Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend Art

Little impromptu basement painting session yesterday, thought I'd post the results.

Ava did two flower treatments, Madison created a sun/mountain/stream scene and another one I liked even better - monochromatic mixed media featuring raised foamy paper inset glued on construction paper, at least that's how they're describing it in the Sotheby's catalogue. Madison's calling it Purple Heart.

Ava just walked in as I was working on this post and asked why I didn't include her "sun" picture. I said I went with the flowers instead. She was not happy with this choice, and said her smiling sun was her "favorite" of the afternoon, so here it is.

Everyone's happy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How Much? How Do You Feel About Free?

Gwen and I lived in Manhattan during the peak of the dotcom bubble, and at some point became familiar with a company that in retrospect has to be considered one of the shining examples of the period's excess and incongruity -

The idea was simple. Go to a computer, dial up the Kozmo Web site, place an order for anything from Ben & Jerry's ice cream to a Palm Pilot and - within an hour - one of the company's grizzled bike messengers would bring the item to your door. Delivery charge? How about free.

It was tremendous, ridiculous, and unsustainable, and yet - back then - was considered a reasonable enough idea to spawn a copycat competitor, Urbanfetch, which performed the same basic function for the same exact delivery price, namely nothing. These companies were going to go public, make billions, branch out into other markets, take over the world, toppling old-line "brick-and-mortar" merchants on the strength of a million foot soldiers in spandex bicycle pants, able to leap pedestrians and taxi cabs in a single bound, delivering pints of Cherry Garcia along the way.

It all came tumbling down, of course, Kozmo maybe more spectacularly than most, given the audacity of its business strategy, high visibility and close connection to an appreciative (dumbfounded?) customer base. Seems funny now, but back then the leap of faith required to place a real-time order over the Web wasn't even rooted in whether or not your stuff would show up, but in whether or not there were really people on the other end of this collection of tubes who would see your request in the first place.

After the collapse, a handful of companies like Amazon and eBay emerged from the rubble more or less in tact, then Google made everyone believe again, and now we're firmly in a new period of Web-enabled services and commerce. If there's one common thread that has persisted from the last time around, maybe it's this: price point, zero.

We pay actual money to heat our house, and for the water that comes out of the faucet above the kitchen sink, the gas that powers our cars, clothes, pizza, you name it. The pork store charges about $8 for a decent-sized ball of fresh mozzarella, and we have no complaints. But out there in Web-land, virtually everything is free.

Start with Google, and search, and the fact that finding something - anything - has never been easier or more cost effective. Trip to the library? Why? When's the last time a World Book or Britannica salesman knocked on your door? If it has succeeded in anything, and of course they're still only getting started, Google has indeed made the world's information useful, and yours, all for the price of an Internet connection.

But don't stop at search, Google is the gift that just keeps on giving. We communicate with family and friends through Gmail, the best and most functional e-mail service on the planet. Google News keeps us up-to-the-minute on events and developments around the world, and we never have to worry about missing a story we're interested in, not with Google Alerts out there scanning the headlines 24/7 with an eye that never blinks. Google Reader lets us monitor a couple hundred blogs and news sources. Google Maps tells us when and where to turn. This blog was created, and is hosted, by Google's Blogger. Posts are sent to subscribers via e-mail or RSS by Feedburner, another company in the Google fold. And there's one common thread to all of this - it's all provided gratis. There's another one, too, which David Carr of the New York Times noted earlier in the week, but that's a whole other post.

We listen to customized radio stations we created through a site called Pandora, communicate through Twitter, the kids play on Noggin. Sitemeter tells us who shows up here, how they found us, and what they saw on their way out the door. Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, this is not a comprehensive list. I know there's a complicated advertising model at work here enabling all these virtual goodies, but I really don't care, it doesn't apply to me. I'm not sure I've ever clicked on a banner or contextual ad, and if you want to give me the world in the hope that someday I will, that's just fine.

I sometimes wonder when the virtual gravy train is going to end, when we're going to get a notice that Gmail accounts will now cost $2 per month, or an invoice from Blogger threatening immediate site deletion unless we cough up a few cents for each previous post, and agree to pay a nominal monthly "account maintenance" fee going forward. Looking to establish a new Google News Alert? Cool. That'll be an initiation charge of $1 and 10 cents for every resulting e-mail, have a nice day.

It's hard to imagine significant changes in this virtuous circle anytime soon, with real companies generating real revenue (at least some of them) serving up all this benevolence. But I still marvel at how much we get for free on the Web, and am not entirely sure it isn't just a new version of the bike messenger standing at the door at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, bearing ice cream and a colorful logo to go along with an unworkable business model.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Formidable Frost

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chicken From The Back

Gwen and I cashed in miles to fly first class on our honeymoon. It was a rare indulgence and of course in addition to the bigger seats we were looking forward to a better meal. The options were steak and pasta, and at that point we were still clinging to the low-carb diet we'd adopted in the months leading up to the wedding. That regimen was quickly shelved when we arrived at our destination and were told about the nightly dessert souffle, but I digress. On the plane, we were still vigilant.

So when the flight attendant came by we both asked for the steak, and she responded that - in our 12-seat section - they had already run out of steak. But we don't want pasta, we said, and plus we're sitting up here in first class, and it's costing us like a million miles or something, so isn't there anything you can do?

"Well," she said, standing there momentarily dumbfounded. "I guess I could bring you some chicken from the back."

We declined the invitation and consoled ourselves with additional drinks and a bonus portion of warm nuts, and in the end wound up with something much better than a seasoned piece of shoe leather at 30,000 feet - namely a world class expression that still makes us laugh and is always ready to be applied to any form of indignity or frustration, particularly those related to commercial aviation.

The line ran through my mind last week, when it became clear that one or all of the three auto industry CEOs who traveled to Washington in search of a Congressional bailout for their industry should really have thought ahead and made arrangements for some Chicken From The Back.

Whatever your personal take on the situation with U.S. carmakers and how we got here, whether these guys are well-intended executives struggling to do the right thing for many thousands of workers and shareholders, or pampered incompetents of the highest order, they're clearly pretty busy at the moment.

So it makes sense - on one level - that when they were planning to travel to Washington to make their case for public assistance, they defaulted to the kind of arrangements large companies make every day when key leaders and support staff are on the move. An itinerary comes together, timetables and passenger lists are set, and the group is transported to its destination, using the equipment that has been purchased or leased for this purpose. The fact that this equipment happens to be very nice is almost beside the point. Except when it becomes the point.

Given the purpose of this trip, and other recent events (Dow at 8000, personal 401k accounts on life support and deep-tissue Verbena massages for AIG's best and brightest come to mind), it seems even more amazing that no one up or down the chain at any of these companies was able to step outside the situation and say something along the lines of, "Um... I know it's not necessarily my call, but what does everyone think about flying commercial down there?"

Congress is like a high school. I know, I used to work there. And in addition to the brilliant and motivated valedictorians and honor students wandering the halls, there are plenty of C-level grunts who are just hoping to get through next Friday's physics exam. And there's nothing quite like giving one of these middle-of-the-pack, cheerleader-bereft individuals the chance to shake a paper up and down at a cowering witness and say "na, na, na-na-na" during a high-profile committee hearing to produce a moment that captivates the public. This dynamic is only intensified when the poor saps fanned out in front of the people up there on the elevated seats are asking for something taxpayers are ultimately going to have to pay for.

In light of the clear potential for some really unfortunate imagery, it seems like an obvious play for at least one of these CEOs to have shuffled himself and his crew to our nation's capital by way of a scheduled flight out of Detroit Metro. Let's start with the outbound leg, we can see how things go in DC and make a final determination on the return later on. In any event corporate travel did confirm the presence of a Cinnabon in the food court at Dulles, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.

And the potential PR bonanza unleashed by this Business Class indignity didn't even have to be left to chance. Call up a lobbyist in a position to make a friendly suggestion to one of the interrogators, maybe one who is particularly challenged to pass that physics class, and see if they might be willing to use some of their allotted time to ask those guys sitting behind the personalized table tents how they happened to get there that morning.

Imagine the result if one (or all) of the executives would have been able to say, "I came in last night on American, flight #1173." Might just have turned the whole thing around. At the very least it wouldn't have made it so easy to demonize the ask. And shouldn't avoiding that kind of pitfall be top of mind, if you're the one doing the asking?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tickling The (Alphanumeric) Ivories

When I was in 9th grade, I signed up for an introductory typing class. My Dad predicted at the time that it would be without a doubt the most useful course of study of my entire academic career, and he was right. Nothing else even comes close.

The Periodic Table? Please. Abstract multi-colored wallpaper speaks more clearly to me at this point than that inscrutable collection of big and small letters and numbers.

French? I took five years of French across Junior High and High School and do you know how many times in my life I have used this abundance of practical knowledge? Exactly once. I remember the moment. Spring of 1987, standing in line at a McDonald's restaurant in Geneva during a brief visit with some college friends who were also doing a semester abroad (mine was in London), staring up at the menu board, frozen and dumbfounded.

From some dark recess of my mind I was suddenly able to summon the word "poisson," probably just a moment or two before the frustrated patrons behind me would have been driven to play a game called Throttle The Mute American. That was it. That Filet-O-Fish sandwich was the crowning moment - the only moment - that could even remotely be considered a payoff for all those hundreds of hours spent listening to Mr. Ethier torture us with staccato recitations of verb conjugations like "je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont..."

Typing is different. This is a skill I use all day, every day. Whether at work or at home, I feel like I'm on a keyboard all the time. The rise of the Internet and e-mail has only made this more the case. Sounds kind of strange to say it, but putting fingers to keys is almost like breathing to me.

So I was particularly encouraged when Madison came home talking excitedly about this great typing education Web site her 2nd Grade class had been introduced to during computer lab, something for kids from the BBC called Dance Mat Typing. She's only about seven years ahead of my pace in this regard, which sounds about right.

I spent a little time this morning watching her work on some of the drills, and then Ava joined in, and it was really terrific. We haven't gotten too far into it yet, they begin with some very basic QWERTY "home row" tutorials - presented in a fun and interactive style - and move on from there.

Got home from work tonight and the girls were again clamoring to get on the computer and back to Dance Mat Typing, which I thought was a very good development and time well spent. This is something we're going to encourage.

They'll get hit with the Periodic Table and Mr. Ethier soon enough.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Friday, November 14, 2008

Picture Shows

I read somewhere that people seem to like blog posts that feature lists, so here's one I've been mulling for the last couple of days, my all-time favorite movies. Feel free to discuss/debate in comments, tell your friends, subscribe to our RSS feed, send money, whatever makes you happy.

Celluloid Baker's Dozen - 13 Best Movies In My Lifetime (So Far, Random Order)

The Godfather



Animal House

Broadcast News

Ordinary People

Take the Money and Run

Longest Yard (original version – as if that needed to be said - Adam Sandler as Paul Crewe? Umm... yeah. What happened, Rob Schneider not available?)

Being There


This Is Spinal Tap

Slap Shot



Edge Of The Envelope (and, sadly, not on it):

Lost in America (For the Vegas and Hoover Dam scenes, alone)

Rain Man


Forrest Gump

Midnight Run

Wall Street

Rollerball (again, the original version - and, again, as if that needed to be said)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cloud Cover

Took this shot with the iPhone camera somewhere over Massachusetts/Rhode Island yesterday afternoon, flying back after a short trip to Boston.

Clear blue skies for the morning flight up, as we made our way back to the airport by mid-afternoon the city was dreary and cold, thick layer of clouds overhead.

But above those clouds, we found the sun.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Another Chance To Vote

Long-time visitors may remember that about a year ago this blog was a finalist for a 2007 Weblog Award in the best parenting blog category. Voting began just as we started our first ever Walt Disney World vacation, so the timing was not exactly optimal from the standpoint of mounting an aggressive worldwide ground operation and get-out-the-vote effort. We finished 10th. Out of 10.

The 2008 edition is just beginning and we're hoping for a better result this year. First step is actually making the cut (getting back to "finalist" status) and, as we understand it, this goal is aided by people out there visiting the 2008 Weblog Awards site and clicking on a little green circle that appears underneath this blog's name, effectively "seconding" our nomination.

I'm not sure why this matters to me but it does. "It makes me sleep good at night ... and that's all I have to say about that." And, really, where else out there on the Web are you going to find merged dialogue from Scarface and Forrest Gump?

So all that's needed at this point is to hit this link, which takes you to the parenting category, scroll down into the comments section and click on the little green (plus sign) circle that appears directly underneath the second comment, the "I think this world is perfect..." nomination. You could also hit the 2008 Weblog Awards button on the upper right of this page, it takes you to the same place.

And thank you very much.


(OK, merged dialogue from Scarface, Forrest Gump and Entourage)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Daddy, Who's President?"

Lying in bed this morning, just before 7 a.m., Madison walks in and the first words out of her mouth are, "Daddy, who's President?"

"Barack Obama," I responded.

Ava follows by all of 10 seconds, and the first thing she says is, "Dad, who's the President?"

"Barack Obama," I said again.

I didn't make it all the way to the speech last night, but did set the DVR to record it, and as the girls climbed into bed dialed up the footage.

We watched, and I answered more questions, and reveled in the fact that - this morning - who was going to lead our nation was the first thing they wanted to know, and that the answer to that question summoned a wild scene of celebration and historic significance worthy of America and all it is, and one that utterly mesmerized and captivated two sets of young and curious eyes.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Shine A Light On These

There are all kinds of perks that come with administering a parenting blog with a static worldwide following. Most invitations we have to turn down, bowing to a strict and inflexible ethics policy, or just good common sense.

When Disney offered us 10 days at any of their theme parks around the world - all expenses paid - to test whether or not their allegedly improved food options could sustain parents chasing after wild-eyed and over-tired children during an extended vacation, we unfortunately had to pass.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences suggested we take Madison and Ava to this year's Academy Awards, to see if their new "Oscar Toddler" early indoctrination program had any merit - complete with a live Javier Bardem reading of the "gas station coin flip scene" from No Country for Old Men - we politely declined.

But when the good people of Flashlight Worthy books somehow discovered this blog and invited us to share a compilation of our established favorites, we jumped at the chance. Took a little longer than I had hoped, but at some point last weekend we all sat down together, pulled all sorts of our most beloved tomes down off the shelves and out of their baskets and wound up with a stack of about 20 classics we have all enjoyed and cherished over the years, and a handful of series to heartily recommend. Everything from Goodnight Moon to Madison's current favorite, Katie Kazoo Switcheroo.

I was going to post our selections here as well, but I can't do justice to the amazing presentation (with cover art, Amazon links and reader reviews) that they provide over there at Flashlight Worthy.

So here, without further ado, is a link to our full list, which we're calling Madison and Ava's "Perfect" Before-Bed Reading List.

Better stock up on batteries.