Saturday, April 30, 2011

Camping is in your Element

In 1985, my wife, young son and I took my mother's 1971 VW Bus camper to Oregon and back. It was fun and easy taking our home on our backs, tortoiselike. That vehicle was a favorite for many in those days--compact but full of room, and with the hard extended roof, there was room for sleeping--and you could stand up in it.

Nowadays, the Bus is an historical relic, but one company is putting expandable roofs on Honda Elements. Although the last Element was just built a couple weeks ago (see blog post), there are hundreds of thousands you could buy and get converted by Ursa Minor Vehicles.

It's a great platform for it, and the cost seems reasonable. I wonder if you could rent one?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday on My Mind

Friday -- the last workday of the week for most of us. If it's the last workday of your first week at a new job, it's a good time to assess what Friday means.

By any measure, this first week has been a success. I've met dozens of new colleagues, and they're all terrific. I have a good workspace--nothing fancy, but amidst my fellows. I have interesting things to do, and have had to deal with some deadline pressure. But I've also had time to take time to watch what's going on and learn how things work. I'm tired - but I've earned my rest.

When you're unhappy at work, 5 p.m. on Friday is the door to escape--when you get to do the things you really like. Me? I'm excited about next Monday, but intend to get my weekend's worth of fun with family, music and--some rest.

Work and rest--a daily, weekly and yearly cycle (think vacations) but it's a lifelong cycle, too. The first years are when you learn how to work and what you're good at. In the middle years you learn focus and dedication, and, with luck, develop some wisdom about yourself. In the later years you get a chance to reflect on your worklife. My retirement plan? Never stop working, but gradually get to work at what I like best. What could be better than that?

Friday songs: My favorite has always been Friday on My Mind by the Easybeats. Yeah, it's a real oldie. But my new work neighbor, Loni, told me about the latest, Friday by Rebecca Black. Yes, it's insipid, and combining a 13-year-old girl and her friends with an older man seems a little bizarre (watch the video) but I dare you to get the song out of your mind after even one listen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Personal Bandwidth - A New Beginning

How does your mind spend its time?

I recently began sitting quietly in the morning for about 10 minutes after my shower. On a hard chair, in my old bathrobe, I sit and breathe in and out. I listen to my thoughts.

A few weeks ago, my brain was filled with a job search. Last week, before my new job began, the content was of my home automotive project. Now, as day four of my new job begins, I find most of my bandwidth is on that.

And what a great time it is when you start a new job. There's the excitement of meeting new people and learning new things mixed with some nervousness about not really knowing what you're doing yet. Those slow, even awkward, processes will be smooth before long.

On my band of attention I hear the cry of my daily bass practice and blog duties--joys, but also responsibilities. I hear the needs of my family and the reminders of jobs still left to do (mow the lawn, fix the faucet, balance the books).
Meanwhile, the photo above is of today's sunrise--the fresh beginning to every new day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Final Honda Element Leaves the Building

The Honda Element is no more. The last one rolled off the assembly line in Marysville, Ohio on Monday, April 18. Don't cry, though--they made 361,500 of them since production began in November 2002.

I drove at least two as test cars--if not three. The car is bigger than you might think--compared to the similarly boxy Scion XB--especially the first generation model. I remember the second row seats being WAY back--like a limo's, and the ceiling so high that I could barely touch it with an upstretched arm.

Being based on the perennially popular CR-V crossover, it offered plenty of utility and decent fuel economy--but it wasn't at the top of the gas miser index. As a Honda, it was well made, reliable and pleasant to drive.

The last one I tested was a 2010 model--the Dog Friendly Edition. It had special dog-friendly trappings, such as a little cloth "house", a ramp (for bigger pooches), and the rubber mats had bone graphics on them. It even wore a canine-oriented logo on the outside.

There are no plans to produce another generation of this car, so it's really goodbye. But don't count Honda out. I expect that the next "box" from them will be smaller and more fuel efficient. It will have plenty of competition.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Would You Want Your Son to Join the Marines?

I remember the Viet Nam era, when our servicemen came home and were blamed for the war. Today, we recognize the courage and sacrifice of our fighting forces, while still finding war itself upsetting and painful.

But what do you do if your 18-year-old decides he might want to join the Marines? When he turned 18 he received all the branches' brochures, but now, he's talking to a Marine recruiter. This puts me, as a parent, in a strange position. I hate war, as many people do. I also understand that as long as there are more than two people, there will be disagreements, and that some of these will escalate into armed conflict. I appreciate our fighting forces, who defend my rights and my freedom. But I balk at sending my own son off to possibly lose a limb or an eye--or his mind.

This reminds me of racist statements in years gone by--"But would you want your daughter (son) to marry one?" We want others to do the right thing even if we're hesitant (I did "marry one.") Wanting to protect your child from harm is natural for a parent--but where are these defenders of democracy going to come from if nobody volunteers? It's almost like I appreciate the idea of the military more than the reality of it. I'll bet many others feel the same way.

When your kid is no longer a child, you have to let him go. But I can't help worrying that's he's making the wrong choice--and that he may live to regret it. Or worse, he may not live at all. The Marines are a proud and patriotic few--and deserve our respect. But it's a very hard road to walk.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Two Drawings

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Oakland Museum of California. Not only is this the place we went on our first date many years ago, but it has been significantly remodeled, so we enjoyed seeing the changes as well as some old favorites.

The museum has become more interactive. For example, in one section, a wall full of closely-spaced California portraits contains two video screens. Next to the wall is a workstation where you can draw your own self portrait and it subsequently appears on the wall--and in rotation afterwards into the future.

I sat down and tried my hand at it just minutes before the museum announced it was closing. You can see the results above.

Today, at my new job at Luidia, I was experimenting with the company's eBeam technology, which allows you to draw on a video monitor for education and business presentations. My scribbles took on the look of some of the 20th-century "modern art" at the museum! See below for my masterpiece.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Con Alma Rocks the House

Con Alma sings a range of songs; they give everything a Jazz-tinged swing. Richard Kalman, the founder and leader of the group, plays keyboard and incorporates versatile bassist Michael Fourie and finesse drummer Richard Freeman into a strong three-piece rhythm section. The singers, including Kalman, then make the magic happen over that.

I've seen a few different versions of Con Alma; my interest started when the group began to contain my ex, Catherine de Cuir, whose considerable vocal talents I have experienced since we met many years ago. She can sing the lights out of Cole Porter, the Beatles or anyone else you can name. Last night, the group also included singers Patty Paul, Nancy Shneiderman and Terry Lee, led by Richard. Together, this ensemble fills the room.

Noteworthy group numbers included the Beatles' Come Together and Drive My Car (the latter sung acapella, with Ms. de Cuir performing George Harrison's guitar solo with her voice). They also hit it big with "How Sweet It Is to be Loved by You," "I Can See Clearly Now" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do."

Both sets included a middle section where the individuals got a chance to solo. Richard gives a pleasing Randy Newman treatment to his solos. High points from the others included Catherine nailing "Thou Swell" and Nancy evoking a powerful sentiment with Abbey Lincoln's "Throw it Away." Patty delivered on her solos too, but I was so immersed in listening that I neglected to write down the titles.

Con Alma is worth following. Until they produce a specific website for the group, see Richard Kalman's website or MySpace page for more information.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Go Kiss a MINI

Leave it to MINI to do something different! At the New York Auto Show last week, MINI announced a partnership with rock icons KISS. Three of the KISS band members were on hand to make the announcement in full costume.

MINI displayed four of the new (slightly) larger Countrymans wrapped with graphics bearing the likeness of KISS band members.

The MINI/KISS partnership is part of a program to benefit UNICEF’s efforts helping children in Japan and around the world.

Four custom painted versions of the KISS Countryman vehicles will be auctioned off on eBay with the money raised donated to UNICEF. In addition, you can order the KISS graphics as an option on your Countryman and the sales proceeds will to UNICEF.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Alive! Metropolitan is Almost Finished

My plan for this week was to install the new wiring harness in my Nash Metropolitan that had been sitting for months. The car had electrical issues since I got it in 2005. Well, as of today, it has working headlights, parking lights, brake lights, interior lights, fuel gauge, and it turns over and runs too. This is big progress.

So--what's the "takeaway" here? If you want to make something happen, commit yourself to it and make the time for it. I knew this week was the only one I was going to have for a while and I took advantage of it. I also found an excellent electrician and friend across the street without whom I would have been lost. Thanks, Mike!

Now, all that's left is to hook up the wipers, heater, and turn signals. Then I can start with things like fixing the door panels, adding front carpeting, ordering a new passenger-side sunvisor... Most importantly, I can start taking it out for drives! Hooray!

Happy Earth Day--drive a small car today.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fine Time with Mom

It's always a pleasure to take advantage of living in one of the great vacation destinations in the world. Today, my mother and I strolled beneath the world famous Golden Gate Bridge along a path that used to be part of the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco.

We ate a pleasant lunch at the Warming Hut before heading out along the shore. I'm sure the hut is especially welcome on cold, foggy days, but today, the weather cooperated with temperatures in the low 60s and clear skies.

I learned something new about my mom today. She often takes this walk, and it's her habit to go up to the tourists and offer to take their photo together. It makes them very happy, and means they'll have a keepsake that includes everyone to send back to their friends at home. And, they'll remember a small kindness from a San Franciscan, too.

I hope we'll be able to go back to Crissy Field again soon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Music from This Century

I think it's important to stay abreast of the music scene--or at least have some familiarity with it--to avoid terminal old fogeydom. As delightful as a stroll down 1960's memory lane can be, at some point one has to escape from the museum and live today.

So--I spent some quality ear time on The Pulse--SiriusXM bills it as "The 2000's and Today." That seems about right. It doesn't play hip hop or anthing too intense but you do get a nice sampling of today's artists. On The Pulse, an "oldie" is from 2002.

Appealing songs by female singers included Michelle Branch's Are You Happy Now, Sara Bareilles' Uncharted, and Pink's F'n Perfect.

Groups of guys entertained me: Switchfoot's Your Love is a Song, The Fray's Syndicate, Maroon 5's Misery and the amusingly named Fitz and the Tantrums, with MoneyGrabber--which sounded like an old Hall and Oates song.

After my sampling, I think the retro period of choice now has become the 1980's. For pure '80's, you can visit Channel 8 on Sirius or XM, of course, too.

Uncharted is my top pick, and I got a nice "Cold Play" feeling from the Switchfoot song, but I liked them all. Makes me feel young.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metropolitan Comes Back to Life

Knowing that I had this week off--before starting my new job--I decided to turn my successful job-finding energy loose to get my 1956 Nash Metropolitan's replacement wiring harness installed and make the car roadworthy. As of this moment, the job is not 100 percent done--but I was able to start the car and drive it up and down the street tonight--something it has not done in a year. The photo is taken today, in my driveway.

We still need to go in and get all the electrical parts functioning, but I set myself a week to do this and it's only Tuesday.

Much thanks go to Mike Connolly, my neighbor, who is not only car knowledgeable and a professional electrician--he's a great guy too. Mike is patient, and was able to get a lot done--and still let me work on my car myself too. He taught me about crimping wires today.

I'm so excited. I'll make another blog update when the job is complete.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New VW Beetle Debuts in New York

After more than a million sales globally since 1998, the New Beetle is, well, new again.

My first car was a candy apple red 1964 Beetle. It was falling apart and had been poorly treated, but it ran for a couple of years and was fun to drive.

The New Beetle was based on a concept car and felt a little odd with its huge, extended windshield, but it did its job of keeping Volkswagen on people's minds. Being front-wheel-drive and water-cooled (based on the Golf) it wasn't much like the original car--it was much more powerful, that's for sure. It's bud vase on the dash was cute--and, from what I can tell, was often actually used by owners.

The original Beetle was sold in the U.S. from the late 1940's until 1979 (but elsewhere for longer). Many are still on the road--including a nice blue one down the street from me.

The new 2012 model is a lot different, but still looks familiar. It should be a good driver, and I look forward to slipping behind the wheel of one soon. The bud vase, however, is gone--sorry.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Visiting Garden Railways

Did you know that there are some devoted enthusiasts who build model railways in their gardens? I never knew this until today, when I joined the Santa Clara Model T Ford Club and the Arcane Auto Society to drive to four wonderful back yards filled with model trains.

It was all put on by the Bay Area Garden Railway Society, whose members generously opened their beautiful presentations to the public. How wonderful to open the gate and walk into a beautifully landscaped yard. And then, you look carefully and see miniature buildings, people and moving trains.

In the first yard, the trains ran on butane, and put out smoke like old locomotives. The other yards used electric trains, some of which made train sounds, but these are not the little ones you see in someone's den. These are G Scale--about a half inch to a foot--and with the buildings and other items scaled to them, you can see the panoramas clearly.

At the first stop, we visited with Robert Brown, who not only has a wonderful garden railway, but also is editor and publisher of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette. It's a handsome four-color bi-monthly magazine filled with "Accurate Information for Fine Modelbuilding." Bob had a fantastic indoor train setup too that was far-ranging and incredibly detailed. And, it reflected more than 30 years of dedicated work.

Besides the appeal of the trains, gardens, and socializing was the presence of so many old and wonderful cars. The Model T folks drove a sampling of Henry Ford's favorites. I followed a couple between gardens and heard their distinctive engine sound--and moved at their distinctive speed, too.

The Arcane Auto Society members brought the usual selection of Peugeots, Minis, DKWs, microscopic pre-Civic Hondas, and even a blocky pink Powell pickup truck. As far as I could tell, everyone had a great time, and the weather was perfect too.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How to Get a Job

On April 25th I start a new job at Luidia. Visit their website to learn about the amazing eBeam products that transform flat surfaces into interactive and collaborative workspaces.

How did I find it? I treated my job search like a job. I got up every morning just as if I was going to work. That means I was online by 6:45 a.m. checking things out.

I contacted everyone I knew. I made lots of new connections on LinkedIn (more than 350 so far)--all people I actually know, of course. I was on Facebook too--and emailing--and on the phone. But I didn't bug people.

I got some nice leads from my connections, but I checked various online job sources daily, including I also looked at but it was not very effective. If I saw something that seemed suitable, I applied for it. Then, I went to LinkedIn and found out who I might know who worked there--or someone I knew who knew someone. That expedited my resume being seen.

I tweaked my resume whenever I felt it needed it. I kept it simple, but included anything of value.

I kept a positive attitude. I knew it was going to work out. When the first three jobs I interviewed for didn't come through, I was unhappy for a half a day and then got right back to work.

I pictured the successful result. I visualized the phone ringing with my job offer, and on Thursday, April 14th, it did.

I'm grateful to all the friends and former colleagues who supported me in this effort. I'm happy to start my new tech writing job in a little over a week.

I am thankful for the great help I got from Brian Bocchino of Gravity People, who worked hard (and quickly!) to make it happen. Contact

It's certainly helpful to have job skills, but I think that concerted effort, focus, and a positive attitude are vital to being successful in your job search.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Yesterday, I had the great chance to play chamber music with eight other musicians in a nonet. If three's a trio and four's a quartet, nine is a nonet.

Chamber music commonly combines wind instruments or string instruments--think of the classic string quartet (two violins, a viola and a cello). But--some composers have used the larger ensemble to get a richer sound, mixing winds and strings into a mini orchestra. We had me on bass, plus a cello, viola, violin, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and flute.

The group was about half men and half women in a range of ages but tending to those in their middle to senior years--but all full of vitality and energy. The photo is NOT us--as you can surely tell. The important thing was, we played together and made a good sound.

The difficulty of sightreading the selections varied. The first piece, by Louise Farrenc, was a beautiful mid-nineteenth century work by a female composer--a bit unusual--but it wasn't too much of a struggle. The second piece, by Bohuslav Martinu, was a hundred years newer, and had the intensity and intellectual brilliance of the 1940's. With its twist and turns in key, time signature and note length, it made for much more effort--and I got lost more often. This kind of chamber music is more work, but with enough practice could be a great experience.

A third piece, by Louis Spohr, was played as an Octet, because this bass player was called away. For what? Read tomorrow's post to find out. 8-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Edsel Ford Speaks about Racing in America

Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Edsel Ford II, great grandson of Henry Ford, talk about his grandfather and also about a special new exhibit going up in the museum Henry founded. Racing in America will cover all forms of American auto racing, focusing on the theme of innovation.

Taking up 22,000 square feet in the museum, which is 10 miles west of Detroit, the exhibit will cover stock cars, open-wheel cars, sports cars, drag-racing vehicles, winged sprinters and land-speed-record cars.

The Henry Ford Museum itself is much more than just a car museum, although there are plenty of them in there. Its 250-acre campus features five unique attractions and contains more than 26 million artifacts that help teach visitors--and future generations--about the genius of ordinary Americans. More than 1.6 million people visit each year--including more than a quarter of a million school children.

I'll have to make of point of going as soon as I can get back there.

Mr. Ford told us about his great grandfather's race in 1901, in which he entered a lightweight but durable vehicle--called "Sweepstakes." By outlasting the competition and being piloted effectively by the first time racer. Mr. Ford himself, it won. Sweepstakes was discovered years later in the Ford collection and has been restored. That win helped launch support for the Ford Motor Company--and the rest is history.

Now, Mr. Ford is seriously seeking the glass punchbowl which was given to Henry Ford as the prize for his only race. If you know the whereabouts of the punchbowl, be sure to let the museum know.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Job Hunting's Like Choosing a Mate

Looking for a new job is a lot more like choosing a mate than you might suppose. You want to like the person (company) and what they stand for. You decide based on your observations and feelings for the moment, but what you really want is something that works for the long term. But how can you tell?

You go on dates (interviews) to try to figure out how compatible you are. You ask questions--and answer them. You try to be honest, but of course you tend to talk up your accomplishments and avoid those moments you'd just as soon forget. However, tell outright lies at your own peril--I don't even try--because I can't and also because I believe that if you do, they'll come back to haunt you later.

So, you date (meet), you talk, and when you think you've found the right one (and they agree--a rarer thing), you make a legal agreement (paperwork) and you're together. If you're lucky--and work at it, it lasts.

A good marriage can (and should) outlast a lifetime of good and bad jobs, or even multiple careers. So far, I'm doing pretty well. Ask my wife.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Wonderful ('67)

Funny how a certain song can stop you in your tracks. I sometimes (perhaps too often) find myself lingering on the 60's channel on Sirius XM Radio. They love to play the big hits of the day, like "Satisfaction" by the Stones or "Stop in the Name of Love" by the Supremes--great songs, but suffering from overexposure.

Then, up comes "It's Wonderful" by the Rascals (note: you have to wait for it on the YouTube video). The psychedelic musings, four/four keyboard rhythms and odd marching outro are so much a part of that surprisingly short period from 1966 to early 1968 in which acid-themed odd (and long) songs suddenly appeared (and quickly disappeared). They play the Rascals' "Groovin'" all the time, but you rarely hear "It's Wonderful." It's a favorite--along with Tomorrow by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Yeah, they play that band's "Incense and Peppermints" all the time, but not "Tomorrow."

It's for those little chestnuts that I wait through yet another Four Seasons or Gary Puckett and the Union Gap tune.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Double Dose of Chamber Music

Yesterday, I got to enjoy two chamber music concerts. Being in an orchestra and a member of the Chamber Musicians of Northern California, I have met lots of fellow players--and they sometimes invite me to come hear them perform at local venues.

First, I drove to Alameda to the High Street Station to hear the Hillside Quintet, made up of five members of the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra. They feature flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and horn. Their two sets mixed the popular sound of Mozart with the rousing refrains of John Philip Sousa's Liberty Bell March (the Monty Python theme), a surprisingly beautiful composition, the Andante by Muszynski from 1985, and other delightful pieces. They even played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

That's the Hillside Quintet in the photo above.

Then, I drove quickly East, to Pleasant Hill, where in the contemporary A-frame of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, four separate groupings of musicians (with a few folks playing in multiple ensembles) filled the building with great sounds. After Schubert's String Quintet in C Major (1828) came the biggest surprise of the concert--The Ballade, Pastorale and Dance by Eric Ewazen (born in 1954). In the unusual grouping of flute, horn and piano, it proved, as the Muszynski did, that modern classics can be a delight to the ear.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Favorite Cookies

In keeping with a mellow, laid-back weekend set of posts (no global warming, homelessness, etc.) I hereby present a list of my favorite cookies, in no particular order except number 1:

1. Mint Milanos: Pepperidge Farm's delicate blend of chocolate and mint, tucked neatly between a crunchy cookie that gives with just the right amount of resistance. Heaven. They come in little paper containers. Bet you can't restrict yourself to just one package. I have been know to parcel out three and then go back five more times for "just one more." Note: There are now lots of other Milano variants, including the original mintless variety, milk chocolate, orange, raspberry, chocolate (cookie)...

2. Mother's Animal Cookies: These small snacks have white icing and jimmies and are perfect for eating sequentially for an extended period of time until you burst. I haven't had any for a while, and that's probably a good thing.

3. Le Petit Ecolier. The little schoolboy cookies by Lu have the best chocolate of any cookie--perhaps even #1 above. MMMMMMM. I eat each one in several bites so I can let the chocolate melt in my mouth.

4. Double Stuf Oreos. These improve on Nabisco's original timeless recipe by doubling (tripling?) the white cream filling. I still eat them by twisting them apart and eating the icing first. It sometimes all sticks to one side and sometimes remains attached partially to both. No big deal. The best part? You get a lot of cookies for the price.

5. Pinwheels. Oh my--the world's best use of marshmallow. The crack of the chocolate coating as you sink your teeth into it is quite addictive. Lucky they sell them in packages of (I think?) a dozen (carefully separated by plastic). That limits the number you eat--because you won't stop because you're "full."

6. Any other cookies by Pepperidge Farm. They know how to do it--and their packaging, with enlarged photos of the contents front and center, is very effective. Tearing open the package feels like receiving a present.

Oh, I've left a lot of them out! I like the chocolate chip (chunk) cookies at Starbucks and Peet's, especially at 3 p.m. with coffee. And Girl Scout cookies are always fun--but seasonal (fortunately).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

She's Got Style, She's Got Flair

Today, I came into my bedroom where my wife was watching The Nanny. The brilliant sit-com, which ran from 1993 to 1999, starred Fran Drescher as the nanny to the three children of Mr. Sheffield, a wealthy widower and theater producer. With a uniformly excellent ensemble cast, it was funny from the start and never faded.

The shows are being shown, in order, on TV Land. As it turns out, today they were running the final episode--followed by the pilot. What a shock to see the end before the beginning. I find that when The Nanny is on I inevitably end up sitting and watching. With TV Land's generous programming, that can consume an entire Saturday afternoon if you're not careful.

With Fran's brilliant comic timing, the blend of social class mismatches and Jewish/Gentile cultural mixing, the show is a treasure, and will likely live on forever, much like I Love Lucy from the 1950's.

Friday, April 8, 2011

100th Post of the Year!

It just shows that the secret of success is to make a plan and then stick to it. At the end of last year, I decided to write a post a day here starting January 1. Well, here we are on April 8 and this is it. It also demonstrates that time flies when you're having fun.

Now, what about 100? It's the first three-digit number. If you're that old you'll probably get your name in the local newspaper, with you staring, bleary eyed, at the camera ("What's going on?"). Listen to the Moody Blues' I Never Thought I'd Live to be 100."

Chevrolet celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2011. Next year, Arizona and New Mexico will have their centennials. New Mexico has issued a beautiful turquoise commemorative license plate (see above) which won the 2010 "America's Best License Plate" award.

On the negative side, there's the Hundred Years War, which actually lasted 116 years, and kept France on edge from 1337 to 1453.

There's Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude, a great book that I haven't read yet.

Here's to the next 100 posts.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Quasar Microwave 1990-2011 RIP

A moment of silence for a great warrior and comrade, our aged Quaser microwave, who gave up the ghost this morning with a cold bowl of quinoa in its belly. Last night, it heated up the green beans and meatballs for our dinner in its last act of service.

We bought this top-of-the-line, full-size oven from Friedman's, a microwave specialist store, when we moved into our first home in 1990. At the time, it was the best on the market--all touch screen. We had a few dollars to spend and wanted to start out right. It has served us without complaint or problem for 21 years.

It's hard to explain it, but we are sad about our reliable appliance giving up the ghost. It's reasonable to expect an electrical device to last 10 years, but 21 is really pretty heroic. (I do have a clock radio that's still going after 43 years, but that's another story). I doubt if one of today's models will exhibit such longevity.

Actually, the timer still works--I'm using it to time the coffee this morning. It just beeped.

We bought our Quasar when our marriage was young (before our son arrived) and it has seen him through high school. Actually, he may be the most upset, considering the range of quick meals and snacks he runs through it regularly.

We will need to replace our reliable old friend quickly, but, having never shopped for a microwave all these years, we have no idea what's out there--or how much it will cost.

Here's a post from someone else who had a long happy association with their Quasar microwave.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Alpha and Omega of Car News

The world of cars is truly wide. In my emailbox today I learned of these two important and almost completely unrelated automotive events.

Today, Toyota announced that it has sold the millionth Prius in the United States. That is a lot of high-efficiency cars on the road--and the Prius is the poster child for all alternative vehicles that have come since it's introduction 11 years ago.

On the other extreme, there is a new plan to save the U.S. Economy. It's the 24 Hours of LeMons. This race series pits $500 beaters of all kinds against each other for unusual prizes--and mostly for fun. It has grown tremendously in the last few years. See this "instructional video" produced by the hilarious Jay Lamm, "Chief Perpetrator" of this popular and always hysterically funny event.

Caltranshonda - one of many wild and wonderful wrecks racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Take a Mental Break--Visit the Park!

After hours of slaving over a hot laptop, I needed a change of scenery yesterday. So, I went to the beautiful park down the road and spend 90 minutes hiking the paved trails.

I breathed deep and smelled the trees. In a shady canyon, I heard the rippling of a creek, still flowing from the rains we had last week. It was in the high 70's and still. Spring has arrived.

By the time I got back to work, I was in an entirely different frame of mind. I think I'll do it again soon. It's a shame to live a half mile from a major park and not go more often.

California Poppies in bloom. Don't pick them--they're protected (as the state flower).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Beatles Hold Top 5 on 4/4/64 - and Our Hearts Forever

For many baby boomers, spring of 1964 was the beginning of their love for the Beatles. On February 9, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Zillions watched. Then, on April 4, they held all five of the top five songs on the Billboard Hot 100.

Can't Buy Me Love
Twist and Shout
She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Please Please Me

On April 11, the Beatles had 14 songs on the Hot 100--a new record (Elvis had the previous record with 9).

On April 3, 2011, several men with graying hair and carrying guitars, a bass and some well-thumbed music books assembled in the Odd Fellows hall to sing and play Beatles songs for three hours. It felt good, as always. This music will live on forever.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Car a Week x 52 x 19 = LOTS of Cars

Besides blogging daily, I write a weekly automotive column. I've been producing these since my first one on February 8, 1992. Yes, that means more than 19 years.

To the left is a photo taken today of me with my latest ride: the 2011 Dodge Charger. Look below and you'll see me with my first test car: a 1992 Honda Prelude. Believe it or not, I have a photo of myself with every car I've ever tested for the entire 19 years.

These cars come from a manufacturer test fleet--specially set up for journalists to use. Since March of 1992 I've known about this wonderful source of test vehicles. At first, though, I borrowed cars for a few minutes from local dealers and tested them on my own short "test route." Now, I get a week at a time. By the time there's dust on the dashboard I'm ready for a new one.

What does this mean for my consciousness, you may wonder? Well, it's always interesting to drive someplace--just to test the navigation system or the brakes or the power seats or the acceleration. How well does a bass fit in? How do my rear passengers like the legroom? And what kind of fuel economy am I really getting?

It's a great life, but it's not by any means a living. It's just for my own enjoyment and, I hope the pleasure and use of my readers (hope there are lots).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

You Say It's My Birthday!

Yes, it is my birthday today. I received many gracious wishes from my friends, colleagues, former colleagues, relatives... the list goes on. I also was congratulated by the place I bought my last pair of shoes, a local FM station and a Mazda forum I visited last year. The electronic age of Facebook and email greetings does make one feel important--although I think those last three weren't very sincere.

I spent the bulk of the day in Palo Alto (California). I had heard about a French Fair there, and I was lured at the prospect of the possibly seeing some French cars and the zero admission price. Well, it turns out there were no cars there, but some beautiful artwork, jewelry, clothing, fascinating people, and a special deal. We purchased a $20 food coupon for just $10 for a meal at Bistro Maxine, in downtown Palo Alto.

We had to wait a while for a seat at the tiny little place (we actually ended up at one of three outside tables--perfect). We enjoyed delicious French fare, a couple of tiny bottles of sparkling wine, and a very leisurely time (see photo). Then, we visited shops along University Avenue, and got into a time warp of amusement at a very fully stocked Borders bookstore that used to be a theater. All the glorious old moldings were intact in what appears to be a survivor of the chain.

My wife suggested a particular excellent bakery for my cake--Dianda's Italian American Bakery. We thought it would be easy to find in "downtown San Mateo" but it turned out to be way out on the edge of town. The navigation system in my Dodge Charger was beautifully displayed but unhelpful in this case, so with a couple of phone calls we barely made it at the last second to pick up the luscious cake that I'll be sampling shortly.

We went out for a Mexican dinner at our local spot--Don Jose's--and it was fine as well. So--French lunch, Mexican dinner, Italian cake. An international birthday. And, as my grandmother would say after a day of overeating--"Tomorrow--one cornflake!"

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good Beer vs. Just Beer

I like good beer. I don't drink large quantities, so it's always been about quality for me. I like dark color, strong flavors, a creamy head--and it's especially fine if it's poured from the tap.

Favorites include Anchor Steam Beer, a San Francisco craft brew, and various products of the Pyramid Breweries in Berkeley, California. Today, I bought a six-pack of their Hefeweizen at Safeway.

We enjoy going to Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward, California, where you can see the tanks in the back while drinking freshly poured steins of their fine brew and eating some of the best burgers anywhere. I especially go for Alimony Ale (bitter--you think they did that on purpose?). I even have a T-shirt with the Alimony Ale design on it (though I'm happily married).

So, what's the deal with Budweiser? I will drink one (or two) at a ballgame or after mowing the lawn on a hot summer afternoon. But there's really so little flavor in it. I think it's a factor of mass advertising and perhaps that many drinkers have never tasted anything with serious flavor.

I have visited the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco--I remember pools full of beer--with giant waves of foam. I also have toured a Budweiser plant. There were some seriously large aluminum tanks there--and it figures. They produce mass quantities.

Why drink a nice, strong craft beer? I guess it's the same urge that motivates someone to have a six-speed manual transmission in their car. You just get more.

Oh, price? My Pyramid Hefeweizen was $8.99. Bud? $6.99. I was expecting it to cost less. Maybe it's a better deal in the 24-bottle case.