Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Keeping it Fresh

I added a couple bloggers to my links. One is called "Stuff from the Park" a blog dedicated to theme parks which I especially like for the photos of Disneyland under construction. They look as though they were taken yesterday. And there is a soft ambient lighting to them that reminds me of museum dioramas. Another one is called "Watashi to TOKYO" a blog from a woman, Mari, who gives us glimpses of life in Tokyo, a blog version of "Being John Malkovich" except you crawl through Mari's brain and not John's to see out. Under "References" I added the online version of the Merriam Webster Dictionary / Thesaurus which also pronounces words for you. Toy links are still under review. I want to include some sites that use cutting edge technology in little toys. Whew. Busy, busy busy.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Meet Victor

Victor lives one block east of me on West Blvd. We've been friends for many years. He is a chiropractor who also practices energetics, an ancient form of healing. We have plenty of discussions on that. We had lunch at Natalee Thai because the Indonesian restaurant in Palms was closed today. We talked about toys, string theory and Michio Kaku, whom Victor knew back in the day and said was a super friendly, super genius type guy. There was a lot of catching up to do as I hadn't been by his place in months. He's got a ponytail now and damned if he doesn't remind me of Sadao Watanabe. He also visited Japan last year and took some breathtaking pictures of Shimizu where many of his cousins still live. He took this one of a tea plantation near his relatives home. I didn't know he was so talented.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Pop Quiz Bloggers!!

Hello everyone. I'm alone in the house this morning. Anne is out at a school seminar on retirement benefits. Doug left to spend the day with Jane. Elizabeth is probably just waking up in her den of toys in Glendale. Well, I'm not exactly alone. Bert is chewing on his favorite toy, a toothbrush, and I am trying to sort out the conspiracy that is brewing among the toys surrounding me. And I'm still hopeful a nice warm breeze will pick up around lunchtime one strong enough to keep my kite up in the air. I'm rambling. Sorry. For the past few days I've been wondering what other people feel about blogs. In a few weeks I'll be showing my bookclub pals how to blog and what range of subjects blogs cover. Send me some links to some interesting blogs, please. And send me your thoughts on the subject. So here's today's question blogheads: What happens when you open your journal to the world?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Neutrino Review

A physicist performs a magic trick at the dinner table. Electron, muon, and tau neutrinos appear as red foam balls. They exchange places. They completely disappear. The irony is that the reality of neutrinos as presented in PBS Nova’s documentary “The Ghost Particle” is more magical than the trick. This is a great show for those who love to be mystified by things beyond their understanding. I can barely comprehend how anyone can harvest argon from three atoms floating in thousands of gallons of unaffected atoms per week let alone grasp the math behind it all. Do you really want to know how David Copperfield does his tricks? I don’t. Do you want to know the tricks behind neutrinos? Then go here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eligible for the Senior Discount

Yesterday I officially became a senior citizen. They can't keep me out of Leisure World anymore. Anne and I went to Sawtelle Kitchen for lunch and walked along Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and had an Italian ice at Di Dio's. I was waiting for the wind to pick up so I could try out the kite but when it finally did late in the day it was a bit too chilly. We ended up at El Cholo's in the evening for dinner because El Jarrito was closed.

On another note, I wanted to share a magazine discovery, "Make: technology on your time" a quarterly somewhat reminiscent of the Amateur Scientist articles in the older Scientific Americans, the "how-to" projects that pushed the boundaries of common sense to teach us principles of science at the risk of blowing ourselves to smithereens. "Make:" not only has interesting projects but profiles on people who've managed to scavenge the mind boggling technology we take for granted in our daily lives and made clever adaptations to suit a special purpose. There are eye-opening reviews of materials such as 3M's new black electrical tape that self activates when a piece is stretched so that it fuses to itself without that crummy slimey adhesive. Tool reviews are more practical than those found in "Wired" which are biased toward entertainment. Even if you do not build any of the projects like the jam jar jet engine, reading about them is fascinating. It takes a grass roots approach to giving us a feeling of having control over the technology around us by taking it apart and understanding it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Vicarious Flying

I wanted a two-stringed maneuverable kite for my birthday so we went to Up Up and Away Kite Shop in Seal Beach where, coincidentally, Monty (see photo) had put the $139.00 Trick n' Track on sale for $99.00. I will try to post a photo of it in flight but it's been a little rainy these past couple days and I also wanted to picture a wildly succesful flight in my mind before the real first takeoff. Plus, is it really necessary to rediscover the electrical properties of lightning? I don't think so. It's a lot bigger than it looked on the wall in the shop when I assembled it in the living room. The technology has evolved tremendoulsly since the days when a kite was a paper diamond with a wooden cross and string to hold it together. And you had to supply the string and knotted rag tail. My birthday kite is made of space age sail material and carbon fiber rods.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Blame it on the Neutrino

Neutrinos are those elusive high energy particles that are almost impossible to capture zipping through the earth without stopping most of the time. One collided with a nerve ending in my head during early adolescence. I ceased to develop in a curious way. I continued to love toys with unending childlike glee. Cars are only appliances to get somewhere. Fancy watches are beautiful windup motors waiting to be modified to power something that amuses me instead of telling me something so annoying as the time of day. Don't give me clothes at Christmas. No no no.

I was stopped dead in my tracks when I came across this Vespa equipped with a Cozy brand sidecar from India. It's a little toy motorcycle/sidecar setup made big enough to ride! Wheeeee! The holy grail! But there's a problem, a big one. These are Vespa 150's, new retro 60's bikes that cannot pass emissions in California. You can buy them in almost every state except California. Life is cruel.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Extra Extra Extra! We Sorta Lost and Sorta Won Hell I Don't Know

It was bittersweet. I don't know whether we won or lost. You tell me. I was the team leader of our egg droppers, that I know. We come from two departments. We had to divide people into three teams because five was the team size limit and we had more, so Humpty's Heroes, Ovo-Team, and Not a Crack Team were hatched. We arbitrarily assigned people as placeholders to keep the teams legit but in our hearts we were as one. We collaborated, we shared resources, we synergized, we were team players, corporate citizens. But we also began to drift, to derive variations. By contest day I felt like a Humpty Hero, period. So, at noon, when the eggs were dropped the Heroes had one broken egg out of eight, Not a Crack six of eight, and Ovo had fourteen of fourteen perfect uncracked eggs. The other entries (there were ten others) never seriously challenged the fourteen number but I must give them credit for creativity, like the stack of egg filled Coors cans, or the dragonfly with egg stuffed foamy thorax and abdomen, or the soccer ball o' eggs which, upon impact, sounded like someone saying, "Boof!" after getting slugged in the belly. As team leader it was a department victory but an empty one for a Humpty Hero.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Don't Worry Humpty!

This is basically our concept for the egg drop contest (see feb. 7th post - Geek Week). We are packing eight eggs into carved out floral foam (what floral arrangements are poked into) cells with a lining of Floam, that gooey glop of styrofoam granules and what is suspiciously similar to Gack. If you're wondering why we are dropping only eight eggs instead of the thirty - five we did last year it's because they have limited the volume to six inches on a side instead of a foot or 216 cubic inches, 1/8th the volume. So we are actually more efficient than last year. Everything fits snugly into the shipping tube so that there's no unnecessary collisions on impact. There are fins to keep the tube stable and vertical on it's descent, and a floral foam nose cone that will crush and decelerate the tube as it lands. I have omitted the baggies that will individually encase each cell (a contest rule) and postal tape to hold the cell halves together and also the caps on the tube ends. Wish our team luck. It's at 11:30am pst. Go Humpty's Heroes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Japan Flashback

The 7-11's in Japan are great. They are nothing like the ones in the US. It's amazing what they pack into those little stores, underwear, fireworks, food (brought in fresh in the morning by local shops), snacks, booze, magazines, medicine. Upon settling in at my cousins place in Setagaya we quickly made a habit of going to the 7-11 for food and snacks. We made friends with the staff. When we gave them a couple boxes of chocolates as parting gifts they gave us a bunch of promotional Snoopy plates that would've taken months of saving proof of purchase stickers for.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Mall Rats

Hello glowing eyes in the internet forest. It was a busy weekend. A funeral for a friend's mother, keeping up with Anne at the Century City/Westfield mall on Saturday afternoon, and a day with the family in Santa Monica on Sunday. We are in the Santa Monica Place Mall designed by Frank Gehry, slated to be razed for a condo/office/shopping development within the next couple years. Frank Gehry's use of pedestrian construction materials in the mall such as chain link fencing, metal grating, and exposed metal beams looked great when it was new in the seventies (I may be mistaken on the timeframe) especially with it's ocean view. Now it reminds me of a tired amusement park. Unorthodox materials and hip design often do not age well. Thanks to the adjacent 3rd Street Promenade it still remains a great place to people watch.

Friday, February 10, 2006

When Reality Bites, Daydream

I’m not going to talk about eggs today. Gotta stop obsessing about those damn eggs. It’s hard making them go away in my head.

It felt like a school day when I got to work. You know what I mean, hazy, cool, the building off in the distance, people strolling in, staring down bundled in their thoughts, an indeterminate melancholy in my gut. If I smelled oatmeal cookies coming from the cafeteria I would’ve instinctively started worrying about my report card, performance review, Mrs. Miles and Algebra II, whatever. What is on my mind is my sidecar plan, one of the last dreams shared by my dad and myself, the dream of riding the perfect sidecar combo, the BMW cruiser attached to an octagonal Steib sidecar. I’ve been thinking about it for at least thirty five or forty years. Maybe it was the weather that triggered it today, the thought of a morning ride up the coast, the open feeling of being on a bike, of being with a passenger seated comfortably alongside of me. But I cannot resist thinking that the stars are beginning to align in favor of this happening. Buy the bike, a BMW 1200C, I don’t know where, yet. Buy the sidecar in Washington State at Dauntless Motors. Get them joined up. Ride the hack back down the coast with Anne in this our fifty-fifth year.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

One Busy Day

It's been a busy day and it's all my fault. I brought it upon myself. If you read the blog then you know it, too. But before I get into that I want to thank everyone for their comments on the last post. True, it was a pretty pathetic plea for some attention but those three comments swelled my head and it felt good, damn good. Such an ego. I'm considering changing my blog to "Inside the Fisthead." Should I? There I go again. Don't respond.

Anyway, the colleges are awaiting outlines of what they are expected to do. I am working with people here to come up with those corporate-speak business cases executives want to hear before they pay for anything. And I am in the midst of testing ways to drop eggs and win the egg drop contest for the second time. Well, to be truthful, I am mostly spending my time coming up with ways to win the egg drop contest while others are getting impatient waiting for me to get back to them.

During my quest for the perfect egg packing material I stumbled upon two of the coolest liquidy goops that you can play with, Nickelodeon Splat and Floam. If Silly Putty fascinates you, this stuff is another quantum level up from that. I got it from Target. Splat is pourable plastic that has the consistency of phlegm but you can play with it like plastic. Floam is like Splat impregnated with foamy spherical particles, boba phlegm. Tomorrow, I will status our progress on the egg drop (engineers talk like that) and how all this ties together.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Blogging and SETI

SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, our lonely planet listening for some little planet friend to say hello, is not unlike blogging. It's rare for someone to blog only to post drooling maniacal rants day after day without caring about anyone listening. Not that I expected a big audience when I started this. Not me, no siree. It was more a way to ease into html and to share an electronic journal that some friends and family (that includes cousins) could read. Uh huh, that right. Ever hear about Statcounter? You can track your hits if you're the type that cares. Who is that person from Turkey who peeks in? And why all the traffic from Colorado? Somebody in Slovenia? Why why why?? Duluth checks in periodically but I'm pretty sure I know who that is. In any case, I shouldn't care about the fluctuations in my very very small readership but I do. Most hits occur in the middle of the week. How come? How do I attract a wider audience? Should I be more wacky and less engineery? Or can they be the same thing? Dammit! My ego. I ... must ... resist ..egotism. So readers, what do you think?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's Geek Week

Otherwise known as Engineering Week, many tech companies celebrate by having games like engineering themed jeopardy, lectures by distinguished speakers, and competive events like the egg drop contest. I am signed up once again to participate in the egg drop contest. Last year I co-captained the winning team, Humpty's Heroes. We dropped thirty five eggs from a height of fifty feet onto an asphalt surface insulated with floral and curable polyurethane foam inside a one foot square cardboard box. None broke. The rule then was that the total allowable volume was one foot square. The highest percentage of unbroken eggs wins, so if 1 egg is dropped and it doesn't break it beats three eggs dropped with one broken. but if an entry with more than one lands with no unbroken eggs, it wins. The closest one to us was something like ten or eleven eggs with one broken. To avert another one -sided victory upon the playing field the rules committee have modified the rules to exclude our technical innovations from last year. Tomorrow we will begin development testing of some new concepts.

Monday, February 06, 2006


I've had the roughed out headboard for Doug's bed in the garage for a couple years now. It's a leftover fragment of the bed I completed back then. It's time to give him a decent bed. I am working out the proportions of the headboard to canopy and doing some preliminary nightstand sketches. I'm having a lot of trouble with the nightstands. I don't want it to look like a box yet to be practical it has to provide at least some storage. And since I avoid rectilinear shapes a box becomes my enemy. I like the wood to take on the appearance of folded paper, like origami, although with more asymmetry. So I have to deform it.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Adapting to Termite Life

Computers have made it possible to create products of incredible complexity in a very short time. What happens to our roles as team members working together making these thingamajigs? There are more people with more specialties for one thing. Each person, although having a smaller piece of the overall pie, has their hands full of important yet microscopic tasks to perform. Say it's a cartoon. In the old days, a few guys would dream up the story, design the characters, do the cells, print the movie and that's it. Now, someone's entire job would be to be in charge of the wrinkles on fabric. But the movie as a whole is a staggering tour de animation force. Even the big boys, the ones in suits, true, they make sweeping decisions that affect larger aspects of the project but their understanding of and contribution to the virtual organism is small. So, what if this "organism," the project, could be represented with a game interface, say, SimThingamajig or something like that, where anyone could not only gain entry into their job "hut" with all the tools they need to do their job, but zoom in and out of the project community to see their relationship to the project from different perspectives and to see the community humming along with the interaction actually representing the progress of the program? That's what we were talking about in the GamePipe Lab.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The GamePipe Lab

When someone says lab, I see this in my head. Comes from my science fair days, I guess. The GamePipe lab at USC may not be the high voltage fun zone where Victor Frankenstein played but in a way their mission is related, to create LIFE! Well,ok, simulate. And instead of a three hundred pound deranged human, a system of interacting complex processes that act like people and departments that make decisions like "How much should we charge for this spaceship?" or "Hey, did we think of how much time it's going to take to get security clearances for all the new people on this program?" Sort of like simulating an idiot savant who is only good at managing aerospace programs. Wait, don't we already,...nevermind.

Another Field Trip

In a couple hours I'll be at USC to visit the GamePipe Lab. It explores technology derived from the computer gaming industry and how it may be used beyond simple entertainment by simulating more realistic situations. More when we return.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What's In YOUR Bookcase?

As a reflection of who we are as a family look at our bookcases. Like this one. An autographed portrait of Ray Bradbury (For Ed Ito at Christmas 1970!), handpicked insects from the Natural History Museum's annual Insect Fair. Puzzles, toy cars, Barbies, bobblehead of Rev. Mas, japanese ball toys (a personal favorite), and, of course, the books. Cookboooks, photography collections, etiquette, fiction, yearbooks, math (not too popular), wind up toys (not a book but I just noticed them). This bookcase is always evolving. Things picked out, looked at, put back. New stuff carefully placed so an avalanche doesn't occur, and old stuff thrown away (rarely). There are bookcases and cabinets cluttered with our archaeology that becomes a problem when people come over and we wonder if they think we're messy, which we are. But a thousand years from now when it is accidentally uncovered by a lucky dig they will say, "Now this culture was happy."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Good, the Bad, the Utterly Boring

After Angelo's magical pawnshop, a visit from my Japanese relatives, and a story about blowing up my face, hearing about my workplace must seem like a letdown. It is to me, anyway. But here it is. To anyone in Huntington Beach this will look familiar. It is Boeing. The Naval Weapons Depot is behind the building storing god-knows-what in bunkers that resemble indian burial mounds. To be entirely truthful, this is only the most prominent building on the company grounds. I actually work in a building near it that looks like the picture on the right if you look beyond the cars. If you've been in this business as long as I've been, you'll notice that there are windows, a luxury that was considered a security risk for the first twenty five years of my career. Now we can watch the world pass us by. Whoopeeee!