Monday, December 30, 2013

What an Auto-Generated Photo Montage Looks Like

This is kind of weird, but Google+ automatically generated a slideshow of my 2013 highlights, based on the photos that I backed up to the service. It then sent this to me, unprompted.

Apparently Google+ uses a number of techniques to select the "best" pictures from the year (out of hundreds of options). It actually does a pretty good job, though I'm not sure people need to see multiple shots of a bunk bed being assembled.

Here's an example of how smart it is. Google+ chose to show this photo...

...rather than this (photobombed) one.

I guess even the robots know when they're being messed with.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Capturing a Milestone in a Very 2013 Way

Lucy finally began walking in earnest today. I was so excited, I documented the moment with my first Vine...

...and my first Instagram video.

I'm sure if it were 1983, I would have made copies of her first steps on VHS and Betamax.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Changing Definition of Family

This year we continued our family tradition of giving the kids pajamas on Christmas Eve. But we held off on getting a set of matching PJs for the whole family (the kind popularized by the viral video "#XMAS JAMMIES").

The Pajamagram company (motto: "send the gift of relaxation") promotes these sets pretty aggressively around the holidays.

I found it interesting to peruse the 41 different examples of family pajama sets they offer. There are no gay couples, but there are 14 families where it's just a single person and their pets. That means more than a third of the "families" contain only one human!

So apparently America is okay with the definition of family including a crazy cat lady, but it's not quite ready for gays to wear footie pajamas with their kids. Maybe this is something we can work on in 2014.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dancing to the Light of the Empire State Building

Every night leading up to Christmas, the Empire State Building has been doing a light show at 7 p.m. — accompanied by music on 106.7 FM. We've taken part in the festivities a few times now, and I've documented the results.

In fairness, it doesn't take a lot to get this family dancing. (Not dancing well, but dancing...)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Ornaments Tell a Tale of Parental Neglect

This picture perfectly sums up the diminishing amount of attention paid to second- and third-born children.

Our first baby (top) got a nice ornament with his picture in it.

The ornament for the second-born child (left) is missing her photo.

It's even worse for the third child, whose ornament (right) still has the picture that came in the frame.

Friday, December 20, 2013

East Coast vs. West Coast: Drinking Outdoors

A year ago, I examined the differences between New York and San Francisco liquor laws. While I gave credit to New York for having bars open until 4 a.m., the city lost points for not selling wine in supermarkets and forcing alcoholics to wait until noon on Sundays to get their drink on.

Well, here's another way the East Coast is less forgiving to drinkers: Hardly any states allow people to consume alcohol outdoors. Check out this handy map, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

(Click to enlarge.)

The Northeast is a sea of orange, meaning outdoor drinking is banned in most or all municipalities.

Years ago, when I was visiting New York from the Bay Area, I sat with a friend at one of those red tables in Times Square. We began sipping beers purchased at a bodega, not realizing that such behavior wasn't allowed. After all, the whole point of those red tables and chairs is to give a friendly cafe vibe.

Police descended almost immediately and served us with citations. (My friend argued successfully that I was a clueless Californian and shouldn't get one.)

Anyway, I couldn't imagine that happening in San Francisco.

Not because of the city's freedom-loving ways (drinking in public isn't technically allowed there either), but because the police rarely bother enforcing the law.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Talk About Recycling!

I had to have a tooth extracted today because it was cracked (kids, don't ever chew ice). So I got introduced to the intriguing world of dental implants.

Before they can put in an artificial tooth, they have to lay the groundwork with bone graft material. What is bone graft material, you ask? Well, I had the following conversation with the dentist.
"What is it made out of?"
"Human bones?"
"From dead people?"
"But they clean it."
I guess it's no different from getting an organ transplant, but there's something strange about having a crushed-up dead person inside your mouth.

What if the bones came from a murderer? (Or a bone thug?)

Still, as Kelly noted, the Berkeleyan in me should applaud this: At least it's organic.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Wasn't Ignoring My Family — I Was Taking Videos!

It's nice to see some validation for people who spend all their time taking videos of their family, rather than actually spending time with their family.

First there was this dad who captured 25 straight years of his kids coming down the stairs on Christmas morning. (The video is actually a few years old, but I noticed it on the Huffington Post this week.)

Then I came across this iPhone commercial called "Misunderstood," featuring a seemingly antisocial teenage boy. Though he appears to be engrossed in his iPhone during holiday festivities, he's actually secretly filming his family. (Okay, it sounds creepy when I say it like that.)

I will probably spend much of Christmas behind a camera as well, as I did last year.

But holiday videos can go too far. Take this family, which struts around in pajamas in order to (successfully) create a viral video.

It makes me nostalgic for the VHS days, when the only chance of a holiday video going viral was if the dad got hit in the crotch with a hammer.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This iPad Baby Seat Certainly Isn't Pacifying Parents

I don't think I'm overly strict when it comes to screen time. Our kids are no stranger to the iPad (though they probably only spend an hour or two a week with it, at most). And our household wouldn't function if we couldn't use the television to occasionally immobilize the children.

Still, we've tried to wait until each of the kids was 2 years old before relying on electronic babysitters.

Fisher-Price's Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat

So the idea of plunking newborns in front of a tablet — nay, strapping them down in front of it — horrifies me on a visceral level. (As I said on Twitter, it's like seeing a baby smoking.)

Apparently a lot of other parents feel the same way, judging by the reaction to the Fisher-Price Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat. A petition requesting that Fisher-Price recall this $80 product is nearing its goal of 12,000 signatures.

Is this reaction entirely rational? That's hard to say. The fears of iPads turning babies' brains into mush are probably overblown, and the app does time out after 10 to 12 minutes.

But if parents want to buy an iPad seat, I would prefer they get the iPotty.

At least if the kid is potty-training, he or she is already at least 2 (or quite advanced).

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Coke Commercial That's Surprisingly Sweet

This Coca-Cola ad from Argentina presents a touching portrait of parenthood — and all the challenges that come with it (though I can't say I've ever gotten green ectoplasm in my record collection).

A lot of people prefer Latin American Coke because it's sweetened with sugar, not corn syrup. Maybe Latin American Coke commercials are better too.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Good Enough to Eat?

If you've ever rested a swaddled newborn on your shoulder, you've probably noticed that they resemble burritos. I frequently noted this when our firstborn arrived in 2008.

So I'm excited to discover that a new swaddle blanket will make your baby look just like a real burrito! (Well, it doesn't include the requisite foil.)

It's $48 and comes in one color: flour.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Successor to the Defenestration Building Rises in SoMa

When I first learned of the imminent demise of 5Pointz back in October, I compared it to the Defenestration Building, which is also set to be demolished.

The Defenestration Building. Photo courtesy of As I See It.

Well, there's good news on that front. No, the Defenestration installation isn't going to be saved. But the same artist is working on a piece called Caruso's Dream that features 13 glass pianos dangling from a new building on Ninth Street in SoMa.

Photo courtesy of SFGate.

The installation, from San Francisco artist Brian Goggin, bears similarities to his earlier work while also serving as a tribute to Caruso's final night in San Francisco.

From the Chronicle:
"The whole piece is inspired by this moment when the opera star Enrico Caruso was awakened by the Great Calamity of April 18, 1906, while he was staying at the Palace Hotel," Goggin says. "He did not know if he was awake or still dreaming as he was walking to the window to see the results of the ongoing earthquake."
(According to the legend, Caruso vowed to never come back to San Francisco — and never did.)

Photo courtesy of SFGate.

I lived near the Defenestration Building for years and was amazed that it lasted as long as it did. The work was only supposed to be up for six months and instead survived 15 years (helped by how long it took to revitalize that stretch of SoMa — the building was otherwise vacant).

Anyway, it's nice to hear that the new work will be permanent. It even features a light and sound component.
At night, the glass pianos will shine from within, like old incandescent bulbs. The sound of Caruso singing will be on KPH (Palace Hotel), recreating a station that once emanated from the hotel. At 90.9 on the FM dial, it will have a reach of 300 feet. That gets it all the way across Ninth Street, to the headquarters of Twitter.
The artwork was commissioned by the developers of the new building, Avalon Bay. (Its name is confusingly similar to Avalon Mission Bay, where Kelly and I lived for a couple years.) This isn't wholly a charitable act, of course. As I've mentioned before, public art is required as part of large San Francisco construction projects.

That fact, along with the proximity to Twitter and the rapidly gentrifying Mid-Market area, may cause some people to view this new work as corporate art. (Think of the reaction to Cupid's Span.)

I hope it gets a fair shake. This looks like an intriguing new piece, with a strong connection to San Francisco history. Everyone should give it a chance.

Still, I'm not sure I'd want to be standing under 13 glass pianos if there's another 1906-sized earthquake.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The World's Biggest Buddhas

The other day when I lamented that New York no longer had the world's largest menorah, I suggested that the United States typically lays claim to the biggest religious symbols. But that's not true. The largest statues in the world are all Buddhas, and none of them are in this country.

Check out this cool YouTube video on Earth's biggest Buddhas.

The Statue of Liberty, at a shameful 305 feet tall, would be nothing compared with some of these guys.

Still, it seems ironic that a religion based on transcending the physical realm should be obsessed with building gigantic edifices.

Unless Buddhism is actually about promoting awesomeness. In that case, carry on.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Plaza Hotel's Gigantic Trompe L'oeil: Part Two

The Plaza Hotel's giant mural is coming down, marking an end to this enormous piece of artwork.

 The good news is, the hotel's actual facade has been beautifully restored. It's hard to complain about that.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Has New York Lost the Battle for Largest Menorah?

Hanukkah has come and gone, but yesterday I was walking by the Grand Army Plaza (a square at the edge of Central Park near 59th Street and Fifth Avenue) when I came across this giant menorah.

According to the sign, it's the largest menorah in the world.

New York City's tourism website propagated this fact last month, when it promoted the lighting of the "world's largest menorah" on Nov. 27.

 And yet, it appears that the world's largest menorah is actually in Tel Aviv.

According to the Jerusalem Post:
The menorah, created by Israel Electric Corporation, is made up of nine aerial platforms including the Shamash ('attendant' candle) which reaches the furthest at a height of 28 meters, and eight lower lights each at 22 meters. The entire menorah, lit up with an array of changing colors, can be seen from around the Tel Aviv area.
Please, whatever you do, click on the video at the bottom of the story. (It's seemingly narrated by a terrifying robot.)

Anyway, I guess it makes sense for the world's largest menorah to be in Israel rather than the United States. But I can't help feeling that my civic pride is wounded.

I mean, it's not like the world's biggest St. Patrick's Day parade is in Ireland. It's right here in the Big Apple.

Also, the world's largest crucifix isn't in Vatican City. It's in Michigan. (Or Florida, if that state gets its way.)

So America kind of has a track record of being No. 1 in this department. I only hope New York can rebound in the Menorah competition.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Some Lessons Have to Be Learned the Hard Way

Somehow the kids managed to check out a library book about how to use the library and then return it overdue.

The Curious George book didn't cover the issue of fines, so this dose of reality had to be administered in real life. The New York Public Library demanded payment of 10 cents.

That's coming right out of their college fund.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

'Indestructible' Book Lives Up to Its Name

Like most babies, Lucy will put pretty much anything in her mouth: dolls, tissues, the dustpan. But her favorite target is paper. She seems to delight in biting, shredding and destroying any kind of print media.

You may recall this video of her devouring the New York Times.

That makes it hard to preserve our collection of board books, which have now been gummed and chewed by three different babies.

So I was excited to discover a series of baby books called "Indestructibles." Each thin volume is constructed out of the same material as shipping envelopes. According to their publisher, that makes the books "100 percent baby-proof: chew-proof, drool-proof and rip-proof."

We bought one of these books back when Alice was a baby, so I've now seen two children attempt to destroy it. And I have to say, it totally lives up to its claims.

I've watched Lucy go to town on this book, doing her best to shred it. And nothing happens.

I imagine her staring at it in wonder and saying, "Why won't you DIE?"

The downside is the books are pamphlet-thin — not a lot of content here — and there are no words at all. So you have to make up your own story.

But it's totally worth it — if only to erect a small bulwark against baby's path of destruction.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Christmas Tree's Natural Enemy: Babies

This year we anchored our tree to the wall  not because of earthquakes, but to protect against curious babies. Lucy would like nothing better than to grab the tree and pull it down on top of herself, shattering every ornament in the process.

Even with the precautions, the next three weeks are going to be tough. Lucy's favorite thing to grab is hair — though she will settle for fringe — and the tree is basically one giant mass of green tresses.

Lucy may not be able to topple the tree over, but she can stripmine the lower part of its pine needles and ornaments.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Elf on the Shelf: Chapter Two

Last Christmas we perpetrated a hoax on our children called "Elf on the Shelf."

Like thousands of other parents, we told our kids that an elf flew to our home from the North Pole and would be watching over them to ensure they weren't bad. Kelly and I moved the elf to a different location every night, and the children would try to find him in the morning. (We don't have a very large apartment, so it wasn't hard.)

Now, I realize that Santa Claus himself is a hoax. But the Elf on the Shelf mythology seems to be a bigger test of credulity. I mean, the elf (we call ours Fred) is clearly a doll. He doesn't move or say anything. He just sits there.

Elliot is 5 and a very inquisitive boy, so he's probably going to start asking more questions about Fred's situation. And if the Fred story unravels, then what's next? Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy? We have two younger siblings to protect from the truth, so this is scary.

This hasn't deterred us from doing Elf on the Shelf again this year, but it has made us more careful about crafting a plausible narrative.

When Fred made his first appearance yesterday, Kelly wanted to leave a note that the elf could have realistically written. This meant I had to print in tiny letters on a fancy piece of stationery that was less than an inch wide. And the note had to rhyme, because clearly Fred would only write in verse.

Then Kelly rolled up the paper into a miniature scroll, since "it's not like Fred could carry a flat piece of paper all the way from the North Pole."

Fred also needed to bring extra-curly candy canes, since they seemed more whimsical and the kind of thing he would have access to.

How far will we have to go to keep up this charade? I'm worried it will become harder and harder to maintain as the lies pile up.

Monday, December 02, 2013

How to Transport a Christmas Tree in New York

Another Christmas, another ordeal trying to get the tree back to our apartment.

Unlike last year, we couldn't get the thing onto a bus this time we had to wheel it home in the stroller.

I got a few funny looks.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Once Again, Pace Salsa Targets New York City

Back when I announced that we were moving to New York City, my first thought was to make a reference to the Pace commercials from the 1980s:
I know what you're thinking: New York City? They don't even know what picante sauce is supposed to taste like.

That's how deeply embedded those ads are in my consciousness. I only have to hear the phrase "New York City" and will immediately get an image of cowboys on the dusty plain holding an empty jar of salsa.

Well, the Pace commercials are no longer a fuzzy VHS memory. Pace, which is owned by Campbell Soup Co., has brought back the ads — with some tweaks for modern audiences.

In the original commercials, anyone who tried to serve salsa from New York City would be hanged or cooked alive. (I'm using "salsa" and "picante sauce" interchangeably here, which I know is its own violation.)

The new ads don't threaten violence — they just make fun of New Yorkers for being overly fastidious. Here's one where somebody who likes New York salsa also puts whipped cream on his hot chocolate.

I worry that "New York" is being used as code for "gay." (Hey, that's San Francisco's job!). But maybe I'm being overly sensitive.

Really, it's hard to know what to criticize here because the ads are all over the place.

In this one, the New York-friendly cowboy has an overly large tent (and uses a Clapper).

Right...because people in New York have large homes.

I guess it could be a reference to the city's skyscrapers, though I'm not sure anyone moving in to One57 is going to use a Clapper.

In this final one, the cowboy activates an alarm on his horse with a remote.

Like many New Yorkers, I don't own a car alarm (or a car). But I probably would if I lived in Texas.

I suppose these are just generic city-slicker jokes. Of course, the entire conceit of the ads is a bit absurd. Hardly anything is manufactured in New York City anymore, other than a few cage-free eggs in Park Slope. (Apparently the 1980s commercials originally referred to picante sauce from New Jersey — slightly more plausible — but they changed it to New York City because it had a better ring to it.)

It's hard to tell if the new ads are going to hold the same space in the pop-culture pantheon. I'm probably only nostalgic about the old commercials because I was forced to watch them so many times. (I don't even think we had a remote control in the mid-'80s, let alone a DVR.)

Today's ads will have to work a lot harder to achieve that kind of resonance.

UPDATE: I guess I'm not the only one who picked up on some gay overtones. GLAAD raised concerns about an older version of the New York City-bashing commercials (one that doesn't appear to be on the air anymore). That ad, which you can see here, features a cowboy who takes horse grooming to an extreme level. In Pace's defense, GLAAD notes, "the city cowboy himself does not otherwise look or act feminine."