Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Hip-Hop Map of New York City

As should be obvious, we moved to New York because it's the birthplace of hip-hop. (There may have been other factors.)

So I was thrilled to see this New York map showing the neighborhood origins of rappers (discovered via the Boing Boing site).

What's great about New York is no matter which borough you live in, there's a wealth of great location-specific lyrics to quote. Even Staten Island can enjoy in this rich legacy, thanks to the Wu-Tang Clan (though they refer to the borough as "Shaolin").

A sampling:
"Uptown is the place where I lay my dome, on the streets of the Bronx where my family roam."

"Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way."

"How you doin', Miss. My name is L, I'm from Queens." 
"[Fellaz] know, we go against a Harlem jigalo."

"Where my Shaolin peoples at? Stapleton, the craziest, y'all know what time it is."
I have yet to visit Staten Island/Shaolin, so I cannot corroborate that Stapleton is indeed the craziest.

Getting back to the map, I wonder about the inclusion of Tupac in Manhattan. Though he was born in East Harlem, he's so strongly associated with the Bay Area, it just feels wrong (almost as if someone accused me of being from Massachusetts).

Roosevelt Island, meanwhile, is conspicuously absent as a rapper birthplace. Clearly, our unborn daughter is destined to right this wrong.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We've Got a Hamburger, Folks!

As you may have guessed from my near-constant discussion of baby-naming trends, we have another one on the way.

This time around, it's another hamburger (as opposed to a turtle). If that makes no sense, click here.

When I started out in this whole child-making game, I imagined I would produce sons. That worked...once. The second child being a girl came as a surprise. And now, the fact that I will be a father of daughters (plural) is almost too surreal to grasp.

I'm not against the idea, of course. I just need time to digest it.

And I have to say goodbye to all the boy names that will never get used.

Oberon/Auberon needs a good home. Please, parents of boys, take it for yourselves!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eight Questions for New Yorkers

Being a newcomer to New York, I'm often unsure about local mores and customs. So I'm hoping someone can set me straight by answering these important queries.

1. Am I allowed to get the New Yorker magazine now that I'm in New York? Or is it only for snotty Californians?

2. Is it still cool to call Brooklyn "Crooklyn"?

3. When is it appropriate to tell people that I'm "dropping some NYC"?

4. What the heck are these giant nitrogen tanks doing on the street?

5. Is this joke lame? "I figured I could afford an apartment in the Upper East Side if it was in the Nineties. Then I realized it would have to be the 1990s."

6. Or this: (at subway station for Hunter College) "This is my stop. I'm getting a bachelor's degree in pheasant decoys."

7. How many i's do I have to include in "West Siiiiiiide" for it to be clear that I'm referring to the West Coast and not the the neighborhood?

8. And finally, when someone says they went to Colombia and you can't check the spelling, is it safe to assume they don't mean this?

Thanks for your assistance.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Are San Francisco Parks the Best?

A report last week called San Francisco's park system the best in the nation, putting the city just ahead of New York.

San Francisco's Dolores Playground (photo courtesy of SFGate).

From SFGate's City Insider blog:
The survey by The Trust for Public Land scored the cities in three general areas: park accessibility (the percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park); park size and the city’s total area dedicated to parkland; and the number of playgrounds per 10,000 residents and per capita spending.

San Francisco, with 98 percent of the population within close proximity of a park, just edged past New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C . in that category. San Francisco also ranked near the top in annual per capita spending, measured at $291.66. Only the nation’s capital spends more, at $303.45. The average among the 40 cities rated was $105.95.

San Francisco fell short when it came to the number of playgrounds — 1.78 per 10,000 residents; the average was 2.17 — and also on the average size of the park. However, the city was near the top when it came to the percent of acreage in the city made up of parks, 17.9 percent, compared to the national average of 10.3 percent.
After more than a month of living in New York (and continually seeking parks for two young kids), I have to say these findings sound about right.

Central Park and Bryant Park are fantastic, but the parks and playgrounds in much of the city are underwhelming. For one, there's often no grass. Typically playgrounds are built on concrete or asphalt, surrounded by steel cages.

(Now, I once advocated for less open space in cities. So I guess I've become a hypocrite in my parental years. This happens.)

Anyway, when we were living temporarily in Midtown, we spent a fair bit of time at Twenty-Four Sycamores Park (near the on-ramp to the Queensboro Bridge), which has fun play structures but no green area.

Twenty-Four Sycamores Park (photo courtesy of New York parks department).

And some "playgrounds" have no play structure at all. One morning we were hunting for a park near the United Nations when we came upon this.

Looks fun for playing roller hockey, but not great for a 3-year-old.

There was a dog run next to it, so at least the canines are being taken care of.`

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Island Living

After a month in temporary housing, we're now settled in a new apartment. We're living on Roosevelt Island, a place that was largely unknown to me before we moved to New York.

Looking north at Roosevelt Island.

For the uninitiated, it's a sliver of land situated in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. There's no bridge from Manhattan, so you have to take the subway or a tram (a charming red gondola that soars above the Queensboro Bridge).

Coming from Manhattan.

It's in the borough of Manhattan, though I can't imagine any real Manhattan dweller promoting this fact. You see, Roosevelt Island seems pretty uncool by New York standards. The smattering of restaurants and shops on the island aren't very hip, and there's not a lot to do.

Elliot enjoys the view from the tram.

That is, unless you're a small child, and then it seems nearly ideal. The island has a ton of open space, with plenty of playgrounds and greenery. Since it's hard to get a car here, there also isn't much traffic. Elliot and Alice have a blast running around the paths and grassy knolls.

The population is only about 10,000 residents, making it a similar to Capitola. (If Capitola were in the middle of New York City.)

And because we're just across the river from Manhattan, the views are amazing.

The sight from our living room.

Mostly I like living here because I can do my bad Jamaican accent: "Welcome to the island, mon."

Let's ignore the fact that living on an island in New York City is not especially unique, in that Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are all on islands.

At least I can feel superior to the Bronx.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What Are These Exotic Creatures?

Today we visited Central Park Zoo, where the main attraction is the California sea lion tank.

Everyone was so charmed by these animals. Is it worth mentioning that they're considered borderline vermin back home?

An infestation at Moss Landing (photo courtesy of

I guess everything is better in moderation.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Wonders of New York City: Part 2

Once again, the kids are wowed by the sights and sounds of their adopted city.

The source of amazement this time: the door-stop spring in the bathroom.

'Is That Your Baby?'

Our iMac's hard drive died, so we had to send it off to the computer-repair shop.

Back when we had a car, I would have just thrown the computer in the back and breezed on down to the store. But being carfree in Manhattan requires more creative solutions.

So I strapped the iMac into our stroller and pushed it the 10 blocks to the repair shop. I received a couple remarks along the lines of, "Is that your baby?" but most New Yorkers know not to ask questions.

At one crosswalk, I pulled up next to a homeless man who was also pushing a baby carriage. His stroller was filled with tin cans and he was muttering things like, "I'm gonna get you."

I'm pretty sure I'm just a few bad days away from being that guy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is This the Ultimate Century Name?

In the wake of the Social Security Adminstration releasing its annual list of baby names, many people are concerned about giving their child an overly popular name.

Well, rejoice, would-be parents: I've found the ultimate "century name" (a moniker that hasn't been popular for 100 years).

For your consideration, Woodrow.

It spiked in the 1910s and then almost immediatly fell out of favor. Currently, it's not even listed among the top 1,000 names. (No danger of saddling your kid with the next "Jayden.")

It's the perfect pattern.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Baby-Name Statistics Smackdown

La liste est arrivĂ©! The Social Security Administration released its annual ranking of infant names yesterday, providing a wealth of picayune data to baby blogs such as this one.

From the Huffington Post:
Sophia is the new top girls’ name in the U.S., unseating Isabella after a two-year reign, according to the Social Security Administration’s announcement of 2011’s popular baby names.

Jacob remains the most popular name for boys for the 13th year in a row. An Old Testament name that means “supplanter” and a cousin of James, Jacob has been in the Top Ten for nearly two decades.

The celebrity baby name influence is evidenced by two names leaping up the ranks. Mason, the new number two boys’ name, is the name of Kourtney Kardashian’s baby boy. And Harper, the fastest-rising name for girls, was chosen last year by Victoria and David Beckham for their first daughter.
I continue to be mystified by Jacob's No. 1 rank — not because I dislike the name, but because I encounter so few Jacobs in real life. I've said before that the two most common children's names in our circle are Jack and Sophia.

On the girls' side at least, it appears America is catching up with our trendsetting friends.

In fact, nearly all the girls' names in the top 10 are solid. (I'm not crazy about Madison, but that's really the only weak spot.)

On the boys' list, meanwhile, Jayden feels like it's not going to age well. And Aiden, despite being more of a "real" name, carries a bit of that taint. (I'm still not sold on Mason either, but I guess I'll give it time.)

On a personal note, I was happy to see both Alice and Elliot climb the charts this year. Alice jumped to No. 172 from 142, while Elliot rose to No. 272 from 301. Unlike Alice, which peaked in the 1800s, Elliot is now in record territory.

  1. Sophia
  2. Isabella
  3. Emma
  4. Olivia
  5. Ava
  6. Emily
  7. Abigail
  8. Madison
  9. Mia
  10. Chloe
  1. Jacob
  2. Mason
  3. William
  4. Jayden
  5. Noah
  6. Michael
  7. Ethan
  8. Alexander
  9. Aiden
  10. Daniel
I wouldn't worry too much about the boys, though. They'll probably just rename themselves Tyrannosaurus Rex anyway.

UPDATE: The Mommy Files blog has zeroed in on the top 10 names in California.

It's not radically different than the overall ranking, but Sophia makes TWO appearances in the top 10 (the "Sofia" variant is No. 7). And Jayden is even more popular in California than it is nationally — a bit surprising. But then, the state is home to Jaden Smith.

California girls:
  1. Sophia
  2. Isabella
  3. Emily
  4. Mia
  5. Emma
  6. Olivia
  7. Sofia
  8. Abigail
  9. Samantha
  10. Natalie
California boys:
  1. Jacob
  2. Daniel
  3. Jayden
  4. Anthony
  5. Matthew
  6. Alexander
  7. Ethan
  8. David
  9. Andrew
  10. Nathan

Monday, May 14, 2012

The New York Skywriter's Dilemma

With tall buildings blocking half the letters, skywriters have a hard time getting their message across in Manhattan.


Oh, forget it. Real New Yorkers don't look up anyway.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is This the Most Kid-Friendly Restaurant in New York?

Our family has suffered through some legendarily bad Mother's Days in recent years. There was 2010, when a 20-month-old Elliot turned our flight back from Portland into five hours of hell (culminating with us getting stranded in San Leandro because the little guy killed our car battery). In 2011, Elliot stepped up his game by vomiting on nearly every surface in the house. Alice got into the fun by turning that Mother's Day into a nonstop screamfest.

So this year, the pressure was on to break the streak. I figured I would start by celebrating Mother's Day on Saturday, thereby thwarting the gods' plan to ruin the holiday for us. But I wasn't sure what to do now that we're in New York. It's hard to find a place to eat here that accommodates tiny monsters.

So I was excited to discover what may well be the most child-friendly restaurant in Manhattan  if not the world. It's called Alice's Tea Cup, a charming little brunch/tea place in the Upper East Side.

Before being seated, the host asked the kids if they wanted to be sprinkled with fairy dust — glitter — and be adorned with wings. We figured Alice was a bit young for this, but Elliot got the full treatment. (Yes, I know. Wings are for girls.)

The menu had kid-friendly options, and the staff wisely served the children their drinks in little plastic cups.

The place is inspired by "Alice in Wonderland" — with the decor, artwork, menu items and even the teapot fitting the theme. This made it a little confusing for our little Alice, who would jerk her head around every time she heard someone order "Alice's Mad Morning Tea."

(I don't want to be a pedant, but the children's fairy costumes wouldn't seem to be consistent with the theme; there are no fairies in the Lewis Carroll work.)

In any case, this may be the nicest changing table I've seen in a restaurant bathroom.

Everything was great, but by the end of the meal, we were getting a little too close to naptime. When Alice gets this expression, bad things always follow.

Alice soon started screaming, and even after I took her outside a few times, she was in no mood to sit at the table. At one point she pulled off her shoe and started hitting me in the head with it. When I put her down, she scrambled behind the front counter of the restaurant. (The staff was very nice and even offered her a hosting job.) Elliot got antsy as well, and in the end, I think Alice's Tea Cup was probably happy to see us go. Still, this was a fairly good showing for our family.

As for the fairy dust, well, it's proving to be hard to shake off. Even after Elliot's bath tonight, he still seems to be covered with glitter. I hope he doesn't eventually want a career in investment banking because I think this might be a permanent look for him.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Alice's Hoodie

There's been a lot of controversy about hoodies lately. First, Geraldo Rivera said we shouldn't let children go outside with hoodies, lest they be judged as thugs or hoodlums. Then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was criticized for wearing one.

I have to wonder if Alice's favorite hoodie isn't striking terror into the hearts of onlookers.

I have to think so.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are We Ready for Early-2000s Nostalgia?

A recent Slate story examined the cycles of nostalgia. Some observers believe in the "Golden 40-Year Rule," which posits that we feel most nostalgic about the period 40 years ago (hence the popularity of "Mad Men"). Others say the time frame is 20 years, or maybe 15.

I've been seeing a surge in 1990s nostalgia lately, so maybe the 15-year idea has some merit. Witness this video showing what Pinterest would look like if it had been created in the '90s.

This week's "Revenge" attempted something even more ambitious: early-2000s nostalgia.

Catering uniform, circa 2002

The episode was set in 2002, and clearly the writers had some fun with the trip back in time.

The episode included:
—the music of 50 Cent, Pete Yorn and Wilco (memba them?)
—a mention of the D.C. sniper
—a character reading "Who Moved My Cheese?"
—a discussion about whether the housing bubble would ever burst
—Dolce Gabbana
—a character name-dropping Puff Daddy (he'd changed his name to P. Diddy in 2001, so I'm not sure how authentic that one was)

There was no mention of Sept. 11, but maybe that's because the show's mythology centers on a fictitious terrorist plane crash in 1993. So the writers didn't want to muddle the issue.

At one point a character picks up an iPad. "That's not right," I thought. Then I realized it was actually a wooden board with pieces of paper on it.

I believe at the time this was called a "clipboard."

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

New Baby-Naming Idea: Fictitious Last Names

Using a traditional surname as a baby's first name has been popular for some time. Just witness all the tiny Parkers, Jacksons and Harrisons running around out there. And let's not forget when Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon named their daughter Monroe to honor Marilyn Monroe (instead of just calling her Marilyn, which would have been "too clichĂ©").

But actress Rosamund Pike appears appears to be taking the trend a step further: using the last name of a fictitious character.

Former Bond girl Rosamund Pike has joined the May mum's club after giving birth to a son.  
The Die Another Day star has given her baby boy the unusual name Solo, according to Britain's Daily Mail on Sunday.
Now, it's unclear if she named him after Han Solo, but I certainly hope so.

Can a baby Calrissian be far behind?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Sendak's Less Wild Side: Little Bear

The passing of Maurice Sendak today has brought a wave of reminiscing about his best-loved work, "Where the Wild Things Are."

That book is certainly a favorite in our household, but on a typical night we're more likely to be reading Elliot one of the "Little Bear" books.

Sendak was the illustrator but not the writer for this series, which was published in the 1950s and '60s (apparently there was a TV show as well, but I've never seen it). We enjoyed the books as kids, and then Elliot picked up the tradition when we found one of the volumes in Santa Cruz.

The prose, by Else Holmelund Minarik, is often charming. But I have to wonder how much of the magic comes from Sendak's illustrations, which feel like a gentle reminder of the Victorian era.

Sendak's own writing was perhaps more poignant and nuanced than anything in "Little Bear," but he was a far more prolific illustrator than author. He did the drawings for almost 50 stories in the '50s and '60s alone. As a writer, meanwhile, he's only truly famous for a book that contains about 300 words. Even so, both talents have stood the test of time.

Monday, May 07, 2012

BuboBlog Reviews 'The Hunger Games'

Okay, so I'm a bit late with my "Hunger Games" review.

I guess I'm running for the proverbial Cornucopia after all the good weapons have been taken, only to be gored by a carbon-fiber scabbard. But I'll share my thoughts anyway. One benefit to being so late: I can aim this review at people who have seen the movie already (or at least read the book).

On balance, the film was a skilled adaptation. Subplots and characters were wisely excised (Madge, the crew from the Hob), while others were fleshed out. Seneca Crane, who orchestrates the Hunger Games competition, has a major role in the movie, despite not appearing at all in the book (though he does get a posthumous mention in "Catching Fire").

The novel was told entirely from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen: You only see what she sees firsthand. Katniss doesn't even learn the names of most of her Hunger Games opponents until the competition is well under way. That wouldn't have worked cinematically. You want to know your enemies early on, and that includes knowing their names. So the filmmakers used the reality-show conceit to introduce the other Tributes before the Games begin, including Cato, Glimmer and Rue.

Interestingly, there was no effort to fill in the gaps in personal information missing from the book. Katniss and Peeta Mellark are introduced on TV by first and last name; the other Hunger Games tributes only get announced by their first names (because Suzanne Collins didn't reveal their full names in the book). Maybe District 12 is supposed to be the only part of Panem that uses surnames?

By showing the running commentary during the Games, the film was able to deftly supply exposition without it seeming forced. (What's a Tracker Jacker? Here, we'll tell you.) It was also fun to see the behind-the-scenes negotiations between Haymitch and the gamesmakers — something left to your imagination in the novel.

With that said, I didn't love the aesthetic decisions made by the filmmakers, even though the choices felt true to the book. The Capitol fashions and makeup are meant to show how superficial the people are. But on screen, they just looked tawdry and borderline campy. I would have dialed it back a bit. (Side note: Most medical advances in the future will apparently take the form of fluorescent balms.)

Director Gary Ross also is fond of using extreme close-ups, no matter how unflattering. He manages to make most of his actors and actresses look unattractive for much of the film, even Katniss herself (played by Jennifer Lawrence). One exception: Seneca's facial hair, which looked fabulous from every angle. But would it be so hard to take the Capital lifestyle to its logical conclusion and give everyone starburns?

When we see the gang of Career Tributes tramping through the forest, Ross makes them seem like an ordinary gang of teens (who happen to enjoy killing people). That helped spotlight the horror of the situation. Even so, the tone felt a bit off at times. When they chase Katniss up a tree with cheeky enthusiasm, the scene had a faint resemblance to a "Mentos" commercial.

Ross' fight sequences, meanwhile, are herky-jerky to the point of being incoherent. Again, I understand why he made this choice (to reflect the chaos of hand-to-hand combat), but it doesn't add to the enjoyment of the film. (The New Yorker's curmudgeony David Denby complained that the movie was like being tossed in a washing machine.)

But these are minor points. The film largely succeeds — better, in fact, than most of the "Harry Potter" movies. It was less cluttered, more urgent.

"The Hunger Games" is often at its best when it strays from the source material. When we see how Katniss' accidental subversiveness inspires rebellion in the districts, it raises the stakes of the Games. That was missing from the novel. And the scene where Seneca is locked in a room with nightlock berries is priceless — even if I can't imagine a Capitol resident agreeing to commit suicide.

The "That is mahogany!" line, which apparently has become an Internet meme, also wasn't in the book.

If that becomes the most famous bit of dialogue from the movie, it will be reminiscent of "Deliverance," a novel that didn't contain much banjo playing or the line "I bet you can squeal like a pig."

Sometimes screenwriters really do earn their paychecks.

BuboBlog Rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4).

Sunday, May 06, 2012

'I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York'

We recently got this book as a gift (thanks, Grace!). It catalogs the most beloved institutions of New York and gives each of them a lukewarm reception. It notes, for instance, that the Empire State Building hasn't been the tallest structure in the world since the erection of the Griffin Television Tower in Oklahoma.

On Ellis Island:
"Sure, Ellis Island's an important part of history. But it turns out you can look up all that ancestry stuff online."

On pizza:
"You know what New York pizza reminds us of? It reminds us of every pizza, everywhere. Tampa pizza. Des Moines pizza. Albuquerque pizza. You know why? As it turns out, pizza is just cheese and sauce on top of bread."

On Times Square:
"If we wanted a seizure, we'd induce it ourselves."

Now, I'm a lot more enthusiastic about New York than the authors of this book, but some of the entries DO hit close to home. For instance, the one about bagels: "We never had a bad bagel in New York. But, then again, neither of us could recall ever having a really bad bagel anywhere, ever."

I'd agree with that, and add that the chewiness of New York bagels really makes my jaw work. I'm too lazy to do this much chewing, New York. Just give me a Noah's.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

It's a Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad World

This week's New Yorker cover features a playground filled with dads — and one mom.

At first I thought it was commentary on how more fathers are handling child care during the "mancession" (though apparently the mancession is over).

Then I read the name of the artwork, which was created by Chris Ware: "Mother's Day."

I think the message is the best way to pay homage to moms is by taking the kids for the day.

Maybe the solitary mother is single?

(Hat tip to for this.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The 22 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Baby's Name

The Huff Post Parents site compiled a list of rules to follow if you want to avoid naming your child something regrettable.

Now, I'm not sure I could get Auberon (my perennially vetoed choice) past these restrictions, but the list actually seems pretty sensible.

We did violate No. 12, though: "The first name should not end with the same letter that starts the last name." (Sorry, Elliot!)

Jessica Simpson, who just named her daughter Maxwell Drew Johnson, broke No. 16: "Something about the name should indicate gender, if only for official papers like passports. So Carter Elizabeth Jones is preferable to Carter Emerson Jones."

This is clearly going to create hassles once Maxwell Drew realizes that her mom is Jessica Simpson and immediately tries to flee the country.