Thursday, June 29, 2006

Suburban Cowboy

The wasps have been buzzing around the front yard for over a month, but I hadn’t been able to find their home until last weekend. There were at least half a dozen crowding into a nest under the eaves. When the insects invade, an atavistic instinct takes over. Get the shotgun, Ma, the castle is under attack.

I donned a hooded sweater, gloves, and protective eyewear and grabbed the bottle of special pesticide that can shoot a 15-foot stream. I pressed the nozzle. White foam blasted forth and covered the nest. The wasps fell to the ground, twitching. After a few minutes I knocked down the nest and hosed off the remnants.

I hitched up my pants, and went inside. Time to celebrate with a plate of sushi. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

P.S. Mom, sorry I can't be there for the party. Happy Birthday!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Year So Kind

We were able to skip the visit to the neurologist in 2005, but 19 months was a long time to go without a CAT-scan. We gathered the old X-rays into an envelope. The doctors need them to compare to the current readings. We loaded the cooler with bottles of water and piled into the van.

The morning rush hour had abated. Traffic on the Bay Bridge and Highway 80 was light into Sacramento. We arrived in less than two hours and parked the car at the hospital.

The radiologist’s session lasted fifteen minutes, and while we waited for the prints, I ordered a couple of pizzas at the nearby Round Table. Pizzas and soda, not the healthiest fare, but when you’re out of town the calories don’t count.

Sam examined the X-rays and found nothing unusual. He asked the youngster to perform some simple exercises while his parents sympathetically mimicked the youngster’s raising of legs, pursing of lips, and curling of biceps. Sam pretended not to notice. He’s a nice person as well as a brain surgeon, who with rocket scientists are reputedly the smartest guys in the room. Next year we should do an MRI, he advised, in order to minimize long-term exposure to radiation.

I tipped the valet $5, a bargain for four hours of parking. It was 107 degrees in the Valley, and the steering wheel was hot to the touch. I turned on the air conditioning full blast. The slight drag on the motor was worth the increase in climatic comfort. Besides, gas in Central California was ten cents a gallon cheaper than on the Peninsula –under $3 a gallon---so we could afford to splurge.

We stopped at the Vacaville outlet stores. I bought a winter coat, optimistic that global temperatures had not risen to the point where coats were unnecessary. I bought more books, despite the unfinished volumes cluttering my nightstand, the triumph of ambition over experience.

We headed home with a full tank of gas, bags filled with shopping bargains, and a clean bill of health. Another good day in a year that has been kind to us. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Rockfish Resting

In the large salt water tank the rockfish parked itself directly above its picture. One has to capitalize on the moment, because it doesn’t last long. The fish swam away after a few minutes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

An MBA That's a Value Proposition

It’s easy to say now that the Monterey Bay Aquarium would have been a resounding success when construction began in 1981. Anything related to ecological studies had become popular, while entertainment vehicles such as Jaws, Flipper, and Sea World increased public awareness of the ocean sciences. Monterey Bay, an under publicized scenic wonder known mainly for its declining fishing industry and military base, would also become a magnet for the wealth generated in Silicon Valley a few miles to the north.

In 1977, with the economy reeling from high unemployment and inflation, it required the vision, enthusiasm, and dedication of some young oceanographers to drive to completion the multi-year multi-million-dollar building project. Of course, it helped that one of the marine biologists had a little family money.

We made our first trip to the aquarium shortly after it opened in 1984. The immense salt-water tank with its kelp forest, the hands-on touch pools, the painstaking re-creation of natural environments, and the well-lit displays that were refreshingly free of tech-speak represented a revolution in aquarium design. We enrolled as members when the kids were young and the aquarium was on the must-see list for out-of-town visitors. As our lives have changed, so have our interests. We let our membership lapse, and it had been five years since our last trip.

The youngster requested that we visit the aquarium after school ended this month. To my surprise, he deemed such a trip to be more important than his online activities and gamboling with friends. I carped the diem and told the office that I was taking an unscheduled holiday.

Our outing turned out to be more pleasurable than expected, which sometimes happens when an activity is scheduled at the last minute. Traffic was light south of San Jose, and I was able to get close-in metered parking at half the cost of the nearby lots. Attendance was also sparse---the high tourist season had not begun—and we were able to examine the displays up close and at our leisure.

The shark exhibit, jellyfish-inspired art, and cannery history wing had been added since our last visit; each was engrossing, as well as old favorites like the sea otters, octopus, and sunfish (the youngster didn’t believe me when I said that the giant sunfish we saw was half the size of the monster that used to swim in the Outer Bay tank.)

Sunfish in the Outer Bay exhibit.

At 3 o’clock we headed home in order to beat the rush hour traffic. Later this year we’ll bring the rest of the family, but it’s doubtful our return trip will be as enjoyable. Recapturing a (good) experience is difficult and all too rare. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Tidepool Exhibit, was new to us but old hat to this patron.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

I added a couple of items to my post of June, 2004:

I remember when my Dad
  • Drove me to Little League three times a week and helped me work on my pitching motion every day after school.
  • Worked three jobs so that we could buy a house, which explained why he was always tired.
  • Installed all the wiring when the church put in its pipe organ.
  • Bought me a violin for $350, which was a lot of money in 1965.
  • Let me visit him in his office, where he was the manager. The atmosphere was hushed, quieter than a classroom (this was a long time ago).
  • Quit smoking, for his sake and ours, when the Surgeon General issued the first warning on cigarettes.
  • Gave me the family car when I learned how to drive.
  • Gave me a lecture on how to treat women----politely, and always with a great deal of respect.

    Hope you had a great Father’s Day, Dad.
    ---Your grateful son © 2006 Stephen Yuen
  • Thursday, June 15, 2006

    The Wink of an Eye

    About an hour ago I groggily awoke to the shaking of the bed. I looked across to my sleeping companion. No, the tremor wasn’t due to her restlessness. I waited a few seconds: experienced Californians know that sometimes the first shock is just a precursor to something worse. But thankfully all was quiet.

    The earthquake occurred near Gilroy, 70 miles south of San Francisco. It was 4.7 on the Richter scale, roughly 1/100th the magnitude of the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. Another reminder that it can all be snatched away in the wink of an eye. [Map from the State of California.]

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Arts and Wine Festival, June 3-4

    The annual Foster City Arts and Wine Festival has grown from a few wine-tasting and art booths to a carnival of rides, music acts, and exhibits. The youth talent show drew a crowd of onlookers and, this time, the winner wasn’t some pretty girl who could carry a tune but a young (male) dancer who’s truly gifted with kinesthetic intelligence.

    Kids (and a few parents) crawled over the fire trucks and military vehicles while representatives from those esteemed institutions patiently explained the function of every lever, button, and doodad. We walked past the tents of real-estate brokers, financial-services advisors, and other local businesses and headed for the food.

    The youngster eyed a shrimp sandwich from a San Mateo caterer. I paid the $6 but said that the $4 garlic fries would have to come from his wallet. He declined. The local firefighters were hawking “firehouse chili” at the next booth. The young fireman ladled the contents of a large steel pot into a generous paper bowl. He guaranteed his wares; I could have my money back if I didn’t like it. The chili was rich with ground sirloin, flavorful with no beans. A keeper.

    Our final destination was the church ice cream booth, where the kids helped dispense ice cream sandwiches and fruit bars to overheated passers-by. (We would have needed a special license to serve unpackaged ice cream, i.e., cones using a scoop, so we decided to avoid that hassle this year.)

    The inventory was nearly sold out when I returned, though I suspect there had been some “shrinkage” during the intervening hours. Well, the ice cream had started to melt, we would have had to throw out the residual inventory anyway, and it was nice of the teens to give up their Sunday afternoon.

    The Foster City Arts and Wine Festival, where art nor wine no longer predominate but the plebeian sensibilities of middle America (okay, no firearms, but this is a blue state). © 2006 Stephen Yuen
    "And, ah, there’s just like the faintest soupcon of, like, uh, asparagus and there’s a—just a flutter of, like, a—nutty Edam cheese." Paul Giamatti perfectly captures the attitude of the wine snob in the 2004 movie Sideways.

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    In The Book

    I rolled over and peered at the alarm: 6:06 a.m. As usual, I was awake before the alarm had gone off. 0606 on 06/06/06. If I were superstitious, I would stay in bed. 666 is the mark of the beast described in Revelations, when the Antichrist makes his appearance, death and destruction reign, thousands are raptured away to heaven while billions of us losers are left behind, and Jesus returns (and boy, is he mad). I decided not to worry and put on the coffee. If there really was a problem Dan Brown would have mentioned it in the book.

    Today is the opening of the remake of the Omen, a 1976 movie about the birth of the Antichrist. The possible end of the world as marketing tie-in. It’s also election day, perhaps a greater cause for worry. Who knows what mischief will result from someone who believes victory was due to his virtues and not his consultants?

    Retiring Bishop Swing ordains his last class of deacons.

    A group who shouldn’t have any problems with hubristic self-delusion is the class of Episcopal deacons who were ordained last Saturday at Grace Cathedral. The deacons had to complete a three-to-five-year course of rigorous study. They endured this burden, not for fame, glory, or wealth, but in order to be servants (the meaning of “deacon”) of the Christian community. Once again, I was humbled by the example of others. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

    The Asian-American ministry is growing. Congratulations, Jay!

    Sunday, June 04, 2006


    The courtyard of Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma County.

    It's been a busy week---wrapping up school, hosting visitors, and tending to various projects at work---so there hasn't been a lot of time to comment, reflect, expound, and bloviate.

    The political blogs, whether liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, are sour and unhappy. The Democrats have been bitter since the “stolen” election of 2000, which cemented their minority status in all three branches of government, while the Republicans are disappointed, to say the least, in their leadership over a host of issues. Neither winning nor, of course, losing, appears to result in happiness.

    I’ve lost a number of friends this year to disease, and it’s safe to say that none of them viewed the issues---energy, global warming, illegal immigration, Iraq---currently roiling the political waves as central to their lives. Yesterday the arguments were over stem-cell research and FEMA, tomorrow they may well be about Quemoy and Matsu (again).

    It’s time to get out and enjoy the spectacular Goldilocksian (not too hot or cold) weather. After allotting hours to our various callings and the service of others, we also need to appreciate the gift of Creation’s beauty and spend time with our family and friends. Hunting and pecking before a glowing screen is not the way to do it. I hope I’m not being presumptuous, but I’m sure that’s what my friends would say. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

    The Golden Gate Bridge from the St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco.