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Baseball Fandom, Visualized

The United States of Baseball

From a New York Times deep dive into how people list their preferred baseball team on Facebook.

“Like the Mets, the Athletics are the less popular team in a two-team region — less popular everywhere in that region, based on the data from Facebook. Again, winning the World Series matters. The Giants have won two of the last four. The A’s have won none of the last 24.”

Alameda baseball fan baseI always knew that there are a lot of East Coast transplants in the Bay Area, 6% of them being Red Sox fans sounds about right.

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Glomar Response

We finally got a decent winter storm here in California which meant that instead of my usual train/ferry & bike commute I had to shlep it home on a bus to stay dry. The bus is comfortable but it involves a good 60 minutes so it’s a good time to catch up on podcasts.

Today I listened to a fascinating piece which told the story of the “Glomar Response” which is that foggy response that a PR flack gives when they want to answer a question with a non-response.

“We can neither confirm nor deny. . .”

When did such a phrase come about? What were the circumstances that required someone to come up with such a turn of a phrase? The good folks at Radiolab dug in and found the answer. Give it a listen, it’s an amazing piece of cold war yarn.

Here’s the Alameda connection. A sister ship to the Hughes Glomar Explorer was the HMB-1. This was basically a floating dry dock which had ballast tanks that would flood and submerge the dock underwater beneath the Explorer. Inside was the massive claw device used to grab the submarine mentioned in the story. The sub could then be pulled into the docking bay while it’s still underwater and the HMB-1  surfaced and the retractable roof pulled back over on top, all the while hiding its cargo from the prying eyes of Soviet spy satellites. It’s all very James Bond.

Later, the HMB-1 was commissioned by the Navy for the Sea Shadow, an experimental ship built back in the 80’s when stealth technology was all the rage.

This would have been an excellent race barge for Team Oracle.

The HMB-1 was designed to hold this top secret boat, again, to keep it from prying eyes between engagements.

Sea Shadow at rest
Sea Shadow at rest

The Sea Shadow never was produced and it, along with it’s floating/submersible covered dry dock was eventually mothballed in Suisun Bay north of Martinez.

The Alameda connection takes place several years later when the Navy decides to auction the whole package off.

Even though Bay Ship & Yacht Company would eventually be awarded the vessel, the company’s bid wasn’t the highest. “The highest bidder was a Chinese outfit, I believe,” Cameron said. “Even though the Sea Shadow project had been declassified, there were still some privacy issues, so the government didn’t want to sell her to a foreign entity.

And the second highest bidder, which was a company in the Gulf Coast, backed out when they realized how much it would cost to move her down there. We actually wrote it off as ‘not gonna happen’ when we found out we’d been outbid. Then we got a call a month later letting us know she was ours if we still wanted her.

The $2.5 million price tag was small compared to the $15-$20 million that it would cost to build a new traditional dry dock, which Bay Ship & Yacht had been considering for some time. “And we wouldn’t have that cover, which makes HMB-1 such a strong and unique piece of equipment,” Cameron said. He estimates that to build HMB-1 now would cost upwards of $50 million.

The biggest challenge that shipbuilders and ship repairers face with traditional open-air dry docks is weather. Rain (or any moisture) and wind can bring a job to a screeching halt, making income harder to come by during winter months. “HMB-1 is definitely going to be an asset in that respect this winter,” Cameron said. “But it’s the ability to be more efficient and the environmental aspects that we’re all really excited about.

Bay Ship & Yacht Repurposes Top-Secret CIA Project to Go Green

Bay Ship & Yacht Company is, “one of America’s leading service, refit and new construction yards for super yachts and commercial vessels” based on the old naval base on the West End of Alameda. If you have ever taken the ferry over to the Alameda Antique Fair or visited the old Rosenblum winery, you can see the HMB-1 docked right next to the Main Street ferry terminal.

And now you know.

Further Reading:

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Time Travel

I picked up a book of old photographs last weekend that detailed Alameda’s railroad history. I had heard that the island where I live used to host a network of light rail lines that served the community but had no idea how extensive it was until I browsed the pages of Alameda by Rail this past weekend.

Each photo was meticulously documented with approximate location and year of the photo so I took it upon myself to locate some of the places where the photos were take to see if I could approximate what the view looks like today. The results are below.

Steam Locamotive on Encinal
Steam Locamotive on Encinal during the early 1900s

Encinal Avenue today
Encinal Avenue today

Commuter train from the 40's on corner of High and Encinal
Commuter train from the 1940’s on corner of High and Encinal

High Street Station today
Location of High Street Station today

Having an awareness of what had once been gave me a whole new appreciation for the history of our neighborhood. Alameda today is a bit cut off from San Francisco as most drive (it takes about 30 minutes without traffic). The nearest light rail station is Fruitvale BART station which is about 10 minutes away on bicycle. Apparently trolleys raced back and forth across the stretch of the Island every 30 minutes and, if you wanted to go to the city, a ferry was waiting over on the West End that could take you directly downtown to San Francisco.

Imagine how different life would be if you could catch a train to the city by walking out your front door! Too bad the ripped up all the tracks – with the price of gas and parking today, it would be nice having those old trains back and less cars on the road.

Full set of photos (higher resolution) on flickr.

UPDATE: If you want to try this poor man’s time travel trick but don’t have a book with old photos, check out WhatWasThere. The upload and overlay onto Google Street View is a bit finicky but if you get the alignment right, the effect is quite stunning.

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House of Cards

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

Just finished all 13 hours of the first season of the latest Netflix series, House of Cards. While I didn’t binge view as some of my colleagues did in the name of journalism, I did find myself staying up later than normal to watch “just one more episode” of this dark cousin to West Wing.

Apparently Netflix dropped $100 million to produce two 13 episode seasons. The result is a Season One that plays as a 13 hour movie about the dark, evil underbelly of Washington politics. Given such resources and space the characters are wonderfully developed and, if like most, you watch the series over a short span of time, you come to know them as an extension of your reality. The depth and detail of House of Cards makes the typical 2 hour feature film feel like a rough character sketch.

The series was shot with digital RED cameras which allowed them to shoot takes continually without stopping the camera.

Obviously, shooting digitally helps, [House of Cards was shot using the RED camera] because I never had to cut. I could say, ‘Go back out and come in again,’ and it’s amazing the pace you get. It’s a Frank Capra trick from way back. Because he could only print so many takes, he used to say, ‘Keep it rolling, go out and come in.’ What he found was people were more energized, and it gave this effervescence, and I ended up having to do that.

But the most interesting thing is that Netflix decided to release all 13 hours of the first season in one go. At first I was skeptical. Traditional television leaves you with cliff hangers that bring you back each week for what they used to call appointment television. Netflix knows a thing or two about “binge viewing” and based on their data, felt they could generate more buzz if they released everything at once. I agree. The coverage has been fantastic for Netflix and I’m sure it’s driven a spike in membership. Indeed, they are watching data on viewers to inform their next original series.

Further Reading

House of Cards’ Forth Wall –  Exploring the lead character’s asides to the camera.

Playing with a New Deck – details about how multiple director’s filmed the series and were given freedoms not normally extended to directors of television series.

House of Cards coverage on GigaOM & paidContent

 

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Loss of Innocence

Yesterday, my 10 year-old daughter, discovered that the Tooth Fairy no longer exists. I was packing to return home from our vacation and was about to stow some bandages in my toilet bag when she caught a glimpse of her note and tooth that she had left for T.F. under her pillow several days ago. It was a real shock for her.

My son, who is older, was different. He likes to figures stuff out for himself. My wife and I knew he no longer believed but weren’t sure when he stopped believing. He was a good sport about it though and kept Julia in the dark for the past few years, playing along, saying nothing. Today I finally asked him when he was clued in. He looked up from an episode of MythBusters and said he figured it out when he lost a tooth but decided not to tell us. He put the tooth under the pillow and nothing happend the next morning, the tooth was still there. Eliminating the variables, he put it together.

As fat tears rolled down Julia’s cheeks, between sniffles, I could feel her ache of losing something magical, something bigger than herself, someone with whom she could keep secrets. With the fall of the Tooth Fairy, others soon would follow. She tugged at this loose spiritual thread and asked me point blank about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and so on. Knowing it was time to come clean, I lay down the cards for her. By mid-morning, not only had the Tooth Fairy ceased to exist but all the other childhood myths lay shattered in pieces.

I wonder how this will change her over the next year. She’s about to go into 5th grade, the last grade before she goes on to Middle School. Many of her classmates have been telling her that Santa and the others do not exist but she’s been resisting them, choosing to have faith. Now, with that dream broken, she’ll be on the other side of the fence. Those who know the existentialist truth of a world without the Tooth Fairy.

A father worries, what will become of that innocent smile?

Photo by CC Marks

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It’s Elementary

via @jarnovayrynen

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Cancer Sucks

I’m in Japan this week to visit my father. He has colon cancer and just checked in for surgery.

This is not a total shock. He is getting old after all and I’ve come to accept a time when something like this would happen. He’s taking it well. He has openly embraced his body slowly falling apart like the owner of an old MG learns to deal with a tricky carburetor.

He could have gone in for check-ups and caught the cancer earlier and addressed it. Maybe he could have put some time between now and where we are today but that’s not Rick Kennedy’s style. He is not really a doctor kind of guy. He proudly tells the story of how, when diagnosed with a kidney stone he, “somehow managed to piss it right out.” I’m told that is extremely painful, most opt to dissolve it with drugs or other treatments. He has a high tolerance for pain and the cancer grew in him as an annoyance until it became something he couldn’t ignore. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

My father influenced me in many ways. As I am raising a son myself, I have an appreciation for how he was able to plant seeds of interest that lead me to take the path that I’ve chosen in life.

My early interest in cycling gave me love for the sport that I experience everyday as I ride to work. He was there in the late-70s with a fixie back before anyone heard of such a thing, an original hipster. I fondly remember watching grainy video tapes with him of European coverage of Paris-Roubaix and other European classic bike races as we learned about the sport together. Part of our weekly grime clean routine was to disassemble our chains, wash them off with an old toothbrush and kerosine, then dip them into a coffee can full of oil warmed up on the kitchen stove. My mom hated that. We were bike nerds.

My dad had a nose for the eccentric that would drive my mom nuts. For two years he somehow convinced my mom that we should live in a commune. It was fun for me and my sister because there were always lots of kids to play with but the shared chore list made my mom crazy because most people slacked off and she ended up having to do a lot of it. We moved out shortly after a lady named, Tomorrow nearly burned the house down after one particularly memorable party.

Dad was a writer. (Good Tokyo Restaurants, Little Adventures in Tokyo) Originally an editor at Random House, we moved to Japan when he convinced Sony they needed someone to help make their user manuals less laughable. He took great care to chose the right words and was quick to criticize sloppy use of the English language. To him, bad writing shows a carelessness that offends him.

We have an on-going debate about the craft of writing, often about the merits of print vs. online. He will never understand hashtags or data-journalism. “I’m just a print guy,” is his refrain. On his way into today’s operation, he insisted on carrying a copy of The Spectator and New Yorker to read just in case he got bored. The nurse had to remind him that he’ll be under while they operate on him. His books were his security blanket. He loves to read and has a hundreds of books he’s collected over the years at great expense. When I asked if I could bring him anything new from the US he declined, “Some people save up money for retirement, I’ve been saving books.” He has a stack of 15 books on the table next to his hospital bed and I’ve been asked to bring with me several more. AJ Liebling, Anthony Powell, Cyril Connolly.

Dad was incurably optimistic. To a fault perhaps. I remember seeing the book, “A lazy man’s guide to enlightenment” on his shelf. That was very much his philosophy. The secret to happiness is being at peace with what you have, not pushing for more that you might not get. He doesn’t like anyone to fuss over him but I think he is secretly enjoying his time in a Japanese hospital. The nurses are angels and are so gentle and kind. Japanese society is coddling to begin with so you can only imagine what this place is like.

I have no idea what to expect of Dad’s operation. As can be expected, he is brushing this off as an annoyance but also says things like, “It’ll be good to know you’re here,” which sounds ominous. My mom tends to suppress bad news by ignoring it and she hasn’t really been asking many questions. Keep your fingers crossed. We’re all hoping for the best.

Thanks to everyone who has already sent along their wishes. Thank you to all those at GigaOM who are filling in for me while I’m away. I am thankful to my managers who, when they learned of the news, told me to absolutely, without question, take as much time as I needed. Stand up folks at GigaOM they are, I feel your support and it means a lot.

I’ll update this post when I hear more. He should be getting out in a few hours.

UPDATE: All good! After five hours doctors where able to cut out about 20 cms of his colon and a big, ugly looking lump of evil. He’s resting in the ICU now and doctors say he’ll be wobbling about on his feet tomorrow. He’ll stay there for a week or more depending on how he heals. Luckily they were able to do the whole thing through a few tiny incisions so at least the outside will heal quickly.

The first thing he said? He wants a few more Anthony Powell books!

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Caine’s Arcade

Caine’s Arcade is a charming short film about a 9-year old boy who built a homemade  arcade out of cardboard boxes at his dad’s used auto part store in East LA and how a community rallied to show him some love.

One day, by chance, I walked into Smart Parts Auto looking for a used door handle for my ’96 Corolla. What I found was an elaborate handmade cardboard arcade manned by a young boy who asked if I would like to play. I asked Caine how it worked and he told me that for $1 I could get two turns, or for $2 I could get a Fun Pass with 500 turns. I got the Fun Pass.

Nirvan Mullick

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Christmas Tree Lane

Over the weekend I got to play dream maker again. Each December, my street transforms itself into a carnival of lights. Each house on the 3200 block of Thompson Avenue in Alameda drapes itself in lights including the big pine trees down the center isle. This is a tradition that has been going on since the 1920’s and people come from all around the Bay Area to walk down the street each evening to take in the sights. Also part of this tradition is that all the dad’s volunteer to play Santa for visitors to the block and this past weekend was my turn.

We’ve been on this block since 2004 and each year the spectacle gets a little richer. This year was our first time back after two years away, and it’s clear that things have definitely turned up a notch.

The Blacktop Knights roll down the street

Christmas Tree Lane (as our block of Thompson Avenue is called) now has a Facebook page, reviews in Yelp, and even some intrigue as thieves hit some houses on the street last year to making off with some of the decorations. Thankfully, the community rallied even stronger and a dancing troupe called the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees raised everyone’s spirits and raised funds for those that lost their decorations. This year the Trees came back for another performance, this time they are raising funds for a trip to London for the 2012 Olympics.

One of the great things about being Santa is that you get an intimate glimpse into the hopes and dreams of kids today. Lots of requests for BeyBlades and iPods but also some challenging ones (a real dragon? a reindeer?) that require some quick thinking. I’ve learned to repeat loudly the presents the children ask for so a quick sidelong glance up at the parents tells me whether that new bike or ‘puter is a go or no go.

A couple of kids wondered where the reindeer were (they were “resting up”) and then there was the precocious young man who, after asking him what he wanted, replied, “Don’t you remember? I just told you yesterday!” and glared at me until his parents quietly reminded him that Santa sees lots of kids leading up to Christmas and tends to be forgetful. All the more reason to write a letter.

There are some challenges. The child with a mom, reeking of vodka, trying hard to make the best of it, and the young girl who couldn’t stop frowning. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she wanted her grandma back from Christmas.

Some glimpses of hope too. A few kids asked not only for something for themselves but also wanted to make sure that I remembered what their kid sister or brother had on their list. One boy even reminded me that her mom wanted a necklace which made her (and Santa) smile.

Very much worth it and a great way to kick off the holidays.

Being Santa

Also see my post, Playing Father Christmas, from 2004.

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Julia on Violin

She’s been wanting to play for years.

A new way to play the ukulele

and now she’s now learning to pluck the strings.

Julia on Violin

Yesterday, Julia received certification from the Royal College of Music.