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google+: the beginning

Another quick one while I’m away.

Two years ago today, I offered up my first blog post on Google+. What has changed in two years?

So, what is Google+ and why should you want it? It’s a suite of applications that runs in your browser … the specifics of my descriptions might not be exact, hey, I’m not a techie writer and I’ve only been playing with + for a day. The key feature is Circles. You can create as many circles as you want … for instance, I have three family-related circles, one for the immediate family, one that adds my siblings and their families to the mix, and a third that adds my extended family. I also have circles for friends, really good friends, people from school … you get the idea. Why bother with circles? Because circles allow you to target the audience for your contributions. When you update your status on Facebook, or post a video, or write a note, every one of your “friends” can see it. You can create groups to manage this problem, but it’s clunky to do so. With circles, you just drag and drop. I don’t suppose it took me half an hour to sort all of my contacts into groups. Then, when I want to post something relevant only to my family, I’ll only give access to the Family circle. If it involves close friends, give them access. If it’s something appropriate for everyone, make it public. This kind of targeted posting seems like a v.good idea to me.

You get a Stream which is like your Facebook news feed. There is something called Sparks which needs work … it’s basically a search engine for a specific subject, so you can call one “Bruce Springsteen” and whenever you check it, you’ll get recent net posts about him.

The killer app, the one that inspired more than one person to say Google+ isn’t a Facebook Killer, but a Skype Killer, is Hangouts. Hangouts allows up to ten people to participate in a video chat. You can open up a Hangout and wait for friends to stop by, you can invite specific people, or you can join someone else’s Hangout. You can watch YouTube videos together. I’m sure this will have some kinks … so far, I’ve only tried a one-on-one chat … but it’s like Chatroulette, only selective instead of random.

There is an Android app that allows for group texting, so if four of you are going to lunch, you can use “Huddle” and save time. You can do some but not all of the web-based stuff on your Android phone (iOS to follow).

Google+ is enough fun, and is easy enough to use from the start, that I imagine most people will like it once they start using it. The question is whether it will retain value over the long term. Social networking requires people (duh). Facebook has the people; new attempts to conquer the social arena have to deal with that fact. Until Google+ gets enough users, it will remain a cult item. Still, despite the numbers, I feel like a lot of the Facebook users I know are always complaining about the thing. Maybe they’re ready for something new.

Google is also up against their recent past. Simply put, they have failed big time in their previous attempts at social networking. Google Wave was potent but inscrutable; Google Buzz debuted by making one of the biggest privacy-invasion blunders in web history. Both products had their fans, but there weren’t nearly enough of them to build a large network. In the last couple of days, I’ve seen and heard a lot of “experts” who have fallen instantly in love with Google+, but are wary of admitting it because they fear another Wave/Buzz.

Anything can happen when a product is only a couple of days old. Problems will arise that haven’t been anticipated. But my first take on Google+ is that it is delightful. To become more than just a fun toy, though, it needs people. So anyone reading this who is intrigued, get Google+ as soon as you can.

A subset of my friends and family use Google+ as often as most people use Facebook. The product itself keeps improving, and it is much more integrated into the Google experience. It is not the flop some people predicted (some people still think it’s a wasteland, but they have no clue). If I want to reach the largest audience, I still need to go to Facebook or Twitter. But I feel like I’m goofier on G+, or “gah-PLUS”, as Sara and Ray call it. An example: one day I posted a video of Air Supply, with a note that read “Confession: I once saw these guys open for Rod Stewart.” I got 8 +1s and a couple of comments from Air Supply fans. I was being ironic when I posted this … I am not an Air Supply fan … to bolster my rock cred, the next day I posted a video of Led Zeppelin with the caption, “Confession: I saw these guys in 1977.” Since then, I’ve posted a couple of dozen more videos of people I saw in concert, and the series is far from over. Gives me an excuse to post music videos while keeping an ongoing theme.

Here’s the Led Zeppelin video:

friday random ten, 1969 edition

Super-brief list, created as I prepared for our trip to Spain (by the time you read this, that’s where I’ll be).

1. The Sons of Champlin, “Freedom”. "You got to see yourself, be yourself, freedom!"

2. Janis Joplin, “Kozmic Blues”. "There's a fire inside of everyone of us."

3. Santana, “Soul Sacrifice”.

4. The Moody Blues, “Never Comes the Day”. "If only you knew what's inside of me now, you wouldn't want to know me somehow."

5. Jefferson Airplane, “We Can Be Together”. "Up against the wall, motherfucker!"

6. Led Zeppelin, “Communication Breakdown”. "I'm having a nervous breakdown."

7. Sly and the Family Stone, “I Want to Take You Higher”. "Boom laka-laka-laka!"

8. Laura Nyro, “Save the Country”. "Come on down to the glory river."

9. The Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Oh Happy Day”. "He washed my sins away."

10. The Stooges, “1969”. "I say oh my and a boo-hoo."

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]

the first time i saw pink

Another quick one while I’m away.

It was at the Warfield, 11 years ago yesterday. It came at the end of her first headlining tour, in support of Missundaztood. There was none of the high-flying acrobatics we’re used to today. She sang her Janis Joplin medley, she sang “What’s Up?”, she sang the hits from her new album. I was impressed enough to go see her again the next time she came around. I wrote at the time:

The show had many highlights ... the funnest one came during "Respect," when Pink had the girls in the audience screaming "yeah!" every time she said "ladies" or "sistas" (she said she didn't want to leave the guys out, so she was going to offer us the chance to have the thrill of a lifetime for 3 minutes 20, the chance to be female ... we could scream, too) ... the oddest one for me came with the final song of the night, "Don't Let Me Get Me." This was the anthem all the girls had been waiting for, and seeing and hearing them sing along to this complex song was bizarre. What does it mean when a bunch of kids happily shout out "I wanna be somebody else"? The closest thing I can think of is when the audience would sing along with Johnny Rotten's "No Future!" ... as if in the act of proclaiming our nihilism, we were expressing our love of life. Except I don't ever remember wanting to be Johnny Rotten, while I think a lot of people in that audience would have been happy if the "somebody else" they got to be was in fact the woman who introduced those words to us in the first place: Pink.

Here’s a video from 2002:

35 years ago today

Another quick one while I'm away.

I spent most of the 1970s getting better acquainted with my wife and kids, which among other things meant I didn’t pay much attention to baseball for much of that decade. On June 25, 1978, my brother and his wife took me to a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves.

At the start of the day, the Giants were in first place by three games. Manager Joe Altobelli, who five years later would lead the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series championship, sent John “The Count” Montefusco to the mound in the first game. Montefusco was a former Rookie of the Year and All-Star who had thrown a no-hitter two seasons earlier, and who (for Giants fans) was famous for guaranteeing he’d win an upcoming game with the Dodgers. (He pitched a shutout.) He came in with a 6-2 record and an ERA of 3.41. The Giants’ best hitter that year was RF Jack Clark, while the rotation was anchored by lefties Bob Knepper and Vida Blue, who combined for 35 wins.

My first game in many years didn’t hold much suspense. In the bottom of the first inning, the Giants scored three runs off Atlanta pitcher Preston Hanna, the RBI coming from future Hall-of-Famer Willie McCovey (who I remembered from my youth, of course) and Jim Dwyer. The Giants chased Hanna in the second inning, and coasted to a 9-3 win, with The Count going the distance and striking out eleven, while Mike Sadek hit his first HR of the season (only the second of his career). Bill Madlock also homered for the Giants.

The starter for the nightcap was Big Ed Halicki, who had thrown a one-hitter just two weeks earlier. The game went back-and-forth, and after nine innings the teams were tied, 3-3. In the top of the eleventh, with reliever Randy Moffitt (Billie Jean King’s brother) on the mound for San Francisco, things fell apart. Single, sacrifice, intentional walk, single, single, single, double, 8-3 Atlanta. The home team managed to get one back in the bottom of the inning, but they lost, 8-4.

Thus ended my afternoon of baseball. I saw Willie McCovey, who would end up in the Hall of Fame. I saw Dale Murphy. Heck, I saw Cito Gaston as a player. I’ve been going to games ever since.

ta luego a ronda

About to go to bed after our last night in Ronda. We leave tomorrow for Nerja, where we will meet up with my sisters and their husbands and/or wives. 

We bought a few gifts, ate at a few different places, read (I'm reading Cato's 4th book about LBJ, Robin is reading a Lincoln Rhyme mystery), rested, and finished with one last meal at Bodega San Francisco. 

I told José Maria that we might come visit for a day with the family, and he said if we did, he'd make something yummy. 

Now I'll go to sleep while listening to the Giants game. It is very possible I'll be posting much less frequently in Nerja, since we don't have Wi-Fi where we are staying. 

I think I'll finish by describing where we ate dinner tonight. There are several restaurants on the small plaza near our room, and as we eat, families hang out, kids ride bikes and kick balls, teenagers goof around, and stray cats look for food at the feet of the diners. We sit on the plaza, but the restaurants are across the street, so there is a constant flow of waiters rushing across the street, avoiding cars and carrying food. Here's a photo:


we continue eating

I'm writing this late Friday night. We had a fairly mundane day, even by our standards, and the two highlights were focused on food (no surprise). 

This morning, José Maria made us eggs for breakfast, and when I said the only way I eat eggs is scrambled, he said that when you were on vacation you were supposed to get away from the way you do things at home, and so he insisted that I eat a fried egg. It was prepared quite nicely, served on a baguette with butter and herbs. I confess it was very hard for me to get down, although the toast part was yummy. Afterwards, he asked how I liked it, and I politely said it was OK. But he told me it was very good! 

For dinner, we went to the place Robin had chosen for my birthday dinner. It was as good as we remembered, and the dessert, a combination of white and dark chocolate, was sinful. I paid the bill with a Visa card, and one thing we have come across is that they seem to expect a PIN number, but we only have them for our debit cards. Things went awry, and so I said no problem and paid cash. As we were leaving, the waiter came rushing out to tell us the credit card had gone through, which meant we had paid twice. He returned the cash, and we then exchanged sorries and thank yous. Did I mention this place is considered by many to be the best restaurant in Ronda? 

friday random ten, 2002 edition

1. Missy Elliott, “Work It”. Most people would kill for one killer hook. This song has (at least) two: the insistent repeating notes throughout, and the backwards trick in the chorus. Hat tip to Timbaland, and video director David Myers, but this is about Missy.

2. Nelly, “Hot in Herre”. More killer hooks.

3. DJ Shadow, “Six Days”. The video is directed by Wong Kar-wai, which should be all you need to know.

4. Sleater-Kinney, “Sympathy”. Corin runs 9/11 through her feelings as a new mother and belts out perhaps the greatest of her many great vocals for S-K. To this day, I can’t listen to Sleater-Kinney without wishing they were still here.

5. Bruce Springsteen, “Mary’s Place”. The Rising was Bruce’s 9/11 album. “Mary’s Place” celebrated the wake. This one goes on my list of “you can play this when I die” songs.

6. Johnny Cash, “Hurt”. If you’ve somehow missed seeing this video over the years (or even if you’ve seen it a dozen times),  you should watch it now. In 2011, the New Musical Express named it the best music video of all time.

7. Eminem, “Lose Yourself”. I recently asked my son who my favorite rapper was. He said it was Eminem.

8. Elvis vs. Junkie XL, “A Little Less Conversation”. Twenty-five years after his death, The King was still topping the charts.

9. Pink, “Don’t Let Me Get Me”. Album came out in 2001, single released in ‘02. I find this song, and the video, fascinating. Pink sings that she doesn’t want to be herself, she wants to be somebody else. At the end of the video, various people morph into Pink, but she’s not being someone else, she’s the vessel for her fans to be someone else. The fans want to be someone who doesn’t want to be who she is. Might as well mention that this was more than a decade ago, for those who thought Pink would fade away.

10. Norah Jones, “Don’t Know Why”. Come Away with Me, which featured this song, sold 26 million copies.

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]

mi cumpleaños

It was a very nice day. Wherever we went, Robin would make sure people knew it was my birthday. For lunch, our host, José Maria, made a yummy Arab concoction that he cooked in a tangine (spelling?).

I also had plenty of chances to practice my Spanish. At lunch were me and Robin and José Maria, two of his friends who didn't speak English, and a German woman who has lived in Spain for a long time and did speak English. I pretended I knew what everyone was saying. For my sister Chris, I asked what was the best Spanish beer (CruzCampo). 

The place Robin had chosen for my birthday dinner was full, so we made a reservation for tomorrow night and ate instead at a small place on the same plaza. As we ate, we saw José Maria, and he came and sat with us and finished our salad for us. 

Finally, we had a brief Hangout with Sara, limited by our wifi. A nice way to finish my 60th birthday. 

on turning 60

This is the way to do it: on vacation in another country that takes your mind off the reality of those numbers, six, zero. The reality will sneak in eventually, but Andalucía postpones the shock. 

And yet... waking to the news that James Gandolfini has died at 51 has a way of rubbing reality in your face. 

Just this once, I want to flip tradition over, and, instead of receiving the greetings of others, I want to wish everyone I know a special day. If at some point during the day you think of me on my 60th birthday, have some special fun in my memory, and when we next get together, tell me about your fun. Too often, we wait to tell those special stories until one of us dies and we pass along the tales at the wake. That's too late. I want to hear your stories, and I can't do that if you wait until I am no longer here. 

jet lag sux

We left Sunday afternoon, Berkeley time. We arrived Monday evening, Spain time. Who knows where the missing day went. Tuesday, everything seemed ok, but Tuesday night, I slept maybe two hours. Hopefully we'll get straightened out tonight (Wednesday). 

Today was our typical Spain day. Eat, laze around, walk somewhere so we can eat, walk back, take siesta, laze around, walk somewhere so we can eat, walk back, go to bed. I feel sorry for my family when they meet up with us in Nerja, since we are so boring. 

We tried Google Hangouts today. The most successful was with my sister Chris, since we actually had a video chat. 

Here is a picture from dinner tonight. I ordered meat kebabs, but what I got was one giant kebab. I tried my best to finish it. I only came this close :

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