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Friday, October 13, 2006

Surprising news: I'm a Republican

Today I would like to write, briefly, about politics. Tonight, the Santa Monica Public Library hosted a talk with John Dean. As he put it, "For those of you under 45 years of age", John Dean was counsel to President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Dean, if nothing else, was a brilliant speaker, and full of interesting comparisons between today's political climate and that of 1973. He continued to be terribly critical of the current conservative Republicans, and has written some interesting articles which you can read on findlaw.com. At some point during the presentation he mentioned the notion of 'Goldwater Republicans', referring to the political leanings of Senator Barry Goldwater, as Mr. Dean claims to be very close friends with Senator Goldwater's son. He also claims that the title of his recent book, which I will give below, is something that Senator Goldwater coined. 'Goldwater Republican' is something I had heard about before, and wondered what it meant, and I wrote it down to research later. Finally, we purchased a copy of his book "Conservatives Without Conscience" which I intend to move to the top of my list.

My wife absolutely loved the talk. When she was young, she spent the summer of 1973 stuck in front of the television watching the televised presentation of the Watergate congressional testimony. When she had Mr. Dean autograph a book to her mother, she told him that watching him on TV helped her become a legal services attorney; that his honesty and public accountability made a long-lasting impression on her.

After the talk, Beth and I walked to get something to eat, and I asked her: "What's a Goldwater Republican?"

"Well, it's sort of like Schwarzenegger. You know, socially liberal, big on privacy. Kind of like you You're a prototypical Goldwater Republican".

Clearly my wife was both complimenting me and answering my question at the same time. Fascinating. I've only done minimal research on Barry Goldwater, including only briefly perusing his entry in wikipedia. Being labeled like that is a little disconcerting, for sure, but something I can label myself will help me believe there's a political stance I can take, even if it's one that has had no power since 1980. The following is obvious: I've no objection to the notion of Republican politics, I just can't stand what it's become. Being too young to understand Republican politics pre-Reagan, I merely understood there was an alternative, I just never knew what it was.

I don't know what this is going to do to my political leanings at all, but this talk did exactly what it should; I've walked away with very important questions, as well as a couple of answers.

In addition Mr. Dean also confided in me that he loves Google Desktop Search and tells his friends so. According to his bio in findlaw.com, he works in Beverly Hills. I hope to bring him to the Santa Monica office sometime soon.

Finally, thanks to the folks at the Santa Monica Public Library for the great work they are doing providing a great service by educating the public, and particular thanks to Robert Graves, whom I understand did all the work making this event happen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why You Should Pay Your Bills

So this story starts with a shameful admission. I've become bad at paying bills. I used to be great at it, now not so much. I think it's related, in part, to moving in with Beth, who likes to keep things neat whereas I like to keep all my papers in piles, everywhere. No matter, it would be unfair to accuse her of being responsible for my inability to pay bills.

Usually this doesn't amount to much, but on Thursday, my wife came home to find out that our gas had been turned off. OK, no big deal. So Friday morning, I walk over to the gas company office, (which, conveniently, is directly across the street from my office) and paid the bill. A subsequent phone call to the office was all I needed to arrange to have the gas turned back on, but nobody would come by until Monday. So I showered that morning in the office (which is not as bad an experience as you might expect) and figured I'd get by for the rest of the weekend. Beth was happy with this, it meant we had no reason to eat at home. All our meals would be out. She was unhappy with not having hot water for tea. We couldn't figure out how to get past that. See, we don't own a microwave. I suggested to Beth that maybe it would be OK if we put a mug of water in the toaster oven, but that was met with a ridiculous look.

The problem, though, was that we had a house guest that night. So I called her and told her, "Hey, you can stay over, but uh ... see ... we have no hot water. So no shower." Our guest was unfazed: "No problem! I'll still visit and shower when I go home on Saturday." OK, that worked. Saturday morning, we actually went swimming, and there was a shower at the pool. So OK so far. However, last minute, we had a young man stay with us Saturday and Sunday night.

We checked the faucets. There was still some hot water. Great, the tank hadn't emptied, and fortunately remained warm. We told our second guest, "you use the shower, but not too much, make sure there's some water left for Sunday." We rinsed dishes in cold water and piled them up in the sink for a proper washing on Monday.

Our guest had enough hot water for a shower Saturday night and even for Sunday morning!

Monday morning, I stayed home to wait for the gas company engineer to turn on the gas and relight the pilots. It's an understatement to say that I was ready for a shower. Around 10:30, he shows up and asks me which appliances he needs to address. "The stove, the dryer, the hot water heater ..." and so on. He wanders around the house a bit to start on the appliances, comes back and says, "You do realize your hot water heater runs on electricity, right?"

Monday, June 19, 2006

Our Anniversary

In May I attended my first JavaOne conference. It was a wonderful experience and I feel more educated for it. In general I've not attended technical conferences and I am beginning to see them as perfect for where I am in my career.

The nice thing about JavaOne, which I'm sure applies to many other conferences, is that they keep you busy, pretty much all day, from 8AM to Midnight. After a couple of days I was totally exhausted, and I eventually got sick. But this story has nothing to do with that.

The point is, I got to see my good friend Amy. She didn't attend JavaOne, but she lives in San Francisco and there was no way I was going to miss visiting her. But I was so tired, so utterly exhausted from the conference that it was hard to find time for her.

Finally, I called her one afternoon. "I'm free this evening. I'd love to meet you somewhere, but if you came to the hotel -- I hear they have a nice restaurant."

Amy was more than willing to travel, and we wound up having a great time.

I asked her how she was. "Great," she said. "Kim and I are celebrating our five-year anniversary."

"No," I said. "You haven't been with Kim for five years, you've been with her for six."

Amy disagreed. "No. It's been five years."

I persisted. "No. It's six. Right? Cause you got together with Kim just shortly after I started dating Beth, and that was six years ago. In fact, today is the anniversary of our first date."

Amy said, "No... wait. Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. It's six years. Beth and I are six years, so you and Kim are six years."

"Wow," said Amy.

"Right. Because Beth and I met in 2000, and ... so that's ... no ... wait ... we met in 2001 ... it's not six ... OH NO!"

Amy said, "What?"

I covered my face with my hands, "Oh, man!"

"What?" said Amy.

So I told Amy, "Oh, man, I can't believe it. See, OK. A couple of weeks ago, Beth was lying on the bed, and I told her, I said 'Beth, you know what I just realized? You're going to be in Montreal during the anniversary of our first date, and I'm going to be in San Francisco, so we're going to miss it.'"

'Aww...' said Beth.

'Yeah,' I said. Then I paused to lay my trap. 'Can you believe we've been together for four years?'

Beth said, 'Wow. I can't believe it was that long.'

Now I had her trapped, so I said, triumphantly, 'You big dummy! I can't believe you don't remember! It hasn't been four years, it's SIX!'"

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Google releases something awesome

Oh, man, have I been wanting to talk about this.

This week some brilliant folks at Google released the Google Web Toolkit. This thing makes me excited to be a programmer again. Let's face it, writing Java that turns into JavaScript and HTML? That's wonderful. I don't know really know HTML (does anybody really know HTML?) and I surely know less JavaScript, but I do know Java, so when I saw the Web Toolkit released internally as a beta, I gave it a try.

The first time I wrote a piece of code that both displayed on a browser, and ran through the Eclipse debugger, I saw the magic. Then I showed it to people in my office. Several times. Anytime someone asked. They, too, saw that it was 'magical.' There's potential in this tool, and, I can't wait to discover what people will do with it.

Then I started working on it. With all my free time. My wife misses me. I've written some sample applications, for my own edification, and to help the team find bugs, both in the implementation and documentation.

Take a look at the product, and don't forget to check out the blog and consider joining the mailing list.

Monday, May 01, 2006

More at the Correspondents Dinner: George W. Bush

To be fair, George Bush was fairly self-deprecating, and kinda funny. His presentation was also on YouTube as a single ten-minute presentation.

I've thought a bit more about the two presentations. Bush clearly got more laughs, and was willing to make fun of his foibles and those of his administration ('I survived the White House shakeup!') while Colbert really did meet much more dead response. I think Colbert had a difficult job: balancing the character he portrayed on the show with presenting to the attendees, a very specific audience. His routine was wrong for the audience to which he presented. I sure didn't laugh very much either, as I was sort of stunned with his jokes, which *were* funny, but impressively scathing. I applaud his choices, and hope he doesn't find himself on the unemployment line like Bill Maher and Phil Donahue. Maybe they'll just demote him back to working with Jon.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner

Many of you are already aware of the speech given by Stephen Colbert (of the Colbert Report) at the White House Correspondents Dinner. If you haven't seen it, it's a bistering attack, primarily pointed at President Bush and the White House, pretty much right in the president's face.

Stephen Colbert's presentation can be seen in three parts on You Tube:
I made a point of writing to Comedy Central to congratulate Stephen Colbert for his bold presentation, and suggest people do the same. The more positive responses Comedy Central receives, the less likely Colbert receives any sort of punishment, public or private. Here's what I wrote:
OK, this is not his show, per se, but Congratulations to Stephen for refusing to pull punches at the Correspondents Dinner. Our first amendment is one of the few things keeping the ideals of this country together, and the ability for Stephen to make his statements, farcical they may be, allows people to consider the benefit of public contrary opinion. Thank you, Stephen, for what I presume will be your last presentation at the Correspondents Dinner. *sigh*
If you would like to make a comment that Comedy Central receives, I recommend you use their Comment Form.

Monday, February 27, 2006

IM with my nephew

(17:34:45) Rob: punkorama
(17:34:45) Nephew: y
(17:34:48) Rob: y!
(17:34:49) Nephew: y
(17:34:50) Rob: Ha ha
(17:34:52) Nephew: stop
(17:34:53) Rob: caught your input
(17:34:54) Nephew: y
(17:34:56) Rob: stop
(17:35:01) Nephew: i hate u
(17:35:04) Rob: I love you!

Celebrity Sightings Galore!

Something surreal happened on Saturday:

Saturday night we went to Genghis Cohen with our friend Nancy and her good friend Dan, in advance of an evening of improv at Bang. Sitting right next to us was William Shatner. Wow! Talk about iconic! He was having dinner with a woman whom I did not want to disturb. So, OK, wow. Based upon the way both tables were placed and everyone was seated, when William Shatner spoke to his dinner date, his voice headed straight for me. Wow, what a voice! Deep and boomy! Boom! Boom! Boom! This, by the way, is not the surreal part.

THIS is the surreal part. The TV in the bar was just barely in my sight, and some entertainment program was on. The program was showing a then-and-now retrospective of 70's TV stars, including ... yeah, you guessed it, William Shatner. Literally, I looked at the TV, then I looked at William Shatner, then back at the TV then back at William Shatner, until the program no longer showed pictures of William Shatner; they showed pictures of Ron Howard.

Here's a good time to better explain how everyone was sitting, through the magic of Microsoft Paint:

I really wanted to say hello. I wanted it so bad that I was willing to go beyond the fear that stopped me from talking to girls all through college. I asked my wife for advice; should I just turn to say hello? I whispered in her ear. "I want to say Hello, and I want to do it now; is it a good idea?" She whispered in Nancy's ear, but it took much longer. Nancy whispered in Dan's ear. I said to Beth, "You sad something else!" "Yes," Beth said, "I said 'Rob says he wants to say hello but isn't sure, and is behaving like a five-year-old about it.'"

Dan whispered back to Nancy, who whispered to Beth, who told me that I should wait until he was ready to leave the restaurant, so he could finish his dinner in peace. This made the most sense. Thank god he got up to leave, like, ten minutes later.

As William Shatner went for the door, I went after William Shatner and said, "Hi, I didn't want to disturb you at dinner, but I just wanted to say hi." William Shatner was nice, and said, "Thank you, thank you," still moving for the door. Then trying to be brief, I said, "I saw all your movies on opening night. The Star Trek ones." William Shatner said, "Oh my goodness." Actually that wasn't correct: I was actually trying to be brief. I meant to say, "I saw all of them, except the first two, cause I was too young, and the ones without you I didn't see on opening night" but in retrospect, that correction makes just as much a dweeb, or more of one, depending on your opinion.

To add to the bizzare nature of the evening, I saw one of my co-workers in the restaurant as I was paying, which is bizarre because she works in Mountain View.

On to Sunday morning.

Sunday morning I got an email offering me Lakers tickets. I spoke with Beth and jumped on them. Here was my second set of celebrity sightings, and I don't mean the Lakers. A brief list of the people who we saw at the game:
You may not know Xander Berkeley, and Beth and I did not know him a week ago, but he plays George Mason on "24". Just that morning, we were watching his character's swan song (spoiler post-alert!)

George Wyner, well, you know him. He's a character actor that's been on lots of stuff. The woman next to me was positive that it was Larry David, but Beth and I agree she was not correct. Neither of us could place him, but we knew he was "that guy". Finally, I remembered he was in the movie Spaceballs, and finally found him through a site called hey it's that guy.

There were a couple of other actor spots, but none that we could identify.

By the way, we all agreed that William Shatner looked much better in person than he did on television.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Update

  • I've been working. Alot. Much. Late. Many nights. Mostly fighting with XML, XPath, DOM and Namespaces. I'm just learning all of this, and while I realize I'm coming late to the party, I've learned a few things, and have written a few things, some of which my coworkers have called 'cool'. That's kinda nice.
  • Beth and I are watching TV shows on DVD now; we've burned through Lost and now we're on to 24. Not bad. Lost is kind of a teaser, 24 is pretty great.
  • I've started a Design Patterns discussion group within the office. This one is going pretty well, and I'm pleased with my own learning. Had I not stepped up to do this, if I were merely a participant, I wouldn't have nearly the mastery of the content. Plus, some of the less experienced engineers are coming to the class, and their questions, while easy for me to answer, have reinforced my own knowledge of the subject material. Nice, nice nice.
  • I got promoted. Yay!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Poor Steve

I just read a review of a trailer for the new Pink Panther movie. I don't expect it to be any good, and I agree that Steve Martin has struggled to remain relevant in the last several years (Cheaper By The Dozen?) But I believe this slight was undeserved:
Playing Clouseau this time is Steve Martin, who I enjoy in the Naked Gun films, but damn, this Pink Panther looks like it would be lampooned in a film from the Naked Gun series. I mean, he looks like W.C. Fields in a trenchcoat in this film!
If you're not in on the gaffe, it's this: Steve Martin was not in any of the Naked Gun films; that's Leslie Nielsen. The author may be referring to this other actor from the Naked Gun series. Poor Steve!

He still writes great essays. That is, Steve does. I don't even know if Leslie can write.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Books

Just finished: Dawn, by Elie Wiesel. Sad and thoughtful, what is it like to kill someone in the name of justice?

Finished recently: Freakonomics. Not a bad book as a springboard for discussion, but I can't fully recommend it until they provide a little more data, and a little less self-promotion.

Currently reading: The Hidden Language of Baseball. The history of signs and sign-stealing in baseball. I don't actually watch baseball anymore, but the notion of communicating simultaneously in public and in secret interests me. I wish the book spent more time on mechanics than history, but I'm still finding it fun.

Currently reading: Night by Elie Wiesel. My wife doesn't want me to subject myself to such sadness. It's my second reading, and it has become a sadder book with age.

About to read: Head First Design Patterns. This is a technical design book which I am reviewing with the intent of reviving our office's Design Patterns discussion group. I've heard great things about this book, I'll know more soon.

The Getty Villa


Today was special. My wife's friend Paula has been working on the Getty Villa restoration project for the last several years. Tomorrow is the first day that the Villa will be opened to the public. Today, however, Paula brought about 15 of her friends on a private tour. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

A little background: The Getty Villa was the original Getty Museum before it was relocated to its home high above the Sepulveda Pass. In 1996 the Getty Villa was closed to begin this long restoration project.

Corbin Smith, head of the Getty Villa Project Team, led our tour, and was full of knowledge about the history of the museum, the negative reviews by critics of the original Villa, and how the selected architects chose to embrace the existing architecture rather than abandon it altogether.

I should say something about the architectural style, at least, as much as I can with my limited vocabulary. The experience of entering the museum is designed to look like the museum itself is an uncovered excavation. The colors and layers change as you descend to the lower levels to mach that impression. The cafe upstairs is designed to invoke the notion of a makeshift overhang where excavators would relax. Corbin called all of this conceit, and by that he probably meant it as "an elaborate poetic image or a far-fetched comparison of very dissimilar things."

The work they have done is astounding. Items of note: the outdoor theater, the indoor theater. The staircase made from bronze, the wonderful tiled floors and ornate ceilings. The gardens are awesome, and by that I mean they filled me with awe. The roman (greek?) blown-glass exhibit was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Our tour concluded with a visit to the room dedicated to showing the original drawings of the various architectural teams competing for the restoration project, and detailed scale models of the final project. Corbin was knowledgeable, interesting, and clearly enjoyed himself throughout this project.

A little sadness darkens this wonderful reopening: some of the artifacts which Italy is insisting it wants back are part of the collection in the new Getty Villa.

I cannot wait to go back, although it can't possibly match the calm, quiet and clean atmosphere of the empty grounds. Tickets are free, but must be obtained in advance. The exhibit is currently sold out of all scheduled showings through July.

Thanks, Paula!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Choices to make while packing

If one is travelling for eleven days, does one pack five pairs of underwear, or six? Why does one think about this at 12:10AM when the flight is 7 hours later?