Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Oak Project

This little fellow is a brand-new baby valley oak, Quercus lobata, which I started from an acorn. The valley oak is the largest North American oak, and in my opinion overall the most beautiful, with its vertically striated bark, broad twisting and gnarled branch architecture, and pleasingly rounded lobed leaves. Unlike our other mighty California oak, the live oak, lobata is deciduous, and every spring even the most massive giant is covered in the glowing new greenery of this photo. This particular acorn spent several months mulling it over before deciding to hoist its shoot and make a go of it. My success rate with home-grown oaks is poor, but I sure like the looks of this one.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 59

As we contemplate being sucked back into the Iraq quagmire...

PARTYUP LIVE ON SNL from VD Party Films on Vimeo.

Friday, May 29, 2015

So far, the race between really stupid automobile technology and the self-driving car...

... is being won by the stupid, such as windshield displays...

Charles McNeal

He was playing some tunes from Miles's Kind of Blue at Cafe Stritch in San Jose last night with a local all-star band. A fast, fluid, and creative soloist, he also has performed the public service to jazz saxophonists everywhere of transcribing a large number of great sax solos.

Now residing in Vegas, he gets to sit in. The fun starts at 2:30. I always loved this tune.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Happy Birthday Gladys!

This one sends a chill down my spine every time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Public service reminder: College pays!

The NYT publishes yet another annoying commentary about the lousy career prospects of college grads. Professor Bronson's heart is in the right place, and clearly she believes she is doing her students a service in her composition courses. But then we have the following:
Over all, their goals are fairly reasonable for anyone investing money and time at the university level. 
But are they realistic? 
Probably not, according to Richard Vedder, the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. “There are too many college graduates for the kinds of jobs they expect to hold,” he said.
Vedder can say what he likes, and realistic expectations are a good thing, but the bottom line is that the college premium in both pay and employment prospects is now as high as it has ever been. On top of that as a bonus you get to learn cool stuff that might make you a happier, more interesting, and more well-rounded person. Stay in school and get that degree! Does it seem like I am repeating myself? I am! See here, and here.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Not much of a sports fan, am I. No home-town loyalty either. But hoops is my favorite sport, and I gotta say I like these Warriors. I hope Curry is OK. Bad fall, gutsy game. The Rockets are doomed. Looking forward to watching Steph go up against LeBron.

Destroying California on Screen

Bring it on. Hollywood knows we can cash in on your envy of our great state. While y'all are sitting in the theater rocking your schadenfreude, just remember that heat waves, floods, and tornadoes are going to carry you away in vastly greater numbers than our measly little earthquakes. Not to mention the earthquakes you are inflicting on yourselves with your fracking. And sure, our drought will be unpleasant, but we'll get by, and then we'll charge you an arm and a leg for our wine and tomato paste.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pickle report

Not long ago I was singing the praises of Paulie's Pickles, a fine fresh pickle in a tangy-spicy light vinegar brine. But when it comes to a pickle I can be fickle, especially when the new contender is as good as Sonoma Brinery's Manhattan Style Fresh Pickles. These are the real deal, fermented in brine without vinegar, just some spices and the natural tang provided by the fermentation process. Mild, with a nice snap. It's hard for me to imagine a better basic cucumber pickle. They are ridiculously expensive for a damn pickle, but you're worth it, aren't you? And they are probiotic, so (if you believe in that sort of thing) it will make you healthier. A sense of wellbeing certainly comes over me after consuming one of these... or two... or three...

In the refrigerated pickle section of a fine grocer near you.

Friday, May 22, 2015

It's not just a generational thing

Yes, younger folks are much more comfortable with same-sex marriage than most oldsters. But the dramatic tip in support within the last decade has occurred in comparable magnitude within all generations. Indeed, the oldest cohort seems to show the largest proportional increase. Remarkable.

Plot source here. Click the link for better scaling.
<br>Which Generations Support Same-Sex Marriage...

Giant asparagus report

Dad's giant asparagus has bolted...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fun rodent fact of the day

The beaver's closest relatives are the pocket gopher and the kangaroo rat. Go figure!

Photo credit

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yellow Pad Report

Today Fuhito Kojima dropped by from Stanford to give us a primer in the theory of market design for matching markets. Well, the guy is just plain scary-smart, in addition to being ebullient, unassuming, gracious, and personable. Fuhito does high-level theory, but theory with very practical applications, such as how to design algorithms that best match kids to schools, doctors to hospitals, and so forth, taking account of the preferences of people on both sides of the market, and the possibility that they may try to game the system to get a preferred match. His presentation was completely non-technical, in the sense of relying on simple examples to develop intuition rather than theorems and proofs. He humbly noted his contributions to the literature, and pointed to outstanding unsolved problems. One suspects he will solve a few of them. Nice.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Higher ed

I could have saved some money sending my kids to one of these fine Pakistani diploma mills. But which one? Columbiana on the transcript is a little too obvious... calls attention to its fakeness. GrantTown and Headway don't ring true. Barkley? Makes me think of Sir Charles. Mount Lincoln? Not bad, but the logo is cheesy. I like the small liberal-arts feel of Hillford, but it really should have been Hillford College. Still, that's where I would have sent them, assuming they were accepted. I wonder if my tuition exchange benefits would work there?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mushroom burger and GIGAmacro

After a couple of overstimulating hours at the packed Maker Faire in San Mateo, we were ready for a drink... and defying expectations, the happy hour at Paul Martin's American Grill really hit the spot. Get yourself the vegetarian three-mushroom burger with fries and a glass of excellent beer, all for $13. The mushroom burger is basically a big pile of sauteed mushrooms glued together with some cheese, loosely squished into a patty shape, and topped with fresh arugula. Much much better than it had any right to be. The food our neighbors were eating looked just as good.

The Maker Faire featured the usual Burning Man steampunk devices belching flames... pretty cool... but my favorite exhibit was GIGAmacro's rather extraordinary robotic micro-imaging equipment. I could imagine buying one of those babies...

Let the Kids Learn Through Play

So goes the headline of this sensible NY Times op-ed. But setting aside the long-run utilitarian benefits of play... childhood is earnest and playful, magical and fleeting... a time for exploration and fun and intense experience. Isn't that reason enough not to torture our kindergarteners with drill-and-kill?

Windy Hill

It's just not spring without a hike up the Razorback Ridge Trail and across my favorite, the Lost Trail. A late rain had spruced things up a bit. Still plenty of columbines out, the unusual clintonia (pictured), and the ubiquitous and impressive cow parsnip (pictured). Also pictured, lastly, the sad state of the tanoak in the park, ravaged by sudden oak death, but opening up some vistas.


Good for you, Bostonians.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 58

Gal Costa was still a kid when she and Caetano Veloso made this album of straight-ahead gorgeous bossa nova. Within a year or two she was in the thick of the tropicalia movement... as much "Yellow Submarine" and "White Rabbit" as "Girl from Ipanema." But always the voice, that perfect instrument of hers.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why we love R...

Kieran Healy scrapes the UK election returns data from a BBC web site, cleans up the data, and maps it. Insightful, beautiful. All in R. I confess, Stata is my go-to statistical package. But could you do what Kieran did using Stata? Doubt it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jazz and country in black and white

Crossing that Great (Racial and Gender) Divide... Louis on trumpet and Lil on the piano...

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 57

Close your eyes, and let Ray Kane transport you to the islands. What a voice!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pop feminism, weak and strong versions

We saw Ex Machina this weekend. An enjoyable but lightweight film, it offers a little food for thought about the coming singularity, as well as a not very subtle feminist allegory. The limitation of this brand of pop feminism is the commercial requirement that the strong and smart female character also has to be one hot babe. The bad boys do get their comeuppance, but it's kind of a mixed message.

A far superior manifestation of powerful women in popular culture was provided last night at the Sleater-Kinney show in San Francisco. Sure, those sci-fi and fantasy chicks look like they can kick some serious ass. But that's all show-biz sleight-of-hand. On the other hand, Janet Weiss's relentless assault on her drum kit is the real thing. Not to mention the general assault on your eardrums... still ringing this morning. Ecstatic, propulsive, angry noise. Good show.