May 30, 2005

Editorial Notes (plus a few links)

Yesterday I was informed that I'm not the only one who gets to write up comments for our picture pages. So Shelby's comments have been added to the San Francisco trip page presented yesterday, color-keyed for your convenience.

But lest this entry be completely filled with rehashing of already-presented information, a handful of recently-discovered links:

Posted by Kevin at 02:45 PM

May 29, 2005

Wine & Graduation

Some pictures from our trip to the SF Bay Area last weekend. Our main mission was to see our friend Marc graduate with his Psy.D. from the California Institute for Integral Studies, but we also went wine-tasting in Sonoma the day before.

A few notes on items in my "trip report":

  • The San Francisco Chronicle has a good wine section, and most of the wineries we visited have been profiled by the Chron over the past few years: Ridge, Siduri/Novy, and Nalle. (I knew there was a reason why I liked Ridge just that little bit more — it was founded by four engineers!) As properly befits its grandiosity, Ferrari-Carano didn't just get one article, it was the centerpiece of a thirty-nine-part series of articles: "GRAPE — The Making of California Wine". The "GRAPE" archive, or the first article.
  • When oh when will Muni repair its Hamburg streetcar and put it back into service in the historic streetcar fleet? If they need parts, maybe the Schönberger Strand railroad museum could help ...
  • My favorite book at the Builders Booksource that I didn't buy: Learning Construction Spanglish.

Posted by Kevin at 09:49 AM | Comments (2)

May 27, 2005

Wash Post on Stem-Cell Research: Amen!

Thanks to a post on Reason Magazine's blog yesterday, I was pointed to an editorial in the Washington Post calling Congressman Tom DeLay on his extreme histronics in describing embryonic stem-cell research as "the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings for the purposes of medical experimentation". It goes on to call on DeLay to take a position I've advocated for a while now: if he and other Congressional Republicans believe that embryonic stem-cell research is murder, then they should outlaw in-vitro fertilization, too. From the editorial:

If Mr. DeLay really believes this, in vitro fertilization as practiced is legalized torture and murder on a mass scale. If a 5-day-old embryo is "a person," then putting it in a freezer -- let alone allowing it to expire in a petri dish or throwing it out -- should be no more acceptable for the goal of producing babies for the infertile than it is for discovering therapies that could help dying people.

. . . it's always seemed more than a little inconsistent to me that those who condemn embryonic stem-cell research as little more than one step away from Nazi medical experimentation usually blithely ignore the process that created those unwanted extra embryos in the first place -- well, sure, IVF may also be an example of unnatural science impinging on God's planned order for things, but that's a-okay, because it's for the baaaaaaaaabieeeeeees!!!

As one with a family member who may potentially see great benefits from stem-cell research, I don't want either procedure to be outlawed or onerously restricted -- but I almost hope that Republican Congressional leadership will walk out onto this plank a little further, and slice off another chunk of their support in the process. Let's not be hypocritical here, guys ...

(Rank-and-file representatives have already shown incredible chutzpah in passing a bill to peel back restrictions on stem-cell research; how long until their leadership turns down the thumbscrews to keep them in line? Will President Bush use his first-ever Presidential veto to keep this bill from becoming law?)

Posted by Kevin at 12:28 PM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2005

Anaheim Architecture Notes

To my surprise, I found out today that the "Disney ICE" skating rink a few blocks away from our house was designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry. It certainly doesn't give any clues that it was designed by a prominent world architect; it has all of the visual appeal of a pair of quonset huts, looking like something you'd order from a prefab-structures catalog, right there on page 23 next to the pole barns, one page away from the all-aluminum garages.

It could be worse, though -- we could have Gehry as a next-door neighbor. I love the inside of the house -- especially that kitchen! -- but the outside looks like a collision between a bungalow and a batting cage.

(Anaheim's "Art in Public Places Tour" also showcases these "Video Trees" -- "Video Trees show actual freeway conditions, public meeting and event information." But typical of many attempted fusions of high technology and art that I've seen, in the time that we've lived here, I've never ever ever spied one of these things actually working. "The Video Trees may prompt appreciation for the wonders of the technology." Or not.)

Posted by Kevin at 11:22 PM | Comments (2)

May 25, 2005


Harriet Klausner, Revisited: If you're a frequent customer at, odds are that you've come across the work of Harriet Klausner, Amazon's "#1 Reviewer". Harriet has 'read' and 'reviewed' over 9,000 books; most reviews are nothing but a poorly-written recap of the book, occasionally accompanied by some regurgitated jacket copy. Despite all of her 'reading', Harriet has never met a book she didn't like -- practically everything gets four or five stars.

Last year, I wondered who or what was behind the Klausner juggernaut. A few months ago, a Wall Street Journal writer wondered the same thing, interviewed her, and wrote a profile.

"The only days she doesn't read four books are the days she reads five ... " How can you even pretend to 'read' four or five books a day?

The LEGO Power Builder Comes To California: When we visited Legoland Billund during a trip to Denmark last year, our favorite ride was the Power Builder (scroll down to the bottom of the page), a "build-it-yourself" ride that consisted of a couple of seats attached to the business end of a programmable robotic arm. Now the Power Builder has come to Legoland California, where it'll be called the "Knight's Tournament". Reason enough on its own for us to go back to Legoland? Probably not. But it was a lot of fun when we rode it in Denmark!

Posted by Kevin at 09:41 PM

May 19, 2005


I break my silence to present you with: Beaglemania!

(Whee -- look at all of that dynamic HTML! That is soooo 2000, man.)

Now it's back to being silent again, for at least a few more days. (Don't worry, it's not you -- it's me ... )

Posted by Kevin at 09:40 AM

May 15, 2005

Around The House (With Pictures)

Shelby already mentioned that we finally filled up our spa a few days ago. The water has finally calmed down to the point that it looks like something I'd want to sit in; however, testing shows that our 'floating brominator' has not yet transferred any measurable amount of chemical to the water. Hopefully extreme measures are not required. I know that spa chemicals shouldn't be a difficult thing; still, I worry about striking a balance between not burning off our houseguests' skin with caustic chemicals, and not having them lose it to some mysterious skin-eating bacteria that we've been incubating in the pipes underneath the spa . . . am I being paranoid?

But the spa isn't the only thing that's been happening around Chez Hogan recently! First -- the bounty of the natural world:

My rose pruning back in March seems to have paid off; the entire front of our house is lined with roses, unbelievable in their quantity and diversity. And other than watering them regularly (see below), I haven't done a single thing to them since then. Everyone else on the block covers their flowerbeds with mysterious stuff and pays an army of illegal-immigrant gardeners to show up every week and cut/trim/weed/edge/blow/sweep their yards into perfection; I just go out with our push mower every now and then once the grass starts looking a little ratty (like it is in this picture). And despite the lack of individualized attention, our yard just keeps on keepin' on ...
Peaches! They have been tried and verified as good-to-eat. Finally, one of our other fruit trees besides the two lemon trees starts producing fruit. Why is it that the lemon tree is always the most prolific tree in the garden? Once you've made a few lemon meringue pies, and had a few pitchers of fresh-squeezed lemonade, and provided a slice of lemon next to every seafood dish, that's it — you're all lemoned out for a couple of months. But yet the tree keeps producing. If I were a geneticist, I'd make a tree that only grows ten lemons at a time, or produces on a one-month-off/one-month-on cycle ...

And now on to lighting:

We jazzed up a couple of our single-bulb-pendant light fixtures by replacing their Home Depot bargain-bin shades with a couple of shades that we bought at Omega Too in Berkeley.
Shelby's way from the house to the garage is now lit at night by a set of solar-rechargeable blue LED lights. I was a little nervous when I first bought them, because when I was standing in line at Costco, some little old lady appeared out of nowhere, slapped the box in my cart, and said "y'know, we bought a set of these lights last summer, and they didn't work worth a damn. Had to take 'em back". (Someone suddenly materializing to provide unsolicited public criticism: how German!

My reply: "Well, I'll be sure to save my receipt, then!"

They work fine. They're not mini-spotlights, or anything as bright as you'd get from stringing cable and setting up a traditional low-voltage lighting system (which is maybe what that lady was expecting), but they keep the path lit up.

And the big one: in our dining room, we replaced this: . . . with this! (And there was much rejoicing.)

Miscellaneous Geekery:
As previously mentioned, we took advantage of a county rebate program to replace our previous sprinkler controller with a WeatherSet WSR8, which uses a sun/rain sensor to adjust watering cycles according to local weather conditions.

It's got a user interface that only a hardcore geek could love, but it seems to be working great so far.

Posted by Kevin at 09:28 AM | Comments (2)

May 12, 2005

Downtowns, Past and Present

And as far as talk about "future downtowns" goes, I think that Anaheim's just burned that they replaced their actual downtown (1971) with this (ca. 1985).

Had they held on for just a decade or two more, they could've had a hip, nostalgia-filled focal point, like downtown Fullerton or "Olde Towne" Orange ...

Posted by Kevin at 12:10 PM

Anaheim In The News

The Orange County Register had a slew of stories yesterday on Anaheim's grandiose plans to have the "Platinum Triangle" area near Anaheim Stadium become Orange County's "future downtown". (As usual, the Register is registration-encumbered, but solves that problem ...)

According to a study commissioned by the city of Anaheim, Anaheim was found to be the most profitable site for a new NFL stadium. Surprise of surprises! The other sites considered were the LA Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, and a vacant landfill in Carson.

However, one of their sports columnists opined that Anaheim will have to "wait its turn" and that the new-NFL-team prize will go to the Coliseum.

And here's an overview of planned development in the "Platinum Triangle" area. City officials detail just how grandiose their visions are, airing hopes that a planned "Grand Parkway" connecting Anaheim Stadium and the Disneyland/Convention Center areas will become "an urban boulevard like the Champs Elysées in Paris or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, featuring bike trails, walkways and shops". Huh? Have any of these people been to the Champs Elysées? Or even Commonwealth Avenue? I'm envisioning that the "Grand Parkway" will end up as yet another fantastically boring 50-mph OC street lined with high-density condos and parking garages, with the occasional Blockbuster, Starbucks, or cellphone store showing up as first-floor retail.

And Anaheim Stadium makes a lousy Arc de Triomphe.

(To me, the most interesting item in that article is its mention of a potential third Disney themepark. What would we get? I'd think that the non-success of Disney's California Adventure would have wiped even tentative plans off of the books ...)

Whatever happens, city councilman Harry Sidhu might be my new local hero:

  • "'I would love for them (the NFL) to come here, but they have got to pay the price,' City Councilman Harry Sidhu said. 'My vision is, if the NFL does not want to pay the price, this property is going for sale.'"

  • Sidhu's impromptu speech, welcoming the NFL, but "not at the taxpayer's expense," embarrassed a few of those in the room Tuesday. "As far as I'm concerned, I would not put a dime in to build an NFL stadium," Sidhu said, his voice tinged with anger.

    Privately, officials explained the other four members of the city council are all pro-NFL and not nearly as emotional about the situation.

. . . go Team Sidhu! Has a stadium deal ever been a good deal for a city's taxpayers? Has any stadium deal ever come close to offering a fraction of the benefits promised by its boosters? I'm sure that if the NFL does come to Anaheim, the city will end up shoveling millions into stadium development (steamrollering right over any objections from anti-NFL, 'emotional' locals), only to have its shiny new NFL team turn around a couple of years later to stab them in the back by insisting that if the city doesn't build new luxury skyboxes/make tax concessions/give up a greater share of parking lot revenue, well, we'll just have to up and move the team to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Not that we want to do this, or that Fort Wayne is better than Anaheim, but you just know how these things are ... now how about those skyboxes again?

Posted by Kevin at 12:00 PM

May 11, 2005

Catching Up On Pictures

At long last, my remaining pictures from Hamburg and Berlin.

A few notes beyond what's in the picture pages themselves:

  • U-Boats:While touring U-434, I was struck by how similar it seemed to -- and in some cases, how it seemed more primitive in comparison to -- U-505, the captured German submarine on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, despite the fact that U-505 is 35 years older. Is this a statement on the capability of Soviet industry, or just testament to the fact that there's only so much that you can do, design-wise, when you're stuffing a collection of wires, pipes, and gauges inside a steel tube?

    Also, in searching for "U-Boat Hamburg" (because the official U-434 site is lousy -- look! An animated map of our parking lot!), I found out about Hamburg's "Elbe II" U-Boat bunker, destroyed by the British occupation forces at the end of the war with three submarines still inside. Until recently, when the remnants of the bunker were filled in by its current owners, it was still possible for the brave and/or foolhardy to enter the bunker at low tide and climb around on the submarines!

  • The Stasi: A plug for the book Stasiland, by Anna Funder: horrifying and surreal tales of East Germans' experiences with the Stasi. It's received many accolades from the press, and deservedly so. The Guardian has a first-chapter excerpt here, although it's not until after the first chapter that things really get moving.

  • Miniatur Wunderland: It's exciting to see my favorite Hamburg attraction expanding to become even more gigantic. And they've got ambitious plans for the future. Unfortunately, though, the future expansion that I'd most like to see, "Underground" -- U-Bahn trains in tunnels! Goldmines! -- isn't scheduled for construction until 2009! I'll go put that trip on the calendar right now ...

Posted by Kevin at 12:32 PM

May 06, 2005

With A Crowd Like This, It Just Feels Like A Small World ...

Shelby was out last night meeting her friend Nell for dinner, so I thought that I'd run some errands and then maybe head over to Disneyland to see what was happening for the opening night of their 50th anniversary celebration.

May 5th isn't actually the the 50th anniversary of Disneyland -- that'll be July 17th -- but it's the date they picked to kick off the eighteen months of fireworks, special events, and the like that are centered around the occasion. 05/05/05 definitely sounds like a more auspicious date -- plus, since Disneyland's 50th is supposed to be a worldwide event at all of the Disney parks, it won't confuse any of those wacky furriners who put their dates in the wrong order.

It was supposed to be crowded -- celebrities! Special ceremonies! Radio and TV coverage from all over! During the day, there were supposedly so many people there that they filled the parking structure (an incredible feat, considering that the thing is so big that it has to be visible from space -- compare the size of the structure [the greyish rectangle in the upper left] to that of Disneyland itself). I had an easy time getting in, however, so it wasn't until I was on Main Street, USA that I realized just how big the crowd actually was:

. . . this was twelve Grad Nights and a New Year's Eve put together. I'm pretty sure that it was the most people that DL's ever managed to pull in for a cold, dampish mid-week evening.

I still entertained the thought that I might leave before the big fireworks show started, but after a little while of swimming against the stream, I looked behind me and realized that I was stuck -- there wasn't any way that I'd be fighting my way back through that until some of those people started to leave.

Others around me had some more extreme reactions. I was almost knocked to the ground when a big guy -- he must've been 300 pounds or so -- slammed into me from behind. Somebody asked him if he was all right, and his answer was "Too many people! I gotta get away from all of these people!" before he resumed elbowing and shoving his way through the crowd. (Jerk. From his reaction, you'd think we were in the middle of an English soccer riot or stuffed into a subway car, but despite the crowds, everybody still had some personal space.)

After some effort, I made my way up to the "hub" -- the traffic circle where Main Street ends, with Sleeping Beauty's Castle at the head and the gateways to the various "lands" on either side. I was surrounded by more-Disneyer-than-thou enthusiasm -- on my right, I had a clot of former "cast members" ("this is definitely a crowd -- but let me tell you about this one night that I was working Fantasmic in the middle of summer, and ..."); on my left, I had the hardcore fans, wearing T-shirts with the URL for some Disney fan site, with their Premium Annual Passes around their necks, comparing their various collectable pins ("Well, this one is an extremely limited-edition pin made solely from atoms taken from Walt Disney's exhumed corpse, and you could only get it by attending a very special invitation-only VIP AP breakfast that was held at six in the morning at ...") I kept my eyes on the clouds; it had been raining earlier in the evening, and if the rain appeared again and they had to cancel the fireworks, there'd be a full-scale riot.

After passing the longest twenty minutes ever, the fireworks began. It was the best fireworks show ever! There were all kinds of special effects -- rockets, pillars of fire, giant spinning pinwheels, lasers, pictures projected onto the castle and the Matterhorn, fireworks in all different shapes (Mickey's head, happy faces, hearts, boxes) -- themed to sounds and music from various Disneyland attractions through the years. Even some narration from Adventure Thru Inner Space and the remain-seated warning from the Matterhorn ("Remain seated please -- ¡permanecer sentados, por favor!") made an appearance.

The best thing was that this wasn't your traditional high-up-in-the-sky fireworks show, but an immersive experience. There are lots of fireworks and effects down low (part of Fantasyland is closed for the show; it's amazing they didn't set anything on fire!), and, if you're standing in the hub, fireworks all around -- even behind -- you.

Then the show ended, the lights went up, and it was back to that ol' cattle-car feeling as I waited (and waited ...) for things to clear up enough to move around. We'll definitely be going back to see the show ... but maybe after some of the newness -- and the crowds -- have subsided!

Posted by Kevin at 11:53 AM

May 02, 2005

Improv Everywhere

And because I'm going to vanish unaccountably from blogworld for at least a few more days, here's the latest installment of "Amusing Things I've Found On The Web": Improv Everywhere.

IE is a NYC-based group whose "agents" go on "missions" around the city: impromptu pieces of humorous performance art.

My favorite 'missions' so far:

  • McDonalds Bathroom Attendant, in which a man in a tuxedo sets up a high-end attendant's station (soaps, lotion, towels, peppermints, etc.) in the men's bathroom of the Times Square McDonald's. Management is not in the least perturbed; at worst, they think he's merely in the wrong McDonalds.
  • Anton Chekov, in which famed Russian playwright Anton Chekov does a reading at the Union Square Barnes and Noble (hint: Chekov died in 1904).
  • Megastore, in which all of the listening stations in a Virgin Megastore are taken over for synchronized dancing. This is so menacing (although nobody can say why) that the police are called.
  • Dollar Dudes: they're on the subway, and they want to give you a dollar -- for free! Then Los Hombres Del Peso show up, and inter-currency warfare ensues.
  • Offshore Gambling: ... from a rowboat in the middle of a pond in Central Park.
  • Circle Line Tours: Tour New York City by water! Via two rubber rafts in the Union Square fountain, that is. Features a dramatic high-seas rescue when one of the rafts springs a leak.
  • ... and there's more, much more.

... to tie this to a previous blog entry, IE appeared on a recent episode of This American Life.

Posted by Kevin at 09:39 AM

I'm Alive, and Lingering Questions

Just in case anybody's been worried/wondering, I did make it back safely from Hamburg. After my week of work, I spent a couple of tourist days (one in Hamburg, one in Berlin — pictures coming soon), and then had an uneventful flight back to LAX this past Monday.

Everybody at home seemed very happy to see me; Digory, in particular, hit some notes in his welcome-home baying that I wouldn't have guessed that he was capable of making.

Some lingering questions about Germany that my short trip was unable to resolve:

  • So what is it with the whole no-public-drinking-fountains thing?
  • Why is it called Germanistik, and not, say, Deutschistik?
  • At current rates, how long will it be before every single retail space in Hamburg has been converted to an H&M? (There are four outlets in downtown Hamburg that are within very easy walking distance of one another; on my next trip, I'll be expecting to see two H&Ms built across the street from each other, or occupying different floors of the same building ...)
I did not bring back enough.
Posted by Kevin at 08:49 AM