Thursday, August 30, 2007

Down to one

The Cats won last night and Tucson lost - that moves the magic number to 1. We are five games up with five games to go but were the Sidewinders to win all of their remaining games and us lose them all - they would go to the playoffs because of a better inter team record. Komine did good job through seven and we added runs in three consecutive innings. (With an insurance run near the end.) The big news from the evening came from Tucson - where the Sky Sox went up big early only to have the game tied and go into extra innings. Fortunately the Sox came back in the 10th to win it.

So here is where we are - Salt Lake has clinched their division - so if we win the Southern division we will face them in the first round of the playoffs. It is unclear who will emerge to face Nashville in the other division.

I did not get to go to the next to the last home game because I am in LA preparing for my daughter's wedding on Saturday. So I kept logging into both websites (the Sidewinders and the Cats) to keep up with the game while at dinner. Ah, the wonders of technology!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One more night closer

Tonight's game was an interesting one. The temperature was sultry. (as the photo seems to attest) It was about two and a half hours but because of the temperature, it seemed a bit longer. The game saw Dan Meyer face 23 batters with 90 pitches and the win. (His eighth) Ron Flores came in for only four pitches. That has been the pattern recently for him.

One odd thing. Kevin Mellillo made both hits that scored runs and both saw Gregorio Petit be the one who scored. That puts Kevin to 49 RBIs for the year.

The Cats go to a magic number of 3, with six games remaining. Unfortunately, Tucson does not seem to be cooperating - they won tonight.

A game to remember

Last night, with eight remaining games, Dallas Braden, set a club record with 17 strikeouts against the Colorado Sky Sox. The previous minor league record was 13. Before the game Johnny Doskow had predicted Braden would do 15 but he was wrong. Braden also went the distance, which is rare anywhere but really rare in AAA ball. His last outing was close to this performance, save one grand slam in the fourth innning against Fresno five nights ago. In his five decisions Braden has a 2.95 ERA. Braden threw a total of 106 pitches - with 81 strikes. He held the Sky Sox to three hits.

On the offensive side Nick Blasi got a fifth inning homerun which was only his second for the season but it came at a crucial time.

The Cats have seven games left and a magic number of four.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The next four and possibly beyond

The Cats won tonight bringing their record in this series to 3-2, bringing us to 77-59. Before we started this series we were way up on the Grizzlies. (The Nashville Sounds are still 83-53) Lou Merloni brought back the Godfather theme. That seems to have brought back his mojo. His double in the eighth put us in the lead.

There are eight games left. We welcome the Colorado Sky Sox for four games, our last home games. The Sox are 66-70 and pretty much out of their division. We then go to Tucson for the last four games. With the Grizzlies now down five, it is unlikely they will come back to win the Southern Division. So it comes down to us and Tucson. Tucson's schedule is a bit better than ours - it has four games at home against the semi-hapless Portland Beavers (56-80) and then the last four are against us.

The magic number for the Rivercats is down to five - but at this point in the season, that is pretty meaningless. Our two new guys (Richie Robnett and Eduardo Conejo) have the chance to add something. Conejo (Eddie Rabbitt) is at .300. In 59 games and 196 at bats he hit .286. Robinett has had a rougher time in coming up to the Cats. Tonight he came back up to .125. But at Midland, he hit .269 with a good number of RBIs.

Assuming we get through the Southern Division we will probably face the Salt Lake Bees. We have not done well against the Bees this season. In the American division of the PCL it is either Albuquerque or Oklahoma with the Isotopes in the lead tonight. I guess we won't be bored at the end of the season.

Creating the Story - A Continuing Saga

California is one of three states that requires a 2/3 vote to pass a budget. When the provision was originally adopted, during the depression, that may have been the norm. It was reinforced as a constitutional standard as a part of a voter approved measure in 1962. But the Sacramento Bee does not like that requirement. They editorialize against the standard at almost every opportunity, sometimes it is not on the editorial page. For example, in today's front section the Bee has the following headline "Budget Brawl boosts the lure of majority vote"

One would expect that the story would present some new information about a change in voter attitudes or some other evidence that would reinforce what the headline argued. Indeed, California was 52 days late in adopting a budget. But it was not the last to complete its budget process. The story quotes a suggestion by the Pro Tem of the Senate to convene a working group to think about ways to improve the budget process, that might include changing the voting requirement. It also cites the Speaker of the Assembly who asked for a voter initiative on the budget. It rehashed the effort by Senator Tom McClintock to eliminate the 2/3 requirement last year. Although McClintock is a conservative he thinks the 2/3 requirement allows some members in the minority to deal - thus raising expenditures. All of those are old news.

The real grist of this story is a set of comments from one Arturo Pérez, who is with the Conference of State Legislatures, one of two major groups that brings together state legislators to talk about common problems. NCSL is often seen as a bit more left of center than its counterpart. But Pérez "cautioned that a simple majority will not ensure an on time budget."

The Bee then binds together some statements from the Speaker, who has always supported eliminating the requirement and a quote from the Governor who stated in the middle of August that he might be open to a change. But as Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) commented the special requirement for adopting the budget is "consistent with the philosophy of our nation's Founding Fathers, who wanted to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority."

From my perspective, the real story here is that a representative from the NCSL suggests that eliminating the 2/3 requirement is probably not going to fix the non-functional parts of the current budget process. But that story would not fit in with the Bee's campaign to eliminate the protection for the minority party. Were the Bee doing its job it might convene a debate on its editorial pages about the 2/3 requirement. It has become a shibboleth that the 2/3 requirement is somehow "anti-democratic" (although last time we checked we live in a republic not a democracy). But the wisdom of the Founders was to recognize that some parts of the process should meet a higher standard of performance - in order to assure some ability of the minority to participate in a meaningful way. That is a benefit that even the Bee should not lose sight of.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Slumping toward the end of the season

The two strongest teams in the PCL this season have been the Nashville Sounds (82-53) and the Rivercats (76-59). But in the last eleven games that has not been true. The Cats have lost 8 of their last 11. The last time they put together back to back wins was in mid-August. (10-14)

Colby Lewis came into the game tonight as one of the Cat's strongest pitchers. But for a good part of the game he threw more balls than strikes. Hitting was a lot better than last night although not a great deal more productive. Jorge Piedra (for some reason he is called George - I understand the translation just do not understand why he would spell his name in Spanish and want to be called it in English). He is our best hitter at this point with enough at bats to make it count. We had 12 hits tonight.

Near the end of the season there is a lot of moving around both up and down. So we learned today that Brian Stavitsky got moved to Stockton. And we have two new players up ( Robnett and Cornejo) from Midland. So the end of the season is based in part on luck and in part on talent.

For the last couple of nights our lead catcher has had a tough time. One member of our section has been grumping. Jeremy Brown, for a couple of games, would either strike out or hit a pop fly. Last night he got caught in between bases. Tonight, he was waved in by Tony D, only to be caught at home plate. Jeremy is not what you would call fast. Some of the fans refer to him as either speed racer or the rocket. But tonight he had a pretty good night, until he was waved in to home.

The only saving grace at this point is Tucson who has lost their last two games. Our magic number falls to 6 with nine games left. The most depressing thing about this series is that we came into it with an outstanding record against Fresno. The last series in Fresno we swept. But in this one the best we can come out to is 2-5, if we win tomorrow.

Colorado Springs comes in on Monday night for our last four home games. If the Cats win the Southern Division it is likely that they will face Salt Lake - that is especially true if they do well in the last home stand. If they win that series they will go on to play Nashville (although don't underestimate Albuquerque) or Oklahoma (which seem inclined to decide their division on the last day of the season).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Momentous Events

Our daughter turns 30 today. In 10 days she will get married. At this time in her life it would be appropriate to make some comments. When she was younger she counted time in "a few whiles" - her nephew (our grandson) counts time in "a few sleeps."

When she was born she was the first girl child on my side of the family for a long time. Her brother was a ground breaker for my wife's side of the family. My mother, and Florence Eisman, were ecstatic about her (Florence Eisman because that is what grandmothers buy for their grand-daughters and my mother only had one grand-daughter).

I wrote her a song (Emily bemily booglie brown) which we sang together for several years. When she was a small one she was on a soccer team which lost every game they played. I was one of the coaches and had heard from the neighborhood parents that they were not interested in winning (a myth in liberal neighborhoods). When we proved very successful at not winning, we heard from these formerly "mellow" moms and dads.

On her fourth birthday we had wanted a clown to come and entertain but for some reason we got a duck. The next morning, mustering all the indignation she could she sternly told us "Mother and Father, I do not want you to invite a duck to this house again."

She visited my bosses house about that time and when my then boss asked her hold old she would be next year - she said she was four then but would later be "all those other ages."

In her interview for kindergarten she commented about how she liked lobster neither her mother nor I had ever seen her eat it. She stayed at that same school from kindergarten through high school. When in high school she picked up an interest in soccer and was even at about 100 pounds a really competitive and aggressive player.

There were all sorts of incidents in school - mostly good. She did a great Cleopatra report - in costume. She took an honors scholarship for high school after I had been the only member of the board to oppose the program.

When she started to drive she was a leadfoot. After a couple of sets of brake replacements I grumbled that she could not drive until she wrote a report on brakes - she promptly did that in French, which I do not read.

I made the pronouncement that she would be chaperoned until she was (Fill in the age) and so her mother said, when a she and a bunch of her chums wanted to go to a rap concert, OK, you get to take them. (Glad I had my shooter's ear clips - the decibels were about 8000 in the auditorium.)

She went to France as a student. We were worried but she seems to have had a great experience. She even explained to her host family who "Slick Willie" (Clinton) was. When that family sent a boy to stay with us he spent his several weeks with his nose in escapist fiction.

She went to college, had a tragedy in her first year, with the death of a good friend, but surmounted it by the time she was a senior. Those kinds of things are tough. When she graduated the girl's mother hosted a luncheon for all of the girl's friends.

She had a host of boyfriends. Fathers of independent daughters do not get much chance to comment on those young men. (Although you would be amazed how little it takes to express an opinion.) At one point a group of fraternity brothers who had daughters laughed about the "growl" - when a young man comes around you respond two registers down and in monosyllables. The brothers who only had sons did not understand, but I did. The man she will marry is a great match - he understands her foibles but also her great gifts - which she has had since she was little. She seemed to attract, mostly, articulate and funny boys. One was one of the best BSers that I have ever met. But she finally saw through him.

After college she went to Europe with a guy who her mother and I thought she would either break up with or come back engaged. Thankfully, she broke up with him. She is thoughtful, creative and goal oriented (her wedding planning book is like an Army field manual). He was not. His best line, after being in a bunch of countries in Europe over a couple of months was "Gee, it will be strange getting back to one kind of currency." I wonder if he went back to Europe if he would be confused by the Euro. But as I said, she found someone who understands her qualities.

Then she got a series of jobs. A couple were clunkers. What I was impressed with (among other things) was her response when in her first job a terrible boss was trying to force her out and she extracted a more than reasonable settlement. A few years ago she started with a smaller company as a recruiter and I think she found a niche which utilizes her abilities. But that smaller company had a bizarre culture - run by 30 somethings who think attitude trumps performance. She figured that one out quickly. Her company now is in an area that she is interested in and where I think she will advance.

When she started to work after college she lived in San Francisco - first in the Presidio. She soon understood all of the nuances of SF (I am not a fan but she got the best out of it) even living in an apartment in the FIllmore (after she left the Presidio) which was not much larger than my current office. When her first real job gave her the choice of either moving to Chicago or taking another job - she decided to find a job in LA. And did that. First with a publishing company whose creative flair seemed most positioned on creating new niche titles in magazines.

When we had an interim priest, she quickly dubbed him "Fr. Terry, of the cloth" her ability to deal with double entendres is excellent. (That one was almost a trifecta).

She has become a good friend to my mother-in-law who lives in LA. Not because of obligation but because she wanted to do it. That is a rather rambling summary of her at 30 but at least it hits the highlights.

So excuse me if I am a proud dad. No don't excuse me - I should be.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


On Friday, I went to San Francisco to spend the day with an old friend from the legislature. John Vasconcellos was around the legislative process for almost 40 years. He's been through a couple of transformations in his lifetime but has been a consistent supporter of the California Master Plan for Higher Education -which, at the time it was adopted, was a monumental set of plans for building a very strong higher education system in California.

The Master Plan actually is a continuous process in California from much earlier than when the "landmark" plan was adopted in 1960. But the 1960 plan was a pretty remarkable set of ideas. Since the Donohoe Act was adopted California's population has grown by 130%, the number of high school graduates has grown by just under 200%, number of undergraduates by 311% and the number of degrees produced by 439%. That was, in part, because the leaders of the time recognized that the coming decades would require more college educated workers. At the same time they recognized that establishing a slightly better definition of what each of the public sector institutions (UC,CSU and the Community Colleges) did would assure that resources were used effectively. At the same time an underlying assumption of the plan was that there would be a vibrant independent sector of higher education that would work mostly cooperatively with their public counterparts.

But in the last decade California has slipped a lot. We are slipping in terms of the number of high school students who go on to higher education and in the number of students who enter and complete a degree. So as our economy has demanded more college educated employees we've done a lot of importing of graduates - from other states and other countries. The Public Policy Institute of California did a superb report this Spring which wondered whether we could continue in that trend.

Vasconcellos has an idea to re-establish the principles of the Master Plan- he has a legacy project that he developed after he was termed out and this is one of his interest areas. So a group of us got together to think about how that might happen. Clearly the state benefitted from the investments we made in higher education in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But in the last decade the state has clearly declined.

But I was reminded about the state of our commitment to necessaries when I drove back. From a location near San Francisco State, when I left at 2:30 PM, it took five hours to get home. That is a distance of 114 miles - so the drive was about 20 miles an hour. Admittedly, part of the problem was Friday afternoon a couple of weeks before Labor Day but if it is tough to drive on the state's highways it is also tough to assure that every student has a chance to go to college (and to graduate).

More on Mike Deaver

The NYT did an obit on Mike Deaver and again slanted it to tell their story. The story suggests that Reagan's trip to a German military cemetery undid Deaver. Yet, in the Reagan diaries the president comments several times that his trip there was a good thing - although complicated by the protests by Jewish groups. The Post's editorial describes what he did as "orchestration." Both stories credit Deaver with the creation of the photo op where, as the Post describes it "which positioned the former actor in visually irresistible locations where troublesome reporters' questions could not intrude." Deaver's PR sense in both articles is almost always characterized negatively. For example, Deaver once said ""The more you expose yourself, the more you expose yourself to trivialization." Yet, anyone who has watched the press around the president understands the reality of the assessment. There is an inherent tension between the president and the press. The press, especially with GOP presidents, often wants to build a story from what they think is important. Some of that coverage comes from trying to define who works for the president and their level of control. As noted yesterday, the press often thinks that GOP candidates are "managed" and thus created. In reality, all politicians try to manage their roles with the press.

One of the challenges of the modern presidency is the ability to manage the incumbent. The number of staff around all presidents has increased. The pack nature of Washington journalism has also increased. Reporters see themselves in a light that is considerably broader than someone hired to report the news. I would argue that whether Deaver was the creator of the photo op or whether he orchestrated the press' relationship is not the right question. Clearly, prior presidents did a lot of orchestration. How come the press during FDR never photographed him in a wheel chair? How come we did not know about JFKs health issues until after his death? How come we did not see Pat Nixon smoke in public? All of those were orchestrations.

Deaver seems to have understood his true role. He was a close advisor to the Reagans. But he said "I didn't make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mike Deaver and the New York Times

Mike Deaver died of pancreatic cancer today and the NYT had a story about him as a "shaper" of Ronald Reagan. Indeed, Deaver helped to create what we knew about Reagan. But why is it that every GOP president for the Times has some kind of Svengali like image molder? The Times commented that he was "celebrated and scorned as an expert at media manipulation." But that measure of Mr. Deaver is off the mark. Don't democratic presidents also use people who help shape their public image? Clinton relied heavily on focus groups in molding his campaign and indeed his presidency. But that is not seen by media sources like the Times as "shaping" how we understood that president. Every modern president has someone who thinks carefully about how their candidate/president will be portrayed in the media and those people spend a lot of time trying to assure that the media image is favorable. Political campaigns are made up of images. Does anyone actually believe that Gerald Ford was actually a bumbler? As I think I have noted previously, when Ford presented his first budget I was in the White House press briefing room and watched him answer detailed questions about his proposal for almost two hours - without notes or prompts. But the media continued to characterize him as clumsy and not too bright.

What I know about Deaver was that he had a lot less hubris than image managers like James Carville. And also, from what I know he genuinely loved the process of public policy and politics.

I have just finished reading the Reagan diaries - which are quite interesting. Presumably, unless the Times believes that Deaver actually wrote those, the jottings in those eight years are a pretty good reflection of who the president was. Of course, some of what Mr. Reagan wrote in those pages was with an attention that at some point someone else would be reading them. But what you see from the pages is a person who a) genuinely liked people, b) understood the symbolic power of the presidency, but most importantly c) had a pretty good sense of policy and what was important.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bully Pulpits versus Just Plain Bull

The Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, has created quite a range of discussion and debate. That has been especially true of her calls for "accountability" mechanisms. She has yammered (in my opinion) for quantitative standards. Is that a positive or negative thing? I asked that question when a friend, who is an official in the accrediting association of orthodox rabbinical schools, wrote a piece for Inside Higher Education. He commented "In essence, Secretary Spellings did what education secretaries are supposed to do: she pushed higher education higher on the nation’s agenda, she stimulated a cauldron of healthy controversy, and she energized our college and university leadership in a way I haven’t seen before. I was one of those who disagreed most vigorously (but respectfully, I hope) with some of the secretary’s initiatives. And if circumstances warrant, I will not hesitate to venture an opposing view in the future."

What has bothered me most about the Secretary's attempts over the last year are two things which I believe are critical to any public policy process. She has been very sloppy with her use of facts. For example, she made the repeated claim that a third of all support for higher education comes from the federal government. That is possible only if you take the entire value of all federal research grants and all student loans and count them as single year expenditures - you then get close to a third. But that type of accounting would never be acceptable in any reasonable review of the influence of federal spending. She made the absurd claim that there is a paucity of information about colleges and universities. Somehow with this paucity her daughter was able to enroll in a prestigious liberal arts college in North Carolina - so at least for some people the information seems to be there. When she first made the claim, I wanted to test it so did a simple Google inquiry about a specific academic field and location in the country - in the space of less then 20 seconds, I had tons of information about the range of opportunities that would be available. Facts in public policy are important and anyone trying to make a change should begin with the facts. At the same time the Secretary has tried to do her assault from behind the veil of a managed image. For example, in every forum I have been with her in the last year she has spoken and then only been willing to respond to written questions. The "dialogue" she proposed to engage in was phony. If she has the courage of her convictions, she should be willing to engage. But her conversation is more of a diatribe.

There are two concerns I have about my friend's comments. First, I am not sure what education secretaries are supposed to do. I am still not quite sure whether we should have created a Federal Department of Education. The two most prominent Secretaries in the history of the Department spent a lot of time creating controversy but I am not sure they did more than generate activity. Are we better off because of the rhetoric of William Bennett or the enactments like No Child Left Behind (which is admittedly something that Secretary Spellings did not create - although she seems intent on extending the simple minded principles of that Act to higher education where the market is much different.) But second, I am also not convinced that inflamed rhetoric actually moves higher education. Getting higher education's attention is a tough thing to do. Higher education in the US is a diverse set of institutions with often conflicting and contradictory motives and interests. Thus, to lump all of higher education into a box, as the Secretary has tried to do, could well be counter-productive. But if the position of Secretary of Education is not a place to make the establishment uncomfortable, what is its purpose? And as importantly, how do we as a society get an institution like higher education to move forward.

In the last year, higher education has moved on some new areas of disclosure which will make it more understandable. In the last couple of years, all of higher education has begun to think more carefully about costs and prices. Some of that has come in response to the yammering of public officials. One could argue that without that hectoring, higher education would continue blithely on the path of least resistance. But I, for one, am not convinced that as my friend describes it - the "purgatory" is the best way to get the institutions to think creatively about how to change.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Annoyances in Mexico

I've spent the last couple of days in Mexico City working on a two projects. I find Mexico City a bit too large for my tastes but interesting. I ate at a two very good restaurants. And I had a some very good meetings. But here are two things which annoyed me.

#1 - Telmex and the iPhone - Unlike the situation in Aguascalientes a few weeks ago I had a lot of problems with my phone in Mexico City. Two things were troubling. First, frequently I would get a message when trying to call "Call Forwarding Activated" and then would be denied the ability to call out. There was no rhyme nor reason to the problem. I tried to troubleshoot it with AT&T yesterday and they did not have a clue. But second, all of the calls come in as Blocked - so I cannot see who is calling. When the iPhone begins to sell in Mexico I hope both problems are fixed.

#2 - Capitalone - Last night I had a dinner at a fairly expensive restaurant and tried to pay for it with my Capitalone Mastercard. I am a good customer of Capitalone but they refused to authorize the purchase. I tried to call their helpline TWICE and both times was cut off by them. When I get back to the states I will call their fraud desk and then decide whether or not I will cancel the card. I spoke to a couple of friends who said Capitalone is often a problem on authorizations. Needless to say my balance was less than 2% of my authorized limit so there was not a credit problem and the total amount of the sale was $250 or a small fraction of my available balance. I paid for the dinner with another card but was annoyed that they would question my credit. Notice that a few weeks ago I made a purchase in another part of Mexico which was about the same amount with no problem. GRRRR....

The picture is from one of the archways in the office of the Secretary of Public Education which is one of my favorite public buildings. I had a meeting there this morning.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Civil Religion of Global Warming

This morning I pre-ordered a copy of Bjørn Lomborg's new book. Lomborg wrote a book a couple of years ago called the Skeptical Environmentalist which generated a lot of discussion. I thought a good deal of what he said made a lot of sense - namely that we need to respect the environment but we should not go crazy with fear about the risks we face.

As Amazon always does when I made my purchase it recommended a couple of other books including one that I have not read but know something about called Unstoppable Global Warming. The comments on this, which were numerous, were probably more interesting than the book. There is a lot of scientific evidence that at least some of the trends claimed by Al Gore and the followers of Kyoto are simply false that ultimately the earth goes through some long cycle changes that seem to last about 1500 years. There is some pretty good science that supports the theory. But to read the comments here one would have thought that Lomborg and Singer and Avery are the Anti-Christ.

Any decision here ultimately affects future generations and current ones. If we spend too little in protecting our environment we may suffer some of the consequences that Gore and his followers suggest but if we spend too much we may sacrifice global economic growth. In an ideal setting we would get policy makers who thought carefully about the alternatives and the tradeoffs. But as you read the discussions on the Singer-Avery book that is not what is going on. First, although the two authors (and Lomborg too) are distinguished scientists they are attacked as lackies of the energy companies. Needless to say, the supporters of the alternative point of view do not seem to want to admit that their position might be at least partially influenced by some outside sources.

One of the comments struck me as particularly interesting. For the better part of a year before the turn of the century we heard a lot about Y2K and the catastrophic problems that might occur because of a glitch in code which prevented all but the most modern computers from recognizing that years had four digits. We spent a lot of energy and worry about an issue that turned out to be much ado about very little. Indeed, the lack of clarity on some dates could have caused some potential problems but in the end we seem to have wasted a good deal of energy worrying about a set of questions that was ultimately solved by reasonable work arounds.

I am concerned that Mr. Gore has two qualities which I distrust. First, a good deal of what he argues for reinforces his notion that government can and should do more. We need to be constantly aware of issues where government can be successful and where it cannot and to not allow this or that chicken little to badger us into accepting heightened government activity simply to help us solve a perceived problem. My perception is that at least some of the investments that we have made over the last couple of decades in environmental protection have been beneficial - but that does not mean that every dollar invested will be well spent. His trust in government is religious - faith based. The second quality that bothers me about his is his do as a say not as I do philosophy. Gore has not been a paragon of environmental living standards but some how his lifestyle (which can be partially offset by his purchased indulgences of carbon credits) is ok because of the purity of his motives. That is nonsense.

More on Boats

The natural beauty here can be at times overwhelming. For the two days I was on the boat I shot 375 pictures. There are just lots of things to see. The Madronas (which are a cousin of the mesquites that you see in California) are a stunning contrast to the stone outcroppings. The flowers, especially on Roche Island, are quite brilliant.

The odd contrast is that you are never without contact with other people. There are always, within a reasonable period of time, other boats in view. At the two places we moored there were a ton of boats around and yet at night the sounds are very still. One of the nights we found someone who had the same kind of boat as my brother and we went over to their boat and had a tour. They were retired and had had the boat shipped from Mexico (where they had been on board for two years) to Seattle. In about five years they had about 2100 hours on the engine - which is evidently a lot. Before we left Bellingham we had heard a story about a woman who had fallen off the boat while docking into customs. It turned out that the woman was the same one we were visiting. Small world. She fell off and luckily did not hit the dock or get hypothermic in the water.

The food is also not bad. One night we at at McMillan's in Roche Harbor. I have eaten there several times. Roche is a pretty happening place - although it has lost some of its charm - it is being developed a bit more than it was. Each night at sunset there is an elaborate setting of the colors which uses both the Canadian and the American anthems. On the second night we ate on the boat - fresh Salmon with some simple veggies.

But you always come back to the scenery. The 8 photos in these two posts are only a part of the wonder I saw.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wild and Crazy

This is the time in the baseball season when a history with Saturday Night Live is appropriate. The Rivercats started today, after a day off, 5 games up over the Tuscon Sidewinders and with a magic number of 21 to win the Southern Division and eventually go on to either the Pacific Division finals or to the whole championship for the PCL.

Near the end of the season the cats add and subtract like rabbits - thus we added a couple of new folks and moved a couple of Cats staples down so that the 150+ moves of the season would be added to. Remember at the end of the season that will happen even more so we might get to 175 moves for the season by the end of the month.

Last night's game started out with the Cats going ahead 1-0 - then it was tied up at 2, then the Cats went way out in front. In the intervening time I went to the gym to work out and as I was leaving tuned in to hear that the tying runs were on base in the bottom of the ninth - the Las Vegas 51s (the Dodger's affiliate) was about to break it out). Fortunately, the Cats did a double play which won the game 9-7.

The Sidewinders won last night also so the magic number drops to 20. This is a long road swing which will last until the 22d when we meet Fresno (which is currently in third in the division). A lot can happen before then. At one point one of the three teams will falter. When they come back they host Fresno for four and then Colorado Springs for four before ending the season in Tucson. Thus eight of their last 12 games are played against teams that could have a shot at the division.

As I think I said earlier in the season this team has a bit more heart than last year's club even with the tremendous number of moves so the odds are currently pretty good that the Cats will go on to the postseason. What is unclear is whether any team can beat Nashville which has the best record in the league.

Reflections on Boats

For the past couple of days we have been on my brother's new boat on its maiden voyage. We went out into the San Juan Islands. My brother was in the Navy and for the past 10 years or so has been an avid boater. The new boat is 54' and quite nice. The San Juan islands are absolutely magnificent. One morning, because I have a problem with small spaces, I woke up early in our cabin and went up and watched the sun rise from right before first light. The transformation of the harbor we were in was subtle. The water went from glassy and then rippled as the tide began to come in. At the same time the light moved from pitch black to brilliant red in the space of about 90 minutes.

One would expect a new boat to be a finished product but there are a lot of complex systems on it and thus it is always a work in progress. Since this was a shakedown cruise there was a lot of tinkering. But because the boat has several electrical and hydraulic systems on it (from a couple of refrigerators to a shower to bow thrusters to radar to a sound system) there is a lot to get the entire set of systems to work together. My brother told me that part of the trick is to find a set of people who are willing to spend the time in getting to know the special qualities of the boat. He also said because of the way that people who work on boats work that it is always good to get a lead and a spare person - to assure that things get fixed. He argued that because of the specialized nature of the particular of the skills it was often the case that one expert would come in and suggest that there was only one way to solve a particular problem.

For the most part the weather was mediocre - it was cloudy a good part of the time although we only had light sprinkles. But that really did not make much difference.

The pictures here are from two locations in the San Juans - Roche Harbor and Susha island. More about the trip in a later post.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Cats come back

This weekend's games through Monday night were pretty interesting. Coming into it we saw the New Orleans Zephyrs. In four games two of their players went down. First Ben Johnson got a compound fracture of his ankle on Thursday night. Then on Saturday Jesus Feliciano was chasing (and eventually caught) a fly ball to center and then hit something near the warning track and fell like a sack of potatoes and was out for about 10 minutes. The joke in the stands was that they might not choose to come back to Sacramento next season. We ended up splitting games with them.

Saturday night was also Dusty Baker night. He signed a bunch of stuff which was sold in a silent auction to benefit Oak Park Little League. I met Dusty several years ago and he was a great guy. My son met his mom in his store. She told Pete that her son played a little baseball; a classic understatement. I got outbid on a Dodgers Jersey at the last minute. Sorry I did not just jack up the price. As it was all the items only raised about $2300. For this cause and with this guy it should have raised more.

On Sunday the Oklahoma Redwings came to town. Both nights (Sunday and Tonight) were very cold for late August. We won both games. Dee Brown and Jason Perry both hit homers (each with two runs) and then we added two more for a total of six. A lot of the action was based on the prevailing winds - get the ball up in the air and it was going to travel. Tonight we started off OK only to fall behind. Tonight it was Jeremy Brown and Jason Perry for homers.

For the past couple of games Ron Flores has pitched to only a couple of batters - tonight he faced four - with two Ks.

The Cats are six games up with 27 to go. The last four are against the Sidewinders who are currently in second place in the division. If we hold on we would end up playing Salt Lake or Colorado. Salt Lake has given us fits this year. Nashville looks like it will be in the finals (although it could be (New Orleans of the Isotopes). There are two more games against Oklahoma and then a long set of road games that does not bring the team back until the 22d. Our last home games are against Fresno and then Colorado.

We will miss the last two home games to go to our daughter's wedding in the LA area. Last year we had to miss the team lunch because it was on the same day as my son's wedding - but the next day we took the whole wedding party to a Rivercats game.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

More on the Bridge

The predictable cycle of more yammering that government can solve problems like the bridge collapse has started. John Nichols of the Nation (does anyone read that now except for the laughs?) used some colorful language to describe the first money coming from the feds to help with clean-up - the grant " will barely be enough to cover the expense of extracting the bodies of the drowned and dismembered commuters who were hurtled into the river when the interstate highway bridge they were traveling on buckled and then fell into the river. And it will not begin to pay for the rebuilding of a vital transportation link in one of America's most populous cities -- an initiative that will cost in the hundreds of millions. To get the money that is needed to repair the damage, limits on federal aid for infrastructure will have to be lifted."

The Daily Kos described the failure of the bridge in similarly epic terms "A tragedy courtesy of politicians who, in their own ways, follow Grover Norquist's dictum of reducing government until it's small enough to drown in the bathtub. And of passing out massive tax cuts, mostly to people who need them least. It's not just bridges. As the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card 2005 points out, we're $1.6 trillion behind in infrastructure investment. That, by the way, is the amount of tax cuts Mister Bush tried to get passed in 2001, before he had the Global War on Terrorism™ with which to shape his legacy. Congress "compromised" and gave him only $1.35 trillion, tax cuts that writer Robert Freeman once labeled a "national form of insanity." (Note the ASCE is a "professional" organization dedicated to advancing the professional aspirations of civil engineers.)

Frosh Senator Amy Klobucher had the quote of the week when she said "Bridges in America should not be falling down." (This does not seem to be a technical judgment by the Senator who is a lawyer not an engineer.)

Balance here is important. We need to step back and allow the experts to assess why this bridge failed. From the preliminary reports I have seen there is some speculation that one potential cause could have been the stress the structure experienced from the way the retrofits were done this summer. But let's wait for the experts to study this. The second suggestion is that we should not automatically believe that because one bridge failed that we would be better off by spending a lot more money on "infrastructure" especially if it is done with taxpayer dollars. More money is not necessarily better than money better spent.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Inn at Bay Harbor

During the last two months I have spent a lot of time in hotels. Some were memorable, most were not. But for most of the last week I was at a regular summer meeting with colleagues from across the country and this was at the Inn at Bay Harbor which is right below Petosky, Michigan on Lake Michigan. The place was wonderful. The rooms were well kept and spacious. The gym had a good set of equipment. The meeting rooms had WIFI. But most important was the service. The people were friendly and helpful. This is a Marriott property which looks a lot like the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego - although this one is only about fifteen years old. We spent one day going down to Traverse City for a sail and also to visit wineries. (The meeting routine for this meeting gives you most afternoons and evenings for free time.)

One of the best things about the resort was the sunsets. They are later in that part of the country - afterall as you are reminded you are within about 40 miles (nearer Traverse City) the median point between the equator and the North Pole. Each night they were beautiful.

The Bridge Collapse in Minnesota

The story from Wednesday's collapse of a major bridge in Minnesota brought some predictable responses. The 24/7 media tried to play the story 97 different ways with drama attached to each. Matt Lauer was especially impressive. On Today yesterday he had flown to the site of the disaster and he kept emphasizing that the number of lives lost would surely increase. For some reason he stuck on the number 30 - even when in one transition the experts came back and reduced the original estimate.

But NBC also seemed to want to tell us, as the rest of the media did, how deteriorated our bridges and highways are. The Washington Post in a story this morning for example characterized the problem like this "a national highway system rapidly deteriorating under the strain of ever-increasing traffic volume and inadequate upkeep" and then attributed the judgment to "experts." Indeed there are more people driving on a road system which has not grown significantly over the last several decades. The standards of maintenance of roads has also deteriorated in the last few decades - caused in part by the increased traffic and in part by a change in priorities.

But the real question here should be to find the right balance. We as a people have made, through our elected representatives, some choices over the years that are different from when the highway system was constructed. We are spending more on people related projects including transfers. There is a finite supply of resources. But the science may also have changed a bit with a better understanding of what can be done. Many states have also robber transportation funds to pay for other kinds of things. But those questions won't get examined.

Don't get me wrong. If the Minnesota and federal officials were neglectful of their public safety responsibilities they should be held accountable. But this should not be transformed into an opportunity to argue for massive new commitments to "infrastructure", especially that directed by government bureaucracies. As we learned in California after the Northridge earthquake, the private sector offers superior capabilities in building and repairing our "infrastructure" at a much more cost effective rate.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I traveled back to Sacramento today and ran into a problem in Chicago. The Chicago airport authority has purchased Boingo as their WIFI package on the concourse. I am a Tmobile Hotspots user. It is far superior to Boingo for a number of reasons. But the way the package is set up in Chicago - even in the Red Carpet room where Tmobile is the WIFI provider - Boingo takes over and prevents you from logging into the Tmobile spot. They allow you to use Tmobile on their network but for $4.99 per day.

Two suggestions - first Tmobile should have a more simple login URL. I went back into history to find the Tmobile login but I think it is conditioned on where you are. Second, the annoyance that Boingo caused me about two years ago was resurfaced as a result of this. Two years ago it took me three months to get Boingo to understand that I had signed up for a one day account instead of a monthly account. This experience does not make me any more supportive of Boingo.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Using the iPhone outside of the country

Last week I used the iPhone in Mexico. It worked very well. GSM coverage in the country continues to expand, as it does in the US. But with four bands I found coverage in most areas. I was concerned that the data part of the phone would be very expensive. But what I found was that WIFI, at least in Mexico City, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato and Zacatecas - was that there are lots of opportunities for open WIFI. Prodigy is there also but in many places you will see two alternatives - one open and one Prodigy. When I went into a new area I would look in the settings menu to seek open networks. The risk for an AT&T phone is that data outside the US is very very expensive.

The phone reception was the other question I had and here the iPhone performed quite well. My prior phone was a Razr and reception in many of these areas was limited. The iPhone was much better. What is unclear is whether the numbers of towers has also elaborated. The most amazing situation was going from Zacatecas back to Aguascalientes and carrying on a conversation while we went through some very rural territory.

Cost of all phones in Mexico is very expensive. For example, the AT&T rates in Mexico are 59¢ a minute. But the alternative rates are not significantly better. That suggests for longer conversations I found WIFI spots and then implemented Skype.

One odd result for the use of the phone. In several instances I had a colleague call me and the notation was "blocked user" although I could still receive the call.

Walt Mossberg did a really good post on the issue a couple of weeks ago at the WSJ.