Monday, December 31, 2012

One of the most hopeful moments of the year

Governor Chris Christie greets President Obama
shortly after landing in New Jersey 

Democrats and Republicans can get along!

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy struck, President Obama made a surprise visit to New Jersey to assess the storm damage and to lend support to a much beleaguered Governor Chris Christie.

Christie had been coming down hard on the president weeks before Sandy hit; the Governor kept alluding to the latter's "massive leadership failings."

Thus it was a wonder that Christie warmed up to his "adversary."

In his comments to the media, Christie commented that he "can't thank the president enough" and "I appreciate that type of leadership."

He even tweeted that " I want to thank the president personally for his assistance."

There is a message of hope to be garnered here.

Even the most sworn adversaries can lay down the hatchet and work together for the common good and the people.

Happy hopeful New Year to us all!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Local synagogue serves up Holiday dinner at the Stamford Homeless Shelter

The Stamford Homeless Shelter 
on Pacific Street

It has been a tradition for nearly 15 years at the Stamford Homeless Shelter.

Every Christmas day, over a dozen volunteers from Stamford's Agudath Sholom prepare delicious kosher dinners for the many residents of the shelter.

This year was no exception.

The menu included tossed salad and assorted dressings.

Then roast turkey with stuffing and gravy, glazed pastrami and various types of meatballs, 6 sides with lots of bread and dinner rolls.

Finally there were assorted cookies, brownies, fruit salad and assorted candy.

In addition, many volunteers brought a plethora  of warm winter gloves, scarves and knitted hats.

The students of The Westover School of Stamford provided decorations and placemats.

Kudos to all who made this day so special at the shelter!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Remo's Pizza spreads the joy

Kudos to Remo's for their cheerful, colorful and joyful holiday decorations. 

Stamford cleans up from Sandy

You can't miss them!

The Stamford cleanup crews are out and about here in Glenbrook the last few days.

They spend several hours in each neighborhood first gathering the leaves into one pile and then haul them away.

Then they tackle the fallen trees and branches.

Thank you, Stamford workers for your hard efforts.

We are the city that works.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What I've been reading lately: The Girl from Foreign by Sadia Shepard

This is a beautifully crafted memoir. 

Sadia is the daughter of a Protestant man from Colorado and a Muslim woman from Pakistan growing up in the Boston area.

While rummaging through her grandmother's jewelry as a teenager, she discovers a pin with name "Rachel Jacobs" inscribed on it.

Nana explains that she grew up in an Indian family of Jewish descent and part of the Bene Israel community believed to be descendants of one of the lost tribes that escaped from Israel over 2,000 years ago.

According to oral tradition, these survivors arrived in India when their boat was shipwrecked.

At first Nana explains that she is a Muslim and that both Judaism and Islam believe in the same God. Later she explains that  Judaism is "the religion of my forefathers and the other is the religion of my children."

Nana, we learn, was secretly married to a Pakistani man with two other wives.

Armed with photographic equipment and a mission to discover her roots, Sadia spends her Fullbright Scholarship year in India and Pakistan to track down her ancestors both Hindu, Muslim and Jewish.

The book is rich with photographic detail;  Sadia participates in a Muslim wedding in Pakistan and the festival of Tabernacles (Succoth) with her relatives in India.

Stay with this book through there is some slow reading in the middle. Sadia's preoccupation with detail and dialogue are arresting.

At the end of the book, she is faced with the dilemma  of choosing between the three religions.

The outcome will be interesting.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurricane Sandy brings out best in service people

We give thanks to the many out of state electrical crews who came to our area to restore power.

This service truck was just one of several that arrived in our community from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. 

An uprooted tree had fallen across the street taking down many electrical and cable wires. 

In about two hours, the repair work was finished. 

Electrical crew from J. Ranck at work

Thank you for your assistance. 

Let's never forget the sacrifices of our Veterans

We in Stamford remember those brave soldiers who have given their lives in the cause of liberty and freedom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kudos to Harry Bennett Library for its Lecture on American Visionary Artists

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)

Kudos to Harry Bennett Library and to Helane Rheingold on a most enlightening program on November 5th that highlighted the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer.

Ms. Rheingold, a docent at the Neuberger Museum of Art and Arts Enrichment Facilitator at the Stamford Public Schools led a lively discussion.

She prefaced her talk by saying she was not planning on lecturing; to the contrary, she expected audience participation because she learns and continues to learn about the painters via our comments and feedback.

She has a facility for getting people to provide feedback and she orchestrated lively discussions about each painting.

She said that the three American artists were unique in that they were everyday people covering everyday objects.

With each painting she inspired the audience to discover minute details that enhanced our understanding of the work.

Thank you Harry Bennett and Ms. Rheingold.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Time to roll up the sleeves

The election is over.

Let's get to work.

It's time for both sides of the aisle to roll up their sleeves and get to work on America's business.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let's All Work Together

Two stories dominate the airwaves today.

The first is the continuing efforts of all the volunteers, people, corporations, non-profits  and agencies who have provided services, comfort, food, clothing and shelter to those devastated by the hurricane.

The second is the strong turnout at the polls on election day.

In today's presidential election, voters are out early in great numbers; voting lines were particularly long at 6 AM in many districts across the country.

So, we are discovering that both the recovery from the storm disaster and today's election  are forcing people to come together. 

But simply coming together does not mean that we are learning to work together for a common cause.

What is the message from these two events?

We, as a nation of people with strong regional and political differences, must demand from our elected officials of both parties--whoever is elected today-- to bury the hatchets.

 We must demand them to cross the aisles of Congress to reach a consensus of agreement on the important issues that face us: the economy, unemployment, education, health care and the environment. (See my recent blog on reducing the congressional gridlock.)

What can we do ameliorate the recurring weather phenomena?

We must demand that our representatives begin to respect the environment and  global changes in weather patterns-- whether they believe in global warming or not.

We must respect the recommendations of scientists and other experts to curb and ameliorate the causes of the strange repetitive weather phenomena.

There will be much pain in the long run to many fossil fuel companies...

But finding and exploiting renewable energy sources is inevitable.

That is the mandate.

As a strong reminder, there is another storm,-- a northeaster that is on its way-- and coastal communities are being ordered to evacuate.

Wake up, America!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Columbia upends Yale to win their first Ivy game

Two years ago, I blogged about Columbia's ascendancy under Coach Norries Wilson and Columbia's loss to Yale 31-28 at the Bowl after trailing 31-7 at the end of the first half.

 Wilson is gone replaced by Pete Mangurian who has experience as an assistant with five N.F.L. teams

 Yesterday at Wien Stadium, Columbia (2-6, 1-4 Ivy League) snapped a five game losing streak to beat Yale 26-22--their first win over the Bulldogs in 9 years.

 Sean Brackett the Lions quarterback who was 16-35 two years ago turned in his best performance of the year by completing 33 of 47 passes for 328 yards; this included a two yard touchdown pass to Marcorus Garrett with 45 seconds on the clock.

 With both of its quarterbacks sidelined because of injuries, Yale (2-5, 1-3 Ivy League) was playing with Tyler Varga, its star tailback in the QB position. Varga rushed for a career high of 220 yards including three touchdowns.

 In each of its three prior games, the Lions had blown a fourth quarter lead. It appeared they were headed for a repeat performance. With just over 2 minutes remaining, Yale was in possession and leading 22-19.

However, Vargas fumbled with 2:05 left.

The Lions marched downfield and  the rest was history.

 Great job Lions!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And now there is only one: After 80 years of publishing, Newsweek will cease its print edition, leaving Time Magazine

Newsweek was a staple in the waiting room of so many physicians (and lawyers) offices for so many years. As a child, I remember picking up copies in my dad's office and enjoying the mix of pictures and stories.  

The publication went from a subscriber base of over 3 million in 2008 to 1.5 million in January 2010. Audio pioneer Sid Harmon (of Harmon Kardon fame) purchased the magazine from the Washington Post for One dollar and the assumption of its debt.

It then merged with the online ezine The Daily Beast with Tina Brown acting as editor-in-chief of both. 

Tina gained notoriety for her provocative covers and for expanding traditional coverage of politics and world affairs to include fashion and pop culture. 

All her efforts were to no avail as advertising revenue continued to tank and the two cultures of Newsweek and The Daily Beast never could merge and synergize.

In interviews, Tina has said it was inevitable that the magazine would go to a digital only edition because of the "seismic shift' away from print publications to an online format.

Brown feels that all magazines at some future time will only be available online.

Time Magazine, however, seems to be the exception, as it is the only successful domestic news weekly still in print.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Retiring Senator Olympia Snowe voices her frustration with congressional gridlock

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Speaking to a packed audience at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Maine Republican senator Olympia Snowe explained why she is quitting the senate this year.

She was the third speaker in a series dealing with "Civility in America" sponsored by the City of Stamford, The Dilenschneider Group, Hearst Media Services and Purdue Pharma among others.

She emphasized that the level of discourse across the aisle has turned so negative and divisive. In fact according to one cited authority, today there is the highest level of polarization between the two major parties since reconstruction and we are witnessing the worst Congress ever!

90% of the American people do not approve the way government representatives are doing their job.

She said "You bet I care about civility."

She named the few moderate centrists in the Senate besides herself: Ben Nelson (Dem. of Nebraska) , Scott Brown (Rep. of Mass)., Joe Lieberman (Indep. of CT ) and Susan Collins (Rep. of Maine)

So, she is leaving her senate post to spearhead a political action committee called Olympia's List. She will be instrumental in building a concensus from the outside.

Good luck, Senator Snowe.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier again

General Chuck Yeager (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Sixty five years to the minute he first broke the sound barrier in a jet powered by liquid nitrogen (on October 14, 1947), Chuck Yeager recreated his feat.

 This time, Chuck flew in the rear cockpit seat of an F-15 provided to him by Nellis Air Force base in Nevada. He flew over Edwards Air Force base at a speed of Mach 1.3 and "laid down a pretty good sonic boom..."

 This event took place on the same day that Austrian Felix Baumgartner became the first human skydiver to break the sound barrier in his fall from a balloon 23 miles above the Arizona desert.

 Congratulations to both these brave outstanding men of achievement!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Art Show opens at the Old Town Hall Museum in Stamford

On the evening of September 27th, a privately funded art show, entitled A Persistent Passion: The Art of  Lora Eberly Ballou  formally opened at Stamford's Old Town Hall Museum.

(After a $15 million renovation which began in 2007, Stamford's architectural masterpiece the Old Town Hall re-opened on September 19, 2009. In attendance were then Mayor Dan Malloy and Senator Richard Blumenthal, accompanied by a band and a ribbon cutting ceremony.)

This show is sponsored by Ballou's grandson and his wife, Robert M. and Patricia Phillips. Bob  writes that his grandma was an "extraordinary, quiet little woman who over a very long life had witnessed an incredible variety of  historical events, traveled practically everywhere in this world and lived in a grand house that provided my brother and me with endless memories of youthful experiences and adventures."  He goes on to say he knew of her paintings, but this knowledge was ancillary to his "structured" nature of his visits.

As the slide show indicates, her subjects ranged from still lifes, wooded landscapes and coastal scenes.

The show will be at Old Town Hall until January 31, 2013.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stamford Art Association presents Visual Passports at the Ferguson Library

Renu Vora and her winning painting

On Wednesday, September 19th, the Stamford Art Association hosted an opening reception for its juried art show called Visual Passports.

39 entries including both paintings and photographs were on display.

The winning piece is entitled Travel in Middle East Cities painted by Renu Vora pictured above.

Another colorful entry is Serengeti Sunset painted by Elizabeth Killgore presented above.

The show will be on display at Ferguson Library until January 2013.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Glenbrook Stamford Remembers 9-11

Serena Williams reigns as the Queen of World Tennis

Serena Williams  holds four US Open women's titles and 15 Grand Slam  majors as well.

Serena Williams at the 2012 US Open
(courtesy of wikipedia) 

Last night Serena Williams showed why she has been so dominant on the court.

Just as her opponent, Victoria Azarenka, ranked number one in the world, was on the cusp of victory, leading 5-3 in the third set, Williams turned up the pressure taking the next four games and the match at 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.

Serena has the most powerful serve in women's tennis which was evident in the first set which seemed to set the stage for an easy two set victory.

But such was not the case. Azarenka got much stronger in the second set which started with Serena losing her serve on a double fault  Serena's momentum faded as Azarenka's game picked up a notch and she cruised to take the second set.

In a post game interview, Serena said she was resigned to giving the runner up speech as her opponent dominated most of the third set. But Serena dug in and won crucial points and games to post her second Grand Slam of the year.

Congratulations to Serena , now number 4 in the world and to Victoria, winner of the 2012 Australian grand slam title, ranked number one.

However, we all know that  Serena is the best woman tennis player in the world.

Good luck to both players who are both the tops.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Sleepwalker by Paul Grossman is a highly recommended novel

This novel is a great read.

It is set against the backdrop of Berlin in 1933 when the Weimar Republic came under control of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Willi Kraus, a decorated World War I soldier, is an Inspector-Detektiv in the Berlin police department who happens to be Jewish. His two kids have been packed off to Paris with their rich grandparents and he is being urged to leave as well.

He can't leave as yet because he is drawn into solving a mysterious murder of a young women (whom he calls the mermaid) whose body is washed ashore on the Havel River. He discovers her legs to be deformed as a result of an operation performed on her.

Willi has a liason with a bootgirl (dominatrix prostitute) named Putzi. Together they realize a connection between a hypnotist with strong connections to the Nazis and the disappearance of beautiful sleepwalking ladies.

Despite the strong antisemitic atmosphere he must endure, Willi persists until he locates an early  concentration camp where the likes of Josef Mengele and other scientists are performing hideous experiments and burying hundreds of their innocents victims.

I invite my reader to connect all the dots in this well crafted story.

What made the novel so 'real' were cameo appearances by Himmler, Goebells, Mengele, Marlene Dietrich, General Von Hindenburg and Ernest Roehm.

In addition, the street scenes around  Berlin landmarks such as Alexanderplatz (with the Wertheim and Tietz department stores) are unforgettable:  "Up against the building, rows of beggars in little more than rags held out hats to passersby, many veterans of the Great War, legless, eyeless and noseless.
...The Great Depression had left three-quarters of a million Berliners unemployed. One man with all his worldly possessions packed in filthy cardboard boxes on his shoulders shuffled past with wide dead eyes. Another sleepwalker, Willi thought."

Grossman the author seems to imply that the bulk of German society was sleepwalking at the time. Willi is acting imperviously to the racial hostility directed to him as are the towns people who were denying the horrific odors being emitted from the concentration camp in their town.

Enjoy the novel.

Hats off to the USTA's online coverage of the US Open

Unable to attend the US Open in person?

Hold your breath, because there is now a remedy for your situation.

The best alternative to attending the US Open is accessing up to six simultaneous live matches on the
 Us Open website.

Simply click on watch live, then click on the courts icon on the upper left and begin enjoying tennis on your computer screen.

Other icons link to Keys to the Match, Match Chat, Match Stats and Picture within Picture. 

And with your TV screen set to CBS or ESPN you have a seventh channel.

Thank you USTA!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Farewell to Tennis great Kim Clijsters as she exits from the US Open

Kim Clijsters at the 2011 Open GDF Suez
(courtesy of wikipedia)

She has won three US Open titles.

She has has 41 career titles.

Tonight,  Kim Clijsters played her last singles match tonight as she bowed out in the second round losing to 18 year old Laura Robson of Great Britain 7-6, 7-6.

Laura, a southpaw with strong ground strokes has come a long way in the two years since I saw her compete in the junior tournament at the US Open.

Indeed, Kim has enjoyed a fantastic career as she graced and dominated ladies tennis for the better part of this past decade.  She was the role model for so many younger tennis players such as Laura.

Thank you, Kim and we know you will be a standard bearer of the game for years to come.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Today we commemorate the birthday of Don Lafontaine, American voice actor

Don Lafontaine at the mike
(courtesy of The Huffington Post)  

Donald Leroy "Don" LaFontaine (August 26, 1940-September 1, 2008) had the resonant voice that introduced over 5,000 film trailers that often began with the phrase "In a world...."

He also did hundreds of thousands of television advertisements.

As LaFontaine tells it, his voice cracked at the age of 13 in the middle of a sentence and his voice morphed into the bass tones that made his famous.

Here is a short You Tube video hosted by Don himself. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga is a highly recommended book

This powerful novel set in modern India caught and held my attention from start to finish. 

Told over seven nights and addressed to the Chinese premier (about to visit India), this first person narrative tells how a proud and immoral Bangalore 'entrepreneur' rose from poor humble beginnings in a   small backwater village on the banks of the Ganges to become a moneyed taxi fleet owner.

It is a tale that asks us to suspend nearly all judgments as we watch this poor, but brilliant lad use his eavesdropping ways to learn the secrets of the rich to overturn them at their own game.

As driver for his master, the less than swift son of a local don, the narrator kills his boss, robs him of hundreds of thousand of rupees (used to bribe New Delhi officials) and flees to become an entrepreneur elsewhere. The protagonist acts though he knows that the practice of the dons is to kill off his family in retribution.

The book admirably depicts the vast divide in living conditions between the rich and the poor and the utterly corrupt ways of the rich. One of the book's messages is that in such a corrupt brutal society, it is somehow okay to kill your oppressor to reap social justice. (Indeed, there are a litany of injustices in the book.)

Here are some memorable quotes:

"Now G.B. Road is in Old Delhi, about which I should say something. Remember, Mr. Premier, that Delhi is the capital of not one but two countries--two Indias. The Light and the Darkness both flow into Delhi. Gurgaon, where Mr. Ashok lived, is the bright, modern end of the city, and this place, Old Delhi, is the other end. Full of things the modern world forgot all about--rickshaws, old stone butildings, the Muslims."

"Wonders of the old city--a row of open sheds, and big buffaloes standing in each shed with their butts toward you, and their tails swatting flies away like windshield wipers, and their feet in immense pyramids of shit."

By the way, our narrator is called by his village school teacher a white tiger--"the creature that comes only once in a generation." He is indeed the brightest student in his school.

The book is a great read. Enjoy!

That Awesome Deli & The Gluten Free Food Factory, Stamford's Newest Deli opens this week

Eric Screnock, owner of Belltown's New Deli

That Awesome Deli & The Gluten
Free Food Factory at 22 Belltown Road, Stamford

With over 20 years of restaurant experience under his belt, Eric Screnock has just opened up full service  adeli in Belltown that specializes in gluten free dishes. 

Among the gluten free entrees are lasagna, eggplant parmesan, chicken parmesan and macaroni and cheese. He plans to expand the number of entrees in the future. 

He became involved in this cuisine because he has prepared gluten free dishes for his wife for the last 15 years. 

The deli is open Monday to Saturday 6:00AM to 3PM and until 7PM on Thursday for gluten free pickup. 

Good luck, Eric. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

15 Year old American composer joins Russian Masters Tchaikovsky and Glazunov at The Ferguson Library: The Lumina String Quartet shines

Members of the Lumina String Quartet at Ferguson Library

Scott Feiner in conversation at the Ferguson Library 
Chamber Concert

This past Wednesday evening's concert by the acclaimed Lumina String Quartet at the Ferguson Library had  a number of highlights--each of which is a testament that music can give you a sense of pleasure.

The performance began with Alexander Glazunov's (1865-1936) Oriental Reverie for Clarinet and String Quartet. Though the music is melancholic , the central addition of the clarinet, does liven up the tempo and engages the listener.  As the concert program notes "the language of both Tchaikovsky {a great influence on Glazunov} and Glazunov works is highly emotional, personal and direct..."

Scott Feiner a 15 year- old precocious composer introduced the  "World Premiere" of his Ozark Dance for String Quartet.  In Scott's own words "the music has a folk dance quality, sometimes bluegrass, and sometimes Irish folk music. Both styles owe a lot to the squealing of fiddles."  He continues , "What I wanted was to tame and polish that squeal."

I found Scott's piece both entertaining, captivating and refreshing, particularly due to the virtuosity of the Lumina string players. Judging from the applause after each of the four pieces, the audience concurred with me.

The evening rounded off with Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) String Quartet  #1 in D Major Op. 11 (1871, Moscow). This is the epitome of the fine melodic quality of a chamber music piece.

In 1871, Moscow was infatuated with Italian opera music. Tchaikovsky felt some was good and some not so good. So, he wanted to introduce the intimacy of  chamber music with pieces by Glinka, Liszt and Schumann.

The First String Quartet was written for a concert featuring Tchaikovsky's own compositions. The music is beautiful, haunting and captivating. Andante Cantabile, the second of four movements, features unforgettable melodies. It is based on a folk song heard by the composer on the Ukrainian family estate of his sister, Alexandra.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Daniel Silva's latest book The Fallen Angel is a winner

Chalk up another winner for Daniel Silva.

The characters we have grown accustomed to from his other books are all here. Gabriel Allon, famed art restorer, his beautiful wife Chiara, Ari Shomron, Gabriel's mentor, Uzi Navot, Monsignor Luigi Donati , private secretary to the Pope, Eli Lavon....

It's only by luck that I am able to pen this report.  My position was number 7 on a library hold list and I thought I would have to wait 8 weeks to get my hands on a copy. While at the Ferguson library, I espied a rare copy on the 7 day express rack; I then grabbed it and devoured it in 2 days.

From the moment  the novel begins-- with the discovery of the mangled body of  a Vatican curator thrown to her death beneath Michaelangelo's awesome dome-- to its conclusion deep under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem-- the novel is a non-stop rush of adrenaline.

Gabriel is swept into a plot where he discovers the dead woman had uncovered a dangerous secret involving stolen antiquities used to fund a jihadist organization set up to foment cataclysmic global unrest and terror.

Enjoy the novel and know that it debuts this weekend #1 on the New York Times,  Wall Street Journal and Puslishers Weekly best seller lists.

For more information, visit Silva's website.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why I enjoyed reading I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. Part II

This is Part II of my blog on this book. For Part I, click here

Alright, most of us are clueless about esoteric computer language and the workings of a search engine behemoth such as Google. Yet, it is highly probable you will enjoy this book, nonetheless.

Let me give you an example.

If you were to randomly open the book to Chapter 11 (entitled Liftoff), you are in for a delightful surprise. Here we learn that in the Spring of 2000, Google has just completed an unpublicized deal to be the search engine for Yahoo. The employees were kept in the dark.

This situation was akin to David negotiating a deal with Goliath despite huge differences in size.

 True, Google was servicing eight million searches a day which would leap to nine million two weeks later.

However, Yahoo the search portal (featuring links to dozens of topics ranging from sports, politics, international news to fashion) had about 50 million unique visitors per month.

Google, on the other hand, had only about 3 million unique visitors.

Many, many problems were faced by Google and all can be boiled down to speed, capacity and results. All had to be met simultaneously to meet a deadline of July 4th, some three months away.

Speed problems would be caused by a dramatic increase in the online traffic due to queries from Yahoo. Here, Google would have to decrease the latency, or the average delay in returning results over any given hour.

Storage capacity was going to be strained. The founders set an arbitrary goal of indexing/storing 1 billion URL's--a herculean task. This would require increasing storage capacity by many times.

 But, with so much new information being indexed daily, how could you assure the searcher that he or she is getting current information as opposed to data that is weeks old?

So results had to be not only fast, but also contain the latest information. The software for pulling together information on a specific topic is called a crawler.  Google's engineers had to design crawlers that could process huge amounts of data quickly. In addition, the crawlers would have to do their work, not just monthly, but several times a week. So, that if you were looking for the latest references to 'global warming,' you could rely on the results.

Many other problems arose such as linking data from three different server farms (discussed in Part I)  located all over the county.

How successful was Google in dealing with these problems?

I leave it to the reader to determine whether Google was able to meet the contract promises made to Yahoo when indeed July 4th rolled around.

You won't be disappointed!

Friday, July 27, 2012

An enjoyable read: I'm feeling Lucky. The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

This is a must read book!

This book started off slow for me, perhaps because of my unfamiliarity with the geek terminology. However, as I continued reading, my interest was heightened.

The book begins with the author Doug Edwards joining a start up company called Google as its 59th employee and ends with his departure just after the company has gone public.

Edwards had been in charge of online product development at the San Jose Mercury News; he "saw newspapers as the first draft of history" and "grew tired of the struggles that went with dragging an old business into a new age." It was a stable job, with guaranteed income from a 150-year old media group; yet, he felt the pull of nearby Silicon Valley. 

He was offered a job at Yahoo and turned it down because of a poor salary.

He then does some research on Google and discovered that two of the largest west coast  venture capital firms invested $25 Million. So, after an interview that included quirky questions by one of the founders, he is hired by Google as online brand manager--meaning he's the guy in charge of the companies web page(s).  He has turned 41 and took a $25,000 cut in salary-despite the fact he has a mortgage to pay and another baby on the way. 

Once there he discovers the 'self invented' culture he is joining. Desks consisted of wooden doors lain across metal workhorses. There is unlimited food available in the on site cafe, doctors are on staff, many are the wild drinking parties and for his workspace "cables draped from the ceiling above an uncarpeted concrete floor in a wide-open space interrupted only by cement  pillars..."

Work titles mean nothing. Everybody is expected to help where ever and whenever needed. One of his early tasks involves spending a Saturday joining other clueless marketing, office staff and finance people at the Google data center aka a server farm. He describes the premises as an "extremely well-kept zoo, with chain-link walls draped from floor to ceiling creating rows of large fenced cages vanishing somewhere in the far, dark reaches of the Matrix." 

He joins an ops team made up of engineers to aid in maintaining the 1500 servers Google paid for hosting. He knows nothing, but just follows the commands of his team leaders. 

Edwards quickly learns that the founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page have a strong bias against spending money on traditional advertising.  Brin says he'd rather spend marketing money to innoculate 
Chechin refugees against cholera. 

End of Part I (to be continued).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ferguson Library shows movie about Vladimir Vysotsky noted Russian singer, songwwriter and actor

He was perhaps the most famous Russian singer and songwriter of the 1960's and 1970's. (He has been referred to as the Bob Dylan of the Soviet era.)

And the biopic "Thank You for Being Alive" just released in December 2011 has quickly become the highest grossing Russian film of the year, grossing $21.3 million in just 10 days.

The film- based on real events- details Vysotsky's journey to perform a concert in Uzbekistan. The singer is depicted as constantly on drugs and he is being pursued by the KGB eager to apprehend him because of his political stance.

A Frame of Vysotsky from "Thank You
for Being Alive" 

The film was shown in Russian with no subtitles.

Sincere thanks to the Russian gentleman from New York who sat behind me at Ferguson and quietly translated the dialog with a short commentary.

Stamford Downtown is Rich in New Deal Paintings by James Daugherty

New Deal Art Mural (1934) by James Daugherty
at the Jeremy Richard Library at UConn Stamford 

"School Activities" shown above  and "New England Tradition"  shown below are two of seven murals painted by James Daugherty (1887-1974) for the octagonal  music room at Stamford High School. The mural was commissioned under the New Deal's Public Work of Art program and was completed in four months in 1934. 

"New England Tradition" mural by Daugherty hangs 
in the stairwell at the Ferguson Library 

The murals were retrieved in 1970 from a trash container where they had been dumped as part of a renovation.  At this time they had been cut into 30 sections. Hiram Hoelzer a New York art conservator restored six of them over a 16 year period and the city of Stamford bought them back in 2003 with major funding from the the Ruth W. Brown Foundation, the City of Stamford and the State of Connecticut 

A free brochure prepared by Ferguson Library states that "Daugherty conceived the Stamford panels to show a progression of history, using people from many ethnic groups taking part in education, sports, industry, science and the arts. Daugherty used local teachers and students as models."

Daugherty's works hang in the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Yale University and Smithsonian. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Federer Performs Magic and Takes his Seventh Wimbledon Title

Roger Federer at the 2009
Wimbledon Championships

It was hailed as the 'dream final.'

First, Murray was the first English player to reach the final since 1938--that's 74 years ago--when Bunny Austin lost to Don Budge in three sets. The score was 6-0, 6-1, 6-3.

The last Britisher to land the coveted trophy was Fred Perry who in 1936 beat Gottfried von Cramm 6-0, 6-0, 6-1.

Federer had not won a Grand Slam since the 2010 Australian Open when he defeated Andy Murray in three sets.

But the Grand Slam victory eluded Murray for the 4th time in his career.

Murray opened the match taking the first set 6-4, but then proceeded to lose the next three sets at 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

Federer played superb tennis. His serve was crisp and sharp and his ground strokes were formidable.

The momentum shifted in Federer's favor right after a sudden rain shower when the score was 1-1 in the third set with Federer up 40 love.

The roof was closed making this the first final played in the enclosed center court facility.

When play resumed Federer raised his game to a much higher level; he is undoubtedly one of the best indoor players as he has no distractions from the sun, wind or clouds.

The turning point was reached at 2-3 with Murray serving in the third set. The sixth game went to 10 deuces and six break points when Federer finally prevailed. Murray, who started off with a 40 love lead, fell on the grass three times.

Congratulations Roger on your 17th Grand Slam victory and regaining the number one world ranking.

Andy Murray, a quarter finalist at 
the 2009 French Championships

And even more important was the formidable courage, guts and fortitude displayed by Andy Murray.

It must be remembered that Andy's coach Ivan Lendel suffered four Grand Slam finals losses before winning his first Grand Slam.

Hang in there, Andy.
Image source (1) 
Image source (2)

Monday, July 2, 2012

How Creativity Works: A Review of Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

The main aim of this book is to understand factors that contribute to creativity. The writer cites experiments to show which parts of the brain are involved and also illustrates how organizations are realigning to enhance productivity.

In my estimation, the positives (the gems) in this enlightening book outweigh the negatives.

On the negative side, the flow of the book;is at times impeded by a seemingly endless presentation of short scientific experiments and/or  case histories, particularly related to brain function.

The positives are many. Here are a couple.

1.  Innocentive website:  Eli Lilly VP Alpheus Bingham was trying to develop the next blockbuster drug. He was stymied in managing the R&D process.  He thought you should "hire the best resume and give the problem to the guy with the most technical experience. But maybe that was a big mistake?"

He came up with a radical idea that if you couldn't hand pick and predict which scientists could solve the problem then why not open up the search to everyone? So Bingham broke every rule in the book throwing to the winds the usual secrecy of not allowing competitors to know what you're working on and set up Innocentive website.

For a few weeks, his site was unsuccessful, but then it caught on as "the answers just started pouring in...The creativity was simply astonishing."

The site was spun off from Lilly and became an independent one and fielded challenges from other large companies such as P&G and GE. It now presents challenges from hundreds of corporations and non-profits in eight different scientific categories.

2. In the chapter on The Power of Q (Q measures the 'social intimacy' of collaborators, the right balance of familiarity between collaborators) he illustrates how Pixar studios since 1995 (when the first Toy Story was released) has created 11 feature films and each one has been a commercial success with an average gross of $550M per film.

This feat was accomplished mostly by an evolving a creative culture in which there was a "constant interaction between computer scientists and cartoon animators."

At first, the studio had no idea what it was doing-the animators were always asking the technicians if such and such effect were possible e.g. could you reproduce this type of facial expression or catch this blur. At first, there was a constant negotiation.

Over time, the right level of collaboration between both groups was established by having them both in the same building and not scattered about. This way they could interact more frequently at the coffee machines, lunch room, central rest rooms, etc.

Further close collaboration is illustrated in daily morning meetings between animators and computer scientists; here they spend several hours reviewing several seconds of film from the day before (each second has 24 frames).

These are not brainstorming sessions which avoid criticism and in which participators tend to stay 'within themselves' and have no motivation to focus on other people's ideas.

These session are full debates where criticism is encouraged (and can be hurtful). 'Plusing' is encouraged; this is the idea that criticism should be tempered by improving on ideas without harsh or judgmental language. Criticism should contain a new idea that builds on apparent flaws in a productive manner.

These two summaries are just some of eye-openers in Lehrer's book.  Expect more insights in this book such as why the age of Shakespeare produced so many geniuses and how close city living is so beneficial in unlocking creativity.

Image source (1)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Strawberries and Cream from Wimbledon: A shocker as unknown Lukas Rosol defeats Nadal in the second round

Nadal is ranked number two in the world and he is an eleven time Grand Slam champ.

Since 2005, Nadal has only lost at Wimbledon in the finals.

On the other hand, Rosol is ranked 100 and has lost in the first round of the qualifying  at Wimbledon for the last five years.

Yet, Rosol was playing "in the zone" for the entire match and overpowered Nadal when it counted the most-- especially in the fifth set.

There was a half hour break between the fourth and fifth sets as the call was made to close the roof. Perhaps, Rosol would contemplate his 'unreal' freaky performance and falter in the final set.

Instead, Rosol maintained his high level of play. Nadal was stunned and stymied as he could not play his uncanny game of scrambling from side to side and utilizing his top spin retrievals. He was effectively 'frozen in his tracks.'

The New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey aptly summarized the tone of the match:  "The final game of Nadal's  2012 Wimbledon went like this: ace from Rosol up the T at 132 miles per hour; second serve and huge forehand winner; ace up the T at 134 m.p.h.; on match point, ace wide at 129 m.p.h."

The match was a wonder to behold and I can only wonder how many more rounds Lukas will advance.
Image source (1)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Horsin Around Outdoor Summer Art Exhibition debuts in Stamford

Soaring over Stamford created by
Charles Fazzino placed in front of the Ferguson Library

A few months ago, I presented a video clip of the indoor preparations for the Horsin Around outdoor summer art exhibition. (Click here to see.)

The installation has been completed and you can see 40 life-size fiberglass horses designed by 29 artists  throughout the downtown area.

The Stamford Downtown Special Services has published a booklet that presents photos of each horse  and a map showing its location.

Enjoy the show and let me know which is your favorite.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Class of 1962 Celebrates Class Day at Columbia College on Morningside Heights

The blogger and Ed Pressman at the John Jay
Hall breakfast prior to Class Day ceremonies

For the second year in row, I attended class day events at the at the Columbia College Commencement ceremonies. (For last year's posts click here.)

After the honor of carrying the class banner, I attended the Commencement. 

Carrying the Class flag is fun even 
in the light rain

Rick MacArthur Class of 1978 and publisher of Harper's Magazine delivered the keynote address. He urged the graduating students "to absorb, to question, to challenge to refute any author on any subject..." Close textual reading, reflection and refutation, if necessary, is what is expected of the Columbia College student. 

Fiftieth anniversary class representatives, Class of 1962 included Paul Alter, Burton Lehman, Stanley Lupkin and Edward Pressman.

Over one thousand students received the Bachelor Of Arts degree this year.  

I look forward to attending next year's fifty-first reunion. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Harry Bennett Library hosts a captivating lecture on Gertrude Stein and her Artists: Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906

Helaine Rheingold presented a slide show illustrating works by three towering late 19th and 20th century artists-- Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso.

The large community room of the Bennett library was nearly filled to capacity.

 Ms. Rheingold did not disappoint the crowd because she has a unique style of engaging her audience.

At the outset, she made it very clear that you are going to be direct participants; I will be inviting your comments. Sure enough, the audience quickly became willing participants as she often peppered her remarks with questions that were eagerly answered.

Here are just a few points she made:

Cezanne liked painting still lifes because he had no patience in dealing with people who would cause so much trouble; he would insist his subjects sit silently still for hours on end. In painting Ambrose Vollard a portrait dealer, Cezanne demanded he sit on a kitchen chair atop a flimsy packing case from 8AM until 11:30 PM. Once, when Vollard dozed off and nearly fell, Cezanne shouted, "Does an apple move?"

Picasso claimed that Cezanne was "my one and only master...Cezanne was like the father of us all."

Paul Cezanne, Plate of Peaches, 

Matisse set up a serious daily regimen because he panicked (shook, swore, sweated) when he painted. He would get up at 7AM and play his violin for two hours in a remote bathroom. For the next three hours, he would paint and after lunch would either nap, or stroll past Aleppo pines in the garden to one of the cafes. At four, he would return to his easel until dark. He would close the shades and do some drawing. 

Picasso left  a legacy of over thirty thousand paintings. Little known are the lifelike portraits he did of his father and his wife Olga. He also did caricatures of other famous artists' works such as Velazquez's famous Las Meninas. 

Indeed Picasso was known to have said "Good artists copy, great artists steal." 

By the way, Ms. Rheingold is a docent at the Neuberger Museum of Art and Arts Enrichment Facilitator with the Stamford Public Schools. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spotted, a new horse icon joins Belltown along Newfield Avenue in Stamford

Newfield Avenue's new equestrian metal sculpture
that is on the lawn of Lakeside Pottery 

My passion for riding and writing about horses has been covered in posts about the American Quarterhorse and the 'white horse with no name' that graces the Sunoco station across from Grade A shopping center on Newfield Avenue. (see: Newfield Avenue's fixture: a horse with no name)

Now another horse with no name has suddenly surfaced in the same neighborhood on the lawn of the Lakeside Pottery School, Studio and Gallery diagonally across from the Sunoco station. (see accompanying pictures)

This brown sculpture is now the latest addition to Stamford's outdoor art.

Indeed, it is a welcome prelude to the Stamford Downtown Special Services outdoor summer art festival, Horsin' Around. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Updates from the French Tennis Open: Serena Williams Bows Out in First Round

Serena Williams at the 2011 AEGON International
Courtesy of Wikipedia

This match produced a shocker!

 Serena, usually at the top of her game at the start of a major, lost in her debut match to Virginie Razzano 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Razzano was ranked number 111 in the world.

Serena simply could not get her aggressive game under control with so, so many unforced errors.

Here are some amazing stats:The final game lasted 23 minutes; Serena saved 7 match points; 12 deuce points were played; Serena, two points away from winning the match blew a 5-1 lead in the second set tie breaker.

I watched a replay of the last game and I can attest that it was a see-saw with Serena and her opponent at times showing brilliance and Razzano even cramping up. (If only Serena could have slowed down her game!)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A short review of Great House by Nicole Krauss

This is an enchanting novel about love, loss, anxiety and desperation.

The focus of the novel is a large oversize desk with 19 drawers, one of which is permanently locked. It is described as:  "This desk was something else entirely: An enormous foreboding thing that bore down on the occupants of the room it inhabited, pretending to be inanimate but, like a Venus' flytrap, ready to pounce on them and digest them, via one of its many little terrible drawers."

There are four narrators, each with their own chapters;  three of them have some connection to the desk.

The fourth narrator is a bitter, irate, disconsolate Israeli father who is desperately seeking reconnection with his son Dov who took off for England to pursue a career as a judge; now, he leaves his job behind and returns to Israel to be with father. He is aloof and insentient which irritates his dad.

The novel begins with Nadia a writer who relates that her boyfriend split taking all the furniture. Through a mutual friend, she connects with a Chilean poet named Daniel Varsky who is returning to Chile and needs a place to 'store' his huge desk. So she gladly accepts the proposition

We later learn that Varsky has disppeared under the Pinochet regime.

Nadia has had the desk for several decades and then one day a woman shows up at her doorstep saying she is Varsky's daughter and wants to take her dad's desk back to Israel with her. Without hesitation, Nadia acquiesces.

I leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps and make connections as needed.

Suffice it to say, that nuances in language left me with the desire to read this remarkable novel a second time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What I've Been Reading Lately: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

This engrossing biography is about one of the geniuses of the last century who is in a pantheon along with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and, perhaps, a few others.

His genius was comprised of two aspects worth exploring:  his unusual psyche and his innovative/forward thinking.

First was his irascible and erratic psyche/personality. If he didn't like your opinion, suggestion or the design and prototype you were working on, he could and would often lash out at you in front of others by saying this "sucks" along with other derogatory terms.

He was quick and summary in his judgments, which most of the time were accurate and on target.

It would take an equally strong personality to stand up to Jobs and convince him that you were on the right track and a few of his associates were not intimidated by his unpredictable outbursts. The latter would go on to earn his respect and build up his team.

Jobs was always interested in hiring and surrounding himself with A team players--people of talent and energy to express that talent.

His teaming up with Steve Wozniak is a perfect illustration of Jobs working one-on-one with an engineering genius. Together the duo would go on to build the early Apple computers culminating in the Macintosh.

He operated in what has been called the reality distortion field. This is a term borrowed from the "Menagerie" episodes of Star Trek "in which aliens create their own new world through sheer mental force." (118). What this means is that once you came under the charismatic, indomitable will of Jobs, you were forced to change your thinking and side with his view of reality.

By this stretching and manipulating reality, Jobs was able to push his team to meet deadlines for product introduction that the team thought impossible.

He forced them to think out of the box.

The second aspect of his genius was his obsessive lifelong belief in the integration of hardware and software. (Jobs was a master- a perfectionist- of design and would pour over dozens of shapes before he would chose the right one for a new product).

Unlike Bill Gates of Microsoft, he would not allow other hardware manufacturers the right to use Apple's software system.

It is this tight control of content (music, photos, etc) hardware (iphone, ipod and ipad, MacBook Air MacBook Pro, etc) and software (OSX, Leopard, etc) that allowed the syncing of all Apple devices; this, in turn,  propelled the sales of all Apple products (including shared revenue streams)  from its itunes library to down loading apps, books and magazines for its iPad.

To summarize: one of the major themes of the book is that Apple has become the number one company in the US because of the driving, obsessive, compulsive personality and integrative thinking of its co-founder Steve Jobs.

But, will Apple continue to thrive without Jobs to lead?

Remembering Dan Lucey, A spunky San Francisco tennis player and coach

It was in the mid 1970's that I came under the wing of Dan Lucey at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park tennis facility.

Tall, thin and lanky, Dan had the most fluid strokes of anyone I met. He was a pleasure to behold as he gracefully moved around the court with short, movements always returning to a central position awaiting the next shot.

His strokes were always clean precise and consistent.

He knew how to coach the fundamentals of the game: the serve, ground strokes and volleying.

He was also a  master of strategy.

He would hop on my court (as I was practicing with a partner) take my position and quickly modeled the fundamental strokes and strategies of the game. Then I would take over and Dan would continue to coach me.

He was ranked in the top ten statewide in the 45's; tournament play had evidently honed his competitiveness and spunk.

 In 1974, he was ranked number 2 in the  Men's 55 Singles in the Northern California Tennis Association's tentative rankings just behind John Morrison of Sacramento at number one, with Norm Brooks of San Francisco following Dan at number 3. (Click here to read OCR Text from the San Mateo Times.)

Dan worked for The Water Department and while doing fieldwork often visited the tennis courts during his lunch hour.

He knew every tennis player at the facility-- their strengths and weaknesses.

Tom Brown
on the cover of his Tennis Memoir book
As Tom Goes By

He often commented about Tom Brown (lost against Jack Kramer in the US Open finals in 1946 and the Wimbledon finals in 1948) on his aggressive ground stroke game and about Rosie Casal's feisty style.

Whitney Reed 

He directed my attention to the unflappable Whitney Reed, the top seeded player at the annual San Francisco Open tournament. Whit, as he was called, hailed from Alameda across the Bay.

At one point in the early 1960's, Whit displaced Chuch Mckinley to be the number one ranked men's singles player in the US. In his career, he had wins over Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Neale Fraser, Frank Sedgman, Gar Mulloy and Manuel Santana to name a few. All the latter have been enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Dan always would observe my game and worked often with me (and others)-- ALL GRATIS!

He matched me against other players on my level and encouraged me to play some Bay Area satellite tournaments.

This was how I improved my game--thanks to Dan.

We miss you Dan.

P.S. I would like to include some photos of Dan; so if anyone has tennis shots of Dan, please contact me.