Monday, June 28, 2010


Not quite halfway through the swim season, Michael hit one the goals he set for himself all the way back at the end of last season: he earned a "bronze" time in butterfly. He has been right on the edge of this all season, getting within a second and a half of bronze-level times in three of the strokes. He finally got the breakthrough yesterday. He is still not one of the fastest swimmers, but he has proven to himself that he is capable of performing at a competititive level.

Even more gratifying for me was what came later in the afternoon. Michael and I went to the pool in the scorching hot afternoon. One of Michael's closest friends was there, along with his twin sister and younger brother. All three are top swimmers; the sister won a trophy earlier that day for earning the most points in her age group. The four of them spontaneously set up a half-pool medley relay, with each swimmer taking a different stroke for their respective legs of the relay. It was all encouragement and fun, with no adult involvement whatsoever, and they kept it up for more the better part of an hour. Energetic, friendly free play: that is what childhood should be.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A New Mouth To Feed ... And Walk

This is Daisy.

She is a border collie/Aussie shepherd mix, about five years old. She was the first dog we saw, on the first day of exploring what it would be like to search for a dog. We did not intend acquire a dog impulsively, and had previously ruled out border collies, but when we found her as the only dog at a cat adoption event, we connected immediately. She has probably had a hard life, likely as a breeder, so she is not very trusting of people. She was hours away from being destroyed when the rescue people found her. Although she is predisposed to be wary, she is very calm, though, and handles walking on a leash very well. Within a week, after a vet check and spaying, she came to live with us.

We have hired a dog-whisperer sort of trainer who has helped us with ways to jump-start her socialization. She now spends her time with us in whatever room in which we are spending time. Where she once paced frantically looking for exit doors, she has now learned how to be content. An open door or gate is still the surest way to get her to move quickly, but she is showing signs that her stress level has dropped considerably.

It will probably be a long time until she greets people without cowering, and she may never enjoy playing with toys. She seems to have gotten used to us, though, and will lie down curled up at our feet in the evening like a member of the family. In some ways, she is as much work as a baby, but as she starts to approach us for affection, the work will be worth it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Arizona Had Nothing To Do With This ... We Think

If you haven't been following soccer's World Cup (or, as the broadcasters are annoyingly required to say, "the FIFA World Cup"), you are missing out on some amazing theater. True, some games have been boring, but not necessarily because of low scores. You may have heard that the US won its final pool game (its four-team mini-tournament to determine which two of the four go on to the single-elimination stage) 1-0 on a 91st minute miracle. Only one goal was scored, but the game was taut, well-played, and ultimately exhilarating because the win put the US through to the next round. YouTube is full of footage of gatherings of people in bars, restaurants and outside department store windows going bonkers when Landon Donovan scored the winning goal.

Mexico, like the US, is one of the 16 teams that qualified for the next round of the tournament. You have to wonder how the Mexican team feels, though, when they look at the brackets for the single elimination phase. In its four-team bracket, the US (ranked 14th in the world) will first face Ghana (32nd). If they get past Ghana, to get to the final four the Americans will have to take on either Uruguay (16th) or South Korea (47th).

Mexico, on the other hand, will face down a murderer's row of historic (and current) soccer powerhouses. Mexico, ranked 17th in the world, faces off against Argentina, ranked seventh in the world, coached by legendary former player (and legendary buffoon) Diego Maradona, and featuring Lionel Messi, generally considered the best player in the world. If Mexico somehow survives that test, which would be a noteworthy upset, they will have to beat either England (8th) or Germany (6th, and one of the favorites to win the Cup).

Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea, or Argentina, England and Germany. Sorry about that, amigos. Just luck of the draw, I'm afraid. I'm reasonably sure that Governor Brewer is not a member of FIFA.

[Programming note: the US plays at 2:30 pm Eastern on Saturday]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Man Most In Need Of A Wayback Machine

Ron Wayne has been getting a lot of attention lately. It is well-known among Silicon Valley greybeards and Apple fanatics that Apple was started by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (like me, Homestead High School graduates). What was not well remembered until recently is that Ron Wayne was the third founder of Apple.

As Wayne tells it, the Steves brought him in to help with the logistics of starting Apple and to be a mediator between them. Wayne wrote the agreement that created Apple, designed the first logo, and received 10% of the company. Less than two weeks later, for $800, Wayne became the first ex-employee of Apple. Instead of being a billionaire, he is a coin-and-stamp collector who spends his days and Social Security checks in Las Vegas-area casinos.

I first ran across Wayne's story about a month ago, which finally percolated up to the big media outlets, with a feature running today on Tracing the story back, it looks like Wayne emerged into the limelight in April, when a short article on commemorated the anniversary of his departure from the company ... potentially a $20 billion decision.

Some commentators (and many commenters) express amazement that Wayne could have walked away from the company the way he did. At the time, Jobs was leveraging the company to the hilt to get it off the ground, and Wayne was uncomfortable with the risk he was exposed to with the always volitile Jobs at the helm. What people tend to miss is just how common these circumstances were in the halcyon early days of Silicon Valley. Growing up, it seemed like we were always hearing of this person or that person going to a "startup." Or thinking about going to a "startup." Or thinking about someone else going to a "startup." This seemed to touch just about everyone's dad at least once. It was the culture of the place and the time. The optimism for the big score was rampant, inversely proportional to the actual rate of success. Ventures like Apple were everywhere, and they failed all the time. When one company failed, another three began. It was entirely reasonable for someone like Wayne, twenty years older than the brilliant but impetuous Jobs, to see that the risks facing the company, which along with a bunch of other tiny companies was essentially attempting to invent an entire industry, were too much for a man in mid-career to bear.

Some people have suggested that the Steves should throw a little money Wayne's way in recognition of his historic role at the creation of what is now a cultural touchstone as well as business dynamo. Wayne's current circumstances are too close to destitute to be comfortable for fans of the glossy Apple empire. While that would be a nice and humane thing to do, Jobs has never been accused of being either. Philosophically, return on investments come from investments that are actually made. Those who can't stomach the risk (which is most of us) don't earn the right to enjoy the reward. That is not a value judgment, it is simply the reality of capital investment.

For his part, Wayne seems remarkably upbeat about the trajectory of his life, considering how it could have gone. Of course, fabulous riches cannot be assumed; he could have been purged or suffered financial ruin back in the dark days when Apple nearly failed a time or two. It is not for him, or anyone, to know. Ron Wayne will forever be one of the foremost examples of "what if ..."

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Champions At Last

It took an extra game, but our A's finally got their hands on the champion's trophy. The top half of the order was productive all game, the bottom half of the order did its part, they had few defensive gaffes, and the Orioles did not hit as many bombs as they had in the last game. After two innings, we were ahead 10-0, held on as the Orioles closed the score to 11-8, then tacked on another four in the last inning to wind up with a final score of 15-8.

For his part, Michael went 3 for 3 from his customary second spot in the batting order, including a shot over the second baseman's head to drive in two with two outs to ignite a second-inning five run rally.

Ready for the pitch at second base, as usual:

Trying to score from first on a teammate's double:

In January, many of these boys had trouble playing catch. Now they carry trophies. Smiles all around!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sports Weekend ... Continues

Our championship weekend turned out to be less hectic, but also less triumphant, than it might have been. My volleyball coaching debut offered me great hope for the future: it can only get better. Missing more than half our team, we cobbled together a squad with a few girls from another squad. All of them were reasonably good players, but they did not play team volleyball the way we did, which quickly pushed us into some bad habits. We beat Hawaii in the first game, but they took the next two. We had to stay in the stifling gym for a second game, this time with our own players but still missing two of our best. We went down to a quick defeat in two games to Pepperdine, a team that had trouble serving the ball over the net. We simply stopped playing our team game. Kelly acquitted herself well, being the only one of our girls who served overhand.

Logistically, losing both games on Saturday simplified Sunday dramatically, because he no longer had to run across town in the middle of swimming time trials and before the baseball party. Kelly was as down about losing as she ever has been about losing a sporting event, though. It was frustrating to think that we were unable to put our best team on the floor, and that if we had, we probably would have won the first game and played for the championship. Still, it was a great season, and Kelly now enjoys the sport so much that she is enrolled in a volleyball camp at St. Mary’s later in the summer.

After volleyball, we dashed back across town to catch the beginning of Michael’s championship baseball game. It had all the trappings of a big game: player introductions and the national anthem. It may only have been eight and nine year old boys playing on a small, imperfect field, but the pageantry gave me goosebumps anyway.

Lining up for introductions:

“And the rockets’ red glare …”

It was a tight game, but the Orioles hit well, we did not field particularly well, and we gave up the lead in the fifth inning (of six) that we could not recover. Because the tournament is double-elimination and we had not yet lost, we get our rematch tonight. It will be a true championship game: the winner gets the trophy, guaranteed.

On Sunday, swimming madness began again. It was far, far more relaxing this year for both Michael and I (although not so much for Cheryl, who has snack shack duties this year). Michael had a good warmup, and set personal bests in freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke, all by wide margins. Simply being a year older has made a huge difference. Once he adds a few weeks of conditioning (which he has missed because of baseball practices), it seems inevitable that he will snag a “bronze” time or two. He is still not one of the fast swimmers, but fortunately he is self-motivated to compete against the clock for intermediate goals other than winning the meet.

On the blocks for freestyle:

Stylin’ in free:

Ready for backstroke:

On his way to a heat win in back:

After time trials, we went to the baseball coach’s house for a raucous party for the baseball team, with a barbeque, cake and awards for the boys. We love baseball, but it will be a bit of a relief to spend the summer with the fundamentally individual (less stressful) sport of swimming. Tonight will tell us if we go into the summer with a finalist’s medal, or a champion’s trophy.

Tiger and Phil, Phil and Tiger

One measure of how precipitously Tiger Woods' stock has fallen was my surprise at seeing him featured in a television commercial this week. As the advertisement eventually revealed, the next edition of his eponymous videogame is set to be released. The game manufacturer has little choice but to feature Tiger in its advertisements, but it is conspicuously odd to see him endorsing a product. I did not realize quite how I felt about his personal fall from grace until I found myself consciously wondering why I was seeing him on my television in an advertisement.

Tiger's life, both personally and professionally, is not irredeemable. There is little question, however, that the broad-based enthusiasm for both his persona and his golfing prowess has diminished significantly. Even with a golf fan like me.

As the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach next week, I can't help but reflect on a few days I got to attend practice rounds at the Open in 1992. Like me, Phil Mickelson had just graduated from college. He was the brightest new star in golf, having already won a professional tournament while still in college, capping off a stellar amateur career that included a U.S. Amateur title and three NCAA titles. Personally, I had an automatic affinity for him simply because we were the same age and he was one of the first people of my generation to emerge on the world stage,and thoroughly enjoyed watching him play and gracefully accept the accolades of the fans. Just five years later, Tiger quickly eclipsed Phil as he hottest young talent on the PGA Tour, rightfully ascending to legendary status only a few years into his career. Even though I have loved following Tiger's career and have thoroughly enjoyed his talent, though, I have never stopped being a Mickelson fan.

While Tiger lived in seclusion off the course and surly isolation on it, Mickelson always offered smiles and high fives to fans, and eschewed Tiger's tactical perfection in favor of creativity that often crossed the line to recklessness. Critics blasted Mickelson's demeanor as insincere and foregave Tiger his tunnel vision. Although often derided for appearing to lack Tiger's focus and discipline, it was Mickelson's openness and brio endeared him to many fans.

As the sordid details of Tiger's life outside the ropes spilled out over the course of too many days starting last Thanksgiving, it became clear to me that Mickelson's reputation, both personally and professionally, would surpass Tigers again, arising from the very same characteristics that defined the two men. Mickelson, a handsome upper-class guy from San Diego who married the cheerleader and fathered three cute kids, stepped away from the game last year to be with her as she undertook painful treatment for breast cancer (at the same time Mickelson's mother was going through the same thing). Meanwhile, Tiger, all indomitable focus and private security, was exposed to be a cynical cad who compartmentalized his life and used countless people to satisfy his various demands.

Mickelson's victory at this year's Masters tournament, the tournament that initially defined the Tiger legend, could not have been sweeter. Tiger played well, but was too rusty from his self-imposed layoff from his personal scandals to win, and Phil was at his swashbuckling best on his way to a third career win at Augusta, one behind Tiger. For all of the heroics on the golf course, the tearful embrace between Phil and Amy Mickelson behind the 18th green will probably be the defining image of that tournament. That embrace, and all of the life in it, the twinned despair and triumph, fear and victory, stands in stark repudiation of the soullessness of Tiger's accomplishments. There will never be any question that Tiger's talent, ambition and accomplishments stand out as towering achievements of any sportsman of any age. The revealed emptiness of his character, however, will also be inextricably attached to his name. Any number of decent men on the PGA Tour offer a counterpoint to Tiger's story, but it was poetically appropriate that the answer came from his longtime and forever closest rival.

After five career runner-up finishes, here's hoping Phil will pick up his first U.S. Open title next week.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Passing of a Bay Area Inspiration

Former Los Gatos High School football coach Charlie Wedemeyer died yesterday. His passing is remarkable in part because of who he was, and in part because his life is being celebrated in 2010 and not 10 or 20 years ago.

Coach Wedemeyer was diagnosed with ALS in the late 1970s. By 1983, he was confined to a wheelchair, but continued to coach his team, enlisting the aid of his wife to enable him to communicate as the disease robbed him of muscular control. Los Gatos won a sectional championship that year.

Coach Wedemeyer's story was a big deal locally at the time, which expanded its reach when a movie was made about him. Upon returning to the Bay Area a couple of years ago and hungry to reconnect with things I remembered from my youth, I did a little reseach on Coach Wedemeyer, expecting to find his obituary. Instead, I discovered that he was still alive and continuing to be an inspiration through his dogged determination to thrive in spite of the death sentence that Lou Gehrig's Disease usually represents. Coach Wedemeyer defied his disease's grim odds to live with ALS for 32 years (the same number of years he lived without it), demonstrating along the way that an affliction need not bring the joy of living life to an end.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

That Championship Season

We are heading into one of the most intense sports weekends yet. Michael's baseball team practiced each of the three days of Memorial Day weekend, with the Sunday practice being a Dads vs. Team game. It was lots of fun, since I hadn't actually played a game in many years. Even though we were facing a bunch of pint-sized players, there was still something impressive about them arrayed in their positions around the field, resplendent in their crisp green and white uniforms. They played well for much of the game, reliably retiring the batboys (who played with the dads), and making some plays against the dads as well. Michael started a double play on a pop fly, doubling one of the dads off first (in the dad's defense, he's British and was lucky he found first to begin with). It took a couple of near disasters for all of the dads to realize that they had to dial their intensity at the plate way back, but once we did, the teams were on relatively level ground.

Only a poor last defensive inning and silent bats doomed the boys, but their spirits rebounded when we took them to the local ice cream shop after the game.

Michael and I went back to the ballyard Tuesday evening to watch one of the other games, which pitted the Cubs, the team we beat in the first round, against the Cardinals, the number one team (which had lost in the first round to the Orioles, our upcoming opponent). The Cardinals, who swept us in the regular season even though we beat them in a mid-season tournament, won the game, making them the opponent of whoever lost the Wednesday night game between our A's and the Orioles. Wednesday evening, the boys showed up to the field full of spirit and excitement. We immediately gave up five runs in the first inning, but got all five runs back with our first five batters. The game settled into a defensive struggle until we hung another five-spot on them in the fifth, and another three in the sixth. Like our victory over the Cubs in the first round, our A's played a very solid game (once we got past some errors in the first inning). Michael made a putout at second, had several hits including a drive well into the outfield, scored a couple of runs and drove one in for a very solid all-around game.

Tonight Michael and I went back to the field to watch the Cardinals in their rematch against the Orioles, and once again the Orioles bested them, again coming from behind in the last inning to prevail by one. The game ended with the Cardinals' tying run stranded on third and the winning run stuck on second. The tournament is structured so that we will now face the Orioles for the Championship on Saturday afternoon. Because it is a double elimination tournament, even if we lose on Saturday we will get another shot at the Orioles Tuesday night. I think we're all ready for the season to be over, so we're pulling for the boys to end it on Saturday.

Ah, Saturday. That's the day that Kelly has her second round game in the volleyball playoffs. If her team wins, she plays on Sunday at three for the gold. If her team loses, she plays immediately after the first Saturday game. If she wins that game, she plays again on Sunday at one for the silver.

Kelly's team has played well, but six of the ten players will miss the Saturday games because they are all eighth graders who will be attending their school's graduation ceremony. Since both coaches are parents of two of those girls, neither of the coaches will be there either. Since I went to all of Kelly's practices and helped out a little (and played a lot), I get to coach the Saturday game(s). We will pick up a couple of players from another team to add to our small but mighty band of four seventh graders and do our best.

Some scenes from our last game, two weeks ago, a too-close victory over "Cal":

Both Saturday volleyball games fall just before Michael's championship game, so I won't be able to help out with baseball field preparation as usual. The Sunday games, however, fall right smack in the middle of Michael's time trials that mark the beginning of the swim season. Sure, why not add a third sport to the mix? And immediately on the heels of both time trials and the later volleyball game will be the baseball team party.

If you understood all that, you're doing better than us. It has taken us days to figure out all the permutations of games, schedules and transportation issues.

It will almost be a relief to go to work on Monday.

Almost. But not really.