Monday, 26 October 2009

Lady's night in/out

Last night I babysat Claire (she can walk!) to allow Hannah and Christine to go out to a Mika concert. It was either that or go myself, so I know who got a better deal. While Claire and I enjoyed bath-, book-, and bed-time, they partied hard.

Perhaps a little too hard, as my 1am trip to pick them up from somewhere near Oakland proved. They had been forced to leave the bus for...reasons that are beyond this blog's remit to explore. But every drunken night can be repaired by a big cooked breakfast the next morning, which is exactly what we did!

Girls ready to party.

Cheers! Is this G&T number four or five?

The man himself, in a nice suit.

After the concert, with a balloon.

Sleeping it off on the bus (temporarily).

Thank you to Christine for her candid camera :)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Run, run, as fast as you can

Walking up the stairs to our apartment leaves me out of breath, but two of our number decided to show the rest of us up by running a half marathon! Shauli and Anat have been hard in training for several months...and then took the last month off, but it didn't seem to do them any harm. They crossed the finish line holding hands, in joint 589th place, in a time of 2 hours 25 minutes.

Well done! Next time, let's see a whole marathon :)

Numbered and ready to go.

Looking happy...

...and following behind his wife (as ever!)

The happy couple.

No sweat! I'm tired just blogging this...

Snug as two bugs

The wonder of the North Face Outlet down the road has been the subject of many a post on this blog, and we found ourselves there again today with Dan. He had a voucher to spend, and even with the sample sale finished prices remained dangerously and temptingly low.

This is how we found ourselves buying two new sleeping bags reduced from $80 to $50...and then with 50% off. I asked twice for the checkout lady to confirm this, but it was correct. That's £12.50 each!! (We're still working on the exchange rate of the day we moved here...)

I cleverly pointed out to Hannah that we should buy her a left handed one, her being a southpaw and all, but it was only when we got home that I realised the left/right combination had nothing to do with opening the zip with your most dexterous hand. One of each meant we could zip them together into one huge, cosy, good-down-to-minus-seven-Celsius padded envelope of snuggliness!

Joined at the zip.

That should keep the cold out.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Food and film

What's better than watching a film in the cinema? Watching a film while food is brought to your seat! And we're not talking about popcorn.

Our local Rialto Cinema in El Cerrito has just enjoyed a complete face lift. But while it now sports air conditioning, super-comfy seats, and state-of-the-art projection, the greatest improvement (in my opinion) is the addition of a full kitchen offering pizzas, name it (as long as it's American junk food). Order after buying your tickets, sit down, and a few minutes later the goodies arrive.

Hannah, Dan, and I decided to take in a showing of Where the Wild Things Are while munching a spicy sausage thin crust. The movie was strange, but the eating was mighty fine.

It certainly is!

Another autumn day in California. With some time before the film started we enjoyed a cold beer (and Hannah had a cup of tea).

The Rialto, restored to its former glory (not that I ever saw its former glory).

We wait expectantly...

And here we go! Advanced image enhancement techniques let you see what eating pizza in the dark looks like. Tasty, but a bit messy too.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Smash and grab

UC Berkeley owns a lot of stuff around here, including a big warehouse down the road that seems to be have been a dumping ground for all the university's old office furniture and equipment since the 1950s.

But this warehouse has now been sold, and this morning saw a huge giveaway of chairs, tables, and assorted stuff. A giveaway? How could I resist? Dana and I took a few minutes from our Draconian work schedule to head down.

No one was wearing American football padding, but there was plenty of body-checking and shoulder-barging as the choice picks were fought over fiercely. Dana and I confined ourselves to the quieter corners, picking up lever-arch files for our better halves' school notes, several bits of software, a couple of books in Japanese, and a plunger. If it's free...

2nd and 8.

The good stuff!

Unwelcome guests

As I wandered back from something-or-other late Thursday night I heard rustling near the rubbish bins. Someone taking the trash out that late? No! On drawing nearer I was greeted by beady eyes and snuffling noses belonging to some urban raccoons. Luckily I had my camera (of course!), but this pair weren't half as friendly as their country cousins we'd bumped into while camping.

One of the black and white critters scurried off into another bin while the second climbed a nearby tree and hissed at me! Undeterred I snapped away, thinking only of my blog readers.

The second group of "guests" are even less welcome. Bedbugs! A general e-mail was sent around the village announcing their arrival, but our building is apparently ground zero and so we got a special letter attached to each door. It included helpful advice like "wash bed linen frequently in hot water".

The most worrying section was a paragraph, in the middle, in red:

Alert: If you have recently taken a queen sized bed mattress and/or box spring (with pink flowers printed on it) out of the dumpster in the Ohlone/Kula Gulf garbage enclosure area you may have inadvertently brought bedbugs in to your apartment!

That's the village! Although perhaps the raccoons took it...

Urban raccoons: unfriendly. And with laser eyes.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Softly softly catchy monk

This is Berkeley, so of course there's a Buddhist temple down the road where every Sunday they serve a massive buffet breakfast that you have to buy with tokens rather than money then sit at long communal tables and clear up after yourselves. Tasty!

Your friendly neighbourhood Buddhist temple.

Getting ready to serve. Queuing starts at 9.30am, food at 10am. Although, surprisingly for Berkeley, food was a little earlier than that today.

Oh yes.

Berkeley has always considered itself its own little country, and here's come of its currency.

Dan and Hannah wait (almost) patiently as the line grows.

Mmmm. Pad Thai noodles, veggie red curry and rice, a strange orange drink. All for the bargain price of seven tokens!

Dan opted for meat. What else is a Kiwi going to do? He was happy.

Maya and her uncle Michael were happy too.

Hannah Singer. In her hands, even chopsticks can become deadly weapons.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Play day

Last year I got to be an official photographer at Haas's >play conference. Once again my picture taking skills were sought out by the organisers (or maybe I asked nicely if I could help...) and I found myself at >play 2009, snapping away at the latest gadgets and developments in the digital media world. I even got a free t-shirt!

First things first - registration.

Lots of cool stuff is here... controlling your home media setup using your iPhone! Now I just need to get a telly. And an iPhone!

Interested spectators.

Neuroboy is a game you control with your mind. Perfect if you're uncoordinated.

Here's a map of the user's brainwaves. They're thinking a lot about yellow at the moment.

I had a nice chat with Girls in Tech, and while I was desperate for a t-shirt they didn't have any :(

A lot of the day revolves around keynote speakers and panels, with some big names from the gaming and entertainment industries. This one was about monetizing (a great American word).

And here's Magoosh - a home-grown Haas student company, helping you get through the GMAT exam (you have to pass it to get into business school).

SugarSync - make sure you can get to your files from your phone, office, and home. Alternatively, write everything down on a piece of paper and carry it everywhere with you.

Ohhhhh yes, the free t-shirt! Powder blue is my colour.


There's a North Face Outlet Store near where we live, selling outdoorsy stuff cheaper than in all their other (overpriced) shops. Not bad. But then once or twice a year they have a sample sale. Every model of shoe, coat, sock, etc. that they sell, in every available colour, is brought out in boxes into a big warehouse out the back, the doors are thrown open, and the feeding frenzy begins. Last week, it happened again!

One slight disadvantage is that everything is in medium size only, but if you're mediocre like us (and everyone we know) then it all fits. Boots go for $15, fleeces for $50, trousers/tops for $20, waterproofs for $80...and now and again, if you're really lucky and can fight off enough crazed people in the crush, you can dig up something super exciting.

And so I found myself holding a large bag containing what claimed to be an eight-person tent. Do I even know eight people who would be willing to camp with me? It didn't matter - I handed over the flat price of $100 for "premium" items and brought it home, only to find through an Internet search that it's a Trailhead 8 that sells in shops for $500! Bargain!!

Or was it? There was only one way to find out. Picking a nearby patch of concrete (the grass is always wet due to the Californian love of constant irrigation) we unpacked canvas, clipped bendy poles together, staked out vestibules with rocks...and soon we were stood in a 132 square-foot tent with two queen-sized bedrooms, a living room, front and back doors, and a porch. Why bother continuing to rent our apartment?

Would you trust this man to put up your tent?

Hmmm...something's wrong here. I knew I shouldn't have bought cheap.

Ok, getting somewhere.

The inner is up, cleverly held in place by traffic cones.

Hannah can stand up straight inside!

Me in the guest bedroom.

Mr and Mrs Davies are proud to announce their new address...

Take only memories, leave only footprints (and traffic cones).

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

365 days old

Is it possible that a world once existed in which there was no Claire Camille Mucker? I find it hard to believe, but given that today we celebrated her first birthday I suppose it must be true.

She's followed in her parents' out-sized socialising footsteps by booking a room in the community centre for her party, their humble flat not being big enough for all her friends. There a clear split developed between the 5-and-unders (pink balloons, sweeties) and everyone else (G&T's, red wine).

Soon the cake appeared and, in fine tradition, Claire got to take the first slice. She's never been shy with food, but when the chocolate became smeared so thickly across her face that she couldn't open her eyes parental intervention was required.

The lady of the hour.

Ever-practical Dad fixes up the pinata.

It may not be her party, but Fini is always the queen.

Logan! Big, and running around fast.

Cake supplied by master baker Moran.

Claire got the hang of presents pretty quickly.

Here today...


But Daddy, when I asked for a pony...