Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Busytown USA, Now in Canada

Our kids' current favorite show is "Busytown Mysteries," a Richard Scarry adaptation in which Huckle Cat, his sister Sally and the contortionist worm Lowly solve petty crimes. (Several seasons of the show are available on Netflix, which is pretty much the children's exclusive source of television.)


I've previously discussed the Canadian monopoly on toddler/preschool TV, and this is yet another example of that. Scarry was an American and I seem to recall that the town used to be called "Busytown USA," but "Busytown Mysteries" is populated with Canadian speakers. ("Sore-y aboat that. See you tom-ore-o.")

I am happy that the show teaches analytical thinking, even if most of the mysteries are pretty obvious from the get-go. For instance, I'm pretty sure if the mouse-family cheese car has a bite taken out of it, the vehicle shaped like a giant set of teeth is going to be the culprit. DUN-DUN.

I also wonder about the quality of life in Busytown. Sure, its murder rate is low, but property crimes are through the roof. Also, is anyone wearing a seatbelt?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Is a Mockbuster?

Since I've spent a lot of time discussing Hollywood's penchant for delivering movies in pairs (e.g., "Deep Impact"/"Armageddon," or "Mission to Mars"/"The Red Planet"), I'm surprised I've never heard this term before: mockbuster.

"Transmorphers" (2007), a classic of the mockbuster genre.

From the Wikipedia entry on mockbusters (which I only discovered this week):
A mockbuster (sometimes also called a knockbuster or a drafting opportunity) is a film created with the apparent intention of piggy-backing on the publicity of a major film with a similar title or theme and is often made with a low budget. Most of the time these films are created to be released direct-to-video at the same time as the mainstream film reaches theaters or video outlets. 
Though it is possible to use properties of this sort to intentionally deceive consumers into mistakenly purchasing the derivative title (e.g., someone's grandmother thinks she is buying Transformers, but is actually getting Transmorphers), another possible intention is to provide legitimate add-on buying opportunity in the marketplace (e.g., customer enjoyed Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost and wants more in the same sub-genre, and buys/rents C. Thomas Howell's The Land That Time Forgot).
Note: None of the movies that I've previously identified as doubles would be considered mockbusters. With "Capote" and "Infamous," for instance, the producers didn't set out to make two movies on Truman Capote, it was just an absurd coincidence. (That's what makes it all the weirder.)

When two big-budget Hollywood films are created on the same topic, it's not an issue of one drafting off of the other — it's typically better to come out first.

One exception is "Armageddon." It came out after "Deep Impact," but grossed more money and seems to have embedded itself in our collective consciousness. When that meteor hit Russia last week, no one was saying, "This is totally like 'Deep Impact.'"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Are You Ready for a Surge of Babies Named Jrue?

Photo credit: Wikipedia
I haven't been following the NBA too closely lately (other than the status of the Santa Cruz Warriors' new stadium), but it's hard to miss the breakout star Jrue Holiday.

The Philadelphia 76er, who's playing his fourth season in the NBA, is leading his team in points and made his first trip to the All-Star Game last week.

All this attention makes me wonder: Are parents going to be inspired to name their own little ones Jrue?

First, some background: The name is pronounced "Drew," and it stemmed from his family's desire to continue a J-name streak.

From an interview he did in 2009:
My mom and my mom's sister were on a kick with J names ... my cousins' names are Jessica, Jenna, Jade, Jaelyn and James. My oldest brother is Justin and my name is Jrue (my mom liked the name Dru, but wanted to figure out how to keep with the J theme). After me though, that kinda ended, because my sister is Lauren and brother is Aaron.
Now it's easy to dismiss "kre8tive" spellings, but it took a clever stroke of phonology to realize you could perfectly duplicate the "Dr-" sound with "Jr-." Kudos to the mom for that.

And there seem to be many people who like to give their kids J names exclusively. I personally know at least two families who have done so (and there's the Duggars of "19 Kids and Counting" fame, of course).

But I have to deduct points for Jrue's mom not following through. From a sib-set perspective, Jrue, Justin, Lauren and Aaron is a major fail.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Danger of Books on Parenting

Despite having three kids, I've never read any parenting books. I'm not proud of this; Kelly has read several, and she's a much better parent than me.

Without her, we never would have sleeptrained our children or established a daily routine. That means they'd be terrorizing us at all hours of the night and be even more undisciplined than they already are (a scary thought).

Anyway, that doesn't mean you can't go overboard. This "Portlandia" clip show you what happens if you read every parenting book.



Now I feel better about my decision to read none.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Must Fairy-Tale Characters Be Stone-Cold Killers?

I noticed today that MTA buses are adorned with ads for a new Jack and the Beanstalk adaptation called "Jack the Giant Slayer." It's slated for a March 1 release.


This follows on the heels of "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters."


Now, it's been suggested that these are the latest example of Hollywood making two movies on the same topic. I don't really buy that  they seem different enough.

But there does appear to be a trend of making our beloved fairy-tale characters more homicidal  at least in the title.

With the Jack and the Beanstalk movie, the name also feels like a huge spoiler. Oh, so he kills the giant? Gotcha. I'm good then.

On the other hand, I suppose botanical titles (with beanstalks and such) aren't usually box-office draws. That's why "Little Shop of Horrors" wasn't called "A Big Ol' Plant That Eats People."

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" worked, of course, but it was meant to subvert expectations. How could someone named Buffy also be a slayer of vampires? I don't know  let's watch and find out. (Hollywood also tried turning Abraham Lincoln into a vampire hunter, but that was less successful.)


"Snow White and the Huntsman," meanwhile, came out last year. In that instance, Snow White had a sidekick killer.


I can only imagine that something like this is in the pipeline.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Item: Childbirth Is Really Uncomfortable

What's it like to experience childbirth? Two men from a Dutch TV show attempted to find out by hooking themselves up to a contraction simulator.

The bottom line: It looks incredibly painful. I guess this shouldn't be a shock to me, having watched three children being born firsthand. Still...yikes.



I'm not sure if this is an accurate representation of what contractions feel like, but it does leave out a key ingredient: The guys didn't have a human yanked out of their crotches. That's got to hurt a bit too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The New York Transit System Is One Big Amusement Park

Sure, it's easy to criticize San Francisco's Muni. It's less reliable and extensive than New York's MTA system. And the escalators at BART/Muni stations get clogged with human feces.

But at least it doesn't charge by height.


In San Francisco, kids only have to pay a transit fare after they turn 5 years old. The price is 75 cents  or free depending on your income level (vs. $2 for an adult fare).

In New York, kids have to pay a fare simply for being too tall  specifically, 44 inches. And there doesn't appear to be a discount for youths. (Someone please correct me if I'm reading this wrong.)

The MTA's slogan is basically, "You must be this tall to pay for this ride."

Because Elliot is a little tall for his age, he's already dangerously close to the 44-inch cutoff. (The picture above was taken several months ago, when he was safely under the limit.)

You also can't bring more than three kids on the subway without triggering the fare requirement: "Up to three children 44 inches tall and under ride for free on subways and local buses when accompanied by a fare paying adult."

So if one of our three kids brings a friend, I guess I'm paying full fare for them. That seems unfair, since bringing four small children onto the subway is definitely punishment enough.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How Do You Like Them Apples?

How awesome is this: Our neighbors from Berkeley sent us applesauce made from the apple tree in front of our old house.


Nice to get a taste of the West Coast in the middle of a New York winter.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tasty Twist on the Typical Valentine's Card

It's Valentine's Day. And for young schoolkids, that means bringing enough valentines for every child in the class.

If it were up to me, I would just buy Elliot a 20-pack of preprinted cards for school ("I choo-choo-choose you, and it has a picture of a train.") But my wife is a bit too crafty for that.


She and the little guy created these neat cardboard roses by cutting up egg cartons and decorating them with paint and glitter glue. Each one has a lollipop inside, providing the flower's stem.


However, making 20-plus of them took some time. (In fact, Elliot went to bed well before we finished.)


Suddenly, I'm a big proponent of smaller class sizes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's a 'G' Thing

The New York Times had a piece a few days ago about parents banning toy weapons — including Nerf guns — from their homes.

The Nerf "Retaliator"

From the story:
Heather Whaley, the mother of a 10-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, who lives about 10 miles from Newtown, Conn., said the killings there in December have reinforced a deep concern about the accessibility of real weapons in society and in people’s homes. 
As for the pretend ones, Ms. Whaley said she would not even allow water guns in the house when her children were younger. “It’s dangerous to separate guns from what they actually do, which is kill things,” she said, adding: “If a child has grown up comfortable around guns, and has experienced picking up a gun and shooting it, then they will have that muscle memory. And it will be easier for them to shoot a real gun, if they find one.” 
That argument has been echoed by a handful of anti-toy-gun activists, including the Alliance for Survival, a grass-roots group in California, which started a program this year to give merit awards to children who pledge not to have toy guns. Others have encouraged “toy gun exchanges,” where other playthings like Hula Hoops are given to children who turn in a toy gun. 
Jerry Rubin, a peace activist and coordinator of the Alliance for Survival, said their message was that toy guns promote violence. “No one is saying that if you play with a toy gun, you’re going to grow up to be a violent killer,” Mr. Rubin said. “But the game is still the same: pretend to kill your friends, pretend to kill your classmates.”
Not surprisingly, I feel like I encountered this sentiment more often when we lived in Berkeley. I knew people who refused to even say "gun" around kids, opting instead for "the G word."

I remember one evening when I was riding BART near a mother and her son, who had just gotten a new action figure. The toy came with a little gun, and the boy wasn't allowed to play with it separately. However, the action figure was allowed to hold the weapon.

I guess no one wants their son to turn this kid from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.


We've never been big on toy weaponry, but gunplay seems inevitable among kids — especially boys. Like many children, Elliot has bitten his sandwich into the form of a gun and pretended to shoot it. (I suppose this is a gateway to carving guns out of prison soap.)

I did bring home a Nerf foam-ball shooter once, and it was very enthusiastically received. I soon regretted it. Even with soft Nerf balls, it's no fun to have them aimed at your head.

But as with most of the kids' toys with multiple pieces, the ammunition was quickly misplaced in the clutter of our home.

As Chris Rock says, "You don't need no gun control...we need some bullet control."

In our house, losing the bullets seems to have solved our gun problem.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Awkward Papal Photos

Kelly and I happened to be visiting Rome around the time of the last papal succession in 2005. That's when we snapped this classy tribute at a photo booth near the Vatican. (We had to break a 20-euro bill.)


I guess we'll see if Pope Benedict XVI's departure will inspire the same kind of reverence.

Monday, February 11, 2013

'Snow Kids'

The snow quickly turned into brown sludge today, and then a warm rain washed much of it away. So I was happy to have captured video of the kids playing in the powder while it was still pristine and new.



No longer snow amateurs, the kids have already learned the most important lesson of cold weather: using it to get hot chocolate.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The 'Perfect' Storm

It sounds like New England was hit hard by last night's blizzard, but it was pretty much ideal in New York.


There was plenty of snow for sledding, snowmen, snowball fights, snow angels or just enjoying a soft blanket of powder. And yet, not so much that we had power outages or major accidents (it helps that there's hardly any vehicle traffic here on Roosevelt Island).

Plus, it was the weekend.

Roosevelt Island's Southtown Hill

It's amazing how much a foot of snow can transform a city. Concrete steps, sidewalks and gutters become completely forgiving, whether you want to slide down them, roll around or accidentally fall on your face.


The gritty urban landscape vanishes — at least, until the powder turns to dirty sludge.


The New York Times may have incorrectly predicted a "perfect" snowstorm in late December. Well, I think we just got it.

The Upper East Side

Even Queens looked pleasant.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Careful What You Wish For

When we moved here from California, one of the enticements was the kids could experience snow for the first time. (Yes, we could have gone to Tahoe, but that's always more of a struggle with small children.)

Well, here we are halfway through a New York winter, and so far it's been a disappointment. We've had some snow this season, but nothing very satisfying. Several times the flakes looked promising and then turned to rain. Or there was hardly any accumulation. Or the snow melted almost immediately.

Elliot and Kelly prepare for the blizzard by making a show heart.

The worst was in late December when the New York Times promised a "perfect" snowstorm, with 2 to 4 inches of powdery goodness. That storm started off well, then soon turned to rain. It was such a letdown, I felt like the Times should have printed a correction. (They didn't.)

After being teased by the weather gods so many times, I began to wish we would just get dumped on by an unambiguous blizzard.

Now it looks like I'm about to get my wish.

Let's see if I regret it.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Time Zone Affective Disorder

This was my first time watching a Super Bowl game on the East Coast in almost two decades. I found it to be a surprisingly disorienting experience.

Photo courtesy of AP.

No, not the blackout or that fact that the 49ers lost a heartbreaking game in the final minutes. I mean the timing of the event itself.

When you're on the West Coast, the Super Bowl starts around 3 p.m. It's all about daylight barbecues, midday drinking and a generally sunny vibe.

On the East Coast, where you're watching the game three hours later, you have to brace yourself for darkness, ruined dinners and screaming children who are late for their bedtime.

This is no way to do the Super Bowl, people.

The game will be played next year in New York (well, New Jersey)  the first time the NFL has allowed a cold-weather city to host the Super Bowl without a domed stadium.

It seems all the more reason to have the game during the day, when it's at least a little warmer. Let's make this happen.