Tuesday, November 24, 2009

R.I.P. Saab (1937-2009)

GM bungles another deal. After failing to sell off its Saturn line to Penske, GM's proposed deal to sell Saab to Swedish carmaker Koenigsegg has now fallen apart as well. Now Saab, like Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn, will likely be consigned to the dustbin of automotive history. Of those four, Saab had the smallest market penetration but, for a time, had perhaps the strongest brand character. The company was an early pioneer of front wheel drive and turbocharging small engines, practices that are now industry standards.

Except for a very few exceptions, Pontiac and Oldsmobile products were differentiated from their Chevrolet and Buick brethren only by styling and marketing. Saturn started with great promise with an innovative (albeit crude) product and a way of building and selling its cars that was unique in the American automotive industry, but lost its way and became another "badge-engineered" GM line. Saab, in its day, particularly before GM took it over, did things differently. Nothing in the world was quite like a Saab, which was usually a good thing for the motoring public.

As a Saab fan, the demise of this venerable company saddens me, while I am indifferent to the elimination of other GM nameplates. GM has been far too big for its own good for decades. It is a shame that its comeuppance is delivered at the cost of one of the few lines that retained some real design quality.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Final Soccer Saturday, All-Star Game Edition

Kelly's first appearance in an all-star game was a good one. She started the game and had some good touches, including a clever change of direction and pass that shook off a defender and drew oohs from the onlookers. The game was played evenly in the first half, with each team scoring a pretty goal. Lafayette dominated possession in the second half, but they could not put a ball in the net. The game came down to penalty kicks. Moraga's first three penalties were unstoppable corner shots. Moraga's goalkeeper, on the other hand, utterly stoned Lafayette, stopping all three of their shots and ending the game (because the penalties are on a best-of-five shots basis). The girls now get to share the trophy for a few weeks each, just like the Stanley Cup.

So we close the book on soccer for another year. Just one more to come for Kelly.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The All Star!

Last Saturday's games were the last regular season games. There is one more game for 16 kids in each of the three oldest divisions: the Commissioner's Cup. Unusually for this participation-emphasis league, the league debuted an All-Star tournament last year, pitting six teams (boys' and girls' teams in three age divisions) from Moraga against their counterparts from the neighboring town of Lafayette. We went to the game last year so that Kelly could watch some of her friends (who had only been her friends for about two months at that time) play in this game. The games are intense and fun, and there is always something exciting about representing a place rather than just your own arbitrarily constructed team.

Kelly was honored by her teammates this year, who voted onto the All Star team. Her regular season coaches are also the coaches for the All Star team, so the two practices this week were familiar. All the girls know each other to some degree, so they have had a lot of fun playing together. They also carry themselves with a little extra confidence that comes from simply being on the team.

The game will be played on Saturday afternoon at the local high school's football field, a beautiful artificial turf facility (Kelly has had tremendous luck with the fields she has played on this year).

Regardless of the outcome of the game, or how many minutes Kelly plays, being selected for the All Star team has been a thrill for her.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


In a mild upset, San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum has won his second consecutive Cy Young award, in one of the closest votes ever. In his first two years of pitching in the majors, Lincecum has won two Cy Young awards -- nice start to a career. And an even better value: his first contract pays him $650,000 per year, without any award bonuses, perhaps a third of what his value would be on the open market.

It is not overstating the case to say that Lincecum has saved Giants baseball. The organization had no idea how to emerge from the roiling shadow cast by Barry Bonds. After a short call-up at the end of the 2007 season, Lincecum turned every one of his starts through the summer of 2008 into must-see viewing. (That coincided with my return to the Bay Area after 20 years away; my TV was tuned to the Giants broadcast every time Timmy was on the mound.) Everything he did was exciting: his crazy motion, the tons of strikeouts, the push for his first complete game and shutout, and lots of wins on a lousy team stuck in an otherwise moribund season. He was the focal point of the 2009 team, which did much better than expected, giving Giants fans something to cheer about until deep into September. We managed to see one of his best games of the year in person late in that first summer, and we saw him pitch another gem (against the mighty Phillies) this season. Giants radio announcer Mike Krukow calls Lincecum starts "win days" that fire up both the fans and the team itself. Absolutely true.

Sports fans outside the area probably do not appreciate how much we love this guy. There is no sports figure more beloved in the Bay Area right now than Tim Lincecum, and there has not been someone followed with as much fervor since the glory days of the 49ers. His recent pot bust is hardly a blip on the radar. There will now be intense pressure on the organization to sign Lincecum to a long-term deal before he becomes eligible for free agency, or even before he goes through arbitration prior to next season. Either way, Lincecum is looking at a big, big raise. Giants fans won't begrudge him what he has earned as the most exciting young pitcher in a generation. We just hope we get to watch The Freak do his thing in a Giants uniform for long, long time.

The Best Movie I've Seen This Year

"The King of Kong."

Yes, it is a documentary. Not only that, it is a documentary about an old video game and the people who play it obsessively. Despite those apparent shortcomings, it is also proof that truth often is stranger than fiction, and every bit as captivating.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Rite of Passage

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed something new in the close-up portrait of Kelly in the last post. Indeed, adolescence has arrived:

Metal and plastic have been applied to teeth, at last. Apparently orthodontists don't wire up the whole mouth at once anymore. Kelly adjusted to the braces on her front teeth relatively quickly. Obviously, there are some other teeth that will be in line for braces in the future, but it has all started now.

If nothing else, she now looks like 85% of her friends.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Final Soccer Saturday ... Almost

The kids had their last soccer games this weekend, with parties and trophies following close behind. Michael's team played a tight game, scoring the only goal of the game very late, giving them their second win of the season. Michael had another good game, playing all over the field as needed, whether to shore up the defense, take free kicks (he nearly scored on two) or helping out on offense.

Kelly's team played a grudge match against a team full of their friends. Kelly's team was in first, with the opponent just behind, with a loss in the last matchup between the two teams. Both sets of girls let the others hear about it all week in school. This was the most anticipated matchup of the season for the players. It, too, was a closely matched game. Kelly provided a clever assist on what was nearly the first goal of the game, and had several scoring opportunities of her own in the second half. Against an excellent goalkeeper (who was Kelly's teammate last year), none of them got into the net, unfortunately. The opposing team scored just before the end of the game to close out the season.

Team Italy got the last laugh, though. We won the league!

All the girls wore these shirts on Monday to remind their classmates that although others may win the battle, they won the war. Kelly is now two-for-two in championships in her last two sports seasons. That will be a tough act to follow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Future Of Home Entertainment

My stereo receiver is more than 15 years old. My TV does not have an HDMA input. I have no surround sound speakers. Despite these technological-fitment shortcomings, I declare myself an early adopter in the home theater arena, for I have begun … streaming movies.

Netflix is beginning to live up to its name. We dumped the movie service less than a year ago when we finally decided that we could not justify the $18 per month it cost us to store three of their DVDs unwatched on our shelves. Two weeks ago, though, Netflix rolled out its new streaming movie service for the PlayStation 3 platform. Within a day of availability of the new service, we returned to the Netflix world. Now paying only $9 per month, we only get one DVD at a time, but unlimited streaming video.

It’s awesome.

The title availability is limited for now. However, there are still plenty of movies to see, and it is inevitable that selection will increase over time until the entire catalog is available for download.

Practically speaking, the streaming process is very easy and effective. The PS3 must run a special Netflix disk, but once in, it does not require anything in particular of the user. It simply drops the viewer into a dedicated Netflix “library.” The interface is not as easy to use as the website; you are resigned to scroll sequentially (alphabetically) through all of the available movies for each category. There is as of yet no search feature. I imagine greater capabilities will come to the movie selection interface in the future. Other than that slight annoyance, the rest of the experience is seamless. The movie boots up within a few seconds, and the picture quality is acceptable (not HD, but certainly on a par with conventional DVDs).

So far, I have made the most use of the Documentary category. It is like having a really good on-demand library of the most interesting PBS and Discovery features available whenever you want to see them.

In short, on-demand movie viewing through streaming video through the internet is, without question, the future of home entertainment. The convenience is unparalleled. There are two potential drawbacks: lack of high definition products, which will likely be rectified in the future; and the threat of internet usage limits by service providers. I have no idea what kind of load streaming a movie from Netflix puts on our DSL service, but if AT&T wants to follow some of its fellow internet providers, I may receive a notice someday that I will have to pay a premium for data transfer over a designated limit. Such surcharges have been used to rein in heavy-duty gamers; I don’t know if mere movie watching places similar demands on the internet service infrastructure. I hope not. Eventually, this is the way home entertainment will be done. The information plumbers will just have to get used to installing bigger pipes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pride Goeth Before A Motion For Change Of Venue

Grand, eloquent words from Attorney General Eric Holder:

I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years. The alleged 9/11 conspirators will stand trial in our justice system before an impartial jury under long-established rules and procedures.
Unfortunately, those words were immediately preceded by these:

After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice. They will be brought to New York to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks from where the twin towers once stood.
Thanks to that expression of hubris, here will be the first words of the first scrap of paper filed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's attorney within nanoseconds of the case being filed in the Federal District Court in New York:
Rule 21. Transfer for Trial

(a) For Prejudice.

Upon the defendant's motion, the court must transfer the proceeding against that defendant to another district if the court is satisfied that so great a prejudice against the defendant exists in the transferring district that the defendant cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial there.
The Attorney General of the United States has already expressly declared that the close proximity of the festering wound on the landscape left by the defendants is a factor in the selection of the venue, handing the defense the basis for a change of venue motion on a silver platter. This trial will not happen in your back yard, Manhattan. Enjoy the pretrial lawyering, everyone.

It Would Be Beautiful If It Weren't So Terrifying

Computer technology allows very smart accident reconstruction specialists to do all kinds of amazing things. Here is a compelling reconstruction of the US Airways flight that went down in the Hudson earlier this year. The video is based on a mountain of information. The specialist even opines on the speed, pitch and roll of the typical Canada goose. The boys of Monty Python were nearer to reality than they could have suspected.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weekend Project Inevitability

There is no Soccer Saturday update this week because we had a slightly unusual weekend. Michael had an early game in which the team was so outplayed and outcoached that we just wanted to get on to Kelly's game to see some good soccer again. By the time we got home, though, there was a message from the coach letting us know that there would be no game because the other team could only field four players and had to forfeit (absenteeism is a sign of the times around here). We all surprised ourselves at how disappointed we were to miss an opportunity to see Kelly's team play. Yes, we are still talking about more than an hour of youth soccer, but the games are reasonably well played, and the setting on the pristine St. Mary's field is beautiful.

What to do with all that time? I had no choice: long-deferred projects around the house lurched to the front of my brain and would not leave me alone. One of the longest-standing jobs that has remained incomplete is to install new baseboards in the living room. We put in a door between the dining area and our breakfast room before we moved in, and at the time I asked the contractor to build a small step between the rooms. There is a small angled wall there, and I asked him to work off of the angle. He didn't, and put in a resolutely rectangular step instead. I have refused to carpet the step he built, clinging to my vision of what the step should be.

I have the tools to build what I want, but no access to them because of the mountain of boxes in the garage. At about the same pace that mighty glaciers carved El Capitan at Yosemite Park, we have worked through our boxes. After a few moments of contemplation, I managed to clear a few more Saturday morning, which finally gave me decent access to my workbench -- and the miter saw. I assembled the saw, made a couple of test cuts, and reveled in the capabilities of a brand new saw blade.

After an afternoon of prying and pounding, I had removed the old step. I spent the rest of the afternoon dredging up principles of geometry that I thought I had forgotten to figure out the lengths of 2x4s I needed to build the step. Mr. Stocking would be proud. A few applications of the Pythagorean theorem later, I had myself the plans for the step I had always wanted. It took until Sunday night to finally finish construction and re-lay the carpet in the living room, but it is all done now to my satisfaction, with just the carpeting of the step itself remaining.

Once the carpet is totally done, the baseboards can go in. We had the foresight to ask for an extra bit of the carpet that was installed in the house before we moved in, with this project in mind. Now, where did we put it?

Friday, November 06, 2009

To The Guy Standing Next To Me At The ATM

... reeking of the herb:

You're not fooling anybody.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Soccer Saturday

Another beautiful Saturday morning for soccer games. Kelly's team was back on the big field at St. Mary's, dominating the game but unable to finish, winning 1-0 on a penalty kick.

Michael's team played well again. Michael scored a great breakaway goal that had a couple of dads from the other team marveling at his speed and skill in the game. I'll admit to being pleased hearing that, especially since it was not entirely clear that Michael was going to enjoy playing soccer this year. Leading his team in goals has changed his attitude considerably.

This is what it looks like when the whistle has blown to end Spain's first winning game:

Sure, they're not supposed to keep score or tabulate wins and losses. But the boys know. This joy proves that there is value in honest, natural competition.

Post-Halloween Bazaar

This is a game called "Haggle":

The kids created this game on their own. They play it every year after Halloween. Even though it involves taking inventory of their respective candy hauls and trading candy back and forth, it almost never results in arguments. All told, they spent about two hours today doing this.

Halloween 2009

We have reached that point in life when Halloween no longer means leading the kids around the neighborhood for an hour in the evening. We now have competing Halloween parties (three this year) and gatherings of kids' friends demanding their participation. Kelly went off to prowl another neighborhood a couple of miles away with ten of her friends, while I followed Michael and fifteen of his friends (and many of their parents) around our neighborhood, while Cheryl handled the traffic at our house. Forming into roving hordes of trick-or-treaters seems to be the preferred method of candy acquisition around here. It is great fun, and wonderful to see both kids bonding so well with their peers. Even the parents marvel at it.

Kelly was, well, this:

She went to a school dance Friday night in this costume (a momentous event unto itself) to great acclaim. The parents, who presumably remember rainy day rec-rooms in the days before video games, were even more excited about her costume than the kids. The reputation of her costume preceded her; parents of friends she trick-or-treated with Saturday night had heard of it and were tickled to see it.

Michael was a Star Wars Clone Wars character:

This may be the last year for Star Wars characters, at least until Star Wars costumes make an intentionally ironic return in the teen years.