Monday, November 30, 2009


This video captures the vibe of what makes Oakland so cool. Sent to me via Kelly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Party

I'm on the holiday party committee at work. Not a Christmas party, a holiday party. We have to come up with themes. One of the themes I was pushing for was "Fiasco," but that seemed too vague. So I suggested a disability-themed holiday party. At the door, everyone would draw a piece of paper from a hat. Their paper would have a disability they have to pretend they have for the party. Some examples:

Partial Paralysis of the left leg
Cleft palette
Limited use of right arm
No opposable thumbs
Dwarfism (must research how this is different from midgetism)
Two left feet
Beat by father and/or uncle
Raised by wolves
Deaf in right ear
Tourette’s in Spanish (you yell bad words, but only in Spanish)
I.Q. of a Doberman (they are smart dogs)
No Liver
Social Narcolepsy
Retrograde Amnesia
Shortness of Breath
Bionic Fist
Not circumcised
Mad as Hell
Cervical cancer

Everyone else would have to guess what their disability is.

This was not the theme selected for our holiday party.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

This is the story of a moment in time, a few hours really, and its consequences. The story takes place on the wedding night of a young couple, Florence and Edward. They are staying at a small hotel on Chesil Beach, and when the time comes to consummate the marriage, well, let’s just say there is a misunderstanding. This is prudish, pre-sexual-revolution Britain, the incident is blown out of proportion, and the fears and frustrations of Edward and Florence, the same fears and frustrations of any young couple just married, manifest themselves in a pointless and stubborn argument.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Most of it, the part that leads up to and surrounds the incident itself, I found quite boring. McEwan’s writing is solid, but the Victorian sensibility of it all just isn’t my thing. But the last part of the book, when Edward is looking back on the incident many years later and thinking about how that one small moment had such a large impact on his life—that part’s really moving and relatable and masterfully executed. And it made the rest of the book worth it.

On Chesil Beach is the first McEwan I’ve read, but from what I’ve heard, it deals with a favorite topic of his—how small events, even the ones that don’t feel like events at the time, can change everything. It’s little more than a short story, really, which is the perfect length for it. If the upfront required much more investment, I’m not sure I would recommend this book. But as it is, I found it to be a quick and powerful read.


Today we went to Berkeley Horticulture and got a half pound of red worms for the compost bin. Introducing them to the worm bin was about as satisfying as buying a bunch of pet birds and watching them fly away. But they're supposed to turn the scraps that we throw in there into rich plant food. We'll see how that goes.

We also picked up a couple of bonsai trees. Terri got hers in a pot, all nice-looking and everything. I decided to be wild and crazy and got the tree by itself, an English boxwood, then got a pot, some little grassy stuff and some pumice. I made a little treescape. I want to get a miniature Japanese to watch over my tree. Despite my penchant for naming everything, I'm not sure I should name the tree. Maybe I'll just name the place. New Delaware. Maybe something.

Also of note, yesterday I tried out my new hedge trimmers and almost cut my finger off. I won't recount how, exactly, as it's rather embarrassing. I'll just say that the back stairs, door and kitchen floor were all spattered with blood and I had to run back out to the hardware store and buy a new extension cord.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter [audiobook read by Karen White]

Ever since I listened to this book, I’ve been asking my wife if we can get some chickens (or perhaps a goat, since I’m not sure how the bulldogs would do with chickens, or vice versa). The answer is a consistent and resolute “Absolutely not,” but this book makes it seem like a fantastic experiment.

Novella Carpenter moved with her husband to Oakland from Seattle, and rented a home in a not-so-nice part of the city, an area nicknamed Ghost Town for its empty lots and abandoned buildings. Next to her apartment was one of these vacant lots, in which she planted some vegetables. This was the beginning of an obsession that would eventually lead her to rooting through the dumpsters of Chinatown, salvaging food scraps to take home to her pigs.

Carpenter’s farm, in addition to producing crops, was at various times home to chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbit, pigs, goats and bees. With the exception of the bees (she’d kept bees in Seattle), all of these experiences were new to her. There’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation both in raising the animals and figuring out how to slaughter them. And that’s where the book gets really interesting. Carpenter’s obsession wasn’t just with raising the animals, but with understanding the whole process.

While most of us eat animals, we also mostly take them for granted. Carpenter didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to raise the animals and then sell them to a butcher or auction them off. So in addition to the trials of raising livestock in downtown Oakland, we get a vivid, unsettling, but ultimately very honest description of how these animals become food.

Carpenter has a witty, light-hearted but heartfelt voice, and Karen White’s read of the book fits the attitude well. I’ve recommended this book to several people. I even sent an email to the Slate Political Gabfest (they’re sponsored by audible, and their promotion was what got me hooked on audio books in the first place) recommending Farm City, and they read my recommendation on their podcast. Here’s the link to the podcast. My moment of fame came on the November 5, 2009 Gabfest at about the 18:00 mark.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Boogie Woogie Piano Festival at Yoshi's

The other day, I was driving home and heard a radio promo for the Boogie Woogie Piano Festival at Yoshi's, a jazz club in Oakland. Since I'm learning a bunch of boogie woogie on the piano, I thought it would be good to go. Fun time. Some great piano, including the amazing 96-year-old Pinetop Perkins who, according to Wikipedia is one of the two oldest touring delta blues musicians, member of the Blues Hall of Fame and recipient of Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Apparently, in the first show that night, Pinetop kept wandering out on stage before he was up. During our show, they had to go back to the dressing room and get him. He walked out assisted by a cane in one hand and a guy supporting him under his other arm. They sat him at the piano, adjusted his mic, and his giant hands just started playing.

Mitch Woods, who organized the event and played the role of MC and opening performer, said that when he picked Pinetop up at the airport, he asked him what his secret to his longevity was. "I like it here," Pinetop said.

I hope I'm able to play piano when I'm 96. Here's a short clip of Pinewood in action.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wish I Were Invited

I googled "party pics." This is by far the best party that has ever taken place.