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The Weekend of Two Moms

Regular readers of this column will be aware that my mother and my mother-in-law have a burgeoning relationship. Lynne Marlow, my wife's mother, was born in 1913 and was 33 when Vicki was born. My grandmother Patricia, was born in 1917, and was 16 when my mother was born. My mother, in turn, was 16 when I was born. Since Vicki is older than I am, my mother is only 10 years older than Vicki. My wife's mother is only four years older than my grandmother.

It's not exactly one of these trophy wife things, where I am younger than Vicki's daughters (I've seen that happen), but it does create some interesting generational cross-currents.

Anyway, my mother has been getting to know Lynne for several years now, making weekend visits to Los Angeles, meeting me at LAX when I fly down from Oakland. They talk for hours and enjoy each other's company immensely. They have much in common, despite the difference in age and background. Lynne is an artist, my mother was an English teacher. Lynne is from Sierra Madre, California, my mother has lived in Portland, Oregon all her life. There are certain similarities between my late father-in-law and my still very-much-alive father.

Friday night, we had marinated flank steak with fresh green beans and apple pie, prepared by Lynne's cook Maria. Saturday, my mother and I dined with Jerry Pournelle, the world-famous science fiction author and one of my columnists at As ever, Jerry was a gracious host and raconteur, who generously signed a copy of Starswarm for one of the young men my mother raised in daycare. Saturday night we usually dine at the LA Country Club when we're in town, but this time Lynne surprised us by taking us to one of the hottest new restaurants in LA, Melisse, at 11th and Wilshire in Santa Monica. Dinner for the three of us, with one bottle of wine and tip was $180 (a bit on the steep side, I'd say), but what a sublime dining experience. Great food (reasonably portions, beautifully presented), lovely atmosphere, terrific service, blindingly good desserts, convenient parking. Everything you could ask for in a Los Angeles eatery.

I took an hour's walk each morning at Will Rogers State Beach, just below the Huntington Palisades area where Lynne lives. It is a lovely, well-maintained beach. It was about 65 each morning at 7, with no wind. I was striving to be in the moment, the think of nothing but the waves and their sound, and although I love the ocean, I was perturbed to find that my inner monologue is awfully loud and very difficult to drown out.

Mom and I cooked a scrambled eggs with chives and black forest ham Easter breakfast for Lynne. We did not hide Easter eggs. Lynne's cat, Tiger, brought a live mouse into her room at 6 am and proceeded to finish it off with gusto in front of her.

It was almost enough to make me forget to three hour weather delay I experienced on the way down. I can't wait for high-speed SF-LA train service. I should live so long. Actually, I do hope to live that long.

Which reminds me of terrific aphorism of Jerry's, that would be funny if it weren't sad and true: "I always hoped I'd live long enough to see the first man on the moon. I hope I didn't live to see the last man on the moon."

Crust Vs. Filling

Several of you have heard me say men like filling, women like crust. Here is where I got that strange idea:

Pie Is Are Squared: Larger Than Life
Tuesday, November 28, 1995

THE STORY SO FAR: Some months ago I wrote a column about pie, a noble topic for any essayist, and in that column I alleged that the filling was the real point of pie; the crust was just a sideshow. ... [quoting a book he read] I came to this paragraph: ``A New York man I know who thinks about pie a great deal says that pie judgments are sexually dimorphic. He believes that women judge a pie by its crust, men by its filling. That's so, says my friend Abby, because women know that the crust is the hardest part to make. That's not so, says my friend Linda, who loves both parts too much but eats only the filling, in the vain hope that most of the calories have settled in the crust. The truth is that a good pie can be ruined by a bad crust but a good crust cannot save a bad pie.''
[quoting a reader] ``This whole gender thing is very interesting, though I can't say I've noticed that woman/crust, man/filling split that Hubbell describes. Several other possibilities arise. Women like the filling because of their predilection for dark, hidden spaces. Men like the crust because it's so sturdy and protective. But in the end, I think my esteemed friend and fellow pie enthusiast, Deborah Agre of Oakland, put it best. Men go for the immediate and the obvious -- the sweet, gooey filling -- whereas women know it's the total experience -- the synergy between the filling and the crust."

San Francisco: Not What It Used To Be

This from Jason Zeaman, a former colleague at FirstTV, who recently visited SF to check it out as a possible future place to live:

I'm curious as to what you think of SF, my impression was not that great, in terms of living in the city. I found it frantic, crowded, expensive and somewhat oppressive (all the homeless people, panhandlers, the homes smashed up next to each other, no yards). Yes, the restaurants were great and their was a great mix of people and cultures and there are wonderful multimedia things happening there, but I couldn't see myself living there. It was not the mellow, open, freely loving city I had hoped for. In many ways I found it very immature, caught up in a never-ending quest for the hip-du-jour. Lots of drugs, posturing and constant networking. Yet I can't deny that the "buzz" had a certain seductive quality about it, but after a week I was more than fed up.

I drove up the coast and back down through Novato and San Rafael and those towns looked much more livable. Are they super-expensive and is it considered "uncool" to have a company that is based up there? I also heard that Berkley and possibly some of the cities south of SF are more livable, by my standards, but all of the SF web hipsters I hung out with acted as if anything except The City and Berkley were the backwoods.

I ran Jason's comments past my friend Richard Dalton, who is moving from SF to Cape Cod, in part because he doesn't like the Zeitgeist around here any more.

Seems like a very acute analysis from a different viewpoint than my own. He must have his head on straight if he was able to resist the siren song of multimedia gulch and think instead of a "life." I appreciate his comment " It was not the mellow, open, freely loving city I had hoped for..." Nor is it the mellow, open, freely loving city of the sixties and seventies.

I think San Francisco began to change in the middle of the eighties to a more money-driven culture and that, of course, is now out of hand. It's astonishing that people living in $1-2 million homes contribute so little for education that the funding per student ranks 40th in the nation. But don't get me started...

The Perils of PR Pressure

My friend Art Garcia spotted an article in the Washington Post of April 16 and passed it along. Some excerpts:

For a century or so, journalists have regarded most publicists as low-ranking inhabitants of the media food chain.

But the explosion of dot-com wealth has transformed the old landscape, making some PR folks so powerful that Internet companies beg them for representation and shower them with stock options. The reason, of course, is that a well-timed burst of national publicity can mean untold riches for a Net start-up struggling to break out of the pack.

"You can be ultra-selective about the companies you represent," says Pam Alexander, whose firm, Alexander Ogilvy, pioneered the practice of taking stock as part of its fee. "Over 1,600 companies are trying to hire us. We have 90 clients. We don't take companies that we don't have really solid confidence in."

Technology reporters say that Alexander and a handful of other publicists are helpful in connecting them with the right executives. But for the most part, they say, the relentless hyping of Internet companies is driving them nuts.

Wall Street Journal reporter Kara Swisher says she gets 200 to 300 e-mails a day from PR firms, with such pitches as "be prepared to revolutionize the way you think about e-business" …

"Getting a story--especially in the Wall Street Journal--can get them venture capital funding, so we have to be careful about what we select," says Swisher, a former Washington Post reporter. "This industry is very fascinated with itself in the same way Washington people are. We're looking for actual, real news rather than fake, ginned-up news."
Anyone on the make--politicians, baseball players, actresses, aspiring authors--understands the value of good press. What separates the new breed of cyberflacks is that, given the crazed environment of Wall Street, billions of dollars are riding on their ability to score with influential journalists.

One PR woman I know made a bundle on stock options from a dot-com client. Now, when a startup walks in, she tells them she costs $250k. If they say they don't have it, she writes them a check for $250K worth of their equity, which the dot-com then endorses back to her, along with a stock certificate. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.

Dumb "Analysis" of Microsoft Case

Usually, of course, I point you to interesting articles I enjoy, applaud or agree with. But sometimes I am faced with an article so breathtakingly dumb, I have to highlight it to ridicule it.

Craig Reynolds brought this to my attention, and since it was on the AP wire, many of you may have seen it. I think Craig's analysis speaks for itself. I know it speaks for me.

Lady Luck, the Dark Side of Microsoft
Maybe I'm just over-sensitive, but it struck me as a real puff-piece. Almost all of the quotes are from Microsoft people. It paints a very rosy picture of Microsoft. It seems to dismiss the anti-trust suit as meddlesome government interference (as if there wasn't something good to be said for a free market untainted by monopolistic abuse).
I read to the point in the fourth 'graph where it says "Coming five years after Microsoft was founded in 1975, this deal led the company to its true calling --". I expected the next line to be "acquiring technology developed by others, slapping their name on it, and euphemistically calling the process `innovation'". Unfortunately that was not were Michael J. Martinez was going.

In a later message, Craig continued, and all I can say is "Amen, Brother!"

The lack of perspective of so many in the press (and, I suppose, the whole population) have about Microsoft is an ongoing frustration to me. I just wish more people understood how MS was such a Johnny-come-lately carpet-bagging innovation-killing industry-despoiling insert-your-own-hyphenated-epitaph-here.
Pleas note the part of the AP article where Microsoft misrepresented to IBM that they had an OS product for the PC, and instead went out and bought QDOS for a song before immediately reselling it at a huge markup.

Not a lot of people realize that Microsoft didn't write DOS, it bought it from Seattle Computer Products, in the form of QDOS, which was, itself, illegally copied from CP/M.

Old Lady Joke

Sitting on the side of the highway waiting to catch speeding drivers, a State Police Officer sees a car puttering along at 22 MPH. He thinks to himself, "This driver is just as dangerous as a speeder!" So he turns on his lights and pulls the driver over.

Approaching the car, he notices that there are five old ladies -- two in the front seat and three in the back - eyes wide and white as ghosts.

The driver, obviously confused, says to him, "Officer, I don't understand, I was doing exactly the speed limit! What seems to be the problem?"

"Ma'am," the officer replies, "You weren't speeding, but you should know that driving slower than the speed limit can also be a danger to other drivers."

"Slower than the speed limit?" she asked. No sir, I was doing the speed limit exactly... Twenty-Two miles an hour!" the old woman says a bit proudly. The State Police officer, trying to contain a chuckle explains to her that "22" was the route number, not the speed limit. A bit embarrassed, the woman grinned and thanked the officer for pointing out her error.

"But before I let you go, Ma'am, I have to ask... Is everyone in this car ok? These women seem awfully shaken and they haven't muttered a single peep this whole time." the officer asks.

"Oh, they'll be alright in a minute officer. We just got off Route 119."

Keeping The Faith

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

Well, Edward Norton can clearly act and direct. The jury is still out on Ben Stiller, one of the least appealing people in motion pictures today.

Tagline: If you have to believe in something, You might as well believe in love. Plot Outline: A story about two friends, a priest and a rabbi, who fall in love with the same beauty (Jenna Elfman).

A charming little romantic comedy, with a few moments of actual thoughtfulness (on the subjects of public service, spirituality, workaholic behavior, inability to commit, the value of friendship, the nature of forgiveness, the state of interfaith marriage) interspersed through the fluff. Not a bad way to while away an afternoon.

Mildly recommended, if you've got nothing better to do. Several brief scenes of non-explicit sexual intercourse.