Thursday, March 27, 2008

Raise Your Hash Browns In Honor

The inventor of the Egg McMuffin has died. The guy was a McDonald's lifer, who went from developing the brand's first advertising slogan to owning several McDonald's restaurants in the Santa Barbara/Goleta area. (I swear, that bit is a total coincidence. I don't go trolling for Santa Barbara news. Much.) Mr. Peterson, I and my too-ample midsection salute you.

But I really want to know who swapped out the Canadian bacon for the sausage patty to create the Sausage McMuffin. That guy deserves a Nobel Prize.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sports History Online

For those who are old enough to remember when Sports Illustrated consistently offered some of the finest writing anywhere (which just happened to be about sports), or if you are one of those strange people like me who loved ESPN Classic when it debuted because it just played old baseball games just the way they were, Sports Illustrated has something for you. SI has put its entire archive online. This is a tremendously valuable resource for anyone who appreciates sports history. Read about the Giants' arrival in San Francisco, Michael Jordan's exploits as a freshman at North Carolina when he was still known as Mike and there was as yet no "Air" anything, and the surprise triumph of Joe Namath's Jets in Super Bowl III.

How cool is this:

Sal Maglie on pitching? Such great stuff. And the ads from back in the day are easily as interesting as the articles themselves.

If I had a laptop with me, I would ditch all those books I've been reading and catch up with all the decades of SI I've missed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

That Didn't Take Long

Just like that, the members of the UCSB men's basketball team can start going to class again. The Gauchos went down to defeat against Ole Miss last night. For a school and conference that must earn respect anew every season, it's frustrating to lose to an SEC team with a 7-9 conference record. Oh well. At least our guys can ponder the sudden end to their season while gazing out at the Pacific Ocean.

I guess it's time to turn my attention to my basketball safety school, UCLA. I hear they might be pretty good this year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

UCSB Goes To The Tournament!

Well, no, not that one. I foresaw great things to come for the UCSB men's basketball team back at the beginning of the season, and to a large degree those expectations were met. The team finished with a record of 23-8, with a 12-4 conference record. Senior guard Alex Harris was named the Big West Conference's co-player of the year, and needs only 12 points to eclipse the career scoring record of Carrick DeHart, one of the key players from Santa Barbara's golden era of 1987-1992. Unfortunately, the team flamed out in the conference tournament after rallying from a midseason slump to finish as the regular-season co-champions. That wasn't enough, coming from a mid-major conference, to get the Gauchos into the NCAA tournament. Instead, UCSB will begin play tonight in the "other" tournament, the NIT, at the home of Ole Miss. Unfortunately, the Gauchos have never won a game in their four prior appearances in the NIT tournament. I guess there is always this year.

In other news, UCSB's women's basketball team won the Big West Conference title as usual and will begin play in the NCAA women's tournament on Sunday against Virginia. I'm sure the Professor would feel the pangs of divided loyalties if he weren't already focused on the men's NCAA tournament fortunes of George Mason, everyone's favorite underdog from two years ago.

Heady days for the university of the California Riviera.

Friday, March 14, 2008

For Your (Racing) Viewing Pleasure

Just a friendly reminder: The Formula 1 season kicks off this weekend from Melbourne, Australia. The 12 Hours of Sebring, an unaccountably historic event (since it takes place on a rather unremarkable central Florida airstrip complex) also runs on Saturday, with the usual exciting mix of bizarro "prototype" racers and somewhat more recognizable sports cars.

And for the other 99.8% of the American racing fans out there, NASCAR is at Bristol this weekend. Giggity.

Happy Pi Day, Everybody!

Yep, it's 3.14 today. Geeks of the world, unite!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stealth Fighter Retired

The F117A "Stealth Fighter" will be mothballed by April. The angular, radar-evading single seat aircraft, a platform so aerodynamically unstable that it can only be flown with computer assistance, will be replaced by the more conventional-appearing F22 Raptor, which is larger but more capable.

It seems like it just arrived, yet it's been in service for 27 years, having first flown in 1981. Unlike warplanes such as the P-51 or the F-14 (of "Top Gun" fame), the F-117A generated more respect than love even among its admirers. However, its designers' single-minded devotion to the proof of a concept yielded a remarkable product that set the stage for the next generation of military aircraft.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Play Ball, Tyke Division

Michael's first T-ball game, played Saturday morning, is best understood using the comparison device employed by the SAT for generations. To wit: baseball is to T-ball as a Saturn V rocket is to the paper covering on a restaurant straw that you shoot across the table at your brother by blowing through the straw. Some of the same general concepts are involved, but the final product of one has little to do with the other.

In T-ball, each team bats all the way through its order during each inning. The other team is arrayed in a semi-organized fashion throughout the infield, including a couple of players in the pitchers area who wear batting helmets for protection. Each batter is awarded first base, regardless of the defensive team's ability to pounce on the batted ball and propel it in the general direction of the first baseman, who may or may not care to stop the ball from sailing (or more likely rolling) past the base to the fence guarding the dugout. Game play involves an extended tutorial on hitting for the batter from the coach at the plate, followed by a ground ball that is quickly swallowed up in a scrum of pint-size athletes adorned with genuine Major League Baseball-licensed shirts and hats. If all goes incredibly well, the baseball eventually sails toward first base out of the cloud of dust that marks the pile of bodies where the ball eventually came to rest.

Thankfully, because this is T-ball and to not baseball, everyone seems to have a great time doing this, since it is exactly what is expected. Because we had to be at Disneyland less than two hours after the start of the game this week, Michael could only play for the first half-hour. This meant he played in the field for the duration of the other team's at bat, and he also got a turn at bat since he was the leadoff hitter for his team. Michael was one of the kids placed at the pitcher's position, which as it turns out seems to be a critical defensive position. He made several nice plays on the ball, meaning mostly that he successfully fended off his own teammates who were also scrambling for the ball. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying the game, which makes it all worthwhile.

Some pictures:

Warming up:

Checking the equipment on defense:

Preparing to hit:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Small Effort, Big Improvement

File this under the heading, "why did we wait so long to do this?"

In the era just past of abundant home equity, it seems that there are few kitchens remaining in our part of the world that have not been touched by the remodeler's brush (and hammer and saw). Our poor kitchen, remodeled 25 years ago, suffers by comparison to all the other kitchens prospective buyers see over and over on any given Sunday of open houses.

Our objective throughout the home-selling process was not to remodel parts of the house that could stand to have some updating, but rather rehabilitate those particular spots that could stick out in the viewer's brain as a glaring weakness. Eliminate enough glaring weaknesses, the theory goes, and we will have done just enough to leave the visitor only with memories of the good things. And we will have done so at a fraction of the cost of a remodel, without the fear that a new owner will immediately take a sledgehammer to all our expensive work because it did not meet their taste.

Our kitchen is the primary glaring weakness of the house itself. Before we put the house up for sale, we replaced the worn-out flooring with a cheap but new vinyl floor. We have never heard a complaint. That left us with the tile, the cabinets and the dropped ceiling. We won't do anything about the ceiling because that would involve electricians and permits from the City. We thought seriously about refacing, repainting or "re-dooring" our cabinets. We had someone lined up to give us an estimate this week when Cheryl figured out that tile could be recolored through a reglazing process. Our neighbors had done this, with great success. We contacted the same people, who were available to start the job that same day, for a very reasonable fee.

They offered two colors, white or almond. We had been thinking about going with an all-white kitchen, but chose almond. Through a comedy of errors, the worker initially reglazed the tile with white, which apparently looked awful in context. The benefit to us is that it confirmed that, even if almond were not great, it would have to be better than white. After two long days of work, it's done, and we could not be more pleased.



It is amazing what a difference a small change can make. We hope prospective buyers feel the same way. Or, better yet, that they don't think about it at all.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Pieces Starting to Fall Into Place

Amazingly, a government institution has done its job more efficiently than the public would have expected. Yesterday, HUD submitted its guidelines for the new conforming loan line to be used by the FHA in California (the figures for the rest of the country were released today). The news was good for us: in both Los Angeles County and Contra Costa County, the conforming line will be moved to the maximum of approximately $729,000. It is our hope that this will benefit both potential buyers of our house and us in our quest to buy a new house. There have been indications that lenders might not confer much of a benefit on borrowers seeking to obtain funds near the conforming loan line, which would be a distinct and unfortunate policy switch from years past. We remain hopeful, however, that some small discount in interest rates may fall to those of us who find ourselves near the jumbo line.

In the meantime, we continue to keep our house open every Sunday afternoon, and we continue to have dozens of people come through every weekend. We keep hearing that there are people who are interested in the house, but none of them had seen fit to make an actual offer. Maybe the financial landscape will change just enough to shake loose an offer. Springtime is coming. It's time to get this done.

Another Reason the Internet Is Cool

From a practical standpoint, this is really of interest only to me, but it serves as a prime example of what makes the Internet such a great place in its best moments. One of the pleasant surprises for me after I bought my car was the discovery of some great online communities made up of owners and enthusiasts of cars like mine. Much more than just a place for like-minded gearheads to ogle pictures of each other's cars and share stories about how neat they are (which certainly goes on), the best of these forums offer incredible resources for maintenance and repair of these cars.

People even take it upon themselves, outside of their normal working lives, to make an extra effort to make life easier for the rest of us. A member of one of my online groups recently released this wiki-style site. It must be among the very finest sites of its type in the world. Because it is a wiki-type site, it continues the well-established tradition of building upon and compiling the collective knowledge of hundreds, if not thousands, of owners and mechanics.

It may seem a frivolous endeavor, but I have made use of much of this information in other forms in the four years I've owned my car. Having it all compiled in one place in such an easy-to-use manner provides a tremendous benefit to anyone interested in doing any kind of maintenance on their cars, from the most minor cosmetic update to a truly frightening engine rebuild.

The Internet can be a scary place (especially for those of us with school-age kids), but it can be a powerful tool as well.