Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Random Notes

Here are a few things that don't merit a blog post on their own, but taken together with the fact that I'm bored, may combine to make something slightly worthwhile.

The G1 is finally out! I've gotten to play around with it a little bit and am pretty impressed. It doesn't have quite the awe factor of the iPhone, but it does nail the nerd demographic squarely. I've been a fan of the platform since its annunciation; unfortunately, other distractions have kept me from working with it the last few months, but now that it's real I hope to spend some time porting my old applications to it. I will be very interested to see what the market for this ends up looking like. It seems pretty strong out of the gate; the big question will be whether it becomes a true service driver in the same way the iPhone was, or becomes Yet Another Platform to support.

As we move into winter, I am reminded again of what an odd semi-foodie I am. Everyone seems to think that summer has the best produce, but I actually get a lot of mileage out of fall and winter. Sure, summer has artichokes and tomatoes, but I salivate over roasted butternut squash, unbelievably sweet persimmons (Hachiya are in season now, and Fuyu just arrived at my market last week), and I am eagerly looking forward to rutabagas.

Speaking of food, I just dropped in the first reservation for my brother's December visit. Pat was the first sibling to visit after I moved, which was awesome, but also meant that neither of us were totally up to speed yet on the possibilities of northern California. We have now made up for this in spades, and are way overpreparing in the best way for this. After long and agonizing discussions over the relative merits of a multi-day excursion into Yountville, we have arrived on a tentative schedule that should be filled with ample opportunities for both relaxation and delight. That first reservation has the potential to be the highlight of the trip: a visit to David Kinch's "Manresa" in my old stomping grounds of Los Gatos. This has been on my radar since shortly after I moved (albeit after Pat's visit), but I haven't had a sufficient excuse to go before now. Out of all my family, I think Pat will get the most out of what promises to be an exceptional experience, and we are both majorly freaking out about it. We will also be making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of California cuisine, the local food movement, and all the other slow food organic goodness that has transformed our recent lives: Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley. This will be my second trip there, and the first time downstairs. How could we possibly top that? Why, by going to a taqueria inside a gas station! Yet another thing that's been on my "to-eat" list for years now, that I will finally be able to fulfill! Excitement abounds! Hopefully we will also get to do some cooking and sampling of local produce. It's also possible that we'll do something besides eat, but we'll need to see.

I am once again roaring full speed on politics. I just now realized that my blogger profile has been out of date for some time now... when I first started this blog I was burned out, but the flame has been rekindled since February 2007. I think I've written before about my political evolution... most recently, I was a die-hard Democrat living in the swing state of Missouri during the brutal presidential race of 2004. I cared SO MUCH about what was going on, felt physically awful about the direction of our country, and responded in a major way to the candidacy of Howard Dean. I still think he would have made an amazing President... his combination of fiscal conservatism, international coalition building, and progressive national priorities would have been a balm on the misguided policies of the Bush era. I attended meetups for him, donated for the first time ever to a political campaign, walked precincts before the Missouri primary, wrote letters and even (gasp!) made phone calls. I felt utterly crushed when his campaign ended, and nurtured a grudge against Dick Gephardt and John Kerry that persists to this day. I swore that while I would vote for Kerry, I could never support his campaign after its duplicitous and vicious smears on Dean. When it came down to the wire, though, the specter of four more years of Bush was just too terrifying, so I relented. In compromise, I didn't directly volunteer for Kerry, but instead through the MoveOn wing, which was independently working to elect him. This turned out to be a bright move, so far as that goes, when Kerry decided to concede Missouri, even though he was only down by a few percentage points in the weeks before the election.

I donated money, knocked on doors, attended meetings, and took vacation time off of work to work the polls on election day. That was a fascinating experience: we had lists of Kerry supporters we had identified in my precinct, and as people came to the polls we asked them to check in and marked their names off the list. Later in the day we started calling people who hadn't voted yet, provided rides to people who needed it, etc. It was a very cool day, and gave me a much richer feeling of what it means to be involved in a democracy. It isn't just showing up and pulling a lever; at its best, it involves work and discussion and team-building and compromise, articulating a vision for the future and then spending your sweat and treasure to bring it into reality.

I took a pass on the post-election party in downtown KC, and moodily drank booze while watching the election results come in. I felt like the last three months of my life had been violently wrenched away from me, and that a gaping abyss yawed in front of me. I got on the Internet and visited Canada's immigration page. Was Bioware hiring? Not my happiest day.

The one bright spot: a young black state senator from my home state of Illinois won a senate seat. No; "won" doesn't properly convey what happened. He annihilated his opposition and swept into office with near universal acclaim. I'd been following his career with interest since his stunning victory in the primary of January 2004, over a pool of much wealthier and better-connected opponents. He exuded competence, and seemed like such a breath of fresh air after a decade of poisonous politics. He worked across the aisle, treated everyone with respect, got things done, found the best practical way to advance his principles, and willingly got beyond the standard political divisions. The one complaint people had about him: he was a little too brainy and cerebral, legacies of his background as a professor of constitutional law, and could not inspire people. The speech he gave at the Democratic Convention gave the lie to that last ounce of criticism, and like many people I found myself wondering why we couldn't have him at the top of our ticket instead of a man I despised.

I stayed in the US, took a vacation from politics, and moved to California. I felt like I could finally exhale. It no longer took effort to be a liberal. California was an entertaining sideshow, with recall elections and boisterous proposition battles and an amazingly dysfunctional state capital. I was reminded that politics could be fun, and slowly got into my new state's dynamics. I was delighted with the moves that Howard Dean was making at the national level, taking his 50-state philosophy into mainstream party policy, and felt a sense of pride and, yes, ownership when his expansive philosophy led to unhoped-for victories in 2006, amazingly swinging the party into power. For the first time in two long and dark years, I allowed myself to hope.

The last two years have been pretty good. I've been loudly cheering on Obama, though I was surprised when he announced his candidacy; he had flatly stated his disinterest so clearly that I didn't think there was any chance of him running. Still, I wasn't about to complain, and gave him the first of many donations on that cold Illinois day when he stood in front of the old Springfield state capital to change the world. I feel awful about the financial and military messes we've gotten into, but have recaptured my trust in the American people as they finally - finally! - turned against Bush. I hope I'm not jinxing this election, but I feel more optimistic about our country's future now than I have in eight long years. It will be long and hard - we've dug into a terribly deep hole - but at least we can start moving in the right direction.

Now that I'm working in San Francisco, I'm starting to consider the possibility of buying property in or near the city. It's still a vague notion, and I don't feel much urgency - housing prices are finally moving in my direction, and they can still fall quite a bit more before they would really be considered "affordable" - but also fun. I've read through a couple of books to acquaint myself with the process. The most helpful so far has been Nolo's guide. My one complaint is that the contributors seem to often promote their own agenda within the chapters; still, the basic information seems solid, and it does give me a good mental framework to work with.

Unfortunately, I'm so indecisive that I don't even know where to begin looking. San Francisco proper is probably my ideal, but it is hideously expensive, especially if I want to end up in a good neighborhood with good access to transit. The Peninsula is probably the most practical place to land, since odds are good that any future jobs I have will likely be within Silicon Valley; however, there isn't as much going on here, it's still pretty expensive, and only a few spots are good for transit. I'm increasingly drawn to the near East Bay; there are some excellent neighborhoods in and near Oakland that would be pleasant to live in, offer great access to the city, and not be all that expensive; however, if my career ever takes me back to Silicon Valley, the commute could be a pain. So, we'll see! I've started doing walking tours of some likely places to land - Piedmont Avenue, Temescal, Rockridge, The Mission, SOMA, etc. - and that's been helpful. I'll probably continue to take it easy and see what opportunities present themselves.

In the meantime, if anyone knows any really good realtors who work in or near the city, please let me know!

Finally, a quick rundown of TV:

I thought the last season of the Venture Brothers was the best yet, and am looking forward to what comes next.

So far, "House" is pretty good this season... not awesome like the first half of last season, but reliably enjoyable.  I really enjoy the new private investigator character - hope he sticks around.

Robot Chicken was good for most of its season, but the finale was AMAZING.  They tend to have really good finales, and this was no exception.

Really digging Dexter so far.  Like everyone, I was really curious what they could possibly do after last season's amazing ending.  The show seems to have taken a 90-degree turn, but that's all good - in some ways, Dexter becomes even more disturbing the more "normal" he becomes.  If previous seasons are any indication, the awesomeness is still to come.

I skipped Sarah Silverman last year, but am back into it again for the third season.  Funny show... I keep wanting it to become Mr. Show, which of course it won't, but I enjoy what it is.

And I think that's it, at least until Battlestar Galactica finally comes back.  Man, January 2009 is going to be awesome for all sorts of reasons, isn't it?

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