Friday, March 28, 2014

Baseball back in Montréal; for two nights at least

Baseball, right back where it should be: Montréal.

Almost ten years ago, on Sept. 29, 2004, I was at the last Major League Baseball game in Montréal.

Or so I thought.

Tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the New York Mets for the first of two spring training games at Olympic Stadium, and the atmosphere was electric. The negativity that seemed to permeate media coverage of the Expos during their last days in the city was gone.

Instead, there was jealousy...
and appreciation of what the crowd meant ...

(A crowd of nearly 50,000 is expected on Saturday.)

Even casual baseball fans in Montreal's traditional rival of Toronto were happy with tonight's outcome:

The atmosphere was compared to a playoff game.
It was a far cry from when I was in Montréal for the last Expos game there. I had been an Expos fan for years, and an online advocate for their staying in Montréal. That day was an emotional experience, probably the last time I cried that was not connected to a relative's death. If anyone who doubted that Montréal could be a baseball city had been there, they would've changed their minds after seeing the heartfelt love the city showed their team that day.

Here's a short slideshow with some pictures I took before, during and after that final game:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Whether it's broadband or telegraph, it's too expensive (a century apart)

The front page of the Jan. 29, 1914, edition of the Bemidji Daily Pioneer.
The front page of the Jan. 29, 1914, edition of the Bemidji Daily Pioneer.

It’s not a secret that Internet prices in the United States are out of line with those in other developed countries. In fact, Americans pay more per megabyte than anyone else in the world with access to broadband.

This is on top of having our Netflix stream slower than elsewhere; in 2012 the average download speed for American connections was just 12th in the world.

(It should be noted here that the United States' speed problem is one of having some areas with great speeds, but low performers dragging the rest of the country down.  For example, if Vermont and New Hampshire were countries, they would have the second and third-highest average download speeds in the world. California, home of Silicon Valley, also suffers from this diffusion on a micro scale, having fast service in urban cores while most of the state’s land area remains unserved or underserved.)

Wow. It must be completely unprecedented that the country where a revolutionary new telecommunications technology was invented trails the rest of the world in terms of costs and efficiency. Right?

Nope. A century ago, people were complaining that US telephone and telegraph rates were too high. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

One-hundred years ago today, the Bemidji Daily Pioneer in Minnesota ran a column one article by Illinois Congressman Clyde Tavenner noting several areas where the United States trailed significantly in terms of costs compared to what was then the "developed" world.

As examples, the United States ranked:

  • Last of 16 countries in average cost to send a telegram (44 cents vs. 9 cents in top-ranked Luxembourg);
  • Only 14th lowest in terms of costs per local phone call (2.1 cents vs. 0.4 cents in Norway);
  • Last in average costs of a long-distance call (60 cents vs. 8 cents in Sweden for a call to a place 100 miles distant [in 15th place was Hungary, with 39 cents for that same call]).

The whole screed was apparently a call from the Congressman to nationalize the home phone service, then (as now -- what breakup?) dominated by American Telephone & Telegraph. Apparently, per Tavenner, Ma Bell was engaged in an "evident attempt to stave off government ownership by its willingness to submit to every government demand" (wire-tapping included?).

Tavenner was obviously a proponent of government ownership of the telephone system, noting that the one place where American service was superior than most of its contemporaries (other than Japan) was in its government-owned postal service.

"Our privately owner telegraphs and telephones fall far below the standard of efficiency and cheapness set by the European government service," Tavenner wrote.

The government never did buy AT&T, although it did cause it to break up in the 1980s -- before the telecommunications giant reformed like a melted T-1000.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

SSF Ferry ridership getting better, but still not quite up to par

The South San Francisco ferry terminal. Photo credit: Chris Stevens, via Flickr.

Ferries are great. They're one of the best bargains with which to tour a waterfront city.

In some areas -- such as Sydney, Seattle, New York City -- they're also a vital link in regional mass transit systems. Not so much in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here ferries may be convenient, but they're also expensive and redundant.

With BART, multiple bridges and an active bus system crossing the Bay, ferries are mostly a novelty -- and a costly one at that.

While Oakland and Marin ferries to San Francisco get decent passenger numbers, an 18-month-old ferry from Oakland to South San Francisco has been struggling to find riders. It started off with much fanfare, but once the novelty (and free first-week rides) wore off, ridership dropped and costs continued to mount.

One reason is that because the service is heavily geared toward those commuting to SSF from the East Bay, those who live in South San Francisco itself find it quite difficult to board the ferry. There is no real transit service from the bulk of South San Francisco to the ferry terminal, located on the far east side of the city, save for an inconvenient, infrequent shuttle that does not share any stops with mainstream SamTrans lines. Nor are there any sidewalks on the main walk to the terminal.

Ridership, as one might expect suffered, dropping to an average of just 136 passengers per day -- subsidized to the tune of more than $80 per trip -- in the ferry's second financial quarter.

So far the ferry, which costs commuters $7 each way, has tallied big bills. These include a new ferry terminal that cost about $26 million and a $2.6 million annual operating subsidy funded mainly by San Mateo County Measure A sales taxes. And, whether it hemorrhages money or not, the ballot measure authorizing the SSF Ferry requires it be funded for a minimum of five years, according to Joe Hurley, director of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.

But in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2013-2014, a couple exogenous events bumped up ridership. First, a short strike by BART workers in July, then a brief closure of the Bay Bridge during the week leading up to Labor Day. Also in July, a big change as Genentech, the biotech titan that dominates the east side of South City, began to offer fully subsidized rides for all its employees.
The results?

Ridership levels

As this graph shows, ridership has grown to about 332 riders daily, on average -- about double what it had been a year earlier.

"I think we're moving toward the right direction," said April Chan, a planning a development officer for the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which partially funds the SSF Ferry. "It's not there yet, but much better than in our last report."

Some members of the Authority's Citizen's Advisory Committee (disclaimer, your blog author is a member of said committee) said that the progress has been insufficient.

"This is not even close to acceptable," said CAC member Jim Whittemore at the CAC's monthly meeting on Tuesday. "I understand it's new and they're trying things ... but it's not good enough and needs to get better soon."

With the jump in ridership, the government subsidy has effectively fallen to "just" $33.72 per rider, per trip (below). By contrast, the median subsidy for a bus ride in San Mateo County is around $8 per passenger, with the largest subsidy for a regular SamTrans route being about $19 (for line 359, which is about to be cut).

Cost per passenger

Fringe benefits that come from a ferry system shouldn't be overlooked, said CAC member John Fox. For example, Fox pointed out that the agency that coordinates ferries in the Bay Area is called the Water Emergency Transportation Authority.

"I don't think you can compartmentalize this as a farebox recovery ratio," he said. "You have to fold in that this was for natural disaster preparedness."

The upward ridership trend is promising, but it remains to be seen how much of it was permanent and how much was the result of the BART strike. Moreover, unless Genentech keeps up its subsidy, ridership will drop precipitously. I like the concept of a ferry to the town I live in, but I'd rather see the money invested in a more cost-effective manner.

Update (Jan. 21, 2014): The Transportation Authority released addition figures after the initial blog post showing that ridership has dropped even further post-BART strike resolution. In December, the South San Francisco Ferry averaged fewer than 250 riders per day. Granted, December is a light month in most transit systems, but ridership had also dropped significantly in November, as shown in the graph below:

Line graph showing SSF Ferry ridership from July 2012 to December 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Why women don't belong in college ...

... Their fragile compositions just can't handle the pressure.

From the Dec. 30, 1913 edition (100 years ago today) edition of the Logan Republican:

A screenshot of a 1913 story outlining a young woman's suicide.
From page 1 of the Dec. 30, 1913, edition of the Logan Republican.

One of the interesting things you notice in old newspapers is the way they reported things that are no longer covered in the current media -- in this case, a suicide. (For example, I once mentioned on this blog how the New York Times covered the suicide of someone named John Baker.)

But why would a newspaper in Logan, Utah, cover the self-inflicted death of a young woman more than 750 miles away in Long Beach, Calif.? Was there a local angle? Apparently not, as the victim was from Illinois, had gone to Northwestern University and now lived in California.

I think the comment that Ms. Pritchard "suffered a mental and physical breakdown as a result of her hard study" leads to the real answer. Utah, of course, is a stronghold of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and Mormon Doctrine, at least as late as 1966, indicated that a "woman's primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband." Certainly the tone of this article serves that doctrine -- and a woman going to college does not.

You've come a long way, baby.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

He will die

Newspapers of old were a bit more blunt. From the Dec. 3, 1913, edition of The Tacoma Times:

A 100-year-old news clip stating that a football player's neck has been broken and "he will die."

The game ended in a 6-6 tie, in case you were wondering.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

South City beats El Camino, 29-28, in first game on new EC Field

Football players running through a banner.
El Camino football players burst through a banner prior to the second half of their game against rival South San Francisco High on Saturday. Photos by John Baker.

New field, same result.

Behind two late touchdowns from Dupra Goodman, with the running back taking in his own two-point conversions on both, South San Francisco High won its 10th-straight "Bell Game" on Saturday, edging crosstown rival El Camino High, 29-28. The Colts' last win in the series remains a 35-19 upset in 2003.

It was the first game on El Camino's brand new turf field, the first time the Bell Game had ever been played at the El Camino campus, and all the more heartbreaking for the hosts because the Colts missed a potential game-winning 24-yard field goal just before time expired.

“We told ourselves as coaches, 'We can’t lose this game,'” said former El Camino head coach and current assistant Eric Jacobsen, a key advocate for installing the school bond-funded new field. “It would hurt if it were week one, but this is the Bell Game.”

South City (3-7) scored first on a one-yard Maligi Maluia keeper with 9:36 left in the second quarter. El Camino (6-4) equalized 5:54 before halftime when Brandon Gip (a game-high 249 yards rushing on 24 carries) took a fake punt in 67 yards for the score.

The Warriors went ahead on their next possession, an eight-yard Cesar Torres run capping a short touchdown drive. But El Camino roared right back, taking a 14-13 lead into halftime after a 19-yard touchdown pass from Michael Keegan to Andres Abarca with 11 seconds left.
El Camino football player Andres Abarca falls after catching a touchdown pass.
El Camino's Andres Abarca (right) scores on a 19-yard pass from Michael Keegan just before halftime. 

El Camino then scored on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, with Gip again doing the damage, this time with a 63-yard touchdown run up the left side. But the Colts kicker shanked the PAT try, setting an ominous tone for later.

The teams exchanged scores early in the fourth quarter, with Goodman tallying an 32-yard scoring run for South San Francisco and Keegan a one-yard keeper to put El Camino up 28-21 after the two-point conversion with 5:06 left to play. On the ensuing Warriors possession, Goodman scored again, this time on an eight-yard run, then added his own extra two points on the PAT, with 1:28 left in the game.

“I said if we’re going to keep getting five, six yards a crack, we’re going for two,” said South City coach Frank Moro. “I just had the confidence that we could do it.”

El Camino advanced all the way to the SSF 2, but two runs and a pass went nowhere. After a delay of game penalty, the Colts tried a 24-yard field goal on fourth down, but it went wide left.

While the Colts were gutted by the narrow loss, Jacobsen said the new field would still be a source of pride for El Camino.

“It was definitely the biggest thing to happen to El Camino athletics in the 22 years that I’ve been here,” he said. “And I’m really proud of the facility. The kids love it and everybody who sees it will be really, really happy.”

Below: a slideshow from Saturday's Bell Game.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Naughty Australian Islands

Google map showing "Intercourse Islands" in Australia

So I was looking up a small town in Western Australia for some reason, when certain risqué island names caught my eye (above, click to embiggen). Lonely sailors must have named the place.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

International Spam, in South City

Image of Spam cans from Grocery Outlet in South San Francisco showing Arabic and Japanese markings

A new Grocery Outlet store opened last year in South San Francisco, and I've had the opportunity to shop there a few times. They prices are generally pretty good, although selection can be limited (and be mindful of expiration dates -- things are often being sold just days before the sell by dates).

The store saves money by buying in bulk, overstock, etc. Another way it saves money is by having export-marked food items whose order has apparently fallen through. I recently bought some Welch's grape juice marked for overseas sale, for example.

But the most apparent example was when I last month bought two cans of Spam (yes, I enjoy Spam in non-emailed form).

One (above, right) had markings in an Asian language (possibly Japanese). The other (above left) had what appeared to be Arabic markings and the warning "Pork — Not for Muslims." I'm not sure where that latter can is intended to be sold — maybe India because of the English markings, or Saudi Arabia for the Filipino guest workers (Spam is apparently popular in the Philippines).

Some may worry about "export-quality" items, but I think buying items such as the above is an interesting look into how the outside world sees American product.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Has Marvel given up in the fight against piracy?

Comics website Bleeding Cool pointed out an unusual ad on online piracy site Pirate Bay this evening. Look at this banner ad in the comics section:

A screenshot of the Pirate Bay website with what appears to be an ad for a Marvel Comics game

Now, Marvel: Avengers Alliance is just a licensed product, but the fact that a company even loosely affiliated with Marvel is advertising on a website which practically advocates the theft of comics (or movies, music, books, etc.) is cause for a head smack.

I'll bet Marvel's lawyers contact Playdom (the game's publisher) pretty darn quick and ask it to change its advertising strategy.

So, has Marvel given up in the fight against online piracy? Nope. But its affiliates seem to know to advertise where people go to find cheap comics-related stuff.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unconsciously aging myself

I've been doing temp work at the San Francisco State University Bookstore lately, and today had one of those exchanges that reminded me just how much older I am than most college-aged students.

One employee asked another how they pronounced their surname, Nguyen:

Employee 1 -- "You say it 'Win,' like winning a race."

Me -- "Or like Dustin Nguyen, from '21 Jump Street!'"

(Blank stares.)

Me -- "I just aged myself, huh?"

Employee 2 -- "Yep."

People have forgotten the suaveness of Harry Truman Ioki. In fact, he didn't even make a cameo in the recent film.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How I listen to local announcers during the World Series

This gentleman shows the sentiment of many Giants fans regarding Joe Buck.  Source: Facebook.

San Francisco Giants fans love their hometown broadcasters, and with a team containing Jon Miller, Dave Fleming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, who can blame them?

With the Giants in the World Series this week, however, San Francisco fans have had to stomach Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver as national TV broadcasts bump out local ones. Buck in particular has had to face criticism for his style, including his perceived bias against West Coast teams and for the St. Louis Cardinals (the team for which his father broadcast for decades and the Giants' opponent in the NLCS). Such criticism includes:

Never fear, because the Giants' regular broadcasting team are on the radio! Alas, because the TV broadcasts need time to encode, go up to the satellite, come back down and be transmitted, the radio feed is a few seconds ahead. Not easy to watch that way. So what to do?

When the Giants made their 2010 World Series run, I came up with the following method and have continued it this season. You do need a DVR and a smartphone with the MLB At Bat app to make it work.

First, turn on the TV, mute it, load the At Bat app and start the audio (right) for the team you wish to hear (yes, you could even listen to the Tigers if you want). You'll notice that the audio (thanks to the encoding and download process) is now about 30 seconds behind the TV broadcast.

Now, use your DVR to pause the video (as seen below) and press play when the radio broadcast over the app starts. This easiest way to do this in my experience is to wait until a player hits the ball and pause the video. When you hear the crack of the bat on the radio broadcast, press play.

You should then be more-or-less in synch. While I have Airplay for my iPhone and stream the audio through my stereo system, probably any speaker system will work. Heck, even a little tinny phone speaker sure beats listening to Fox!

The City's sure supporting the Giants, as I saw downtown last night:

San Francisco City Hall decked out in Giants orange the night of Oct. 23, 2012. Photo: John Baker