Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Happens in Vegas?

I'm in Las Vegas for a trade show. It's been about 15 years since I was here for another trade show (back when COMDEX was the largest trade show in the world, and could only be held in Vegas because it had the biggest convention facilities and enough hotel space). Oddly enough, I still don't like Las Vegas.

I keep thinking of all the advertisements about "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." As near as I can tell, what happens here is a lot of littering. As one walks around The Strip and the convention center (or between the two), one sees seemingly endless stands which in any other town would hold newspapers and real-estate advertisements. Here, they contain advertisements for GIRLS.

I have no idea how many of these are actually used for girl shopping. But a huge number of them end up lying on the sidewalk and in the gutter. Just paper trash, blowing in the wind, getting trampled. All day, every day.

Yuck. I can't wait to go home.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Growing Older But Not Up

The busy musical week continued last night with a Jimmy Buffett concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre. I don't like having to drive all the way down to Shoreline for a show, but it's always worth it to see Jimmy. [Though I must say that ticket prices are getting way out of hand; for mediocre seats in the back of the bowl, we paid something like $130 dollars plus the "convenience fee."]

Having just been to the Tower of Power 40th anniversary concert last weekend, it was fun to hear Jimmy thanking us for giving him a summer job for the last forty years. Nice way to rub in that we're all getting a bit older!

But as I've noted before, these "old" bands I like so much put on much better shows than most of the newer artists I've paid to hear.

One definite highlight was Jimmy's rendition of "Fruitcakes," a song he recorded about fifteen years ago (there's a line about "We're seven years from the millenium..."). Not only did he update some of the lyrics for the passage of time, but he filled the song with local references to the bay area. I couldn't tell whether he was reading those lyrics, but it didn't seem like it. It's remarkable to me that an artist could rework one of his old songs like that, more-or-less on the spot, and have it come out so well.

Another highlight came right after the intermission, when one of the members of the Coral Reefer Band, Mac McAnally, sang one of his older tunes that he says keeps coming to mind during this election year, called "The Ass and the Hole." It's pretty funny.

I guess another sign that we're getting older is that one of my friends brought his 10-year-old daughter to her first Buffett concert: our first parakeet! My daughter hasn't shown the interest in either Jimmy or concerts, so she might miss out.

Meanwhile, I'm happy to shell out a few bucks to keep Jimmy employed and entertaining me every summer. There are certainly worse ways to spend it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bump City

Last night was the roughly-annual Tower of Power concert at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. I always enjoy it because a) I love T.O.P. and find that they're still making great music after all these years, and b) the Fillmore is a cool and historic place to see a show.

This year there were two additional highlights: a group of friends in attendance and a Very Special Show.

After I showed up at a function for my daughter's school wearing a Tower of Power t-shirt, I got lots of comments from other parents about how much they liked the band and so on. So I agreed to alert everyone the next time they played locally. So we had three other families as well as a long-time friend and former coworker who is a big fan, and we all met for dinner in Japantown before the show and went over together.

It was during dinner that I got my first inkling of what a special show it was to be. I knew the band was observing its 40th anniversary, and that tickets were priced therefore at $40. What I didn't realize was that it was going to be a huge band reunion, with a whole bunch of former band members joining in for anything ranging from one number to whole sets and even much of the show. Accordingly, they played tunes from various eras of the band's history, including many that we hadn't heard live in a long time, if ever.

Probably the best moment came at the end, after more than three hours of playing, during the encore, when they brought out even more former bandsmen and performed "You're Still a Young Man" with something like a 15-piece horn section (it's usually five), and brought out several great soloists for "What is Hip?"

It was all fabulous. And best of all, it was all being filmed for a high-definition DVD to be released next year, so I can relive the show long into the future. Life is good.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The New Academy

Yesterday we went to the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The academy itself isn't new, rather they've just had the grand opening of the new facility, which is in the location of the old facility, which they rebuilt while they were in an interim facility. Clear now?

Anyway, this was my first chance to see the new digs, as they opened while we were in Indonesia. My daughter and niece had gone to a pre-grand opening session (since we're members), so they had seen all the cool new stuff. But my wife and I were seeing it all for the first time, and surprisingly enough, I thought it lived up to the hype.

The facility is lovely. The green roof gets a lot of attention, but the whole thing just fits nicely into the space (much better than, say, the big ol' tower they tacked onto the DeYoung Museum across the concourse...). The exhibits are very modern, and traffic flows through them very well. This is a good thing, because all the hoopla has drawn tremendous crowds.

We didn't get to see everything, because it was too crowded. So we missed the new rainforest exhibit, which looks quite spectacular from outside (it's in a big glass sphere). Conceptually, it reminds me of the one at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. We also didn't get to see the new planetarium. We spent quite a bit of time in the new global warming exhibit, which was quite good, and a LOT of time in the evolution area, which highlights research from the Galapagos (including lots of marine stuff, which had obvious appeal) and Madagascar. There was plenty of interest for the adults and the child as well. And we went through the renovated African Hall fairly quickly, spending most time watching the penguins in their nice new habitat. They really seem to like all the attention.

But we most wanted to see the new Steinhart Aquarium. My wife and I both have great fondness for Steinhart from many visits as children. She also took fish classes there years ago. Needless to say, it is very different from its old incarnation, which was very old fashioned, very rectangular, and very much one tank after another.

The new exhibit flows in graceful curves (there are very few rectangular tanks, and most of those have shaped facades in front of them), and most of the exhibits are grouped thematically. Unfortunately, the traffic flows are not well thought out. There are dead ends and tight spots, which is completely unlike the flows upstairs in the exhibit halls. And once an hour the walls in the center gallery turn into a 360-degree immersive video thing about water. It's cool, but intrusive.

So I'm a little disappointed in the new aquarium. It's certainly nicer than the old one, and may grow on me when I get to see it with fewer people. All in all, it's nice to see the academy back where it belongs, in lovely Golden Gate Park. The facility had great promise, nice spaces, lots of old favorite exhibits spruced up and much improved. The cafeteria is quite nice, and the restaurant below it is getting great reviews.

I'm looking forward to many more visits. It's a terrific place.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Surreal Slips

Weirdness abounds in the world. I had just finished reading a post by Digby suggesting that John Roberts of CNN was pushing Republican talking points, when I saw a tiny item in a column in today's San Francisco Chronicle (boldface in original):
The Chronicle's Mike Lerseth was listening to CNN on Wednesday when John Roberts, introducing an election segment, referred to that morning's guest, Willie Brown, as "former San Francisco Mayor Willie Horton." In a mob of Willies - including Mays and McCovey - it does seem odd that Horton should be the one in the newsman's mind. (Brown had been talking about race playing a role in the presidential election.)
OK, that's just weird. For those who don't remember, Willie Horton was the scary, black bogeyman of the 1988 presidential election. Willie Brown is hardly scary (although he is African American), and he definitely dresses better than Horton. Something is obviously going on in Mr. Roberts' psyche that I really don't want to know about.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Say It Ain't So!

*SOB*

Bank failures, insurance collapse, stock market plummeting, all OK. But not this! Not the cookies from my childhood!

Iced raisin, oatmeal, circus animals....

Oh, it's just too much. So sad...so depressed....

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Cephalopods!

One last post, while it's still International Cephalopod Appreciation and Awareness Day. I wish I'd known about it earlier.

And it was only after I got back from vacation that I realized I had again missed Talk Like a Pirate Day (again), which was especially galling this year because we were on a beautiful sailing ship that day.

Arrrrrrrr!

Bear Blogging

In which my sister, normally gentle and kindhearted, decides that loud tourists deserve a different position in the food chain.

I'll see if she'll post the picture she took of the cinnamon bear. If not, maybe she'll let me post it. Beautiful animal!

UPDATE: Picture posted here.

Reality Impacting

Goodness. Hard to believe I've been home for a week. I keep having things I want to blog about, but I've been trying to catch up with all the blog entries I wrote while traveling without network access. I am now caught up on that.

And of course, there's been lots of work to catch up on, and our Granny Nanny is out of town, so we have to actually pretend we're real parents, too. Man, life is so unfair! But it's actually nice spending the extra time with our daughter, since we missed her so much while we were away.

As I predicted, I am not loving the fact that I'm back just in time for the last throes of the presidential election. One thing I should mention is some of the comments we got about the election from people in Indonesia.

First, just the fact that lots of people in Indonesia wanted to talk about it was interesting. They know a lot about the candidates, and not just because Barack Obama spent some of his formative years in Indonesia. To a person, they made it clear that they cared about our election because it matters to them. That's an amazing fact. Most Americans couldn't name the president of Indonesia, and frankly, it doesn't matter to most of us. But our president, our national policies, matter to them--a lot.

Second, there was a very strong perception among them that Obama will win. Some already refer to him as President Obama. There are two reasons for that: out of self-interest, they can't imagine that we would elect yet another disastrous president, but also because nearly every American they meet agrees with them.

One ex-pat put it this way: "Republicans don't travel." I corrected him, because they do travel, but I'm guessing not very many of them travel to Indonesia. Travel is so broadening, and challenges so many of our notions about ourselves, that it's hard to imagine someone visiting Indonesia, talking to Indonesians, and believing that the last eight years have been good for the world and that four or eight more years of similar policies would be a good idea.

So the Indonesians we met almost unanimously support Obama. A farmer we met in the hills of Bali was wearing an Obama campaign button pinned to his jeans. He was very proud, very interested, and very pleased to know that we were supporting Obama, too.

The world is watching, and they care very much what we do. Like the U.S., Indonesia is a country born of colonialism, and Indonesians look at our country in many ways as a model for what theirs can become. It seems clear to them who would be better for them as our president. Apparently the choice is not as clear to many Americans.

Interesting times.