Last call for Google’s Picasa photo service

A screen capture showing Google's Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

A screen capture showing Google’s Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

After years of languishing behind projects like Google+ and Google Photos, Picasa is finally going to the great software and Web service cemetery beyond the clouds. Google announced last month that Picasa was being retired, and the end begins March 15 when the company stops support of the Picasa desktop app. Picasa’s online Web albums will be changing starting May 1.

I’m writing today so people may have the chance to download the Picasa’s free software for Windows and Mac before it’s taken offline. Although I started with Picasa’s Web service, the desktop software has become an invaluable way to quickly sort images and do some basic editing (although the editing tools are closer to Instagram than Photoshop). Although Google is seeking a single service that works on mobile and desktop, that solution isn’t ready today.

At first glance, Picasa is a tough sell as it was first developed when software companies were determining how to bridge software that resided on local computers with cloud services. Picasa was both a desktop app (that Google initially acquired) and an online photo service and it could be hard to explain the difference between the two to others. The two services even had different Web addresses — the app was available at picasa.google.com while the Web service was available at picasaweb.google.com.

A screenshot shows the desktop software at the top of this blog post. Readers may contrast that with a view of the Web albums below.

Here's a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Here’s a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Compared with modern applications and Web services, both versions of Picasa look a bit dated but they were still generally effective.

When it came to sharing photos online, Picasa Web Albums made things simple without the clutter of other photo-sharing services, like PhotoBucket. You could embed individual Picasa images on other sites or share slideshows of entire albums. These features are not currently available in Google Photos.

The biggest advantage of Google Photos is that it can store all of your photos at a usable size (Google+ Photos had a pretty small image size limit). I’ve found it extremely convenient for locating and sharing individual photos, but I’m less inclined to share whole albums. To be fair, I didn’t choose to share many albums with Picasa Web Albums, but I miss the ability to view other’s public photo profiles and share my own.

Ultimately, I’ll likely miss the desktop software most of all, especially when it came to processing screenshots. As someone whose personal computer is a MacBook, it’s easy to take cropped screenshots with the Command-Shift-4 keyboard shortcut. On a Windows PC, it’s initially easy to take the screenshot with the PrtScn key, but then you have to go to an image app like MS Paint, paste the screenshot into the image, crop it and then save it.

Picasa for Windows allowed users to skip a couple of steps. When Picasa was running, the PrtScn key captured the desktop directly to Picasa (alas, no secondary screens). With the image already saved, it was easy to go into Picasa, edit and crop the image and export it from a bitmap to a JPEG or PNG file.

The rest of the desktop app’s tools were straightforward. You couldn’t cut out or easily modify smaller elements of an image (something that had me running to Photoshop a couple times last year). The tools were useful for basic photo editing and caption information was saved in an IPTC format, which saved a lot of time for work. Users could also add text to an image, which saved me a lot of grief when I was working on my Christmas cards.

As much as I liked the desktop software, it could get a bit difficult to manage images, especially as it tried to cope with updates from other developers. For example, it was great that Picasa was able to read Apple’s iPhotos image database, but that advantage is practically wiped out when the image database splits up images by date (instead of albums or something more useful).

Ultimately, it makes sense for Google to let go of Picasa as the desktop app was last significantly updated more than four years ago. It will also reduce some of the confusion of Google’s image programs (which will still include Google Photos and the Snapseed mobile editing apps). I hope Google Photos will pick up some of the features of the Picasa services. Google Photos offers some incredible advantages, especially with facial and object recognition, but I think it has some ways to go before it can be a suitable replacement for Picasa.

Is Google Photos the future?

Is Google Photos the future?

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Vital discussion on media consolidation not aided by false quip

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but it and 5 other companies really own 90 percent of _all_ media?

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but does it and 5 other companies really own over 90 percent of _all_ media?

It is ironic that a letter to the editor about media literacy would contain a wild, unsubstantiated claim about the media. Both the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review ran a letter from Richard Sterling Ogden promoting a community radio program focusing on media literacy. Unfortunately, both copies of the letter ran the claim that “Six corporations own over 90 percent of media…” This claim has been floating around for years and, as far as I can tell, it’s a bit of easily repeated hokum that doesn’t have a scintilla of proof.

It’s frustrating when these unfounded and demonstrably false claims are repeated without any verification because it can diminish otherwise valid concerns about media consolidation. Because I loathe to see inaccurate, feel-good noise drowning out valid, useful information on the Internet, I often respond whenever I see this unproven claim repeated and taken as gospel (Here’s an example from Business Insider). What follows is generally what I post.

The simplicity of the statement “six corporations own over 90 percent of media” is its undoing because “media” could mean everything, including print, radio, broadcasting, recorded music, cinema, pay-TV, online media, etc., in every country across the world. Six corporations may have their fingers in many of those categories, but not all, and not in all countries.

Even if you generously narrow the definition of “media” to just the United States, one can quickly deduce that there’s no apparent merit to the claim.

For example, of the 1,774 full-power TV stations in the United States, about 20 percent of them are public television stations. Public television stations are licensed by various schools, colleges, non-profit entities — not, as far as I can tell, the nefarious six corporations.

The remaining 80 percent is less than 90, even if the rest of them were owned by these corporations (which they’re not). Yes, most TV stations air programming from broadcasters like Disney-owned ABC, CBS Corp. or Comcast-owned NBC, but the actual stations are owned by different companies. There are only about 79 stations owned and operated by the sinister six – that’s just 4.5 percent of the total number of stations. Again, 4.5 percent is not 90 percent.

The linked table itself acknowledges that the six companies control 70 percent of cable networks. I don’t have the time to verify that claim, but it’s not necessary because 70 percent isn’t 90 percent.

I could do the same thing for radio stations, newspapers and news websites. When you add them all up, I don’t think you’re going to get to 90 percent.

Ultimately, people who decry the potential for mass manipulation shouldn’t engage in it themselves.

Posted in Featured, La vida Chico, TV, Film and Radio, World at large | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

From the vault: UCSD’s possible Division I move isn’t enough to bolster school spirit

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Author’s note: I started writing this in the spring of 2012, the last time UC San Diego students voted on whether to move to NCAA Division I (it failed with 56.7 percent of students voting no). It’s unfinished, but I’m finally publishing it because students will again vote on D-I this spring. Aside from modifying the original headline (from “UCSD’s possible Division I move won’t bolster school spirit alone”), everything else is presented as-is from four years ago. I’ll definitely have more thoughts in the weeks to come.

UC San Diego’s possible move to NCAA Division I has been on my mind since the student vote started last week. The proposal has stirred deep concerns, but I sort of didn’t want to speak out about it. While I have strong spirit for UCSD, it’s not really my opinion that matters — it really boils down to the current students and what they want.

After doing some research and witnessing a relatively small crowd watch the women’s basketball team in the playoffs (at a tournament UCSD was hosting), I’ve concluded that D-I likely won’t accomplish what proponents say they want — an increase in the campus’ prominence, a bolstered campus life and a more involved alumni community. At least not alone.

Ultimately, having students each pay nearly $500 more per year for Division I seems pound foolish without a concerted effort to pursue complementary, pennywise solutions.

Campus prominence — This is a tempting lure. After all, at D-I, there’s always the possibility of the men’s or women’s basketball teams making it to March Madness. And for 21 other sports that struggle for the spotlight, there’s the ability to play slightly bigger rivals. And think of all the other Division I programs that you can name.

Unfortunately, campus prominence seems like a tease. There are 346 D-I schools. Name recognition gets sketchy after the 47th team in a basketball tournament or the two teams facing off in a 35th-tier football bowl game sponsored by a bail bondsman.

Other schools have made the argument that D-I would bolster their regional and national appearance. When I was going to school, UC Riverside students made that argument when voting to go to Division I in 1998.

Does the fact that UCR is now D-I really improve that campus’ reputation in your mind? The same argument could be made for UC Irvine and even UC Santa Barbara (outside of their basketball team, at times). These are schools known largely for things other than their athletic legacy.

Proponents also assert that UCSD has outgrown D-II after 12 short years, arguing that the school is too big for its conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association, in both student population, academic prowess and athletic performance. I’m not too concerned about campus size or scholastic performance, but there’s still room to grow athletically.

Yes, UCSD excels in the conference, but it has earned three national team championships in Division II in 12 years, according to NCAA stats. Compare that with the 20 team titles UCSD won in Division III (where UCSD clearly exceeded average school size and dominated the division).

If UCSD goes to D-I, I predict its prominence will still languish on regional and national stages. Locally, UCSD would still be in third position — behind San Diego State University and University of San Diego. (USD is another example where a school’s D-I status is relatively unimportant — except for Jim Harbaugh for football and a rare March Madness basketball win.)

If UCSD were an athletic Goldilocks, Division III was obviously too small, Division I is likely too big, while Division II is still just right.

Improved campus life

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Raiders seem to have enough money to build new stadium without public help

An Amtrak California train passes by O.co Coliseum on Aug. 2, 2014.

A Capitol Corridor train passes by O.co Coliseum on Aug. 2, 2014.

As everyone ponders what may happen to the Oakland Raiders after the NFL owners cleared a path Tuesday for the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers to relocate to Los Angeles, I wondered if the Raiders and owner Mark Davis could finance their own stadium without significant taxpayer subsidy.

My math may be a little off, but I think it’s pretty darn likely given the numbers that have flown around the past few months. Still, it’s probably not in the Raiders’ best interests to go it alone when it could probably find some city willing to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars.

First, before it was shot to heck with the owners’ decision, the Chargers and Raiders had developed a joint proposal to develop a shared stadium in Carson between Los Angeles and Long Beach. The initial proposed cost for the privately financed facility — $1.7 billion, according to ESPN. I don’t immediately know the breakdown of the partnership, but if the Chargers and Raiders were equal partners, I would guess that the Raiders would be responsible for $850 million.

Second, the three teams that were planning to move to Los Angeles were expected to each pay a $550 million relocation fee. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Raiders have asked that the relocation fee be waived because they didn’t get to move to LA. Nonetheless, before Tuesday, the Raiders were prepared to pay $550 million and their share of the new stadium (maybe $850 million). That’s already $1.4 billion.

Third, the Raiders didn’t get the brass ring of moving to Los Angeles, but they got a lovely $100 million parting gift. Add that to the previous totals and you’re looking at $1.5 billion.

The pool of $1.5 billion may not be enough to build a stadium along the lines of Carson – which would’ve required locker rooms, offices and more for two home teams. The Rams’ Inglewood stadium was expected to cost $1.86 billion, according to the LA Times.

Levi's Stadium is pictured behind some youth soccer fields on Oct. 14, 2104, in Santa Clara, California.

Levi’s Stadium is pictured behind some youth soccer fields on Oct. 14, 2104, in Santa Clara, California.

A better example may be found in Levi’s Stadium, the home of the Raiders’ Bay Area rival Santa Clara San Francisco 49ers. The estimated price tag of Levi’s was $1.2 billion, according to the San Jose Mercury News in 2012. Although the football experience has been criticized at Levi’s Stadium, it is apparently packed to the gills with fan amenities and expensive accommodations to help pad the owners’ wallets.

If the Niners were able to build that for $1.2 billion, surely the Raiders would be able to build something similar for around $1.5 billion. Contemporary proposals for new stadiums in St. Louis and San Diego called for spending about a billion apiece.

[An aside: The cost to build a building that will be used by its primary tenant 10 days a year is flabbergasting. AT&T Park, one of the best Major League Baseball stadiums, cost $357 million when it was built in 1997. That facility was privately financed and gets used by its primary tenant for about 85 days a year.]

I’ll readily admit that there are a lot of factors that I don’t know about. For example, the Wikipedia article about Levi’s Stadium notes that the Santa Clara Stadium Authority — the entity that actually owns the facility — borrowed $850 million from banks, a $200 million NFL loan and some local taxes. Who knows what sort of hoops the Raiders would have to jump through to secure enough funding? Also, some of the funding for the Carson proposal may have been contingent on the value of the team jumping considerably by moving to the giant media market that is Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, it would appear that there are ways for the Raiders to privately fund a stadium without extensively relying on taxpayer support.

There’s not much I can add to the ongoing criticism of the use of extensive taxpayer funding for massive edifices for a pastime. It is worth noting that Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego taxpayers were all burned to some extent by financially supporting the last generation of stadiums — OaklandSt. Louis and San Diego are all stuck paying off new buildings or expansions done within the last 21 years. San Diego also entered into a ruinous ticket guarantee leading to the city buying tickets to cover its obligation until the contract was renegotiated nearly 12 years ago.

One would think that these examples of taxpayers still holding the bag on three facilities would be cautionary tales to other governments. Alas, they weren’t even cautionary tales for two of the cities losing their NFL teams, as governments there tried assembling deals that would fork over hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds (nearly $400 million in St. Louis and $350 million in San Diego) for new stadiums. By comparison, Oakland looked absolutely frugal by declining to directly contribute to a new stadium but offered $90 million in infrastructure improvements.

To compound matters, the league didn’t particularly care for any of these proposals going to voters for approval because NFL officials wanted certainty in any of the cities’ offers. Apparently, St. Louis was preparing to move forward without a plebiscite, while San Diego officials were inexplicably optimistic a proposal would pass in a city that has dealt with owner shenanigans for 20+ years.

It’s hard to blame the NFL and the team owners for how they handle obtaining funding — it’s a business and they’re looking at their bottom line. However, the onus must lie on local governments who seem to bring truth to the saying that there’s a sucker born every minute. Serious questions must be asked about issuing 30-year bonds for facilities that may only get used for 25 years — in addition to the Chargers and Rams bailing on facilities built or remodeled since 1994, the Atlanta Falcons are preparing to leave a facility opened in 1992 (and the baseball Atlanta Braves are soon to ditch a stadium built in 1997).

I don’t know if Raiders owner Mark Davis really wants to stay in Oakland. Even if it doesn’t come with the benefits and relative safety net of taxpayer assistance, it still seems possible and potentially rewarding to use solely private funding.

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Solving the Starbucks holiday cup conundrum

It’s been a couple of weeks since people appeared outraged about Starbucks eschewing a definitive holiday/Christmas message on its seasonal red cups in favor of a minimalist design. Instead of viewing the situation as an absolutist, I think it’s possible to find some common ground (or grounds, since we’re talking about coffee).

While I was walking through the office, I spied some of the smaller cups that Starbucks provides for people getting coffee to-go for large groups. They were the right size for my proposed solution to this seemingly intractable controversy (that people may have already forgotten after two weeks).

I “liberated” the cups and I used straightened paper clips to fashion handles so they could be affixed to another object. I then made my way to the nearest hardware store to take advantage of their Christmas tree displays.

After a few minutes of prepping, my solution was ready…

Hopefully everyone will be happy with this solution for the Starbucks holiday cup controversy.

Hopefully everyone will be happy with this solution for the Starbucks holiday cup controversy.

To paraphrase “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I never thought it was such a bad little cup. Maybe it just needed a little love.

Posted in Getting crafty, La vida Chico, World at large | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

One reason why I may go to Buffalo Wild Wings & one reason why I may never go back

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I'll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, if it's available at the Chico location.

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I’ll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, which appears to be available at the Chico location.

Buffalo Wild Wings completed its expansion to Chico this week. Judging by photos of early lines and posts in my Facebook feed, it seems a lot of people are happy about the development. Although I love saying “The game is on!”, thanks to the eatery’s unceasingly repetitive TV commercials, I don’t know if I would go back after a visit to the Natomas location in May 2014.

Why I may go back – While I was generally impressed by the huge bar area with a standing wall of giant TVs and the beer selection (although I think Sierra Nevada was largely missing), the food is pretty standard for this type of quick-service restaurant and the prices are higher than I think they should be (the Chico menu lists a wing combo at $16.79, otherwise fries and slaw cost extra). Ultimately, there was only one compelling reason why I could become a repeat customer and that’s online pub trivia.

When I dropped by the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see the old familiar blue consoles of Buzztime trivia. I first played Buzztime when I was living in the Midwest from 2001-05, but no Chico tavern has offered it for more than a decade … until now.

With the blue console, a bar patron plays quick, 20-minute trivia matches with clues broadcast on one or two TVs scattered across the bar. The questions are nearly always multiple choice and the difficulty level is closer to the earlier rounds of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” than “Jeopardy!” After every question, you can see how you’re faring against other barflies. When the round ends, the scores are calculated across North America and you can see your nationwide rank.

There are multiple types of games in the primary trivia channel, but there are other channels including virtual poker. During football season, many sites offer QB1, which allows contestants to win points if they correctly guess the offense’s play.

During my visit, I was the only one really playing trivia (everyone else seemed to be focused on an MMA match featuring a fighter from Sacramento). Still, it was fun to play while I ate and had some soda.

I can get my fix through a number of online and smartphone apps that are available, such as QuizUp, but Buzztime can be a little more sociable as the pacing of the games aren’t rigorous. While you want to ring in promptly when there are questions, there are frequent breaks to continue conversations with your friends (if you have any) and to order more food and drink (which is what I’m sure B-Dubs and other bars want you to do).

Several of my friends and I have gone to live trivia at some Chico restaurants, which is generally fun, but can be quirky. Online trivia like Buzztime is generally available anytime, so it may be easier to get a bunch of friends and just go.

Here's why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings -- the restaurant making Bud Light as its "Beer of the Month" in May 2014.

Here’s why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings — the restaurant making Bud Light as its “Beer of the Month” in May 2014.

Why I may never go back – While I was generally uncomfortable with the prices, there was one incredulous discovery that baffled me. As I was leaving, I saw that the restaurant’s “Beer of the Month” for May 2014 was Bud Light.

I’m not a fan of Bud Light (although it’s not unpalatable), but that’s not the primary reason why I was turned off to the point where I may never go back. Bud Light is _the_ most popular beer in America by far. Although sales have reportedly dipped recently, a Vox chart shows it outsold its nearest rival (Coors Light) nearly 3:1 in 2013.

Given such market dominance, Bud Light doesn’t seem to really need to be highlighted as a “Beer of the Month.” It’s a default, go-to beer for a lot of people — you would expect nearly every bar in the country to offer this product. It’s like naming Christmas the Holiday of the Month for December, salt as the Seasoning of the Month or if Little Cesar’s named its ever-available pepperoni pizza as the Pizza of the Month.

One possible factor is that Budweiser’s owner Anheuser-Busch InBev advertises the brand quite heavily. Maybe there was an advertising consideration when Buffalo Wild Wings made such a banal selection for its beer of the month?

If you do choose to sample the exotic and unknown Bud Light, Buffalo Wild Wings offers these tasting notes for the American-style light lager — “Subtle fruity and citrus taste notes with a fast, clean finish.”

The price of this special brew was $4.25 in 2014, which wasn’t too bad, although one may find better deals on far more superior beers elsewhere in Chico.

Postscript - After writing all this, I checked the restaurant’s beer menu and found the _two_ beers of the month:

Here are Buffalo Wild Wings' beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

*sigh* Here are Buffalo Wild Wings’ beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

It’s disappointing to see Bud Light nab this spotlight again. Buffalo Wild Wings also has an odd definition of “Import,” as Goose Island is a Chicago brewery. It’s worth noting who Goose Island’s owners are — Anheuser-Busch InBev. AB InBev _is_ based in Belgium, so maybe that was a criteria in defining “Import.”

On a slightly positive note, Sam Adams remains its own independent company. At least there’s that, although Sam Adams seems to have similar issues to Bud Light.

Posted in Food, La vida Chico, Travels, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pin-a-Go-Go transforms Dixon into pinball paradise

The multi-ball feature of Star-Jet pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The multi-ball feature of Star-Jet pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The A-Go-Go pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-go-go festival in Dixon, California.

The A-Go-Go pinball machine on display at the 2014 Pin-a-go-go festival in Dixon, California.

Looking for something with a little pop or an idea to bounce off your friends this weekend? People can find endless hours of fun with unlimited gameplay on more than 100 pinball machines at Pin-a-Go-Go at the Dixon May Fair this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

My friends and I made the 2-hour drive to the festival last year and we were amazed at the machines on display in three large spaces on the fairgrounds. Newer novelty machines were on display and playable (like one based on the most recent “Star Trek” movies). The machines went back decades, including some of the first tables that were based on releasing a ball and watching it bounce of pins, giving the game its name.

Getting to Dixon was straightforward — it’s off of Interstate 80 between Davis and Vacaville. The fairgrounds are just south of the downtown, so be ready for a little bit of off-highway driving. Parking was free and the lot was fairly expansive.

Entry into the event _wasn’t_ free, but the $25/30 admission was worthwhile to both the attendee and the town, as the proceeds benefit local community groups. Be forewarned — much of the event is cash only, although an ATM card can be used for some transactions.

After you get in, all the machines that are playable are set to free play. If the machine is open, you can just walk up and give it a whirl. You can usually play a couple of short games before common courtesy prompts you to give the machine up to anyone waiting in line.

A panorama of one of the rows of playable pinball machines at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go in Dixon, California.

A panorama of one of the rows of playable pinball machines at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go in Dixon, California.

Some of the machines were provided by museums, like the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda. Many of the tables were provided by private collectors who thankfully share their treasures with others for a few days.

The playfield board for the Monopoly pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

The playfield board for the Monopoly pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Spending a few hours among the tables gives you a more expansive view of this gaming world beyond the couple of neglected pinball machines that you might find at a pizza parlor or bowling alley. There are vendors offering parts to help keep the machines running and modernize the devices somewhat (like switching out old bulbs with LED lights). One vendor had a playfield for the old Monopoly game which underwent the LED conversion. I played that machine for years at Madison Bear Garden. I still love how it looked, especially with the upgrades.

Each of the tables includes a small white card detailing who the owner is and if the machine is for sale. Some machines trade hands over the course of the weekend (and some of those purchased devices are sometimes taken out of play once a deal is completed).  There is also a fundraising raffle of a couple classic tables, which we did NOT win last year.

The number of machines available for play are overwhelming. The main room has several rows containing dozens of tables and there are two more halls beyond that. One hall appeared to be dedicated to more vintage machines, like “Classy Bowler” or a rocket-themed game called Star-Jet which featured one of the earliest examples of multi-ball.

Backglass art for the Classy Bowler pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon,

Backglass art for the Classy Bowler pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon,

The third hall is in a separate building a short distance away and appeared to feature mostly newer machines, although there were some gems from the 1970s and ’80s, including a giant-sized “Superman” table that Atari later adapted into a failed video pinball game (which I played in Alameda).

It seemed impossible to play every single one of the machines in a day. There’s little seating so you begin to enter something of a fugue state after a few hours of standing and ceaselessly bouncing silver spheres through ramp- and trap-filled cabinets.

There is some respite — there are a handful of tables and a snack stand selling hamburgers, hot dogs and the like. On Sunday, there is the free All British Motor Vehicle Show & Swap Meet on the fairgrounds so you can enjoy a different sort of chrome than pinball. There are also clinics for people to learn the best pinball tricks (I never learned to really bump the table) and mini tournaments geared to people with different playing experiences. Basically, you’re not going to get bored here.

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

Backglass art for the 1978 KISS pinball game

As our visit progressed, I lost track of the different pinball machines we played. Generally, the earliest tables were the hardest to play — some of the early bumpers were too short and the ball dropped out of play too quickly. The tables from the 1950s and ’60s showed a considerable amount of creativity and were fun to play as a novelty, but they were still missing a lot of features found in more modern games.

Things change after electronics take hold in the pinball world. Manufacturers also threw a lot of ideas against the wall to try to combat the rise of the arcade machines (which fell prey to home video gaming in a few short years).

There were some brand tie-in machines that looked good, but weren’t necessarily a lot of fun. Some of these boards included KISS and “Doctor Who.” The KISS machine was definitely very unique, but it wasn’t easy to get into the game before it ended. However, people will have another shot at the game because they’re bringing it back.

A portion of the playing field for 1994's World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

A portion of the playing field for 1994’s World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Doctor Who brought back a lot of nostalgia because it was made after the series’ original run ended in 1987. The game has a complex array of options as each incarnation of the Doctor offered a different set of bonuses, but it wasn’t too hard to get into a multi-ball. It also featured a lot of moving parts (which lead to a higher rate of breakdowns, from what I hear).

World Cup 1994 is a machine that would seem be instantly dated after the competition ended 21 years ago, but it seemed to gain some relevance as soccer has surged in popularity in the United States. The machine had some unique challenges, including trying to deflect the pinball of a whirling soccer ball into a goal (just like in real life!).

Some of the playfield art for 1994's World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

Some of the playfield art for 1994’s World Cup Soccer pinball game on display at the 2014 Pin-a-Go-Go show in Dixon, California.

There also appeared to be some odd attempts to add sex appeal — like depicting the referee as a buxom woman in a form-fitting uniform. Throughout the history of pinball, there were many shameless attempts to use sexualized images. It is something that has regrettably continued to this day with such machines like “Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons,” which features a cute, cartoony farm theme marred by gratuitous, over-the-top references to female anatomy.

Ultimately, Pin-a-Go-Go is a great event for people of all ages. Even after hours of pulling back the spring-loaded plunger to launch the pinball into play, it’s a loud, colorful buffet of entertainment that makes you want to go back for more.

Posted in Featured, Gadgets and technology, Sports and rec, Travels, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pin-a-Go-Go transforms Dixon into pinball paradise

Limiting Oakland night protests unlikely to solve vandalism problem

An older BART neighborhood map of downtown Oakland shows City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (then known as Green Water Plaza).

An older BART neighborhood map of downtown Oakland shows City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (then known as Green Water Plaza).

Two of the San Francisco Chronicle’s columnists, Chip Johnson and Debra Saunders, recently called for the city of Oakland to restrict evening protests in light of several recent events devolving into vandalism and other acts. In response, an SF Weekly writer stated the proposals would throw out the Bill of Rights.

I am not a legal expert, but it is theoretically possible to limit evening protests. However, this so-called solution may be difficult to enact and doesn’t seem to address the actual problem of vandalism and similar violence. Don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of problems that people of all walks of life protest, but I’m focusing on this situation for the purposes of discussion.

Regarding limiting protests: Courts have found it can be constitutional for governments to set reasonable date, place and time restrictions on the use of traditional public forums (although any such regulations would need to be content neutral and meet strict scrutiny because it is limiting individuals’ rights).

Regarding strict scrutiny and reasonable date, place and manner restrictions, any proposed regulations have to meet four conditions:

  • That there’s a compelling governmental interest.
  • That the proposed regulation isn’t too broad.
  • That it’s the least restrictive means to achieve that interest.
  • And that there are ample alternatives to communicate.

The compelling governmental interest seems to be the easiest condition to meet. An argument can be  made about limiting evening protests when similar events demonstrably devolved into violence.

It would be up to the city to clearly specify what the other communication alternatives would be (and whether they would be valid alternatives to those wishing to protest). Ultimately, the second and third conditions may be significantly more difficult to meet and I’m not sure Oakland can meet those.

Restricting evening protests may be overly broad as it restricts many of the hours available for protest and assembly (especially when the sun sets early in the winter). A large segment of the working population is simply unable to participate in protests during the day. Also, many governmental bodies meet in the evening and people have a constitutional right to petition their government.

It could be difficult to prove barring night protests is the least restrictive means because the proposal doesn’t appear to directly address the illegal activity and vandalism that is the heart of this specific matter. Even couched as civil disobedience, breaking windows, destroying cars, and shutting down BART and highways has been and remains illegal. There isn’t much in the proposals to address that. Sure, it may be easier to detect illegal activity if legal protesters went home at a certain time, but it seems to unduly burden those peacefully expressing themselves.

The other factors mentioned by the columnists don’t seem practical for informal protests and assemblies that are formed quickly. I understand the desire for governments to recoup their costs for things such as street patrols and traffic controls and to require that groups stick to a specific route. They all seem reasonable (albeit potentially costly), but it just doesn’t seem workable for more spontaneous protests which would be likely to take place regardless of any potential reasonable regulations.

I don’t think I’m in a position to suggest the best solutions for a city and residents 160 miles away. While possible, imposing new restrictions doesn’t seem to be a move in the right direction.

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New Muni map offers cleaner design, but misses key info

A side-by-side look of the the old and new Muni maps.

A side-by-side look of the the old and new Muni maps.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority launched a Muni service increase over the weekend. Called Muni Forward, the changes included a new map that offers a cleaner, more readable perspective of the bus, light-rail, streetcar and cable car routes, but I’m wasn’t happy. Most of the following post is adapted from a comment I left on the SFMTA site.

I suppose it’s nice that it’s a cleaner presentation, but there are so many things missing from this new map compared to the last version. As someone who is only a frequent visitor, I appreciated being able to orient myself with the Muni map by comparing routes with landmarks that I’m either near or where I would like to go. Most of that is gone with the new map.

To give a recent example, I wanted to visit the first weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. I knew the general location and the route, but I was much more comfortable telling my traveling companion where we were going when I could point it out on the transit map at the nearest shelter.

A side-by-side comparison of how Japantown is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

A side-by-side comparison of how Japantown is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

I couldn’t do that with the new map. There’s no neighborhood labels, even for the more commonly known ones (including Chinatown). If I wanted to know where Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, Castro and Mission were located, I couldn’t easily know for sure with the new map. While major streets are identified, the names of many smaller streets are omitted.

If I wanted to go to a specific place in the Presidio, like Fort Point, Crissy Field or the Walt Disney Family Museum, I could easily find those locations before whereas this new map of the Presidio is a relatively blank, green canvas. The new map is even missing the Palace of Fine Arts, which is one of the most-common sights in the city.

A side-by-side comparison of how the Presidio is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

A side-by-side comparison of how the Presidio is depicted in the old and new Muni maps.

The map does have some advantages. Even looking at my examples, the map is easier to read and discern information about transit routes. It’s easier to follow some routes and determine when some limited-stop Rapid routes don’t stop for boardings and alightings.

Perhaps the map doesn’t need to provide as much information as it used to. After all, we’re in a world of smartphones, where most knowledge is available near instantaneously. Even before that, there were tourist guides and maps in multiple languages to guide people through this city.

However, cellphone batteries die and people don’t always have tourist guides on hand. Tourist guides and maps also tend to focus on the most popular or common, whereas the old map featured playgrounds, museums, community centers, even pier numbers.

I don’t know what the priorities were for this new map, but it doesn’t seem as user-friendly as it could be for tourists, visitors to the city or residents traveling to new neighborhoods. It’s missing many of the landmarks and detail that give much of San Francisco its vibrant identity. The map is ultimately a disservice to many transit users and will force them to turn elsewhere for less-optimal solutions.

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‘How I Met Your Mother’ subject of my top comment of 2014

My top comment of 2014 was about "How I Met Your Mother" -

My top comment of 2014 was about “How I Met Your Mother” – “They had the option to not run the pretaped segment and shoot a different ending.”

Kids… in May of 2014, your father tuned in for the final episode of a television program called “How I Met Your Mother.” Coincidentally, watching the show is how I met your mother.

Just kidding. The only thing I met in the spring of 2014 was a new chicken wing place, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, the show had long been a favorite of your father’s. It featured six friends your father’s age as they made their way through a Los Angeles TV studio made up to resemble New York City. The main character, named Ted Mosby, was on a quest to find his ideal partner.

What attracted your father to the show was relatively inventive and funny storytelling and an energetic set of characters played by actors whose individual dynamics played well off each other. The show, especially in its early years, seemed like a worthy descendant of “Friends” and “Coupling.”

Ted’s quest continued for nine years through numerous twists and turns, including dating one of his friends, Robin, but it was finally leading to the final episode where Ted would finally meet the woman who would become his wife.

After eight seasons where each season took roughly one year of time, the final season was primarily set in a single, long weekend where each of Ted’s friends met the mother before fate (and the show producers) finally allowed the story to reach its natural conclusion. Ted met the mother… but that wasn’t the end of the story.

And kids, much like this poorly thought-out story-telling mode that I’m struggling to stick with, the story of “How I Met Your Mother” went slightly off the rails.

You see, despite nine whole years of saying the story was about how Ted met the mother and spending an entire season of episodes expressly building up to this resolution, the show’s producers made it clear in the last five minutes of the episode and the entire series that we were all wrong — the story was about how Ted, who was
telling the story in a series of flashbacks, was indirectly seeking his kids’ blessing to rekindle an older relationship years after the mother had died.

Needless to say, that resolution didn’t sit well with a lot of people who took to the Internet to voice their dismay. One of those people was your father. Back in 2014, websites encouraged readers to leave comments at the end of stories (and to help prove Sturgeon’s Law everyday). People could also click to approve comments that they
liked or found useful.

Your father would comment on various topics from time to time. His comments were only sporadically liked, but he would see his most success in 2014 when he wrote the following on a review at The A.V. Club:

“They had the option to not run the pretaped segment and shoot a different ending.”

At the end of the year, 233 people had liked the comment making it by far the most liked comment your father had written in the 2014. Your father had been responding to speculation that the show’s creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, had to stick with the ending that they filmed with the actors that played Ted’s children when they were teenagers several years ago. The actors had obviously aged and didn’t look like they did nine years ago.

My simple point was that Bays and Thomas didn’t have to stick with the ending that they planned out years ago. Had the producers wanted to choose a different ending, they certainly had it in their power to do so.

But they didn’t.

In interviews after the show, Bays and Thomas have said the ending was what they had envisioned all along.

Although Bays and Thomas had set their course several years ago, their vision of the destination was unsatisfying given the direction the show actually took. One can set out with a destination in mind, but the goal can change based on the actual journey.

The journey of “How I Met Your Mother,” especially in the early years, had a strong focus on Ted and the woman he would ultimately end up with. As the years progressed, that relationship ended and future stories focused on other relationships Ted was seeking or other hi-jinks involving the rest of the group.

The earlier relationship was still a component of the series, but it didn’t seem like a primary focus despite some fans wanting the two characters to get together. I was satisfied from a line from the very first episode where Ted said this woman wasn’t the mother.

From that very first episode to the last season, I had bought into the premise that the show was about Ted meeting the mother.

Practically every aspect of the show, up until the final five minutes of the series, had been pointed in that direction and I would’ve liked to see the series end with a happy or satisfying resolution along those lines.

However unsatisfied I may be with the ending, I can respect the creators’ decision to end the show as they feel fit. I didn’t feel they had to be constrained by the ending they filed years ago, and it doesn’t seem like they were.

And that kids, is how I met mango habanero chicken wings. Oh, but the place closed so I went back to Chipotle after a respectful mourning period.

The end.

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