December 31, 2009

Making a to-do about 2010

I'm not even sure I'll get today's to-do list completed. So, in the grand, self-centered tradition of making annual to-do lists that are not likely to get to-done, I hereby document my resolutions commitments objectives aspirations for 2010.

(I actually like my Day Job, but if you want my Day Job objectives, ya hafta go aks my boss. You won't read them here, even though they're a huge part of what my 2010 will be.)

  • Finish my revision of Andie's Gold, then query in earnest. Don't stop until someone sees it for the work of brilliance it is.
  • Post at least one new poem every week to my private blog. Mid year, figure out if it's possible to sell an anthology of light verse for kids.
  • Shore up the Unlucky 26 and look for any small, quirky publishers who might like it.
  • Complete my training for Scouting and become more actively involved in the troop. Make sure Sam bridges and Ethan achieves at least First Class.
  • NOT sign up as a soccer coach again unless Sam really really really REALLY wants me to.
  • Do something fun and different for our 20th wedding anniversary. says I should do something Chinese because china is the traditional 20th anniversary gift. Huh?
  • Read at least six novels.
  • Attend my high school 25th reunion.
  • Brew one batch of beer each quarter and try some new recipes.
  • Random other things: Submit to Jason Evans' contests and a couple other things through the year. Volunteer at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Keep up with friends' blogs, and cultivate existing non-virtual friendships. Try to get over to EE's place more often. More consistently hit the gym. Journal more often. Take a couple of interesting vacations (possibly Hawaii?) and visit family.
Typical schlock, right? But hey, it's my typical schlock. You want someone else's typical schlock, go visit their blog.

December 28, 2009

Resolution Report Card

Sunday's paper was full of "year in review" and "decade in review" articles that I did not read. So in the spirit of modern journalism, I hereby present my very own year in review that you will not read.

I start with my 2009 resolutions because, well, isn't that the obvious place to start? These resolutions come straight from last year's blog post about the same thing.

  1. Do something proactive with the Unlucky 26. Agents, small publishers, or self publish. Not sure yet, but something will be done.
    Define "proactive." I did get comments from the incomparable Aerin, and I did lay out the whole thing and get 10 print copies in a book form from And I even researched publishers and agents a bit. But it ended there; no queries. I even tried to create a sequel, but that fell flat before it even left the starting gate. Grade: C-minus.
  2. Be more proactive with Andie's Gold. (Assuming none of the outstanding queries bear fruit.) I have faith that this book should be published, and I just need to find the right combination.
    Define "more proactive." I am about 70% finished with revision, including a lot of rewrite of the first half to improve pacing. My midyear goal was to finish the revision so I could send queries in February, 2010. Generally on track but a little behind. Grade: B-plus.
  3. Continue to write. I did pretty well until work got crazy; work will continue to be insane throughout 2009, but I should be able to continue writing at least as much as this year, hopefully more.
    I had modest goals in 2009. Revise one chapter of Andie's Gold per month and write two new light verse poems a week. Ups & downs throughout the year, but on average I came close. Grade: solid B.
  4. Don't skip the gym. It's so easy to say "today is too busy," but the days that I go I feel so much more energized. When I don't go, I start getting down on myself. It helps that I now have a buddy who goes to the same gym.
    Yeah, not so much. The gym buddy and I managed three workouts together. Then I got moved to a different building a half mile away. Then things got really busy. I think I've finally established a new routine, but... Grade: D-plus.
  5. Be realistic about my time. This fall, I had too many obligations. I need to scale back something to retain my sanity.
    The thing I decided to scale back turned out to be sleep. And writing. I still coached soccer, led cub scouts, assisted (less) with boy scouts, and kept up with a number of other things. All while managing through a uniquely hectic work year. I get extra credit for retaining my sanity. That's why this isn't officially a resolutionfail. Grade: D-minus.
  6. Reprise #4 of last year: Write and call family more often. Um, yeah. That's a resolution like for every year of my life.
    Define "more often." I actually did OK with this, for the most part. The bar was already set very low. Grade: B-plus.
Resolutions for 2010 will appear in a future post. Remember, this is a year in review post.

Facts about 2009, the year that is almost over:
  • Professionally, I grew immensely. (Fortunately, despite missing out on lots of gym time, I did not grow immense.) The job I have today is twice as big and twice as complex--at least--as what I was doing a year ago. I don't tend to toot my own horn, but in 2009 I believe I did an outstanding job managing a turbulent, difficult, unsettled situation and turning in stellar results. I work with a terrific team, and I am profoundly proud of what we accomplished.
  • Vacationally, it was a roller coaster year. Two awesome weeks in London (and Paris) along with trips to Disneyland, Tahoe (twice), San Luis Obispo, and Santa Monica. Unfortunately, work schedule (see above) kept me home from my family's visits back east and to Bend, Oregon. One of the main highlights was meeting a few of EE's minions at a Giraffe on the Thames.
  • Computationally, we suffered a complete PC meltdown (boo!) and switched to Macs (yay!).
  • Escritorially, my writing life wasn't as down as it appeared from my resolution report card. I had a short story published in the San Francisco Writers Conference Anthology; I won Jason Evans' flash contest in January and a readers' choice award in his July contest. (He has another coming up soon. Enter!) I had a poem accepted for publication in Caesura, and I started a new private poetry blog for my light verse which now has over 50 poems. I volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference. So it wasn't all tar pits and ice storms.
  • Familialy, we enjoyed campouts, roller coasters, soccer, Mario Kart, skiing, and many daily trivias that make being a parent the most wonderful experience ever. (Usually.)
Last, but certainly not least, in 2009 we lost a dear, wonderful, exuberant, joyful friend. I do not hope you rest in peace, Trevor; rather, I hope you are enjoying the afterlife with as much flair and vigor as you enjoyed this one for your sixteen short years. We will miss you for always.

And that's my 2009 in review. For the most part. For me, 2009 will be the Year of the Day Job, in the best possible sense. I am hoping that 2010 will be remembered as the Year of the Winning Lottery Ticket. We shall see.

December 26, 2009

the obligatory virtual christmas card

Yes, our Christmas photo was taken in the spring in England. Yes, Sam is holding three chopsticks. Chopsticks because we had just eaten lunch at a very good Japanese restaurant. Why three chopsticks? You'd have to ask Sam.

Photo credit goes to the beautiful and talented super-hostess Tiffany Talbott. Thanks, Tiff!

Although I hope to reflect on 2009 in the next few posts, below is a "my year in status" from Facebook.

December 19, 2009


There is nothing that is truly appropriate to post after something like the previous one.

We had mixed emotions yesterday packing up and loading the car for a trip to Disneyland. Not only are we devastated by our dear friend Trevor's death, but he truly loved Disneyland.

When something like Trevor's death happens, you spend a lot of time realizing that you've been standing in front of an open closet for a minute, having forgotten why you were there. Or the open refrigerator. Or the telephone. Perhaps you weren't thinking of Trevor at that moment, or perhaps you were. It's sometimes hard to tell what you were just thinking. It's like a mental fog a lot of the time. That's sadness, I suppose.

Although we will be cutting our trip short by two days to return for the memorial service, we still will have four out of our five planned days at Disneyland. I think that Disneyland will probably prove to be the best possible therapy for all of us at this time. When you're sad, isn't it a good idea to go to the Happiest Place on Earth?

December 17, 2009

in memory of a dear, dear friend

In memory of a very dear friend who brought joy and energy to all things in this life. He died today, only a teenager.

My friend, may you find as much joy in the next life as you brought to this one. We miss you already.

December 16, 2009

But where's the analysis?

I get excited about college football season. A few years ago I wrote a weekly game preview column for a Cal football fan website. I did that for two or so years and had a great time with it. I never played football, but I'm pretty good at picking out patterns in numbers and the theory of the game. In each preview, I predicted the outcome and final score (crazy true coincidence: in every single prediction I somehow came up with the Bears winning).

Then, somewhere around 2006 I got too busy to write my weekly prediction, and decided they wanted someone else to do game previews. I read the new guy's previews for a few weeks but gave up because they said nothing that I didn't already get from my local daily newspaper.

Fast forward to the 2009 season. Cal is about to play in their seventh straight bowl game. I check out the news and have a few sports sites in my feed reader. Every now and then I skim through a game preview. But they are all the same.

The articles always mention the recent wins and losses. They print quotes provided by the teams' media departments. If there's an interesting storyline (such as Jahvid Best's injury), they mention that... also typically provided by the media department. But there's literally no analysis. Nobody digs deep into the stats to see that, for example, one team consistently loses when when they average fewer than 2.5 yards per carry, or that the other team seriously outscores their opponents in the fourth quarter because their offensive line is enormous and incredibly fit. Instead, we get vapid observations like, "the team doesn't want to end on a sour note" and "they lost big in their final game after winning three in a row against ranked teams." Blah blah blah. Anyone who cares to read your game preview already knows these things.

These days, repetition masquerades as news. Because news outlets have lost the patience to analyze and think, the only way they can differentiate themselves is through sensationalism and shiny graphics.

The only place we get in-depth analysis is in the celebrity sections of tabloids. Because that's where sensationalism and analysis intersect. It's really tragic.

December 14, 2009

watching them grow up

We are going to Disneyland! Disneyland! Yay! Next week. We already bought our super-expensive five-day park hopper passes. One of the three grandmas is coming with us. We'll be staying at a nice, big, upscale timeshare resort about 30 minutes from the park. Disneyland! Can you tell I'm excited?

The last time we went was December 2007, just three weeks before our old Subaru was totaled on I-15 heading to Las Vegas. The boys were 11 and 8, and they'd never been to Disneyland before. Sam had recently broken his arm (monkey bars) and faded early each day since it really hurt. The Disneyland first aid folks fed him lots of free Tylenol when we ran out. Just yesterday he said, "Most of the rides are for little kids. Really there's only like ten good rides, and they're all really crowded." Perhaps his memory is slightly skewed by the pain and that royally huge cast.

Ethan was still deeply into Star Wars and plastic light sabers and make-believe games that did not involve knowing the minute differences between an AK-47 and an AK-74. (Seriously, his knowledge of WWII and modern weaponry is troubling at 13 years old.) For him, Disneyland was pure magic. Thus, it became again pure magic for me, too, looking at it all through his eyes. The highlight was the Jedi Training Academy, where he got to go one-on-one in a light saber duel against Darth Vader.

Now 13, Ethan is well beyond the Jedi Training Academy. He looks, acts, and talks like a middle schooler. I know that he'll still feel the magic of Disneyland--that's the type of person he is--but it won't be the same. Sam, however, may discover a bit of the magic he missed out on with his broken arm. I hope so.

December 11, 2009

New Clarity of Night Contest

Jason Evans is at it again. I like the photo a lot this time, particularly as a writing prompt. So many ways to play off it.

His upcoming writing contest will happen in mid January. Max 250 words. Make it your new year's resolution to enter the best 250 words you possibly can. It's always a fun contest, with some truly special writing.

December 8, 2009

December 4, 2009

The Group of Heck

By now everyone who's anyone knows that England and the USA will play each other in the group stage of next summer's World Cup. All things considered, this is a reasonably good draw for both teams, in my opinion.

For example, we could be in Mexico's zapatos, having to face the host country and a good Uraguay as well as Ireland. (Hold on... what's that? Really? Really?) OK, France. Or in Korea's place with Brazil and Portugal in the group. Or Denmark's group with Netherlands, Japan, and Cameroon. Or Nigeria's, against Argentina, Korea, and Greece. Even Australia look to have a difficult road to the knockout stage with Serbia and Germany.

This time, even with the absence of Charlie Davies and Oguche Onyewu (no, I didn't look it up to see if I spelled it right), the US should look at a first-round exit as a severe disappointment. They've got solid defenders and a teriffically athletic midfield, and despite their recent friendly losses they have a strong top 11 or 13 players. And they've actually got an advantage in having played well in the Confederations Cup this year.

The worst thing about the World Cup draw is that now we have to wait six months for the games to begin!

I will be supporting the USA (obviously), England, Australia, Netherlands, and New Zealand. That should be enough to get me someone to root for at least through the quarterfinals.

What teams do you support? Will you be watching live? Will you see every minute of every game? Will you ignore the whole thing? Anyone want to come over to my house to catch a few games? Bring beer.

December 2, 2009

I missed the exit

Last Saturday night, my family and I were driving back from visiting friends in Sebastopol. Driving down 101, I had been looking for the exit that would cut off a few miles, along Lakeville Highway. My GPS didn't tell me where it was, and I missed it. A few miles later I took our usual exit onto CA-37. No big deal. It probably cost us five minutes.

We're cruising along CA-37 and approach the traffic light where Lakeville Highway reconnects with our route. It's dark out, but I can see that there's a small RV pulled over just beyond the intersection. Since it looks like it's a little off the shoulder and into the right traffic lane, I switch to the left lane. A thought pops up in the back of my mind--an odd place for the RV to be stopped. Maybe there's a fender-bender. I'd better go slow.

A hundred yards from the intersection, I see a few other vehicles have stopped and are off the roadway in a big turnout next to the intersection. One, a minivan, looks strange. I concentrate on the road; Maria remarks on the stopped traffic. There are no emergency vehicle lights flashing. Might just be tourists checking maps or changing a tire.

Fifty yards from the intersection, I can see that the van is entirely smashed in on the side. That's why it looks strange in the glare of headlights. It looks like it's been dropped on its side from five stories high, then set upright again. This can't be good. Maria asks a question about the van, just thinking out loud as we're both processing what we see.

At the intersection, the light is green and I cruise through slowly, avoiding broken glass and some indefinable metal pieces as well as another vehicle in the right lane, this one stopped and pointing mostly the wrong way. There's been an accident. A bad accident, judging from the state of the van. And it's only just happened. No police or ambulance here yet. No sirens in the distance. The other cars appear to have stopped to help, and a half dozen good samaritans jog around here and there. I consider stopping to help, too, but I keep driving. My only useful skills are dialing 9-1-1 and trying to keep people calm. There are enough people on scene who can do what I can; I'd only be in the way.

I am shaken. It was only two years ago that we were hit from behind on I-15, totaling our car. I try to hold out hope for the driver of the smashed minivan, but honestly I can't imagine anyone could survive that. Maria and the boys are talking, agitated, troubled. "What if we hadn't missed our exit? What if we'd been on Lakeville?" We all get quiet when we realize that we'd probably have been at the scene almost exactly at the time of the crash.

A family of four died in that minivan, as did the driver of the car that hit them. Although I did not know them, I mourn for them and am sad.

I think about the random chance that we all face, day to day. I explain the premise behind the movie "Sliding Doors" to my kids, that a small chance occurrence can change a person's--or a family's--future in dramatic ways. What if my GPS had told me that it was CA-116 I wanted? Had I taken the right exit, could it have been my Outback wagon and my family in the newspapers the next day?

November 25, 2009


I'm not fishing for affirmation, really I'm not.


No, really. You don't have to comment to say how much you all love me. That's not why I'm posting.

You know when it's that big rivalry game, like USC vs UCLA or Harvard vs Yale or whatever your alma mater is vs whatever school your alma mater hates? And there's six minutes left in the fourth quarter and your team is down, like, 65 to 3, and you're saying things like, "Just a TD and a 2-point conversion, then all we need is seven successful onside kicks!" and "Stranger things have happened!"

Yeah, that's what NaNoWriMo was like for me, about two days ago.

Today, I let the denial end. It's always a sad moment when the inevitable is acknowledged. I am not going to get my 50,000 words in November, 2009. It's possible I'll top 30,000 before December. But this ain't youth sports. There's no medal awarded for finishing tenth out of 14, which my U12 soccer team did this season. (We came 4th in the 8-team tournament of the bottom half of the league. Which won us a medal.)

I could, as some do, give one of my characters a sudden, astonishing affinity for reading the New York Times aloud. Or I could just go gangbusters on knocking out "plot notes" for the remainder of the novel. Either way, it would be throw-away word count. And what's the point of that? Garbage time points by your starters against your rival's walk-ons may be points, but it's hard to feel good about them.

And so I resign myself to failing at NaNoWriMo in 2009. I gave it a good college try, including a 7,000 word day, but ultimately life defeated me. I did learn some valuable lessons, however. I learned how I want to structure my novel. I learned what motivates my main characters. I learned how the story will come together in the end. And I now know I can write it over the next year or two, little by little. Now that I've got the first 30,000 words down.

And the only other thing I have to say is..



November 24, 2009

NaNoWriMo technology time saver!

A lot of people trying NaNoWriMo for the first time wonder how they can get 50,000 words written in just 30 days. Some people keep a notebook with them all the time; others write in the wee hours (i.e. on the toilet). Wherever you can steal a few minutes to boost your word count.

Personally, I love mobile technology. Four years ago I bought a Palm TX and a wireless keyboard because my laptop had a seventeen minute battery life and took nineteen minutes to wake up from sleep mode. The Palm is instant-on, and I only have to wrestle with the bluetooth keyboard connection for a few seconds before I'm banging out eighty typos a minute. I have written about 20,000 of my current 27,000 words on this little baby. Great for airplanes, coffee shops, and anywhere that everyone else is crawling around under tables on the filthy, gooey floor looking for electrical outlets. And because it uses an SD card, I can pop the card right into my laptop. And since the TX has wifi, I can connect at most hotspots. Very cool setup.

But NOW I find out about this new product, which is perfect for all us NaNo-ers to steal some writing time while we're on the road. It is a steering wheel laptop table, and I can't wait to get one and put my TX on the dashboard, my keyboard on the table, and hit the highway. One of the best ideas ever.

You must go to this product's link right now. Be sure to look at all the product photos and read, at a minimum, all of the five-star reviews.

November 16, 2009

what are we recovering TO?

The number of people without sufficient food in the United States hit 45 million this year.

45 million.

That's nearly one in every six people in the United States going without sufficient food at least sometimes or frequently in the past year.

45 million is more than the population of 194 of the world's 223 countries.

Going without sufficient food doesn't mean that you ran out of chocolate or that you decided not to buy popcorn the last time you went to the movies. It means that you ran out of real food before payday. Or that you could get food, but it wasn't sufficiently nutritious. (I presume these statistics do not include former NBA head case Latrell Sprewell, who apparently found it difficult to feed his family on $7 million a year.)

This is acceptable?

The problem looks even worse when you talk about America's children, and it looks absolutely dire for specific populations when you break it down by race. (Read the article linked above.)

This situation is an indicator in so many ways it's difficult to count them all.

Only about half of the 45 million hungry people are actually considered in poverty, with household income at or below the federal poverty line. This means that our poverty and unemployment statistics are woefully inadequate and that a huge amount of the population are underemployed. It likely means that these households are not saving for the future. How can they? Why should they? The future has no opportunity for them, even with a trillion dollar "stimulus" package designed to shock new life into the DOW. We should call it the DOWfibrillator package.

Hunger also leads to health problems. The current Health Care Reform debate is all about whether the USA will become the United Socialists of America or we let the free market wreak its wonderful magic and keep the rich getting richer. Meanwhile our city hospitals are overrun by hordes of the poor looking for free medical care in the emergency room--bandages, cough syrup, Tylenol. Not only do they not have health insurance (who can afford that when you can't even keep Cheerios in your cupboard?), but their health suffers from lack of proper nutrition and overabundance of stress. We're worried about Death Panels in our health care reform? Why bother? We're already starving to death the people who would have to go in front of the Death Panels.

Our failing education system is another case of the rich getting richer and the poor falling into the abyss. Our top colleges, high schools, and primary schools continue to turn out some of the best educated people in the world. But on average, our school systems are sliding farther and farther behind other countries in critical areas such as creativity, analysis, and even the basics of reading comprehension and essential math. Yet the money continues to pour into the richest schools where property taxes are highest or where the richest donate to their own children's schools. I won't go into all the other things I think are fatal flaws in our system (tenure, centralized curriculum, NCLB, etc.). Instead, I'll just point out that children can't think clearly or retain knowledge when they're hungry. If we don't properly feed the children, how can we possibly expect them to learn how to lead the world in thirty years?

We've got a "recovery" that only a statistician could love. The DOW is soaring. Meanwhile, more people than ever in this country are going hungry.

We may be recovering, but to what exactly? How will we know when the recovery is over and we're back to normal? What is normal, and are we satisfied with it? If so, why are we satisfied? We were suffering and backsliding for decades before the bottom fell out of the financial industry and the economy.

November 4, 2009

haiku wednesday - November 4th, 2009

This week's words are

I was psyched when I saw three short words this week. Only six syllables, giving me eleven all to myself! Well, guess what? This is a really tough trio. I'm not sure why. I think it's because karma is very specific, and obey and wither are both verbs... neither of which karma can really do or have done to it. Plus, this being NaNoWriMo, I am distracted and funneling my creative energy elsewhere. But here goes anyway.

grow, age, wither, die
leave all but karma behind
obey life's cycles

make your own karma
don't wither under pressure
but, obey your mom!

they obey conscience
bodies wither, karma soars
prison hunger strike

October 28, 2009

haiku wednesday - October 28th, 2009

This week's words are

Egad! I missed two 3WW in a row. I am losing balance in my life. I must regain my balance, or I may fall off my chair. Incubate, nightmare, vanity? Sheesh, tough words for haiku. But here goes.

incubate ill will
with conquerors' vanity
endless nightmare war

please her vanity
with praise, incubate her trust
lies feed your nightmare

Swallow vanity!
They incubate your career,
those nightmare bosses.

October 27, 2009

October 8, 2009

train out of sacramento

silhouette ridge
carving black
under a gray-fire sky
as ghostly steeples float by
and anchorless lights
belie the emptiness

a white man
with a black cell phone
talks in gospel lyrics,
and a boy hunches
over a cardboard tray,
his fork pumping food
with the zeal of hobos
and college students

his blue earplugs
deny the gospel
and exile the haunting wails
of the train's whistle

October 7, 2009

haiku wednesday - October 7th, 2009

This week's words are

Last week I missed 3WW for the first time in nearly a year. I didn't actually count, but I figure I was on a 40-something streak. Well, a new streak begins today. (No, sorry, I am not "streaking" in that sense, at least not without sufficient incentive.)

mattress limit reached,
vocal girl leaves bed fallow
'twas a pea, princess

watchdogs lie fallow
rich men limit our freedoms
without vocal foes

limit subsidies
above fallow fields of corn
vocal birds riot

September 23, 2009

haiku wednesday - September 23, 2009

This week's words are

Another insane week where I beg your indulgence with nothing offered in return. I apologize, dear friends, but this week I will be unable to make the rounds. I hope that either next week or the week after I will be back to my usual form and once again be able to enjoy all the wonderful 3WW posts you create.

languish on the couch
foot's velocity inspires
butts eclipse TV

velocity girl
does not languish in sad life
she will eclipse fate

sorrows eclipse joy
dampen life's velocity
languish in the past

September 18, 2009

The Bears go on the road to Minnesota

I tried really hard to score a business trip to Minneapolis to see the Bears maul the Gophers, but in the end I couldn't because I just have too many obligations at home--scout events, soccer games to coach, soccer games to play in... and something I'm forgetting... something... oh yeah! My wife's birthday.

Anyway, here's a summary of the matchup as I listen to Sick Puppies' "War" from the Tri Polar album. Appropriate.

The Bears are 14 point favorites. Jeff Sagarin's ratings put Cal at #7 and Minnesota at #46, with a spread of 9.26, or a one-touchdown spread if the home field advantage is factored in.

The Bears have faced two weak teams and clobbered them, opening the season with two 50+ point outings for the first time in history. They have been very solid nearly everywhere, though kick coverage needs to be cleaned up a little bit. Also, the defense has a tendency to give up a lot of yards early in the game as they're adjusting. The offense has stalled from time to time, but for the most part they've moved the ball at will, particularly late in the game when they've out-fitnessed their opponent.

The Gophers will undoubtedly be a more difficult test. They have a capable offense with an efficient quarterback and a receiver that was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff award last year. They are less experienced at running back, but there is talent there. More importantly, the Gophers lost only one offensive lineman from last year, and they return experience--44 starts among the other four lineman. That said, a lot of that experience may be sitting on the bench since two of the OL starters are transfers (one from JuCo and one from Notre Dame). Overall, though, their statistics are not impressive for the competition they've faced. They came from behind to win both their games this year--OT at Syracuse, and vs Air Force. They gained an average of 343 yards per game, and an OK 3.9 yards per carry rushing (just 110 yards per game on the ground).

On defense, the Gophers start nine seniors and two juniors. The two juniors are both in the Safety spot, and the DBs may be the strongest part of the defense. Much has been made of the Bears being unable to scout Minnesota's defense because they have a new coordinator. Regardless, they look very strong defensively. Their two DTs have each started 21 straight games, and they're both over 300 pounds. Their three LBs are all highly productive, whether it's number of tackles or causing turnovers. They've allowed only 13 and 20 points in their two wins. Granted, Syracuse and Air Force are not amazing offenses, but the Minnesota defense should not be underestimated.

With the size of Minnesota's offensive linemen (the OTs are 336 and 365), and the quality of their QB and WRs, it's no wonder they have weaker rushing and stronger passing. The fact that they came from behind in both their wins says that they also have overall fitness and can play all 60 minutes.

Minnesota will be a good test for the Bears before facing Pac-10 opponents. I think Cal will pass this test and will find ways to score. I do think that even if Minnesota gets a lead, they will have difficulty protecting it with their weaker rushing game. They also have not faced a team as strong and as complete as California is this year. They'll get a lift from their new stadium and a sellout crowd I'm sure, but the crowd will be in the 50,000 range.

After seeing both of the first two games, I don't think Cal is overrated. I think both defense and offense are as good as advertised, and the team has insane depth. If the special teams can hold it together, and if the Bears don't get overconfident, I think they'll take a lead by the second quarter and pull ahead late in the third. I see this game coming out in favor of the Bears, 34 - 18.


September 16, 2009

haiku wednesday - September 16, 2009

This week's words are

My thoughts and sympathies to ThomG, the curator and flashmaster of 3WW, who lost a family member this week.

winter's chill sinks deep
thick drift builds beside her bed
toss one more hanky

thick, goopy romance
hanky-snorker film for girls
boys' minds drift outside

yellow hankie drops
thick coach chases ref, screaming
players drift to sides

September 14, 2009

Thousands flock to hear reading of "Unlucky Twenty-Six"

WASHINGTON, DC--A flash mob gathered thanks to the power of social networking when it was learned that a blog reader who stumbled upon The Unlucky Twenty-Six decided to read from the macabre and humorous compilation on the steps of the United States Capitol on September 13, 2009.

News of the reading spread quickly, thanks to the power of Twitter, Facebook, and drunk dialing. Eyewitness reports placed the crowd in the dozens, if not millions. This photo, taken from above as the crowd was only just gathering and before it really got rocking, underestimates the vast magnitude, rivaled only by the tens of millions that gathered on September 12th at the teary-eyed pleading of Glenn Beck to bring tea bags to the White House lawn. (These people also are known as Morans.)

One member of the crowd, Herman Snodgrast from Palm Desert, California, was unimpressed. "The sound system sucked, man. I could barely hear the dude." Snodgrast had positioned himself near the base of the Washington Monument. He added, "My little sister could have read that better. They shoulda got Hayden Christensen to read it."

Snodgrast and others were unimpressed with the reading of Adolf Wilder, whose nasal, whiny voice carried across the crowd like the screech of a seagull with emphysema. Patricia Blain from Laramie, Wyoming was Wilder's lone supporter. "It was a different interpretation, and it really made me think," she said. "Wilder is an artist, and clearly this mob does not understand the full depth of Wilder's reading. He brought something unique to this most awesome compendium of cautionary tales."

Peter Dudley, the compilation's author, was unavailable for comment. His publicist, ten-year-old Sam, spoke on his behalf. Sam said, "He's in the bathroom. I think he drank too much whiskey again. OK, bye."

Flash mobs have been known to grow exponentially even after they've dispersed thanks to the magic of compound interest. When one person twitters a falsehood (for example, "There were a million people protesting Obama on September 12"), ten people who are interested then tweet it themselves. Those people want other people to be interested in them, so they pass along an even bigger number so their tweet can be more impressive than the one they received. Soon, the size of the crowd on the White House lawn (originally around 60,000 or so) is believed to be larger than the entire population of India.

Economics guru and professor Richarde Reiche said that the phenomenon is also known in technical jargon as "idiots with amplifiers," and there's little doubt that that would be a good name for a rock group. "One other thing that this situation illustrates, which can not possibly be emphasized enough," Reiche added, "is that The Unlucky Twenty-Six is perhaps the most stunningly important piece of literature we shall see in the entire century, perhaps the entire millennium."

Wilder could not be reached for comment. When he finished his reading, he was swept away by a throng of scantily clad, buxom women believed to be from Paramus, New Jersey. He has not been seen or heard from since.

September 12, 2009

Flying a kite

A beautiful Saturday afternoon.

September 11, 2009

buy low

Everyone knows the advice to buy low, sell high. People get it backwards so frequently that it never hurts to remind ourselves of this tenet, and to examine how we are using our money, our time, and our talents. I know many people who waited until the housing market was at its peak to jump in--they were swept up in the fervor of the market, and now they're underwater or, in some cases, foreclosed.

Last Spring I was fortunate to attend a meeting where a very smart economist was speaking. He shared his own thoughts on investing and urged us all to look at the down market as an investment opportunity. Buy low. Among his remarks, he made a very strong point of how emotionally difficult it is to buy during the low points--the human tendency is to hunker down, horde what wealth there is, lower our risk. Ironically, at the societal level, that is a self-destructive tendency. The only thing that will stop the slide and start the up cycle again is investment, yet the average Joe only invests when things are going well.

This morning, I was fortunate to attend a meeting where the CEO of my local United Way spoke. She said that calls to 2-1-1, the universal referral service, are up 40% year-over-year. These calls come from people who can't make ends meet--perhaps they are unable to pay their utility bill this month because they've had a forced, unpaid furlough; or one spouse has lost their job; or here in northern California, their water bill tripled even though their usage dropped. Or their drop-in health clinic closed and they need to find another place to take their children. Whatever it is, they need some help for the first time in their lives. The San Francisco Food Bank is increasing their food output 10% this year, from 33 million pounds to 36.5 million pounds.

There is no doubt that we are in a low period as a society. So many people need help. Maybe just a little help. Here and there. Maybe just this month. Maybe just this year.

Your dollar to a charity today is a good investment. Buy low. The dollar you donate today goes farther and has a larger impact than a dollar donated during high times. Your dollar may get someone through the week that otherwise might teeter and topple off the edge into a downward spiral. If your dollar keeps them on track, or helps lift just one person up, it will be multiplied many times over in the coming years. If we let those people slip and slide down into the abyss, though, we won't see the uptick for a long, long time.

It's like one economist said: "We are in a recovery that only a statistician could love." This points to the sad fact that "recovery" is only applied to the financial markets. This analysis is never applied to real people. Too many are underemployed, keeping their jobs but losing hours or benefits. Too many have just stopped looking for jobs, which means they aren't considered "unemployed." Even worse, "stimulus" is never applied to basic human services. It is only given to those who "create jobs" or "extend credit." Which means that the family that can't pay its gas & electric bill this month may be in danger of losing their home next month.

Your dollar donated to charity today can get that family through this month. Imagine if your dollar weren't there--that family could drop into a negative spiral. But your dollar can get them through, and when they're thriving again they can help others, and they'll be working and buying and saving and growing.

Buy low, folks. Invest today. This is when help is most needed and your investment will show the greatest return. Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for caring. Thank you for your donations to whatever charities are important to you. Whatever you give matters.

September 9, 2009

haiku wednesday - September 9, 2009

This week's words are

Tough words this week; I think it's because engage can only be used so many ways without changing its form. Still, a great mental warm-up on the train before a long day at work.

hottie teen trouble
engage her, or disarm him?
Pa's ten-gage mayhem

let's disarm, escape
ditch emotional mayhem
engage the warp drive

mayhem in your brain
as my fists engage your face
disarm that, fucker!

September 4, 2009

Maryland visits California

Last year, Cal visited Maryland and claimed that the 9 a.m. Pacific start time had no bearing on the outcome. I'm not so sure. And I'm not so sure that Maryland will do any better with tomorrow night's late kickoff (10 p.m. Eastern). The second half kickoff will take place around midnight Eastern. Tough to adjust to that and stay fresh for the fourth quarter.

In any case, the first game every year is rife with unknowns. Just ask Oregon, ranked in the top 25 preseason but looking completely outmatched last night against Boise State. And this year, Maryland has more unknowns than their share while the Bears know quite a bit about themselves already.

The Terrapins return only ten starters. They are such a young and inexperienced team, only Army in all of division one have fewer games started among their players. Their defense returns only four starters--one on the line, one linebacker, and two in the secondary. The defensive strength looks to be the DBs, though, with four seniors starting and an aggressive new defensive coordinator. On offense, the Terps return a highly accurate quarterback and two good ball carriers. Their O line returns only two starters, though, and lost five of its top seven from last year. Like the Bears, they are converting a guard to center. Their other returning starter is the very important left tackle position. The receivers are also young but generally talented.

The Bears, meanwhile, return lots of familiar names. Cal fans all know about the departure of three of the league's best and fastest linebackers, and this year two sophomores are starting in their places. The rest of the defense, though, consists of juniors and seniors with significant experience. The speed of this defense, coupled with the 3-4 scheme and experience (especially in the defensive backfield) make it truly imposing on paper. Last year the Bears grabbed 24 interceptions and held opponents to 19.9 points average. On offense, Cal returns a legitimate potential All American at running back and an improved WR corps and QB from a team that scored 32.6 points per game last year. The tricky bit is the O line, which lost an All American center and this year will start two sophomores and a redshirt freshman.

As with any opening game, it's tough to say exactly how the new players will perform. I have long held the belief that the O line and the linebackers are the most important units on the field. Since that's where Cal's inexperience is, Bears fans may have allowed their expectations to rise a little higher than they should. Still, I believe the quality of the team is very high overall. And the two OTs are each over 315 pounds, which is hard to move.

Maryland is a 21-point underdog for this game, and after looking into the rosters and matchups, it's easy to see why people think that. I have little doubt that the Bears will win this game, but will it be that big a beat-down? Could be. Could be close, if the young Terrapins are talented and the Bears come out sloppy like the Ducks did.

I think Cal will have a lot of offensive success with the big O line against the inexperienced D line of the Terrapins. Maryland's defensive tackles are 315 and 325 pounds, so they won't be easily bowled over for runs up the middle. So expect the Bears to go around or over them, which then exposes Cal to the experienced and talented Maryland secondary. I do expect Best to reel off a number of 7-10 yard runs on speed alone. With the youth of UM's linebackers, expect Tedford to establish a tendency and then switch it up with screens, cutbacks... anything to get the linebackers into a rhythm and then use that against them.

When Maryland has the ball, I think their big O line will do a decent job of pass protection and opening some holes for the running backs. I don't think they'll get anything significant downfield, though, and if they try they might hear the cry of "oski!" ring through the Berkeley night. Their hopes lie in a decent and sustained running game, by stretching the defense and trying to get their backs into space. Cal's 3-4 scheme will make that difficult. And when they get into the red zone, the short field will compress things and play to Cal's favor.

Ultimately, I think the Bears have more talent and experience and will suffer far fewer first-game mistakes than Maryland will. I think Cal will come out fast and furious and put a 14-0 lead on the Terps in the first 20 minutes. The middle of the game will be less dramatic, but the fourth quarter will be all Cal. The young Terrapins will simply not be able to hang with the Bears after midnight Eastern; Tedford's teams have always been known for fitness if nothing else, and depth is a big asset this year.

This is a tough start for Maryland and a good opener for the Bears. Cal fans will ultimately go home happy and talking about hotel prices in Los Angeles at New Year's. As we do after every win.

My prediction: Cal 38, Maryland 16.


September 2, 2009

haiku wednesday - September 2, 2009

This week's words are

All that work this summer has begun to pay off. We reached $5.28 million in donations by the end of the first day of our campaign, and we're over $6 million as of right now. Here's hoping the next 28 and a half days bring us to another amazing total. I am so thankful to work for a company that has such remarkably generous employees.

glare and empty threat
luster of child's broad grin
ice melts on vase shards

gold's glare blinds the king
wish granted hides deadly threat
wealth's luster now dulled

glare of the luster
who covets his neighbor's wife
threat to both their souls

August 30, 2009

Not unlike a car wreck for enjoyability

I just happened to look back at my very first blog post. It occurred August 14, 2004. That means that I completely missed my own five-year anniversary. Blogiversary, which is a word I detest. But detest is a word I like. So props to "blogiversary" for enabling me to use a good word.

But what I really wanted to write about is the Apple store. It stinks. Really. I mean, I love our MacBook and am very happy we switched. So happy, I planned on buying a Mac mini to replace our dead desktop as the homework and web and games computer for the boys.

So two weeks ago I tried to go to the Apple store, but they were in the middle of a three week closure for remodeling. The store used to have four tables, some glass partitions, some alcoves, and a theater area near the back. So I waited, and on Saturday the whole family braved the 104 degree afternoon and arrived to find absolute mobs of people crowded inside the newly remodeled Apple store.

Which now had SIX tables, some glass partitions, some alcoves, and instead of a theater in the back they had a single check-out line and three "Genius Bar" stations. With the mobs, it was impossible to find any employee to talk to. So we waited in the checkout line. We knew what we wanted, were ready to buy. After 25 minutes while the four people ahead of us were helped, we got to the front. "We want to buy a Mac mini." The skinny, long-haired kid holding the repurposed Newton gives us a funny look. "Have you already spoken to someone a
bout your computer needs?" "Uh... no." At this point I felt like we were in a timeshare presentation. He swept us out of line and... to the front door, where the only person in an orange shirt (all the others wore blue) was hiding out of the way, behind the door, where it would be impossible to see him unless you were exiting the store.

"We want to buy a Mac mini. The one with bigger memory." "Well, all five of my people are busy now. You could wait... about 45 minutes, maybe. Or you could go online and make an appointment for tomorrow."

At this point I decided that people at Apple are really good at designing interfaces for one single person. But they desperately suck rocks when it comes to more than one person. I was so befuddled, it never occurred to me to punch him in the nose. I declined to wait, and I politely took his business card while thinking "I will only use this to point out a name in my complaint letter." We piled in the car and went home. At least our trip to Target to get reading glasses and boxer shorts was successful.

I got home and went to Within six minutes I'd bought a Mac mini, complete with educational discount (my wife is a teacher) and free shipping. Why, Apple Store, do you make it so hard to give you money? Why do you insist on making me feel foolish by presenting me with an unintelligible store while simultaneously pointing out that all of your employees are geniuses, and I can sit and worship at their Genius Bar if I can work out the perplexing puzzle of your store layout?

The Apple Store was, in summary, an exercise in truly awful customer experience. But I guess it wasn't awful enough before, so they had to shut down for three weeks to remodel. Mission accomplished.

August 27, 2009

Listen to the author... no, really.

Intro in the podbean. This is a poem. I was going to read some fiction, but I couldn't pull it together in time.

This is part of the Robin's Readings series. All the coolest people on the web are doing it, so I thought I'd tag along. Visit Robin's blog for other links to those playing along.

August 26, 2009

haiku wednesday - August 26, 2009

This week's words are

So busy today that I wrote my three haiku on the train to work... then forgot to post them. D'oh! Well, I hope I can make the rounds before the end of the week.

noise suddenly stopped
where did the kids vanish to?
hair fracture in vase

lightning fractures night
thunderous noise, whiskey rain
she'll vanish by dawn

blank radio noise
blips fracture reality
stars wink, fade, vanish...

August 19, 2009

haiku wednesday - August 19, 2009

This week's words are

Tough morning after a very very long work night. I may skip the gym, but I won't skip my 3WW! Today I had to break from my purist tradition and use a derivative of one of the words. Today's haiku pay homage to Town Hall Meetings, the roaches that host certain "fair and balanced" "news" programs, and codgers who chaperon high school mixers. My only regret is that I was unable to use "truth decay" in a more extended dental metaphor.

shout ungraceful lies
truth decay results in riot
revolution, now

graceful webs decay
when spiders don't maintain them
bugs, freed, run riot

decay in morals
turns dance to lewd riot
no graceful waltzes

August 12, 2009

haiku wednesday - August 12, 2009

This week's words are

@%^*(V&^#(&*( Mexico and all their cheap-shot cheating hack soccer players, and the referees they paid off. Um... no, I really don't feel better now. But thanks for asking. Barely time to breathe this week. No need for false praise; these pretty much suck as bad as the US midfield defense did today.

witch competition
bad jinx... capture moose, not mouse!
failed to qualify

capture attention;
qualify, equivocate;
jinx the election

the Twit Olympics:
Jinx, the cat, could qualify
and capture the gold

The new anthology is here! The new anthology is here!

The day after our old PC died a painful and horrible death after a short bout of dementia, I received my contributor copy of the San Francisco Writers Conference Anthology with my story in it. Yay me! I haven't read it yet. I think I shall before the summer is out. My very good friend and writing buddy Julaina, who first turned me on to the prospect of volunteering at SFWC in early 2008, also has a piece in the anthology.

Looking forward to CONCACAF qualifying

Spoiler alert--if you are planning on watching a recorded version of the USA @ Mexico game from today, don't read further because you'll see the result, which was of course a predictable travesty. And if you choose to read on, be prepared for a good old-fashioned rant. Insert two profanities between every pair of words, and you'll understand what my house sounded like during the second half of this game.

With the regularity of hurricanes destroying trailer parks in Florida, the US lost yet another soccer game on Mexican soil. On the field were 11 good American soccer players, 6 good Mexican soccer players, 5 cheating hacks, two officials on the take, and one official who apparently missed the payoff meeting. The game followed the CONCACAF prescribed script: Have the US show promise, then have the referees take away their win, then hope the Americans get so befuddled that the Mexicans score a late goal to send the 90,000 fans into a fit.

Sour grapes? Sure, I admit utter bias, and bitterness whenever my teams lose. But once again, Mexico proved they are classless cheap-shot artists (for the most part). The US players showed they are not yet ready to win a World Cup. And CONCACAF proved that they do not want to see a World Cup that excludes Mexico.

In the opening minutes, a clear penalty for the US was
not called. Time and again, particularly in the final 30 minutes, the referee appeared not to see blatant fouls and cheap shots by the Mexican players. At one point, three Mexican players surrounded and bullied an injured American lying on the ground; another time, one player ran 20 yards to push an American without reason... the ref did nothing when shortly before he'd given a yellow card to one of the Americans for a basic foul. Ultimately, the US missed out on a goal because the linesman called an offside which clearly wasn't. In replays it was clear; at full speed it was clear.

Mexico deserved their two goals. The first was a blistering shot amid truly abysmal defending. The second came again from sketchy defending that allowed too many green jerseys to be open in the box. But the US deserved three goals, not just the one they got. I guess Donovan could have missed the penalty. And perhaps Davies might have failed to score on his breakaway that was called offside. But I'll bet any amount that at least one of those is scored, resulting in a draw instead of a loss for the US.

I hear you: Stop whining, bad calls are part of the game, the referee was bad both ways, yadda yadda. Here's the thing: The ref was not bad both ways. He let some pretty bad behavior go by the kids in the green shirts while handing out yellow cards to the Americans like he got them on a special sale.

And I hear you again: The US should have played better, worked their way through this adversity. Definitely the US should have defended better; their midfield was porous at best and absent at times. Steve Cherundolo was left in deep two-on-one situations about half the game. Mexico had an open range up to about 20 yards from the American goal. That was Bradley's game plan, and it would have worked for a tie or a win if not for the refereeing crew. The officials exist to keep the game fair, to stop cheating. That's not what they did tonight.

Finally, here's why I think the rest of CONCACAF qualifying will be fun for American fans: As much as CONCACAF does not want a World Cup draw that excludes Mexico, they can't imagine a 2010 World Cup that excludes the United States. Can you imagine the money lost if the USA does not participate? The long term damage done to the sport in this most lucrative of countries? Yes, I feel bad for Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras, El Salvador. Barring a complete meltdown that referees can't fix, the US will qualify. So will Mexico. CONCACAF can't afford otherwise.

It's too bad, really, but quit your whining, smaller Central American and Caribbean countries. That's the way the game goes. The refs are bad both ways. When qualifying is over, you'll just be left to contemplate the sour grapes.

August 7, 2009

Hiking to Ellis Peak

Last weekend, we camped in the Tahoe area. On Monday we hiked a gorgeous trail to a mountaintop called Ellis Peak in the Tahoe National Forest. The hike was about six miles total, over an easy and well maintained trail with a pretty steep climb over the beginning quarter mile. Some of the most spectacular views of both Desolation Wilderness and Lake Tahoe can be seen along this trail. As you'll see in the photos below, we were graced with unparalleled, perfect weather.

The hike started poorly when Sam t
ried to climb and then jump off the gate where we parked (which Ethan is sitting on here). It looked like he took a header right to the pavement, but fortunately his leg got stuck enough that he never hit his head; he only got a charlie horse in his thigh. But he was OK, and we charged onward.

The first quarter mile consists of dusty switchbacks up the side of the mountain, a few hundred feet vertical. At the top is the first of a long line of spectacular views, and a series of alpine meadows with various types of plants. At the top, the trees look weather beaten and sparse, clearly battered by years of wind. This is a ridge that rises well above Desolation Wilderness and then falls off into the Tahoe basin, so it's essentially the top of the wall.

Peter standing in front of Desolation Wilderness

Maria in one of the alpine meadows, sort of.

Peter and Sam on top of the rocky ridge

The trail meanders across the top of the ridge for a quarter mile before dropping onto the back side of the mountain, into a long and quite pleasant stroll through redwoods and white pines. We met a few other day hikers along the way, but largely the trail was quiet. A mile or so farther on, the trail splits--one path to Ellis Lake, and the other to Ellis Peak. We chose the peak as our destination.

Peter, Ethan, and Sam overlooking the valley leading up to the trailhead

A view of the valley; the road to the trailhead winds through it, and Lake Tahoe is at the other end of the road.

Ethan waiting for his old man to catch up, sitting among redwoods and white pines.

The last half mile is again very vertical, rising back to the highest point on the ridge, a pinnacle that towers over Lake Tahoe on its western side. On the western side of the ridge, the wind whipped across and cooled us nicely; on the leeward side, the sun beat down and shade was difficult to find. We ate our lunch on the leeward side at 8,700 feet, admired the view, then began the trek back along the trail.

Maria in front of the valley.

Maria from Ellis Peak with Lake Tahoe in the background. You can see nearly the entire south end of the lake, including Heavenly, from this point.

On the way back, the views were equally spectacular. Some were even more dramatic because of the angle looking at the sheer rock faces along the ridge. The whole affair took us about four hours. The five of us (us four plus my brother) went through five gatorades and about three liters of water, and we could have used a little more.

Peter trying not to fall off the peak or look to knackered in the elevation.

All the boys, from front to back: Sam, Ethan, Mark, Peter

When we got back to our Meeks Bay campground, we jumped in Lake Tahoe (brrr) and played some touch football on the beach.

This weekend: More camping, but at lower altitude. We will be going to our usual Lake Sonoma campsite with dear friends. For me: three weekends of camping in a row! See you on the other side.