Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Good News for Parents Who Like to Dupe Their Children

We just got finished tricking the children into believing in Santa Claus and peripatetic elves, but we've already moved onto the next ritual: tricking them into believing it's midnight on New Year's Eve.


You see, we parents enjoy celebrating the New Year with our children, but we do not enjoy having said children stay up until 12 a.m.

The process of having midnight come early was a lot easier when Elliot was 3 years old and couldn't tell time...



These days, we have to be a little more creative in convincing the kids that the festivities are over and they should go to bed.

Fortunately, there's a new option, the Huffington Post reports:
Netflix on Monday released a video that will help you trick your kids into thinking that it's midnight on New Year's Eve at any time. It's called "King Julien New Year's Eve Countdown." 
The animated three-minute video features King Julien, a lemur from the "Madagascar" movie series (as well as a Netflix original series, "All Hail King Julien"). 
"Is it almost midnight yet?" King Julien asks. "Who cares? It's midnight somewhere! That means it's time for the New Year's countdown!" 
Thirty-six percent of parents in the U.S. said they would be willing to search for a countdown in a different time zone in order to celebrate New Year's earlier, and 22 percent said they would even stage their own countdown, according to a survey by Wakefield Research on behalf of Netflix.
I have friends who have used the overseas countdown as a tactic. The Netflix thing seems like it will be even more effective and represents a true public service. (I guess I can finally forgive Netflix for removing "Party Down" from its library.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Inaccurately Named 'Nostalgia Train'

Yesterday was the last chance this season to ride the MTA's Nostalgia Train — the time-traveling subway cars that traverse the M line every Christmas.


The trains consist of cars that operated between the 1930s and 1970s, and they attract reenactors from that more genteel era of public transit (actually, I'm not sure it could have been that genteel without air conditioning).


The vintage advertising is always a highlight of the experience. There was this ad promoting the use of "ZIP code"...


And this one for hats (did you know that 84 out of 100 women prefer men who wear hats? That's a better percentage than the portion of dentists choosing Trident)...


Fortunately, I wore my replica 1941 New York Giants cap. Historically accurate!


There also was one for Burma Shave — the king of nostalgia advertising.


Back then, the fare was a dime, compared with $2.50 today.


But you still weren't allowed to smoke.


The vintage map dates from an era before the MTA was created in the 1960s (the BMT, IRT and IND used to be separate subway systems).


There's no stop on Roosevelt Island, of course. That didn't come until 1989. And in fact, it's not even called Roosevelt Island on this map. (It was Welfare Island until 1971.)


The train's wicker seats, dangling light bulbs, submarine-style rivets and ceiling fans are all marvels to modern transit riders.


But I do wonder if the term "Nostalgia Train" is no longer accurate. There are vanishingly few New Yorkers who experienced any of this in real life.

Wouldn't it be better to add a few 1980s cars that are strewn with graffiti? There have to still be some sitting in MTA rail yards. They would inspire genuine nostalgia for people under the age of 60, as well as being a fascinating sight for New York kids. Elliot once saw a picture of a graffiti-covered subway and was mesmerized. It was hard for him to fathom that a train could look like that.

Photo courtesy of the Subway Art Blog.

Anyway, I created a short video of the Nostalgia Train to give you a sense of what it feels like. Alice claimed the train went faster than a normal subway, but I wonder if that's just because the ride was a little more rough.



I've previously compared the Nostalgia Train to San Francisco's F streetcar line. But New York has an edge in helping you go back in time: The Big Apple's subway stations are ancient and grimy enough that you can imagine you're back in the soot-ravaged 1930s.


The one thing that spoiled the mood was the giant touch screen at the West 4 stop. The MTA has set up the screens at a number of stations to help people find local attractions. (The kids find them hard to resist — who wouldn't want to touch a giant iPad?)


It's hard to suspend disbelief with these things around.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Another Sign This Blog Is Getting Repetitive

Whoa, I just noticed that I inadvertently titled my last three blog posts "Another..." (this one makes four, but it at least was intentional).


I guess the message is, anything you're reading here you've probably read before. Here's to redundancy!

Another Perfectly Oblivious Birthday

I vowed to create a video every time one of the kids has a birthday, but (as I noted in September) that means more than 50 movies by the time they're 18.

It's probably not a good sign that it took me more than two months to produce the film commemorating Lucy's second birthday, but here it is.



When Alice turned 2, I asked whether this was a golden age of birthdays. Kids are delighted to be the center of attention for the day, but not really sure why it's happening. (In this video, Kelly had to blow out the candle because Lucy didn't really get the concept.)

I guess it's all downhill from here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Another Christmas on Roosevelt Island

It was a day of joy, chaos and My Little Pony.



The kids adored their gifts from family near and far, but it's worth remembering that a stick (or unattended safety cone) is a perfectly good toy too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Another Sign the Robots Are Winning

To commemorate the end of 2014, Google+ auto-generated a slideshow of my photos from the past year and sent it to me unsolicited.



The site did something similar last year, but the algorithm seems to be getting better at picking shots. (There were maybe too many of Lulu holding a pen, but I did snap a lot of those in 2014.)

I, for one, welcome our new photo overlords.

Pretty soon there's going to be no reason to curate photo albums, edit videos or maintain a blog. I'll just let the bots do it for me. I'm looking forward to having a lot of free time on my hands.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter Is Here

It's now officially winter, and Kelly has updated our wall branch to reflect the season.


Here's the full progression (let's ignore the fact that there's no recognition of summer):

Spring...


...autumn... 


...and now winter.


She also cut out snowflakes for the window.



Oh, and we put up this old thing.


For my part, I did a sorry job of stringing lights on the balcony.


Fortunately, when New York City is your backdrop, the scene pretty much takes care of itself.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Seeing Santa: the Movie

I created a 30-second video of the trip to see Santa Claus.



Lucy lost interest in Santa's lap before anyone else. She also seemed to be the most skeptical about his beard.


Trust but verify, Lu.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Visit to the North Pole, via Bloomingdale's

Today we took the kids to a department-store Santa for the first time. We opted for Bloomingdale's — rather than Macy's — because it's closer and less crowded.


The experience was actually fairly pleasant. Despite showing up with no reservation, the wait was less than an hour. To help pass the time, they offered cookies and coloring books.


Elliot is on the verge of not believing in Santa. (The first line of his letter to the North Pole this year was, "Dear Santa: Are you real?") I would think the idea of visiting Saint Nick in a department store would fuel disbelief. I mean, why would Santa choose Bloomingdale's to make his grand appearance? But if so, Elliot didn't let on.


Alice, meanwhile, took the Santa experience by the horns. While we were waiting, she took as many cookies as she could, played hide-and-seek inside the clothing racks and had to be dragged back to her spot in line.


"Hi Santa, I'm Alice!" she shouted from across the children's department.


Given the general havoc she was causing, it probably would have been better to stay anonymous.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Elf on the Shelf Names

After discussing the most popular dog names last week, I should probably turn my attention to a more seasonal question: What should you name your Elf on the Shelf?

Fred has a drinking problem.

We got our elf two years ago and named him Fred. It turns out that's the eighth most popular elf name.

Here are the rankings, courtesy of the Elf on the Shelf website. (Apparently people register their elves online, which is how the site gets the data. I wonder if people install tracking chips in their elves too.)
Top 20 Elf on the Shelf names:
1. Buddy
2. Elfie
3. Jingle
4. Snowflake
5. Jingles
6. Jack
7. Charlie
8. Fred
9. Chippy
10. Sparkle
11. Elfy
12. Holly
13. Max
14. Twinkle
15. Jolly
16. Elvis
17. Bob
18. Clyde
19. Peppermint
20. Nick
I like that my own name barely made the top 20 (in fairness, though, an elf named Nick sounds like trouble).

To make things interesting, I looked at how the elf names ranked for humans. The most popular was Jack, which was used 8,512 times last year. That was followed by Max and Charlie.
Number of humans receiving Elf on the Shelf names in 2013:
1. Jack (8,512)
2. Max (3,511)
3. Charlie (2,866)
4. Holly (681)
5. Clyde (195)
6. Elvis (184)
7. Nick (171)
8. Fred (101)
9. Buddy (21)
10. Bob (19)
11. Sparkle (12)
12. Chippy (0)
13. Elfie (0)
14. Elfy (0)
15. Jingle (0)
16. Jingles (0)
17. Jolly (0)
18. Twinkle (0)
19. Peppermint (0)
20. Snowflake (0)
Nine of the names were not used at all. (More precisely, they were used fewer than five times apiece. The Social Security Administration doesn't track names below that threshold.)

But Sparkle was used 12 times on actual humans last year. Amazing!

Now, I know what you're thinking: Is there a name that can serve people, elves and dogs? One name to rule them all.

Let's revisit the elf list, but only include the names that rank among the top 100 dog names and were chosen by at least five sets of parents last year.
Here's the result, with the dog rank in parentheses:
1. Jack (4)
2. Max (1)
3. Charlie (3 for males, 59 for females)
4. Holly (54)
5. Elvis (96)
6. Buddy (2)
We can probably eliminate Elvis and Buddy, since they're pretty uncommon among human offspring these days. (Elvis isn't that high with dogs either.)

That leaves us with Jack, Max, Charlie and Holly.

Four great names that you can literally give to anything (person, canine, elf doll). Go nuts!

UPDATE: I adapted a version of this post for Nameberry.com. You can find it here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to Do Christmas in New York on the Cheap

Today we made our annual pilgrimage to Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park to see the Christmas lights. It's a perfect activity for the kids — and a cheap and easy way to spend an afternoon.


You start by getting off at the Rockefeller Center subway station (stroller accessible!) and check out the decorations.


You might want to skip the main Christmas tree if you're avoiding crowds. There's plenty of other stuff to see.




Our kids were most excited about watching trash swirl around in the wind. You don't have to come to Rockefeller Center to enjoy this phenomenon, but it is 100% free.



You then mosey down to Bryant Park, where there's a winter village — including more than 100 pop-up stores selling artisanal fare — and its own Christmas tree (it's less impressive than the Rockefeller Center fir, but also less mobbed).


Bryant Park has its own ice rink too, but it's expensive and the line is insane. Instead, head over to the carousel, where there's rarely ever a wait. Tickets cost $3 each, and adults ride free.


Afterwards, plunk yourself down at the free outdoor "reading room," which is sponsored by the New York Public Library. It has a range of weathered children's books.


Pick up a few cider doughnuts from the nearby stall and you have yourself an evening!


On the way home, the kids amused themselves by picking out subway lines with the first letter of their names. (E, A and L are all represented.)


There are many times when New York feels expensive and exhausting, but not always. It's nice to be reminded of that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Meeting a Dog With the Same Name as You

The website Rover.com put out a list of the most popular dog names for 2014, along with lots of other fascinating statistics.


The top choices — Max for male dogs, Bella for females — won't come as a surprise to people tracking dog names. (The same picks were at the top of a chart compiled last year by WNYC.)

Top male dog names
1. Max
2. Buddy
3. Charlie
4. Jack
5. Cooper
6. Rocky
7. Toby
8. Tucker
9. Jake
10. Bear

Top female dog names
1. Bella
2. Lucy
3. Daisy
4. Molly
5. Lola
6. Sophie
7. Sadie
8. Maggie
9. Chloe
10. Bailey

As I mentioned last year, having your baby's name on this list shouldn't be alarming. The popularity of dog and human names often move in lockstep.

In fact, dog names may be a leading indicator for what's going to catch on with babies. (Dog owners are more adventurous with names; whereas parents are going to be more conservative and may not pick a name until it's begun to trend more broadly.)

It's likely that Cooper gained a following in the dog world before more parents embraced it. The moniker now ranks in the top 100 for babies.

Lucy is another surging human name with a solid dog foundation. (Lucy ranks 66th for humans, and second for dogs.) That means our daughter is bound to encounter lots of canine namesakes in her life.

I don't see any harm in that. But I suppose it could be another variable for soon-to-be parents to track. Instead of just worrying about how the same-name kids in your daughter's kindergarten class, you can check Rover.com to calculate how many same-name dogs will be at the park.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Berkeley as a Baby Name

Years ago, I wrote about the plague of Berkeley misspellings (even by people who work for the city). Pro tip: Keep adding E's until you think you have enough, then add another.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

My discussion yesterday of geographic baby names (and their creative spellings) got me thinking: What's the most popular way to name your kid Berkeley? And is it more common as a boy's name or a girl's name?

So I did a little digging, using 2013 data from the Social Security Administration.

Number of girls named:
Berkley: 231
Berkeley: 84
Berklee: 39
Berkleigh: 22
Berklie: 15
Burklee: 10
Burkley: 7

Number of boys named:
Berkley: 50
Berkeley: 21
Burkley: 5

As you can see, Berkeley is far more common as a girl's name (something that's typical of geographic names).

It's also been growing more popular in recent years.

(Click to enlarge.)

Sadly, the "real" Berkeley spelling ranked second for both boys and girls to Berkley. (For what it's worth, Berkely is a bona fide town in five states, including Michigan. It's also a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Va.)

At least Berkeley beats out Berklee, which — despite being the name of a prestigious music college in Boston — is clearly an eccentric spelling. (The school's founder created it by flipping around his son's name, Lee Eliot Berk.)

They only get worse from there on in.

Burkley? No, thanks.

UPDATE: I should note that Berkeley Breathed, the creator of "Bloom County," is probably the most famous Berkeley. Still, his real name is Guy (Berkeley is his middle name) and apparently he goes by "Berke."

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

How the Name Lynn Morphed Into Brooklynn

Remember my Nameberry post where I showed how baby names are getting longer (with four-syllable picks like Isabella supplanting Mary and Anne)?

Well, while researching that piece, I came across an interesting quirk of the data. Short picks like Lynn and Lee have become relatively uncommon, but they're living on as components of longer names. In fact, names containing Lynn (including Lynn itself) are 50 percent more popular than they were during they heyday of Lynn as a standalone name. Who knew?


I ended up using this information as the basis for a follow-up piece, which you can read here. The most popular "-lynn" name is currently Brooklynn, which lets parents honor New York's most populous borough while using some kr8tive spelling.

Turns out, Lynn lets parents pay tribute to all sorts of place names: Berlynn, Irelynn, Oaklynn and Scotlynn were all used as baby names at least 20 times each last year.

Lee has undergone a similar transformation. As a standalone name, it's long been in decline. But there's a new generation of Kaylees and Rylees out there.

I prefer classic old-lady names, so these aren't really my style. But it's nice to know that Americans aren't abandoning unfashionable names like Lynn; they're just glomming them onto other names.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

South Philly: a Photo Essay

We celebrated Thanksgiving in South Philadelphia, where I got a new perspective on the city. I haven't spent much time here since the 1990s, and even then my trips to South Philly didn't extend beyond getting cheese steaks or visiting South Street (ironically, South Street is the northern edge of South Philly).


My brother lives near Passyunk Avenue, a delightful mix of offbeat bars and shops, along with frozen-in-time Philadelphia retail (for instance, a store selling hearing aids that looks like it opened when hearing aids meant this).


Several of the cafes and stores were covered in mosaic tile. There are murals everywhere, flaming barrels at the Italian market and the beautiful decay that makes Philadelphia so wonderful to photograph.


In short, Passyunk is probably quirkier than 90 percent of Manhattan. Everyone in this neighborhood should have an Instagram account and 10,000 followers.











Hope to be back soon.

Of course, coming home across the Verrazano Bridge last night and seeing lower Manhattan gleaming against an early nightfall, it was hard to argue our home city isn't pretty photogenic too.