Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tomorrowland, Today

On our way to our time-share condo outside San Diego for spring break this week, we surprised the kids with a stop at Disneyland. They refused to believe at first, until money actually changed hands with the parking lot attendant -- sorry, "cast member."

One of my favorite attractions of recent decades has been the "Innoventions" exhibit in Tomorrowland. Housed in the rotating building next to Space Mountain, the exhibit is an unusually Disney character-free area that looks to demonstrate the marvels of modern technology, in a hands-on manner. Nearly a decade ago when we last viewed it, the Internet was the featured new technology. Free play browsers for everyone!

With a few minutes to kill before our Fastpass window at Autopia opened, we decided to make a run though Innoventions. I figured displays dedicated to the glories of 3.5 inch disks would be worth a laugh.

Thankfully, the exhibit has been updated. The display has been remade into the Dream Home, a tastefully decorated home employing touchscreen controllers in every room and Microsoft touchscreen tables throughout. It is very well done and thought-provoking. Plus, the upper level is set up with dozens of Xboxes, for hours (potentially) of relaxing videogame fun.

The whole thing would probably be even more impressive if the iPhone (and other devices with touch screens) didn't exist. The Dream Home is the house of Today, not Tomorrow.
(This blog post typed and uploaded on my iPhone from our hotel room while everyone else still sleeps off Disneyland, day one. Now that is living in Tomorrowland.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Although I have somehow resisted the urge to gush, the iPhone I have had for the last seven months has exceeded my expectations in just about every way (AT&T's propensity to drop calls is the only significant drawback).

One unexpectedly fun benefit of the device derives from the ease with which pictures can be taken and sent. Just like the businessman in the AT&T commercial, whenever I travel now I take photographs of random things and send them home. It provides a fun way for the family to share a little bit of what I'm doing when I'm away.

I'll take shots of the building in which I'm spending the day (Costa Mesa last fall):

Or the meal I'm enjoying on the client's tab:

Or the treats with which I'm spoiling myself:

Or the view from the conference room (northern Las Vegas earlier this week):

Or the view from the airplane (over the Sierras):

It's not a critical function, but a fun one, and one that helps me stay in touch with home when I'm away.

Spring Has Sprung

Many of the local trees have already flowered, and the daffodils appeared everywhere last month. With a full week of sunshine, our yard has hit full bloom:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bump, Set, Spike

A couple of hours after the first pitch in Michael's baseball season, Kelly embarked on a new sporting venture: volleyball. In this sports-mad community, volleyball comes in a very close second to soccer in popularity among girls. In a bit of a surprise to us, Kelly agreed to take on the challenge of this new sport, largely because she had the opportunity to try it early in the year at school in P.E.

Although she has never played before, the league only starts at fifth grade, so she had not missed much compared to her peers. She has enough athletic prowess to master the basic skills quickly, even though the instincts of moving on the court and handling unpredictable hits from the other team will take time and experience to develop. She thoroughly enjoys it, and it is fun for us to see her develop skills and experiences in a new sport.

Kelly is in the front left, about to receive a serve (I'll use something with a zoom lens next time):

Opening Day

Michael started his second season of baseball this past Saturday. They have dispensed with the tee, going with coaches-pitch from the beginning. The difference in gameplay between last year (kindergarten) and this (first grade) is remarkable. At this level, every kid gets to hit once per inning, regardless of whether an out is made, and each batter/runner moves forward one base with each "hit." Last year, Michael's team recorded perhaps one legitimate out all season. In Saturday's game, his team made more than half a dozen outs. The pace of the game was far quicker as well, as the kids generally were able to get a hit on the first or second pitch.

Baseball intelligence starts to make itself known, too. One of Michael's good friends, Sam, is an indifferent soccer player (he and Michael were on the same team this fall) but a fanatic baseball player, and probably the best on the team. He not only plays the game well, he thinks it well. Fortunately, although Michael is not yet as tuned in to the mechanics of the game, he is mentally adept enough to figure it out as needed. Early in one half inning in which our boys were playing the field, a batter hit a ball short, barely reaching the pitcher's area. Michael, playing third, and Sam, playing the defensive "pitcher" position, both charged the ball. As he got partway down the line, Michael saw that Sam was closer to the ball, so he turned and sprinted back to cover third. Sam tried to make the play at first, but he saw what Michael did. As the next batter prepared to step in, Sam and Michael called out and gesticulated to each other with all the seriousness of major leaguers working a playoff game, deciding what each would do if a similar play occurred.

Sure enough, one batter later, there was another short hit to the pitcher position. Instead making the customary throw to first, Sam immediately pounced on the ball and wheeled toward third where Michael, as they had arranged, had darted immediately to the base. Sam threw a strike to third that Michael caught, foot on the bag, to force the runner coming from second. It wasn't spectacular, but that was the best pure baseball play saw all day. (The simple act of an accurate throw and successful catch is often triumph enough at this level; it was one of the few such exchanges in the entire game.)

It is fashionable to declare baseball boring, out of step with the ADD-addled internet age. Yet it is plays like this that warm the heart of this baseball traditionalist, the game-within-the-game that makes it so fascinating. Not bad for a couple of seven year olds.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


There is a long way to go, but this recent development gives me a great deal of satisfaction:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Easy Lesson: Don't Steal From Sick Kids

An employee of a prominent local foundation that funds health care for children pled guilty to embezzlement this week, and will likely be sentenced to a year in jail. The perpetrator stole more than $350,000 to fund the purchase of expensive cars and trips.

What makes this story particularly notable to me is that the Deputy District Attorney prosecuting the case is an old friend and neighbor from high school, who has done great work with the DA's office for a bunch of years now. She was also interviewed on a local news broadcast last night about this case (unfortunately, there is no clip available for internet linkage).

This is par for the course for Erin. She attained legendary status among her peers for a remarkable stunt she pulled twenty years ago. One of the regular assignments for our Spanish AP class was for one student each week to record a portion of the evening news from the Spanish language station, bring in the tape and discuss it with the class. Remarkably, she not only brought in the tape and conducted a flawless presentation, the broadcast she brought in included a news segment in which she was interviewed as a witness to the events. Erin, being the unassuming genius that she is, went just a bit farther than the average student. She conducted the interview entirely in Spanish.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Definition of Inevitable

Thanks to work stress, I often wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep. The one routine I have developed that works is to lie down on the couch in the family room with the TV on sports. I generally get another couple of very peaceful hours of sleep, enough to get me through the next day. Yesterday, one major source of stress unexpectedly resolved itself. I actively looked forward to a full night's sleep in my own bed.

Therefore, it came as no surprise when, on the stroke of 4 a.m., Cheryl's cell phone rang. It was, of course, a wrong number. Thanks for that, Mr. Unknownian.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Spring Fever; It's a Good Thing

Nearby Cal (UC Berkeley) seems to have an unnatural hold on the imaginations of young boys of this area. Michael's youth baseball team is "Cal" this year, and he could not have been more excited. Judging by the unstoppable energy of his teammates at the first meeting this week, that opinion is widely shared. (If the random, uncontrollable movements of the average seven year old boy placed in close proximity to other seven year old boys could be harnessed, the country's energy policy could be changed radically.)

Michael received his jersey and hat on Thursday; deep Cal blue emblazoned with the golden "Cal" script. He has worn both continuously since then. We had to forcibly remove them from his body to put the jersey in the washing machine before he wore it out prior to his first game.

At the first meeting, the coach encouraged the boys to greet their families at the door at the end of the day with three things: their own mitt, a mitt for the other person, and a baseball. Sure enough, that's what greeted me when I got home yesterday evening. Still dressed for work, I had a catch with the boy until it became too dark to see. We kept it going today; two throwing sessions in the front yard, one in the back yard, and an hour at the school yard with the bat. When my son comes to me with my glove asking for a catch, I can't possibly turn him down.

I couldn't be more happy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Amazing Discovery of the Day

This discovery is not amazing in and of its own merit. It is amazing because I had not discovered it before.

When I first bought my car five years ago, I did not use my windshield wipers at all for six months. Living in Southern California, there was no need.

Although Northern California is no Seattle when it comes to precipitation, there is considerably more rain here during the rainy season (generally, January and February) then in Southern California, which has no rainy season to speak of. Over the last several weeks in particular, we have had more days with rain than without, or so it seems.

My car, in stereotypical German fashion, has many secondary controls that can be adjusted with a high degree of precision. For example, the wipers come with a lovely rheostatic adjustment for the intermittent feature, allowing a huge range from nearly continuous action to extremely long pauses between swipes. Most cars these days have intermittent feature plus "regular" and "fast" speeds for continuous action. What I did not know until I had to drive through a particularly dense cloudburst this morning is that the wipers on my car have not two but three "fast" speeds. Just when I thought the second "fast" speed would not be quite enough to get me through the downpour, I discovered that the wiper stalk had yet one more detent, sending the wipers into a very effective hyperdrive.

Little things like this brighten my day. For some people, it's the purr of a cat or a golden sunrise. For me, unexpected functionality of a machine is all it takes.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Lost Decade

When are we going to figure this out? Even radio stations have been finessing the issue for years, but here we are in 2009 and they still haven't come to a conclusion:

Coming up, your favorite soft rock hits from the '70s, '80s, '90s and .... today

Come 2010 and the advent of the "Teens," a decision is going to have to be made. What is this decade supposed to be called? "Aughts" is hopelessly antiquated, "the first decade of this century" is accurate but uselessly verbose. I, for one, can't wait to learn what the czars of culture (i.e., the editors of People and Rolling Stone magazine) will come up with.