Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Crawling Lessons'

Learning to crawl? Watch this instructional video for tips and tricks.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Let Us Now Pray to Our Merciful Savior, Sleeping Bunny

In an attempt to stop the kids from waking up before 7 a.m., we have installed a Kid'Sleep Wake Up Clock in their room.

The idea is to force the children to worship a mysterious god named Sleeping Bunny, who dictates the time they wake up and go to bed. When it's 7 a.m., he appears in the heavens (or, the top part of the clock) as a cheerful spirit ready to embrace the day.

At 7 p.m., Sleeping Bunny retires and signals to his followers that they too should go to bed and remain there for the next 12 hours. They are NOT allowed to come out of their room until the bunny wakes.

Unfortunately, we took a little too long to indoctrinate the children in this religion. It's like we have a prepubescent son and we're only revealing that we're Jews a few months before his bar mitzvah.

Elliot has no respect for the bunny. And while Alice seems to be somewhat reverent (she often remarks, "Quiet, the bunny is sleeping!"), she takes her cues from Elliot.

The bottom line: We're never going to get a decent night's sleep until these kids are teenagers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Oh No, We're a Minivan Family

We're taking a road trip next week, and that means renting a car that can fit a family of five — including three car seats.

I would prefer to get a sedan because of the gas mileage, but there's a pretty short list of cars that can fit three child seats.

The Kicking Tires blog, part of Cars.com, has a tally of non-minivans that can handle the task:
2013 Chrysler 300
2013 Nissan Armada
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
2013 Land Rover Range Rover
2013 Lexus GX 460
2013 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew Cab
2013 Chevrolet Impala
2012 GMC Yukon XL
2013 Toyota Land Cruiser
2012 Honda Pilot
2012 Land Rover LR4
2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
2011 Chrysler 300 and 300C
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
2011 Land Rover LR4
2011 Nissan Murano
Of the 16 vehicles listed, 12 are SUVs and one is a pickup truck. The only car options are versions of the Chrysler 300 and the Chevrolet Impala. (That doesn't give you a lot of choice, but it is a win for domestic manufacturing.)

Life was certainly easier for my parents, who just had to toss the three of us — and the dog — into the back of the car, where we would all wriggle around like live bait. (No car seats needed!)

That's not an option these days. So it's easy to see why families go the route of a minivan, which typically fits three car seats with ease and tends to get better fuel economy than a similarly sized SUV.

That's what we're getting for this trip. And while there's definitely a stigma against minivan drivers, I have the peace of mind of knowing I'm just renting this puppy.

When the vacation is over I can go back to my normal routine: pissing off everyone on the subway with my giant stroller.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Trip to the 'Voice Tunnel'

I like to drag the kids to the city's many outdoor art installations, and usually we don't encounter heavy crowds (because, hey, only so many people want to see Christopher Columbus in a fake living room).

When I heard they were opening up the Park Avenue Tunnel to pedestrians this month to create an exhibit of light and sound, I figured it'd be a similar situation. Who wants to spend their weekend inside a dank tunnel in August?

Turns out, a lot of people. We arrived this morning at the tunnel's entrance at Park Avenue and 33rd Street and saw a long line of visitors snaking around the block. It didn't help that they made everyone sign a waiver (I didn't read the document, but I assume walking through a 179-year-old underground passage presents some risks).

The 1,400-foot-long tunnel was outfitted with 300 spotlights by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican-Canadian artist (it's a NAFTA lovefest!) who called the work "Voice Tunnel."

From the website of Summer Streets, which sponsored the installation:
Participants will be able to influence the intensity of each light by speaking into a special intercom at the tunnel’s center which records their voice and loops it. Louder speech will increase the lights’ brightness proportionally, creating a Morse-like code of flashes throughout the tunnel. The individual voices will be heard as pedestrians walk through the tunnel, on 150 loudspeakers, one beside each light arch and synchronized with it. 
At any given time, the tunnel will be illuminated by the voices of the past 90 participants: as new participants speak into the intercom, older recordings will get pushed away by one position down the array of light fixtures until they leave the tunnel, so that the content of the piece is changing constantly.
I created a video of our experience, which gives you a sense of the lights if not the sounds.


 There was a place within the tunnel to add your voice to the mix, but the line for that was very long. (After waiting to get in, we weren't up for another queue.)

At first, Elliot seemed disappointed that he couldn't record his voice. Then we remembered he has no difficulty being loud on his own. No amplification required!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Trend: Commercials That Morph From Decade to Decade

This week the Men's Wearhouse released its first commercial without founder and longtime public face George Zimmer. The ad has been criticized as sexist because it purports to show a "gentleman" who spends his time leering at passing women.

The ad does something else that I'm finding increasingly common these days: It shows a montage of different decades and their distinctive styles. (Well, the 1970s and 1980s are distinctive; the 1990s and 2000s, less so.)

This appears to be a meme in commercials right now. Just check out this Purina Cat Chow spot.

Or this one from Frigidaire.

Or this clip from Procter and Gamble.

The driving force behind these ads is obvious: Marketers want to show that their brands have staying power, even as styles and social mores change.

We'll see if Men's Warehouse customers find it comforting that acting like a douche will never go out of style.

UPDATE: This Motel 6 ad provides another example.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: And, one more...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Solution to Escalator Rage?...Maybe Not

If you live in New York, you're likely to experience your share of escalator frustration. Chances are you spend a lot of time on them — whether it's in an office building or a transit station — and there's always someone blocking the way, going too slow or generally exhibiting poor escalator etiquette.

Subway escalators are especially rage-inducing because a slow person can prevent you from catching your train, potentially stranding you on the platform for an extra 15 or 20 minutes.

Gawker's Hamilton Nolan encapsulated this vexation in a post in May titled "Please, Walk Down the Escalator":
Let's just say for argument's sake that you enter a New York City subway station and step onto an escalator that's headed down towards the train tracks. At that moment, you must choose one of two clear courses of action: walk down the escalator, or stand still. Put more precisely, you can either walk down the escalator, or you deserve to be pushed down the escalator.
I understand his position, but people can go too far. Back in San Francisco, escalator rage was taken to a horrifying conclusion when a teen shot and killed someone at the Metreon for blocking the way.

Anyway, so I'm happy to see that the F train station at Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street attempts to mitigate the problem.

This is a fairly deep station (though not the deepest — that distinction goes to the 191st Street station in Washington Heights) and has a total of 10 escalators and six staircases.

At the entry point to each escalator, there are a pair of signs.

I have to admit, I don't fully understand the idea here. You would think the signs would say "walk" (on the left) and "stand" (on the right). But I think the point is the same: As the crowd makes its way up or down the series of escalators, walkers should "enter" on the left and keep walking. They shouldn't go to the right because that's where the standers are. So everybody's happy?

I think that's the point, but I can't really say for sure.

Okay, so maybe this isn't a good solution to escalator rage. But at least it seems like somebody is trying.

UPDATE: So now I'm wondering if these signs have NOTHING to do with managing foot traffic and are actually supposed to light up to indicate when the escalator is running or not?

Someone speculates about their purpose on this Flickr page.

But does that make any sense either? If an escalator isn't running, you can still walk up it. And if it's getting fixed, it's usually cordoned off — no need for a "do not enter" sign.

The mystery continues.

Monday, August 12, 2013

BuboBlog Reviews 'Elysium'

"Elysium" opened in theaters on Friday, joining a wave of recent movies about nearly uninhabitable Earths. (I reviewed "Oblivion" in April.) In this variation on the theme, set in 2154, the wealthiest citizens have fled the dusty, windblown planet and built an orbiting community called Elysium — a giant space station with its own atmosphere and terraformed landscape.

Elysium strongly resembles Orange County, with Spanish-style villas and manicured lawns. But the film's protagonist Max (played by Matt Damon) lives down on Earth in Los Angeles, which looks more like a sprawling Latin American slum. (The film, in fact, was shot in Mexico.)

On Elysium, the citizens speak a mixture of French and English, while Max and the other Earthlings use a patois of Spanish and English. It's surprising that Chinese doesn't make greater inroads into our language over the next 141 years. You also have to wonder how French manages to regain its footing among the elite. (Currently only 4 percent of the world's richest people are French.)

Elysium's biggest perk is access to a "med bay" — a system that resembles a tanning bed. When you lie down on one, the med bay automatically heals whatever ails you, whether it's cancer or a bashed-in skull.

Max works at a factory making robots that will ultimately serve the citizens of Elysium. This provides a note of irony, though it seems odd that a factory in 2154 (making robots!) has a lower level of automation than a typical Hyundai plant. Equally curious: Elysium's entire infrastructure and government appear to depend on a hand-coded MS-DOS computer program.

Anyway, Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the factory and has to make it up to one of those Elysium tanning beds to be healed. Of course, getting up there is a lot harder than crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. And he's soon pulled into a web of interorbital intrigue that puts the fate of both Earth and Elysium in his mecha-suited hands.

I generally enjoyed "Elysium," though I think it suffered from some of the same failings as director Neil Blomkamp's earlier effort, "District 9." Like that film, it had a great first act and then occasionally stumbled. The film appears to start off as a statement about segregation and income inequality, but by the end the main message seems to be about providing universal health care. (Is this one big ad for Obamacare?)

The movie was set in Los Angeles, but it makes no effort to represent the city. Unlike "Oblivion," which gave fun glimpses of wrecked New York landmarks, there are no remnants of today's L.A. here. (I was curious if the Hollywood sign had been allowed to deteriorate again.)

You also don't learn much about life for typical Elysium dwellers. It's a gated community on steroids, so I have to think it has the most insufferable goth teens imaginable.

Boing Boing's Colin Berry criticized the film for its hackneyed dialogue, and I would tend to agree. (Jodie Foster's character even utters the ol' "we have a situation here" chestnut.) But it's perhaps helped by everyone other than Damon speaking in an odd accent.

As the deranged villain, Sharlto Copley delivers a lot of shopworn lines ("This is my house," "You want to play? Let's play."). But his nasal South African accent helps make everything fresh — or at least barely understandable.

In the end, Blomkamp keeps things moving along swiftly. And while the ending wasn't as satisfying as it could have been, you appreciate that he had something to say — even if he wasn't quite sure how to say it.

BuboBlog Rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Now THIS Is How to Announce a Pregnancy

We recently discussed the wrong ways to reveal your pregnancy to the world. Well, here's an approach that I really liked, courtesy of a friend on Facebook (hope she doesn't mind me posting the photo here).

It's understated, yet fun. I approve.

And I'm glad to see the husband still gets to drink during the pregnancy.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Lady Liberty Doesn't Like Short Guys

I've complained before about New York's height-based transit system, which charges a fare to kids over 44 inches (even if they're not yet kindergarten age).

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Well, the city's height tyranny works in the other direction too.

They reopened the Statue of Liberty last month, and I've been looking forward to taking Elliot inside the majestic lady.

But it turns out children under 48 inches can't go up into the statue's crown (and if you can't do that, what's the point?).

It's tough to be a New York kid between 44 and 48 inches: too tall to ride free on the subway and too short to climb to the top of Lady Liberty.

Fortunately, the city is filled with smaller replicas, such as this one inside Macy's...

...or this one on 61st Street near Madison Avenue.

I guess that will have to do for now.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Evolution of a Practical Joker

From the moment Elliot could speak, he has pulled pranks on us.

When he first got a toddler bed at age 2, he would sleep sideways across his pillow. As soon as I would notice what he was doing, he'd erupt into laughter and say, "I tricked you, Daddy!" (Not sure how I was "tricked" exactly, but I was happy to play along.)

Doing something suspicious involving grapes.

Now things have gotten a little more intense.

The other night I went into the kids' room to see if they were asleep and Elliot was lying in wait by the door. I screamed and jumped back. "I tricked you, Daddy." (Hard to argue with that characterization this time.)

Another night he told me that he had peed in Alice's potty. As I scrambled to pour the pee from the potty into the toilet, he told me that it was just water. (The potty is orange-colored, so it's hard to tell.) Okay, Elliot, you got me again.

Recently I received a package with lots of parts in it. I pulled all the components out of the cardboard box and then let the kids play with it.

Elliot put some wooden blocks into the bottom of the box and then told me that there were still some "parts" inside it. I took back the box and dumped it out to find the parts, only to find the blocks. Elliot laughed. "I tricked you, Daddy."

It wasn't the most mean-spirited prank in the world, but pretty convincing. I'm a little alarmed at the progression here.

This kid is 4 years old. One can only imagine what we'll be dealing with when he's 12.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Make Way for the Grotesquely Pregnant Woman, Everyone

I've written before about the difficulties facing pregnant women riding public transportation — both in New York and the Bay Area. Few passengers give up their seats, and transit systems often don't provide specific guidance on the topic. (San Francisco's Muni only gives preference to "senior citizens and persons with disabilities.")

Traveling with small kids is another gray area. Should someone be offered a seat because she is carrying a baby? This question sparked a debate on the Muni Diaries site a few years ago.

So I was excited to see these "courtesy" signs on the Roosevelt Island Tram (I think they're new, or maybe I just didn't notice them before).

As you can see, both pregnant women AND women with young children get deference. (I have to think if you saw a person that freakishly pregnant, you would give them plenty of room anyway.)

I wonder about the gender breakdown, though. In each case, it's a man being courteous and — other than the elderly person — it's a woman on the receiving end.

Maybe dads already get preferential treatment, so there's less need to alert people to their plight.

When we lived in San Francisco, I used to take Elliot on the bus everyday to daycare. I may have looked like a barely competent dad, but people bent over backwards to help me. Once I had him in the Bjorn and I dropped my umbrella. The whole bus sprung into action to pick it up for me.

Kelly complained that she never got that kind of treatment herself. I guess it pays to be bumbling.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Seeing Double: Hillary Clinton Edition

As you know, I like to track instances where two movies come out on the same topic (click the "Seeing Double" tag for my exhaustive body of work on the issue).

Photo courtesy of Newsday.

Well, here's a subject I didn't expect to come up in this context: Hillary Clinton.

There are a whopping three movies in the works on Hillary (a politician who has my undying loyalty because of her ability to use "begs the question" correctly).

From New York Magazine:
Most former U.S. presidents don’t live to see their biopics. Former First Lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton will get to see three before she even has the chance to win her party's nomination. In addition to the buzzy Hollywood treatment coming up with Rodham, NBC and CNN announced last month that they had their own HRC projects in the pipeline. All three are still months, if not years, away.
I guess we'll see how many of these projects make it to fruition (remember, two Harvey Milk movies were originally planned).

But I take issue with the line about most U.S. presidents not living to see their biopics. The George Bush film "W." came out while he was still in office, and Bill Clinton had years left in his presidency when "Primary Colors" was released in 1998. (That last one wasn't technically a biopic, but close enough.)

I can guarantee that Hollywood producers will be lining to do the definitive Obama biopic as his presidency winds down in 2016.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Revisiting San Francisco Part 2: The More Things Change...

Earlier this week I talked about all the stuff that had changed in the 15 months since I left the Bay Area.

But while I was there, I was just as excited to experience the constants. Like dining under a heat lamp in July.

Or dealing with weird construction projects at the cable-car terminus near Embarcadero Station.

Or almost getting run down by a bicyclist.

That last thing happened to me twice in about 10 minutes, though there was at least a modern twist to the experience.

First off, let me say that I never have encounters with bicyclists in New York — despite the much-feared Citi Bike program. But in San Francisco, these situations are a near-daily occurrence.

Photo courtesy of StreetsBlog.

On this particular occasion, I was walking to dinner on a foggy Thursday night. I crossed Market (with the light) and got buzzed by a guy on a bike.

I recovered and kept walking. Shortly thereafter, I accidentally stepped on a man in a sleeping bag. (Again, this sort of thing never happens to me in New York. But I feel bad about it, so let's not dwell on this part of the story.)

As I was crossing Folsom Street at Spear — again, with the light — a bicyclist nearly knocked me down.

I looked up in time to see the guy was wearing Google Glass. He glanced back at me (using facial recognition to enter me into a database, no doubt) and sped away.

Photo courtesy of TechRadar.

Friends, I was so horrified/delighted that it took me at least an hour before I even tweeted the experience.

So I guess things in San Francisco have changed a bit. But mostly people are using new things to do the same stuff they've always done.

I think that's actually comforting.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Revisiting San Francisco

I was in the Bay Area last week for the first time since we moved to New York in the spring of 2012, and it was interesting to see the changes.

Photo courtesy of AnywhereSF.

First off, I was able to pay for my cab rides using a credit card — with nary a complaint from the drivers. Most taxis are now outfitted with Verifone units, which let you charge the fare and watch TV during your ride (something that's long been taken for granted in New York).

Photo courtesy of SanFrancisco.net.

I can understand why San Francisco cab drivers must feel pressure to improve their service: Half the people I spoke to said they're now using Uber, Lyft or other ride-sharing services. That's a big change from when I left, and it stands in stark contrast with my experience in New York.

Despite the toughness of New Yorkers — or perhaps because of it — they typically aren't comfortable climbing into a stranger's car. In the Bay Area, casual carpool has been getting people used to this concept for many years. (Ride sharing also faces more regulatory hurdles here.)

BART, meanwhile, has become more bicycle-friendly because of some policy changes. I was struck by how many more bikes people brought on board than in the old days. (Again in contrast with New York, where I see fewer bikes on trains — even though they're technically allowed on the subway at all hours.)

I also like these new clearer BART signs.

The most striking aesthetic change, of course, is the Bay Lights installation. It dazzles the Embarcadero with twinkling effects and serves two purposes: brightening up the Bay Bridge and making everyone appreciate the fact that we can see it (i.e., that the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down after the Loma Prieta Earthquake).

Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

The skyline hasn't changed dramatically since I left, but they are building the much-delayed sister tower to the One Rincon Hill project.

A fog-shrouded construction site.

The initial tower was criticized for resembling Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze air filter. The building also sticks out as the tallest thing near the Bay Bridge.

Having a second tower is going to mitigate those concerns by giving the first building "a little friend over there" (as Bob Ross would say). I'm glad this is finally happening.

Down the road in South San Francisco, I see that the Centennial Tower has a glitzy new sign for its tenant SuccessFactors. It gives that stretch of 101 a little more pizazz, even if the hillside of the San Bruno Mountain still seems like an unlikely spot for a corporate headquarters.

Photo courtesy of SuccessFactors Facebook page.

Within the city, the street signs are being converted from a classic all-caps look to regular upper and lower case. Apparently this is because of a federal mandate and affects New York's signage as well.

Photo courtesy of SF Citizen.

The old retro Yahoo billboard along 80 is long gone. But it's been replaced by an Old Navy ad that appears to be trying to capture the same nostalgic vibe.

The old Yahoo ad. Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Egoist.

The new billboard.

I still miss the Yahoo billboard, but I give the Old Navy one a thumbs up. Nice to see San Francisco's advertisers maintain some continuity with the city's corporate landmarks.

I noticed other changes as well. Bigger crowds in the Mission. Longer lines at restaurants. A bit more of a New York-like buzz. (Maybe some New York-like gentrification and rent increases as well, but I won't get into that.)

Lastly, remember Sue Bierman Park? That was the green space along the Embarcadero that took a long time to open back in 2011.

When it did finally debut, Chronicle architecture critic John King complained that the park was a missed opportunity to make more of a statement.

Well, it now has a playground, so that's something. Of course, San Francisco being San Francisco, there weren't many actual kids using it.

The city's child deficit appears to be one of the things that hasn't changed.