recent "Bourne Ultimatum," is a big fan of handing his stuntmen cameras so that action sequences can be shot from "inside the action," as it were. He gave full rein to his impulses in "Ultimatum," to the detriment of the movie, in my estimation. The script is fine: it has the now-usual governmental machinations (a little overplayed this time), the incredible escapes by our hero, and cool action sequences. Unfortunately, there is not a single moment in the film in which the camera is not moving. And by moving, I don't mean a smooth dolly shot or crane swoop. Everything seems to have been shot by a caffeine-addled teen weilding the family Handi-cam, even during slow moments of dialog when two characters are sitting facing each other. My feeling is that, rather than adding energy to the scenes, the jolting camera work actually detracts from the intensity of the action because the viewer has to work so hard to figure out what is actually happening. In one particularly exciting hand-to-hand set piece, clever use was made of such things as hard-bound books and towels, but I only knew that because I had seen photographs of the scene. Unfortunely, all the visceral punch (no pun intended) of the scene is lost because you can't really grasp what is happening until it is all over.

It's still a good movie, but I'd hold out for the Steadycam version.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rejoice, Fans of Quirky British Car Shows

At long last, Top Gear is returning to the US. After a short run on Discovery, BBC America has picked up the show. Not at all a bland, Consumer Reports-type of review show, Top Gear is a genuinely entertaining program that just happens to revolve around cars. The three main presenters pick on each other, engage in weird competitions and activites, and generally have a really good time. Set your Tivos!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Thomas Wolfe, Gertrude Stein and Me

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, and Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland, “there is no there there.” To the extent that Wolfe’s dictum stands for the entire Bay Area, I can now say I have proven him wrong. As for Ms. Stein, there may be no “there” in Oakland, but there will soon be a “me.”

I have decided to switch firms (hence the distractions lately), and will be starting next month at a firm in Oakland. There are many complications arising from trying to move a well-established household, and deep emotional ties in SoCal that will make the leaving very hard, but we’re all excited about the future and the new opportunities we will find up north. Thankfully, we will still be close to Cheryl’s family (although certainly not as close as here), we’ll be significantly closer to my family in Oregon, and I may get a chance to spend more time with friends from “back home.” Plus, the schools in the suburbs east of Oakland where we will likely live are substantially better than the ones Kelly would be headed to here. Of course, there are countless unknowns: where to live, what church to go to, what schools the kids will attend, what friends we will make, etc. Still, the move is a good one for me professionally, and Cheryl and the kids have been incredibly supportive. I could not have begun to contemplate something like this without Cheryl’s support and approval, which she gave willingly.

There will be much to say in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’ll have to start burying all the Dodgers paraphernalia we have around the house – don’t want to make a bad first impression with the new neighbors.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Dub Thee "Harbinger"

If you ever see this cat approaching you, run as fast as you can the other way and hope that it doesn't follow you:

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours.

Oscar the cat doesn't like to be put out in the hall when a patient is dying.

His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.


I've been distracted and preoccupied lately, both in action and thought. More on that to come soon, maybe. In the meantime, I have allowed my fantasy baseball teams to lie fallow, which is undoubtedly a matter of great consternation to all of you. Ironically, as seems to be the case every year, the team that was drafted by computer is doing pretty well, while the team I drafted personally has lately fallen precipitously in the standings. Player injuries have taken their usual toll, but I blame the front office for its failure to scout and identify a whole team's worth of new talent that has prospered in the major leagues this year. The team should just fire the general manager and be done with it. I should rename the team Groucho's Guppies, and a adopt a suitably Marxian motto: I would not want to be a part of any team that would have me as its general manager.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Airport Deja Vu

The crash of an airliner in Brazil this week brings back some points I've made before about airports with short runways in urban areas.

The Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo is apparently a notoriously difficult airport for pilots. It is in the middle of the city, and its longest runway is 6,300 feet, about the same as Burbank's longest runway and 500 feet longer than the runway usually used for landings in Burbank. The airplane crashed in bad weather, at night, hitting a building just beyond the airfield.

Scary comparison to the 2000 near-disaster at Burbank:

Urban airfield: check.
Runway under 6,400 feet: check.
Nighttime: check.
Heavy rain: check.
Gas station beyond end of runway: check.
Overhead views of Sao Paulo and Burbank. Quite similar, no?

Even more frightening, the Brazilian airport had been shut down due to its dangers (a court ordered it to reopen), and the runway was in the middle of a rennovation that left it without drainage grooves for rainfall.

The CNN article linked above points out that not only is there a move afoot to close the airport again, but some are calling for the installation of a soft cement system at the end of the runway to arrest runaway aircraft. Burbank has installed such a device, which has already been tested by the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez. (East Coast Bias alert! The CNN article notes that this system has prevented airplanes from skidding off runways at New York's JFK airport, and gives the dimensions of La Guardia's runway as a comparison. I humbly submit that Burbank provides better comparisons for both issues. But what do I know. I'm just a blogger, presumably typing away in my parents' basement while wearing pajamas.)

All of this, and I'm supposed to be flying out of Burbank next week on a business trip. Good thing I'm not afraid of flying.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fun With Your Nervous System

Apologies if you have seen this one, but I found it amusing:

1. Sitting where you are, at your desk in front of your computer, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.

2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction.

Bonus points: how frustrated can you make yourself trying to make your foot not change direction?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Not To Avoid Jury Service

Here in SoCal, a summons for jury service is not nearly the burden that it once was. You must call in to an automated telephone number each evening for a week. If your jury pool number is not called, you are done. If your number is called (which it undoubtedly will be), you go in for a day. Unless you are impaneled on a jury that day, you are done.

Despite the efforts of courts to ease the impact of jury service, and the important civic duty that it represents, people are always coming up with schemes to get out of jury duty. One of the most obvious, time-honored excuses is that you have an irreconcilable bias against one of the parties, or, similarly, that you maintain an adamant view on punishment (heavy or light). Jurors seem to forget, however, that judges hear these same excuses every single day of the year. Plus, they are, well, judges, after all, and have well-developed hooey meters.

A fellow in Massachusetts recently discovered that his declaration that he was a racist, homophobic liar was not enough to elicit sympathy from the judge:

"You say on your form that you're not a fan of homosexuals," [Judge] Nickerson said.

"That I'm a racist," Ellis interrupted.

"I'm frequently found to be a liar, too. I can't really help it," Ellis added.

"I'm sorry?" Nickerson said.

"I said I'm frequently found to be a liar," Ellis replied.

"So, are you lying to me now?" Nickerson asked.

"Well, I don't know. I might be," was the response.

Ellis then admitted he really didn't want to serve on a jury.

"I have the distinct impression that you're intentionally trying to avoid jury service," Nickerson said.

"That's true," Ellis answered.

Mr. Clever now faces perjury charges. Nice going.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Crowded Skies

In an unusual mid-week excursion, we saw the latest Die Hard movie last night. If you liked the first movie and you can suspend your disbelief that a human being can survive falling from great heights or from moving vehicles at high velocity with some random cuts and scrapes, there is a good chance that you will enjoy the movie. What brings the movie to mind, however, is the catalyst of the plot that because all of the infrastructure and financial systems of the country are computerized, these systems can be infiltrated and crashed, bringing life as we know it to a halt. In light of that premise, and my misadventures with United last week, I had to pass on this artful film clip that, as The Professor noted, is tailor-made for aviation and data geeks (like me!).

I can't help thinking that a computerized voice will come on at the end to say, "would you like to play a game?"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Batteries Not Included ... Or Needed

As seems to have become normal during the summer months around here, we had a blackout this morning that lasted nearly an hour. Michael, who is on a brief vacation before he starts kindergarten in a week, was flummoxed. For a few minutes, he pretended to play Lego Star Wars (Playstation game) with his own sound effects. Playing a videogame in one's head only can only go on so long, however. (On the plus side, I'm pretty sure he won.)

The enterprising imagination of a child soon prevailed, as he came up with a novel idea. He told Cheryl, "You can read to me. Books don't have a light." And so they did, reading through several Dr. Seuss books until the lights came back on.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Look, Up In The Sky!

Astrophysics must be a mathematician’s dream. With no environmental factors to distort the outcomes, the behavior of celestial bodies can be predicted with absolute precision based solely on principles of physics, which is, at its core, little more than the application of mathematics to the movement of energy and objects in the real world. Although the equations necessary to, say, determine the timing, velocity and vectors necessary to cause an Earth-launched rocket to intersect with the path of a comet are frighteningly complex, once solved, such events can be predicted with astonishing precision.

I took advantage of these principles last week, and managed to snag a view of both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Thanks to this simple but effective website, I determined that the ISS would travel over our area at an angle high enough to the horizon to be visible above the nearby mountains and rooftops. Those NASA propeller-heads know their stuff. At precisely the time indicated, in exactly the location predicted, a bright spot of light flew across the sky from the northwest. (If you are ever inclined to look for the ISS, watch for a dot in the sky that is about the same size and brightness as Venus at its most prominent, moving at about the speed of a low-flying aircraft. Take the time; it’s quick and easy to do.)

Following the same path, about two minutes behind, was a slightly smaller light, the Atlantis. The Shuttle had undocked from the ISS two days before, and would land in California the next day. (No, we did not drive out to see it, but we turned on the television to watch the landing about two seconds before the wheels touched down.) As both man-made satellites tracked overhead, they each faded into red and then disappeared as they flew out of the sunlight that had already disappeared for us, 200 miles below, about an hour earlier. For a space geek like me, it was a brief but thoroughly enjoyable moment of connection, knowing that there were people in those little blobs of light streaking over us.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And I Thought Arguing Before the Court of Appeal Would Be the Most Significant Event of My Day

I spent yesterday in San Francisco, participating in oral argument before California’s First District Court of Appeal. Actually, I was done by 10:15 a.m., but I still spent yesterday in San Francisco. That’s the second part of the story.

General civil litigation of the sort I do on a daily basis is a little like being on the roster of a mid-level major league baseball team. I’m like the backup shortstop: I can play any position in the infield, and I can hit a little, but it’s my defense (i.e. research and writing skills) that has kept me in the bigs. Being summoned to argue before the Court of Appeal is like suddenly being asked to start in centerfield and bat third in a nationally televised game.

[For comparison purposes, arguing before the California Supreme Court would be the equivalent of starting in left field and batting cleanup at Yankee Stadium. Arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is like being the starting pitcher in a playoff game. Appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court is like being handed the ball in the seventh game of the World Series with one out in the ninth, up by a run, two runners on, and the home crowd screaming at afterburner decibel levels. So, comparatively speaking, no pressure.]

I lost sleep for days ahead of the event. I reviewed every brief and every case cited in every brief. I lugged all of it with me to a hotel the night before the hearing, setting myself up at the desk in my room just the way the commercials show it. Even the room service waiter commented on the long night I appeared to have ahead of me.

I arrived at the Court an hour early. The Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court share a courtroom, so it is appropriately grand. The ceiling is about three stories up, and the justices appear to sit on a bench about halfway that high. After listening to nearly an hour of dense questioning in a water quality and regulation case, our case was up. Without any pause, the chief judge of the three judge panel deftly summarized the argument our opponent, the appellant, was trying to make. The panel then engaged my opposing counsel in questioning for about ten minutes, and appeared to have had enough.

My turn. Having observed the lawyers who had appeared before me, I found the button to electrically raise the lectern to an appropriate height without being coached to do so by the justices. Act like you’ve been here before -- smooth. I then introduced myself as counsel for the appellant, which caused one of the justices to immediately scramble through the paperwork and interrupt me before I was through my first sentence to confirm that I was actually counsel for the respondent. Ah, nicely done. Rookie.

I spoke for about five minutes to bring clarity back to the proceedings. Each of the justices nodded in agreement (I think) to what I was saying. I finished up and they looked at me with benign expressions and no words, so I sat down. After a brief follow up from my opponent, the panel dismissed us, and we were done. I have to like our chances to prevail, because I was not subjected to any questioning.

It was all exciting, but even a little anticlimactic in the end. However, I would much rather be in our position, where the Court seems well-inclined to our position, rather than the other side. I’ll take an easy appearance over a hard one any day. Actually, I think the Court used our little case like a sorbet at a fancy meal: something that is simple and goes down easily in between more complicated cases.

So I headed back to the hotel and thence to the airport in the hope of finding a flight back home earlier than the 4 p.m. flight on which I was booked. I missed the morning flight, but there was a noon-ish flight that I could get to … but it had been cancelled for “computer failure.” Huh?

My flight had not yet appeared on the departure screens, so I did not even know what gate to go to. I picked an empty gate at random that had people working behind the counter and asked about getting on an earlier flight. I was put on standby for a 2:15 flight. Not much better, but a little. However, I was about 14th in line, so my chances of making the already-full flight were pretty slim. Then, while I was moseying around, Cheryl called to inform me that United had had some sort of catastrophic computer failure earlier in the day that had affected all of its flights. Uh oh. Well, I do love to be part of a CNN story.

After lunch, I noticed that my flight’s departure time had slipped to almost 5 pm. I wandered back to the flight on which I was on standby to watch it board, nearly an hour late itself. No luck for me. I passed the departure boards again … and my flight was listed as cancelled, for “computer failure.” Wait, what?

I went to the nearest agent to confirm that my flight had been killed. After conferring with her computer, she said, “oh yes, that one’s been cancelled.” Okay, well, what do I do now? Is there a later flight I can catch? “Oh, okay, let me see.” She signed me up for a flight that left at 8:50 p.m. Um, is there anything between then and now (about 3 p.m.)? She managed to put me on standby for a 7:40 p.m. flight. I ultimately found a seat on that airplane. It was even a good one: window, near the front, in one of the expanded legroom rows.

Thankfully, SFO is a pretty reasonable airport in which to spend some time. There are some good restaurants, a good bookstore, reasonable views of the airfield, and an interesting art/culture installation covering the history of audio-visual equipment from an Edison cylinder machine up through iPods. Still, I and several hundred other increasingly disheveled travelers spent many more hours in that place than we had intended, and I had to lug heavy bags laden with case file materials. Just my luck; I rarely travel on business, and the one day I do this quarter, I manage to hit the day and airline that said airline has a historic computer meltdown. As it turns out, 24 flights had been cancelled. Of those, two were SFO to Burbank, both flights that directly affected me.

After effectively finishing my working day at 10:15 in the morning, I finally pulled into the driveway eleven ours later. If there was ever a day when a membership to the Red Carpet Club would have been worth the money, yesterday was that day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Linguistic Pet Peeve

Sportscasters are often in search of phrases that convey a sense of testosterone flung about with abandon. Somewhere along the way, someone thought it would be a good idea to appropriate a Spanish idiom that described hand to hand combat. Unfortunately, it appears that nobody who uses that particular phrase ever took high school Spanish.

Sportscasters of the US, please. It's mano a mano. Hand-to-hand.

Not "mano y mano." Hand-and-hand.

The former is suitable for the squared circle. The latter is suitable for a lovely walk in the park, which is, I suspect, not quite the image they are looking for. Just a hunch.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Well, Portland and LA Are Both on I-5

A clever artist once gave us "A Parochial New Yorker's View of the World":

Perhaps the view from Ohio is similar. Or, perhaps, the expected first pick in the upcoming NBA draft is simply a product of a short lifetime spent more inside a gym than a classroom. Greg Oden, the hyped Ohio State freshman who is expected to be taken by the Portland TrailBlazers with the number one pick in this summer's draft, recently expressed his excitement about moving out to the Pacific Northwest:

"It's going to be different," he said. "I know it rains a lot. I know it's close to L.A. and I love that. I want to go to L.A. and go to the beach."

So I must ask my Oregon-based family: why don't I see you more often?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bahamas 2007, Day 4

Welcome back. We now resume our story, in the second full day at sea...

Following our departure from Nassau under cover of darkness, dawn found us dropping anchor at Disney's own Castaway Cay (pronounced "key," by the way). At its heart, this small island is little different than most others in the Bahamian archepelogo: no elevation to speak of, scrubby underbrush, white coral-based sand and soil. It even has a lovely natural lagoon:

Ah, but this island has been Touched by a Mouse, mon. So the lagoon is also home to Captain Jack Sparrow's ship:

Once ashore, the Disneyfication of the island becomes apparent. The winding path from the ship to the main activity area is wide and smooth, lined with well-tended flora and carefully weathered posts and ropes to keep guests in their place.

Castaway Cay has two basic elements: the lagoon, and the adult beach. The lagoon and the surrounding beach themselves are subdivided into several components. The seaward portion is reserved for boating activities. The main family beach, with conveniently located snack and sand toy shops, takes up the majority of the lagoon. A teens-only area is tucked away where the beach bends around at the end of the lagoon, affording previously glum teenagers, who presumably had spent the preceding weeks moaning in agony at the thought that their parents would drag them on a Disney cruise, the quite unDisneylike opportunity to cavort with each other in dangerous ways. The middle portion of the lagoon, away from the beaches, is set aside as the designated snorkel area, delimited by ropes and buoys. The camp areas for the childrens' activities are also in the general area of the lagoon, and offer games, scavenger hunts and other simple activities that bear a light sheen of education about them.

The adults, having unceremoniously dumped their children at the gates of the play areas blinking in confusion, can beat a hasty retreat away from the lagoon and down the ruins of an old airstrip to the adult beach. This beach, stretching away from the beachside bar (again, how unDisneylike!) in a gentle arc hundreds of yard long, is lightly populated, and adorned only with lounge chairs and umbrellas.


We spent our late morning enjoying the water and the sun, then headed back to the family beach to collect the kids and give them some solid playtime in the lagoon. That, of course, was also the plan of most of our 2800 fellow passengers, but the beach and lagoon handled all the activity well.

The shallow, still waters offer a perfect, safe place for kids to play. I spent my time snorkeling for more than an hour. Disney placed a number of shelters on the floor of the lagoon for the fish, but on the whole, the snorkeling cannot compare to a natural reef. The fish were fun to follow, but there was none of the coral, anemone or plant life that dazzled us last year when we snorkeled at an open reef. Still, it was great fun to putter around in the water. I eventually swam to all of the borders of the snorkel area. I earned a righteous sunburn, which made me feel ill that evening. The day of fun in the sun, though, was worth it.

We finished our evening with another show (a revue of Disney characters in the guise of an awards show) and proper cruise pictures:

We were left with some extra time before dinner to enjoy the sunset.

Later that night, fireworks were launched over the ship to accompany the raucous (but family friendly!) party held at the middle pool deck. We all slept well that night.