Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Becoming a Golfer

Sometimes when I tell people I play golf, they'll say something like "I didn't know you were a golfer!" Problem is, I'm not a golfer. Not yet. At least not in my mind. I'm still just someone who plays golf.

There's certainly no precisely-defined border one crosses on the way from playing golf to being a golfer, but I know I haven't entered that territory yet. It's sort of like the definition Justice Potter Stewart came up with for pornography: "I know it when I see it." I'll know when I become a golfer.

Being a golfer entails a certain amount of respect for the game, its rules and its traditions. I think it also needs to be your number one game, the one for which you would forsake all other sporting pastimes. Being a golfer also requires a commitment to practice and a goal of continuous improvement. Under those criteria, I qualify. But I also think a requisite amount of skill is required to take the mantle of "golfer." And that's where I fall short.

I'm getting closer, though. The border may be a fuzzy one, but I'm beginning to sense a change in landscape that tells me I'm headed in the right direction and making progress. When I know I've gotten there, I'll let you know. But only if you ask.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hubris on Parade

Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self confidence. However, it's important to carefully examine the potential downside if there turns out to be a mismatch between self-confidence and the requirements of the task at hand.

Witness the pilot who bought a helicopter and decided to take it for a spin -- before actually learning how to fly it.

And make sure the sound is turned on so you can hear this chopper pilot's hubris.

Another Concerned Voice

Check out this from another blog, written by a friend/client of mine. I agree with him almost entirely. The question is, who else agrees with us, and how can we all unite to get our country back on track?

You might also want to read a previous post of mine, "Can the center hold?"

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Privacy vs. Solitude

Quite a few years ago (1992, in fact), I had the opportunity to interview a very smart guy named David Liddle, who had been at Xerox PARC (the famous technology think tank that basically invented the interface for personal computing as we know it) during its heyday in the 70s, co-founded (with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) Interval Research Corporation, a Silicon Valley business incubator and is now a partner with a major venture capital firm. (The interview later led to a piece I wrote for Wired Magazine.)

During that interview, I asked him what would be the prized commodity of the future. His answer? “Solitude.” What I find especially interesting in retrospect is that he didn’t say “privacy.” My guess is that he knew that battle was basically unwinnable. (Though he did give some advice in that regard: “pay with cash.”) Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems has said “You have no privacy – get over it.” With President Bush feeling it is entirely within his powers to order warrantless wiretaps, it’s probably time we all got over it.

Then, as Mr. Liddle predicted, we can narrow our search from privacy to mere solitude. Which, as he accurately predicted, is becoming ever harder to find. Sure, you can turn off your cell phone or refuse to own a BlackBerry or put yourself on the no-call list – but you better be certain you’re happy with being a part of the secondary economy, because if you aren’t fully-connected, you can’t fully contribute. Not saying that’s always a bad thing, just that many well-paying careers (and some not so lucrative ones) require almost 24/7 availability. If you want to be alone, you better have a stable source of income.

Which leads me to believe that that solitude is not rare as much as it is dear.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


poor snake
spring finally comes and then -- thonk!
the truck on the gravel road

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pho New York

A couple of weeks ago I gave a recommendation for Pho Phu Quoc, a good Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. Well, for readers on the East Coast (or anyone traveling to New York), I have a suggestion for anyone seeking their pho fix.

The place is called Cam Pho Thanh Huong. It's on Canal Street between Broadway and Lafayette. You'll find it in the back of one of the many Canal Street arcades selling jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc.

Look for this sign:

In the very back of the arcade you'll see a tiny space with about five tables and a kitchen that's barely big enough for the two people to work. No menu, just a few items on a whiteboard. Pho is great, so are the Vietnamese sandwiches. Cheap, too. You can eat well for $7 -- not something one can say often in New York.

Here's the scene inside:

Not much, I know, but I think my favorite thing about the place is that mine is the only non-Asian face I have ever seen in there.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I think I've figured out...

...why George Bush bugs me so much.

It's that he combines the worst of conservatism -- the desire to legislate morality, and to project our ideology throughout the world regardless of the world's desire for it -- with the worst of liberalism -- the idea that the solution to any problem is to throw money at it, and the need to make everyone happy. (Which is different than respecting different points of view.)

What we need is a president who combines the best of both: the fiscal responsibility and commitment to personal liberty of conservatism with the commitment to social justice and the love of community of liberalism.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Jihad comes home

I have to say, I'm really starting to worry about the fate of the world. Even my usually bouyant optimism seems to be sinking a bit. I'm afraid the rift between East and West (at least in terms of Islam vs. the rest of the world) is growing into an unbridgeable chasm which can only end in annihilation. Maybe Jesus DOES need to come back and remind us once more of the importance of tolerance.

The latest straw being loaded on the camel's back? This.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Resort Wear

As in, if we can't find a more suitable bathing suit for my daughter, we may have to resort to this.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cartoon Violence

As the Muslim world continues to torch embassies, attack and kill Christians and threaten murder on any and all associated with the "blasphemy" of putting ink on paper in patterns that perhaps suggest the way a man who lived in the sixth century might have looked, I'm beginning to lose my patience, and perhaps my tolerance. I'd like to let Muslims live freely and decide their own fates and practice their religion as they choose, but I just don't know if I can anymore. Perhaps the western media isn't reporting it, but I don't see much evidence of mainstream Muslims condemning the actions of the terrorists in their midst. I want to be progressive and rational and thoughtful; but when I see what vast numbers of Muslim people are doing in the world - and hear what they threaten to do - it makes me want to...well, I don't even feel comfortable saying what it makes me want to do.

In the meantime, go to slate.com (sorry, couldn't get the link to work) and search for a piece by Christopher Hitchens from February 4. It's one of the most impassioned pieces I've read on the subject. Here's an excerpt:

"The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species."

I'd exchange Pat Robertson for Billy Graham, but other than that, I think he's pretty right on.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Things I'd like to hear the President say (and mean them):

"I propose that this country establish programs of conservation and research into sustainable energy sources that by the end of this decade will deliver energy savings equal to the amount of oil we currently import."

"We must not sacrifice liberty for security -- or we shall surely lose both."

"It is clear that human intervention is changing the world's climate -- and likely not for the better. We must do what it takes to ensure a stable climate, not just for our children's future, but for our own."

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Olympics' Biggest Embarrasment

After meeting deadlines and being in conference calls all week, I've finally had a chance to watch some of the Olympics broadcasts I'd saved in the DVR. As I'd noted before ("An Olympic Plea"), I was concerned about how NBC would handle the coverage. I hadn't liked the coverage in Salt Lake. Of course, that could be that in 2002, I didn't have Tivo. (Actually, I don't have Tivo now. The DVR is from Comcast, but it's just easier to say Tivo.) But the point is that I've actually quite enjoyed the coverage. The personality features aren't too long (especially at FF4), and are well done.

Of course, the premiere event of the Winter Olympics, figure skating, gets lots of airtime. What I like to watch is coverage of sports that rarely if ever receive global television exposure. Sports for which there is no pro tour, no lucrative endorsement deal waiting. Fortunately, NBC has actually covered several of these events relatively completely. Cross Country Skiing, Nordic Combined (ski jumping in the morning, cross country skiing in the afternoon) Speed skating. Biathlon. (You ski a while, then stop and shoot at stuff with the rifle you've been hauling around on your back.)

Mostly I've skipped the snowboarding; it's all just too subjective for me. And there's plenty of it on ESPN2. But the Snowboard Cross is fun, because four racers are on the course at the same time. First one down wins. And even if it's a relatively new sport, the prize for first is still a Gold Medal, and it still means something to say you are an Olympic Champion.

Today's Women's Snowboard Cross found favorite Lindsey Jacobellis way out in front in the final race. So far in front she tried to showboat a bit by turning the penultimate jump into what boarders call a "Method": grabbing the rails of the board and twisting the lower body. But when Jacobellis came down, she was off balance, caught an edge and went down, allowing the Swiss racer (who'd been 50 yards behind her with 100 yards to go) to pass her and take gold. It was an awful sight -- compounded by Jacobellis's post-race assertions that she wasn't trying to showboat, that she had tried several different grabs off that jump in order to deal with a cross wind and this was just another, albeit failed, attempt. No one believes that, and Jacobellis changed her story somewhat in an appearance on NBC several hours later.

The whole situation is incredibly sad: Jacobellis in the air, counting her chickens, then spinning on her back, then lying about what she had been doing and later spinning her lies -- though not terribly effectively. Jacobellis just saw most of her endorsement deals turn into smoke. She'll go down in history as the girl who took too much for granted at the very wrong time. An object lesson in how a single bad decision can have long-lasting effects. Snowboarding certainly has a showboat aspect to it, but save it for the half-pipe. A race is a pure thing, and Lindsey Jacobellis defiled it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Freedom Fries Redux

It's clear that the Arab world is somewhat hanked off at the Danish. Burning your embassies and threatening the annihilation of your country for publishing blasphemous cartoons are two excellent clues to mood of the region, but Iran is the first to take what is clearly the next logical step: the flaky fruit-filled pastries sold at Tehran bakeries can no longer be called "danish." From here on they are to be called "Roses of the Propher Mohammed."

Freedom fries, anyone?

I find it interesting...

...the people who defend illegal FISA wiretapping by saying "If you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about" are some of the same people who are defending Dick Cheney's failure to talk to law enforcement immediately after the accidental shooting. If the Vice-President was innocent, he had nothing to worry about, right?

A must-see

Watch this: "Brokeback to the Future"

A blendo project supreme.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Winston Churchill said...

...when you're going through hell -- keep going.

One of my favorite quotes -- and one that seems fitting during this week of vice-presidential shootings, more horrors from Abu Ghraib, further bloodshed over cartoons and continuing intolerance exhibited because of the release of a movie. And just today the estimate (admittedly worst-case) that a bird flu pandemic could cause 142 million deaths and $4.4 trillion in economic losses.

Let's go a little faster.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fastest Gun in the Administration

There are lots of points of view about Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a fellow quail hunter, but I haven't seen anyone draw a comparison between it and Cheney's hawking of the war in Iraq. After all, this wouldn't be the first time he has had a target in his sights but pulled the trigger before adequately assessing the situation on the ground.

Netflix "Throttles" Back

I've been a big fan of Netflix from the beginning. Talked them up to a ton of people. I love the system -- you can keep three movies out at a time (unless you've been a customer as long as I have, and then you can have four out) and keep them for as long as you want. When you're done, you send them back in a prepaid envelope. Big movie buffs can watch a different movie every night, for one $17.99 monthly fee.

Except, apparently, they can't. Netflix has admitted that it subjects heavy users of the service to a practice called "throttling." Apparently, if you rent no more than 4-5 movies a month, Netflix makes money. If you rent 15-20 movies a month, you're a drag on the bottom line. Netflix protects its margins by slowing the turnaround time, or putting heavy users to the back of the queue for popular new releases.

Netflix has marketed themselves through one key differentiator: "Unlimited rentals." Having their system deliberately slow response to heavy users sounds like a limitation to me, and not a very honest business practice.

A Wikipedia search turned up a paper written by a software engineer who claimed throttling was taking place as early as January 2003, and did some basic testing that supported his theory.

Interestingly, the pop-under ad that appeared when I clicked to this story on CNN.com? Netflix, of course.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Google Earth Force

Google Earth may be the single most amazing use of technology I have ever seen. In case you don't know what Google Earth is, it's an interface to a visual model of the planet, created using satellite imagery. In some areas of the globe, the images are so precise you can zoom in to a street corner and see pedestrians, frozen in a moment captured some time in the past by a camera floating miles and miles above their heads. If you haven't experienced it, download it at earth.google.com and play with it. Enter the address of the house you were brought home to as a baby. Explore Manhattan from the air. Set the system to slowly fly over Puget Sound.

As I experience the wonder of Google Earth, it makes me curious as to just how detailed and real-time is the imagery the military have access to. My guess is "very." Privacy, as we knew it, is over.

However, I could think of some wonderful applications for the technology, if a few ordinary citizens were given access to the surveillance systems available to our military. (Or possibly even our weather service.) What if a retired person wanted to "adopt" a herd of elephant (or other endangered species), and monitor them by satellites, patrolling the region nearby for activity that might indicate poachers?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Brokeback Mountain" vs. "Big Eden"

I’ve read of the controversy over “Brokeback Mountain,” and find that many who oppose the movie on moral grounds (including many who haven’t seen it) do so partly because they feel it glosses over the men’s infidelity to their wives in order to focus on their love story. Most of them are missing something. This isn’t the “great, gay romantic love story” some on the right make it out to be. It's a tragic love story where no one ends up happy.

First of all, the movie gives the clear message that the shirking of responsibility has grave consequences. The first time Jake and Heath go at it in the tent, they leave the flock of sheep (which they have been hired to watch over) unattended and several are killed by wolves, foreshadowing the larger, human tragedies to come -- all of which are shown on screen.

The point of the movie isn't "look at how much these two men love each other," the point of the movie is "look how many people get hurt when you try to deny the true nature of humanity." If Jack and Ennis could have been with each other openly, everyone -- including their wives -- would have been a lot happier. The message is not that it's OK to cheat if you can’t be with the one you love, but that cheating has terrible consequences, and if we could all feel free to love whomever love leads us to, we'd all be a lot better off.

At least one Christian web site, PluggedIn, an entertainment watchdog that is part of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, got part of the message right: “You're left with the idea that these cowboy-lovers would have experienced none of this pain if only social and moral norms had allowed them to pursue their passion from the get-go.” Uh, exactly.

If you want to see a film that has parallels to “Brokeback Mountain,” but is in one way its polar opposite, check out “Big Eden.” It takes place in Montana, a setting not unlike Wyoming. Its characters move through small towns, and live life close to the outdoors. But in “Big Eden,” no one cares that the lead character is gay. Like many romantic comedies, all his friends want is to make sure he ends up with the right person. Jack and Ennis would love the place.

Friday, February 10, 2006

An Olympic Plea

The Olympic opening ceremonies took place today. I haven't watched them yet. I have them Tivo'ed. (The fast forward function and four hours of the parade of nations is a marriage made in technology heaven.) But what interests me about the Olympic Games isn't the spectacle -- it's the games.

Hence my plea: please, please, PLEASE NBC -- please show me more of the actual competition. A little background on an athlete is fine, but it should take only as long as a speed skater needs to get once around the track -- not what it takes two hockey teams to play a full period.

The real drama in the Olympics is in the competition, and we feel it from the athletes as they strive to do something they've been dreaming about their whole lives: to be the very best in the world at something.

Just show the events and the drama will come through.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Searching for good Vietnamese food in San Francisco? Look no further than Pho Phu Quoc on Irving at 19th Avenue. Simple food -- pho (noodle soups with beef broth and various combinations of meats), imperial rolls, bun (Vietnamese vermicelli salads -- great on a hot day), etc. Not as good as Vi's was, but since Thuy closed his shop a few years ago, I've had to turn elsewhere for a pho fix. PPQ fits the bill.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Original Conditions

I'm not sure what it is, but of late I have been feeling the desire to play a round of golf the way it often is in the British Isles, where the game began. In inclement conditions. I'm not after driving rain or gale force winds, but I want a stiff breeze and showers. Or at least the threat of showers. A day like this, at a place like this:

I want the elements to conspire with the golf course to try and ruin my day -- knowing there is nothing either can do that will have such an effect.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Biden says the right thing

Today on "Fresh Air," Joe Biden indicated he might be positioning himself for a run at the presidency. He said at least one thing I liked -- that the next president, no matter which party he is from, will have to unite this county once again. I hope someone can.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sauce for the Goose

Why is it that in all the uproar over the cartoon images of the prophet Mohammed, we hear very little about the many instances in which newspapers in Arab states have run viciously anti-Semitic cartoons? Where's the outrage on that score?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

"I'm telling everyone."

Ever since my daughter got a 4.0 GPA in her first semester of high school, I feel like the 85 year old guy in the joke who steps into the confessional and confesses that he slept with a 19 year old woman. When the priest finds out that he's not even Catholic, he asks "why are you telling me this?" And the old man proudly replies: "I'm telling everyone!"

Friday, February 03, 2006


The tradition of tattooing has been nearly ubiquitous in human culture. Until recently, tattooing had fallen far from favor, and was popular primarily among sailors, criminals and a handful of groups who hung on the the ancient traditions. The yakuza (Japan's mafia) often get full "body suit" tattoos in solidarity with their criminal brothers. The Maori tattoo their faces to mark the passage into adulthood and to signify social status.

However, there are very few Maori men or yakuza gangsters living in the Bay Area, which leads me to believe the current resurgence in tattooing is due in large part to the fact that it's a hip thing to do. (You can rebel and follow a crowd at the same time!)

Tradition is one thing, fashion another. My guess is that of the 1 in 7 North Americans that have tattoos, only a handful were done for reasons that are purely traditional. The vast majority were done because, on some level, it's fashionable. Maybe you're a fan of Angelina Jolie, or you think your biceps look bigger ringed with an inked-in barbed wire pattern, or all your girlfriends have something tattooed on the small of THEIR backs.

Whenever I come upon one of these fashion victims (and this time I think I can use the term literally): a 19-year old with his favorite band's name peeking out from above his collar, or a teenage girl with a mandala inked into the small of her back, I think about the fashions I adopted when I was still a teenager -- and how incredibly glad I am I don't have to wear them today. In my late teens, I had a pair of pieced denim bell bottoms that I loved. Wore them all the time, especially when I wanted to impress someone with how cool I was.

But imagine if, in 1977, I had signed a binding contract to wear those same bell bottoms every day for the rest of my life. For the rest of my life, I could wear NO OTHER pants. On every date -- which would get fewer and fewer as the years went by and the pants went farther and farther out of fashion -- I'd have to wear the bell bottoms. To weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs -- the bell bottoms. To every job interview -- which would rapidly become limited to opportunities in the fast service food and record store industries -- bell bottoms.

Now every time I see someone with a Celtic pattern tattooed on his back, or a snake inked into the skin of her ankle or even (and these are the ones that really scare me) with a tattooed face, I have an overwhelming desire to go up to them and say: "Can we talk about bell bottoms?"

Love these

They make be want to go to a black tie event, just so I have an excue to wear them. (Those are fully-functional compasses set in silver cufflinks.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Alito's First Vote

In his first vote as the newest member of the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito sided not with the conservatives Scalia, Thomas and new Chief Justice Roberts, but with the more progressive justices. Perhaps this is an aberration, or perhaps it's the first sign that Alito is relishing the freedom of lifetime tneure and may surprise his appointers -- as more than one Supreme Court justice has been known to do.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Snuck out between conference calls for a walk today. It was raining lightly, and gray and misty, like walking through a cloud. I walked into the neighborhood just east of mine, which was built in the 60s by a visionary real estate developer named Joseph Eichler. Eichler and his wife had once lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and his dream was to make Wright’s modern vision and open floor plans available to the masses. Most thought he was a dilettante and a fool, but he ended up building over 10,000 homes, most of them in the Bay Area.

The Upper Lucas Valley group of Eichlers (as the homes are now known) is one of the best in the state. This was the first development in California where utilities were underground, so the neighborhood has a clean, modern look to begin with. Visit eichlernetwork.com (or just click on the title above) to see examples of the Eichler style.

Unfortunately, over the years many of the Eichler homes have been remodeled with, shall we say, somewhat less respect for Eichler’s vision of modernism. It’s not even that the structures themselves have been extensively remodeled. What’s happened is that over the years, individual owners have made small changes that have the cumulative effect of turning them into what I’ve decided to call Yikes-lers. House after house, someone had taken off the modern house numbers and added ugly wooden things that look like they came from Yardbirds. Exterior lighting suddenly becomes colonial or mission style. The clean, single panel doors replaced by Home Depot specials that look as out of place on these modern homes as a spoiler on a Bentley.

Maybe I’m being judgmental, but I think people have forgotten there is a difference between modern and contemporary.