Monday, September 29, 2008

Sic transit gloria 3869 Deervale Drive

When Sandy was 10, she and and her family moved to a then new California ranch-house at 3869 Deervale Drive in Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles. She grew up there and after we got married in 1978, we spent a lot of time there off and on. We stayed there for three months in 1979, while Sandy was having our daughter Julia, who got the distinction of being born in nearby Hollywood. We hung out by the pool, which you can see in the first picture, and admired the view out over the San Fernando Valley. With the kids, we walked down the hill to eat in Jewish deli's in Sherman Oaks and shop in some great used record and CD shops.

I guess all things pass. After Sandy's mother died in 2004, we ended up having to sell the house so we knew that it was out of our hands and into someone else's control. Still it was a shock to drive by today and see that the old house had been knocked down and a huge new white, rather ordinary looking house up in its place -- shown in the two photos here. I guess I had at least hoped that if something new went up it would be more interesting than the old ranch house it replaced.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gondoliers for Obama

It is no secret that I am a big Obama supporter. One of the biggest reasons is the sheer 180 degree turn he would probably make in the image of the US abroad. I think few Americans realize how bizarre and scary we have looked to many in the rest of the world. So a lot of people abroad are very excited about Obama who seems to promise a whole different kind of America, that might be a lot easier to live with and deal with.

Factoid: several Brazilians running for local office are so excited about Obama, and he has such wide and positive name recognition, that they are running for office under his name.

Cheesy but intriguing video: Here is a YouTube video of Venetian gondoliers singing for Obama.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Cellphone Effect

Amber wonk warning: I used to do surveys in Latin America for Uncle Sam for a living, 1979-1983, and I am still a bit of a political junkie. I am particularly interested in the impact of several of the new technologies of communication on politics, both USA and elsewhere.

Many younger people don't have a standard wired phone line. I really wanted to dump ours this year, both to save money, and to thumb my nose at least some of the wired aspects of ATT and Time Warner, although it is almost impossible to get away from them -- since our cellphones are on ATT, anyway.

But I have been very curious to know how that tilt toward cell phones might affect political polling, which had traditionally been done by randomly calling traditional wired telephone lines. Turns out that a number of the pollsters are already on to this issue, enough so that, which is one of the smarter groups combining and comparing polls, can compare the results of polls that do tap cellphone users and those that don't.

The result confirms that younger people, who use cell phones are tilting to Obama. When you compare the polls with cellphones in with others, cellphone users add a 2.8% advantage to Obama on average. That is quite a lot and says all kinds of interesting things about where politics and media are headed.

Check out the story at

Estimating the Cellphone Effect: 2.8 2.2 Points

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Travis Country Democratic Picnic

We live in a nice suburb, right by a huge nature preserve around Barton Creek, but it is still a Texas suburb, called Travis Country, no less. In our first fall, 1998, we invited grad students over for a party and gave detailed directions. One of them said, on arriving, "You could have just said the only house on the street without a Bush (for governor) sign."

Things have changed. This afternoon, the Travis Country Democrats, the 354th precinct of Austin, had a picnic for several hundred people. Many of dressed in the snappy precinct T-shirt you see modeled here.

We served chicken, veggie and beef fajitas. As a volunteer, I helped serve up the chicken and beef after taking over from the lady you see here setting it up.

There were a lot of kids, very excited about, what else, Donkey rides and a Donkey petting zoo. It is convenient that the Democratic animal mascot is the donkey. It would be much more complicated to have elephants (the Republican animal.)

We had some speeches, including a kickoff by the lady who is the precinct Democratic chairwoman, who you can see in this photo, Barb Colvin (mother of Shawn Colvin the singer). Later, there was a band, which you can see in the background, which did covers of songs like "Dead Flowers."

Maybe Texas will be a little less completely red this time around.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The 400

I am getting back in the academic groove again for the fall. Here is a picture someone took recently of me in full tilt lecture mode. The whole performance part of teaching really is fun most of the time.

Every other year I teach our huge intro course, RTF 305. This year it has almost 400 people in it, mostly freshmen, mostly majors in Radio-TV-Film. My first lecture was the first day of college for most of them. Too bad it has to be in groups of 400 at a time, but that is the economics of a big school. Unfortunately we have to teach big groups in some classes so we can afford to teach small groups in the upper division classes where they get to actually make movies and write more intensely. Still, a big intro class can be kind of fun because we do get to do a tour of the big issues.

So here we go, me and the 400, fewer than the 600 of the Light Brigade, more than the Spartans at Thermopylae. Less dangerous, but I hope still interesting.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Welcome Darth Mazda

We have done a major car shuffle recently, passing along our venerable Subaru wagon to Rolf. That left us with two interesting extremes, a Chrysler minivan -- practical, comfortable, capable of taking along everything you need for a week of camping, etc. and a Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car, which had been my 55th birthday, you're not really an old guy yet, present. Very fun car, real sports car suspension, which I would have loved back when I got my first sports car in 1974, a very unreliable 1969 Fiat Sport Coupe, but which was a bit much for a 57 year old lower back. Plus you can maybe carry two bags of groceries in the trunk if you are careful.

So time for a new car, which is one of the things Americans seem to do on Labor Day. The Mazda dealership was conveniently having a big sale on one of the cars I was most interested in, the GT hatchback version of the Mazda 3. Which seemed to come mostly in black. I haven't seen so much black all around since going to a Nine Inch Nails concert with Julia in the 1990s.

So Sandy has christened it Darth Mazda, revealing her not very well concealed inner Star Wars fan geek. Sounds good to me, too, come to think of it. Not nearly as obscure as what she called our first Plymouth minivan, the Pelagic Argosy. (Inquire directly to her for an explanation.)