Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh, come on! Trust in your kids' instincts (Or, "Run free, little children. Run free!")

I'm a firm believer that the world (in general) is not any worse than it was when I was a kid -- it just seems that way because of the pervasive media coverage. There are probably just as many killers, kidnappers and child molesters now (as a proportion of the population) as there ever where. It just sounds worse because we hear of it more.

When I was seven, I walked the half-mile home from school by myself to a waiting parent and never had a problem. By the time I was ten, I was doing a mile home and I would be alone when I got there (in high school, I did two miles home, no problem). After school, I'd go hang out with my like-aged friends and stay out for hours, with no information to my parents other than a vague indication of which friends I was with. We'd walk all over the neighborhood, and much farther, without much more guidance than to be home for dinner. That independence served me well as I got older, making me comfortable enough to make my own decisions well before adulthood.

There may have been the occasional news report of an abduction, or some kid falling down a well, but those were few and far between. My parents didn't freak out, nor did I. I knew not to talk to strangers or accept rides with them. My parents, and the parents of my peers, were fine with us kids going out without adult supervision.

My, how times have changed. I was listening to the CBC's "As it Happens" on Wednesday. They had a story about a woman in small-town Mississippi who, having to watch other kids, let her 10-year-old son walk to his afternoon soccer practice, in broad daylight at his school, about one-third of a mile away. The mom would drive over to the practice after 15 minutes once things were settled at home.

So away the son walks, mom's mobile phone in hand, and he is intercepted by a police car three blocks later. The cops, who state they had gotten "hundreds" of 911 calls about a little boy walking by himself, drive him to practice and then head to the boy's home. (According to an e-mail from the mom, mom had by then left for practice, where the cops again show up and talk to her.) The police officer then berates the mother, saying she could have been charged with child endangerment and then offers a litany of anecdotal horror stories.

Mom is in tears, second-guessing herself and wondering if she's a bad parent. The next day, she calls the police chief and he sympathises, stating that the officer went a little over the line and that a child that age walking that short a distance is fine.

I could rant and rave over the over-protectiveness of society, but the best quote I saw about this was on a message board posted by a person with the unfortunate handle of "Dr Stupid:"
"Modern parents treat their kids like cattle, and if they don't other hysterical parents will be upset. It's disgusting. We are not meant to be herded from the cradle to the grave."

QFT. I'll teach him about "stranger danger" and being safe, but when Ian is 10 I fully expect him to be able to rove a mile or so under his own power (as well as being comfortable taking the bus by himself). I'd be very disappointed in him otherwise.

What's more, the CBC also interviewed a scientist who stated that with all the driving and coddling, a generation of kids are losing their ability to navigate (their internal GPS, if you will). The author of the study, Dr. William Bird, also warned in another interview, this one in the UK's Daily Mail, that "the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations:"
"If children haven't had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress," he said.

"Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment.

"They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens."

So run free, little children, run free.

Also I saw a stat that the chances of being killed by salmonella after eating raw cookie dough is 50 million to 1. I like those odds. Dig in kids!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things kids like

Kids like hanging out with Dad, eating ice cream sundaes at McDonalds after a good day at school.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I am such a Twit

I never got a MySpace page, because I'm not a 13-year-old girl. I never got a Facebook page, because I'm not a 19-year-old college student. But I am on Twitter (check me out at

The blogging bug may have faded for me a bit lately (especially since my Australia trip -- the reason I started this blog -- ended), but it's less hassle to put my thoughts into 140 characters or less and post them.

Some recent "tweets" of mine:
As convoluted as the NCAA basketball selection is, it still beats the socks off of its football selection "process."
32 minutes ago from web

I just watched the new "Star Trek" trailer for the fourth time today. Awe-freakin-some!
11:16 AM Mar 6th from web

For some reason, I have the sudden desire to watch "Tron.".
2:03 PM Mar 5th from twitterrific

Why don't downtown SF BART stations take credit cards? Probably to avoid money laundering of stolen cards via BART tickets.
8:21 PM Feb 11th from twitterrific

Is it bad that when I heard of a terrible storm in the Midwest today with gusts of 88 mph that I thought "Now it can travel through time?"
7:36 AM Feb 11th from twitterrific

Don't pour cherry coke into a cup you immediately previous used for iced tea. It's am unholy combination of two holy drinks.
1:02 PM Jan 31st from twitterrific

I'm wondering why my neighborhood has such a strong smell of jet fuel. Wind must be coming from SFO direction.
1:01 AM Jan 12th from web
As you can see, nothing major, just random thoughts. Mostly me bitching about my morning commute.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stacks of newspapers

Yeah, we're a little behind in our reading.

Much has been written about a perceived death knell of daily newspapers. The Rocky Mountain News recently shut down. The Christian Science Monitor will cease its daily edition in favor of web publishing. The Detroit Free Press will now deliver to homes only three days per week. The San Francisco Chronicle's corporate bosses recently threatened closure if it didn't receive union givebacks.

On a personal level, I've certainly gotten fewer assignments from newspapers recently. This was the first year in a decade where I wasn't asked to cover any basketball playoff games, for example. (I did, however, get a freelance assignment for the Pacifica Tribune a couple weeks ago.) God knows that another full-time staff position with a newspaper is probably out of the question in these economic times, despite a journalism degree and good experience.

But there is at least a glimmer of hope for one local paper. The San Mateo County Times (professional ethics require that I disclose here that I get -- or at least USED to get -- a lot of freelance work from said publication) has picked up subscribers. Or at least one.

A young man came to the door recently selling the paper "to earn money for a trip." Apparently he had a good sales pitch, as Claire bought an annual subscription -- and for twenty bucks for a year, why not? The only problem with getting a daily newspaper subscription? It comes every day.

For the same reason that newspapers have seen their subscription rates plummet, many of those papers lay unopened, unfolded on our living room floor (above). Both Claire and I get the majority of our news online, so rarely is there a need to open a physical newspaper anymore. In fact, I am a daily reader of the San Mateo County Times' own website. I feel bad for admitting this waste of dead trees, but we rarely open our subscription unless there's a story I've written (two-three times in the month we've gotten the paper), to have something to read on my morning commute or to pilfer coupons.

I find our situation ironic, because I believe the only survivors of the foreseen-by-some newspaper collapse may be smaller local dailies. Local businesses will always seek places to advertise, and no doubt truly local, suburban news will need an outlet when it is ignored by the big-city media (whatever form it may survive in). I want to know why my library's hours are being reduced, where that fire truck was going last night and whether educational programs at my local school are being cut just as much as I want to know about the war in Afghanistan. So, probably, would most residents.

Economically, I don't think I would inclined to pay $20 for an annual subscription to a local paper online. But give me the actual, physical product that I might read now and then for the same price? Sure. Conversely, I might be willing to pay $20 for an annual subscription to, the SF Chronicle's online hub, but wouldn't buy a paper subscription. If you asked me why, it'd be hard to put it into words.

I guess it would come down to whether I'd feel guiltier having stacks of the San Francisco Chronicle or the San Mateo Times being recycled.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baseball goes Dutch

Korean fans in San Diego prior to a 2006 World Baseball Classic semi-final game. The WBC can bring out passions rarely seen in the American game short of playoff time.

In better economic times, in early 2006, I took my spring break down in Anaheim and San Diego to watch games from the first World Baseball Classic. While baseball is big in the United States, it doesn't generally bring out the same passions that, say college football does.

Indeed, as I saw the underwhelming U.S. squad beaten by the Mexicans in Anaheim, I noticed that emotions were held tight (indeed, the Mexican fans cheered a lot louder than the Americans). But flash-forward a few days to San Diego, where I saw Japan and South Korea -- longtime rivals on and off the field -- battle. Fans were segregated, drums were hammered and chants were VERY loud. The atmosphere was electric!

This year's tournament hasn't yet gotten much coverage in the States, but it's starting to raise a ruckus. The Americans play Venezuela tonight at Toronto's Skydome in a game pretty much meaningless except for seeding purposes, but if the U.S. wins, it will likely faces the darlings of this year's tournament: the Netherlands.

The Dutch twice stunned the Dominican Republic -- and the baseball world -- this week by overcoming the heavily favored Dominicans, 3-2 and 2-1 yesterday in 11 innings. The Netherlands' players stormed the field after scoring the winning run like they had just won the World Series -- and in effect, if you take the name seriously, maybe they had.

Sports Illustrated called the Dutch win the "international baseball version of Buster Douglas, the 1980 U.S. hockey team and the Milan Indians [of Hoosiers fame] all rolled into one." The Amsterdam Telegraph had a restrained story, but the commentators below the story were gushing in their praise (at least in the Google Dutch-to-English translation). I'm betting it'll even eventually make its way to Fidel Castro's blog.

Baseball is in an uphill battle to make its way back into the Olympics, and I've no doubt that a succesfull Dutch showing in the WBC will help get the sport back on the program. Showing that the "little guys" have the ability to succeed and counter the U.S./Cuba/Japan dominance will do almost as good for the sport as the United States losing the 2008 Olympic gold medal will have done for softball.

So I say, go Netherlands!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fuel cell bus coming to SamTrans, but don't expect to ride it

A Santa Clara County VTA fuel cell bus similar to ones local transit agencies will evaluate this year.

SAN CARLOS, Calif. -- While SamTrans may soon be getting a hydrogen-fueled bus, don't expect a fleet of the fuel cell buses taking passengers around the streets of San Mateo County anytime soon.

David Olmeda, SamTrans' director of maintenance, updated the district's Citizens Advisory Committee (of which your blogger is a member) on Wednesday about a pilot program that will see 12 of the so-called "zero emissions vehicles" go to Bay Area transit districts this calendar year. One will go to Samtrans, which will run road tests on it.

"Do we know if the vehicle works? Yes, it does." Olmeda told the CAC. "Is it ready to replace diesel vehicles now? No, it is not."

Hydrogen fuel-cell engines, at least in the type envisioned by SamTrans, use a chemical reaction between hydrogen (the most plentiful element in the universe) and zinc to produce electricity and power the bus. While these vehicles are touted as "zero emissions," they do indeed emit significant amounts of water vapor -- also a greenhouse gas, although nowhere near as potent in climate change as carbon dioxide.

The 12 examples, purchased by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission from Gillig at a per-bus cost of $2.1 million each (more than five times the cost of a typical diesel bus), will be leased to a variety of transit agencies, including AC Transit, San Francisco Muni and Santa Clara County's VTA, as well as a single example for SamTrans. AC Transit, which has a hydrogen-fueling facility in Emeryville, will get the bulk of the order and test the buses in revenue services. [Clarification (March 15, 2:08 p.m.) -- reader Chris Peeples points out in a comment below that these buses are actually being purchased on an AC Transit contract (MTC was involved in the planning) and are not being built by Gillig. I believe he fact sheet I got at the meeting stated Gillig, but I have recycled it and can not verify in what context Gillig was mentioned. I apologize for the error.]

SamTrans, however, would not have the benefit of fueling facilities and would have to get its hydrogen either from Emeryville or VTA -- burning off a significant portion of the bus' range before it even gets into San Mateo County. Short of expensively trucking in a hydrogen fuel truck, it is therefore unlikely that everyday SamTrans riders will get a lift in a hydrogen bus soon.

Vancouver, which has ordered 21 of the hydrogen buses in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, will be the biggest road tester of Gillig's hydrogen bus and will be looked upon to provide feedback for transit agencies across the continent.

"If performance from zero-emission buses is not what we're expecting, we may pursue other alternatives," Olmeda said. Such alternatives may include a wider use of bio-diesel. "It's a little more mature technology and can offer some benefits to us until we decide where technology takes us."

Olmeda did note that a combination of new, lower-polluting buses and the re-engineering of some older vehicles has more than halved SamTrans' pollution since 2002.