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.


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:


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.


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.


Goodbye Alameda

Over the past month, I have been unwinding my life in the San Francisco Bay Area and getting ready to move the family (and dog) over to Helsinki, Finland where Nokia, my employer, is headquartered.

For the past four and half years we have been living in Alameda, an island in the East Bay, about 20 minutes from San Francisco, over the Bay Bridge. We settled here because, Izumi, spotting Alameda on a map noted it’s location in the middle of the Bay, making it most convenient to most locations.

It took two months of intense house hunting (remember, this was 2004, the peak of the housing bubble) but we finally found a place that we could call home. We lucked out and were fortunate to find a neighborhood that we loved on a block surrounded by families with children that really bonded with our kids and grew up together over the years.

Tyler started in kindergarden when we moved in and just finished forth grade, Julia’s  finished first grade. Edison School, where we walked our kids to school each day, is the only school that our kids really know. It’s been tough for them to imagine what their life will be like in Finland so it’s been hard for them to leave.

Izumi too has made many friends here and as we walk the island people often wave or honk their horn, it’s that kind of place. Because English is not Izumi’s native language and she didn’t grow up here, she sometimes misses some of the cultural references people make in casual conversation but the community embraced her and Izumi really came to feel like one of the community. It’s been rough for her to uproot herself and get ready for our move and the past few days have seen a lot of teary goodbyes.

It’s sad to leave but it also represents a new beginning, a fork in the road. We’ve had the good fortune to live in Tokyo, Princeton, and Alameda. Now we have a chance to live in Helsinki, in a semi-socialist country with a totally different climate – a place where we’ll live with a built-in sauna, the schools and hospitals are excellent, and when we arrive it will be light out until 10pm. We been given the choice to live day-to-day in Europe and add that to our life experiences. What we do with this experience and what we make of it is up to us.

We’re leaving Alameda today but are making plans for a reunion in Europe next Summer and hope to make it back for a visit the Christmas after next. Thank you Alameda for taking us in and keep in touch!


Alameda Family Kicks the Fossil Fuel Habit

Congratulations to my neighbor Eve Pearlman who is challenging herself to life without an automobile. Eve sends her kids to the same school as ours and I’ve ridden with her husband a few times on the morning commute (I ride a bike to the local BART station now). I have a pretty good sense of what they are going through living in Alameda, our leafy suburban island off the San Francisco bay, without a car and it’s not easy.

The high cost of gasoline (around $4/gallon here) has changed many people’s driving habits. The speed limit on ever street on the island is 25 MPH which makes it ideal for people that want to limit their driving to these small electric golf carts which I see more and more around town. It’s also almost completely flat so it’s also great for those that want to get around on bike.

But with kids in the leafy ‘burbbs has to be a challenge. We all spend time shuttling the little ‘uns back and forth to school, soccer and swimming and I know it’d be tough for me because my son has practice on the other side of the island, a good 4 miles away. Put in a daily grocery run (because you can’t carry a week’s worth on your bike) and you’re going to be doing a lot of riding around.

Not that it can’t be done – I lived in San Francisco and Tokyo and didn’t buy my first car until I was 30. I salute the Pearlman’s and hope she can set an example for us all!


ULTRA, the Personal Rapid Transit vehicle

Alameda, the island I live on, is cut off from easy access to the local rapid transit system. Residents need to cross one of three bridges or a tunnel to make it to a BART station. Some people (including yours truly) ride a bicycle to the train station where they have a place to park your bike for the day. For those that drive to the station, by the time they take the trouble to get into their car, they figure they might as well drive the whole way – clogging the roads and using up gasoline.

One idea being passed around is the ULTRA, a small, 4-person transporter that is something between a tram and a Zip Car. Grab one of these that run on fixed rails around town and are parked at stations along the track. Punch in your destination and you’re on your way. The idea is that a network of these ULTRAs could shuttle people to the nearest train station and cut down the need to wait for a bus or drive your car.


Alameda Theatre Restored to Art Deco Grandeur

When I moved to Alameda four years ago I was struck by the beauty of the local movie palace. It was clearly from a different time, built before VCRs and DVDs, when going to the movies was a social activity, an occasion which you would dress up, put on something special.

Since closing its doors in 1979, the Alameda Theatre has been a roller skating rink, a disco, and most recently, a gymnastics studio. There was quite a bit of debate over how to revive the building which had, over the years, become infested with rats, water damage, and an alarming amount of pigeon shit.

The original Alameda Theatre was designed by the same person that designed the Castro in SF and built around the same time.

Alameda is an anomaly in the Bay Area, debates rage over improvements. There is a decades old measure in place that prevents any multi-story condos or apartment buildings and the debate over how to sustainably develop the long-abandoned naval base on the West End of the island is regularly featured in the opinion pages of the local papers (we have two). The final agreement with the developer of the theatre included construction of a 300+ car garage and several mini-screens in a newly constructed addition. The thinking was that a single screen would never be able to draw the audience necessary to make the $9 million investment pay off. Debates raged with the traditionalists opposed to what they called “cineplex” – eventually the developer won over the city council and development went forward.

Unfortunately, one casualty of this theater has been that our local pocket theater which I’ve written about before. Apparently there’s a strange arrangement that’s been made between the Alameda Theatre and the big studios that only allows first run films within a certain geographic radius. This little theater, with donated couches for seating, was within that area so they could no longer feature the films that they felt brought people to their doors. Several people suggested that they could feature “art house” films but the owner confessed that artsy types don’t really go for the soda & popcorn which made up his margins. Izumi had the idea that he could still stay in business if he ran classic kids films (the Disney classics, Little Rascals, Lassie, etc) but the decision has been made and he’s showing his last filming today. In my mind it’s unfortunate but the additional exposure for Alameda via the refurbished Alameda Theatre and the new business (and tax revenues) it’ll generate is worth this small sacrifice.

On opening weekend, the renovated Alameda Theatre opened it’s doors to the community with free screenings of classic movies from the theater’s golden age. I caught the Wizard of Oz with the family which was a real treat to see on the big screen. It was easy to imagine how incredible it must have been, at the height of the Depression, for folks to come into what can only be described as a movie palace and see color moving images for the first time. Experiencing the film in the theatre, Oz’s themes of faithfully following the yellow brick road but that no wizard can grant you what you need, you ultimately need to find it in yourself rang true in context like they never did before.

After the film, we joined all the townspeople and toured this new structure and could not believe that such a small town as ours could play host to such an amazing piece of architecture. It was as if Radio City Music hall opened up on Main Street. Kids were riding up and down the escalators as if they’d never seen one before. Everyone was smiles.


So far so good, everyone in town I’ve spoken to has seen several films since opening and we all just went to see the new Pixar movie, Wall-E and when the previews started to roll, people in the crowd yelled out “Focus!” and there was a brief intermission as they threaded the second reel halfway through. One of our neighbors across the street serves popcorn. They’re still working out the kinks but I kind of like it. The theatre has a real community feel despite its grandeur.

New businesses are opening on either side of the theatre (a wine bar and a gourmet hamburger place) and, from what I hear, business is up and the line at the local ice cream shop is always long. I was skeptical that this project would ever get off the ground but, now that it’s open, I’m glad and hope it leads to a revival of Alameda’s Park Street district.

Other Coverage


Small Town Messages

You know you live in a small town when the local PTA message board posts the following:

We lost one of our black silkie chickens near Santa Clara and Court. If you see a small black chicken roaming around please call us.

We miss her.  She is a pet, not dinner.


Our Local Pocket Cinema

Nice write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle of our local, 49-seat movie theater in Alameda. It’s a one-man operation with the same guy who takes your tickets and serving you popcorn also running the projector. With old couches and laz-y-boy chairs to sit on, it’s more reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso than your standard Lowes megaplex.

Our competition here is not that megaplex opening downtown,” Haskett says. “Our competition is Blockbuster. Our competition is Netflix. Our competition is iTunes. I’ve got a big screen and a venue that you don’t have at your house. But you’ve got your sofa and you’ve got your TiVo. That’s where the competition lies.