Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One Sign the Machines Have Already Won

Despite its faults, the film "Oblivion" was very topical in its exploration of drones and the dangers of relying on artificial intelligence. Over the course of the movie, Tom Cruise learns that machines can't be trusted and the survival of the specifies depends on him reconnecting with his own humanity.

So I was a little surprised by what happened after the movie. One of my fellow theater patrons visited the bathroom and washed his hands. After he was done, he tried to engage a paper-towel dispenser by waving his hands under it.

Unfortunately, it was not an automatic towel dispenser. It was a (fully stocked) manual dispenser. As in, the kind of thing that was very common until about 10 years ago.

After trying to get it to respond for a while, he said, "Ah, screw it," and then walked out.

I guess this is how it begins.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Building It Up, So You Can Tear It Back Down

This weekend we saw "Oblivion," the Tom Cruise sci-fi movie about humans decamping from Earth (the first half of a double whammy on the topic).

I won't give a detailed review here, but the film had some problems: It was derivative, hokey at times and poorly paced. (Kelly described it as a "terrible movie," but she also called "Wanted" the worst movie ever.) On the plus side, it had some fun twists and gorgeous visuals. (BuboBlog Rating: 2.5 asterisks out of 4.)

A highlight was the post-apocalyptic view of New York. Other movies have shown the city underwater or beset by meteors. Here we get to see the Empire State Building almost submerged in mud, letting the characters hike up to the observation deck without having to take the stairs.

The Manhattan Bridge also gets partially buried.

What caught my eye was a flashback scene from before Earth is destroyed, circa 2017. Tom Cruise looks out at One World Trade Center, which is fully constructed. (The building is due to be completed later this year.)

Now, we've seen lots of movies and TV shows that have digitally restored the old World Trade Center ("Fringe," "Life on Mars," etc.). It's interesting to see a case when a film finishes building the new World Trade Center.

Rendering of One World Trade, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sadly, the building doesn't seem to fare well after the Earth is destroyed. I didn't see any sign of it post-apocalypse.

Friday, April 26, 2013

'The Voracious Reader II'

Six-month-old Lucy, in addition to being a dead ringer for her brother, shares his love of newsprint.

I hope the New York Times uses nontoxic ink.

Here's the original "Voracious Reader" video — a mock BBC program I created in 2009, when Elliot favored the Chronicle.

I reuploaded the clip to make it widescreen. (It's hard to believe that I was sharing square videos as recently as four years ago, but then, some people still take vertical videos.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Animated History of Roosevelt Island

Here's a neat video showing the history of Rosie Izzle (and its many name changes) since the 1600s. All in about a minute.

Brief History of Roosevelt Island from Joohee Marie on Vimeo.

It was produced by Joohee Marie, a student and resident of the island. Nice work.

I would have liked a mention of the vacuum-tube trash system (completed in 1976), but you can't have everything. (Hat tip: Roosevelt Islander blog.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Test Out a Baby Name Before You're Stuck With It

When you're picking your baby's name, you always wonder what it will sound like in real-life situations.

Well, here's a site that purports to show you just that. You enter your choice into BabyGenie and then it uses the name in a series of hypothetical scenarios.

To show you how it works, let's try it with one of my favorite wife-rejected names, Wilhelmina. (For testing purposes, I'll use the last name Lerner.)

How does Wilhelmina Lerner sound in the real world?

  1. Wilhelmina, could you please set the table?
  2. I am not joking around Wilhelmina, this is really important to me!
  3. Wilhelmina--Wilhelmina! Are you listening to me!?!
  4. Hello, Wellington Inc. this is Wilhelmina.
  5. Wilhelmina Lerner, come on down! You're the next contestant!
  6. Hey Wilhelmina. How are you doing?
  7. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Wilhelmina Lerner.
  8. Wilhelmina! Pick up your toys. I am not going to ask you again.
  9. I am at Wilhelmina Lerner's house.
  10. Do you Wilhelmina Lerner take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?
  11. I talked to Wilhelmina this afternoon.
  12. I am sorry, Wilhelmina isn't here right now. Can I take a message?
  13. You'll have to see Wilhelmina Lerner about that. She will know what to do.
  14. Yes? Wilhelmina? Do you have a question?
  15. Mr. Lerner, if Wilhelmina would consistently turn her homework in--on time--she would be one of my star pupils.
  16. Would passenger Wilhelmina Lerner please see the nearest ticket agent?
  17. Wilhelmina. Is that you?
  18. And the winner is... Wilhelmina Lerner!
  19. Mommy! Wilhelmina ate my cookie!
  20. Hello, you've reached the voice mail of Wilhelmina Lerner. I am away from my desk right now. Please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as possible.
  21. Wilhelmina, it's not the end of the world. It's just a car. You are more important than a car.
  22. Wilhelmina, I love you!
  23. Write back soon. Your Friend, Wilhelmina
  24. Does Wilhelmina like avocado?
  25. Wilhelmina, it's time for dinner.
  26. WilhelminaLerner. Spelled W-I-L-H-E-L-M-I-N-A.
  27. Oh, there you are Wilhelmina. I've been looking all over for you!
It probably works best if you have a friend read it aloud to you. (I recommend using British accents!)

But one thing this doesn't prepare you for is how your baby's siblings are going to pronounce his or her name.

We gave all our kids names with prominent L syllables, not realizing that they're basically impossible for children to say.

When Alice was born, Elliot called her something close to "Ice."

Now that Alice is 2, she calls her sister "Ooh-see" and her brother's name sounds very similar to the title of this song.

I'm sure it will all sort itself out eventually.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Textbook Case of Reverse-Engineering a Baby Name?

I meant to get to this last week, but hey, there was a lot going on.

You may have seen that Jenna Bush Hager (one of George W. Bush's twin daughters) gave birth earlier this month to a girl named Mila.

Actually, the parents named her Margaret Laura, but they so desperately wanted to call their daughter Mila that the family included the nickname and its pronunciation ("mee-la") when announcing the birth.

The baby's formal name is taken from her grandmothers' names — an idea that I wholly support — but I feel like preordaining the nickname like that undermines a bit of the charm.

If you really want to name your child Mila, maybe it's best to actually name her Mila. It's not as if it's not a "real" name. (In fact, it's surging in popularity right now thanks to Mila Kunis.) I also think nicknames should arise organically.

I wonder if this is yet another case of reverse-engineering a name. They started off with Mila and then created a long version because they were worried it wasn't formal enough  an approach I call "longforming."

Uma Thurman, you'll recall, wanted to call her daughter Luna. So she named it Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson.

Okay, that one is still way worse.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Year One in New York City

Exactly a year ago, I boarded an airplane with two kids and a pregnant wife and took a midnight flight across the country to JFK airport.

We had spent the previous several days in a frenzy of packing and cleaning, just barely managing to clear out our Berkeley home in time. I remember thinking that we forgot to erase the pencil marks on the wall showing the kids' height. (I wonder if they're still there.)

We arrived in a fog-bound New York, which I found comforting at the time.

Since then we've lived in two apartments, survived hurricanes and blizzards, and even produced our very own New Yorker.

Along the way, we've carved out a nice little life here. And the kids have adjusted — perhaps too well.

The skyline provides plenty of Lego inspiration.

Alice, I'm sure, has no recollection of California. As for Elliot: While he still speaks fondly of Berkeley, his loyalties have begun to shift.

One time I was trying to get Elliot to put on his Golden Gate Bridge shirt. He balked at the idea. "No, Daddy, I only want to wear a shirt with New York on it."

Dagger to the heart.

At least he hasn't requested any Yankees merchandise. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

To the Parents of Sons: You've Been Given Dinosaur Eggs

The saga unfolding in Boston has been heartbreaking for many reasons, but it seems especially poignant for the parents of sons.

Photo courtesy of NBC News.

Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy, was killed in the explosion. He was struck by one of the two blasts at the Boston Marathon because he was waiting to hug his dad after the race. It's hard to even process those words.

The suspects, meanwhile, are sons themselves — and not much beyond boyhood.

Like all boys, they had a father and a mother. I'm not going to explore their personalities or motivations here, but raising any boy is fraught with danger.

Men commit at least 90 percent of the heinous acts in the world, whether it's terrorism, murder, assault or rape.

For whatever reason, males tend to gravitate toward extremes. That pervades nearly every facet of life: Women are more likely to be depressed, but men are far more likely to kill themselves. Girls are generally more intelligent (according to some studies), but boys are more likely to either be geniuses or mentally retarded. Males often don't express their feelings, but when they do — buildings burn, people die and families are destroyed.

Men painted the Sistine Chapel and wrote the Ode the Joy. They also orchestrated the Holocaust and the Jonestown Massacre.

That's why I say that giving birth to a boy is the equivalent of getting a dinosaur egg.

It starts out small and fragile. But it will grow. And when it does, the result will be something amazing — but also a creature with inconceivably destructive power.

We all need to be aware of that.

Turning that egg into something positive may be the most important thing we do.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Makes My Commute Seem a Lot More Dramatic

Ten Ten Productions, a film and photography company in New York, shot a video of the Roosevelt Island Tram journey featuring Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (known to many as the music from "Apocalypse Now").

In the Wagner opera, part of the Ring cycle, the ride lasts 8 minutes. The trip across the East River on the tram takes about half that. In other words, even my workaday commute is shorter and less ponderous than a Wagner aria. (Hat tip: the Roosevelt Islander blog.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Surviving as the Youngest Child

Seemingly overnight, Lucy has grown from a newborn infant into a plucky six-month-old. Since she'll always be the youngest member of our family (we hope!), she'll perpetually enjoy the distinction of being the baby. But starting your life as the littlest of three kids has its challenges (chief among them: not getting stepped on).

As you can see from this video, she seems to spend most of her time being delighted or alarmed — sometimes simultaneously.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Roaming Roosevelt Island: Cherry Blossom Festival

Roosevelt Island held its annual Cherry Blossom Festival today at the southern end of the island.

Elliot's reaction to seeing the crowds (4,500 people are said to have attended): "Wow, Daddy, those people must really love cherry blossoms."

Of course, there was Japanese food as well — along with yo-yo balloons and the requisite "sake garden."

There were lots of kids in the sake garden, but parents may just have been confused by the "and/or" wording.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Fine Line Between Useless and Awesome: Part 2

Rejoice: The HuffPost Parents site is back with its list of ridiculous baby products, featuring items such as this breast-feeding nipple hat...

Photo courtesy of Marvelous Kiddo.

...and the Daddle, a saddle for dads.

Photo courtesy of Do We Really Need That?

It still has our old favorites like the Baby Mop, the Peekaru and the BabyNes formula maker — all of which I've blogged about before myself. The iPotty also makes the list.

But I discovered a few products that were new to me.

Baby's Poop Alarm (below) "detects your baby's pee and poop and alerts with a melody and blinking LED light."

Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Here's a diaper cover with a matching necktie (wearing my ties is hugely popular among the kids in our home, so this one might be worth investigating).

Photo courtesy of Etsy.

And how about a potty reminder watch?

Photo courtesy of OneStepAhead.

It gives new meaning to "half-past a monkey's ass."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Smart Idea for a Wedding Invitation

I came across this novel approach to a wedding RSVP, which was originally posted to the Reddit site.

The brutal honesty of it is probably why it's gone viral on the Internet, but I was most excited about the last part: "Please list a song that will get you dancing!"

Anyone who has had a wedding or been the DJ for one (I've done both!) knows it can be a challenge to find the right song. With this invite, you can crowd-source the playlist.

Of course, you're depending on people actually being honest. Otherwise you might spend the night listening to Leonard Cohen instead of Kelis.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Do Kids Need Their Own Brand of Water?

I came across this at our neighborhood Gristedes: a brand of bottled water aimed specifically at kids.

The product, called "WAT-AAH," comes in a few varieties. The Power version has "bone-building magnesium," while the Energy flavor includes "energizing oxygen." (It's been a while since high-school chemistry, but I thought ALL water has oxygen.)

 My immediate reaction was: Do kids need their own water?

Also: Is this the second coming of Bic for Her? (So far, the Amazon reviews for WAT-AAH are considerably less snarky, though not especially positive either.)

It turns out that WAT-AAH was developed by a local mom to make water cool and help fight childhood obesity.

From the WAT-AAH website:
One night, over dinner, while watching her two young boys slurp back another sugary soft drink, their mom asked them, "Why don't you drink water instead of soda? How can I get you to drink more water?!" 
Here's what the boys said to her: "It's not cool. Water is boring." Rose Cameron (the mom), who had built a career working in branding and advertising for the very soft drinks her kids were consuming, saw the future very clearly. Set with the idea of creating a brand of water for kids, she and her two boys kept screaming "water" over and over again for inspiration and soon it sounded like WAT-AAH!
When I first saw the different varieties of WAT-AAH, I assumed the product had special flavoring in it. Wouldn't that only worsen the problem of plain-old water seeming boring to kids? But it appears like none of these "flavors" affect the taste (in fact, I'm not sure they make any difference at all; e.g., oxygen).

So I suppose if kids are buying this instead of a bottle of soda, good for them.

If kids are buying this instead of drinking tap water, that's less good.

I don't have to go into the absurdity of buying bottled water here in New York City, which has world-class tap (though I'm still partial to the ol' Hetch Hetchy). But teaching kids to pay money for something that's free, while generating plastic waste in the process, doesn't seem like a great life lesson.

I also wonder if the WAT-AAH branding will work outside the Northeast — in places where people actually pronounce their Rs.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Hazards of Living on the East River

You always hear about people dumping bodies in the East River. No one ever discusses the hassles of retrieving footballs from the world-famous waterway.

Don't worry, we got it back.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Glow-in-the-Dark Pacifiers

Back in December, I complained that Alice's pacifiers fall out of her crib, forcing me to hunt for them in the dark.

So I was excited to discover that they make glow-in-the-dark versions.

Pretty smart idea. And I assume they don't contain radium like those old-timey watch dials, right? Because I generally try to avoid sticking radioactive substances in baby's mouth.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

What's It Like to Grow Up in New York City?

Alice, who as of this summer will have lived
 in New York most of her life.
New York magazine dedicated its most recent issue to "Childhood in New York," featuring 39 well-known people reminiscing about growing up in the Big Apple.

The upshot? People sure got beat up a lot in the old days.

From Matthew Broderick's entry: “We’d go to Central Park. We’d go ice skating at Wollman Rink or Lasker Rink uptown. We would go to Times Square to play pinball. I should also mention that I was constantly robbed. I don’t know if that still happens. But in those days, every now and then, somebody would come up to you and say, 'I have a knife in my pocket. Give me whatever—' and you’d give them your change. That happened a lot to us children.”

Kids had freer rein then, allowing them to roam the metropolis — sometimes at their peril. (The irony today is we live in a much safer city, and yet no one lets kids do anything on their own.)

Even amid the violence, the magic of New York comes across in these anecdotes, whether people are remembering the 1950s or the 1980s. And I don't think that will change for today's children.

There's a surprising simplicity to life here — a storybook existence that you don't get in the suburbs. Our kids live on a small island, within a mile of everyone they know in New York. There's no minivan shuttling them around to activities; they just have their feet. And when they look out the window of our apartment, they see the building where their daddy works and the hospital where their sister was born. It's a village made of skyscrapers.

The subway is a portal transporting them to the wonders of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan (we don't usually get much farther than that). They ponder the lions in front of the library's main branch (Elliot posits that they were once real lions that turned into fossils). And every night, the Empire State Building lights greets us with a new color scheme.

I'm not sure what the kids will remember of all this. Maybe just their dad dragging them out to see sculptures while he complains about the weather.

But I'd like to think they'll have their share of adventures — just not the kind where they get robbed.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Surprise: Fake Kinder Eggs Are Sold Out

Ever since spending the occasional summer in France as a child, I've been enamored with Kinder Surprise eggs. The product can't help but be alluring: It consists of a toy hidden inside a chocolate shell — and it's illegal in the United States.

Photo courtesy of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A recent ABC News story explains the reason for the restriction:
The Kinder Surprise, which is manufactured by an Italian company called Ferrero, has been banned in this country since 1938. That’s when the Food and Drug Administration passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which prohibits any “non-nutritive component” (for example, a toy) from being embedded in a confectionary product, as the Foodbeast reported. Kinder Surprise Eggs aren’t safe for kids under 3 years old, a clear violation of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requirement, which states that candy-with-ensconced-toys must be safe for kids of all ages.
The 1930s was the era of "Reefer Madness," so I suppose it's not surprising that it spawned irrational fears about non-nutritive components. ("The next non-nutritive component tragedy may be yours. TELL YOUR CHILDREN!")

Anyway, a New Jersey man named Kevin Gass decided to create a Kinder knockoff that could be sold legally in the U.S.

The result was something called Choco Treasure.

Gass' eggs look a lot like Kinder eggs when they're inside the wrapper, but the differences become apparent when you open one up. From the ABC story: "Submerged inside each egg is a capsule that separates the two halves of the chocolate. The capsule also has ridges around the sides, so even a young child can tell there’s something there. The toys are also larger than those in other surprise eggs."

WBEZ food blog's has pictures of how this looks. The idea is to ensure that the two hemispheres of the chocolate are never in contact, like a brain surgeon severing the corpus callosum.

Photo courtesy of WBEZ.

Now, I would love to have done my own taste test — especially ahead of the Easter holiday — but Choco Treasures have been sold out for weeks (on the company's website, at least).

It's frustrating. I suppose it's better to be dealing with run-of-the-mill supply restrictions, after years of facing legal prohibition. But the result is the same: I can't get my hands on one.