Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 events of note

Time is winding down on this year and while I don't have the time or mental stamina to put together a comprehensive list, here are my personal top seven events/stories of 2008:

7. Burgeoning pop cultural awareness. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and having a lonely desk job, I was able to expand my horizons -- watching new TV (I became a Doctor Who fan 40 years after the fact), movies and listening to new music. I'm not a cultural shut-in anymore.

6. The 2008 Baker Bash in San Diego. An excuse to celebrate my grandfather's 80th birthday, but also a chance to reconnect with family I hadn't seen in a decade and an opportunity for them to meet Ian.

5. Rob Roy's visit (late October). I haven't had much contact with my old, pre-Bay Area friends in a while. Rob's trip out here showed that friendships could continue without missing a beat.

4. Laura and Krista's wedding (June 28). A vindication of my belief that intelligent adults should be able to make their own decisions. Plus it was a nice road trip with Claire.

3. Suffering rejection (April, June, December). Not getting a couple coveted job offers (with the Dept. of State in the spring and the City of San Francisco in the summer) were low points, but hopefully they'll help refocus my future. Not getting into grad school on my first attempt hurt, but it gives me time to reflect.

2. Nasal Polyp surgery (Oct. 10). A relatively minor proceedure, but one that has greatly improved my quality of life -- I didn't know how bad I needed surgery until after I got it.

1. Australia trip (November). A great voyage that took in my loves of travel and history and gave me a deserved break from chaos.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Who watches the Magi?

Claire with her new book.

Unfortunately I had to work today, but Ian and Claire graciously got up early this morning so we could open some presents before I had to take off.

Ian got a ton of swag, as he is wont to do. Highlights include numerous Star Wars figures (including a Rancor!), a few movies and a lot of clothes (which Ian is just getting to the right age to be blasé about).

Claire had mentioned recently that she had never read "Watchmen" and I had mentioned she should. I think we both stoked an idea, for Claire bought me a nice hardcover edition. I, however, went a little overboard and bought her the super-sized 464-page, six-pound Absolute Edition. It's like an Oh Henry story.

It could have been worse, I very nearly also gave Claire Season 4 of "Lost" on Blu-Ray -- which she also bought me.

Below: Ian made out like a bandit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Supply of grades greater than demand

A few days ago, I worried that the "B" I got on my final would doom my chances of an "A" in my microeconomics class. Today I checked my transcript online and got the news:

I got an "A!"

Good news, and a small boost to my pride. In retrospect, I think it's because I may have gotten a 95 on my first midterm, instead of the 90 I recalled. That might have just put me over the edge.

While it may be a moot point, as I didn't get into the SFSU MPA program this spring, it might help my chances for a reapplication for fall 2009.

Speaking of economics, I'm off to wrap my meager output of presents (diminishing returns and such). I'm a lousy wrapper. And a bad rapper too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cheapskate not in holiday spirit

Early this morning, I stopped by The UPS Store ("The" is part of the proper name, hence the capitalization) here in South San Francisco to send back a rented textbook.*

I had a pre-paid shipping label and an almost-perfect sized used box and just needed about 12 inches of tape to secure it. With no one in line despite the shipping deadline (due to it being 8:15 a.m.), I got right to the front and asked the clerk if I could borrow some tape. "For three dollars," he said. Figuring he was pulling my leg, I said "You're kidding." "Nope," he said, "everybody comes in and want to use our tape. Do you want to buy some?"

Figuring that providing a reasonable length of tape should be good customer service, or at least a business expense, I declined and drove home to dig some old packing tape out of a drawer. I returned to the store, sealed my package and turned in my box (after the clerk said "Just leave it on the scale").

But I didn't just leave the package and go. I again got the clerk's attention, handed him the quarter-roll of tape left and said, "Do me a favor. In the holiday spirit, the next person who needs tape, give them this instead of charging them $3." He muttered "Thanks" and I walked out.

Wanna bet he charges the next person $3 to use the tape I gave him for free?

* Textbook rental (mine was through Chegg) is a great way for starving students to save money. I got a used economics book -- which normally retails for about $85 used and $120 new -- for about $50. I just had to have it shipped by today to avoid paying full price.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Five years ago today

I guess there's a time in most peoples' lives where they can define almost everything as "before" and "after." Mine came five years ago today, when Ian was born and I stopped living for myself and started living for our family.

In commemoration of the tot's fifth birthday today, here's a partial reprint of my bloggish behavior on that date:

John's labor experience (abridged version)

My "day" so far:

6:47 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 18: Wake up (as one normally does just before the alarm goes off) and glance at the clock. I roll over to go back asleep, and notice Claire bolt upright in the bed. "I'm 99 percent sure I'm in labor," she says as she notices I'm awake. She's had contractions since 5.

7:30 a.m.: Initial phone calls are made to Claire's parents. No need to come over yet. I catch our downstairs roommate, Ceres, before she's off to work. "Guess who's coming over today?" I ask. She guesses it's a mutual friend, but then gets an amusing look of surprise, concern and excitement when I put my arms together in a rocking motion.

8 a.m.: I call out from work, and Claire calls her law school dean's office to say she's not going to make her civil procedure final exam today. I tell her that it's too bad she won't have the second brain when she makes the test up.

9 a.m.: Claire's mom comes over and I make a suggestion that we go catch an early show of the new "Lord of the Rings" movie, seeing as labor is at least 3 hours, 20 minutes (the length of the movie) away. I am stared down.

10 a.m.: Phone calls are flying and Claire's dad has now come over. Contractions are about eight minutes apart. I make Claire a bowl of applesauce.

Noon: No significant change, the nurse on the phone said to come to the hospital when contractions were five minutes apart. We pick up some sandwiches from the shop on the corner, and Claire has some chicken noodle soup -- after picking the chicken out with a fork.

12:30 to 2:30 p.m.: Claire picks "X-Men 2" out from the DVD stack to pass the time. It is happily distraction.

3:15 p.m.: We leave for the hospital after sending out an e-mail alert. Battling San Francisco traffic, we get to Kaiser Hospital about 40 minutes later.

4:30 p.m.: Claire is examined and is dilated 4 cm (she needs to get to 10). Contractions are hard and heavy.

6 p.m.: Claire's dad and I get something to eat from the hospital cafeteria, then switch off with Claire's mom. Claire is well beyond the point of eating.

6:45 p.m.: The doctor says Claire has dilated another centimeter. Everything seems well, the doctor and nurses compliment us on her progress.

But then,

8:45 p.m.: Still 5 cm. Claire laments the lack of progress and the doctor decides to manually break the water bag to speed things up. The doctor thinks the baby is "sunny-side up," which means the baby is facing front, which is more painful (especially on the backside) because of the forehead position.

10:45 p.m.: I know as soon as the doctor reaches and a slight frown crosses her face. STILL 5 cm. The doctor says using drugs to speed labor may be appropriate. More contractions -- we're all getting tired.

12:01 a.m., Friday Dec. 19, 2003: It is now officially the baby's due date. Claire gets an epidural and there is a centimeter of progress. It is decided, however, that if there is not even more significant progress in the next couple of hours, we'll use the drugs.

1 a.m.: With the epidural almost completely numbing her, and with time until anything is else is going to happen, Claire is finally able to get some sleep and I am able to type up this record. (Sounds like) Pitocin· is now being used to increase the contraction strength.

2:05 a.m.: More good news. The doctor says Claire is now at 10 cm. No need to push yet, and with her back pain subsiding, Claire is able to say "I feel much better than I did a few hours ago. I don't know why I was so discouraged."

3:05 a.m.: Claire is allowed to push, so she starts.

4:05 a.m.: Still pushing.

5:05 a.m.: Still pushing. Second doctor is brought in and says that if pushing and a vacuum doesn't work after three or four contractions, we may be looking at a C-section. Claire redoubles her efforts.

5:19 a.m.: Our beautiful, if slightly ashen and slimy at the time, son comes into the world. He seems healthy -- with great color, although he is "grunting," which means he is not breathing as easily as he should. He is taken into the intermediate care nursery for observation, but doctors are optimistic his lungs will clear up within the hour.
Nothing's been the same since. Happy Birthday, Ian!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Bacon Number is four (edit: THREE)

I used to live across the street from the Christy family, with whose sons Geoff and Kevin I used to sometimes hang out. I mostly befriended Geoff, to whom I am closer in age, and rarely saw Kevin after the late 1980s when his parents split up and Kevin moved in with his father.

Anyway, Kevin is a working actor, gaining some reknown (he's currently in a cell phone commercial with Ozzy Osbourne -- Kevin is the coffee barrista who can't understand what Ozzy says). Speaking with Geoff recently (and learning that Kevin has a role in an upcoming episode of a once-hot NBC series) got me thinking of that "other" acting Kevin: Bacon.

Which got me thinking of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." So I finally put together my Bacon number today.

I was in "The Point of Boxes" with Bruno Kanter, who was in "Hell House: The Book of Samiel" with Kari Wishingrad (no, I've never heard of these actors or movies either), who was in "The Californians" with Noah Wyle, who was in "A Few Good Men" with Kevin Bacon. Thus, my degree of separation is a mere four.

As for Kevin Christy, best I can determine, he only beats me by one. He was in an episode of "How I Met Your Mother" with the gorgeous Alyson Hannigan, who very early in her career guested on an episode of "Rosanne" with John Goodman, who was in "Death Sentence" with Kevin Bacon. I bet if I spent some time, I could cut that number down by one, but I gotta work ...

Update (Feb. 18, 2009 at 8:14 a.m.): Thanks to a website called "The Oracle of Bacon," I was able to knock one off both my and Kevin C.'s Bacon number. For example, I was in "The Point of Boxes" with Wayne Webb, who was in "Latter Days" with Jim Ortlieb, who was in "Flatliners" (which I saw twice in the theaters for some reason) with Kevin Bacon.

Kevin Christy was in "For Your Consideration" (I'm a fan of Christopher Guest mockumentaries, but somehow missed that one) with Steven M. Porter, who was in "Rails & Ties" with Kevin Bacon.

Just for a laugh, I also checked my degrees of separation from Kevin Christy. Not counting any old home movies laying about, my "Christy number" is also three. I was in "Boxes" with Webb, who was in "Candy Paint" with Kenan Thompson (of later SNL fame), who was in "Love Don't Cost a Thing" with Kevin. Small world.

Scarily, I'm only four away from Adolf Hitler. Hitler was in "This Happy Breed" with the great Laurence Olivier, who was in "Inchon" with Jacqueline Bisset, who was in "Latter Days" with Webb, who was in "The Point of Boxes" with me.

What's worse, a step that's not there or an unexpected one that is?

I came downstairs last night in the dark, needing to grab some clean clothes from the basement. Having lived in my house for six years now, I'm pretty good with it in low-light conditions.

But last night I misjudged and thought I had gotten to the bottom of the stairs when I hadn't. I took a big step forward with my left foot, fell forward into thin air and my trailing right big toe ended up hitting the floor straight down like a piston.

Not normally a "potty mouth," I was cursing so loud that Adalia opened her door to see if I was OK and Ian came downstairs in his PJs to see what was happening. I recovered well, but it's still sore. It's not broken, because I have full range of movement, but it does hurt whenever I go up stairs or get up from sitting but on ground (as I did at the BART station this morning).

In academic news, I got my microeconomics final back yesterday and missed three questions to get a straight B on the exam. One wrong answer was a stupid mistake on my part, another I'm still not convinced I was in error and the third was just a random guess on my part. In the end, it may or may not matter depending on the professor's whim. I got 90 and 90 on my two midterms (each worth 30 percent of the grade) and an 85 on the final (worth the remaining 40 percent). That gives me an 88 total for the class, which probably means I just barely missed an A.

Though I thought of trying to push on the one answer I thought I was right, it's not worth fighting over as I had only needed a B (and since I'm not going to SFSU this spring now, I didn't even need that), but it's still a small blow to my pride.

Speaking of blows to my pride, I shot an e-mail off this morning to the head of the public administration program at SFSU asking if she had any tips on improving my chances with another application. I used many of the same points I listed in this blog the other day. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Secret Invasion No. 8

Ian and I went on a quest today.

It was a very cold day when I picked the lad up after school and enthusiastically told him we were going to the comic book store (Comic Outpost on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco). Ian was quite pleased with the news, as he loves play the Spider-Man arcade game there, which is set on free play. In fact, Ian and I -- after almost an hour -- actually beat the game, something I could never do even when I worked at an arcade in the early 1990s.

A little disappointing, however, is that despite all the comics around, Ian -- despite being a great reader for his age -- rarely wants to buy one. Long ago, I got him his own longbox, and have been stocking it with a couple titles a month since he was one year old. But he rarely wants to read a comic, save for the occasional glance at a Simpsons mag or a Hulk book. At least the kid likes to read other stuff.

As for me, I was stocking up for the first time since before I left for Australia (save for buying four comics at a shop in Sydney when I ran out of stuff to read. It would have been more, but the Aussies charged a premium over cover price). I couldn't, however, find a copy of Secret Invasion No. 8 -- the delayed conclusion to Marvel's 2008 summer crossover, which came out almost two weeks ago. Not wanting to leave a story in the middle, I resolved to acquire the issue today (and not pay the $10 premium Comic Outpost wanted for a "variant edition" with a different cover).

Enter my iPhone. I first did a Google search for "San Francisco comic book shop" and came up with three hits on the map that were close. I touched the shops' entries, and the iPhone offered to call them for me. None of them had it. I then called my "back-up" comic shop in San Bruno, and they were out as well. Finally, I called the comic shop in Pacifica, near Ian's school (and by which I had passed about an hour before). That shop had a copy.

So I loaded Ian in the car. We stopped briefly at a McDonalds for a ice cream (and Ian played a quick basketball game with a little girl, left) and went to Coastside Comics, where I got what I needed. Total money spent on about 20 comics and a new longbox today: $80. Sheesh! My high school days of getting $3 a day from my parents for lunch, then going to Thrifty's to buy three comics -- and still have enough left over for a snack -- are over.

We drove home, just in time for a blackout. So Ian watched a Wiggles video on my laptop while I hunkered down next to a window and read.

The general plot and leadup to Secret Invasion seemed like a good mix between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the new version of Battlestar Galactica. Longtime Marvel alien baddies, the Skrulls, finally realized that their shape-shifting abilities opened up possibilities to infiltrate and take over the planet from within. Writer Brian Bendis did a good job notching up the tension over the course of a couple years before letting go in April with Secret Invasion No. 1.

Once the invasion stopped being so "secret," however, the crossover turned into a pretty generic slugfest, with a couple highlights (the Fantastic Four, Captain Britain and Hercules crossovers among them). It was a good, fun read but it seemed going in that there would've been a denser, more tension-filled story than what we ended up getting.

Secret Invasion No. 8 wrapped up the fighting pretty quickly, with a major Marvel character being a main casualty. But it ended so quickly that it was anti-climatic. It didn't help that the artist, Lenlil Francis Yu, has an art style more attuned toward crime books than full-fledged superhero action. His fight scenes were murky and foreground cluttered. I couldn't help but think a George Perez or Mark Bagley -- action artists who sport good, clean lines -- would've been been better suited for this.

In short, it felt like the Marvel writers spent so much time deftly creating a story's beginning that they forgot to plan a satisfying end.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Clutter causes a casualty

It's no secret that we have a messy kitchen, but usually it's not an issue. Last week, however, I couldn't find the chip clip.

Today I tried to eat some Baked Cheetos (which taste just like the real thing) but thanks to the fact that I couldn't find the clip, they had the consistency of chewing gum.

That is all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rejection hurts

Yesterday I took my Microeconomics final, and I think I did rather well. An A in the class (I got 90s on both my midterms) is not out of the question. There were a few questions regarding distinguishing profit schedules between monpolisticly competitive and pure monopolies that I had issues with, but I think I solved them.

And it's probably well that I did, for when I got home I got news in the mail that would have preoccupied me and hurt my problem-solving skills: I didn't get into San Francisco State's Master's of Public Administration (MPA) program.

Early last summer, I was at a crossroads with what to do with my future. I had just figured out (thanks to a withdrawn job offer) that a return to public safety dispatching was not in the cards and was reminded that the only other job that I liked in my adult life -- journalism -- was a failing field. So I figured that it was time to do a "reset" and go back to school. I had worked with civil service workers in both my major career paths, learned to respect what they did and thought I would like to continue my history of public service. So I decided to look into getting a MPA.

So I applied to San Francisco State and even proudly posted about it on this blog. Both geographically and economically, the program at SF State made the most sense. Not only did I have a good history of community involvement, but having previously taken public adminstration courses at SF State, graduated from there with a BA in History and easily met the minimum academic requirements, I thought I was a shoo-in. But I guess the key word above is "minimum."

The rejection letter read something along the lines (I don't even want to look at it again right now) that "there were many more qualified applicants than available positions." I'll take that at face value for now, considering that the California State University system is cutting enrollment in the face of budget cuts. I was also probably hurt because I was applying for a spring semester admission.

So what next? I am considering writing the department head at SF State and asking if there's anything that I can do to strengthen my application for a possible try at the fall 2009 semester.

Obviously I can't do anything about poor marks I got in undergrad work 15 years ago when I was trying to both work and study full time (a 2.62 GPA at Glendale College in the early 90s, and that's including a semester I dropped out too late to drop classes). In fairness, that's not reflective of my academic ability -- I got a 3.5 GPA in 52 units taken since I got my journalism BA in 1998, but there's not much I can do about it at this point. I'm also volunteered out, and I can't take an internship somewhere because I've got a kid and he's got to eat. Anyone have any suggestions?

There's always other schools to try for the fall. The other local CSUs (San Jose State and CSU East Bay) offer public administration programs, but are too far away to realistically attend. Geographically close, but much more expensive (and probably harder to get into), are the private schools University of San Francisco, Notre Dame de Namur University and Golden Gate University. All would cost about two-three times as much as SF State. And with Claire having something like $70K of law school debt, that gives me pause.

(I'm also dreading having to go through the whole process of sending transcripts from five institutions again -- that gets expensive! To top it off, I think I owe City of College of San Francisco some money due to the fact that I may have paid for my last transcript set with a bad check thanks to Netbank failing and ING Direct taking it over, but no longer -- without my knowledge -- honoring Netbank checks.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Needless to say, I'm pleased

Say hello to my little friend!

If there was any doubt that I had readers of this blog, it was erased when today -- back at work for the first time in more than a month -- the first words from my co-workers (after a salutatory greeting) were "Did you get your iPhone back yet?"

And, thankfully, I could say "YES!"

The DHL deliveryman came to my door at about 2:30 p.m. on Monday with a package from Sydney. Inside was the little piece of technology that has led to such pain and joy the last two weeks, none the worse for wear. I had briefly, and perhaps insanely, worried that it wasn't my iPhone that was found in the Air New Zealand lounge, but rather some other unlucky traveler's. But as I opened the package and found my leather-covered iPhone with a picture of Ian and his cousin Ellie on the home page, I was ecstatic.

So special thanks to Linda Falardeau of Sydney, who -- based only on the recommendation that I was a friend of a friend -- trekked out to Kingsford-Smith International Airport*, found the United Airlines office, then took the time to go to a courier and ship my phone. And what reward did she want? Nothing, other than the costs of shipping the phone. Well, she's getting a shout out in this blog as well.

I thought foundly of her as I was checking my e-mail and watching an episode of Doctor Who on the bus ride home tonight.

* Speaking of Kingsford-Smith airport, I found out the other day that Charles Kingsford-Smith, the Australian aviation pioneer for whom the airport is named, was a great-uncle of Wayne Kingsford-Smith -- who was re-elected chair of SamTran's Citizen's Advisory Committee last week (over me).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mayors, libraries and buses

One of the best parts of living in medium-sized town is that one's not too far removed from their political representatives.

For example, I basically had dinner tonight with the mayor of South San Francisco, Karyl Matsumoto, one night after which she was selected by the council for her third (non-consecutive) term in the office. Matsumoto represents north county cities on the SamTrans Board of Directors and showed up at tonight's SamTrans Citizens Advisory Committee for our annual "thank you" celebration. (Only Matsumoto and Shirley Harris attended our meeting, a disappointing one-sixth of the Board).

Matsumoto and I spoke about several issues in South San Francisco, including the decrepit Caltrain station and her selection as mayor the night before (a ceremony which I attended with Ian -- there was a great non-taxpayer funded food spread!). But we mostly spoke of the need for a new main library in South City to replace the current overcrowded 1960s-era facility. As a former South San Francisco Library Trustee, I am familiar with the fact that there is not enough room for all the library's books now, not to mention all the assorted DVDs, audio CDs and computers. The aisle space is limited and much of the building barely skirts ADA requirements. Due to a small property footprint, there is no room on the current site to expand and very little room in the city to build a new library.

The new mayor's idea to use the city's Redevelopment Agency to leverage funds for a new building intrigued me. As a redevelopment agency's mandate is to stimulate growth in blighted areas, I think a new library is a very appropriate use of such funds. New libraries recently built in Cerritos, San Mateo and San Jose have both improved their surrounding neighborhoods and helped keep libraries relevant in this modern era. Some have said that the library's day is past, but I disagree. Information is more important than ever, and libraries are still the information centers of many cities. They provide not only books, but DVDs, Internet access, homework tutoring and much more. Often they also serve as a community center as well. The time has come to build a new main library in South San Francisco.

(The mayor and I also discussed sites, including land the city recently bought from a defunct auto dealership, but I think that's supposed to be hush-hush for now.)

In the CAC meeting itself, we discussed a number of issues including the pending purchase by the district of new Gillig buses to replace some 15-year-old models. Apparently the technology in seat construction has advanced to the point where the seats can be made thin enough that you can put an extra row in a bus without reducing the pitch (or legroom) for existing passengers.

We also held our reorganization meeting, deciding on our chair and vice chair for the year. Besides managing our meetings, the chair is the public face of the CAC and briefs the actual board of directors on our activities and concerns. I had let the nominating committee know that I was interested in the post, not that I have any real problems with our current chair Wayne Kingsford-Smith, but I thought that I could be a little more visible before the Board and with the public. Then I learned that Kingsford-Smith was interested in another term and I had a dilemma: do I pursue my campaign or bow to Wayne's experience?

I put off a decision while I was in Australia, then -- when my name came up tonight and Kingsford-Smith and I were put into competition -- decided to defer. When offered the chance to give a statement, I endorsed Wayne and asked to be considered for vice chair. Wayne was elected unanimously.

Peter Ratto and I were the candidates for vice chair. In debates, I stated that I was happy that the CAC has over time better focused on its mission of advising the Board and that my platform would continue to focus on my pet issues of east-west feeder transportation in San Mateo County and connectivity between buses and trains. Ratto, to my gratitude, endorsed me for vice chair much as I had endorsed Wayne. I was also elected unanimously. After the fact, I wondered if I had violated some protocol by voting for myself ...

In other news, my iPhone has been liberated from the United Airlines office in Sydney and should at this very moment be jetting over the Pacific thanks to the folks at Australian Airborne Express. Let's hope Qantas' famed safety record (made famous in "Rain Man") continues at least until this weekend.