Thursday, December 22, 2011

Charge Of The Forehead Light Brigade

We have discovered a strange phenomenon in our neighborhood. In the hours before dawn, around 5:30 a.m., week after week, season after season, there are people who voluntarily roust themselves from warm beds not only to go outside into what are currently below-freezing temperatures, but to run for an extended amount of time. Of course, running in the pre-dawn darkness carries certain hazards, given that there is actually no light in the sky and little useful light from irregularly-placed streetlamps. That means anyone daft enough to be outside at that hour needs to bring their illumination with them. The generally accepted means of doing so involve strapping a light to your forehead. It may be a fancy set of LEDs that puts out more light than the typical 1960s-era automobile headlight, but in the end, it is still a getup not far removed from a minor's torch.

I know all of this because I am one of those people. So is Cheryl. In fact, she is to blame.

Back in July, one of our friends convinced Cheryl that a successful exercise regimen did not have to mean going out and running a marathon every day. A simple commitment to a combination of running and walking for relatively short (but increasing) durations would yield health benefits while staying within our physical limitations of endurance and fitness.

We are an unlikely pair to take up running as a regular routine. At least I was a runner once upon a time, but I have tried without success to resume the practice since high school. Cheryl has been a committed non-runner her entire life. Nevertheless, since late July, we have arisen at 5:30 a.m. three times a week to run and walk a nearly three mile loop in our neighborhood. Over the summer, we were privileged to enjoy the early-morning sunrises. As winter approached, however, the days got significantly colder, and even more significantly darker. After following this regimen for more than a month, we felt committed enough to the practice to justify some dear appropriate for exercising in the cold and dark. We rewarded ourselves with new running shoes, reflective apparel, and cold-whether running gear. And, in a final, unmistakable symbol of our resolve, forehead lights.

After almost 5 months, we have only missed a couple of regularly scheduled running days, mostly due to my work schedule. Amazingly, I think we have missed only two days because of rainy weather. Over that time, we have steadily increased the length of the run portions of the loop (which are interspersed with regular intervals of walking). I have even kept up with the routine while on a business trip, and took a another run on my own to test my limits and found I could run a mile again (baby steps, granted, but it has been a long time since I could do that). Maybe in a couple of years we will enter a 5K race. That won't happen anytime soon, but against all odds, we are enjoying the commitment, the afterglow of the effort, and the demonstrable benefits of the consistent exercise regimen … dorky headlights notwithstanding.

We are either rationally coming to terms with the increased effort required to stay healthy as we age, or we have completely lost our minds. The jury is still out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

We Are The Champions, Local High School Edition

Against most if not all of the odds, Moraga's Campolindo High School, Kelly's alma mater to be, won the North Coast Section football championship at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday night. Campo, projected to finish last in its own league, continued a true Cinderella season by knocking off heavily favored Marin Catholic 20-18 on a last-second field goal to go 14-0 on the season.

We managed to watch the last part of the game through a video feed online (the internet age is great for this sort of thing), and were able to witness our local boys work for the winning score after giving up their game-long lead with only two minutes to go. Campo had stopped Marin on fourth and two at Campo's 10-yard line halfway through the fourth quarter, but allowed Marin to go the length of the field on the next drive to set up a go-ahead field goal. On that drive, Marin survived a fourth-and-eight play, but also dropped a pass in the end zone. Campo returned the ensuing kickoff well to about their 35 yard line, but still had to go the length of the field with two minutes left and their starting center out of the game with an injury. On the first play, Marin had Campo's quarterback in their grasp, but he wriggled free, running for his sporting life to his left. Stunningly, he found a teammate (the older brother of a boy with whom Michael plays baseball) 45 yards down the field to immediately put Campo in position for a game-winning field goal. Campo milked the clock with a series of runs to put the game on the shoulders of the sophomore kicker. After a timeout with two seconds remaining in the game, enduring what had to be the highest-stakes moment the kicker had ever experienced, he coolly put the ball through the uprights, setting off a joyous celebration among the team, their families and fans.

Kelly, who has no real love of football, got an unexpected charge out of the winning kick. As it turns out (but she had not figured out until she heard his name announced on the webcast), the kicker is not only in her biology class, he is her lab partner. We went to one home game earlier this season, which she did not find all that interesting, but stuff like this could make a girl start to enjoy football a little bit more.

Campo has won NCS before, but not since 1986. To put that in perspective, that was when I was a junior in high school. Our football teams were terrible in those days, though, so I didn't pay too close attention at the time to what anyone else did (although I did go to the CCS final game in 1984 with a friend to watch his St. Francis beat Bellarmine 5-3 at San Jose State ... and Bellarmine is the CCS champion this year). With Kelly now a freshman, it truly has been a generation since Campo last reached this lofty height.

The magical season is not quite over. With its win, Campo earned a trip to the Division III state championship game in Los Angeles. Campo will match up with Washington-Union of Fresno ... the city where Kelly was born. We might have to figure out a way to watch this game.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Fall Fell

We are very efficient around here. Autumn may be a season on the calendar, but we take care of Fall in one day. Over the last 24 hours or so, most of the southwest of the country, including the Bay Area, has been subjected to heavy, sustained winds. The windstorm caused serious damage to the Los Angeles area, but around here it has simply taken care of denuding the trees. It was strong enough that when I stepped out for lunch with some colleagues yesterday, we put our conversation on hold until we reached the restaurant because the noise of the leaves swirling around us was too loud.

Nearly overnight, we went from enjoying colorful foliage to being ready for winter. Oddly, nearly every time we experience wind conditions like this, unlike Nor'easters on the Eastern seaboard, our temperatures pick up. We will be back to freezing nighttime temperatures and foggy mornings soon, but for now, we get to enjoy mild days with crystal clear air and blue skies.

I'm not looking forward to cleaning up the yard now, though. Drat this wind.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Hoop It Up

Once the calendar kicks over to November, our sporting life transitions from soccer to basketball. The two sports have been going simultaneously for the past several weeks, but yesterday was the first basketball game after several weeks of practices, a day after Michael's final regular-season soccer game.

The basketball league organizes the players into teams based upon their relative ability so that they can compete against teams of comparable ability from other parishes. This year, there were enough players for four fourth grade teams. Michael was placed on the third-level team, along with most of the players from his team last year. It seemed to be a good fit. We looked forward to picking up again with what had become a pretty decent team.

Somewhere along the way, it was decided that the third and fourth level teams were meant to be one large pool of players from which to relatively equal teams would be created. A few players, including Michael, ended up changing teams. He is now on a team without anyone from his squad last year.

Our first game was against that other team, and they annihilated us. Much like Michael's first game last year, the score was lopsided (32-8), and Michael scored three of the team's four baskets. Taking last year's experience as a guide, we can hope for substantial improvement as the players learn to work with each other and develop a set offense, which they did not have last night.

For his part, Michael played reasonably well at point guard. He had a few turnovers, but he showed advanced ballhandling skills with both hands, and late in the game blew away the other team's most athletic player with a killer crossover and drive down the open lane (he missed the layup, but that part will come later). The fun thing for me is that we had discussed that very move earlier in the afternoon. We talked about how the other team would grow to expect him to work the ball around to teammates, which would present a late-game opportunity to surprise them with a crossover penetration to the basket. Other than missing the shot, the play worked perfectly. He may not have a lot of experience, but Michael can put coaching into action as well as anyone.

The rest of the team shows promise. We have two very tall twins who show a lot of promise in particular. We would probably have more immediate success, and maybe more fun with people we already know well, if Michael had stayed on the other team. On this team, however, he will be the undisputed point guard and get a ton of minutes at that position. Given his small stature, that will work out well for him in the long term.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Despite having lived more than 30 years in California, I have never lived someplace as seismically active as I do now. In the last six months we have had at least five earthquakes around 4.0 on the Richter scale within 5 miles of home, and a couple others of similar size and proximity in the two or three years before that. Three of those earthquakes have occurred within the last week, with an epicenter in Berkeley.

A 4.0 is not a tremendously strong earthquake, nor does it last long. However, an earthquake that size that close definitely gets your attention, and usually knocks over a picture frame or two.

Last Thursday evening, I experienced the second of two earthquakes that day while stopped at the ticket booth leaving the Oakland airport. I had missed the first earthquake earlier that day because I was out of town. (As is the new normal, I found out about the first earthquake because all of my Bay Area friends on Facebook started yammering about it. I could localize the earthquake based on which of my friends discussed it; in that instance, it was all the East Bay people. The South Bay people didn't say anything.) While waiting for my receipt at the parking lot booth, I had the sudden, queasy feeling that somebody had rolled into the back of my car. Having had that unfortunate experience several times, I checked my mirror, expecting to see headlights practically in my backseat. However, the car in line behind me was 30 feet away where it should be. I realized then that we had had another earthquake. I jabbed the radio preset button to the news station, which interrupted its regular programming a moment later to announce the earthquake, provide the preliminary strength numbers from Caltech, and offer the usual did-you-feel-it jabber. At that time, Kelly was at a choir performance, watching her high school choir try to stay focused while their risers swayed and everyone in the room got wide-eyed and whispery.

Yesterday morning at 5:35, the earth moved again. I had just awakened but had not summoned the energy to get out of bed when I heard the rumble of the earthquake approaching, which then hit with the resounding thump. I jumped out of bed, and Michael popped out of sleep and out of his room nearly in tears, afraid to go back to his bed. I don't think I have ever felt his heart hammering as fast as it was as I held him to calm him down. The moment his pulse returned to normal, though, he turned around, flipped his light on and eagerly went in search of things that had fallen down.

With all of these moderate earthquakes, we have not suffered any damage. I would like to believe that these quakes are relieving pressure on the two local faultlines so as to keep the "Big One" at bay. The many large earthquakes around the Ring of Fire over the last couple of years point in an ominous direction, though.

Time to restock the earthquake kit.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Soccer Update, Fall 2011

Here is, perhaps, the best way to understand the Michael's soccer season. After today's game, the opposing coach stopped him in the parking lot to ask, "so, are you going to sign with Barcelona?"

Through seven games, Michael has scored 16 goals. Early in the season, he scored a lot of breakaways. Lately, it seems that word has gotten out about him, and the defenses are collapsing all over him. Now, he is scoring goals on crosses or set pieces, and setting up teammates for goals with crosses.

Last week, our boys avenged their season opening loss by shutting out Germany 3-0. Michael set up the first goal on a long run to the corner, looking up to find a teammate in front of the goal, and delivering a 20-yard aerial cross for the assist. Later, he scored a goal on a free kick from just outside the penalty area, sending a hard shot high into the net above everyone, including the defenseless keeper. He scored a second goal in the second half when his strike partner sent a ball in from the side. Michael gauged the bouncing ball perfectly, sending in a one-touch volley with his left foot.

Today, our boys faced a winless Netherlands team that we had beaten 7-0 previously. Predictably, we came out flat and quickly went down 2-0. The coach had planned to play Michael in defense and goal, but as we fell behind, he kept Michael up front as usual. Late in the first half, we got a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. By now, everyone on our sideline knew what was going to happen. Even though the goal was 15 yards away with lots of players in the way, the coach called out for Michael to send it in. Sure enough, he drilled a hard swerving ball just over everybody's heads and past the frozen keeper. Early in the third quarter, one of our players took the ball down and out past the goal with Michael open in the middle. The coach told him to look for Michael the next time. Sure enough, on an identical play, our player took the ball to the side, looking to the middle the whole way. He delivered a perfect cross, which Michael again volleyed of a bounce with his left foot into the goal. Maddeningly, Netherlands went ahead again. Right at the end of the third quarter, a teammate sent a free kick to Michael in the middle. His first shot was blocked, but he stayed in and volleyed a ball out of the air into the top of the goal.

Most of the season, we have had just enough players to field the team with no substitutes. Today, a player who almost never attends practices or games showed up (late), giving us one extra player, so we had to play him. The coach picked Michael to sit out the fourth quarter, since everyone is supposed to sit out on occasion and he had not yet missed a minute. Predictably, we did not threaten to score for the rest of the game. Fortunately, we withstood a heavy assault to finish in a tie. We would have liked to play for the win, but sitting Michael was the right thing to do under the circumstances. The referee, who has seen Michael play for a couple of years now and saw what he did today, sought out our coach to praise him for sitting Michael, recognizing we were essentially conceding our chance at a win by doing so. His hat trick kept us in the game, but without him, our offense just did not work as well.

Michael will miss two of the last three games, unfortunately, but he has done plenty to distinguish himself. He says the opposing coaches have all sought him out after games, and he has gained a tremendous amount of confidence. His team, more importantly, has learned that relying on each other leads to success. Their best games have been marked with solid defense and crisp, heads-up passing that is rare at this level in a recreational league. It has been a very fun fall.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Just Respect, Baby

Oakland has its issues, but one thing that unites the city is its Raiders. The death of Al Davis, the general managing partner and longtime NFL firebrand, touched the community.

That is Oakland City Hall, across the street from my office. In the foreground, the city is flying the Raiders flag at half mast. That, folks, is civic pride.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Priorities, People!

I happened to hear the classic Harry Chapin tune "Cat's in the Cradle" the other day on the local "New Oldies" radio station that plays your favorites from the 60s, 70s and 80s (um, what?). The song is, as everyone knows, an achingly melancholy ode to fathers, sons, and life happening while we are busy making other plans. An unbridgable gap between father and son played out over a lifetime lies at the heart of the song.

Listening to the lyrics anew, I was suddenly struck by the obvious source of their problem. "My son turned ten just the other day," Chapin sings, "he said, 'thanks for the ball, Dad, come on, let's play. Can you teach me to throw?' I said 'not today. I got a lot to do.' He said, 'That's okay.'"

No, no it isn't. Why does the son turn down the father's entreaties later in life to finally spend that precious time together? It's not because of any quaint notions of the son ironically following the father's too-busy-for-family path, reversing the generational stiff-arm. No, discord is sown right in the heart of the boy's childhood, planting a demon seed that would grow into a pestilent weed in the years to come, leading the son to reject the father with malice aforethought.

The answer is right there in the lyrics. The boy turned ten, and he asked his dad to teach him to throw. (Insert screeching LP sound here.)

The boy is ten and he doesn't know how to throw? Come on. If a kid can't at least throw a circle change under the hitter's hands in a fastball count by the time he's ten, he might as well just find himself an ice floe and head on out to sea. Are you telling me this Chapin son doesn't even know how to throw a ball at ten? Everyone know he should be able to turn the double play pivot at seven, and find the receiver on an up-and-out pattern in the back of the end zone by nine. No wonder the son resents the dad, and the dad is too clueless to notice. The kid probably spent most of junior high stuffed in a locker.

Clearly, Harry Chapin didn't spend any time in our neck of the woods. Whiner.

(Or maybe having a son who actually "turned ten just the other day" caused me to pay a little closer attention to the song. I can't explain why it got so dusty in the car at that moment, though.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How Many Birds Can One Stone Kill?

Some of the details of the president's plan to force the federal government to live within its means fund the federal government are coming to light. Included in the package of taxes and cuts is a proposal to increase the taxes assessed against commercial airlines. The lead of this USA Today article could not softpedal the issue more delicately:
President Obama is asking passengers to pay a few dollars more in taxes for an airline ticket...
Those "few dollars more" are actually a $100 fee per departure. I have made made numerous round trip flights between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, San Diego or Las Vegas for less than this proposed $200 tax. Those flights, which are available even now, will double in price instantly. The $450 business-ticket round trip flights I take to Las Vegas periodically will suddenly become $650 flights. This weekend our family will travel to Orange County to attend a family memorial service on round trip tickets we could afford with frequent flyer credits. Those tickets would increase by $800 under the president's proposal, which would have made them unaffordable.

Maybe it takes people who are accustomed to traveling on business class or first class tickets that cost thousands of dollars, or who always travel on expense accounts and never see what tickets cost, to conceive of a plan to increase round trip tickets by $200 that takes no account of what a shock to the system that is for the rest of us. The $200 increase will be a drop in the bucket to a traveler who is already spending $2000 or more for that ticket, or for someone who neither knows nor cares how much the ticket costs. For most people, however, the cost of an airline trip, especially if traveling as a family, already pushes personal budgets to the limit. Now comes the proposal to effectively double the cost of travel for the many who carefully plan their trips. Increasing the cost of any good or service 50-to-100% in one fell swoop simply by the imposition of a tax is unconscionable. The airlines are crying foul, and for good reason. Speaking as someone for whom airline travel is a luxury that is just barely within reach, and only for the right occasion under the right circumstances, it is an absolute certainty that airline ridership will decline. The proposed tax will damage the airlines directly, but also all of the many industries and businesses that depend on people who travel via air for vacations.

Airline travel seems poised to return to its roots, priced out of reach of the vast majority of travelers. Perhaps that is what our ruling class would prefer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bigtime Coach, Well Grounded

This interview with St. Mary's men's basketball coach Randy Bennett is a nice look inside the personal life of the man at the helm of a collegiate basketball program that has made some waves on the national scene in recent years.

We go to the same church as the Bennetts, and they just completed their first year with the swim club we belong to, where their two young boys are both strong competitors. They are also, unsurprisingly, involved in the local basketball youth league. Coach Bennett helped out at the league's evaluation day last month (held at St. Mary's, shockingly enough). Michael ended up scrimmaging in front of Coach Bennett a couple of times; he even pulled off a sweet crossover dribble and drive to the hoop under the Coach's watchful eye. Is it too early to start thinking about scholarships?

Belying his growing stature in the very public and glamorous world of Division I college basketball, Coach Bennett is quiet and unassuming. He and his family have committed to setting down roots in Moraga (Coach Bennett recently signed a 10-year contract extension), which is the intention of most families with kids in elementary school around here. This portion of the article shows why he is such a good fit here (because he shares my views, of course):
Bennett and his family are Moraga homebodies, he confides. A sandwich from Bianca's or pizza from Panini's is about as good as it gets.

"We kind of stick around here; Walnut Creek is a long trip," he laughs, but isn't kidding.

It is a little exciting to have a semi-celebrity in your midst on a regular basis. Even better, though, it getting to spend time around a terrific family that shares your interests, values and goals and struggles.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What A Difference A Week Makes

Last week, Michael's soccer team was blitzed by, um, Germany, ending up on the wrong side of a 4-0 deficit by halftime. Michael's hat trick made the game exciting, but it was only a moral victory.

Things were different this week. It was our turn to come out of the blocks blazing. The boys passed really well and put the pressure on the other team from the opening whistle. The ball was never played on our defensive side of the field in the opening half.

Michael didn't score three goals this week.

He scored four.

He also had two assists in the 7-0 victory, and could have scored at least two more in the second half had he not terminated several of his breakaways to look for teammates to pass to. His coach has now made Michael the designated taker of corner kicks after he deposited one into the middle of the goal box in the first half (past everybody except one of our players, who was so shocked to see the ball he whiffed on the shot). Michael's second assist came off a corner kick in the second half.

This little guy (for once I'm not referring to Michael) scored that goal. Pound-for-pound he is our best player: clever feet, good vision and judgment, a motor that never stops, and surprising speed and power for his size. Michael is the best player overall, a deadly finisher with skills and a lot of power and speed when he chooses to use it, but our little number four is an indispensable piece of the team.

That didn't stop us from giving him and our other best player to the other team for the second half to even things up a bit (they were already missing a player and used one of ours in each quarter, and we gave them another for the second half so that we were playing a man down), but we still scored two more goals and they only had a handful of threatening moments against us.

The boys are very squirrelly in practice, but apparently something is getting through. They scored well because they played well, for the most part. They will come crashing back to earth at some point, but for today, they got a taste of what happens when they follow their coaching to distribute the ball around and play hard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Is That Old Guy In The Mirror?

Being the parent of an elementary school student and a high school student creates unexpected fissures in your sense of self. At the gradeschool back to school night last week, I looked around the room at all the young, attractive, fit parents and thought with satisfaction, ah, these are my peers.

At the high school back to school night we attended last night, I looked around at all the old, tired, weary people filling the room and thought, this can't be right -- these are my peers?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Forgotten Sport Resumes

In my childhood, and in the first part of my own children's childhoods, soccer was the only youth sport of note in the household. Soccer has always been an integral element of the fall frenzy, a seasonal houseguest with a standing invitation.

Then the kids got older, and we found ourselves in a community with many more sporting options. That, and the implication of public shunning if your children do not compete in at least three sports or the course of the year, two of which must be played simultaneously, led us to a multitude of new sporting arenas. Basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming quickly took over our youth sporting lives. We have all had great fun, made many friends, and experienced many new highs and lows with these sports.

The one constant over the years, though, was soccer. The local program is not as far-reaching as the AYSO of our early years, nor is it as intensely competitive or time-consuming as the local club systems. It provides the essential opportunity, however, for hundreds of kids to stay connected with a game that is as much a part of the lexicon of childhood these days as the Nintendo DS and SpongeBob SquarePants. Personally, there is a comfort to returning to the soccer fields every fall, a settling and resetting of the psyche in line with the new school year.

Sadly, Kelly no longer plays. If AYSO had managed to secure a beachhead in our community, she would. Her last coach – my baseball co-coach – attempted to bring AYSO to town last year to supplement the local organization's program, which essentially ends at eight grade. Although many saw the wisdom of giving our kids access to AYSO's established program, which would give older kids an opportunity to play regular season games as well as in post-season tournaments, the entrenched powers-that-be in the local organization would not hear of it. That may change sometime in the future, but too late to prolong Kelly's career. Instead, she gets to be a (reluctant) spectator like the rest of us at Michael's games.

When Michael's coach first contacted us, we did not recognize any of the names on the e-mail list. In contrast to the other soccer teams he has been on over the last three years, when nearly everyone on his teams was a classmate, all but three of the kids on this year's team go to one of the other elementary schools in town. After the first practice, his reviews were not good. He was not impressed by the skill level or attention span of his teammates. I had to remind him that he was the big fourth-grader now, on the team with a number of third graders. Last year he had the luxury of being a third grader on a team with a couple of dominant fourth-graders; now he has to be the player the others look to.

At the first game this Saturday, things went as expected, unfortunately. Against a team full of Michael's friends, we were down 4-0 by halftime. Michael was playing a center forward position, but hardly had any opportunities to do anything with the ball, as most of the gameplay was in front of our own goal.

Michael facing off against his friend Nick.

To start the second half, we made a couple of small adjustments to the lineup. Within a couple of minutes, one of Michael's teammates got him the ball in the opponent's side of the field. Michael took the breakaway and slotted a strong shot between the goalie and the near post. Thirty seconds later, he did it again. A few minutes later, he had another breakaway opportunity. He put good moves on the two defenders, then scored on a cross-goal shot as the goalie came out to take away any near-post opportunities. In the span of a few minutes, what had seemed to be the harbinger of a very long season became an energetic, fiercely contested game. Our defenders suddenly figured out how to play with energy and the other team lost its swagger. The game was still played mostly on our end of the field, but it became an entertaining game to watch rather than the beat down it had been in the first half. One of the other parents even came over to Michael before the fourth quarter to thank him for making the game fun and interesting again.

On the way to a breakaway goal.

We spend much time shaving seconds off of lap times in the pool, tweaking batting stances and honing free-throw form, but without any fanfare, Michael dropped right back in the soccer with a hat trick in the first game. The team still lost, and has a long way to go to figure out how to play good soccer as a team (including Michael; he is a great finisher, but needs to figure out how to be part of the overall flow of the game). Fortunately, the team also knows that it has at least one solid offensive weapon. With any luck, the goals will still come, but in support of at least a few wins.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Bright(ened) Eyes

Three day weekends at home generally mean projects around the house. In the past, many rooms have received fresh coats of paint. Running short of compelling home improvement ideas lately, I have found myself taking care of little projects with the cars that are not crucial, but scratch certain itches that are peculiar to me.

On Memorial Day, I polished the exhaust tips on my car:

Yeah, they will be dirty again in a day. What's your point?

Over Labor Day, I finally tackled the plastic headlight covers on the family car, which had begun to develop the cataracts common to so many cars these days (now that glass headlights are rare):

Before. Click to enlarge to see how bad they were.

I had previously tried a fix that used only a polish and a drill-mounted soft buffer, which did absolutely nothing. Stay away from that snakeoil. This time I went with the big guns, a wet-sanding process that I hoped would clear the lenses and not ruin them under my inexperienced hand. The technique involves using the drill to sand with 500 grit paper, then 800 grit paper, then a wet foam pad, and finally a sponge with a rubbing compound.

After sanding. I sure hope this is going to work.

It is counterintuitive to induce clarity by adding scratches, but for the most part, it works as advertised:

After. Sparkly.

The lenses are not as good as new and never will be, but they are far better than they were before. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Boys Of Summer, Anytime


Just in time for the pennant races. This will really be nice to have in January when the season is still two months away and we're tired of basketball, hockey and football. Baseball will always be the sport of summer. A breath of the green warmth of summer will be most welcome in the frosty depths of winter.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Better Living Through Gluttony

According to some people in white lab coats, eating chocolate can reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 33% or more. The research boffins are from Cambridge, so they must be right.

Another study by people who probably spent too much time indoors in college has found that drinking up to a bottle of wine a day reduces the risk of heart disease by as much as 50%.

Fantastic! All I need now is for the next study to confirm that consumption of filet mignon on a regular basis will take care of the remaining 20% of risk of heart disease, and my life will be complete.

I might eventually tip the scales at 300 pounds, but by golly, my heart will be disease-free.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eventful Beginnings

After weeks of intense anticipation, the school year started vigorously.

Michael got the fourth-grade teacher he was hoping for. Several of his best friends are also the class. Equally important, most of the problem children of his grade are not in his class. As he describes it, the people in his class are "all friends." He had been looking forward to school starting, and the first day did not disappoint.

Ready For 4th Grade, Freshman Year

The focus this year has been on Kelly as she starts her journey through high school. The adventure began in early July when she began taking herself to school on her bike three times a week for open gym volleyball sessions. Two weekends ago, she attended two six-hour days of training camp. A week ago, we went to the campus for Cougar Day for the yearbook picture and to pick up her schedule, and came back in the evening for a physical for the athletics program. Thankfully, she got all the classes she signed up for, alleviating one worry that had nagged all summer. Last Friday, tryouts for the freshman volleyball team began, and continued each weeknight through last night, the first day of school.

Kelly's first day of school went well, with no problems being lost on campus or getting stuffed into garbage cans by upperclassman. She came home with geometry homework, an assignment to read and analyze the first chapter of “The Old Man and the Sea,” and to write a Spanish essay. She also had her fourth evening of volleyball tryouts. At the end of the evening, the coaches advised that they would post on the team website the names of the players asked to return for the final tryout session on Thursday – the first cut.

Unfortunately, she did not survive that first cut. Over the course of the summer, she improved her skills significantly. However, in a volleyball-mad town, at the high school that won the state championship last year, the competition for roster spots is fierce. Ultimately, there is not much she could do about being 5’1”, playing against girls who almost universally played for club teams. There was not a single player in the gym, Kelly included, who was anything less than a good volleyball player. In the end, there were simply too many who were better than she was.

When the list was finally posted and her name was not on it, Kelly received the news with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders, saying, "really? Darn." She admitted that as the tryouts went on, she found her desire to make the team growing. However, she treated the disappointing news with grace and good cheer. I think she knew, better than we did, the high level of competition she faced. She took the news well, without outrage or surprise. She accepted the finality of the decision far better than we did.

I struggle with the knowledge that her athletic career is over, in all likelihood, without ever having had the opportunity to compete for her high school. She developed such a strong connect with volleyball in such a short time, it is disorienting to have it all go away so suddenly, even as her skills continue to increase and her knowledge of the game grows. The recreational league is not available for kids in high school, and the club teams require a greater commitment of time than she, wisely, is willing to give (and the logistics of any club team would be impossible for us anyway). In the end, there were too many other girls better than she was. That is the nature of competition; sometimes, you don't win, not because you were cheated, but because you weren't the best. Wisdom dictates that you accept defeat gracefully and grow from it. Kelly, apparently, is extraordinarily wise.

There is a slight possibility that she will try out for the school soccer team, competing against legions of girls who have played for club teams for years, and she might give volleyball another go next summer. The chances of making the those teams, she knows, are slim, but she might do it anyway just to get it all out of her system.

For now, though, she will just have to fall back on schoolwork. That is not bad option. After going through three years of middle school without a grade lower than an A, the classroom is a place of pride and accomplishment for her. After the first day of high school that she just had, it is also hard to imagine that anything to come over the next four years will be able to throw her off her stride.

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Day In History

1965: The Beatles perform at Shea Stadium.
1969: Woodstock music festival begins.
1993: Two otherwise sensible people get married at the tender ages of 22 and 23, doing what the modern world said that we need not or should not do.

Eighteen years later, the marriage endures happily, with much less screaming, hearing loss, mud or drug use (non-prescription, anyway) than the other two events.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Spring Sports In Review: Volleyball

Kelly's career in recreational league volleyball came to an end in early June. Her team ended up playing very well over the course of the season, losing only one match (unfortunately, it happened on a weekend when grandparents were visiting). The coaches were enthusiastic, but knew nothing about volleyball. They were lucky to have several good athletes on the team, but the gameplay was rarely high art. Nevertheless, the girls dispatched nearly every appointment on their way into the playoff tournament.

Unfortunately, they lost in the first round of the playoffs, and under the odd structure of the tournament, they could not play themselves back into the championship game. They lost to the team that they shared their practice gym with and scrimmaged frequently. Until the playoff game, our girls had never lost to them. For the playoff game, though, the coach's daughters who played club volleyball, who seldom appeared at that team's practices or regular-season games, showed up ready to play and dominate. Our girls eventually won their next playoff game before losing their last game.

On the whole, Kelly had a great season. As an eighth-grader, many of the girls were automatically deferential to her; the fact that she was among the best players on the team made them even more willing to fit their games to hers. She encouraged players to work together for sets and spikes, even though the team did not practice that at all (I attended all of the practices, and there was not a single setting drill all season). She also led the way in setting positions on the court so that players with complementary games could be next to each other (I may have had some influence of that).

One moment halfway through the season helped chart a new course for her in volleyball. After a special practice with several students and graduates of the local high school as coaches, Kelly and I "peppered" the ball back and forth as we usually did before and after practices. One of the student coaches noticed and uttered the most complimentary words to Kelly she could have said: "do you play for a club team?" Kelly didn't, of course, but was deeply flattered that she played well enough that someone thought she did. The coach then asked her where she'd be going to high school. We then got into a brief discussion about the structure of the high school's volleyball program, the freshman team, and how to make the team. The coach was enthusiastic about Kelly's play and her chances to make a roster at the high school, and encouraged her to take part in the summer "open gym" program. Both of us went home from that practice very excited and encouraged.

Kelly has followed through. Since the beginning of July, she has been attending open gym volleyball sessions at the high school three days a week, which also include an hour of conditioning work. In a major step of independence, she has used her bike to get there and back. That has led her to visit the library several times, and even go out of her way to stop at the ice cream store to buy herself a treat once. She has had the opportunity to play with very skilled volleyball players, nearly all of whom have far more experience than she does. I have not seen any of the practices, but by her description it sounds as if she is holding her own. She is critical of herself when she makes mistakes, but I know she is already a much better player than she was two months ago. Just a couple of weeks into the open gym sessions, we played a little pepper at a local park, and she was already dramatically more capable in all phases of the game.

Kelly has had very few auditions or tryouts in her life. Making the freshman team is an extremely high priority for her, which is why she has gone to the lengths she has two attend the open gym sessions. A weekend minicamp begins in a week, and then tryouts. I can feel the tension rising in her. We just have to trust that she will do her best during the tryouts, and that by her participation in the summer workouts the coaches will know how dedicated she is.

Even if she doesn't make a team, the work she put in the summer will bear fruit. The independence she has developed from riding her bike across town three times a week has been invaluable, and the necessary step out of the home as she prepares to become a high schooler.

Still, she really, really wants to make the team. Truthfully, we do too.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Spring Sports In Review: Baseball

With summer half over, now seems as good a time as any to take a look back at the busy spring sports scene in our household. First up, baseball.

Coaching the team, even as an assistant coach, ended up being one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I want to say it was also one of the most rewarding, but I'm not sure I can go that far. I lost an awful lot of sleep thinking about game situations, practice methodologies, lineup strategies and the unhinged psychologies of both some of the kids and the parents. We had our challenges, as did all the teams, but I would like to believe the boys learned something about baseball and themselves over the course of the season.

Overall, our season was characterized by consistent inconsistency, punctuated by memorable triumphs. We finished with a 4-2 record against non-league opponents from Orinda, including a tense 1-0 victory in the last game of a mid-season tournament. In that game, in the top of the first extra inning in the scoreless game, an Orinda player drilled the ball deep into right field with a runner on base. Right field, of course, is the traditional home of every team's weakest player, and we were no different. Just as we saw a long weekend of baseball games about to come to a dispirited end, our right fielder stuck his glove out and made an excellent catch of a very well hit ball, ending the threat. Unfortunately, the bottom of our order was coming up. Happily, Michael, who had gotten his first hit of the season the day before, led off with a ringing single to left field. He managed to get to third on ground outs, and scored on an infield single off the bat of another of our weakest hitters. It was a memorable and thrilling win, with the players enthusiastically yelling and hugging each other.

Another high point of the season was knocking off the best team in the division, the team that went on to win the championship. They had lost their first game only the week before after starting the season with 10 straight wins. It was a close game throughout, with both teams playing well. We managed to hold a lead going into the last inning, but their big bats would not be denied. They went up by two runs in the top of the sixth, with their ace on the mound poised to shut us down. Once again, we found ourselves at the bottom of our batting order, needing two runs to extend the game and not knowing where we would find them. Fortunately, their ace pitcher was in his third inning of work. He started having trouble finding the strike zone, then had to be pulled because he had reached his pitch limit. The next pitchers couldn't find the strike zone either, allowing our two weakest hitters (who had only one hit between them by that point two thirds of the way through the season) to get on base. That got us to the top of our lineup, and they came through. A double tied the game, and a single wanted in walkoff fashion.

Another highlight of the season was winning our first playoff game against the number two team in the league. That game proved to us what we knew all along: when all of our players were focused, we could beat anybody. Our final highlight of the season came in the last inning of our last game. Our weakest player had not gotten a hit all season. He, along with only a few other players, came out to our optional practices over Memorial Day weekend, working hard on his game. We were down by a bunch of runs, needing to get something out of the bottom of our lineup yet again. We managed to get some runners on base (Michael was on third, as it happened). Thrillingly, our batter dropped down a perfect bunt, something he worked on diligently in our extra practices, earning his first hit and a critical run batted in. Even in the midst of a difficult game when some of the kids had started to tune out, seeing them go bananas for their teammate’s first hit helped me appreciate them again.

What we were unprepared for was how fragile the psychology of some of these kids was. Some days, some of them just could not get it together mentally, leaving us with gaping holes in our lineup, our pitching mound and on defense. When our best overall player was fully engaged, he was unhittable as a pitcher, unstoppable at the plate and on the base class, and flawless in the field. He proved the point at a late-season all-star tournament, where he was the undisputed star of the team, batting around .900 for the weekend. Yet there were some days when his head was not in the game and his performance fell off substantially.

In the end, we played about .500 ball overall (albeit our in-league record was not as strong). We learned that the mental makeup of a player is far more important at that age than we would have guessed, and not just in terms of discipline. Desire and intensity turned out to be extremely important, and surprisingly lacking or inconsistent with some of the players. What wore me out by the end of the season was a sense that, with many of the boys, I felt that as coaches we were constantly pulling them along toward a goal that we constantly had to point out to them, rather than riding alongside with them, guiding and molding their enthusiasm in pursuit of that goal that they grasped and sought on their own. There were some issues with a couple of parents as well which dimmed our joy to some degree, but for the most part our parents were enthusiastic and thankful for our efforts.

I never had to worry about Michael's enthusiasm or focus. He was the model nine-year-old player. He worked hard, always wanted to improve, struggled at the beginning of the season but finally figured some things out toward the end. He did not collect his first hit until the mid-season tournament, but by the end of the season was our team’s median player for hits – five players had more, five had fewer. He had a number of opportunities to pitch, where he performed relatively well, particularly considering his age and size. On the whole, it was a good year of development for him. By the end of the season, we started having him practice at shortstop, anticipating that he will be expected to play that key position at some point next season.

It looks unlikely that I will coach again next year, mainly because my co-coach’s son is not likely to play and he probably will not coach as a result. I will be quite satisfied to return to the sidelines, offering support when needed but willing to leave the sleepless nights to others.

Before the season began, when Michael first found out I would be his coach, he said he was so happy, it didn't matter how our team would do: "we are going to have fun!" In the end, he was exactly right. It did not matter that our team did not go undefeated, did not win the league championship, and lost (slightly) more games than we won. We had our triumphs along the way, we won some big games in memorable ways, and we learned a lot about the sport we love. In the end, as I reminded myself many times throughout the season, we had the opportunity to go out and play baseball together three or four times a week. What is not to love about that?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hot Enough For Ya?

While the Bay Area continues to enjoy relatively mild temperatures this summer, much of the rest of the country has faced oppressively hot conditions for weeks. How hot? Hotter than you think. From the AP:

"Northeast Braces For Temps Near Boiling Point."

The headline is not misprint; they really mean it: "The extreme heat that's been roasting the eastern U.S. is only expected to get worse, and residents are bracing themselves for temperatures near and above boiling point... Washington, D.C.'s 103 degrees may seem the same as a melting 116 degrees."

In other news, the AP has modified its hiring practices to require its writers to demonstrate a grasp of the differences between the Celsius and Farenheit scales. Applicants may be granted a waiver of this requirement if they can demonstrate proof of possessing at least a fourth-grader's understanding of the boiling temperature of water (or any other liquid they care to discuss).

Friday, July 08, 2011

Last Flight

The Space Shuttle will launch for the last time in a few moments (11:26 am EDT). I got up early to watch the first shuttle launch on TV. Thirty years later, I'm sitting in my office, mid-career, watching the last launch on my computer screen.

The shuttle was more expensive and cumbersome to operate than was promised. But it was always a magnificant machine. Here's hoping that sometime in the future we will get back to designing, building and using machines that are even more extraordinary and inspiring.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ask A Pilot

I love airplanes. I generally enjoy air travel, and as a kid entertained the notion of becoming a pilot. Of course, becoming a pilot requires a lot of time, effort and money, none of which I cared to part with when it was so much easier to just go off to college like all my friends, so I never pursued flight as a vocation. I remain fascinated by aviation, however.

I recently stumbled across a very interesting discussion thread in the most unlikely of places. A Delta pilot, who happens to be a gambling enthusiast, started an "ask my about being a pilot or flight in general" thread in the off-topic section of a gambling website. He started the thread a year and a half ago, and is still contributing to it. His online persona is exactly what you would hope for from a pilot of a major airline: knowledgeable, methodical and thorough, with a sense of humor and good cheer.

The discussion thread now numbers over 3600 separate posts. I'm not sure what it says about society, but the first questions all seemed to focus on the salacious: how, and how often, do flight attendants ... attend ... to the flight crew, and so on. However, once the frat boys in the audience got that out of their system, the thread settled into a wide ranging exploration of piloting techniques and practices, aerodynamics, airline industry protocols, and analyses of specific air disasters. (It was a post on another internet forum discussing the Air France 447 crash that alerted me to this one.) The feedback the pilot received from his thread was so positive, he was invited to start a blog with the Smithsonian's Air & Space online magazine. Several readers have also gone on to take private flight lessons as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the pilot's discussion.

If you have even a passing interest in aviation (and can slog through the sophomoric early questions about stewardesses), the discussion is an incredibly interesting and comprehensive peek into the world of pilots and flight.

Summertime Tour

As of this moment, Kelly is here:

She is on a trip to Philadelphia and Washington DC (via a connection through Atlanta) with a gaggle of her recently-graduated classmates. This is a trip the school has been making for many years. Coming on the heels of a year spent studying American history, it should be a prime opportunity to make that history come alive. Their schedule over the next six days is packed with visits to all of the historically significant points of interest in Philly and DC.

I delivered her to the school parking lot at 3:15 this morning. A couple of the kids were running late, but most were there ready to board the charter bus to the airport. The four girls on the trip took a row of seats near the front of the bus; the twenty or so boys all piled into the back. Just when you think they are growing up a little, they let you know that they are still kids.

Kelly is not close friends with anyone on the trip, so she was a little apprehensive about the whole thing, but we know (and she does, too) that it will be an experience well worth having. Our kids will link up with students from other schools for the tour activities, so there will be opportunities to meet people from all over the country.

In the meantime, I'll spend my time watching flight trackers whenever Kelly is in transit.

Overprotective parent update (10:30 am PDT):

Kelly's flight has now landed in Atlanta. The flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia will depart in about 90 minutes. I don't envy the two chaperones (teachers at the school) who must herd their young charges to the right locations at the correct times for the next several days.

Paranoid parent update (3:15 pm PDT):

Our intrepid Moragan youths are learning the harsh realities of air travel. They ended up stuck in Delta's Atlanta hub for three extra hours. They are now boarded on the flight to Philadelphia, due to arrive around 8:30 pm local time rather than 5:30 pm. Kelly called home during the delay; it sounds like all is well. By the time they arrive in Philly, their west coast stomachs will be crying out for dinner, so I hope they can work a late dinner into the schedule. It will be nonstop action for the next few days, once they eventually get to the City of Brotherly Love.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Endings, And Beginnings

This spring has differed little from recent prior springtimes in form. The weight, the sheer mass of the season, however, overwhelmed those that came before. Work was busier. Coaching baseball exacted a substantial cost in time spent on the field, awake at night, and, during most other waking moments, in puzzled contemplation of the psychology of 10-year-old boys and their parents. The pastor of the church we attend retired after 29 years of ministry, in the same season that I added the challenge of playing guitar to the singing I was already doing during the services. Volleyball kept up its familiar twice-weekly pace. Cheryl's tutoring business turned into a 10 hour per week (afternoons only) job. Over at all, the skies cast the gray pall, raining throughout Memorial Day weekend and the first weekend of June.

The baseball and volleyball seasons have now ended (more on those to come in other posts), and swim season has begun. The school year ends this week, and with it the departure of most, but not all, of the tutoring clients. The ponderous sense of finality that has loomed over this season comes from one of those endings. Kelly graduates from middle school tomorrow.

She will be leaving the only school she has known in this town. I feel the evening before her first day of sixth grade on my fingertips, when she and I walked around the unfamiliar campus charting out her route from class to class, a new habit at a new school. Even though she quickly learned the layout of the school and the location of all of the classrooms, we repeated that reconnaissance every year the night before school began, just the two of us. I would share knowing smiles with the other parents wandering around the school grounds doing the same thing. We were easing our own fears for our kids as they stepped out further away from us under the guise of helping them quell their anxieties about finding their way around the school.

And now that is over. The next scouting trip we take will be at the high school, where parental guideance will be even more conspicuous and awkward than before. Kelly is looking forward to the next level already, though. She has been drawn in to the volleyball program, which will hold thrice-weekly practices throughout the summer in preparation for an August minicamp and tryouts. She is eager to challenge herself against better players, and in tougher classes.

Kelly did fantastically well in middle school. She was a straight-A student, a video star, a two-year volleyball player, and a valuable aide to several teachers and administrators. We could not be more proud of her. When her name is called tomorrow night at the graduation ceremony at St. Mary's College, it will mark time well spent and accomplishments well-earned. We hope for the same for her as she starts high school in a couple of months.

It breaks my heart that she has to keep growing up, out and away from us to do it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dateline: Moraga

My new sideline career as a griping busybody stringer for the local virtual newspaper has dawned. In this fine piece of investigative journalism, I help expose the seamy underbelly of our fair community, where people (presumably rogues from other towns, of course) engage in roadside trash dumping.

It doesn't paint our community in a particularly flattering light. But we hardened, veteran jounalists know that although the news - yea, the truth - is seldom pretty, we will not shy away from our solemn duty to lay bare the soiled fabric of our society, that it may be washed clean in the light of day and the firm conviction of our citizens.

Cue "It's A Grand Old Flag" ...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Professor on TV

My college roomate, the erstwhile Professor, left academia recently to return to government work in his field of human factors analysis, with a particular emphasis on driver distraction. This is a big deal these days, what with the proliferation of cell phones and GPS devices. California has passed a law banning the use of cell phones without hands-free capabilities while driving, and our local police made a concerted effort last month to crack down on texting-while-driving.

The CBS national news caught up with the Professor (the dapper fellow sending texts to the correspondent driving the simulator) and his team to report on their analysis of the effect of texting on a driver's capabilities behind the wheel. (Alternate video feed here.) We will continue to hear about more studies of this nature. Much of the data that will be cited in future discussions about driver distraction issues is likely to come straight out of the Professor's labs.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

By The Light Of The Moon

Took a couple of interesting pictures today. One of the northern tip of the Upper San Leandro Reservoir:

Another of my car:

Fun fact: both pictures were taken about three hours after sunset, under a nearly full moon. By playing with shutter speeds, apertures and "film" speed, I was able to take some curious photos. Having now seen them on the computer, I have some ideas about how to make them better. The basic exercise, however, reveals how the light the camera takes in from the moon is a little different than the way we see things by the light of the sun. The colors are just a little different somehow. (That's an airplane outbound from San Francisco streaking over the hills behind the car.)

I even received a friendly visit from our local constabulatory (and his megawatt spotlight); I resisted the urge to rebuke the policeman for ruining my shot with his lights. He was satisfied that I was out after dark in an unlit hiking trail staging area to engage in legal, if odd, pursuits.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Rollicking Skies

The sturdiness of airliners is in the news these days, what with a Southwest 737 recently shedding a few pounds of fuselage over Arizona. In a related way, I imagine the same unpleasant thought comes to most travelers' minds when their aircraft shudders through turbulent air: how much can a big airliner take before it, you know, can't take any more?

Consider this video from Boeing, showing some of their flight testing for the new 747-800. They subject the airframe to repeated positive 2.5 G loads and negative 1 G loads, a true roller coaster far beyond what most airline passengers will ever experience.

I used to think being a flight engineer or pilot for Boeing would be an incredibly great job. The prospect of five hour flights of endless high-G loads in a windowless cabin, though, is enough to satisfy me that I made a reasonable career choice to sit in front of a computer monitor that is not trying to escape to the ceiling only to clout me over the head a moment later.

At least we can be reasonably sure that the air sickness bags are flight-tested.

Friday, April 08, 2011

City By The Bay

San Francisco is one of the world's great cities in many ways, not the least of which is its beauty (when it is not enshrouded in fog). Living nearby, we have the frequent opportunity to capture more-interesting-than-average snapshot portraits simply because the City provides such an interesting backdrop. To wit:

With apologies to portrait photographers I may know, that beats "brown muslin #1" out the door and down the street.

Happy Birthday, Kelly!

After 14 years, she continues to charm, amaze and make me proud to be her dad.

14 is a great age. Solidly into the teen years, you rule the school as an eighth grader, with summer just around the bend.

And then you become a freshman in high school and are immediately shown that at 14 you're still just a kid. Oh well. Enjoy a couple of months at the mountaintop!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Another Rite of Passage, Take II

It was only a matter of time. When Michael was little more than a toddler, we were told that he would have major issues with his teeth coming in crooked. An extra incisor was a major part of the problem. The extra tooth (which turned out to be two co-joined teeth) was extracted last fall. Now, the inevitable corrective measures have begun:

With both kids now in braces, that means one happy development for sure: I don't have to share my popcorn anymore.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Return of the Champs

Thanks to a Christmas gift from Cheryl, we went to the Giants' first game in San Francisco since the World Series (which, in case you had not heard, the Giants won). It was a spring training game against the A's, but that didn't stop a crowd of 38,000 people from coming out to the park on the first day of good weather the region had seen in about a month.

I had wanted to be at the first game back, and it was worth it. We made an outing of it, cooking hot dogs and wrapping them in foil for the trip to the park, hauling in peanuts and Crackerjacks for the game itself. The Giants played well and won the game, but the most gratifying part was what we heard in the game reports in print and on the radio the next day. The story of the game was the crowd. The players and broadcasters marveled at the size of the crowd and how enthusiastic we all were. The stadium, with the pent up energy born of a winter's afterglow of the championship, had the energy of a game from a late season pennant race, with raucous cheers for every 2010 hero (Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, whose jersey Michael was wearing, getting the loudest ovations). Not bad for a preseason game that didn't count.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Savinging Us All From The Tyranny Of Hyphenation

The AP Stylebook has announced that henceforth it will refer to electronic messages as "emails," not "e-mails." This comes on the heels of the Chicago Manual of Style excising the second space after a period at the end of a sentence, saving typists everywhere entire milliseconds over the course of their lifetimes.

In a tight economy, any savings is good savings. The thought of the energy saved by eliminating those pixel-hog hyphens makes me giddy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Game Day

Saturday was one of the sports-intensive days we get every once in a while. We were on the go from 8:30 in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon, with about a total of an hour at home over the course of the day.

Because of a rainout the prior weekend, Michael's first baseball game was up first.

We were up against what most people consider to the be the best team in the league, featuring the two best players. The top player could easily play (and dominate) in the next division up. Our Cubs lost, but we played reasonably well. Michael played second base with distinction, making three critical putouts.

He worked a walk in his first at bat.

He stole second, but was stranded there.

He took three great cuts to finish the game against that great player. He struck out, but did so with style.

Next up was Kelly's first volleyball game of the season. Her team is "Penn State" again, as it was last season. Oddly, all but one of the other players are from Lafayette, so she does not really know anybody on the team. She showed off her skills, though, saving the team repeatedly with tough digs and strong serving.

It was clear in the first game that the other players are comfortable deferring to her, the first time she has been in that position in volleyball. She seems to be okay with it. Whatever works; her team won easily.

We finished the afternoon with Michael's last indoor soccer game. This was a more casual league, with a team hand-picked by Michael's soccer coaches from the fall. He missed a few games due to illness or conflicts, but had a fair amount of success, scoring four goals in the five games he played.

Our group of suburban kids always played visiting club teams from more urban areas, but we held our own, finishing with a record around .500. We discovered indoor soccer to be a very fast-paced, intense sport that taught Michael some additional skills.

We are now settled into the routine of baseball and volleyball for the spring.

Until swimming preseason starts in three weeks.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Bad Day In Japan

This image, from the US Geological Society's earthquake reporter, shows how active the ground has been off the coast of Japan over the last day:

The boxes that are the most numerous indicate aftershocks in excess of 5.0 on the Richter scale (red means within the last hour; blue means within the last day; yellow - a few of them peek through the mass of blue boxes - means within the last week). A 5+ shaker is quite a jolt if it is nearby; the sheer number of aftershocks of that size or greater is staggering. It is of small comfort that nearly all are away from land, since the tsunami danger has proven to be very real.

So It Begins

We met with the student counselor yesterday at the high school Kelly will attend in the fall. Or, rather, Kelly met with her counselor, and we were allowed to be in the room. With great intentionality, the counselor directed Kelly to the prime visitor's chair, and pointed out to us where we could find additional chairs. Her discussion of Kelly's proposed schedule was a conversation between her and Kelly. At the end of the discussion, she asked if Kelly had any questions. After that, she turned to us to see if we had any questions. We did, and she answered every question we asked.

The whole exercise is designed to indicate to students that they have a right, privilege and responsibility to begin taking control of their own lives. The message is aimed more specifically at the parents, however. For some kids and their parents, that transition has already begun. For others, and I would have to put us in that category, a parents are still heavily involved in the child's life, an arrangement that suits of the parents and the child. From the very first meeting, then, the school sets a new course for the parent-child relationship, at least as it pertains to school.

The experience was not as off-putting as it may sound. I spent most of the meeting being amused by the counselor's kind but firm focus on Kelly and away from us. Message sent and received.

I don't take it personally; I know the high school still loves us. They will prove it every time we get an athletic boosters/drama boosters/choir boosters/textbook fund/PTA fundraiser letter.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

An Open Letter

To the person in front of me on the narrow two lane country road near home driving seven miles per hour below the posted speed limit:

You know you are doing it. If you have looked in any one of your three rear-view mirrors in the last 10 minutes, you know I know you are doing it, since I am close enough to dust off your rear license plate. Let's not kid ourselves. The only reason you have not pulled over into one of the three dozen wide spots on the shoulder is because you intend to annoy me. Know this: I am not so reckless as to put myself or anyone else at risk by crossing the double yellow line to blast past you in a cloud of dust and blatting exhaust. I will not give you that satisfaction. I will not give you the opportunity to wave your arm in self-righteous frustration at me as I accelerate all the way up to the speed limit to pass you, allowing you to then lapse back into your vehicular torpor. I will make you acknowledge the intentionality of your rolling roadblock by living in your trunk every millimeter of this road, to force you to contemplate your utter failure as a driver.

And to the bicyclists traveling in a pack on the same narrow country two lane road:

Your all-too-clingy spandex fools no one. You are a rolling advertisement for companies that suckered you into wearing their bright colored garb without even paying you. You are dangerous. You are not a Tour de France competitor on a training ride -- riding three abreast does not mean you are in the peloton, it means you poseur and a moron. You and your "teammates" take up an entire lane of the road on which people with actual jobs are commuting, a road with blind hills and curves. You force cars in both directions to slam on their brakes to avoid hitting each other while at the same time trying to avoid hitting you. And for the record, I do not deserve your glare as I have to pass you in the opposite lane after waiting for all other traffic to clear your aerobic road-clot. I deserve your thanks for exercising enough car control and patience to keep both of us on the road and out of physical contact with each other or any of the other cars passing by.

Running late for baseball practice dramatically lowers the temperature at which my blood boils, it appears.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cruelest Season

All week, the media were abuzz with the thrilling news that the Bay Area would see snowfall by Friday night. Even San Francisco residents expected to see a dusting of snow, setting off a flurry of homages to those rare snowy days of yore.

As expected, the Arctic system brought heavy rain and cold temperatures to the area for the week. Friday was to be cold, with the snow to fall that night. The rain arrived, the cold descended.

And then, nothing.

Friday night, temperatures dropped below freezing, but under crystal clear skies, each twinkling star a mocking beacon of non-precipitation. We awoke Saturday to a winter wonderland of temperatures in the twenties, sparkling frost everywhere, and the clearest of clear skies. Sunday was more of the same. Frosty morning and glorious sunshine.

The final indignity is that everyone we know in Burbank was raving about the historically rare and exciting snow they got. Our snow. What did we get? Gloriously sunny skies, perfect for baseball games and spring gardening.

Life is so unfair.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Distant Early Warning

A Silicon Valley startup (of course) has come up with an earthquake warning system. The device detects the "P" waves that humans cannot sense and sends out a warning, giving people a brief amount of time (less than a minute) to find cover before the slower-moving but destructive "S" waves hit. The amount of warning depends on the distance between the device and the epicenter. The system can be set up to automatically shut off utilities, send warnings to schools and turn on hospital generators. In view of the scenes of destruction and loss coming out of New Zealand this week, any amount of warning would be welcome.

There is no truth to the rumor that the device looks like this:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Time To Start Shopping For Scholarships

I am soon to be the parent of a high school student. If I seem distracted from time to time, if I occasionally sleep poorly, this graph may be part of the reason why:

Monday, February 14, 2011

These Are The Days We'll Remember

Our annual February heatwave hit its climax this weekend. Even though Saturday dawned below freezing, by midafternoon we basked in 70° weather under clear blue skies. We made the most of it.

Saturday started early with Michael's last basketball game for the season. We were up against a team that had annihilated us in the first game and which had gone on to an undefeated season. Our boys played extremely tough, keeping them from scoring through most of the first quarter. The other team played a difficult pressing defense, and we did not get the opportunity to run very many of our offenseive set plays, but we hung tough. We also made six free throws at halftime to pull within two points. The other team opened up a lead in the third quarter when we were unable to score and they got a few easy fast-break opportunities. We tightened up our play in the fourth quarter, though. Only a bad shooting day, affected in part by the other team’s tight defense, kept us from putting a real scare into the opponent. Nevertheless, we held them to fewer points and we scored more points than in the first game. More significantly, we played substantially better basketball throughout the game than we did in the first game. We played tight defense, we rebounded the ball, we had fewer turnovers, we made more than half of our free throws overall, we managed to run a few of our set plays late in the game, and I never sensed that the referees were calling the game unevenly to hold the other team in check or give us a boost up.

Michael was not feeling well the morning of the game, but gave his usual dogged effort at point guard and shooting guard. Other than a halftime free-throw, he did not score, unfortunately, but he had a positive effect on the game. He handled the other team's press well, consistently making long, accurate passes to the teammate left open by the double-team press. I have a fun photo sequence of Michael bringing the ball down the court after a steal in which he changes direction to throw off two of his three pursuers, eventually ending up surrounded by all five members of the other team. In one of the more remarkable sequences of the year, Michael was stripped of the ball while on offense, chased down the player with the ball in the opposite corner of the court deep in our defensive end, cleanly stole the ball back, and threw an outlet pass most of the length of the court to a teammate for a fast-break that led to a foul and two free throws. Great stuff.

Looking for the open man

Moving without the ball on a double screen

As parents, we were uniformly delighted with the excellent coaching our boys received and the success they showed on the court. I think nearly all of the boys came away from the season enjoying basketball far more than they did when the season started.

After basketball, Michael and I spent the quickly-warming early afternoon at baseball practice. Few sporting activities are as pleasant as two hours in the sunshine on a baseball field. It's not like you have to exert yourself much, you know.

Picture day two weeks ago

Weekday practice earlier this week

After bringing Michael home, I changed out of my baseball gear and took Kelly to a local park to prepare her for her volleyball league evaluation. We spent nearly two hours in a beautiful park enjoying each other's company and working out the kinks of a three-month volleyball layoff. Kelly's skills came back quickly as she hit serve after serve over the net in the sand volleyball court framed by redwood trees.

Taking a break from working out

On Sunday, Kelly's evaluation went very well, as she displayed excellent skills in all phases of the game. I then put my baseball gear back on and Michael and I headed out for another two hours of baseball practice.

My throwing shoulder is sore, and I wasn't quite able to finish pruning one of our trees in between all of the activities. Years from now, though, that's not what I will remember.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Apple, Making Friends As Usual

The genius of Apple's rise over the last decade has been its success in putting good technology (or even industry-changing, in the case of the iPhone) into unique, innovate boxes. The iMac line has always been interesting from a form-factor standpoint, from its colorful one-box hues, to the attractively spare desk-lamp model, to the current flatscreen design. The iPod and iPhone have also paved new ground for the design of the devices in their respective sectors.

A fundamental tenet of Apple's design philosophy, however, harkens back to Henry Ford. The old joke about the Model T was that you could get it in any colored you liked, as long as it was black. With Apple, you get everything you want in style and substance, as long as that is all you will ever want. The days of popping open the box to swap out memory chips, sound cards and hard drives ended when Apple began its iMac design aesthetic. Apple products are intentionally difficult to open and service, and replacement parts are not available in abundance. I have opened both my iMac and iPhone, but neither one was a particularly fun experience.

Now it turns out that Apple is turning the screws on shade tree mechanics even harder, as it were. New iPhones, or iPhones that are currently being serviced by Apple, are now assembled with screws that cannot be turned by consumers. Apple uses a screwhead design called a Pentalobe, for which there is no corresponding tool commercially available. iPhone owners will be unable to open their phones for any reason, whether to engage in mischief like changing the battery (horrors!) or to fix it.

It's about time to crack open my iPhone again to clear out the dust under the screen and devise a permanent solution to that problem. If the iPhone 4 were to collect dust under the screen the way my 3G does, and I were prevented from opening it to do the simple screen cleaning just because Apple doesn't want anyone else controlling the income stream for service, I would be mightily ticked.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Put Me In, Coach

After helping out with Kelly and Michael's soccer teams for a collective 12 years or so, and after playing the sport myself for six years as a kid, it makes perfect sense that my first foray into the official coaching ranks is in ... baseball, a sport I never played. Not only that, I managed to allow myself to be roped into coaching in the competitive baseball league. Just attending a coaches meeting a couple of weeks ago, there were a lot of sweatsuits on display. It is a congenial group, but make no mistake -- these guys are there to win.

The head coach I will be assisting was also Kelly's soccer coach from last season. We hit it off early on, I filled in for him in a couple of games, and Michael and his son became friends. He is new to town (but not the area in general) and has a way of getting to know people incredibly quickly. He responded to a call for additional coaches by asking me to coach with him. Knowing that he has coached baseball for years, after playing for years, I figured we would be in good shape on the coaching front, even though we would be at a distinct disadvantage in two ways: we don't know the kids as well as some of the other coaches (which could hurt us in the player draft), and neither of our kids are top players, which puts us immediately behind most of the other teams.

The coach is fearless and outgoing, so he already knows more people in my own social circle than I do, and is a genius at uncovering information about people. That will solve the player information problem. The player talent handicap will be partially alleviated by the way the league commissioner will set up the draft, in which the teams with the top "coaches' kids" will lose high draft picks.

Just like last year, we held a player evaluation day on Saturday, this time for the 98 kids signed up for the "Mustang" division. It was a cold, misty day that never rose much beyond 40 degrees. As we sat shivering in winter coats and gloves, the boys showed off their arms, speed, defense and hitting, as well as they could with numb hands and heavy, wet baseballs. We coaches did our best to assign quantitative assessments to each area for each player so that we can compile our draft lists. It's a little unnerving to judge players so young so starkly. For our team, we are also taking into account a variety of intangibles, including helpful or problematic parents, personality issues (our own kids get the right to request a few vetoes) and other subjective elements. My coaching partner has created a series of spreadsheets with data, adjustment factors, notes and various other proprietary elements that will ensure that we have a successful draft that will give us a championship team ...

Yeah, it's easy to get swept up in this stuff. Fortunately, most of the parents handle this reasonably. We all enjoy good games, but we also understand that we're trying to teach these boys how to play the sport and how to be good sportsmen. For his part, Michael is so happy that I will officially be his coach that he told me he doesn't care whether we win, he just knows we're going to have a great time.

Here is a highlight package of what the evaluation process looks like. (I tried but was unable to embed the video.) It helps to remember that we are still talking about little boys, even if some of them are amazingly capable at ten years old.

We picked the Cubs as our team name. Maybe taking the name of a perennially hopeful yet annually inept franchise wasn't the best idea, but our other choice was the Pirates, a laughingstock of a franchise for the last twenty years. If the characters of the professional franchises are to be imparted to ours, it has to be more satisfying to believe we have a shot and be disappointed than to know we will fail from the outset. Just to be safe, however, we will avoid any and all billy goats.