June 28, 2006

New Hat For A Swelled Head

So I need a wide-brimmed hat for backpacking. Looking around, I think that maybe I'll even go for the gold and get a snappy number like this. But before I can buy any hat, I need to know my hat size (beyond "really big"), so I have Shelby take my measurements.

Hmm. I measure out at 65 cm (25.59 in), which is not only 5 cm more than the largest available size of that snazzy Austrian hiking hat, it's over a half-inch past where most US hat-sizing charts end — at size 8, which is 25".

Maybe I'm stuck with having to go to bigheadcaps.com.

Posted by Kevin at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2006

Notes From San Jose

We spent last week in lovely San Jose; the original excuse was a wedding on Saturday (of one of Shelby's friends from her days at IBM), and we bracketed that with a week of work for me (best not to let my paymasters up at HQ forget what I look like) and a trip up to visit our friends Marc and Wendy in Sonoma County, where Wendy runs a Christian camp and Marc works as a therapist.

(We'll have to put up some pictures from the trip soon; I've been doing a really poor job at putting any pictures up on our website for months and months now.)

It was during this trip that I finally hit on what San Jose reminds me of — a miniature version of Berlin! Like Berlin, San Jose appears wealthy and prosperous to the casual observer, with lots of high-profile, flashy building projects to catch the eye. But yet, if you look a few streets over from the shiny new buildings, things are vacant, derelict, and forlorn. (The comparison falls down in that you can't find cheap rent anywhere in San Jose. But you could probably squat in an empty storefront or office for quite a while before anyone noticed.) San Jose even has its own Reichstag dome — but not having a historic building to put it on top of, they built it at ground level and called it their City Hall.

Across the street from that shiny multi-million-dollar City Hall is the empty shell of an Albertsons — downtown's only supermarket — that closed earlier this year. Even when it was open, it was no great shakes; we called it "the Albertsons Of The Damned" when we were living downtown. Just down the street from the empty supermarket is an empty set of buildings that used to be San Jose Medical Center — downtown's only hospital, closed in 2003. Downtown residents may not have easy access to food or medical care, but at least they've got the pleasures of public art! An object lesson in just a few blocks about how San Jose's 'leaders' valued flash and satisfying their own prodigious egos over meeting the actual needs of their community.

When I come back to most places that I've spent time in — Berkeley, Hamburg, Orange County — there are strong feelings of nostalgia. But when I come back to San Jose, the overwhelming emotion is relief that we got out.

Posted by Kevin at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2006

Local Restaurant Review

The Anaheim White House (887 S. Anaheim Blvd., $$$$): we went here for Shelby's birthday. Listening to local buzz, it was supposed to be one of the three go-to places for ultra-fine dining in Anaheim, the other two being the Napa Rose and Mr. Stox. Our overall verdict: meh.

I should have known that this place was trouble right from the start after looking at their menu and wine list online. The wine list was undistinguished; we brought a Siduri Pinot of our own. Individual menu items are either named after personalities (the "Gwen Stefani" ravioli; the "Sophia Loren" caviar) or luxury brands (the "Dolce Gabbana" sand dabs; the "Coco Chanel" Pacific ahi). I think that the desired effect here is "classy", but it reminded me more of the apocryphal welfare mother who chooses to name her twin girls "Lexus" and "Infiniti".

Our waiter was pretty smarmy. As we ordered, he asked us if we'd like a Grand Marnier souffle; we needed to get our order in at the beginning of the meal, as they took thirty minutes to make. Shelby said no; he persisted, asking "but have you ever tried a Grand Marnier souffle before?" Well, no, but she'd had souffles before, thanks, and she didn't like the taste of Grand Marnier. This became a favorite pattern of his throughout the evening; he'd offer x, we'd decline x, and then he'd ask "but have you ever tried x before?" It's interesting that one of the review quotes showcased on the front page of the White House's web site is "a Fancy Restaurant that doesn't make you feel like a hick", because our waiter was certainly acting like we'd staggered out of a Shoney's or Cracker Barrel, put on some nice clothes, and somehow stumbled into the White House, determined to try some of thet there fancy food like them rich people done et fer a change.

Once the waiter took our order, service became near-nonexistent. It took a long time before someone noticed that our water glasses needed to be refilled, or that we'd eaten our bread, and needed another roll (rolls were doled out individually, like they were some kind of precious commodity ... for a bill over $100, you can't leave a bread basket at our table??)

We needed a lot of rolls — and should have ordered separate appetizers, instead of splitting one — because it took a long, long time for our entrees to arrive. When they did, they were good, and the portions were surprisingly generous (Shelby had a filet mignon, I had short ribs) ... but the food wasn't at that next-level plateau that I'd expect from the class of establishment that the White House purports to be.

Positive note: at the end, they came out with a surprise happy-birthday dessert for Shelby. And they forgot to charge us for corkage.

Final verdict: while I'd love to have a top-class restaurant just blocks away from our house, the White House isn't it; for what you get, this is far from a bargain, and by the end of our meal, we were itching to leave. If you've got a special occasion to celebrate or out-of-town guests to impress, there are better places to do it at than here.

Posted by Kevin at 09:58 AM | Comments (4)

June 09, 2006

Consumer Corner

I'm a coin collector. Not the kind that puts coins into little plastic jackets and raves about their near-uncirculated condition, but just a guy who doesn't spend his change. (Except when I lived in Germany, where a pocket full of coins could add up to some real money.) Shelby carries a full complement of coins zippered into the coin-purse section of her wallet and pays for purchases in exact change ("Wait! I've got change for that!"); I just keep accumulating the stuff on top of my dresser or desk.

I used to keep my coins inside of a giant plastic Coke bottle that Shelby made fun of as "too fratboy-ish"; now I keep them inside a drawer of the IKEA organizer by my desk ... until I can sneak the giant Coke bottle back into the house again.

Every once in a while, I'd take my haul off to one of those coin-counting machines at the supermarket, the little miser inside of me chiding me for just throwing away eight-point-whatever percent of my take for letting the machine do what I could have done myself. (Then I'd go home, look at the hourly rate on my paycheck, and remind that miser that my time is worth a little more now than it was when I was ten years old.)

So my heart was warmed to see that Coinstar is skipping its redemption fee if you choose to redeem your coins for such useful-to-us things as Amazon gift certificates or iTunes music cards. Just the kind of impulsive entertainment-related stuff that we would have spent our Kleingeld bonus on anyway!

Hope that this helps some of you other coin collectors out there ...

Posted by Kevin at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

Voting in the OC

This week's primary election was my first Orange County election where I actually voted at the polls (despite my working at a polling place during last November's special election).

With this election, the Registrar of Voters made a modification to their electronic voting machines that overcame my last remaining objection to voting electronically. They added a voter-verified paper audit trail — as part of the last step in the process of casting my ballot, it printed (enshrined under glass) a paper receipt summarizing my ballot choices. Once I verified that the paper tally matched that shown on the screen and pressed "Cast Ballot", the receipt was whisked away into the voting machine's housing, a safe paper backup in the event of voting machine failure or electronic skullduggery by malicious hackers.

(OC's voting machines are made by Hart Intercivic, not Diebold, so that's one more big objection overcome right there.)

Election night returns were slow to come in, which the RoV partially blamed on a lack of volunteers. Given their 'lack of volunteers' shtick, I was a little surprised that nobody from the RoV called me about working in this election, despite the fact that I put my name back on their "call me" list — did one of the ladies that I worked with last time complain about my brash, youthful ways? Did I bring the wrong doughnuts? I got my precinct's ballots turned in on time ...

And so much for my future as an elections guru: Tom Umberg got walloped, and Tan Nguyen (he of the obnoxious signs) beat his challenger and will be moving on to face off against Loretta Sanchez in November's general election. Oh well. We may not have Tom, but we'll always have our "Tom Umberg: Orange County's Senator" potholder (one of two potholders that we got in the mail this year; the other potholder-sender, Jose Solorio, did much better).

Posted by Kevin at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2006

Learn German (Part II)

We've already seen how learning German endeared political candidate Tom Umberg to our household. And today, what were the two words that decided last night's National Spelling Bee?

Ursprache and weltschmerz.

The loser fell by attempting to spell weltschmerz with an initial 'v'. Basic German instruction could have saved her from embarassing defeat! German — learn it today! You never know when it'll come in handy!

Posted by Kevin at 12:48 PM | Comments (0)