Friday, September 30, 2011

Omni predicts the distant future of 2010 -- Part I: Inflation

Omni magazine predicted the future, or did it?

Omni was a strange combination of a science magazine and a science fiction journal that published from 1978 to 1996. It specialized in "gonzo" science journalism, as well as publishing cutting-edge sci-fi.

In 1980, the editors published The Omni Future Almanac, which aimed to predict the trends of the next 30 years or so. Some predictions, they got pretty close on -- I plan to look at their views on e-mail and the Internet later. Some predictions were not so good -- the geo-political ones, for example (who saw that darn Berlin Wall falling within the next ten years?).

One area that Omni tried to predict was consumer costs. As the chart below shows, and remember that these predictions were made during the stagflation of the late Carter Administration, they were not so accurate about 2010 prices:

From Omni predicts 2010 prices

Wow! Obviously the rate of inflation has gone down. My local Safeway wants $1.49 (club card price) for a head of iceberg lettuce, not $5. The most-recent Big Mac index I could find shows the sandwich goes for about $4.07 in the United States, making $22 for a pound of ground beef seem high. The average monthly rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the San Francisco market is $2,662, not $10,000 (although a million dollars for a home purchase is close!). Current New York MTA subway fare is $2.25, not $20. The average US car sold for $28,000 in 2009, not $70,000. $2.75 for a daily newspaper? What's a newspaper?

The price of gas mark is interesting. Omni thought that better fuel efficiency in cars would drive down demand and greater drilling in Alaska and elsewhere would increase supplies, making the costs of fuel DROP significantly after 1990 to about $2 per gallon in 2010. The average price of gas in California right now is $3.84 per gallon. Interesting to see how geopolitics (and SUVs) affected gas price predictions.

To be fair, Omni also predicted that secretaries would now be making $95,000 a year and the average public high school teacher would pull in $110,000, over-estimating current rates in both cases. Of course, Omni also said a Major League Baseball player with "average skills" would make $330,000 per year. In 2010, the mean salary for a MLB player was about $3.3 million!

So the next time you see an economist predict the rate of inflation, take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why the Giants failed in 2011

The Colorado Rockies beat the San Francisco Giants 6-3 at AT&T Park on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011.

It was an amazing day for baseball on Wednesday as four simultaneous elimination games determined the final wild card participants in the playoffs.

At San Francisco’s AT&T Park, however, it was a bittersweet day as the Giants officially relinquished their status as defending World Champions. It was a disappointing finish for the hometown fans, as the visiting Colorado Rockies won, 6-3.

The game was in some senses a microcosm for the G-Mens’ year. They fell behind early, made a spirited charge, missed scoring chances, then ran out of gas.

The residual buzz of 2010’s World Championship brought a franchise-record 3,387,303 people through the turnstiles in 2011, but the Giants could never get on track this season.

The main culprit was undoubtedly the horrendous injury suffered in May by 2010 Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, which cost San Francisco an MVP candidate and a big bat. Other injuries to All Stars Freddie Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval, when coupled with a mid-season cold streak and a late-season Arizona hot streak, made the loss of Posey difficult to overcome. Essentially, the rest of the Giants couldn’t mount any offense.

As it turns out, the Giants needed less of this:

Pat Burrell striking out in the sixth inning of Wednesday's game.

And more of this:

Rookie Brett Pill doubles in the sixth inning Wednesday, during a three-run Giants rally.

Wednesday's game also likely marked the final appearances in a Giants uniform for 2010 standout Pat Burrell, who is likely to retire, and Mark DeRosa, the oft-injured utilityman who never got a chance to shine with the Giants (although he had two RBI during the game).

Next year the Giants will likely be back in contention. While it’s almost certain to lose free agent slugger Carlos Beltran, the team will feature a healed Posey, possibly a healed Sanchez, a Brandon Belt who’s a year older and wiser, and the returning core of its rich pitching rotation.

San Francisco will again fill AT&T Park to the brim, and young fans like the one below (my son), who never lost faith, will lead the charge.

Ian Baker is no bandwagon fan.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Turandot or Turandon't? San Francisco Opera at the Ballpark

Our view from the Club Level as the SF Opera Company's performance of "Turandot" was simulcast at AT&T Park.
I have to admit, as cultured as I like to pretend to be, I have never been to been to a live opera (I've never been to the ballet either, but I did have tickets for the Boshoi's 1992 tour of Los Angeles that was cancelled due to the Rodney King Riots). So when the family was invited to the San Francisco Opera's annual performance at AT&T Park on Sunday, I jumped at the chance to see Turandot. And, to live Tweet it for a class:

Friday, September 23, 2011

GAO: Eliminate dollar bills in favor of dollar coins, save more than $5 billion

If not for gold dollars, Millard Fillmore would be under-representated on US currency.

I love my Congresswoman, Jackie Speier. She’s never backed down on a fight, despite having been shot five times for her political work. She’s been a strong representative for my community (including its transit issues) on the local, state and national level.

But I think she’s on the wrong side of one of the latest fights she’s taken on. Speier announced over the summer that she would introduce a bill to kill the dollar coin program.

Dollar coins? Yes, the United States has dollar coins. You don’t see them much, unless you actively seek them out or buy some straight from the mint, but they’re there.

And there should be more of them. The non-partisan Governmental Accounting Office recently issued a report that stated swapping dollar coins for bills could save the US Government $5.5 BILLION.

Annual savings to US government by replacing dollar bills with coins.

The United States recently got a few million more dollar coins into circulation by doing two things: starting the Presidential Dollar Coin Program, in which every dead president gets his own coin (hence my Millard Fillmore coin); and introducing a direct ship program to the public.

The problem with the latter deal was that frequent fliers got word of the program, buying literally nearly a billion dollars worth of coins in order to get miles or points, then depositing them right back into the bank. The government recently discontinued the direct-ship program because of “ongoing activity by individuals purchasing $1 coins with credit cards, accumulating frequent flyer miles, and then returning coins to local banks. Local banks, in turn, returned coins to the Federal Reserve. While not illegal, this activity was a clear abuse and misuse of the program.”

The result was more than $1 billion of dollar coins stuck in the Federal Reserve, raising the ire of Speier and resulting in her bill. (Disclaimer: I bought about $20,000 worth of dollar coins through the program, accumulating miles, but I also spent about $5,000. The coins are great for everything from bus fare to tips to Tooth Fairy Money for dentally challenged seven-year-olds.)

So let’s look at the numbers. The average cost to print a dollar bill was about 9.6 cents in 2010. The cost to make a dollar coin was about 30 cents – but as coins last about 20 times longer (40 years, versus two years for the “paper,” actually cotton/linen, dollar), the US would save millions in the medium-to-long term.

Let’s also look at some of the most-traded worldwide currencies. None of them print anything nearly as worthless as the US dollar:

Country/region -- Currency -- Lowest denom. bill -- Value in US $*
Europe -- Euro -- €5 -- $6.71
United Kingdom -- Pound -- £5 -- $7.70
Australia -- Aus. Dollar -- $AUD 5 -- $4.85
Canada -- Can. Dollar -- $CAD 5 -- $4.85
Mexico -- Peso -- Mex$20 -- $1.42
* As of Sept. 23, 2011

The U.S. government’s huge mistake, of course, is to continue printing $1 bills while producing dollar coins. Canada, Australia and the UK introduced coins of similar value into circulation by replacing the corresponding notes, eventually leaving the public with no alternative but the coin (the Euro has never had anything less than a €5 bill). That is what needs to happen here.

Freshman Congressman David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) has introduced what he calls the COINS Act, which would replace dollar bills with dollar coins. Is Schweikert’s bill going to go anywhere? Probably not, but it’s a start.

I love dollar coins, but with the direct ship over the Internet program ended, I’m running short on Tooth Fairy money. Luckily the kid says he doesn’t have any loose teeth.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Neutrinos faster than light would have profound implications

CERN / LHC tunnel
A small portion of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Switzerland. Flickr photo by Ars Electronica.
A discovery was announced today that will either revolutionize science or be one of the biggest busts since the Fleischmann–Pons experiment in cold fusion, if not attempts to turn lead into gold.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known by its French acronym, CERN), announced in a paper to be released soon that they had measured subatomic particles that seemed to travel faster than light. Essentially, scientists launched neutrinos from a source near Geneva, Switzerland, to a detector in Italy about 453 miles away. The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds (0.00000006 seconds) faster than a photon (the particle [or wave] that makes up light) would have.

First, this discovery is somewhat shocking because it violates Einstein's theory of special relativity (you know, "e=mc squared"), which states nothing can travel faster than light. Relativity has been proven correct in experiment after experiment for more than 100 years. It's as if someone told Newton that there wasn't an equal but opposite reaction after every action.

Part of the CERN research center.
Flickr photo by dirtybronson.
The discovery is still doubted by other scientists, perhaps due to what would have been the sheer ludicrousness of proposing it before today. In fact, Occam's Razor (given multiple explanations, the simplest is the most likely) applies here. For example, "superluminal neutrinos are much much less likely than subtle systematic errors in a complex experiment the length of a country."

One might ask, "OK, but why is this important?" There are several reasons, although the ultimate effects -- if the experiment pans out -- might not be seen for years, if not centuries. Certainly, the everyday life of people alive today is unlikely to be affected. But the long-term effects may be enormous:

  • First, the implications for computing are significant. Think quantum computing will be fast? Then, what about computers that solve problems almost before they're entered?
  • What about astronomy? If neutrinos can go faster than light, one day we might have detectors that can almost literally see back in time to the beginning of the universe.
  • And not even finally, but perhaps most profoundly, neutrinos going faster than light means that information (although probably not objects) can also be sent faster than light. If mankind is not alone (and with billions of galaxies containing billions of stars, being alone is unlikely), then we might have the means to communicate with other beings in a reasonable time frame.

But the best part of this business is how it demonstrates the scientific method. These scientists came up with an idea, tested and experimented it into a hypothesis (that neutrinos can travel faster than light under some circumstances), and submitted their work to be peer reviewed for more experimentation en route to forming a theory. In fact, they basically pleaded with scientists from the United States, Japan and other scientifically advanced countries to try to replicate their experiment to make sure they didn't make a mistake.

The results may or may not pan out (probably not, I must admit). But the scientists' efforts at confirmation are a huge relief in times when those on both the left and the right often refuse to recognize the teachings of science because it doesn't fit their social or religious agenda.

Edit (Feb. 22, 2012): It appears that a faulty GPS reading caused the distances between the two sites to be overestimated, accounting for the unexpectedly short time it took for the neutrinos to hit the detector. Again, this shows the wonderfulness of the scientific method and its system of checks and balances.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review of "New Girl," in live Tweets

As many of my readers have noticed, I've been blogging more lately. Most of the output is due to a class I'm taking at San Francisco State University, Journalism 650: Social Media for Journalists. One of our assignments is to live-Tweet something before Friday night. So I decided to do it while I was doing something I already do: watch television.

The best candidate for a live Tweetfest this week was Zooey Deschanel's new show, "New Girl." So here's my second-by-second reaction (via Storify):

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What happened to media coverage of San Francisco prep sports?

Is the lack of preps coverage related to the lack of fans,
or is the lack of fans related to the lack of coverage?

As usual during the last 20 or so Septembers, I've been covering high school football for local newspapers the last couple weekends. This afternoon, I covered El Camino High's visit to Lincoln High, where the photo above was taken.

There once was a time were the San Francisco High School Championship would bring 50,000 people to Kezar Stadium, but there were probably as many people on the field Saturday as in the stands. While an estimated 500,000 people attended high school sporting events in 2009-2010, attendance is no doubt well down from its peak era.

Of course, it ultimately comes down to a waning interest in both participation and outside interest in high school sports due to the availability of other activities (e.g., video games and the freakin' Internet). One factor might be the relative lack of media coverage at "prep" sports today. I was the only person reporting today's game for a newspaper. A decade ago, the same game might have brought at least four print media reporters and a crew from a TV show such as "High School Sports Focus." Is the lack of media coverage of high school sports a symptom or a cause of low attendance?

Locally, I trace a lot of the decline in local media coverage to Hearst's acquisition of the Chronicle about 10 years back. Then, as now, the Chronicle had very little high school sports coverage. But the Hearst-owned Examiner had healthy preps coverage and did fairly well. So when the Examiner staff took over the Chronicle, one might have thought that Hearst would bring its coverage over there. Not the case. Prep coverage in the Chronicle is virtually nonexistent.

The Fang family, which owned the thrice-weekly Independent, which had a decent local sports section, took over the Examiner, and covered local sports well (at least until it came under Anschutz ownership). Of course, an eventual casualty of Fang ownership of the Examiner was the very existence of the Independent (the Fangs apparently couldn't afford to keep two papers going). So, over time, the city of San Francisco was left with minimal high school sports coverage.

But new technology is giving prep sports coverage hope. While the local sports pages of local papers like The San Mateo County Times has shrunken precipitously, other media have stepped in to take up some of the slack. The only other reporter at the game was from, a local site started by a San Francisco State University graduate to cover local sports. In this, its second year, SanFranPreps has gotten successful enough it can start paying its writers, or so its editor told me last week. Over the past five years or so, has revolutionized the coverage and visibility of high school sports. Even the somewhat-maligned from AOL has somewhat helped improve local sports coverage.

So, while the crowds are not at the games anymore, and the "traditional" media has almost abandoned prep coverage (and limited local coverage as a whole), new media offers a ray of hope -- albeit a slight one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

KaBOOM! explodes South City's Orange Park playground

It’s no secret that local governments are in dire straights. The recession has depleted the coffers of local agencies and resulted in huge cuts in local budgets.

Even my own city of residence, South San Francisco, has cut its budget by more than $700,000 and that “low” level of cuts was only possible thanks to a heavy dip into the reserves. So it was no surprise that when it came time to renovate the playground at Orange Park — absolutely my kid’s favorite playground in the region — the city looked for a way to cut costs.

The City entered a public/private partnership with KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that has built hundreds of playgrounds across the country. Former Daly City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Eric Zeemering, who is also former SFSU public administration professor, told me last year that KaBOOM! “bring(s) a great group of volunteers together and really do(es) fantastic work.”

After a months-long process of fundraising and volunteer recruitment, the new playground opened late last month. The result of that work is up at the top of this post.

To review, let’s look at how Orange Park’s main playground used to be (2007 photo):

All of that was ripped out, including a pair of train play sets that my son loved playing on. Now there’s just a big vacant space on the formerly busy playground:

My son misses the old trains. I understand there was a limit to what KaBoom could donate, but why did they have to rip ALL the old playground equipment out? I know the City said it was due to it not meeting safety codes, but if it were an actual hazard, wouldn't they have ripped it out long before now?

Nevertheless, both my kid and others seemed to enjoy the new equipment (left). It was obviously clean, the slides were still nice and slick, there were no jagged edges and there was a refreshing lack of graffiti. In short, what they still did have at the playground was very nice.

And, of course, the old place didn’t have such dire safety warnings:

Public/private partnerships have proven to be a valuable way to leverage limited funds. Cities can’t do it on their own anymore, and organizations such as KaBOOM! (which was hilariously featured in an episode of Parks and Recreation) might just be key to local governments’ ability to deliver services.

But citizens need to beware of the strings attached, and next time, keep the train!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Local blog tips from SFist and CurbedSF

Local online journalism is as much about fingers on the keys as it is boots on the ground, according to editorial staff from a pair of respected blogs focusing on local news and features in San Francisco.

Sally Kuchar, editor at, and Andrew Dalton, associate editor of, addressed students in a journalism seminar at San Francisco State on Wednesday and pointed out that a lot of the work needed to put together a good local blog is perusing other websites that cover the same issues.

For example, Kuchar said she checks a syndicated Google Reader feed hourly and spends a lot of time perusing local blogs and online photo collections, such as those on Flickr. Tips through the website itself are also important. Of course, if one does use something from another site, they must be sure to cite their sources — even if that source was just used as “inspiration.”

Dalton noted that one important thing a local blog needs to do is interact. For example, the SFist staff does not simply put headlines up on SFist’s Twitter feed, it actively interacts with its readers. The hope is that readers will feel that there are real people behind the posts, not just robots.

Tips learned:
1. Don’t be afraid to read the competition;
2. Expand beyond the traditional web feeds, check Flickr and the like;
3. Cite your sources;
4. Interact!;
5. Don’t be afraid to post frequently, just keep the quality high.

Finally, although quality is of extreme importance, much as it is in traditional journalism, local sites shouldn’t be afraid to use a bit of quantity in their social media feeds, according to both editors. With readers checking going onto the Internet at different, non-consistent times of day, they might miss an article posted at an earlier time. Local news sites should feel secure that occasionally reposting the same story link might find it a new audience at a later time.

Friday, September 9, 2011

On the cusp of the Silver Age: Challengers of the Unknown

Most serious comic book fans know the time between the Golden and Silver ages was a strange era for comics. Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent had left the publishers in an aimless funk, their crime comics cancelled, their superhero books toned down and their business failing.

And with misogynistic writing like that to the right (from Action Comics No. 260, where Superman pretends to have an affair with his disguised 15-year-old cousin Supergirl for a typically convoluted plot reason), who can blame readers for leaving the medium?

While the 1956 introduction of the Silver Age Flash started the industry's revival, 1961's Fantastic Four No. 1 cemented it. But as famous as the FF is, the concepts of scientific adventurers (or, as Mark Waid later called them, "Imaginauts"), was actually predated a few years earlier with DC's Challengers of the Unknown -- not coincidentally co-created by Jack Kirby, who also co-created the Fantastic Four.

The group debuted in Showcase No. 6 (February 1957) as four acquaintances -- Kyle "Ace" Morgan, Matthew "Red" Ryan, Leslie "Rocky" Davis, and Walter Mark "Prof" Haley -- miraculously survived a plane crash unscathed. They concluded that since they were "living on borrowed time," they should band together for hazardous adventures. I recently checked out a collected edition of the Challengers' first stories from a local library, and you can really see the sense of adventuring and exploration (rather than simply fighting bad guys) that was later to be the hallmark of the best early FF stories.

Not to say there weren't some silly moments that marked the Challengers as products of their Cold War, "American Can-do," era. For example, in the panel below, an alien is on the loose and the Challengers are concerned its appearance will harm industrial production:

In another silly panel, the amazing concept of a "rock formation" in a city, is cause for worry:

What city doesn't have a rock formation somewhere? Sigh.

Still the Challengers were good fun in their early appearances, if not up to the amazing standard that the Fantastic Four would set less than five years later.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Who defines a journalist? Apparently BART police ...

#opbart @awesome_hubris tell me #anonymous press is @vinceinthebay
(Photo by Steve Rhodes, via Flckr.)

A protest at a San Francisco BART station on Thursday outlined the continually evolving struggle to define what makes a journalist and, even worse, the government's role in that definition.

I've blogged here recently about the continuing series of protests against BART after District police shot and killed a man who was reportedly threatening them with a knife and the (in my opinion unconscionable) decision to cut cellular phone service in the stations in order to curtail protests. Another protest on Thursday brought the issue of defining journalists to the forefront.

Instructor Justin Beck, a former San Francisco Chronicle writer and avid Twitterer who taught me last spring in Journalism 226, decided it would be a great teaching experience to take his San Francisco State University online journalism students to the protests as an exercise in live blogging/tweeting an ongoing news event. Things got hectic when, according to the students' Twitter timeline, officers dispersing the crowd began to question the student journalists' lack of professional credentials.

At least one student, Brad Wilson, reported he was handcuffed and detained after being stuck in a throng of protestors that were locked in the BART station by police.

The SFSU student newspaper reported that seven students were detained, the longest for more than two hours. Other media stated that more than 20 people were detained or arrested. Wilson told me via Twitter that he was not cited after Beck stood up for him and the other students.

While the police may claim the students, and other media who were also cited at the event, were exacerbating the protests, the issue about the credentials is a key one. Who should be deciding who are and who aren't journalists? BART police think they are the ones who should decide, it seems.

First, let's address the issue of whether "student journalists" are, in fact, "journalists." To me, it's no question that student journalists have the same rights as professional journalists. In fact, a groundbreaking case on whether police have the rights to search newsrooms is based on a case involving a school paper. In Zurcher vs. Stanford Daily (436 U.S. 547 (1978)), the US Supreme Court ruled that -- at the time -- police may search a newsroom seeking evidence of crimes covered by a media outlet. So outraged was the press and the public, that Congress passed the Privacy Act of 1980, which greatly limits the circumstances in which a newsroom can be searched. Therefore, case law has established that "student journalists" are just plain "journalists."

So to the larger issue; who defines what makes a journalist? Many cities have tried. Lake Oswego, Ore., tried to define a journalist as someone who works for an established media outlet, in an apparent attempt to filter out bloggers from covering certain meetings. In discussing a shield law for journalists a couple years back, senators attempted to limit the "journalist" tag to professionally affiliated journalists.

These definitions simply do not fit the realities of today's journalism. These days, one is more likely to find out local news via a blog, such as SFist or Patch than they would the big city paper. These smaller outlets rarely have much full-time staff and depend on volunteer or freelance contributors for their content.

Many scholarly papers have debated this issue. A growing consensus is going to a definition based on function (i.e., what are these people doing?) instead of a one based on status (who do these people work for?).

Debate over a federal shield law brought the issue front and center, according to an article at Mashable:
According to David Ardia, the director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School, “A functional definition is the way to define journalism. We don’t want to create a definition or guidelines that work only with the current journalistic model. The best definition looks at the activities. Were they conducted with the purpose of providing information to the public? That’s the core and puts the public at the center.”

Were these students seeking to provide information to the public? Damn straight they were. In fact, they were learning how to do so properly. So, to paraphrase The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "Press passes? We don't need no stinkin' press passes."

At least the students had a sense of humor about being detained:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bad military strategy rampant in Star Wars movie series

George Lucas' Star Wars series -- at least the original holy trinity -- is seen by many as extolling the virtues of Joseph Campbell's power of the heroic myth. The series has other highlights as well, I've personally written how Lucas channeled classic archetypes of organizational theory in the films, as an example.

One thing Lucas has never been up on, however, was military strategy. Examples: in The Phantom Menace, a giant invasion force lands far from Naboo's capital, giving opponents time to organize guerilla warfare. The Empire never launches more than a squadron of TIE Fighters against the Rebels attacking the Death Star (right), despite some sources saying the battlestation had more than 7,000 on board. And don't get me started on the poor aim of Stormtroopers!

I've always thought the worst example of Imperial poor battle planning was when Vader kills an Imperial admiral in The Empire Strikes Back because he dropped the fleet out of hyperspace close to Hoth, hoping to surprise the Rebels. Any good tactical commander would've gone for the surprise.

But no, 34 years later I have finally discovered the worst example of strategic military planning in the movies. This scene, from late in the original movie, stood out to me when I saw it on cable last week.

From the shooting script (and preserved in the movie, despite all Lucas' modifications):


Han, removes his gloves and smiling, is at the controls of the
ship. Chewie moves into the aft section to check the damage.
Leia is seated near Han.

HAN: Not a bad bit of rescuing, huh? You know, sometimes I even amaze myself.

LEIA: That doesn't sound too hard. Besides, they let us go. It's the
only explanation for the ease of our escape.

HAN: call that easy?

LEIA: They're tracking us!

HAN: Not this ship, sister.

Frustrated, Leia shakes her head.

OK, so if Leia knew the Empire was tracking the Millennium Falcon, and the location of the Rebel Base was such a secret that Leia was unwilling to reveal it to the point where it got her home planet destroyed ... then why the fuck did she have the Falcon go straight to the Rebel base?????

C'mon George, you're killing me!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Volvos can crunch spreadsheets?

Wow, I knew the Swedes were tech savvy, but who knew this car could run Microsoft applications? (Click on photo to embiggen.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Returning a 14-years overdue library book

It took a decade-and-a-half, but I have finally completed a long-postponed good deed.

Sometime in the fall of 1997, while attending Humboldt State University, I was riding the bus from Eureka back to my Arcata home when I found a book on the floor. It was a tome entitled, “The Philosophy of Nietzsche” (left) and markings clearly identified it as belonging to the library at College of the Redwoods.

I briefly perused the book, loosely browsing Nietzsche’s musings on “Man vs. Superman” and learned “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” came from the German philosopher’s writings.

There were no other passengers in my area of bus to whom it might belong, so I thought I’d hold onto the book until the next time I got down to College of the Redwoods, about seven miles south of Eureka. Having recently visited there, I thought it would be just a few weeks until I got back.

It turns out that being a poor, carless student with a full load of classes at HSU meant I never returned to the small community college while I lived on the North Coast. Nietzsche’s book was eventually integrated into my personal library’s philosophy section, with the vague understanding that I would return it if ever I got the chance. After graduation, I visited the Arcata-Eureka area a few times, but I was on very tight timelines or just plain forgot every time.

The guilt built each time I saw the book on my shelf.

Flash-forward to this week. My sister, who lives in the backwoods of Humboldt County, had a baby (a boy) in Eureka on Wednesday and I planned a visit. I decided to take the opportunity to return the book, which I had found again and set aside during a recent book purge at my house.

After some searching around the construction-plagued campus (below), I finally found the library and asked for a senior librarian. I was introduced to “Tim,” to whom I explained the situation.

I apologized to Tim for having held onto the book for 14 years and lamented the fact that some poor student had probably paid for the book a decade previous. He seemed a bit bemused.

“Better late than never,” Tim said. “It’s been on a journey.”

The library staff thanked me and I left campus a slightly happier man. Returning lost items gives me joy. It’s a shame, however I still haven’t reunited the camera I found at Comic-Con with its owners.