Saturday, January 19, 2013

Would you buy ice cream from this man?

 This photo was taken at Centennial Park in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 19, 2013.  See enlargement below

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why "Harry Potter and the Sorcercer's Stone" works

I may be among the last 12 people on Earth to read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," so some might question the need for me to write a review. OK, so let's not call this a review here are just some thoughts I had after finishing the book.

I was surprised that "Sorcerer's Stone" started so slowly. For the first 40 or 50 pages, it really plodded along. If I had not been told by, oh, about a million people that the book was worth sticking with, I might have given up. I guess we're lucky that some early readers did stay with the book and spread the word of its charms, or the whole Harry Potter franchise may have died an early death without Voldemort even getting involved.

Indeed, after the slow start, the book does get better and author J.K. Rowling really shows her, ahem, magic. There are a lot of reasons this book works: An inventive story; likeable main characters; an intriguing mystery. Another reason are the imaginative little elements Rowling sprinkles through the book. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Great names. Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, the Weasley brothers, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid. These names roll snappily off the tongue and seem to hint, even if you knew nothing else about them, at their personalities. The same applies to the names of the four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravensclaw, and Slytherin. Is there any doubt that the slimiest students will be found in Slytherin?

2. Clever use of animals. Rowling could have had the students simply send and receive letters, but instead they get owls. They fear a giant three-headed dog named ... Fluffy. And they help care for a baby dragon that doesn't breath fire, but is fearsome in its eating habits. Nice touches.

3. Quidditch. Rowling takes the witches-on-a-broom image and turns it into exciting game. And you can't just use any old broom you gotta have a Nimbus Two Thousand!

4. Animating the inanimate. Rowling could have simply divided the student wizards into different houses with barely a mention of the process, but instead she brings a hat to life the Sorting Hat to do the job. Elsewhere in the book, characters in paintings move and talk, chess pieces come to life, and keys fly around.

I never got that can't-put-it-down feeling with this book, but there were so many imaginative touches that it was a pleasant read.


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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tournament review: Long Beach Mayor's Cup

My son's soccer team played this weekend in the Mayor's Cup tournament in Long Beach, Calif. Generally, the tournament ran fine, but a couple issues did bother me.

The 2013 Mayor's Cup
First, the pluses: The tournament seemed fairly well organized. Schedules were posted the Monday before, allowing time for parents to plan. The fields were set up and ready to go when we arrived. The people at the information table were helpful with a couple questions I had.

I really liked that they posted scores from the games online almost immediately.

I also liked that they allowed a comfortable 15-20 minutes between games, rather than trying to rush the next game onto the field like some tournaments do.

Now the minuses. First, they skimped on the referee coverage. All the first-round games, at least in the U10 boys division, had just a single referee. There were no assistant referees (sometimes called "linesman"), which are crucial to making accurate offside calls and out-of-bounds rulings.

 I'm a referee myself and I know that it's almost impossible for a center referee, working alone, to have a good view of offside. Not surprisingly, in the games I watched, there were several wrong offside calls (the refs seemed to be perhaps overzealous, blowing their whistles for almost anything that could have been offside) and some bad out-of-bounds calls.  I don't blame the refs; they were placed in an untenable position. It bothers me that a tournament where we've paid a substantial entry fee doesn't have full referee crews.

In the semifinals and finals, they did have three-person referee crews, but in the games I saw, the ARs were kids around the age 12-14.  While I like to see kids getting referee experience, they should do it in recreational games, not in the semifinals or finals of a tournament. While I have seen youth referees who are very good, the ones in this tournament showed their inexperience.

My other concern is that the teams were just not evenly matched. In our bracket, there were games that ended with scores of 10-0, 7-1 and 8-1 (two games). Out of 10 total games, only three were decided by two goals or fewer. The results were similar in a separate U10 boys grouping.

In any sport, the competition is most fun and rewarding for everyone when the teams are evenly matched. A blowout isn't good for anyone.

Still, I'm not sure what a tournament organizer can do about this. In this tournament, they had two U10 boys brackets and seemed to make some effort to place some of the obviously better teams into the same bracket.  But it wasn't enough.  Somehow they need to do a better job of matching up teams of similar abilities.  


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Monday, January 7, 2013

Instagram: The danger is in the details

I'm not an early adopter of technology, so many millions of people discovered and used Instagram before it caught my attention.  But once I saw it in use by others, I liked it. I could see how the combination of pictures and funny comments could be entertaining.

So the other day, I decided to try it for myself. Going to the Instagram website, I found they wanted to send me elsewhere. You can't, apparently, register for Instagram at So I chose the "Google Play" option and was sent there.  As I tried to figure out how to get Instagram to work, I happened to click on a tab called "Permissions."

What I saw, well, shocked me. Remember how Greeks used the gift of the Trojan Horse to get inside the walls of Troy? If you install Instagram, you're allowing it:

  • To "read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals."
  • To save your contact data and "share contact data without your knowledge."
  •  To "modify or delete" the contents of your memory card.
  • To "to get your precise location using the Global Positioning System (GPS) or network location sources such as cell towers and Wi-Fi."
  •  To use your device's camera without you. "This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation."
  •  To "discover information about which applications are used on the device."
 So, let me get this straight. In order to simply look at some offbeat pictures and funny captions, I would be allowing Instagram to snoop into my personal communications, share my calling and texting habits with others, change or delete my data, track my whereabouts, take pictures without my knowledge and look at whatever other software I'm using.

Wow, it's amazing what people will give up just to see some funny pictures.


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