Thursday, February 20, 2014

Biggest acquisitions in tech

Here are the biggest acquisitions of companies in the technology sector:

  1. $24.9 billion – Dell Inc., by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners, 2013
  2. $19 billion – Compaq Computer Corp, by Hewlett Packard, 2002
  3. $19 billion WhatsApp, by Facebook, 2014
  4. $13.2 billion – Electronic Data Systems Corp., by Hewlett Packard, 2008
  5. $12.9 billion – Motorola, by Google, 2012
  6. $10.3 billion – Peoplesoft, by Oracle Corp, 2005

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Movie review: "Drinking Buddies"

There's so much drinking in "Drinking Buddies" that it looks like either a beer commercial or a public service announcement from Alcoholics Anonymous. Every scene is so soaked in hops- or grape-based beverages that you probably shouldn't drive immediately afterwards.

Surprisingly, "Drinking Buddies" isn't actually about alcoholism or drunk driving, but about something much scarier: relationships.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson in "Drinking Buddies"

"Drinking Buddies" revolves around Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), who work together at a small Chicago brewery, and have a plutonic but oh-so-close-to-sexual relationship. 

Writer and director Joe Swanberg has put together a script that captures the non-linear nature of real relationships. The interactions between Kate and Luke and their friends zig and zag in fits and starts. There's humor, meanness and tenderness at various turns.

Good acting from Wilde, Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston help make it feel genuine.

Still, let's face it, a lot of us don't go to the movies to see real life. If you like escapism in your movies, "Drinking Buddies" is not for you. A warning: If you watch this movie with your significant other, you can count on have some "deep and meanngful" conversations afterward.  You might need a drink.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Soccer tournament review: Coyote Classic

It can't be easy to draw people to Apple Valley, California, for a youth soccer tournament.

While the town name might evoke a pleasant image of orchards tucked away in the hills, the reality is that Apple Valley lies in a rocky, gray-and-brown desert landscape that is sun-blasted in the summer and frigid and windy in the winter. The entertainment options in Apple Valley and neighboring Victorville are limited. Even the area's one-time claim to fame the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum left a decade ago.
Action in the 2014 Coyote Classic

But the Coyote Classic soccer tournament must be doing something right, as this year it drew 66 teams to Apple Valley (about two hours northeast of Los Angeles) for its 18th annual competition.

The 2014 Coyote Classic, played Feb. 8 and 9, was a decent tournament for players ages 8 to 13, but it had some annoying flaws.

Initial impressions of the tournament weren't too good. Game schedules weren't posted until the Tuesday before the weekend tournament and referee schedules weren't up until Wednesday. I've said it before and I'll say it again: That's not early enough. You have about 700 families who need to plan their lives; they need to know when their games are going to be.

A good standard for youth tournaments is to have schedules up a week before the first game.

Leading up to the tournament, the Coyote Classic web page was a mishmash links to many items were missing and "Semifinals" was spelled "Simi Finals" three times. Links to the tournament rules and referee information were removed from the site three days before the competition, right when people needed them.

Games in all divisions were scheduled to begin a 8 a.m. on Saturday, when it was about 42 degrees. Teams were supposed to check at the even chillier hour of 7 a.m. I could understand the early start in the under-10 divisions, because there were enough teams to fully fill the day. But in U12 and U14, where there were fewer teams, the games could have started later and everything could have still fit into daylight hours.

Cold temperatures weren't the only reason not to start all the games at 8 a.m. As my family arrived at Brewster Park, the site of the tournament, a long line of cars snaked back out onto adjoining roads. Once inside, we found a chaotic scene at the check-in tent as 24 teams all tried to check in at once.

I have two words for the tournament organizers: Staggered starts. For example, have U10 games start at 8, U12 start at 9, U14 at 10.

Brewster Park is a large park devoted almost exclusively to soccer. That's nice. Unlike some tournaments, none of the fields had to be run across baseball or football fields. All the fields were flat, too, which again isn't always common in tournaments where they're trying to squeeze fields into park space.

The grass on the fields wasn't green or lush, but short and brown. Still, it was a fairly consistent, flat surface.

There was plenty of parking, also a nice feature, at $5 per day. There were a few permanent bathrooms and many porta-potties, but some of the latter got quite rank as the tournament went on.

There is barely a stick of shade in the entire park, so if there's any chance of sunny days while you're there, it's worth bringing some kind of pop-up shelter.

One thing I liked is that this tournament had full-length games, at least in U10 and U12. Some tournaments shorten games so they can cram more teams in and get more entry fees; I always feel cheated by that.

As an American Youth Soccer Organization tournament, the Coyote Classic used parent-refs. That is, each team provided a referee crew to ref other games. While no one is ever totally happy with reffing, I think this worked fine at this tournament up to a point.

The parent-ref system breaks down when you get to the finals and consolation games. Because most teams have been eliminated at that point and have headed home, parent-refs aren't available, so a tournament has to turn to local refs. And for my son's team, the ref crew that worked the final was the worst we had the whole weekend. The assistant referees weren't even sure where they were supposed to stand.

Organizers posted scores of games fairly quickly on boards near the check-in tent, but they did not post scores or results of any kind online. That is clearly an area where they can improve.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Book review: "Jungle" by Yossi Ghinsberg

If you like your adventure books pure and raw that is, free of political back story, historical sidelights or cultural observations you'll enjoy "The Jungle" by Yossi Ghinsburg.

"The Jungle" (formerly called "Back from Tuichi") is an uncomplicated and gripping first-person story about men trying to survive in the Amazon rainforest against great odds. I blazed through it in just three days.

The non-fiction story centers on three young backpackers who thirst for adventure while visiting Bolivia in 1981. There is Ghinsberg, 22, an Israeli; Marcus Stamm, 28, a Swiss; and Kevin Gale, 29, an American. Together, they hire Karl Ruchprecter, 35, an uber-capable Austrian outdoorsman with a mysterious past, to lead them through the jungle.

As you might guess, things go wrong.

Soon, personality clashes emerge. Ghinsberg finds his friendship with Marcus strained. The tough and strong Kevin judges Marcus too weak and sensitive and soon they can't stand each other. Kevin bristles against Karl's leadership, too. All the backpackers feel like Karl is hiding something.

Besides battling each other, the men must deal with disease, injuries, dangerous animals, whitewater rapids and hunger. 

Ghinsberg is a deft writer with an eye for the kind of details that help place you at the scene, as in this passage where the men are rafting down the Rio Tuichi:

After about an hour we came to shallow waters where large rocks jutted out. 

"Watch out! Now pull to the left, Kevin, to the left!" Karl pulled at the oar with all his might. "Yossi, get ready to push us off that rock with the pole," he said to me, as we rapidly approached a boulder. We all rowed. Marcus tried to push off from the rocks on the bottom. His pole snagged on one of them and was torn from his hands.

"Ive lost my pole!" he cried. "I lost it!"

The question I would like to ask Ghinsberg is how he remembered all the details of the 7-week adventure. About halfway through, he mentions stopping and writing down the events up to that point, but otherwise he doesn't indicate that he kept a diary (and believe me, he mentions every single item he is carrying, multiple times). Is he recounting this all from memory?

Certainly, at a minimum, he had to re-invent much of the dialogue, since there's no way someone can remember conversations verbatim. Did he re-invent other parts of the book?  I feel reasonably confident that the basic facts of the book are true Kevin Gale has publicly backed up the parts of Ghinsberg's story that he can   but I wish he would have explained, in the foreword or afterword, how he wrote the book.

If you like "Jungle," you will also like "River of Doubt," the story of a 1914 expedition that included Theodore Roosevelt into a mysterious part of the Amazon rain forest. I found it interesting that while the Roosevelt expedition could find very little food in the jungle, Ghinsberg and his compatriots found quite a few options: different kinds of fruit, birds' eggs, birds themselves, fish and at least one monkey that they killed.

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When "everything you need" isn't

At Christmas, my wife and I unwrapped one gift to find a large box with a picture of pizza.

"Gourmet Pizza Made Easy," it said.  "Everything You Need for Homemade Pizza in Minutes."

Everything you need! Wow! I could hardly wait.

So what did the box contain? A pizza cutter, a pizza paddle, a pizza stone, and a recipe book.

"Everything you need?" Sure except little things like dough, sauce, cheese and toppings.

And even if it had those things, this would hardly be pizza "made easy."  The package contains a long set of instructions about what you have to do just to prepare the pizza stone.