Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One-Woman Cleanup Crew Fights Berkeley Graffiti

Berkeleyside reports today on Jane Tierney, "a one-woman graffiti fighting army."
She regularly cleans fences and buildings around the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in Berkeley where she lives, and also patrols the shops and mailboxes in the retail corridor of Solano Avenue looking for graffiti and tags to remove.
I'm all for cleaning up tagging on buildings, fences and mailboxes, but the photo gave me pause: She's cleaning a stop sign!

Photo courtesy of Berkeleyside

In fairness, it doesn't appear that this stop sign had a real message — just an ugly tag — but it seems like this form of graffiti should be protected speech in Berkeley.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Thought I Told You That We Don't Stop

I spotted this footnote to one of our ubiquitous "STOP driving" signs.

"Cross traffic does not stop...and neither do we."

Maybe a bicyclist wrote this?

Click here for the complete series.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Worst Secretary Ever

Elliot likes to open my mail and report on what's inside. But his inability to read makes him a less-than-ideal assistant.

He told me this was a letter from two people who wanted to play at the beach.

Stay in school, kids.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Men in African Tribe Are Considered the World's Best Fathers

I was reading a HuffPost Parents story about parenting customs around the globe when I came across an item on a central African tribe that is believed to have the world's best fathers.

From the story:
Aka Pygmies fathers are believed to be some of the most dedicated dads in the world, caring for their children almost 50 percent of the time. They've been known to take their tots on the hunt, to campfire chats with the guys and will even offer a nipple to suckle if the baby gets fussy.
Okay, the nipple thing is noteworthy (especially since fussy newborns seem perfectly content to suck on a finger). But I'm comforted by that fact that even the world's most dedicated fathers care for their children less than 50 percent of the time.

Way to set low expectations, global dads!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Defining Images of the 1990s

At the end of 2009, I wrote that the '00s were probably the most important decade since the 1960s. I stand by that assessment, but it's mostly because of the era's economic and geopolitical shifts.

Will Smith plays Nintendo. Photo courtesy of BuzzFeed.

When it comes to having a distinct cultural identity, the last decade of note was the 1990s — and I'm not just saying that because I came of age during that time. Whether it was grunge, gangsta rap or pervy R&B ballads, popular music was still moving in new directions. (Since 2000, music has been more derivative — not worse, mind you, just not as groundbreaking.) The fashion world touted Zubaz pants, flannel shirts and "Rachel" hairstyles. And even the cutting-edge technology of that era is now delightfully antiqued.

"Saved by the Bell" PSA. Photo courtesy of BuzzFeed.

Want to take a step back in time? BuzzFeed has assembled 48 pictures that perfectly capture the 1990s. Most of them make it seem like an awkward, cringeworthy time. But at least it was unique.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Kids' First Trip to the Boardwalk

Going to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk always brings a burst of nostalgia: the smell of fried dough, the sea air, the music blaring over the PA system. (It helps that they continue to play songs from when I was in high school. Question: Is anyone else still promoting the music of Jane Child?)

We were in Santa Cruz last weekend, and it seemed finally time for the kids to experience the Boardwalk themselves.

Shortly after we arrived, Elliot sought out the rides that were only for bigger kids and/or guaranteed to induce vomiting.

Eventually we talked him down to Bulgy the Whale — a mainstay of the Boardwalk's kiddie area since at least the 1980s.

The 101-year-old Looff Carousel (a national landmark) also provided a thrill — though he wasn't tall enough to grab for the brass rings.

The carousel is one of only a few merry-go-rounds left with ring dispensers. The point is to get one of the rings as you roll by and then throw it into a giant clown's mouth. There are bells and flashing lights if you're successful. These days, though, the rings are just plain steel — not brass — and many people probably have no idea about the origin of the phrase "grabbing the brass ring."

(Side note: While looking up the Boardwalk website, I saw it was named the "world's best seaside amusement park" by Amusement Today magazine. I've never seen or read Amusement Today, but I'm delighted by their ambiguous name. I imagine a Bond villain saying, "You're amusement today, but tomorrow I'll feed you to my genetically modified dobermans.")

For nostalgia's sake, I was relieved to see that the Boardwalk is still serving Dippin' Dots in multiple locations — despite the company's bankruptcy filing in November.

It does seem, though, that they're no longer calling it the "Ice Cream of the Future." I'm not sure if that's an ominous sign.

Alice, meanwhile, enjoyed her own thrill ride: Walking Upright.

There are no height requirements for that one.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Country Do You Live In? Berkeley!

We've been trying to teach Elliot some rudimentary geography. That includes the name of our street, our town, our state and our country.

I guess it's a lot to absorb for a 3-year-old because sometimes when I ask what country he lives in, he'll say, "Berkeley."

At first I would correct him, but now I wonder if he's just absorbing the local sentiment.

"Socialist Democratic Republic of Berkeley" — sign on truck selling rustic birdhouses
Most people in Berkeley do live in their own country.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

BuboBlog Reviews 'Chronicle'

The "found-footage" genre  has become a popular form of cinema, with about 60 feature films using the technique so far. Thirteen years after "The Blair Witch Project," you could argue that stitching a movie together out of snippets of amateur video is getting pretty tired — and yet, there's a reason it works.

For one, it's a great way to blunt cliches. If a character gains super powers and leaps into the air, that's a pretty tired premise. But if he's shown flying away in an unsteady homemade video, it adds a bit of freshness and verisimilitude.

"Chronicle" makes the most of the found-footage approach, and stakes a claim beside "Cloverfield" and "District 9" as a standard bearer for the genre. I didn't find it quite as poignant as either of those films, but "Chronicle" explored enough new ground to show why these sorts of movies are still worth making.

The film features a trio of teens who gain the power of telekinesis after discovering a mysterious cavern. (Yes, this sounds preposterous, but when you see it in fuzzy video clips, you buy it.) The scenario gives the characters the ability to levitate the camera, so they don't have to hold it while they film everything. This makes it seem slightly less ludicrous that they're able to record all their actions — compared with, say, "Cloverfield."

Most of the film depicts the teens coming to grips with their new-found power. After a period of fun and games, one of the youths turns to darker activities, setting the stage for a mayhem-filled finale. The New Yorker's David Denby took issue with the film's third act, saying it was too conventional and grim in its approach. But it's hard to imagine how else "Chronicle" could have proceeded. It's been said that every movie has the same theme — "careful what you wish for" — and not delving into that territory would have made the picture much less satisfying.

In fact, when the character does go bad, the movie has earned it. His descent seems inevitable, based on his troubled home life and the exhilaration of his seemingly limitless powers.

"Chronicle" should be commended for creating a super villain that is entirely plausible and sympathetic. How many movies accomplish that, regardless of their video quality?

BuboBlog Rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Poop! (There It Is)'

Folks, what can I say? I've let you down.

I pride this blog on being a top-quality source of information on both baby trends and 1990s hip-hop. And yet, it's taken me a year to get wind of the Luvs "Poop There It Is" commercial? (In 2011, it was named the worst commercial of the year.) I blame my slowness on the fact that we only watch Netflix and Hulu these days.

In case you've missed it too, the ad features three cartoon babies competing to fill their diapers with feces. "American Idol"-style judges then rate the performances.

All the while, we hear "Poop! (There It Is)" — a playful twist on "Whoomp! (There It Is)," the 1993 hit from Tag Team. Question: Is this better or worse than "Baby Got Backpack"?

You'll recall there was a song called "Whoot, There It Is" from 95 South that also charted in 1993. Having two nearly identical songs become popular at the same time was an odd turn of events that only seems odder in retrospect.

But perhaps if Luvs wants to use the 95 South track in a follow-up ad, it can be called "Toot, There It Is."

As always, I provide my consulting services free of charge.

'STOP Driving Shrooms'?

As I've documented extensively, our neighborhood in Berkeley appears to have one of the highest rates of stop-sign defacement in the United States (if not the world).

Here's one where it doesn't seem like a lot of care/thought went into it. Someone took a "STOP Driving" sign and scrawled "shrooms" beneath it.

You can barely make out the word "shrooms," and it's hard to figure out what that has to do with driving.

It's almost as if the person were mentally incapacitated when they wrote this.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is 'Downton Abbey' a Good Source of Baby Names?

People who study baby names frequently cite the "100-year rule" — the notion that names become popular in century-long cycles.

That makes me wonder if "Downton Abbey" isn't a good source for would-be parents. After all, the show is set in 1912 (at the outset of the two-season series). So it should be chockfull of naming goodness.

Now, it's not a perfect source of 100-year monikers. The older characters would have names that were popular much earlier.

And you're relying on the show's writers to have picked true names from that era (given the anachronisms in dialogue, that's no sure thing).

But I find many of the names very appealing. I'm really hoping there's a spate of Lavinias born this year. C'mon, people, make that happen.

Here's a list of the names, along with when they peaked in popularity (in America, not Britain).

Anna (1800s)
Anthony (2007-2008)
Charles/Charlie (1800s)
Cora (1800s)
Daisy (1800s)
Edith (1800s)
Ethel (1890s)
Evelyn (1910-1920s)
Frederick/Freddie (1800s)
George (1800s)
Gwen (1950s)
Henry (1800s)
Isobel/Isabel (2003)
Jane (1940s)
John (1800s-1910s)
Joseph (1910s)
Lavinia (1800s)
Mary (1800s-1950s)
Matthew (1980s-1990s)
Richard (1930s-1940s)
Robert (1920s-1930s)
Rosamund/Rosa (1800s)
Sarah (1980s-1990s)
Sybil (1920s)
Thomas (1940s-1950s)
Vera (1910s)
Violet (1910s)
William (1800s-1910s)

As you can see, only a few of these are true 100-year names. The ones that peaked either before or during the 1910s are: Anna, Charlie, Cora, Daisy, Edith, Ethel, Evelyn, Freddie, George, Henry, John, Joseph, Lavinia, Rosamund, Vera, Violet and William.

Good choices, all.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Movie Posters Grouped by Theme

I recently came across a clever French blog (no, not Le BuboBlog, which has no affiliation with this one). It's a site that groups together movie posters by theme; say, ones that feature a park bench or people wearing sunglasses.

You often hear talk about how formulaic movie trailers are (epitomized by this generic film preview). This French guy's site really demonstrates how formulaic posters are as well.

So what appeals to filmgoers?

Apparently they like to see movies about people with text over their blindfolds...

...or dark figures with their backs to the audience...

...or close-ups of eyeballs...

...or women in red dresses.

You can see many more examples here. (And thanks for the tip, BuboBlog Portola Valley correspondent Jon.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another Cautionary Tale About Child Labor

I've written before about the pitfalls of relying on child labor.

Well, this weekend Elliot had to make almost 20 valentines — enough for everyone in his preschool class.

He lost interest after a few of them and began squeezing glue into the crayon box.

So I had to make most of the valentines myself.

Fortunately, I have the arts-and-crafts skills of a 3-year-old, so no one will notice the difference.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When Karaoke Happens Behind Closed Doors

Last night we went with some friends to the Jaguar Karaoke lounge in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood. (We were enticed by its slogan, "Let's sing, dance, and crazy!!")

It's one of those private-room karaoke places — something I haven't experienced before. If I'm going to embarrass myself, I'd usually rather do it in front of a crowd.

Mostly I was struck by how much it resembled a brothel.

When you arrive, the "madam" ushers you through hallways painted red until you arrive at a numbered room. Along the way, you hear muffled screeching from behind the other doors. The whole thing feels vaguely shameful. (Note: I haven't been to a real brothel, but I have watched "Red Shoe Diaries.") 

There's no alcohol, which is a drawback versus regular karaoke bars. But they do supply you with your own tambourine. (For when you're ready to really "crazy.") 

In the end, we had a great time. And it's probably for the best that my singing "More Than Words" happens within an isolation chamber.

This tribute to Whitney Houston also will probably not be making tonight's Grammys retrospective.

Side note: It doesn't really add to the poignancy of her music when the background video is of Korean guys cleaning a sailboat.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Living Water Tower

One thing you realize when you have kids: Role reversals can take place very quickly.

When we first moved to Berkeley, I enjoyed pointing out the water tower to Elliot. My reasoning was, water towers are fairly unusual in modern-day society, and the fact that we have a prominent one in southwest Berkeley is exciting.

The thing is, when you're 2 or 3 years old, EVERYTHING is unusual. And so, young kids have very different ideas about what's exciting.

As it turned out, Elliot got it in his head that his dad was very interested in water towers. After that, whenever he saw one he would say, "We should show that to Daddy. He likes those."

Then suddenly I had to pretend like *I* was the one excited about water towers.

That said, I am very excited about this "living" water tower in Minneapolis.

It uses a projector to make it seem like it's alive. Pretty cool.

If we're ever driving though Minneapolis, I will point this out to anyone who will listen.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Marshmallow Cannon in the White House

I've discussed marshmallow guns before, specifically the arsenal available from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Well, this week a kid brought a marshmallow cannon to the White House to demonstrate it to President Obama.

Fortunately, it wasn't this child.

An eighth-grader from Phoenix showed off a homemade gun that can shoot marshmallows up to 75 feet. In this video, the president insists on seeing it in action.

"The Secret Service isn't happy about this," Obama says.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

'Taxiderm the Rich'

I spotted this sign in the window of a house on McGee Avenue in Berkeley.

I can only hope they let the rich die of natural causes first.

Monday, February 06, 2012

I Somehow Doubt This Is a Licensed Emergency Vehicle

Over the weekend we discovered flyers on our doorstep for something called the "Green Re-Leaf Delivery Service."

At first I thought it might be some kind of eco-friendly gardening service, but upon closer inspection, I realized it was offering marijuana delivery. Welcome to Berkeley.

Have we really reached the point where ordering marijuana is as easy as getting a pizza? (Of course, you'll end up ordering a pizza after the marijuana anyway, so everyone wins.)

It's a glossy, professional-looking flyer — with far better production values than most of the delivery restaurants in our area offer. On the reverse side it says if you present the flyer to the driver, he'll give you a free joint.

But is the guy really going to pull up in this vehicle? And what sort of emergency would require him to use the siren? ("Hello, Green Re-Leaf? We just put on 'The Big Lebowski' — I need you here STAT!")

Eric Holder is SO going to bust this operation.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

How Old Is a Grown-Up?

"I'm almost a grown-up, Daddy."

"Oh, really? How old is a grown-up?"


"Ten? What kind of things can you do when you're ten?"

"Drive a car."

"Is that right?"

"Yes, I'm going to be a really big racetrack driver."

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Terrifying Hexbug Colony

I thought we had a lot of Hexbugs in our house, but one of Elliot's friends has a much more impressive collection.

I can only imagine what these things will do when Skynet gets switched on.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Different Sort of Day in San Francisco

Rob Delaney, a Los Angeles-based comedian with a huge following on Twitter, did a swing through San Francisco yesterday.

His experience (retold in tweets) provides a bit of a counterpoint to the tourism bureau's "A Day in the Life" video.

[Fact check: That is not the Golden Gate Bridge. -ed.]

Gay FranChina loves you right back, dude!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

An Impossible Day in San Francisco

The tourism bureau ginned up this video depicting a day in the life of everyone's favorite city.

It's well-done, even if there's a suspicious lack of fog in much of the video. (And the ending gives the impression that everyone should drive home to Marin after visiting.)

It also would be impossible to literally do all of these things in one day. They show "The Nutcracker," which runs during December, and a Giants game, which couldn't be later than October.

Ceiling Solar System Contains No Pluto

I wonder if makers of glow-in-the-dark planets jumped at the chance to stop including Pluto — if only as a cost-saving measure.

For whatever reason, Elliot's solar-system set contains no Pluto, which was downgraded to a minor planet in 2006.

Actually, at the moment his solar system contains no Jupiter, Saturn or Neptune either. They fell to the floor a few days after we put them up there.

I tell Elliot, "Don't worry, Uranus is still stuck to the ceiling," and then giggle for a long time. Fortunately, he has no idea what I'm talking about.