Palo Alto, CA Archives

July 5, 2008

Settling In At Stanford


I am now getting comfortable in my assigned quarters right on the Stanford University campus. I'll be spending the next two weeks here as a Coe Fellow, studying early American history in a seminar.

July 6, 2008

Bone Tired

I took the 12:01 CalTrain from San Francisco, which takes about an hour to get to Palo Alto. It's cheap ($5 or so) and efficient. But the campus shuttles don't run on the weekends here at Stanford, so I had to hoof it for about 30 minutes to the dorm complex where I am staying.

And on my way to the opera earlier this evening, some bad advice from my iPhone's Google Maps routed me to the wrong part of the city on foot, which I had to take a cab to correct.

Bottom line: I'm more than ready to crash (especially given the time differential on the West Coast, my early departure, and a long day of travel).

Magical And Magnificent


The just-concluded Wimbledon men's singles final was, quite simply, a contest of extraordinary beauty and drama. This marathon struggle was wrapped up with a ferociously fought fifth set in the gloaming, with the final points played in the lingering light past 9 p.m. local time.

As these two great players appear to be such grounded human beings, I'd have been happy to see either one host the familiar golden trophy on Centre Court (though I was pulling more for Nadal today). One has to feel for Federer: after he weathered the fourth-set tiebreak and seemed to find the range on his shots, I really thought he would prevail in the fifth. It looked as though he was about to do just that not long before the end, as he pressed on Nadal's serve, coming within two points of an incredible sixth consecutive title. But I think Rafa is in his head, especially after the demolition Federer suffered in the Roland Garros final. At some level, Roger had to be worried the Spaniard was just not going to go away as he did on this day each of the past two years. Nadal's success on the clay and his improved showing on Melbourne and through the spring U.S. hard court swing had built his confidence (as had his improved backhand and serve) toward the moment of victory here.

For Nadal, this result represents a tremendous achievement: proof that he can bag a major somewhere other than Paris. It also seems to represent a changing of the guard. Nadal has two Slam crowns in 2008 compared to Federer's none (both lost in the semis Down Under in January). Roger has but two victories in minor events to show for his season thus far while Nadal has a pile of Masters Series wins. (And remember Djokovic, who was close to unseating Nadal as #2 just weeks ago? His second-round loss at Wimbledon now has dropped him off the radar!) No matter what the computer says, there's little doubt Nadal is the best player in the world right now.

Federer will need to do some serious soul searching tomorrow morning. His greatest rival has beaten him in his own home: the greensward of the All-England Club. Will this turn of events spook the Swiss like McEnroe's dethroning of Bjorn Borg in 1981 resulted in Borg's packing up his racquets for good? Or will Federer bounce back to win Olympic gold and emerge with yet another U.S. Open trophy? I'd surely love to see another Rafa/Roger showdown on the last Sunday of Flushing Meadows.

Welcoming Dinner


The group assembled for our Coe Seminar--a total of five teachers from around the country, plus the professor, her hsuband, and a grad student facilitating the seminar--enjoyed a spectacular dinner at Evvia Estiatorio, a Greek restaurant just off campus in Palo Alto. The seafood appetizers--calimari, octopus--were spectacular and the lamb shank I had for my main course was so tender it just about melted off the bone. The white wine from Santorini was quite good, and the Greek red was a good match for the lamb, too. I could get used to dining like this!

July 7, 2008

Keys To The Kingdom


Stanford has issued me "visiting scholar" credentials so I can access all the University's resources during my stay here. Pretty cool.

Further Thoughts On A Masterful Match


I am still ruminating over yesterday's dramatic and awe-inspiring men's singles final at Wimbledon. I watched amidst a crowd of teenagers in a common room in the student union here at Stanford; it was a noisily partisan crowd--divided roughly equally between Federer and Nadal supporters (I was sitting next to a Spaniard!). The boisterous room turned out to be a fun place to watch this showdown as it climbed to dizzying heights of competitiveness. And throughout the last three sets, I was texting back and forth with a pair of former Choate Tennis captains: we shared our amazement at the events unfolding before us.

On West Coast time, I actually missed the first two sets and most of the third. When I woke up (after a late night out in the city and still dragging from the time change) I assumed the match was ended. But the rain delay gave me a chance to settle in for the drama still ahead. As play resumed, it looked like Rafa would win in three sets. Then Federer forced a fourth. Nadal pulled ahead in the tiebreak only to tighten up while serving at 5-2. But he still fought his way to match points, which Federer fearlessly erased. I was convinced at that point the Swiss would carry the day in the fifth set if it finished before darkness. He got close. But Nadal was not to be denied.

And the two combatants were class acts all the way, both during the battle and in its aftermath. Rafa was wonderfully self-effacing and deferential to Roger in his post-match interviews. Federer, while clearly devastated, was equally sporting.

One question now emerges: can Roger Federer really be considered the greatest of all time when he may not be the greatest in his own era? His time on the stage is hardly over, but it's difficult to imagine he can recapture the aura of invincibility he has had for over four years now.

July 8, 2008

Online At Last

After navigating countless hurdles to get my own MacBook connected to the Internet here at Stanford, I am finally up and running. It boggles my mind how I can be surfing the web five minutes after checking into most hotels anywhere in the world, but at one of the most tech-savvy universities around, it took some 72 hours to get me connected.

Oy Vey!


Saw the above on a shelf in a grocery store in Palo Alto and had to snap a photo with the iPhone. Priceless!

Home Away From Home


My seminar here at Stanford has a pretty steady diet of daily reading, but I've found the perfect place to spend a few hours each afternoon and evening: the Bender Room on the fifth floor of the Bing Wing, part of the Green Library. This quiet, sparsely populated space has a comfortable mix of tables, study carrells, and comfy couches and reading chairs, along with air conditioning, wireless access, and superb views of the university's main quad and the nearby foothills. It's perfectly quiet. And there's probably not a better place on campus to see the sunset this time of year.

July 9, 2008



Stanford has been a training ground for some of the world's best athletes (e.g., Tiger Woods, John McEnroe, et al.) So it's not surprising that this week Michael Phelps and the rest of the U.S. swimming team about to compete in the Beijing Olympics are here on campus for training sessions before they head off to the Far East.

Competitive swimming was something I was seriously involved with for about 5-6 years in my youth. I got to be reasonably accomplished in the sport, too.

I don't know if the Olympic team's practice session will be at all open to the public, but if they are, I hope to catch a glimpse.

It's Been A While . . .


. . . since Sports Illustrated featured tennis on its cover. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, it was pretty much expected after Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and occasionally the French. So it's gratifying to see both Nadal and Federer gracing this week's cover of the magazine.

July 10, 2008

Eating Crow columnist had the misfortunes to write a piece trashing professional tennis before a weekend featuring the spectacular Williams/Williams and Federer/Nadal classics. In his latest podcast, he now acknowledges it was "maybe the dumbest column I've ever written."

Pixar Magic


As I'm doing a LOT of reading in American history each day, I like to unwind at the end of the night with a DVD. Over the past two days I watched Cars, the delightful animated Pixar flick from a few years back, which I missed in its theatrical release. It's got beautifully rendered (and extraordinarily lifelike) scenery, terrific voice acting from the likes of Owen Wilson and Paul Newman, and a charming story celebrating the historical Route 66 in the Southwest. The film also features a great soundtrack with strong contributions from Sheryl Crow, Randy Newman, James Taylor, John Mayer, et al.

July 11, 2008

iPhone 2.0 Update


I loaded the new 2.0 software for the iPhone while in my seminar this morning. For a short while, my device was "bricked" due to Apple's overloaded servers, as tons of folks worldwide eagerly activated their new 3G models or upgraded their original iPhones. But by the time we finished our discussion of slavery in American history, my iPhone was up and running.

There are still some kinks to be worked out: I haven't yet successfully linked to my Exchange account back at school (though I am not sure I want all that e-mail following me wherever I go anyway), it would be nice if the calendar colors (yay!) corresponded to the colors on my iCal screen, and the "pushed" data to and from MobileMe could be smoother. But the new App Store works well and there are some nice features added to the 2.0 version of the operating software.

The only casualty of this process was the loss of my ringtones, since I usually sync the iPhone to the iMac "mother ship" back in Wallingford and here in California I had to use the MacBook "road warrior" instead. I'll get those tones back when I get home, I guess. All the rest of my data and iPod music and videos are still with me.

A Considerate Inventor?

The chart below represents an online personality assessment I completed at It turns out I am a considerate inventor. (Rolling the cursor over each color in the "personality map" below indicates how I rate in different criteria.)

Here are the descriptions:

Your imagination, self-reliance, openness to new things, and appreciation for utility combine to make you an INVENTOR.

You have the confidence to make your visions into reality, and you are willing to consider many alternatives to get that done.

The full spectrum of possibilities in the world intrigues you—you're not limited by pre-conceived notions of how things should be.

Problem-solving is a specialty of yours, owing to your persistence, curiosity, and understanding of how things work.

Your vision allows you to identify what's missing from a given situation, and your creativity allows you to fill in the gaps.

Your awareness of how things function gives you the ability to come up with new uses for common objects.

It is more interesting for you to pursue excitement than it is to get caught up in a routine.

Although understanding details is not difficult for you, you specialize in seeing the bigger picture and don't get caught up in specifics.

You tend to more proactive than reactive—you don't just wait for things to come to you.

You're not afraid to let your emotions guide you, and you're generally considerate of others' feelings as well.

You do your own thing when it comes to clothing, guided more by practical concerns than by other people's notions of style.

Generally, you believe that you control your life, and that external forces only play a limited role in determining what happens to you.

and here:

You trust others, care about them, and are slow to judge them, making you CONSIDERATE.

You value your close relationships very much, and are more likely to spend time in small, tightly-knit groups of friends than in large crowds.

You enjoy exploring the world through observation, quietly watching others.

Relating to others so well, and understanding their emotions, leads you to trust people in general, even though you're somewhat shy and reserved at times.

Your belief that people are generally well-intentioned contributes to your sympathy regarding their problems.

Although you may not vocalize it often, you have an awareness of how society affects individuals, and you understand complex causes of people's behavior.

You like to look at all sides of a situation before making a judgment, particularly when that situation involves important things in other people's lives.

Your close friends know you as a good listener.

They've Gotta Have It, I Guess

As I understand it, the Apple Stores opened at 8 a.m. this morning to sell the new iPhone 3G. These pictures document the line at the main Palo Alto store (there's a smaller one in the Stanford Shopping Center) at 7:00 at night!

The Silver Screen


The Stanford Theatre is an old-fashioned movie palace on University Avenue, the main drag here in Palo Alto. It somehow avoided having its solitary spacious theater, complete with a balcony and ornate décor, chopped into a multiplex like the haunts of my youth. This place even has a pipe organ that rises from an orchestra pit and a real live organist entertaining the crowd between features. In honor of the centennial of Jimmy Stewart's birth, a few films starring the actor are being shown all summer. Tonight I saw two of them: Strategic Air Command (1955) and No Highway In The Sky (1951), the latter of which also starred Marlene Dietrich. The first of the double feature was to the 1950s Air Force what Top Gun was to naval aviation in the 1980s: a love letter featuring lots of beauty shots of the planes soaring through the clouds--basically a long form recruiting ad! (Turns out that Stewart was an avid pilot who rose to the rank of general in the Air Force Reserves.) The second, a black-and-white classic, was more enjoyable; it was a witty and suspenseful film about an absent-minded scientist living in Britain who thinks he discovers a flaw in an airplane design, and then finds himself on one of those planes on the brink of catastrophe.

July 12, 2008

The Tennis Players Arrive


Right here on the Stanford campus, a stone's throw from where my history seminar meets, they are gearing up for a professional tennis tournament to be staged next week. The Bank Of The West Classic, a WTA Tour event, is the first event in the U.S. Open Series and features Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport, among others. It will be nice to have quality tennis within walking distance of where I am staying all week!



Just saw the new Will Smith movie, Hancock. It received mixed reviews, and so I went in with low expectations and found it reasonably enjoyable. It was nice not knowing the key reveals in the plot beforehand.

Hellboy II


Two double features in two days! I stayed at the cinema after Hancock to see Hellboy II. I really like Guillermo del Toro's work. He has an identifiable visual style that is well-suited for a film like this. It was well paced, with lots of action, excellent special effects, and thoughtfully developed character bits. Better than the average summer blockbuster fare.

Friel's Masterpiece


The Stanford Summer Theater is running a Brian Friel festival, with the Irish playwright's Translations kicking things off this week. I had seen this work staged twice before: in its 1996 revival at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin and again with a touring company in New Haven a few years back. This production featured a mix of professionals and Stanford students and alums and held up quite well. It's a brilliant play, really, about the role of language in Ireland in 1833 as the British Empire is mapping the countryside, reshaping the landscape with anglicized names.

July 13, 2008

Computer Nostalgia


Here in Silicon Valley, I was reminiscing this morning about my very first computer, which I bought in December of 1985. It was then called just "the Macintosh" and just after I purchased it, I was able to upgrade the internal memory from 256K to 512K. Wow! There was hard drive, of course. A few years later a I bought a 20-megabyte external hard drive, which could store virtually everything I had in digital format. (In contrast, the iMac now in my study at home can handle 750 gigabytes of storage; that's 37,500 times the capacity!)

This Weekend's DVD Treat


I am making my way through the Pixar films I haven't seen. This weekend I watched Ratatouille, which was a charming tale about a Parisian rat who aspires to be a chef. These Pixar guys are consistent in turning out splendid animation films. I can't think of one that's been a disappointment. Disney was wise to cut a deal with Steve Jobs and his company once Michael Eisner retired; these movies are the spiritual heirs to the Disney animated classics of bygone days.

The Championships, One Week Later


Seven days after the monumental men's singles final at Wimbledon, I am still relishing that match. It substantially changed the landscape of the men's game in 2008. Consider that Roger Federer made the semifinal round at the Australian Open and then the finals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon--for most mortal players, a spectacular campaign--but according to his lofty standards, the year has turned into into a "disaster." He'll enter the second half of the season with a some pressure to win the remaining big events: the U.S. Open, in particular, but the Olympics and ATP Masters Cup too. Theoretically, Nadal can only improve in what has been his least impressive time on tour the last few years. Can he cement his status as the world's best player by walking away with the trophy at Flushing Meadows?

July 14, 2008

An Elegant Weapon


One of the most inconsequential, but also coolest, apps for the iPhone is the PhoneSaber, which uses the accelerometer to activate sounds that makes your device sound just like a Jedi's weapon as you move it through the air. It's a free download from the App Store.

July 15, 2008

Some Perspective, Please!


The reaction to the cover of the latest issue of The New Yorker has been one of outrage, from both the Obama and McCain campaigns, and around the blogosphere as well. Maybe because I've subscribed to the magazine for over twenty years now, I've gotten used to such snarkily provocative cover images. But it seems to me the satirical statement has caused far too big a deal. As comedian Bill Maher said in this morning's New York Times, “If you can’t do irony on the cover of The New Yorker, where can you do it?”

July 16, 2008

The Return Of The Dark Knight


Two days until the new Batman flick arrives. Reviews have been mostly very positive, especially for Heath Ledger's performance. I won't be rushing out to see this at midnight tomorrow; in fact, I probably won't get to see it until this weekend in Oregon. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll find an IMAX theater that's screening it.

July 17, 2008

Getting Prepped For Oxford


I received travel info for my week in Oxford in August. I will be staying in Merton College, one of the oldest in the university, and need to send my laptop info so Internet access in my quarters can be arranged. I guess it's a case of old world meeting new!

The Choate Alumni Network

One of the interesting by-products of my career is knowing people pretty much anywhere I travel. I have connected with a few Choate students and alums here in the Bay Area already, mostly because my Facebook status indicated I was in town. Tonight I met Calen Ipalook '06 (and Stanford '10) in downtown Palo Alto, where we caught up at a pretty good sports bar. I am meeting one of my former tennis captains for breakfast tomorrow morning.

About Palo Alto, CA

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