Jim Schrempp

Jim's Journal 2007

   My musings...

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December 29, 2007

This quarter started with a fabulous trip to Pass Christian, Mississippi to help rebuild homes that were damaged two years ago when hurricane Katrina threw 27 feet of flood water over the peninsula. The place is still denuded and in need of help. Other pages here tell the story of our trip with photos and video. I think we'll go back again.

We were home just a few days and then Halloween hit. Thanks to all our friends we had another great party. I thought my Ninja Turtle costume was pretty clever, but it turns out the kids don't even know what one is. I guess it was just another case of showing my age. There were a lot of clever costumes and a few new comers showed up.

Wendy arranged a trip to see Women On The Wire at Dance Mission. The show started with Project Bandaloop rappelling half way down the outside wall and doing their performance by floating off the wall sideways. Susan Voyticky did a great piece where she's half ballerina and half boxer. Some stunning physical pieces were intertwined with swimming rope flights. There was no throwing up this time. We loved the whole show.

We took a quick trip to Vegas. It was quick because we'd botched communications. I thought they said they had to leave on Sunday at noon, but they really wanted to go anyway. OK, we'd fly in Saturday AM and see Jeanne before leaving Sunday evening. Turns out they were leaving MONDAY at noon. Oh well, we still had a great time seeing the sights. Google Earth showed that we were just a stone's throw from Area 51. Spooooky.

We also got out to visit the Ravizza's for another year's Christmas party. My Hillary nut cracker got a big laugh. And Gina hosted a pre show dinner before we went to the Gryphon holiday caroling show at Gunn HS. I'm not a caroling fan, but this show offered old chestnuts in a new sauce.

Two great lectures got us thinking and laughing. Chris Mathews was a sparkling speaker. He talked us through his exploits as a foreign correspondent. All the while building his credentials for calling the current Bush administration the most incompetent in our country's history. Bravo. A few weeks later we were being tickled by the slow humor of Bob Newhart. He's up there in years but did a strong showing with an hour of stand-up. There was also time for another astronomy lecture; Marty joined me and it turned out to be one of the more technical ones. Oh well.

I got on the lecture circuit myself when I was invited to speak about my career to a group of students at Canada College, a local JC. These young adults wanted to know what the working world was like inside an office. These kids are already hard working. Many of them support themselves by working two jobs around their school work. I gave them a variant of my old HP "what job for you?" talk and I think it went over very well. I'll put the pitch up on the web site soon.

Several of the students at Canada sported Ron Paul stickers on their cars. I had to check him out. I hear that many people like his strict constitutional interpretation, but a quick look at his web site shows that to be untrue. I found that he only stands behind the constitution when it supports his position - otherwise he tosses it in the trash can. You'll find Ron Paul's site says things like: "The language is clear- Congress simply is prohibited from passing laws establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion." Then when the constitution doesn't support his ideas he just ignores it. For example, while the constitution says: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States", Ron Paul says, "End birthright citizenship." Did Ron Paul just fail to read that part of our constitution? Ron, the language is clear. Obviously Ron's ideas are unconstitutional.  In my mind Ron Paul is the worst of politicians: he supports a convoluted personal policy by perverted use of our national icons. It makes me sick. If you are a Ron Paul supporter, don't email me about this; if you're smart enough to read, then read his web site, the constitution, and then spend your energy supporting someone with a better policy set.

On a happier note, lots of friends came by. Bill and Georgia were down for a Sunday dose of my chicken mole - they loved it, but frankly, it wasn't my best. I think I cooked it too long. Brent has stayed with us several times. Once he came early enough for me to make my Orange Short Ribs - and this was truly a great meal. Bob and Carolyn stopped by on their way East and we managed a nice dinner with them. Ray was absent most of the time traveling the real East; he's back now but I can't say for how long.

Thanksgiving was a quiet afternoon in Pacifica. Christmas was a bit more raucous in Saratoga. This year everyone but Nancy's family was in town and we had dinner for 22! Honey Baked Ham sat in the center, surrounded by beans, broccoli, more beans, and key lime pies. We've been doing a Kolm family gathering every Christmas for the last 50 years. Grandma Kolm was the hostess for years in San Francisco, and then for even more years in Seacliff. I did one in 1982. Then once at Rich and Jackie's. Since then it's always been my special treat to host it. I love having the family over; I'd do it every couple of months if people were in the mood to party.

Wow. 50 years of family Christmas. That's quite a tradition.



October 6, 2007

One big trip this summer was fishing with Kim and Pete's family in Canada. I flew into Winnipeg and then drove to Clark's Camp just outside Vermilion Bay. The cabins are simple and clean and right on the edge of the water. Once we got the hang of the jigging we were pulling in Walleye every day. Each night we had to eat two apiece or there'd be no keeping the next day. Despite the great fishing, the highlight of the trip was meeting my new cousin, Lidiya. She is a vibrant young girl that brings a lot of joy into every situation. I was with her when she caught her first fish and that was very special. There were only two downsides to the trip. First, the wounds from the ankle biter flies took three weeks to heal. Secondly, I was only able to stay at the camp for a week.

It seems like everyone is turning 50 this year. Rick and Sheila had a bash in Ventura on Labor Day. I just couldn't commit to a long drive on a hellatious weekend like that. We talked it over and she had the bright idea to try the train. It sounded good until I tried to make reservations via the Amtrak web site. The damn thing kept putting us on a 7 hour bus ride! We finally forced Amtrak to put us on a train. Whew. We used Google to find out what the ride would be like, only to discover that the train often runs 8 HOURS LATE and then they put you on a bus anyway. In the end the train was only two hours late and Rick waited for us.

The Ventura party was a good time and the old gang showed up, less Diane. I had not seen Viv and Ed and Gary in years and it was nice to see that they haven't changed.

We drove to Twain Harte for this year's movie max. Again Bob and Carolyn played the role of best hosts ever. [I should point out that many others have played this role as well.] Paul flew into SJ and we had the delight of his company for the trip into the mountains. We watched an old psycho thriller and drank a few too many margaritas. Saturday everyone indulged me in my first geocaching quest. We used the Tom Tom navigator, but it kept wanting to get me onto a road, which is exactly where we didn't want to be. We eventually gave up.

Only a few short weeks later, Dave turned 50 and Stephanie hosted a party at their TH digs. She couldn't make it this time, so I drove up alone. This time Diane made it, but Tom and Dana could not. Still, we had another fun time. Bob and Carolyn offered their house as a staging area so that we could brace ourselves for the energies of Alison, Lucas, and Kyle. Saturday we tried a quick fish at the ditch, but caught nothing. We moved to TH lake and while Sheila quickly wet a line, the menfolk located a geocache, my first unaided grab - the Garmin Vista made the difference. Then we all walked down towards the inlet of TH lake where Rick, with just a few minutes of work, pulled in a 12-inch trout. We didn't have time to follow up on that - it was a day of party hearty at the Ravizza's. I managed to make a little movie of the day. I'm proud of it, but if you're not one of us, it might be a bit boring.

Sunday we were out at TH lake once more to drop a line before heading home. We started out at the inlet again, but there was no action. We made a move to the dam and here the luck was with us. As we approached the mid point I could see some surface action. I tossed out my bobber with a real worm under it and it was hit in 30 seconds. As I brought this 15 inch trout to the side it was being followed by another monster! I played rookie and let the fish hit the side of the dam where it got off. Matt hit next, landing at least 16 inches of trout. You can view the movie of his grab here. I still find that exciting. Rick hooked up another too. It was a good fishing day.

Brent's been down a few times. It's always good to see him. Ray is off traveling the 'stans. He keeps a nice journal with photos. Last I heard he was recovering from a bout of sickness and replanning his rendezvous with the Swede; traveling near war zones can be a drag.

We saw George Pataki at the Celebrity Forum, but it was a bit of a bore. He didn't really say much new. I get tired of hearing small, self serving anecdotes of September 11th activities. I enjoy hearing about how events unfolded and what roles people took. I am sick of hearing politicians say, "Let me tell you the story of one person that day..." and then they go on to use one story that just happens to provide support to their own political position. At least he did give his view on how to bring resolution to Iraq. In the Q&A session he was asked what he recommends to resolve the Palestinian - Israeli conflict. His answer was "you have to understand what a good ally Israel is to us and we can't abandon them...." Funny, that wasn't the question. He never did say how to resolve the conflict. Maybe he doesn't think it can be solved?

Last weekend we listened to Richie Unterberger at the San Carlos library. Richie is a friend and rock historian. He often talks on old rock 'n roll bands and plays obscure pieces of music. This time it was about The Beatles. Richie is a wealth of knowledge and gave us little tidbits about the band. If you have a chance to hear Richie, I recommend it.

Then Wednesday the Foothill Astronomy Lecture Series started. It was an excellent talk about Near Earth Objects and NASA's program to detect ones on a collision course with Earth. The auditorium was full and I got a number of factoids to add to Wikipedia and Citizendium.

Our last summer concert was Larry Vuckovich at Filoli. He slammed the place with a 17 piece orchestra. Nancy and Carol came with us. What a great note to end on. 


July  29, 2007

It's been a busy few months - as always. Rob and Julie dropped of the kids for a few hours back in April and we had a gas. Vicky came over to help me keep control. They're old enough now that they know how to split up and end run an old guy like me. We watched Finding Nemo on the big screen and they were enthralled.

Don and Cindy organized a mid-night Rocky Horror Picture Show event at the Menlo Theater. This was their first RHPS and I had a lot of fun on the email distribution list before the day. I started signing my emails "Brad". And when Cindy had to ask, "who's this Brad guy?" I answered, "to put it delicately, he's an a**hole." The actual night of the movie it was appropriately damp and dark. The cast in front of the screen was entertainingly madcap. There are far more callouts to the crowd than I remember - not that I was ever able to answer them all anyway. There were some references to the Virginia Tech shootings - all answered with "too soon." The row in front of us was inhabited by a group of lingerie wearing co-eds from Stanford who would stand and jump at any provocation. Needless to say, I had a good time.

We've also been out with Rhona and Gary a few times. James Randall in Los Gatos; Cascal in Mountain View; Los Gatos jazz in the park. We always enjoy getting together with them for food and political sympathizing.

The Big Bottle party this year brought a few surprises. The Nepal theme inspired me. I cut around a boule of bread to make a yurt and then hollowed out the inside. I filled it with spinach dip and cut a doorway to let it spill out. A few whole wheat tortillas dressed the platter up like the steppes. I added a few stick pretzels for their wood-like look and used meringues as snow drifts. Someone else brought an onion stew that was delicious. At the party I met Dale - a guy I worked with at HP in 1980 and haven't seen since. Turns out he new works with Drew. Even more odd, his work site is less than a mile from Audible Magic. What a small world.

The CNPS Going Native garden show was again a success. She had over 100 visitors. This year I tried to photograph the plants as they came into bloom, and I'll keep that up through the summer. With natives it's good to see them at their best and worst.

We got out to the California Preservation Foundation conference in Hollywood. What a great time! We stayed at the old Roosevelt hotel, directly across from Grauman's Chinese Theater. The hotel has remodeled rooms that you wouldn't want to spend more than one night in, but the lobby is grand. (Too bad they have adopted the terrible customer service habit of blocking off the lobby from paying guests so that they can rent it out for Saturday night parties. I have to recommend that you don't stay at the Roosevelt, but do go there for a drink.) As part of the conference we toured several renovated theaters. My fav is the El Capitan. One of the first to be redone, and Disney did an exceptional job. The historian recounted how as they tore off the 1940's sheet rock they found all the original plaster decorations intact and in original paint. Disney brought it all back to life. We also went behind the scenes at The Palladium.  We were transported back to a time of industrial art, where the air in infused with a sense of industry, beauty, beast, and a sense of urgency. Walking through the lobby I felt a sense of electricity. We took a nice tour of a remodeled subway station building in downtown LA. It's been turned into apartments. My favorite time here was standing in the roof garden atop the 10th floor where, at the very peak, sits an outdoor spa. It would be fantastic to lounge in the tub with a view of the mountains, while in the shadow of other 40 story buildings.

We came back in time for dinner at Jon's in San Carlos to welcome Bob and Michelle back from three months traveling, mostly in India. Bob loves India and Michelle agreed to go back as long as he promised to pay at least $10 per night for places to stay and to let her declare "get me out of this city now" three times. Michelle sent out wonderful trip reports as they traveled to famous places that the locals didn't seem to know about. At one point they wanted to see the huge flock of birds that only shows up in the evening, but their hotelier hadn't a clue. Eventually a cab driver said, "you want to go *there*?" They survived the trip with excellent photos and Michelle is willing to go back again.

The old HP3000 gang did another BBQ lunch to see off a new group of retirees. It's hard to believe that after all these layoffs there are still remnants of that division. I have some photos here for those who want to remember.

Alas, another piece of my history is going. I guess I have to get used to this. HP has sold Little Basin. In my youthful days at HP Little Basin was the site of huge group picnics every year. Each division would take over the place for a day of drunken revelry with BBQ, games, and dancing, set the table for 1500 people. We used to camp out there from time to time and the gang got together in May for one last night. We arrived late on Friday night to join those who are retired. We had to set up the tent by firelight, but that was soon done and we sampled the traditional Maker's Mark. Crawling out of the tent Saturday morning I found that the fog had rolled in and I was standing in a cloud. A very cold cloud. The morning temperature was just under 40 and I was not prepared for that. I pulled out jackets and blankets from my car and tried to keep warm while reading Vanity Faire. It was a long time until the sun came up and took off the chill. That will probably be the last time I get to see Little Basin as the new owners will lock it up for lack of insurance.

Speaking of insurance, the new Michael Moore movie, Sick-o, is worth a watch. You've no doubt heard that he's pushing nationalized health care, and he is. However, even if you don't like his proposed solution, you have to agree that there's a problem. He tells heartbreaking stories of normal people who are treated terribly by their insurance companies. You can't listen to these people without feeling that we have to do something. Socialized medicine is one solution, there are others; we have to act. As a bonus, the movie has some very funny parts as well - if you find laughter in the absurd.

I went to a marvelous conference - the Makers Faire. If you like to build things, tinker with things, and hack other things, then this is for you. The show is filled with creativity and technology. And it is huge. We went to spend a couple of hours and I wish I had planned to spend two days. There is just that much to see. I really enjoyed the guy who made a 3-d plotter using crystallized sugar as the construction medium. There were also a set of wild home made bicycles. And a hall filled with new alternative man-machine interfaces. Their quarterly magazine is also worth browsing for the orthogonal thinking it inspires.

Georgia and Bill invited us to their retreat in the hills overlooking Pescadero valley. They live out on the point of a hill with a view that covers rolling hills and the ocean in the distance. They are high and so the wind and sun can be brutal. But that view keeps coming to mind.

Lots of big birthdays...

Wade turned 50 this year too. His birthday party in Rocklin brought in my cousins into town. We don't see each other too often now. When we were growing up we'd spend weeks at a time in Aptos at 433 Coates. We'd run to the beach and spend days playing poker with a huge pile of chips. I've started pen pal-ing Elizabeth and Sam. Their letters are so cute, I smile thinking about them. Sam scrawled "i ejoid yur letter" and Elizabeth talks about trying to make money this summer "selling herb from my garden." I wrote that I'd lost my lucky rock and Sam sent me a substitute lucky marble! I don't want to wear them out so I wait a week before writing an answer. But once my letter has gone out I eagerly sift my mailbox each day looking for a reply.

Pat turned - I'm not sure how old - and Richard arranged for a surprise party in Las Vegas. We flew in for a short weekend of gambling and fun. We joined the surprise as everyone picked up tickets for the Cirque du Soliel show LOVE. Very good show. We enjoyed their families too. After the show we had a few drinks with Judy from Seattle. She was very interesting to talk with. She shares Angela's interest in older homes and we talked about some that we have watched disappear. There was also a passel of very smart young people to kid around with. We spent one night with Jeanne who lives very close to Red Rock state park. So we drove there and viewed the petroglyphs. Boy it was hot. One day it reached 110 degrees. We had a great meal at Rosemary's. It doesn't look like much from the outside strip mall it inhabits, but the inside is well appointed and the food is superb.

Dave turned 70 this year so Ken and J.D. combined it with their housewarming party. Most of the extended family was there. Dave brought an old skittles game and we had fun winding up the tops.

"It's good to see the San Carlos Social Club functioning so well," said Carol as we were leaving for an outing. And indeed, we have had many domino nights. Truth be told we sometimes just sit around and jaw with a bit of vino to lubricate us. On one day Judy stopped in just long enough to invite us all over for her 4th of July party. I'm always game for a date. This was Chris's college graduation party. He's now out an in the job market. Erika is working as a substitute teacher in Davis. Judy's sisters were there, and her mother. A lot of family friends came by and we had a delightful time.

Sean also made a major milestone in his pursuit of his HVAC career. He's now dropped the second job he was holding down and had a big BBQ to celebrate his new freedom. Freedom to live a normal life! We met a number of interesting people. Dee's SO who plays in a rockabilly band and is writing his memoirs of road trip madness. We also met the medical sales rep who educated me on the limited effectiveness of Betadine and the rising rate of hospital infections. Her recommendation: If the doctor is going to break your skin, ask them to use Chloraprep. She says it costs more than Betadine, but is wildly more effective.

We were lucky enough to see Charlie and Brent several times as they traveled here for work and music. And Bob and Carolyn were with us for a night.

Close friends know that I'm always up for a bout of financial planning. A few months ago ESPlanner provided an upgrade. The software UI is still very hard to use, so I can't recommend it to the masses, but it is now working better than before. I've also tried the demo version of Sungard's Frontier Allocation Master program - it is fantastic. (It should be, it sells for $900.) The free demo has given me some great projections. Unfortunately it doesn't make purchase recommendations, nor does it integrate with fund evaluation or monitoring sites. Financial Engines has done an upgrade last week and the site seems a little faster. Too early to tell if they've fixed the problem or not.

I've put a number of my photos into Panaramio. It's a fun program that let's you place photos onto Google Earth for others to find. I put some photos of the coast out there a long time ago and accidentally ran into them while surfing Google Earth with dad! It wasn't a set up, I'd forgotten about them. So now I have about 50 pictures scattered around the Earth.

Lastly, cousin Peggy runs a blog on women in science. If you're interested, she's interesting.

April 11, 2007

I am now looking at life from the fun side of 50. Just last week I exited the first third of my life. I see nothing but fun stuff ahead.

Last weekend Bob and Katie came up from Atascadero with the equipment. I bought a turkey. Mom and Dad came down on Saturday and we fried. Fried big time. The turkey hit the hot peanut oil at 11:30 and was out by 1:15. This was my first experience with so much hot oil and the results were delicious. As advertised, the skin and surface inside the body cavity were a crisp golden brown. Oddly, the surface was also very salty. I imagine that as the juices are expelled from the meat the salt is left behind.

She surprised me with a pile of 50 gifts, each stapled into its own little brown bag. Each numbered. The original plan was to hide them all over my house - lucky for us all, that didn't happen. It was obvious that buying 50 little gifts is a tough problem. I worked my way from atomic clock and bottle of wine, to bottle of olives and fake peeps. The last three gifts were the same, small packages of almonds from TJ's. Which was good, because by the time I got to package 45 I was pretty tired and ready for a nap. I have it all on tape, so watch for the YT video to come out; I think there are at least two episodes in there somewhere.

Tuesday, the actual day of reckoning, I took off from Audible Magic. I started by cleaning up a couple of drawers that had my life's detritus strewn in them. Then I took the Miata over to Capitola. Lunch was at Zelda's on the beach - a place I used to frequent. Then back over the hill to take a huge load of old clothes, pictures, and blankets to Goodwill. A car wash and two hours reading a book at the local coffee shop made it a fantastic day. Warm shower and then dinner at Andale in Los Gatos. Ahh, if only every day could be like that.

I thought it was all over at that point, but at 10am the next day Erling and Thom walk into our regular team meeting. "Thom had to come down to debug a problem, so I came with him," said Erling. "Oh, ok," I thought. Then at 11:30 everyone was talking about going over the to park for lunch. I was up for it, then had second thoughts and was just deciding to work through lunch when Tris walked by. "Want to share a ride?" "No, I'm way behind so I'll stay here." "I'm afraid I'll have to insist," says Tris. "?" It turned out to be a surprise party for me! Thanks to the whole Audible Magic gang.

On the lecture circuit we just heard General Wesley Clark hammer on the current U.S. foreign policy. Over and over he banged on the Bush administration for failing to be guided by facts. "Why are they afraid to talk with our enemies? That's the whole point of diplomacy - diplomacy isn't just talking with your friends!" At one point he was almost frothing over the pig headed actions of those in power today. It was quite heart warming. He laid out his own five point plan for working through the issues in the middle East and it sounded good to me.

We also listened to Jerad Diamond. He recounted much of what's in his Guns, Germs, etc. book, but it was interesting anyway. He has a funny way of walking the stage, like the professor he is, running over his points. "I have five points. Point one is X..." Then later, "Of my five points, point one is X. Point two is Y..." Then, "Of my five points, point one is X. Point two is Y. Point three is .... "  His speaking style reminded me of Andrew Fraknoi of the astronomy lecture series.

Speaking of which, we had a good time hearing astronaut Janice Voss talk about the science behind finding Earth like planets in the universe. This had a bit more science to it than other lectures. I particularly liked going over the statistics behind looking for planets and predicting how many of what size will be found. If the mission goes for a year without finding any planets then that will also be of extreme interest.

I am not the only one turning 50 this year. In fact the first was Jim Lyons. He hosted a very nice evening at Campo de Bocci in Los Gatos. It's a lot of fun to play, but at parties like this I'm often torn between wanting to play, and wanting to chat with everyone else. It was made both easier and more difficult because Dave wasn't speaking after some minor surgery. To converse with him I'd have to read what he wrote on a pad he carried around. For Dave it must have been hellish. Then we walked over to Johnny's Northside for more food and I walked right into a bar fight. Seems that JN's is a little seedier at night than when we go for lunch during the day. I was standing to the side of the counter waiting for a line of guys with a few drinks in them to finish up. One guy kept bugging the waitress for her phone number and she kept playfully saying no - it's all part of her job. I turned away to say something to Her and when I turned back one drunk guy was bumping chests with another while various regulars held them apart. With no where to really go, I stood by and watched it all develop. Within a few minutes the owner had the bum by the neck and was tossing him out the door while he confessed "I'm not like this, I never done this before, That guy..." then turning to scream "I'm waiting outside for you - Yah, YOU!" Later we sat on the outside patio, entertained by the same waitress, when the police showed up. Ah Mr. Lyons, the cops came to your 50th birthday! I guess you still have what it takes.

We managed to get in another crab feed this year. This time Denise knew someone with U.N.I.C.O.  I have no idea what it does, but Denise said they were good folks. And did I mention, it was fresh cold crab! When we got there Chet and Tracy were there and Denise was already in motion. We bought a fist full of door prize tickets and our table won several. I won twice. I nice framed 1948 B&W of a street car in front of Playland. I remember going to Playland with my grandmother when I was just a lad. The burlap slide seemed too steep to contemplate, but after the first run we would race back for more. There was the spinning disk that we struggled to stay on as the operator made it run faster and faster. And the air holes in the floor to blow up the skirts! Big Sally was an animatronics remote controlled robot with a booming cackle of a laugh; she scared the bejesus out of us. One striking memory is that most of the activities were made out of well polished wood. The slide, the spinner, both were well waxed, well polished wooden structures. You don't see that anymore.

I'll wrap up with another fun day hiking in Crystal Springs. Camille organized a Sierra Club trip and Barbara signed us all up. Jane was there and 15 others we didn't know. The watershed keeper met us in the old quarry just off HW92. It was sunny and warm in San Carlos, but at the quarry it was full on bone chilling fog. Jane and Barbara each took an extra jacket that I had in the trunk. Then we headed out and up. The first mile took us up about 1300 feet to a ridge line. Then we hiked four miles along what might have been fantastic views of the reservoir and lands past 280. What we saw instead was fog falling over the ridge line with us in the middle. Man, it was cold at times. At the four mile mark someone mentioned that just a bit further was Pilarcitos Lake. It is the original drinking water supply for the area; made by an earthen dam in the mid 1800's. So we all went a little further until we could look over the lake from a nice vantage point. (The Google Earth coordinates are:  37°32'59.90"N, 122°25'2.14"W) Then we packed up and headed back. We did get a few nice views on the way out, but by the time we hit that last one mile of pure downhill, I was tired. My knees much prefer to go up instead of down. We were a bit sore the next day, and a hot bath helped. It was a really fun trip and we met some nice people. It was good to chat with Camille again. And we met Carolyn from San Mateo. I was surprised to find that she lives near some great restaurants that we have visited. Maybe she was there when we were and didn't even know it! From now on we will be on the lookout.

That's all for now.



February 19, 2007

As we enter the year that I will turn 50, I promise to make more regular entries in... oh, who am I kidding? Here's another update on life and times in and around Saratoga.

Christmas was a blast, as always. Mike/..., Katie/Bob were both at the far side this year, but we still had a large turn out. Lauren was up from her first quarter at Cal Poly Pomona and I enjoyed hearing about the life of a Freshwoman. Settlers of Catan got a good workout as a team of eight played with the expansion set. That game went on and on and on and on. I thought I saw some participants nodding off towards the end. Finally someone declared that 8 points was enough to win and everyone came back to life.

We managed two post-holiday white elephant's this year. Angela's gift at both was a "Miss America" kit. It contained a tiara, a pink martini glass, and a half gallon of Kentucky bourbon. We should have thrown in a pack of condoms too! At Diane and Keith's the iPod was stolen a bazillion times. I ended up with a box of teas like you'll often find in restaurant's today - not bad. Getting ready for Denise and JPs, I kept thinking about the set of wisdom teeth I got to take home last year. So this time I brought a Celine Dion memory scrap book from the remainder bin. It was filled with the normal pictures and writings, but in addition there were 10 full page pockets filled with reproduced memorabilia. A copy of Celine's third grade report card, a copy of a menu from some party she went to, other "valuable" stuffs. The party was half French and one French-Canadian. Imagine the fun when the Canadian drew my Celine book! He thought the other guys had brought it as a jab at him. It was all hilarity. We had - as always - a great time.

New Year's Eve developed into quite a do. We started off to have one or two friends over for dominos. A few didn't answer the phone so we left messages and invited a few more. Then I thought to make dinner. Then Angela went to Didams and bought a bunch of streamers. Next thing you know, everyone is coming. PARTY! I made the well liked cauliflower soup and fish in paper. I goofed on the fish when I used hot chili oil instead of sesame oil - oops! Discovered only after they were all prepared I decided to tough it out. In the end the chili was very light and the fish delicious. We drank, sang, laughed. A few new friends were made.

We had a nice dinner with Jen and Alain at Vaccaro's Argentina Steak House. If you haven't been, it is worth a trip. Nice ambiance and the steak is very good. We introduced them to Sequence and they left us Carcassonne. Angela and I have played Carcassonne a few times now and last night I took it to my folks. We played several rounds, to the enjoyment of all. I just placed my own order with Amazon so I can return their game.

Our monthly outing with Gary and Rhona took us to Dio Deka in Los Gatos (quite a web site). This new Hellenic restaurant is pricey, but what a fantastic meal we had! My pork loin was crusted and served in a teka maki type upright presentation, sitting in a bed of tiny apple cubes sautéed  with sour cherries. Behind it was a small mound of black truffle mashed potatoes and it was topped with deep fried alfalfa sprouts. All the dishes were similarly constructed. The taste was incredible.

We got out to two lectures. One on the photography of the Hubble by Bruce Margon, U.C. Santa Cruz, one on the Everest climb by David Breashears. Both were spectacular. The Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series Hubble lecture was a review of the contributions Hubble has made. Being above the atmosphere it can see in wavelengths that don't make it to instruments on the surface. It was refreshing to see these incredible images and have him say, "we don't have a clue about what could cause this." One interesting fact, the Hubble in space is closer to San Francisco than San Diego. Somehow I'd always thought of it as a millions of miles away.

David Breashears was on Everest when 8 climbers died as was recounted in the book Into Thin Air. In my younger days I used to think of these climbers as heroic figures. I've come to view them as compulsive folk who are driven to climb in much the same way I'm driven to know about things. There's really nothing intrinsically heroic about climbing Everest or solo skiing to the North Pole. It's just people doing what they like to do. David walked us through the days leading up the disaster and his work in making the iMax movie at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk.

Brent has been in town working several times and we've hosted him in Saratoga. He's a great house guest and fun to chat with. He recently came back from a three month study in Denmark. He lived in what they call an "international high school" learning about Danish culture, history, and the language. Living in the dorms with a bunch of wild young people gave him a ton of stories to recount. I particularly liked the one about everyone getting mohawks at 1am in the room next door. Ask him about it.

On a personal note, I've now made my first YouTube video. I have an idea for a more complex viral video. Curt gave me a lot of good advice on making it, one of which was, "get some experience with video editing." I had some footage from this summer hanging around so I cut it up and came up with something. You watch it and tell me if it's funny or not. Rate it and leave me a comment!

Lastly, Superbowl Sunday was spent in Palm Springs. It was a balmy, beautiful time. Paul's write up is, as always, excellent, so I encourage you to read it.