Saturday, March 31, 2012

'It's a Blue Elmo'

Believe it or not, "Sesame Street" has now been on the air for almost 43 years. It was already going strong when I was growing up in the 1970s and '80s.

At the time, Cookie Monster was a freakin' rock star. You'd be hard-pressed to pick a more popular character. Hello, he invented the phrase, "Om nom nom nom."

Back then, the Elmo character didn't exist (at least not in his current iteration, which began in 1985).

Flash forward to 2012. Elmo has so sucked the air out of the "Sesame Street" universe that when we brought home this Cookie Monster bath toy for Alice, Elliot casually said, "Oh, it's a blue Elmo."


UPDATE: I've just discovered there's a portion of Elmo's Wikipedia page devoted to the marginalization of other "Sesame Street" characters. Apparently it's a widespread complaint.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Auto-Industry Pioneers: a Rich Source of Century Names?

As I discussed last month, prospective parents are crazy for "century names" — monikers such as Evelyn and Violet that were last popular at least a hundred years ago. After finding a bunch of good candidates in "Downton Abbey," I think I have a new source of century names: the early auto industry.

Ford Model T

I was reading about the origins of Motor City and came across quite a few possibilities. There's Henry Ford, of course. "Henry" peaked in the 1800s and is currently staging a comeback. (There's also Henry Leland, who founded Cadillac and Lincoln. Leland can work as a first name as well.)

Ransom Olds
But let's dig a little deeper. How about Ransom Olds, the founder of Oldsmobile? "Ransom" has to be one of the coolest names ever, and yet it's no longer in the top 1,000.

Is it because parents are nervous about naming their child something closely associated with kidnapping? Keep in mind that the word can also mean "redemption," folks.

Ransom = Bad. Ass.

Hugh Chalmers founded Chalmers Motor Car Co., which ultimately became part of Chrylser.

Joseph Hudson and Roy Chapin, meanwhile, started the Hudson Motor Car Co. — a precursor to American Motors. Between them, there are four potential names there. (But Chapin's middle name was Dikeman, which I wouldn't advise for a boy or girl.)

Charles Nash was a president of GM, who went on to found Nash Motors. Again, both first and last names are solid, though "Nash Bridges" may have tainted that name. Horace Elgin and John Francis Dodge were then men behind the Dodge Brothers Co. "Elgin" had a brief spike in the 1910s as a first name, before fading back into obscurity.

David Dunbar Buick incorporated the Buick Motor Co. in 1903, and later allied himself with future GM founder William DurantWalter Chrysler started that company in 1925 when the Maxwell Motor Co. was reorganized. (Jonathan Dixon Maxwell founded the precursor firm.)

Finally, Alanson Partridge Brush founded the Brush Motor Car Co. and later formed the United States Motor Co. with brothers Benjamin and Frank Briscoe.

Here's a list of the names, along with when they peaked in popularity.
Henry (1800s)
Leland (1920s)
Ransom (1800s)
Hugh (1800s)
Joseph (1910s)
Roy (1890s)
Chapin (never ranked in the top 1,000)
Hudson (peaking now)
Charles (1800s-1910s)
Nash (peaking now)
Horace (1890s)
Elgin (1910s)
John (1800s-1910s)
Francis (1910s)
David (1960s)
William (1800s-1910s)
Walter (1910s)
Dixon (never ranked)
Maxwell (peaking now)
Alanson (never ranked; Alan peaked in the '50s)
Benjamin (peaking now)
Frank (1800s)

Happy naming.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Like My Food Extra Inauthentic

Murray Lender, the founder of Lender's Bagels, died last week at the age of 81. published a very backhanded tribute to the man yesterday that praised his innovation while saying his bagels were awful.

The gist of the piece:
"The fundamental story of Lender’s Frozen Bagels is that the winning product isn’t always the best one. Like Ikea for furniture, H&M for clothing, or the Olive Garden for Italian food, Lender’s innovated by finding a way to compromise on quality and reap huge gains in other spheres. To an extent, it’s thankless work. Nobody wants to stand up and proudly proclaim, 'I changed the world with my inferior products.' But often this is how the world changes."

I'm often defending San Francisco bagels from New York snobs (what, they taste fine, people), so maybe I shouldn't further undermine my credibility. But I have to say, I loved Lender's Bagels when I was growing up.

I would eat them constantly, and almost always with Alouette cheese.

It occurs to me now that this was a double-whammy of inauthenticity. Fake bagels, topped with a cheese that was a knockoff of Boursin. (And my French sister-in-law has informed me that even Boursin is fake cheese.)

I haven't had a Lender's Bagel with Alouette in many years, but I'm pretty sure I'd still enjoy it.

UPDATE: I also don't really understand what the big problem with pink slime is. So I probably should stop talking now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'STOP Hating'

I've been "collecting" Berkeley stop-sign graffiti for nine months now, so it's perhaps surprising that I've never seen this variation until today.

Appropriately enough, it was on Martin Luther King Way (and Stuart).

Monday, March 26, 2012

What's Going on Here?

I'm a little confused by this pair of underpants.

Since when are the apostles allowed to use lightsabers?

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Scourge of Baby-Name Remorse

Apparently more parents are regretting the names they give their children. The root of the problem, experts say: They have so many choices these days that it leads to paralysis and remorse.

No regrets here: the definitive "Alice"
These parents are always wondering if a slightly more perfect name is out there somewhere.

From a story on Yahoo News:
The problem with this name explosion is that psychologists don't necessarily find that having more choices is better. To explain this phenomenon, Swarthmore College researcher Barry Schwartz coined the term "the paradox of choice." Schwartz's research suggests that the more choices we have, the more stressful those choices become. And even if we make a perfectly serviceable choice, we're more hampered by regret. 
That's what [baby-name expert Laura] Wattenberg says she sees in advice-seeking parents with name remorse. Some are frustrated because their unique baby name keeps getting mispronounced. Others learn of some distressing association with the name after they chose it and stamped it on Baby, she said. But most parents she hears from simply feel that another choice on their top 10 list would have fit their baby better. 
"Maybe Jude would have fit better than Luke and totally changed your baby's life," said Wattenberg, summing up parents' thoughts.

I refuse to accept a Swarthmore professor as an authority on anything, but I have discussed before how parents' baby-name agonizing has gotten out of hand.

I'd say that most naming regret will dissipate with time. Kids tend to grow into their names, and their connection with the moniker eclipses any bad associations you may have had.

"Elliot" only means one thing to me, and that's a towheaded 3-year-old who likes to drop peas into his milk and put on unconvincing magic shows. "Alice" is a tottering dance enthusiast with a smile as wide as her face.

It's impossible to imagine them being called anything else.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Russian Roulette Pizza Plate

The Laughing Squid site had a post yesterday about The Plate Roulette, which is designed to look like the cylinder of revolver. The idea is to make the person who picks up the slice with the bullet under it buy the pizza (or submit to some other punishment).

When we were kids we would celebrate Epiphany with a king cake. Whoever got the slice with the plastic baby Jesus inside would be king for the day.

The problem was, someone would invariably lose or swallow the baby Jesus. (I seem to recall my mother having to search for it after it passed through our digestive tract.) If we couldn't find it, we would have to switch to using a bean or some other object.

Perhaps the Plate Roulette would be a more elegant solution. Maybe they could make one for Epiphany? It would at least be less gross.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Five Guys Burgers vs. In-N-Out

The blog for the NPR show "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me" recently did a post about transporting In-N-Out burgers on an airplane cross country and then holding a taste test.

The result: The burgers were still good — even though they looked less-than-appetizing in the photos.

Photo courtesy of NPR.

Despite the chain's fervent fan base, In-N-Out is still only in five states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas. And the vast majority of those locations are in the Golden State. That gives it a certain allure in the Midwest and East Coast.

When we visited New York earlier this month, I was excited to try Five Guys Burgers, which I perceived to be an East Coast attempt at creating the same kind of cult-like status. (I learned later there are already Five Guys locations in the Bay Area — duh — but at the time I figured it was an exotic treat.)

The Five Guys chain started about 25 years ago in suburban Washington, D.C., and now has more than 1,000 locations. Like In-N-Out, the most popular option seems to be the double burger — though at Five Guys, the double is the regular and the single is the "little" burger. It seems designed to foster America's obesity epidemic.

The food was good, but not mind-blowing, and not nearly as good as In-N-Out. When I mentioned this at the time, Kelly said, "Of course, you would think that." I'm assuming she was referring to me being West Coast till the casket drops. Even so, there's something about the way an In-N-Out patty melds with the sauce and cheese to create a transcendent experience. It's more than the sum of its parts — it's a succulent delicacy that goes beyond mere burgerdom.

Both chains are known for their fries, which to me is ironic. The Five Guys fries came in an absurdly large container and were OK but a little overcooked. In-N-Out fries, meanwhile, are usually the opposite — undercooked and a tad foamy. (If you're smart, you ask to have them double-fried to get a crispier flavor.)

In both cases, it's the burger that matters, and it's hard to compete with In-N-Out.

West siiiiide.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Transformer Gets Slightly Transformed

We had some friends over tonight, and Elliot was excited to show them his Transformer.

Now, this is a Transformer designed for 3-year-olds, which means it doesn't change too dramatically. There's no way a toddler's limited dexterity could handle the twists and turns that a regular Transformer requires. (Even as a teenager, I struggled to configure my brother's Transformers properly.)

So it's pretty subtle. This is the Transformer as a robot...

...and here it is as a helicopter.

It's less a transformation — something closer to a day-spa makeover.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Extreme Napping

The Huffington Post Parents site is inconsistent in terms of quality, but this is one of the best things I've ever seen: "14 impressive napping positions."

Our own kids have assumed some pretty uncomfortable-seeming napping postures (see Elliot above, circa 2009), but it's hard to top these children. Check it out.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Alice Steps Out

Alice is 14 months old and walking around. She also loves to dance (you can tell she inherited our family's famously perfect rhythm).

She has her share of spills, but Alice has approached the whole walking endeavor with more caution than Elliot, who would launch himself into space with no sense of self-preservation.

I'm not sure if this is a boy/girl thing or just their personalities, but Elliot's face was constantly bruised at this age. And he was always subjected to the back-of-the-leg test at the doctor's.

I'm glad Alice has emerged as a biped with a little less violence.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Baby Does Some Human-Beatboxing...Sort Of

Following the video of the dad freestyle rapping in the delivery room, here's a baby human-beatboxing.

Well, actually it's just him making random sounds and then the dad heavily editing the results.

Still, cute kid.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thank God for Preservatives

Making necklaces out of O-shaped cereal is a popular pastime at Elliot's preschool.

I'm grateful for the use of BHT in Froot Loops; otherwise, this priceless piece of jewelry wouldn't be long for this world. Take that, natural-food nazis!

Even so, the risk of this necklace winding up in Alice's mouth is at best 50-50.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Glamorous World of Urinals

I discussed the use of urinal flies last Monday. Well, here's another solution to the problem of poor aim.

At Bix in San Francisco, they've installed a marble slab to guide the flow. Classy!

It's disturbing that this is my second post about urinals in the past week. Maybe they're on my mind more often now because of our 3-year-old's fascination with them.

When he first became potty-trained, I tried to get him excited about using public restrooms by talking about how great urinals were. It worked a little too well. Now when Kelly has to take him into the women's restroom, he throws a tantrum because he can't use a urinal.

Once again, the trick with kids is thinking through the implications ahead of time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Bumper Badger

I noticed a lot of cars in New York with "Bumper Badgers," a product that goes over your bumper to protect it from dents and dings.

I don't think I've EVER seen one of these on a car in San Francisco or Berkeley, even though we have plenty of tight parking spaces. (And San Franciscans have to park on streets with gradients of 30 degrees or more — a challenge New Yorkers don't face.)

So why hasn't this product taken off in the Bay Area?

I'd like to think it's because we're less materialistic about our vehicles.

UPDATE: It turns out the inventor of the Bumper Badger is from Brooklyn. So maybe the product is just taking awhile to make it to the West Coast.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The World's Most Dangerous Place to Bring Children?

We went into the Toys "R" Us in Times Square, and once again I was grateful not to be traveling with children. The place is gigantic and seems designed to turn kids into complete lunatics (not that they need much prodding).

There's a car-themed Ferris wheel inside the building...

...along with a giant, animatronic T-rex...

...and Superman saving shoppers from a runaway truck.

The toy selection was impressive, though I don't remember seeing much in the way of marshmallow ballistics.

I do wonder why anyone would purchase this Wolverine claw for their child. Put this on a kid, and he or she is virtually guaranteed to obliterate any breakable items in your home. The toy is also inadvisable if your pets currently have functioning eyes.

And remember, parents: It is your sworn duty to keep the next generation from EVER learning about Jar Jar Binks.

Please take this responsibility seriously.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Scenes From New York

During our New York trip, we tooled around the Upper East Side, Midtown and Queens. Here are some random snapshots.

Well, which is it?

Museum makes plastic-surgery joke.

A wall of conspiracy theories in Hell's Kitchen.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Another Episode of Hollywood Seeing Double

I've written extensively about Hollywood's propensity for releasing two movies on the same topic in the same year.

It's uncanny, and not something that appears to be letting up. Last year, it was two movies about friends with benefits.

Now it's two movies reimagining Snow White. What are the chances?

You have a seemingly bright, goofy retelling of the tale ("Mirror, Mirror") and another, much darker version ("Snow White and the Huntsman"). All the while, there's a show on ABC called "Once Upon a Time" that attempts its own twist on the story — not very well, in my opinion.

In any event, I guess it's a good time to be a fan of Snow White.

UPDATE: It doesn't help that the "Mirror Mirror" tagline ("the Snow White legend comes alive") does nothing to tell you what's unique about the movie. It's probably the least elucidating tagline since THIS.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A 'Rotten' Run at the Box Office

What does it say about America's movie tastes when EVERY ONE of the 10 highest-grossing films has a "rotten" rating on

I'd like to say this is a first, but it's probably fairly routine.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Why Is There a Fly in My Urinal?

We took a quick trip to New York this past weekend — without kids, which turned the journey into the most luxurious experience imaginable. (Even when a baby on the flight shrieked at bird-like sonic frequencies, I just smiled and thought, "Poor little tyke. Glad he's not mine.")

But when we landed, I was a little perturbed to find a fly in the urinal at the airport bathroom. What's the message here? "Welcome to New York. We hope you don't have unrealistic hygiene expectations."

I'm glad no one reported me to TSA for taking a picture of a urinal.

It turns out that all the urinals have the same fly, and it's not real. The flies were installed to help reduce urinal messes, because they give people something to aim at.

And the practice isn't new — it dates back to Victorian times, when the bee was the favorite pee target.

NPR did a story on urinal flies back in 2009:
"There is a deep-seated instinct to aim at targets," says [May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois], and having a fly to aim at reduces what she politely calls "human spillage." 
When flies were introduced at Schiphol Airport [in Amsterdam], spillage rates dropped 80 percent, says manager Aad Keiboom. A change like that, of course, translates into major savings in maintenance costs. 
Thaler has tried to imagine how the airport made its calculations. "I'm guessing somebody went to the urinals without flies and repeatedly soaked up the ordinary spillage with a paper towel," which he then figures was carefully weighed on a scale. Then the same experiment was done at fly-emblazoned urinals, and presumably the scales reported a dramatically measurable difference in soakage.
Flies work better than, say, a bull's-eye design because men like to aim at a potential moving target.

Still, encouraging people to pee on vermin would seem to create a perverse incentive — especially in New York.

Later on, I saw a rat scurrying down the track while waiting for the E train. Fortunately, everyone resisted the temptation to take aim.

Friday, March 02, 2012

BuboBlog Joins Pinterest

I don't fully understand Pinterest or what I'm supposed to do on it, but I figured I'd give it a try.

Come check out my page — chock full of recycled BuboBlog content.

Bubo in Cake Form

Bubo, the mechanical owl from the original "Clash of the Titans," is this blog's unlicensed mascot. We've previously spotlighted his appearance on T-shirts, a wine bottle, a Christmas tree and "Community," but this takes the cake.

It's a Bubo-themed chocolate cake on the CakeCentral site (thanks for the tip, BuboBlog Marin County corespondent Jason).

The owl part is apparently made of "RCT and gumpaste," so it doesn't sound very appetizing.

UPDATE: Turns out "RCT" stands for Rice Crispy Treats. That's a relief, since I was assuming it was an industrial-grade polymer.