Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Does 'Three Little Pigs' Send a Dangerous Message?

"Three Little Pigs" is one of Elliot's favorite stories, but I wonder if it's giving him the wrong message about unreinforced brick masonry.

Here in California, using bricks as a building material is generally a bad idea. And there's no evidence that the third little pig braces his walls with a steel frame. (He doesn't even bolt his house to the foundation for chrissake.)

From the Earthquake Country Alliance:
Houses built of unreinforced masonry — bricks, hollow clay tiles, stone, concrete blocks, or adobe — are very likely to be damaged during earthquakes. The mortar holding the masonry together is generally not strong enough to resist earthquake forces. Anchorage of walls to the floor and the roof is critical. These houses are weak (brittle) and can break apart. Walls may fall away or buckle, resulting in damage.

How can we call ourselves responsible parents if we teach our kids that using brick is OK?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ikea Hackers Make a 'Hobo Stove'

The Ikea Hackers site is devoted to customizing the Swedish furniture giant's products or finding creative uses for them.

One recent entry featured this "hobo stove," made by cutting a hole in an Ordning cutlery stand and adding two tent sticks to the top. (Thanks for pointing this out, BuboBlog Bonny Doon correspondent Terri.)

Photo courtesy of Ikea Hackers

Ten years ago, I created my own hobo stove, though I called it The Ghetto Hearth.

At the time I had hoped to take the home-furnishing world by storm with a line of urban accents, but I never got past this one prototype.

The Ghetto Hearth

It worked pretty well, though it produced no heat (it used one of those fake-flame things).

Not actually warm

At some point, Kelly made me put it in storage — something about it serving no practical purpose.

Maybe I can donate it to an Occupy camp.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Help! Our House Is Infested With Hexbugs

If you have young children, you may be familiar with the Hexbug line of robot insects.

We only discovered them three months ago, when Elliot got one for his birthday. Since then I've seen lots of kids with them, and we now have three skittering around our house. (Is this toy the Stretch Armstrong of the 2010s?)

Here's a video of Elliot playing with the Hexbug Nano, which relies on hearing-aid batteries and sensors to get around.

The thing will disappear under our couch and I'm always sure we're never going to see it again. But somehow it manages to find its way out every time.

There are at least seven models, including this new Larva bug, as featured on the Laughing Squid blog.

I'm a little concerned by how much that one resembles a Cybermat.

BuboBlog Reviews 'The Descendants'

(Thanks to grandparent babysitting, we were able to sneak away to a movie this weekend. It's been four months since seeing my last movie in the theater. I'll try to improve on this record as the Oscar contenders begin getting released.)

Like a lot of people, I had high hopes for "The Descendants." How can you go wrong? It stars George Clooney, the picture is directed by Alexander Payne (his first feature since 2004's "Sideways"), and it promises to show a side of Hawaii rarely glimpsed by tourists. "The Descendants" also has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 91.

Clooney plays Matt King, whose family stands to gain a fortune from the sale of a large parcel of undeveloped land on Kauai. He's the trustee in charge of approving the deal, leaving the hopes of his numerous cousins in his hands. Complicating matters: His wife is comatose after a boating accident, and he has two out-of-control daughters.

He soon discovers two things about his wife: (a) she's going to die (b) before her accident, she had planned to leave him for another man. While grieving and trying to corral his daughters, King embarks on a quest to find the paramour.

That setup leads to some poignant moments (how could it not?) and a fairly interesting plot, especially as King discovers that his wife's lover is more intertwined with his family saga than he realized. And as always, Clooney is great.

But the film is muddled and doesn't have the payoff it should have. It doesn't help that "The Descendants" begins with a clunker of a voiceover. The first few scenes consist of heavy narration, interspersed with bits of dialogue. At some point, the voiceover drops out of the film altogether, so you have to wonder if it wasn't added because audiences had trouble understanding what was going on. That kind of jury-rigged filmmaking is never a good omen.

I didn't really buy King's pursuit of his wife's lover, at least not in the way it was depicted. And the question of why she wanted to leave him in the first place goes unanswered. (The film doesn't really shine any light on King's character defects.) Side note: Was it an inside joke to have Judy Greer play a character named Julie Speer? Just wondering.

In the end, King makes a decision about the land deal that I suppose makes sense — it speaks to the film's theme of reconnecting with family. But it felt a bit arbitrary. And his making peace with the death of his wife was unsatisfying, since the audience lacked enough insight into their marriage, both in terms of what made it special and what made it fail.

I did love the view into the everyday lives of Hawaiians — something so seldom shown on screen. It's worth noting, though, that these are mainly white Hawaiians (King's family is meant to be descended from a Hawaiian princess, but the bloodline is clearly diluted by his generation). I suppose the real breakthrough would be to see a mainstream film about Hawaiian Hawaiians.

BuboBlog Rating: 2.5 asterisks (out of 4)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

'My 1st Activity Farm Walker'

Pray tell, how many Activity Farm Walkers does one have over the course of his or her life?

Friday, November 25, 2011

A House Divided: Is It Wrong to Sit Apart From Your Kids?

While we miss Kelly's relatives in Atlanta, I was grateful not to have to get the kids onto an airplane this year (we drove down to Santa Cruz instead for Thanksgiving with my family).

But somehow our children managed to make an 80-minute drive almost as grueling an ordeal as a cross-country flight. We had to stop three times along the way: once for Elliot to go to the bathroom in a derelict part of Oakland, once to eat, and once for Alice to turn a McDonald's restroom into a Superfund site.

When we dressed Alice for Thanksgiving dinner, she was wearing a pretty dress and tights. By the time she actually got to the table, she had on old pair of boy's pajamas.

Now I'm wondering if flying would have been better.

In that vein: Here's something that could be good or bad news, depending on your view.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that many families are struggling to get seat assignments together when they fly.
Several factors are at play. First, many seats on flights are reserved for elite-level frequent fliers or full-fare business travelers. Routinely full flights have less seat-assignment flexibility. Also, airlines are increasingly selling choice seat assignments for extra fees, an expensive option for families. And bulkhead rows at the front of coach cabins that used to be ideal for traveling with infants, offering more privacy for diaper changes and more space for restless toddlers, now have to be reserved for passengers with disabilities. As a result, families often end up separated or at the back of the plane.... 
Baltimore mom Teresa Toth-Fejel flies AirTran occasionally and has been told by airline agents that if she wants seats together with her kids — ages 1, 2 and 6 — she should pay extra for reserved seat assignments. She sets alarms for 24 hours before departure to check-in online. "I'm so freakishly worried about it," she said.
I can speak to this issue firsthand. When we flew back from North Carolina, the airline put Elliot all by himself.

The idea of forcing a stranger to answer all his questions for a five-hour flight appealed to me enormously. (Kelly, however, intervened.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Never Waiver': Typo or Clever Pun?

The latest issue of Vanity Fair has a snazzy advertising section promoting the Chevy Camaro. It features Erika Christensen ("Parenthood") and describes her favorite places to go in Los Angeles.

One part says, "Words to live by: 'Never waiver.'"

I thought it was an error, but they are talking about Los Angeles.

You should never sign a waiver because you may need to sue later? Good advice!

Is This a Bad Time to Be Pushing Banker-Themed Toys?

We've begun receiving a catalog called The Land of Nod, an offshoot of Crate & Barrel focused on kids' toys and furnishings.

They have a pretty great selection of stuff, but I wonder about their toys devoted to careers. The idea is to ask your child what they want to be when they grow up, then buy them the appropriate gear.

Is the $19.95 kit devoted to future bankers going to sell well this year?

Monday, November 21, 2011

'Daddy, Do You Know Batman?'

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of a conversation with Elliot, age 3.

"Daddy, can I hold Alice's hat?"

"Alice is wearing her hat, and it's cold. So we should keep it on her head."

"Daddy, do you know that some people have cars that plug in?"

"I did know that. Do you know what those cars are called?"


"Electric cars."

"Daddy, is this whistling?"



"Daddy, can we get a cat?"

"I don't think so, Elliot."

"Why not?"

"Maybe someday."

"Why not now?"

"We have enough going on without an animal in the house."

"But I could take it with me when I go for a walk."

"Cats aren't very good at going on walks."

"Then it could stay home while I go for a walk."

"We're not getting a cat."

"Daddy, do you know Batman?"

"No. Well, I know who he is."

"You can only see his shadow."

"Is that scary?"


"Okay, but he's a not a bad person."

"Daddy, Alice took off her hat. Can I hold it now?"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Mystery of 'Uncle Jake' Solved

It felt odd that Elliot's imaginary friend was "Uncle Jake," since the name seemed to come out of nowhere.

Then Kelly discovered the origin of Uncle Jake — "Usual Suspects"-style!

She was reading Elliot one of his current favorite books, "Oh, the Places You'll Go," when she came upon this page.

It's probably the most poignant page of the book, Kelly says. So it's not surprising that Elliot would take something from this and conjure up an imaginary person.

Still, it's funny where kids pick things up.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's an Appropriate Lullaby for a Baby?

I haven't yet tested Notorious B.I.G. on Alice to see if it soothes her. But I do try out a lot of different songs when it's time for sleep.

Since I don't always remember the words to real lullabies, I usually just make something up or modify a popular song (often from the 1980s).

I find that Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You?" is very apropos (with small changes):
"Baby, can I hold you, tonight?
Maybe if I hold you the right away
Ooo, at the right time
You won't cry."
I also often find myself singing this:
"Hey, little girl, is your daddy home...
Did he go and leave you all alone?
Ooh, ooh, ooh. I'm on fire."
Maybe that one's weird.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Does the Lettuce Go at the Top or the Bottom?

Tonight I was in charge of making dinner — a rarity. Since I'm not much of a chef, dinner consisted of sandwiches.

When I set down the meal in front of my wife, she made a remark about how I always make sandwiches "upside-down." I put the lettuce at the bottom, with the meat and cheese on top.

"Ha, you're kidding, right?" I said. "The lettuce is supposed to go at the bottom. What, did you not grow up in this country?"

Kelly insisted that, in fact, putting the lettuce *above* the meat is more common.

Since this seemed like the most absurd notion imaginable, I suggested settling the matter with a quick Internet search.

What we found shocked and horrified me.

The truth is, most "American" sandwiches put the lettuce above the meat.


Burger King



This is astounding. I feel like Bruce Willis at the end of "The Sixth Sense."

I now wonder if I'm not a sleeper agent, programmed during the Cold War by the Soviets (who got a few of the details wrong). Did they forget to activate me because of the breakup of the U.S.S.R.?

And what will I discover next?

Stephen Baldwin is the best Baldwin? Black licorice is edible? Soccer is a spectator sport?

The mind reels.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gift Idea: a Peeing Santa Liquor Dispenser

Around Christmastime three years ago, I asked for a globe liquor dispenser from Target (I also requested it for Father's Day 2009). I was rebuffed on both occasions, and who knows if they even sell the thing anymore.

No worries, because this is even better: a peeing Santa liquor dispenser (courtesy of the Laughing Squid site).

The only downside: I'm a little concerned that Santa appears to be using some kind of prosthetic. (The Whizzinator?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Imaginary Friends: Cute or Creepy?

Elliot is a boisterous, chatty guy, but he also can be shy around new people. When I take him to the playground, he often plays by himself — even when there are other kids his age.

Is Uncle Jake nearby? (Photo credit: Kelly)

I can tell he feels lonely sometimes. But for better or worse, he's already developed a coping mechanism: an imaginary friend.

Apparently when Elliot is alone, a man named "Uncle Jake" appears and has a picnic with him.

Uncle Jake lives very far away, and interestingly, he's not an uncle. "Uncle" is actually his first name, Elliot explains.

I guess we should be happy Elliot is exhibiting an imagination. And if Uncle Jake helps him feel less lonely, great.

But does his imaginary friend have to sound so much like a child predator? And dear God, what if he's actually real?

I could forbid Elliot from seeing Uncle Jake, but I think that might get weird.

Monday, November 14, 2011

'The Happiest Baby on Earth'

As I discussed the other day, Alice is a crazy-happy human being. It's infectious.

I compiled this video from a few days of footage, but I could have just as easily followed her around for a minute or so and gotten an equal number of smiles.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Sweetest Stalker Ever?

The other day Kelly was bringing the kids in from the backyard when she heard a voice from above.


She looked up to see a little girl in a tree, on the other side of our fence.

"I'm Maria."

They had a brief chat and then Kelly went on with her day.

Later on, I was walking around the block with Elliot and his cousin Margot when we noticed a little girl watching us. Again, it was Maria.

The day after that, Maria came to our door (with her dad) and dropped off a picture she'd drawn.

Left to right it's Kelly, me, Margot, Elliot and Maria herself standing in front of our house. (Maria apparently hadn't gotten a good enough visual on Alice yet, so she's not pictured.)

Now, normally when someone does surveillance on you and then produces a detailed drawing of your family and property, that might seem a bit creepy.

In this case, it's maybe the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Baby 'Hypnotized' by Biggie Smalls

You may have seen this video of a baby being soothed by Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize." (Thanks for pointing this out, BuboBlog Marin County correspondent Lauren.)

Much as I love hip-hop, the baby's reaction is surprising to me. Kelly has read that hip-hop and heavy metal are bad for baby's brains, so we've avoided playing either type of music around our little ones. (We do have a "Hip-Hop for Babies" CD that seems safe enough, but it doesn't have lyrics.)

UPDATE: Kelly reminds me that it was just gangsta rap that was banned. (I suppose Heavy D would still be cool for babies.) But it seems like Biggie Smalls' "Hypnotize" would qualify as gangsta rap, in that it describes gun violence, kidnapping and drug use.

Anyway, I wonder if the YouTube clip will help sales of the Notorious B.I.B. bib, as seen here on a newborn Elliot.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Low-Probability Candidate for 'Better Homes and Gardens'

We moved out of the city less than a year ago, and already we have a disaster of a backyard. It's so full of hastily built structures it can only be compared to a Brazilian favela.

There are numerous cardboard-box homes and vehicles. If you look closely, there's a plastic tote bag hanging from a tree — no idea how that got there.

I guess it's a good testing ground for children to prepare for the Occupy movement.

The centerpiece is this sprawling plastic cube contraption that Elliot got for his birthday (below). I managed to squeeze into it once. (I had to be extracted by someone lifting the structure up over me. I'm not proud of this moment.)

At one point we caught him trying to drag his sister in.

 I'm pretty sure we never would have seen her again if he hadn't been stopped.

Why I Would Make a Terrible Protester

Tonight UC Police tried to prevent Cal students from setting up an encampment on campus.

From the Chronicle:
Students joined arms and chanted "hold the line" and "the whole world is watching" while police approached with batons and bean-bag guns.

I'm glad I wasn't there, since it's physically impossible for me to chant "hold the line" without adding "love isn't always on time." I admire anyone who can resist that temptation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Kids Are Weird

Kelly bought Elliot a plastic toolkit from Home Depot. (Until now, he's been using the reflex hammer from his toy medical bag to handle construction tasks.)

Shortly after opening the box, he raised his tools to the heavens and shouted, "SOMETHING IS BROKEN!" Then he ran over to his make-believe kitchen and started making "repairs."

I wish I could approach my home-maintenance duties with this kind of relish.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

'How Not to Fly a Kite'

It's harder than it looks.

Kelly shot this video, which features Elliot, cousin Margot and some of their well-meaning elders flying a kite on the North Carolina coastline.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

Unhappy Babies on Product Packaging

I always find it mysterious when I see packaging for a baby product with a picture of an unhappy baby. Was it that hard to get the kid to smile?

Kelly has a great baby carrier called the Lillebaby. It offers six different carrying positions, and according to the promotional materials, the baby looks miserable in all but one of them.

Then there's this infant bath seat. It's a fine product, but the child looks constipated here.

Maybe I have a skewed perspective because Alice is an insanely happy baby.

Honestly, most of the time she looks ecstatic just to be alive. It's almost creepy.

This is how you get Alice to smile. Step 1: Make eye contact. Step 2: There is no Step 2.

I wouldn't want her shilling for baby products. But I guarantee this is how she'd handle it: "I may not understand what you're selling, mister, but I'M GOING TO ROCK THIS THING."

Thursday, November 03, 2011

At Last...the Holy Grail of Stop Signs

Back when I did my survey of Berkeley stop-sign graffiti, I lamented that there was no "STOP collaborate and listen."

But thanks to a tip from a reader, I discovered that one exists in Berkeley on California Street (at Prince) — not far from the Oakland border. So I swung by and snapped a photo.

It's a predominantly African-American neighborhood, so it's perhaps ironic that someone would pay homage to ol' Rob Van Winkle. Still, I'm excited to make this addition to my collection.

For the complete series, click here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tigers and Monkeys and Cinderellas, Oh My

We experienced a lot of firsts this year: our first Halloween in Berkeley, Elliot's first time trick-or-treating, and our first time living someplace where people actually came to our door seeking candy (something that almost never happened when we were in SoMa).

Not surprisingly, Elliot was a tiger. He held firm to the costume idea, even when his cousin Margot tried to convince him to be a prince (and then, in an attempt at compromise, a tiger prince). She was Cinderella.

Alice wore Elliot's old monkey costume, but somehow made it her own.

She may not be walking yet, but she'll pounce if you get too close (something her cousin Leigh learned here).

Leigh (1 year old) was Tigger, giving Elliot a trusty tiger sidekick.

Margot (age 3) already knows how to accessorize.

Sitting on the front steps at nightfall.

In the end, our house ended up being one of the more festive on the block (thanks to the giant spiderweb). I hope we met everyone's expectations.