Friday, August 31, 2001

I'm not certain, but I think I may have killed somebody last night. I hope not, and I feel terrible about it; in fact I didn't get much sleep at all last night after it happened. I'll let you decide whether or not I'm responsible.

Our apartment faces out over a quiet street, across which is a large regional park. The block we're on begins a long, continuous strip of road, without interruption, which would be ideal for drag racing, if it weren't a residential street with families coming and going from the park.

Yesterday, I was working at home during the day, writing. Some asshole in an orange hot rod kept coming by, racing his engine by the side of the road while waiting for traffic to go by, then peeling out taking off down the road, making a tremendous racket, not to mention leaving skid marks and creating a dangerous situation for any kids who might be walking by.

This was no ordinary street-legal vehicle. This thing was tripped up for going on the race circuit. When he took off, it was like watching NASCAR. For disturbing me, and for creating a public nuisance, I admit that I wished him ill will. I thought that it was only a matter of time before he killed himself in that car, and that I might be glad when he did.

We woke up at about 1:45 AM last night to the sound of an explosion. Shortly after there were sirens, and we could see the reflection of flames through our window shades. We went downstairs and out onto the porch to see what was going on.

What we saw was a huge fire in the center of the street and going into the park, with at least one tree on fire. There continued to be smaller, secondary explosions as we watched. The smoke was horrific and toxic, filling our lungs with soot. Several police cars had already arrived, and the fire trucks were just pulling up. No ambulances were in sight, and none came. It was obviously too late for ambulances.

When the flames were nearly put out, about fifteen minutes later, we saw that there were two cars involved, one of them in the center of the road, the other with its rear end to the first car and its front end against the park fence, beneath the tree that had burned. From the charred remains it was impossible to tell what color these cars once were, but the silhouette of the second car matched that of the orange hot rod I'd cursed not twelve hours before.

I was not glad, as I had earlier, in anger, thought I might be. Today I kept looking from the window, hoping to see an orange hot rod go by, but it never came.

Thursday, August 30, 2001! Yep, that's right. "Cut off my Feet dot-com." Paul "Freck" Morgan is planning on cutting off his feet with a homemade guillotine on Halloween, and will be web-casting it to anybody who pays the $19.99 subscription fee.

But, seriously, it's for medical reasons. Several years ago Freck was riding in the back of a pick-up truck that was towing a boat. Freck decided to hop from the truck onto the boat while the whole thing was going down the highway at 50 mph. Freck didn't make it into the boat.

Freck lost the use of his feet, but new advances in prosthetics would make it possible for him to walk normally once again. The problem is, you can't be fitted for a prosthetic while you are still attached to your original limbs. Freck has no insurance, and Medicaid won't pay to amputate feet that pose no immediate danger to their owner.

Enter the web. Freck is building a homemade guillotine to chop off the offending feet on October 31. He's hoping to raise enough money from the web-cast to purchase new prosthetic feet that will help him live a more normal life. Oh, and he's having the original feet frozen, in case they can be re-attached someday. See, it's not such a strange story after all. - Freck's New Feet
The full story on Alternet


Meanwhile, it's time for a reading update. Yesterday I finished Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of Silicon Valley Family by Jeff Goodell. According to the dust jacket, Sunnyvale is "a portrait of one family's fate in a brutally Darwinian world" and that doesn't even begin to describe this incredible book.

Think your family's got problems? Think you're stuck in the middle, enmeshed between feuding siblings and parents? You've got nothing on the Goodell clan. Set against a backdrop of the growth of the Silicon Valley, from sleepy little slow-paced orchard-filled bedroom community to the congested frenetic center of the new economy, Sunnyvale reads as a Shakespearean tale of a deposed King trying vainly to keep his dynasty together. And it's all true.

In this stunning memoir Goodell contrasts his father's downfall in the old world of landscape design and construction to his mother's rise in the new world of bits and bytes, and the disastrous effects it had on their children. Throw in a couple of divorces, plenty of sex and drugs, enough alcohol to fill the San Francisco bay, cancer, AIDS, and the prodigal return of a robot building grandfather, and you've got one hell of a good book.

This is truly "can't put down" reading at its best. Jeff Goodell is also the author of The Cyberthief and the Samurai. I give a strong recommendation for Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of Silicon Valley Family.

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

In the house of your growing up, can you remember the view out any of your windows? What did you look out on? Your neighbors' houses? A row of stores? Or fields, woods, water, mountains?

I remember sitting on the piano bench in our living room at 54 Fellsmere Road in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. I must have been about nine or ten. It's December, and the sun has set, not that we'd seen it much that day to begin with. The snow is thick and fresh on the ground outside, and it continues to fall; the white of the snow now seeming brighter than the gray of the day.

I've not yet turned on the lamp that stands next to the piano. As the natural light has faded, my enthusiasm for playing has also waned. Now I'm waiting.

I've spun around, back to the piano, elbows on the deep window sills, the sheer curtains pushed aside, my forehead pressed against the cold glass. The walkway, which had already been shoveled twice today, is again buried, though not as deep as the front lawn. Across our yard is the icy sidewalk, and the narrow one-way road which has become a thick river of brown, yellow, and gray slush. Across the street lay the perfectly snow enshrouded yards and Tudor homes of our neighbors.

Our family cat, Mittens, jumps up on the window sill and sits next to me. I pet him, and talk to him quietly, but we don't look at each other; we examine the ice crystals forming in the corners of the window, the icicles hanging from the eves above us, and the way our breath forms fog circles on the panes of glass. Mittens and I watch the street together and wait.

The snow continues to fall, gathering force and showing no signs of ever letting up. From the other room I hear the news; car accidents, school closings, and downed power lines. The street is incredibly quiet and still, the falling snow being the only motion or life in evidence.

Finally, seemingly hours after it should have happened, the reflection of headlights illuminates the slush and snow filled driveway. The sound of a car door slamming begins the symphony. Next are stirrings from above, as my brothers emerge from their rooms upstairs. The tapping of my mother's shoes approaching up the hallway from the kitchen leads into the sound of feet pounding down the stairs. The crescendo is the shutting of the front door and the rustle of a heavy coat being hung in the front closet. My father's finally home from work and life returns to 54 Fellsmere Road.

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Bush administration adds polluted landfill in Fresno to nation's list of historic landmarks - Leaky trash site chosen as national treasure

Really, the folks in Fresno, and people who are really into the history of garbage, say it truly is an historic site; the first dump to use the trench method. But, come on folks. It's a garbage dump. Not only is it a dump (literally), but it's also a dangerous dump; it's already been designated as a superfund toxic mess site.

Now, if I were cynical, I'd say that this choice by Interior Secretary Gale Norton is symbolic of the Bush administration's feelings for California in general, and what they'd like to do to our coastline in specific.

But I'm not that cynical. Instead I'll just make a bad joke here: Why do they need a dump in Fresno, the whole damn town is a toxic dump!

Monday, August 27, 2001

Silence is a rumor I'm not certain I should believe. As a tinnitus sufferer, I haven't truly experienced silence in over a decade. Tinnitus, which afflicts over twelve million Americans, is a constant ringing in the ears.

We depend on background noises of certain levels and certain frequencies to mask the unrelenting sounds in our heads. In situations where true silence might be achieved, the ringing stands alone, becoming all the more maddening. Pure silence, something cherished and holy to most, has become our worst enemy.

Each person with tinnitus (or "T" for short) has a slightly different experience but, for me, water noises make the best masks. My morning shower is the best part of most days, and the only time I'm completely free of my T. When I'm able to simply sit by the ocean and listen to the waves is the only time I'm able to experience the peace and serenity that quiet brings to others.

There are some people who don an eye mask to block any light when they go to sleep. I use a noise mask. A little white box on my night stand with six synthesized sounds: "Mountain Stream," "Spring Rain," "Ocean Waves," "Summer Night" ...) A timer plays that night's selection for 30 minutes, which is just long enough to lull me to sleep.

I take it on faith that silence does exist, and that it can be a good thing. But it is not something I ever expect to personally experience.

Sunday, August 26, 2001

Yesterday we saw Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Woody Allen's new film. Very funny, very good movie. Not his best, of course, but if you like Woody Allen (and even, possibly, if you simply don't mind him) this is a good bet to see.

Personally, I'm a huge, life-long fan of Allen's and try to see each of his pictures opening weekend. Some of my favorites are not necessarily the "usual suspects" (Annie Hall, Sleeper), but some of the less regarded ones, such as Stardust Memories, or some of the more serious ones, such as Crimes and Misdemeanors (one of my favorite all-time movies by anybody). Jade Scorpion belongs in the light, romantic comedy slot, with such pictures as Manhattan Murder Mystery and last year's Small Time Crooks.

Yesterday I was ranting on about the trend toward stacking food at restaurants, rather than assigning a different quarter of the dish to each portion of a meal (a base of garlic mashed potatoes with the main dish jammed into the center, surrounded by veggies, also jammed into the mash).

From my email I no see that this problem may be peculiar to California cuisine. Keep an eye out for this trend, and try to put an end to it before it takes over your local cuisine. The food stackers must be stopped.

Saturday, August 25, 2001

What is it about stacking food? Maybe I just eat out too often, but I'm really getting tired of this.

Time was, when you went out to dinner, each portion of your meal had its own dedicated spot on the plate. About 40-45% of the plate was given over to your main course, be it a steak or a piece of chicken or fish, or whatever. The wait-person would place the dish in front of you with this section closest to you. The remainder, on the far side of the dish, was fairly evenly divided between the starchy side dish (your choice of potatoes, rice, or pasta) and the veggie side dish. The items may come close, possibly even touch, but they would not overlap.

Now, some "food designer" in some gourmet magazine someplace has decided that we must be served a mountain of food. The main glue to hold this mountain together is the wildly popular garlic mashed potatoes. Enough garlic mash for a family of six is stacked in the center of the plate. The main dish is jammed into that, good and tight, so it doesn't slide down the mountain during transport from kitchen to table. It doesn't matter if that main dish is red meat, poultry, or seafood; it all gets the same treatment.

The vegetables are arranged neatly around the perimeter of this creation, also jammed into the garlic mash, covering any potato that may have been left visible after the main dish was installed. They then put a single sauce over the whole thing. We don't know if this is gravy for the meat, or the potatoes, or juice from the veggies. It's just the sauce, and it goes with everything. Finally, they sprinkle a few capers over the top. Capers make everything look fancy.

Now, here's my problem; I don't like mashed potatoes, garlic or not. I'm sorry, but I just never have, and probably never will. There are plenty of potatoes I do like, but please, just don't smash them. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I'm also sure that there are plenty of people who have a thing about not liking their food to touch. Even back in the old days, there'd be folks upset about that border area where the meat and veggies might come into the briefest contact with each other. How are those people coping with the garlic mash mountains?

I'll get over it; don't worry about me. I can take care of myself. I'm always sure to ask for rice instead of potatoes, and if no rice is available I impress upon the wait-person that they can keep their damned garlic mash (but I put it nicer than that). Someday this trend will be over. Someday.

Friday, August 24, 2001

It wouldn't be America if somebody didn't sue. A few days ago I neglected to report that several employees of McDonald's and their marketing firm, Simon Marketing Inc., were arrested for having fixed their last few million dollar games ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and Monopoly). All in all, the employee's "won" about $13 million.

But, that's not the end of the story. Fearing that McCustomers "would not have gone to McDonald's as often as they did," or that "they would have ordered a regular-size fries instead of a super-size," Chicago lawyer Aron Robinson has filed a class action suit against McDonald's and Simon.

Excuse me for putting the damper on a good deep-pockets lawsuit, but since when are companies responsible for actions taken against them by criminals? McDonald's has fired Simon Marketing, they've each fired the people implicated, who are all now in jail, McDonald's worked with authorities in catching the ring and there's been no suggestion that the fix was company policy. Where's their liability?

Sorry, this just seemed a little silly to me. And, I know you all rely on me to cover all McDonald's related news.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

It's Fight Back Day at Ken's blog...

Tired of those nausiating pop-under ads all over the net? Wherever you go, these annoying windows appear, and now they have added sound. Is there a way to avoid them? From the web site...
Q: Can you turn your ads off so I never see them again?

A: Click Here! This link will prevent your computer from having the X10 "pop-under" ads appear for the next 30 days! You must make sure you have your cookies enabled, for this link will give your computer a cookie that will disallow X10 pop-under ads from appearing on your computer as you "surf" the Internet. If you clear or delete your cookies, then it will be possible for X10's pop-under ads to appear on your machine. If you don't know what a "cookie" is, then you're probably set and don't have to worry about it - just click this link to remove the ads!

Way back in the good old days, when AOL would send their unsolicited junk mail, it would come on floppy disks. It was annoying, but at least you could reformat them and put those disks to good use. Then they started coming on CDs, and lets face it, there's only so many CD mobiles you really want to make, but they just keep on coming.

So what can you do with all those AOL CDs? You can mail them to the No More AOL CDs campaign. Their mission is "to make it clear to AOL a lot of people do not want and have never asked for their CDs." Once they collect a cool million AOL CDs they plan on dumping them at AOL headquarters in a massive Return to Sender protest.

Personally, I've got another use in mind. Each one claims to entitle the bearer to anywhere from 500 to 1000 free hours, right? I'm saving mine up. If some doctor ever gives me three months to live, I'll be ready. "Just wait a second there, Doc. I've got over 75,000 free hours coming to me. Don't pull the plug just yet..."

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

There's a Japanese company developing a new toy called the "Bow-Lingual" - It's a translator for dogs. The Bow-Lingual "hears" various dog barks, yelps, and growls, and translates them into English.

How hard can that be? Whenever the machine picks up a sound that it recognizes as coming from a dog, a little chip inside plays a recording of a voice saying, "I'm hungry!"

Yesterday I spent most of the day at Leslie's work, helping her set up her classroom before school starts on Thursday. There's a lot work that goes into preparing a second grade classroom. A lot of items to be hung, furniture to be moved and cleaned, paper to be cut, etc. I'll be joining her again shortly for another fun-filled day. Then I'll be calling for a chiropractor appointment.

Monday, August 20, 2001

This morning the alarm clock went off for the first time in months. I'm still working my leisurely part-time schedule at the job I was supposedly laid-off from six months ago, but Leslie (my wife) returned to work today.

Leslie's a teacher, and her summer reprieve ended about an hour ago. The kids don't return until Thursday, but today begins three days of meetings and preparation. She has a new principal to meet today, as well, and getting a new boss is always an ominous occasion.

Needless to say, with getting things ready, the heat wave, and anxiety over having to return to work, she (and therefore I) haven't gotten much sleep the past few nights. Which, of course, made the alarm all the more jarringly symbolic of the loss of freedom that returning to work means for her.

For me, it means a little more freedom and the loss of a major excuse for not writing more. I'm still without full-time employment and I now have the house to myself for much of the day without her to blame for the distractions that keep me from my writing. It's time for me to get back to work, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2001

I just finished How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. This was a great read, hard to put down, sail right through kind of book. An excellent, serious book, with plenty of humor. Funny, yes, but he doesn't shy away from the difficult ending. Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, ...) is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. I'm going to have to read more of him. Two thumbs up.

Friday, August 17, 2001

A big news day today...

No Industry. No Standard: The Industry Standard magazine has filed for bankruptcy. The Standard, which chronicled the rise and fall of the Internet economy is now that economy's latest victim. There was a time when each issue would weigh in at about five pounds, most of which was expensive full-page advertising. Lately, it's been vastly slimmed down, with actual articles taking up more space than cut-rate ads. Personally, I've found it a lot easier to read this way, but then, I'm not trying to run their business.

Dangerous Art: Remember last week I posted about the "SharkByte Art," 100 fiberglass sharks, each designed by a different artist, appearing around San Jose? Well, we knew it was only a matter of time before the city would get in trouble over it. It seems the sharp tail fins and noses of the sharks extend too far beyond the bases and, when placed on busy sidewalks, these become a hazard for blind pedestrians using canes.

Stupid Art: Never mind that anybody who knows about these things says it won't work. Jim Downey still has plans to paint the moon. Jim's idea for this "collaborative work of celestial art" is that everybody on earth gets one of those little red laser pointers and we all shine it at the moon at the same time, thus "painting" it red.

Thursday, August 16, 2001

  1. The statistics:

    According to the Council for Aid to Education, the graduation rate at public colleges/universities has fallen from 52.2 percent in 1983 to 41.9 percent in 2000.

    Gosh - That's bad news, isn't it? Is there something we should be doing differently?

  2. The spin cycle:

    According to Wes Habley, director of the ACT's office of educational practices, one of the reasons for this drop is that, “There is a notion of entitlement for the U.S. population that everyone should have access to a college education.”

    The New York Times writes, “In some suburbs... [public school] counselors are pressured to get almost all students into college because if admission rates fall, children may switch to private [high] schools.”

  3. The seemingly obvious question:

    Gee - It looks like these "experts" are blaming the quality of the students, rather than other factors, such as having to work, quality of the education, family situations, or even such classic standbys as drugs and alcohol. What's the matter, don't they want the next generation of Americans to have a quality higher education?

  4. The answer in the form of more statistics:

    The Department of Labor expects only about one-fourth of future jobs to require college degrees.

    Can't have over-educated sales clerks working at the local mall. It would drive up wages, don't you know. I'm so glad that the New York Times is there protect us from that tragic possibility.

Wednesday, August 15, 2001

The downward slide in the life of Rick Lee Davis, the air traffic controller accused of turning serial bank robber, may have started with a cow in the road five years ago. "It was probably hard to see," said Police Lt. Charles Hirata. "There are no reflectors on cows."

Read the rest of the story here...
For today's ramblings, please see All Quiet on the Eastern Front, my current column at Suite101.

Washington, DC, is all but deserted these days, with Congress on break and the President hiding out in Texas, but political life, unfortunately, goes on. From stem cell research to air rage, the government is here to protect us. What's worse, non-decisions on real issues, or taking a stand on an imaginary issue? Click here for more...

Tuesday, August 14, 2001

You take the good. You take the bad. But, sometimes, it's mostly just the bad. It's news like this that makes me glad we don't get television.
Yesterday we saw Apocalypse Now Redux. (For those who are unaware, this is a re-release of Francis Coppola's classic 1979 Apocalypse Now, with about 45 minutes of additional footage that was cut from the original release.)

More than twenty years later, this is still an amazing movie. I saw it in its original limited release about ten times, but I'd not seen it since then. Yesterday, I was pleased with how well it still held up, and how quickly it moves for a movie that's now about three-and-a-half hours long.

I was also unsure, going in, if I'd be able to identify all the changes and additions, but I had no problem knowing which were the three wholly new sequences right from the first frame. And, although the rest was still so familiar that I knew each line of dialogue while it was being spoken, it was still fresh and more enlightening than any new movie I've seen in years.

Of the three "new" scenes, I can clearly see why the first two were cut. I'm pleased to have seen them, they're well directed and acted, they contain important information, but I don't think they really add anything to the picture and, in some ways, they actually detract from Martin Sheen's character and slow the story down. (These are the return of the Playboy bunnies scene and the French plantation sequence).

My feeling about these two sections is that they show a weaker side of Sheen's personality that seems out of character with the rest of his performance. Also, in light of his opening monologue about getting his strength from the jungle, it is odd that he'd show any weakness, or let down his guard, at these points along the voyage.

Additionally, the plantation dinner scene comes off more as a history lesson that might have been better placed at the beginning of the film, but slows the action here. Leslie would also like to point out that the music for the "romantic" scene that follows is just too corny, didn't fit, and must be left over from a different picture entirely.

The third new scene, while not the best of the Marlon Brando section, does add to the picture from his mighty presence, and make an important transition in the relationship between him and Martin Sheen. This is the only scene in which Brando is seen in full sunlight, and may have been cut because they thought that somehow de-mystified his character. Brando, in light or in shadow, is impressive enough that they didn't need to worry about that.

There was one other small bit in the transition from the Robert Duvall sequence that I didn't recall, and think may have been added. It's a bit of humor that I enjoyed, but wasn't entirely sure if it fit. In fact, it may not have been new at all, but just the one inconsequential part of the original film that I'd forgotten. (The stolen surfboard).

Other than that, there may have been a few small trims restored in other scenes, but they didn't stand out as anything new. On the whole, still a classic movie, definitely great to see it in the theatre again, but some of the restorations may not have been necessary.

(Incidentally, this was Leslie's first time seeing Apocalypse Now, and she also loved it and agreed that it's one of the best movies of the 20th century. She also could tell that the first two "new" scenes didn't fit and were what was probably added for this edition.)

Monday, August 13, 2001

The original members of the classic R&B and funk band Earth, Wind & Fire all turned 50 this year, but the band is still around and still touring. And who better to sponsor the tour of a bunch of 50 year older funksters than Viagra?

Yep, Earth, Wind, Fire & Viagra have reunited sex and drugs with rock 'n' roll.

A spokesman for Pfizer, Viagra's maker, says that it's "only appropriate to reach out to men as they hit their early 40s, when their testosterone levels start to sink and their sexual worries to rise."

Oh, great. I thought I made it through that fortieth birthday thing relatively unscarred, and now this. I get to worry about sinking testosterone levels! I've moved into the prime audience to have Viagra marketed at me.

This article from Alternet looks at the EWF/Viagra partnership, compares it to the efforts to encourage celibacy in teens, and concludes that, "Old fogies can pay for adolescent boners to enhance their sex life, but adolescents with boners must pretend sex is not a part of life. After all, sex, drugs and rock and roll belong to baby boomers." Well, at least that's something.

Saturday, August 11, 2001

Here's a truly bizarre story: An elderly Cuban couple charter a private plane from Key West, Florida. Once in the air, they pull a knife on the pilot and demand to be taken to Cuba. A scuffle ensues, during which the elderly man falls on the controls sending the plane into a spin. The plane crashes into the straits between Key West and Cuba. The pilot gets out, but the couple goes down with the plane.

Now here's the fun part: The elderly couple's cover, when renting the plane, was that they wanted to join the "mile high" club. Yep, it was a sex tour.

Get the rest of the story

Friday, August 10, 2001

San Jose has been overrun by a school of sharks. Dozens of six-foot long sharks (very colorful, too, I might add) have been spotted along the city streets, and are apparently only a sample of what's ahead. Over the next couple of months, the count is expected to rise to 100 of the beasts.

SharkByte Art is placing these fiberglass sharks on San Jose's sidewalks, parks, and plazas to [hopefully] raise money for area non-profits. Each shark has a "sponsor" who has donated $1,000 and selected an artist to prepare the shark for public view. The sharks will be put on display between August 1 and October 31 of this year, then auctioned off in November. The "sponsor" of each shark also gets to choose the non-profit that will benefit from the auction proceeds.

Does this sound familiar? Several years ago Chicago did a similar stunt with "Cows on Parade." The cows then made a second appearance in New York. Of course, Chicago and New York are two cities known for their support of the arts. This, however, is San Jose. More to the point, this is San Jose after the dot-com crash.

Will the auction bring more than $1,000 for each shark? Or would everybody have been better off if the sponsors just donated their grand directly to the non-profits and skipped this shark business? We'll find out in November.

I first noticed about four of the sharks last week, along Santa Clara Street, but didn't get the full story behind them until I returned from vacation yesterday. Of course, my first thoughts were that they were pretty cool, but I wondered how long they'd last before they were covered with graffiti (or urine, or ?). It will be an interesting few months which will hopefully prove my cynicism to be wrong.

But why sharks? Because San Jose's only claim to professional sports fame is our NHL hockey team, The Sharks. Many downtown restaurants proudly display signed team photos, and occasionally sticks, pucks, shirts, and other team paraphernalia. And so, San Jose has adopted the shark as its unofficial symbol.

Remember, San Jose does not touch the ocean. We're not exactly land-locked, but we might as well be. Only the very southern tip of the San Francisco Bay reaches San Jose, and that tip is nothing but salt marshes. No sharks there. Sharks over the hill, in Santa Cruz. But in San Jose, we just have fiberglass sharks. And they're multiplying.

Thursday, August 09, 2001

Final installment of "What I did on vacation in San Diego" ...

We spent the day out on Coronado Island, starting a short walk through the village to find brunch before taking a look at the world famous Hotel Del Coronado. The Del is a Victorian mansion of a beach-side hotel, built in 1888, and is one of the largest wooden structures in America. You'd recognize it's red-gabled facade from many movies and TV shows, from "Some Like it Hot" to the "The Stuntman" (and don't forget the Jim Belushi classic, "K-9").

From there we strolled out quite a way along the surf before wading out and enjoying the cool Pacific. (Pause, close eyes, breath deep, think of the ocean).

Returning past the Del, a bit sandier than when we left, we slipped into the guest's-only pool area and cleaned up in their restrooms, then took a quick dip in their pool. Don't tell them, okay?

We had time, on the way back to the airport, to return to where we had started four days earlier, to the Waterfront for one final drink (Meyer's rum & coke, of course).

And that, dear friends, is the last of my notes on Summer Vacation 2001: San Diego.
More trip highlights:

After a brief trip downtown to Horton Plaza, we spent most of the afternoon hanging out at the hotel pool. It's a vacation, dammit. You don't need to be running around doing something every minute. Besides, they've got this bar next to the pool, and they'll bring you rum drinks and appetizers. I like vacations.

In the evening we went to a free concert in Balboa Park, at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. This is one of those giant organs that is part of the building and, apparently, one of the few that has it's own outdoor concert pavilion. Organ music is an interesting beast. When the performance is of J.S. Bach's fugues, it is as highbrow as you can get. When the performance is of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," played without any rhythm, it's as lowbrow as it gets, and kind of silly. Monday evening's performance was of the second variety. We left at the intermission.

From Balboa Park we went to Old Town, which during the day is a tourist trap of the highest order. It's supposed to be what San Diego was like back before the gringo's arrived. What it is is shopping-a-plenty, with plenty of photo opportunities. At night, once the shops have closed, one can go to the restaurants undisturbed. We had heard that Casa de Bandini was one of the top Mexican restaurants in the city, so we gave it a shot and were quite pleased.

After a quick bite at the hotel, it was off to the World Famous San Diego Zoo. This is a huge zoo which nobody should attempt to do all of in one day. We started with a 35 minute bus tour which didn't even cover half of it. While in line for the bus we thought we were idiots for doing it, but by the time it was over we realized that it was the only way to go, and realized it may have even been worth the extra few bucks for the 60 minute tour.

Once off the bus, and on foot, we covered about 60% of what we didn't see on the bus, and that took another five-and-a-half hours. The Panda's, which are a big draw, were actually a bit of a disappointment. The highlights, for us, were the polar bears, one of whom was doing back-flips in his pool over and over again, and the orangutans.

We got to the orangutans at a slow moment, only Leslie and I and one other couple. We sat quietly against the glass to their environment, and watched for a few minutes. Then, one of them decided to come over and join us. He sat right by us, just a foot away, for several minutes, until more people showed up and started making noise, chasing him back to his tree-top perch.

Other cool animals included the porcupines, the leopards, and some of the birds in the walk-through aviary.

Later, we had another nice dinner at Reuben's, on Harbor Island, by our hotel (the Sheraton Marina).

More again later...
We're back from San Diego, I've got my computer back on my desk, and the summer is almost over. Looks like a return to "normality" may be in the offing. But first, a recap of the vacation...

We had an early morning flight into S.D. and started our vacation with brunch at the Waterfront Bar & Grill - "San Diego's Oldest and Finest Purveyor of Spirits and Other Adult Beverages" - a former hole-in-the-wall dive that is in transition to yuppiedom as the neighborhood around it is redeveloped. Definitely a one-of-a-kind location.

From there we journeyed north (and definitely more up-scale) to La Jolla, where we walked around the beaches and the shops and galleries. A favorite spot of ours in La Jolla is a little beach where the harbor seals hang out.

After check-in and a brief rest at the hotel (the Sheraton Marina), it was off downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter, where we had dinner at Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar (as seen on VH1's "Behind the Music"). Croce's is owned by Ingrid Croce-Rock, the widow of singer/songwriter Jim Croce ("You Don't Mess Around with Jim" "Time in a Bottle"), and the restaurant is filled with Jim Croce memorabilia. Their son, A.J. Croce, sometimes performs here as well. Also available is Ingrid's cook book/memoir, "Thyme in a Bottle."

The food was actually quite excellent, if a bit expensive. I had a duck breast entree that was incredible. Leslie's salad, combined with the framed song lyrics and photos on the walls, inspired the following bit of creativity back at the hotel...
I've got a point that I think you'll find valid
I'm gonna lay it down on you now in a ballad
I think you should try encrusted goat cheese salad

Pan-roasted duck breast
Truly is the best
And the free-range chicken
Would be really good pickin'
But for a starter that sure to please
Get the salad with herb-crusted goat cheese

If I could save thyme in a bottle
The first thing that I'd want to do
Is open a jazz bar and gourmet restaurant
And sell goat cheese salad to you...
Anyway - I've got to be off to work now. I'll post some more trip highlights later...

Saturday, August 04, 2001

Praise be! My computer is back. After a bit over three weeks, I've returned to the modern world. And after getting it back, it only took me about four hours to restore all (or nearly all) my programs and documents to normal. There's still a few things out of whack, but the important stuff (Internet!) is working.

Which, of course, is frustrating as hell, seeing as it's just in time for me to leave town. It's off to San Diego for a few days, but I'll be back on a regular daily posting schedule as soon as I get back.

Friday, August 03, 2001

According to an article on Alternet, American Pie 2 is in trouble for a product placement. This year's teen-sex-filled sequel to the incredibly popular (and teen-sex-filled) American Pie included product placements of LifeStyle condoms. Not just in the movie itself, but in the advertising. And therein lies the trouble.

It turns out that it's perfectly acceptable to advertise a movie about horny teens boinking themselves crazy, but to imply that they might do it in at least a semi-responsible manner is taboo. Condoms may be OK in the movies, but you can't do that on TV. (Read the article).

Product placements have gotten to be big business in the last few years, as companies pay fees to have movie makers drop their wares conspicuously on the screen. The practice first came to public attention after the placement of Reeses Pieces in E.T., but it turns out it's been around at least 100 years before that.

I recently read that Balzac would drop glowing recommendations of certain Paris merchants, clothiers, and others, into his novels. It turns out that Balzac was always deeply in debt, and found the practice helped to placate his creditors.

On a different note, it will probably be nearly a week before I'm able to post again, as I still don't have a computer at home, and I'll be away from the office the first part of next week. Till then...

Thursday, August 02, 2001

From the newsletter:

... Now [Yahoo's] testing pop-under ads...

The ads can currently be seen on Yahoo News and Yahoo Travel. If pop-unders become a permanent fixture on Yahoo, which has traditionally been known for its extreme user friendliness and quick download time, prices for pop-unders will slump even further, due to Yahoo's enormous inventory availability.

This in turn will push sites that are currently using pop-unders, including, and, to lower their prices. And this will lead to greater losses and the eventual move to a subscription model.

I don't know how realistic that prediction is, but it is an interesting progression. Personally, I can't stand pop-unders (or pop-overs). I find it rather rude for them to open a second (or third) browser window on my screen, eating up my resources and slowing down my surfing. I click them off as quickly as they can open, usually before they've even loaded anything, and can't imagine they'd be terribly effective.

On the other hand, it's almost worth putting up with pop-unders for six months if it gets us to where large sites are forced to come up with a business model that includes realistic revenue. Yes, even if that means general acceptance of having to pay for content. I think it will eliminate a lot of the crap online, and push those content providers that remain to focus on quality (ie: Salon).

Or, perhaps we're already too late. According to The Death of the Web, the five-year-old prodigy has been buried beside a garage in Palo Alto. This page is humorous, just don't take it (or the "business" point of view it assumes) too seriously.

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

Well, I'm one step closer to rejoining the computerized world. After about two-and-a-half weeks the repair shop finally called back yesterday with the diagnosis I told them to begin with: My hard drive was fried.

They offered to sell me a new one for about $400 (plus labor), which I declined. I went to Fry's and bought one for $109, which I dropped off this morning at the shop for them to install. That should only take a week or two...

Meanwhile, while I realized I neglected to comment on the latest stupidity from California Senator Dianne Feinstein. She has sent letters to each of the major airlines asking them to set a two drink maximum on domestic flights. Her letters also included a threat to introduce legislation that would put the two drink limit into law, should the airlines fail to voluntarily comply.

The impetus for this bit of legislation is her desire to look like she's doing something important. You know the drill: Politician wants to do something "big" on a hot issue of the day, but can't afford to choose anything controversial because it might backfire as a publicity ploy, so they choose something easy like taking a stand in favor of children and ice cream, or against the evils of murder and mayhem.

In this case, Feinstein has taken a stand on an issue that's terrifying all Americans: Air Rage. It turns out she's against it. First, let's just ignore the fact that "air rage" is just another new nonexistent condition dreamed up by news editors who have given up on covering real news that might offend their advertisers. Let's pretend, just for a minute, that "air rage" wasn't simply a new way to describe passengers who are pissed off at being treated like cattle by greedy airlines and squeezed into ever-tighter seats with less legroom every year.

Let's consider the possibility that "air rage" is real. What makes Feinstein assume that A) it requires federal legislation, or B) all incidents are related to alcohol consumption, or C) that anybody with three drinks in them becomes a problem? To me it's another example of putting a bandage on a symptom of a larger problem, and calling it a solution. It's feel good legislation, and simply busy work for a Congress that's afraid to tackle any real issues.

Well, I may have missed commenting on this, but Libertarian Party national director Steve Dasbach didn't. In a recent press release he proposed a new drink called the Feinstein. "Mix one part jet fuel, one part Absolut arrogance, and one part California whine. Shake vigorously until some common sense emerges. Garnish with a wedge of media limelight."

I admit, I rarely agree with the Libertarians (the party with a capital "L", not the philosophy with a little "l") but this time they hit the nail right on the head. I've never particularly liked Dianne Feinstein, and saw her as a political opportunist from the start. She owes her career to the double assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone (who preceded Feinstein to that office). She made it to the Senate by waving their bloody shirts on a series of TV ads that made her out to be the hero of that tragedy.

Since her election to the Senate, it seems she's only become more and more conservative, and quite a bit nastier, with only a few token nods to her Democratic base. Each time she's been on my ballot I've been reminded of the words of Harry Truman: "When a Republican runs against a Republican, the Republican will win every time."

Twitter Feed