Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Class of 2008

Yesterday was, finally, the last day of school. Because the school will be dropping sixth grade next year, the fifth graders also got a promotion ceremony. The kids and parents all complained about the many hours of practice the students went through over the last week. The result, however, was the most intricately choreographed graduation ceremony I've ever seen, and the kids absolutely pulled it off. The students processed down two aisles in the auditorium two by two, with pause points at four different spots (I have yet to see bridesmaids who can do this so well); they all went swiftly to their appointed seats; just as the processional song ended, the last student arrived at his seat; they sang a song in great voice; they sat wordlessly and motionless through an hour and twenty minute ceremony; and they received their (fake) diplomas in a swift, intricate processional as announced by each of the fifth grade teachers who also were on top of their game. Most of the kids complained the loudest about one of the teachers who was the drill sergeant for the whole thing, but that teacher (new to the profession, who looked like she was skipping homeroom at the local high school to be there) was unable to stop crying for the rest of the afternoon, she was so proud of how well the students did.

Kelly received a top award at the ceremony, one of a few students whose standardized test scores, grades and citizenship marks were at the top of the class. [Sorry, no pictures of the ceremony itself. Our little camera can do a lot of things well, but indoor, low-light environments are not its forte. It's time to save up for a proper DSLR.)

As a huge surprise, Cheryl also received an award. For her six years of leadership the foundation that raises money for the school, including complete funding for the school's computer lab and teacher through means like the eScrip program that she spearheaded, she was called up on stage by the principal to receive recognition, a trophy and a very nice watch. It was recognition that was well-deserved for the Foundation as a whole, which does more good than most people knew. It was a sweet way to part ways with a school in which Cheryl invested herself heavily.

Not incidentally, yesterday was also the last day of kindergarten for Michael. We went to a special lunch (Marie Callendar's), then caught an afternoon showing of Wall-E (Michael's request for weeks). It was a perfect last day of school, even if it was bittersweet because it is really the last day there.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Should Stay In The Office

I seem to get swept up in strange things when I leave the office for business. If it is not a nationwide airline computer meltdown, it is a horrific traffic accident that brings an entire region to a halt.

I was headed to San Jose this morning for a rare court appearance when I rounded a bend in the freeway and saw the first black plumes of smoke from a new fire about a mile ahead. As I approached and then came to a stop, it became apparent that the fire was on the freeway itself, and that it was a vehicle on fire. Not just a little bit; it was an entire truck, with flames roaring fifty feet in the air. The firemen eventually got there after five minutes or so and doused the flames. I came to a stop not much more than 100 yards away and watched the whole thing while we sat there for half an hour. People got out of their cars, taking cell phone pictures or commiserating with fellow stranded travelers. I had my office call the court, because it looked like we weren't going anywhere. Fortunately, the police let at least some of us through on the shoulder and I got to my appearance on time.

It was ugly, though. It was obvious that the truck had jumped the barrier, and by the ferocity of the flames, it was clearly a very bad scene. As it turns out, the truck had gone over the barrier avoiding a stopped car in front of it, then hit a truck coming the other way head-on. I didn't learn that until later; unfortunately, it was a double fatality. I could not have been more than a minute behind all of it in traffic as it happened. It is sobering to think that two people lost their lives right there within sight of where I was.

According to the news reports, southbound traffic was closed until 3 pm, so I was apparently very lucky to get through. Not only would I have missed my court appearance, I might have missed my flight home. Northbound traffic was closed until 7 pm. Keep in mind that the accident happened at 9:15 am. It was so bad that my 4:45 pm flight was slightly delayed at the gate because a number of people were running late because of the traffic delays.

Coming back from court on another freeway, I saw an overturned car on the other side of the road. It was a day to drive with caution.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

One Flight More

Tomorrow I will take my 63rd, and last, flight between Oakland and Burbank since mid-September. It is a measure of Southwest Airlines' competence that while I have grown tired of the fact that I had to travel every weekend, I have never grown tired of the travel itself.

Southwest may take its knocks as the Greyhound of the skies, but for my purposes the flight schedule offers a lot of flexibility and prices are market-best. Plus, its people know their business and do it well. It is not overstating the matter to say that Southwest kept our family together.

I won't miss my weekend flights, but I'll always be grateful that I had them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Picking up the Pace

A great American once said, it's always darkest ... just before they turn the lights on. Our house has not been in such disarray since before we started clearing things out for our open houses back in Septebmer. The pieces are all starting to fall together, though. Over the course of the weekend, we had a garage sale:

Cheryl and her mom did all the work (a ton of preparation went into it), and the kids sold a lot of lemonaid and iced tea.

Meanwhile, I continued to pack our storage unit:

Other than wishing I could make a quick trip to the surface of the sun so that I could cool off a bit, the weekend was quite a success. The basement (i.e., Home of the Forgotten Boxes) has been cleared out, the garage has been roughly sorted out between giveaway and keeper items, and the rooms inside the house have been pared down to their essentials. The truck arrives next Wednesday, and after what will certainly be a long day of cleaning, we will be done.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In The Shadow Of The Moon, On Tonight

Programming note: Discovery is showing "In The Shadow Of The Moon" tonight. As I have said before, it is well worth the time spent if you have any interest in the Apollo program, especially if your interest was whetted by Discovery's "When We Left Earth" series that concluded last night.

On The Field At Dodger Stadium

As an end-of-the-season treat, Little League players from our area were invited to take a walk around the warning track at Dodger Stadium before a recent game. Michael and two of his teammates took part, along with the three dads.

Before the game, the outfield fence was opened and a temporary fence was put up near the outfield grass so that we could stand an watch batting practice on the field. The Cubs players were good sports about it and would occasionally come over to chat with the kids. There is nothing quite like having a fly ball launched at you from almost 400 feet away; a couple went right over our heads and over the outfield wall just behind us.

Just before the game started, they released the kids and their coaches (hey, I helped at the games a little) to walk around the park. We touched the grass, we walked right behind the catcher warming up the Cubs' starting pitcher (please don't miss the ball!), we walked past the Dodgers in their dugout (Nomahhh!), and generally had a great time seeing the field and players from close range.

The one conclusion I drew from the experience: I have carpet that is not as smooth as the Dodger Stadium grass.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Amazing Bird

One of the most unusual and impressive achievements in aeronautic design was the SR-71 Blackbird spyplane, developed and built at Lockheed's famed Skunkworks where our local Target/Best Buy/Lowes complex now stands. The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum annex at Dulles Airport (an underrated showcase) has one for public viewing. An ultra-high performance aircraft, the SR-71 holds the airspeed record for jet-powered aircraft of 2193 mph (about 10 football fields every second). The SR-71 required usual care and feeding, such as refueling immediately after takeoff because it would lose so much fuel through body panels that would not form a seal unless the airplane was flying far beyond the speed of sound (thus heating and stretching the body to fill the gaps).

Although a challenging aircraft to fly, their pilots loved them. Here are a couple of their stories, one frightening, the other amusing. (I don't know if that second story is true, but I'd like to believe that it is.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Art and Context

If you have some time to spare, enjoy this article about how context can affect the appreciation of art.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Now For The Fun Part


It's going to be a long day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fantasy Baseball Update

Okay, that cleared out everybody but The Professor. Moving on:

I wonder why I keep playing fantasy sports. Every year, the team that I allow the draft computer to pick ends up near the top of the league (I'm in third place at the moment), whereas the team I pick inevitably sinks to the bottom like an old balloon. My season started brightly, with a very proficient if not very powerful offense, and what seemed to be a pretty solid pitching staff. Unfortunately, I've lost three key pitchers to injuries and one to the minors. Even my offensive numbers have drifted lower in the standings.

Henry Ford said that failure was merely an opportunity to start again. I will embrace the opportunity presented to me, then. Now that I have a mountain to climb in the standings, I will throw some of my usual caution (i.e., inattentiveness) to the wind and see if I can engineer even a modest comeback. I've been too distracted over the last couple of months to tackle my roster problems as I should have. I'm no less distracted now, but now I have nothing to lose, whereas in late April I was hanging with the upper tier of teams.

Just about the time that my comeback bid sputters to a halt, it will be time to draft my football team. A new opportunity!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My New Least Favorite Word


I am coming to the realization that younger siblings must exist to give older siblings opportunities to practice the dismissiveness that will be their stock in trade as teenagers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Something More For Space Junkies

The Professor sagely alerted me to the series that had its premiere on the Discovery Channel last night: "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions." Much like "In The Shadow of the Moon," the Discovery series blends archive NASA footage with recent interviews of the astronauts. The show, running over several nights this week (and undoubtedly in reruns in perpetuity), provides a well-crafted, if extremely fast, overview of the entirety of the space program. So far, I prefer "In The Shadow of the Moon" because it only covers one program (Apollo), in much greater depth. However, "When We Left Earth" is very good even if it offers a somewhat superficial overview. Plus, Neil Armstrong makes an extrememly rare appearance. It is worth the time to catch it this week if you can.

This is another recent documentary that I think will give my kids a great look at history that they probably will not learn about in school. I may have to by the DVD set for myself, though, since I doubt that an eleven year old girl would think this would be such a hot Christmas gift.

iPhone Update, Again

I realize full well that I am doing little more than giving voice to my heretofore latent fanboy tendencies. If you are a fellow traveler, read on.

St. Steve revealed the worst-kept secret in the tech industry today. The next iPhone, to be released on July 11th, will have most of the goodies that people have been requesting. GPS, 3G, better audio and audio jack, e-mail exchange capabilities (a key to the device's acceptance in the business environment), and, crucially, lower prices. On the negative side, Word and Excel documents will still be read-only, and there is no IM capability.

I don't expect to post anything else about the iPhone for a while. Unless I get one. Then you can expect a series of short posts along the lines of, "OMG, like, this is sooooo cool!"

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Hills Are Alive

I guess it wasn't just a loopy dream. At some point in the middle of the night, I had a vague, near-waking sense that I was feeling an earthquake. I didn't quite wake up, though.

As it turns out, we had three, the largest of which was 3.5 on the Richter scale, all of them between 1:51 and 2:16 in the morning. The earthquakes are described as 5 miles west of Danville. What the reports don't say is that the quakes were 4 miles from where my head rolled around on my pillow in Moraga. It's been awhile since I have been that close to an earthquake. Li'l bitty ones like this are nothing to worry about, though.

I have long maintained that I would much rather live in an earthquake zone, where the likelihood of a catastrophic quake is limited to once every couple of decades or more, than someplace where widespread disaster is a seasonal certainty (see, e.g., Oklahoma (tornados); Florida (hurricanes)).

I'm sure my Oregon readership would say that they don't have to deal with any of that. Fine. But I like sunshine, too. In particular, I like sunshine in November. And December. And January ...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Silent Regret Of The Rear Echelon

I recently watched Ken Burns' "The War," his summation of World War II. It is an excellent flim, as are all of his productions. Burns tells the story through the voices of people who were there, either in the theaters of battle or living through the war stateside.

One sentiment that was expressed by nearly every soldier who appeared in the film was the strong desire to be involved in combat. The recent passing of the youngest WWII Medal of Honor recipient lived out this compulsion. He lied about his age (14) to join the Marines, and was stationed in Hawaii once the truth was discovered. He then stowed away aboard a Navy ship to get closer to the fighting, and volunteered to fight once he was discovered again.

Some veterans observed that the bonds they shared with their foxhole buddies could not be matched by any other relationship. Generally speaking, veterans from that famously taciturn generation would only look to comrades in arms for support in working through the mental scars brought on by combat. They felt that only those who had seen what they had seen could understand them, even if they did not express themselves the way we in our culture of confession do today.

All of this presented a problem for the millions of servicemen and their families about who you seldom hear much said: those who supported the front line combat troops. One of my grandfathers served in this capacity. Oddly, given my long fascination with WWII, I never talked with him about his wartime service. My limited understanding is that he was in the quartermaster corps, involved with the organization of provisions and materiel, but that he wished he had been able to serve overseas. The closest I ever came to learning anything about it was when I saw my grandmother get angry for one of the few times in my life, as she expressed bitterness of the exaltation of combat troops over those who did not get into the fight. My other grandfather did ship out, but I knew even less about his experiences, and he never spoke of his service (in North Africa, I believe).

There is something deeply anachronistic, which looks like irrationality to today's eyes, about an impulse to engage in combat that is so strong that it causes boys to stow away on Navy ships and creates division among peers based on the gruesome fortuity that some fought and others supported those who fought. Certainly, those who faced the horrors of the front lines in WWII or any other conflict are worthy of the respect of their peers and those in whose interest they serve. It is a strange problem, though, especially for those of the WWII generation, that those who did not hear a bullett fired in anger have, in many instances, lived lives tinged with regret and possibly even shame. That they did not attain the greater glory of active participation in combat was not for lack of desire in many cases, but judgment was swift and permanent.

In the end, though, I could not have been more proud and humbled when Grandpa was given military honors at his funeral, all the more so because the ceremony was overseen by my brother-in-law, a man who served with distinction for many years.

I have resolved to learn more about the service lives of both of my grandfathers. Theirs are stories that deserve to be known and remembered, especially as the stories of their generation begin to sound more and more foreign to our post-modern ears. Individually, they may not have stormed ashore at Omaha Beach or raised the flag at Iwo Jima, but they were a part of a endeavor whose success depended upon the contributions of countless individuals doing their designated jobs. That is a principle that should never go out of fashion.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dude, Major Conundrum

This may be the ultimate unstoppable-object-meets-immovable-force example for the Mendocino (and San Francisco, and Berkeley) crowd:

Man grows pot. (Yay! Stick it to the man!)
Man chops down old-growth forest to do it. (Not cool, dude.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

At Least He Won't Get Greasy

The recently deceased inventor of the Pringles can has been buried ... in a Pringles can.

It is rumored that the inventors of the Ziploc bag and Tupperware containers are now making changes to their wills.