10+1 images from my first year back in Utah

At the end of May, I marked the first anniversary of my returning to Utah. To celebrate the occasion, I reviewed the photos I took from the past 365 days and picked ten that highlighted some of the fun activities from 2016-17. There’s also a bonus picture — the first photo I took upon my return.

Click any photo to embiggen…

10+1 photos from my year back in Utah

Posted in Travels, Understanding Utah, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hitting 11 million image views on Google Maps

My profile on Google Maps.

My profile on Google Maps.

Just a year ago, I passed 2 million views on Google Maps. Imagine my surprise when my images surged past 10 million views just a couple of months ago. The 190 images I’ve published on Google Maps has been viewed 11.1 million times as of this writing.

I wish I could claim total responsibility for this accomplishment, but it seems like it’s more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Since I started uploading photospheres to Google Street View, none of them had exceeded 1 million views (although one was close at 970,000 views). Following the Oroville Dam crisis in February, I had two photospheres reach past the one million mark, with one reaching past two million.

In my experience, the most successful spheres are those that are featured in Google’s search results. I don’t have definitive proof that this is the case, but I’ve found the images that featured in the search results seem to perform best. The example that came to mind was my photosphere for Bear Hole in Bidwell Park. I was surprised when I saw it suddenly surge beyond 100,000 views. I wasn’t sure why it was performing so well.

The most plausible explanation was that it was featured on the search results on Google Map. When I searched for Chico, CA in Google Maps, the search engine returns a map of the city, but there’s also a card showing useful information — and photos of the city. Often times, these are popular pics of major landmarks or the like. Google also includes photospheres. This is often from its own Street View service, but it increasingly appears to include photospheres taken by its users.

A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.

A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.

I think this is behind my most “popular” photospheres, including ones taken at regional parks, train stations or other landmarks likely to be searched by people.

Adding credence to my theory was another photosphere of Bear Hole taken by another user. I saw that it too was featured at times in the Google Maps search results and it had a view count similar to mine,

That brings me to the incident that brought my views surging to new heights. In early February, there was a natural disaster that prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people in Northern California. Although the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam didn’t breach, I imagine there were a lot of people interested in learning the location of Oroville Dam and the surrounding area.

Indeed, the most popular photospheres featured the now-destroyed main spillway at the dam. It’s interesting that my most popular image is something that no longer exists.

The second most popular image for me was a photosphere of sculptures at Centennial Park in Oroville. It’s not associated with the park because there’s no entry for the park on Google Maps, but it is the first thing that comes up on Google Maps when someone searches for Oroville.

Several other images from Oroville have jumped following the Oroville Dam crisis, but those are by far the most popular.

I don’t know if a view is counted merely because someone sees it on a search result or if someone actually clicked through to see the full image. I would like to think it’s the later, but information on Google support forums indicates that merely seeing an image in a search result counts as a view.

Ultimately, I would like to think that people are viewing my images — it’s nice to think that millions of people are seeing my work. If it’s true, these images are the most popular thing that I’ve ever done.

 

Posted in Gadgets and technology, La vida Chico | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UCSD basketball outdraws some Division I schools

UCSD's Main Gym is seen in this composite photo taken in the 1990s. Most indoor intercollegiate activities now take place at the RIMAC Center.

UCSD’s Main Gym is seen in this composite photo taken in the 1990s. Most indoor intercollegiate activities now take place at the RIMAC Center.

UCSD’s average attendance is around 250 out of 5000 seats — trising on The Big West Boards

The UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program faces a key date this month, as the Big West Conference leadership is supposed to consider whether to invite UCSD into the conference (and thus determine whether the campus moves to NCAA Division I, per the outcome of last year’s student vote).

I’ve been paying more attention to the matter, including visiting a number of discussion boards centered around the Big West and other mid-major conferences. I spotted the above quote on one of the boards and wanted to respond because that information doesn’t match what I’ve seen. I’m also including some additional thoughts that have been on my mind.

UCSD men’s basketball average attendance has been several times higher than this figure in the past. It’s not going to compare with the top-flight Big West programs, but it’s better than the cited members.

Here’s the information from the NCAA on UCSD men’s basketball team’s average home attendance for the 2014-15 season*:

UCSD – men’s (D-II) — 11 games — 9,497 total attendance — 863 avg. per game

It beat the average NCAA Division II men’s basketball attendance ​of 710 per game in 2014. As a D-II program, UCSD also exceeded UC Riverside’s average attendance that year (762) and non-BWC Sacramento State’s (815). It also tied CSU Northridge that year in the category.

By comparison, UC Irvine’s average home attendance that year was 2,348 and UC Davis’ was 2,584. (Davis, Irvine, Northridge and Riverside are all in the Big West.)

Division II Chico State University has UCSD beat in both average men’s and women’s attendance with an average of 1,084 at men’s games and 530 for the women.

Of course, UCSD’s figures reflect average home attendance over the entirety of the season (which was the standard that the original poster offered). Spirit Night attendance in 2015 was 3,881. If one wished to calculate the average WITHOUT the most popular game of the year, you get a per-game average of 562 — still twice the figure originally offered.


As an aside, UCSD women’s basketball average home attendance in 2014-15 (397) beat out UC Riverside (270) and UC Irvine (248). UC Davis had a respectable 1,049 while non-BWC San Diego State had a relatively woeful 604 (non-BWC University of San Diego also had 536).

I know a lot of attention is focused on the men’s basketball teams, but a single sport does not an athletic program make.

According to 2014 numbers (which may be the 2013-14 season, my notes are incomplete), UCSD men’s basketball had higher average attendance than 21 D-I schools (out of 345). The women’s team outdrew 31 D-I schools (out of 343).


Regarding the men’s basketball attendance figures, I did the initial research in part to show that moving to Division I isn’t a silver bullet for schools moving up. As a UCSD graduate watching UC Riverside move to D-I in the late 1990s, I thought that they made the move for the wrong reasons and their still-woeful basketball attendance may an indication that they may have missed the mark.

I’m still worried that UCSD students are seeking the move to D-I for the “wrong reasons” because merely moving up a division isn’t likely to deliver the supposed greater prestige of competition (no offense to BWC), higher alumni interest, boosted student spirit and increased relevance in a sports market that already includes two D-I schools and a MLB team. I’ve long backed an approach similar to UC Davis, which built up student and fan support years before moving to D-1.

At the same time, as any proud Triton will tell you, UCSD is NOT UC Riverside. Even as a D-II program, UCSD men’s basketball home attendance tops lower-tier BWC teams. Although it’s not a guarantee, UCSD would hopefully continue to top those numbers and grow as it moves into D-I.

Ultimately, I’m setting aside my personal reservations because UCSD students DID vote for the move and I pledged to back whatever the students decided (they’re paying for it, after all, and will reap the ultimate fruits of this endeavor).

With the figurative ball now in the conference’s court, I appreciate the discussions on this board and elsewhere. There seem to be a lot of factors at play, but I hope there’s a decision that works best for everyone.

Go Tritons (currently in the D-II Sweet 16) and Aggies (as they enter March Madness)! — Ryan


* — Why figures from 2014-15? Those were the ones available when I was researching the issue ahead of the UCSD students’ D-I vote last year.

Posted in Sports and rec, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on UCSD basketball outdraws some Division I schools

The20: Fight on with mighty Triton spirit – Part I

As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.

As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.

I’ve been a pretty vocal opponent to the possibility of UC San Diego moving to Division I. Despite my past reservations about D-I (which seems highly likely at this point), it was a total blast to once more cheer on the UCSD Tritons in men’s volleyball tonight against Brigham Young University.

This was a match I had been looking forward to ever since I moved to Provo last May — men’s volleyball is the only Triton team that regularly competes against a team in Utah. When I was in Chico, UCSD and Chico State were in the same conference, so there were always a couple of opportunities every year to cheer for the blue and gold in sports like basketball, baseball, softball and women’s volleyball.

Although I hoped to be loudly cheering for the Tritons on Friday, I knew that there would be a lot more people rooting for the Cougars. Watching some past volleyball matches on BYUtv, I knew that the Smith Fieldhouse can be a loud atmosphere but I wanted UCSD to have a voice there as well. I also bought a new, bright yellow Triton T-shirt for the occasion. All of my previous shirts were shades of blue, which would probably blend in with the Cougar blue that was sure to fill the stands.

When it came to buying the tickets earlier this week, I was a bit at a loss — I didn’t know if there would be any Triton supporters in attendance and where they might sit (and the reserved seats weren’t necessarily cheap). The box office staff at the Marriott Center was friendly, but they didn’t know either. Eventually, I just settled for the $5 general admission ticket and decided to take my chances.

On game day, I donned my new shirt and made my way north to the BYU campus. Parking was super-easy as the expansive fieldhouse lot is available to the public after 4 p.m. or so.

The fieldhouse itself was a quirky older building, with a narrow indoor track ringing the court and seating area. I made my way past the clearly reserved seats to the opposite side of the court. I asked a man handing out programs if this where the general admission seats were. He said yes and commented that I was brave wearing that shirt inside the fieldhouse.

As I made my way into the arena, I saw blue, plastic hard-backed bucket seats. The aisle seats were all marked “reserved,” and I assumed that only _those_ seats were reserved. That was an erroneous assumption, but I wouldn’t find out about that until later.

I found a great seat about five or six rows up near center court (but not on the center line because it had the “reserved” sign on it). I picked the side that I knew the Tritons would be on and settled in. I noted that the playing area on the court was smaller than it looks on TV. I’ve attended dozens of volleyball games, so I’m used to the court dimensions but the difference in perspective was fascinating.

It was about 30 minutes before the start of the match, so I took a self-portrait to post online. I also dashed to the concessions stand for a couple of waters because I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to leave my seat once the match began (a prediction that generally proved correct). The crowd slowly trickled in. I looked about several times to see if there were any other Triton fans in attendance, but I wasn’t having much luck.

All too quickly, the countdown clock wound down and it was time for the match to begin. After singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” along with the crowd over a very loud recorded instrumental version of the song, it was game time.

To be continued…

Posted in Sports and rec, The20, Understanding Utah, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The20: Fight on with mighty Triton spirit – Part I

Introducing The20 writing project

Writing in a journal at the Chipotle on Mangrove Avenue in Chico.

Writing in a journal at the Chipotle on Mangrove Avenue in Chico.

I’m trying something new on my blogs. For years, I haven’t done a great job of keeping things up to date, letting months go by between updates. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. I have had plenty of things to write about — and now’s the time to write about them.

Starting today, I’m launching a daily item called The20. Every day, I want to set aside 20 minutes to write anything on any topic that catches my fancy. It could be a review of a TV show or move that I’ve seen recently, it could be some thoughts on the weather outside, recapping some recent adventures or taking a deep dive back into some events that I would enjoy recounting. To maintain impartiality and professionalism, I’ll stay away from politics.

As you can tell, the topics will be pretty random, but I hope it will be enjoyable. I know it will be for me (and I seem to be the primary reader on these sites). A while ago, I re-read some old blog posts I wrote about karaoke when I first moved to Chico in 2005. They’re nothing earth-shattering and they didn’t follow the time limits I’m proposing for this column, but it was interesting to review my brief chronicles of an activity that I still have a lot of fun doing.

That’s the other component of The20 — it will contain everything I write in 20 minutes. It will be interesting to get a sense of how much I can write within the time limit. I may break some topics or subjects into multiple part essays to help bridge them over multiple days. There are journeys that I’ve taken or moments in my life that I don’t think can fit into a single, 20-minute chunk.

While I’m worried that I won’t be able to get everything out in 20 minutes, the opposite may be true. After 15 minutes today, I’m finding that I’ve written most of what I want to say on this subject and I’m largely just editing my post at this point.

None of these are going to be hard and fast rules — I’ll probably do some editing and adding photos after time is called. There will also be some topics where I will go long (Monday’s essay on Lake Oroville is an example).

I’m excited about this new project. Everyday, I spend so much time away from work just randomly reading websites or watching TV. I eventually reach a point where I feel I’ve read or seen everything I care to for a day. It will be nice to focus some of this energy on actually creating something.

There are a lot of things I’d like to share with others, but I need a plan. Although I can be slow to pick up the pen or start typing, I can get totally engrossed in the process.

Posted in The20, World at large | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Introducing The20 writing project

Oroville Dam is a tragic case of ‘beware what you wish for’

A view of the Oroville Dam emergency spillway from the Spillway boat launch in March 2016. In February 2017, much of the area was underwater as the emergency spillway was used for the first time in the dam's 48-year history.

A view of the Oroville Dam emergency spillway from the Spillway boat launch in March 2016. In February 2017, much of the area was underwater as the emergency spillway was used for the first time in the dam’s 48-year history.

My thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the crisis at Oroville Dam, which led to the evacuation of around 200,000 people living downstream Sunday out of fear of a collapse of the emergency spillway.

In less than a week, the 48-year-old structure has been faced with the double whammy of the deterioration of its primary concrete spillway and potentially devastating erosion of a concrete weir which doubles as an uncontrolled emergency spillway. It was the first problem that led to the second problem, culminating in Sunday’s emergency. (That said, the primary dam itself is OK, despite misleading news headlines to the contrary.)

I can’t fault Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea for his decision to call for the evacuation Sunday. I don’t have all the facts, but it sounded like things were on the verge of disaster and calling for residents to leave the area seems like a sensible precaution when lives are at stake. The region has had devasating floods in the past, which led to the construction of the dam complex in the first place (that and suppling water to downstate users).

While there should be some hard looks at the decisions that helped lead to this crisis, it’s unfortunate that a full Lake Oroville has turned into calamity. It’s the exact opposite of just three years ago when a half-full lake was used as the representation of California’s prolonged drought.

It wasn’t a pretty picture at the lake three years ago, which ironically made it a tempting image for photographers and TV news reports. At the drought’s low point (pun intended), all but one of the lake’s boat ramps were out of water and marinas had to remove houseboats because of the dwindling lake surface area. The lake looked like a giant, half-filled bathtub with the exposed shoreline looking like a red-colored ring.

I remember last spring, when a good water year helped fill the dam to near capacity. I stood on the trail overlooking the spillway as water flowed down it for the first time in years.

People I spoke with then were so elated to see the spillway open and the prospect of the lake filling to capacity (it didn’t in 2016, but it came close). I was personally awestruck when I calculated how much water was flowing down the channel, even though it looked so abstract at a distance.

That picture’s totally different today. The force of water took on a new, fear-raising aspect last week as we contemplated pictures and video of the concrete spillway being critically damaged.

As the lake reached new heights, concerns did too as the lake hit the emergency spillway level of 601 feet above sea level for the first time ever over the weekend.

Less than 36 hours after Oroville crossed that threshold, evacuation alarms were sounded as there were concerns that erosion could compromise the emergency spillway (I’m curious about when people started calling it an “auxiliary spillway,” because I’ve always seen it referred to the other way.)

Considering the damage that’s been done to the concrete spillway, I think it’s understandable that something catastrophic could happen to the emergency one. I don’t know how much water would be released in that situation — it wouldn’t be as much as a dam failure, but it would still be pretty bad. Even a two-foot elevation change could suddenly release about 10 billion gallons of water in the downstream Feather River.

As of last night, the state Department of Water Resources was working to lower the lake by about 50 feet. As the lake lowers about a foot every three hours, it will hopefully reach the 850-foot threshold before a new storm hits the area in a few days.

Still, I wonder if that’s enough. The DWR’s ability to remove water has been critically compromised by the problems with the two spillways. Even as the pressure on the emergency spillway is reduced with the lowering lake level, I don’t know if officials and the public should count on it until some serious inspections and repairs are made.

I think officials should keep lake water pressure off  the emergency spillway structure AND maintain enough flood control buffer space (which one document I saw stated was 750,000 acre-feet, although I think that figure actually varies based on the time of year).

To accomplish both, I think the lake level should be lowered even futher — to about 788 feet above sea level. That’s based on the current drawdown to 850 feet, plus the 750,000 acre-feet of flood control buffer.

Such a move would leave the lake about 58.2 percent full (with 2.06 million acre-feet of water stored), at least until the end of the season when the flood control isn’t needed anymore.

It’s unfortunate that we should have to lower the lake level after years of wishing for a full lake. However, this recent storm showed the inadequacy of the current, impaired control system.

Lake Oroville has already seen two periods this year where water levels surged dramatically. If we want local residents to be safe in their homes in the event of a third surge, the lake level should be dropped to a threshold that offers the most safety without risking further damage to the emergency spillway.

Posted in La vida Chico, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Oroville Dam is a tragic case of ‘beware what you wish for’

2009 – Day 2 of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Continuing with my look back on nine years of Christmas cards, 2009 marks the second year and the final year of doing entirely homemade cards.

While the card production was simplified from the first year (no elaborate cutting), the main image was a bit more complicated as it featured me twice.

The theme of the card was intended to convey passing the spirit of Christmas on to others. What turned out has been described as “creepy” by a dear friend because of the black gloves in the picture (although the right glove is dark blue even if it didn’t come out that way). That was certainly _not_ my intention, but my hands weren’t photo-ready that year and I needed to improvise.

My previous blog entry on the 2009 card doesn’t go into too much detail, but I used Photoshop so I could play both giver and receiver of the tiny tree. It’s nice that retailers sell trees of all sizes — I decided to use trees sized as lawn ornaments for the card. This was my first deviation from doing holiday cards focused on Chico or Northern California, but time was short that year and I still incorporated a personal touch to the design.

I again used the family Sony Cybershot for photos. I set it up on a tripod in my apartment facing a hallway wall that I thought had sufficient light. I abstained from using the flash, especially because I wanted the Christmas lights to stand out on the tree.

My “noir” look.

Unfortunately, the light in the hallway wasn’t sufficient (at least for my camera and my personal technical ability). I turned on more lights around the hallway (which opened into the kitchen/living room) and arranged a directional light on the “set.” A friend liked the noir look of one of my test shots.

I primarily focused on getting the left side of the card right — making sure the angle and presentation of the tree was correct. As the test shots below indicate, it was difficult to get everything _just_ right (especially when working with a camera timer) but I eventually got a shot I was satisfied with.

I also tried to hide the power cord connecting to the tree’s lights. I was only partially successful, as one can see a power plug hanging from my coat sleeve.

I changed coats and gloves to shoot the right side of the card. I was worried about the shadow that the arm cast against the wall, but I was pretty confident that I could use Photoshop to edit out the shadow.

After getting my shots, I used the computer to compose the primary image. I attempted shot a neutral background as a canvas, but the final product doesn’t particularly reflect that. I remember the image came together pretty quickly as there were only really three elements. That said, doing any sort of cutout of a pine tree is a painful experience (one that I’ve repeated in the 2016 card).

The 2009 Christmas card.

The 2009 Christmas card.

For the last time, I printed out the image as prints at a local store. I switched up the white cardstock for red for a little more visual pop.

I also used a printer for my message “Spreading a little holiday cheer… and wishing you a Happy New Year.” Although it was a bit tricky to align everything correctly, I liked the clarity of the printed text although I missed the personal touch of the handwritten cursive of the previous year.

I used a glue stick to attach the photo to the card. It was time consuming and I strove to make sure the image was centered correctly.

I earlier wrote that I eliminated folded cards after 2008. My memory may be hazy — I seem to recall a fold in the 2009 card because I wrote on the inside of the card. However, I think the fact that I didn’t have a great message for the card’s interior was a key reason for moving away from folded cards.

The other reason for moving away from folded cards also included the realization of the relative economy of photo cards purchased from a warehouse store, but that’s a story for the 2010 card.

By the numbers:

0 — miles traveled to photograph the card (this was the only year so far shot entirely at home, although 2010 comes close).

3 — Trees included in the lawn decoration set.

5 — Days before Christmas when I photographed the card (again, not really enough time to get everything done).

18 — photographs taken for the 2009 card.

Posted in La vida Chico, World at large | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on 2009 – Day 2 of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Day 1 – 2008 – The 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Christmas Time is here and I’m starting my annual effort to spread a little cheer. For the past nine years, I’ve been making my own holiday cards. While I’ve generally tried to follow a theme of Northern Californian elements, sometimes I’ve focused on some aspect of my life or followed whatever fancy suited me that year.

2016 will be a bit different … but mostly the same. I’m back in Utah, so the “local” theme now applies to the Intermountain West instead of Chico. Some other things that are staying the same — I shot on location this year as I did 87 percent of my previous cards AND I’m working to make sure they get to people’s mailboxes before Christmas.

To help encourage me to make my deadline, I’m doing a countdown to look back at the eight previous editions of the card culminating with the online debut of my 2016 card. I’m (unintentionally) timing this to end on Dec. 23, which will hopefully allow enough time for the new cards to arrive in the mail and for me to wrap up this holiday special before St. Nick arrives the following day. Aiding my card quest is the fact that I’ve written about four of the eight past editions of the card (to keep things fresh, I’ll be adding some pictures from years past and add some recollections).

In all the cases, I try to do something new and something fun. Sometimes the cards are planned months in advance while others come together very quickly. Procrastination rarely helps the execution of the cards, but sometimes inspiration drops a good idea on my head like Santa and a bag of presents down a chimney.

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas ...

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …

Without further ado, here’s a look at my 2008 Christmas card…

I previously wrote about my first card just after it came out and blog posts around the time detailed my creative process in developing my first Chico Christmas card.

The first card was probably one of my most ambitious ones in terms of execution. I loved the giant (functional) wooden yo-yo at the Bird in Hand store in downtown Chico and thought it would make a great sight gag.

In order to pull the gag off, I needed the front of the card to isolate the yo-yo, letting the joke reveal itself when the reader opened the card.

Inside of the 2008 Christmas card.There was a decent amount of stenciling and cutting to get the front of the card properly show the toy. After everything was cut, I needed to glue the photo of the yo-yo in the exact proper place or the illusion wouldn’t work.

I also chose a heavier white cardstock to help with the presentation (I worried that regular paper was too flimsy). If I recall correctly, the weight became a bit of an issue because the cards were right on the cusp of being too heavy for a single, first-class postage stamp. I remember not wanting to take the risk and bought a little extra postage to make sure everything go to their destination on time.

This first card was a lot of work and cost a decent amount of money (photos, paper, crafting supplies, postage, etc.), but I liked this initial effort. I wasn’t super happy with my handwriting as a key element of the card itself despite the homemade touch of it. Future cards wouldn’t feature handwritten elements (although I still pen a general message to every recipient). This is also the only folding card that I’ve made in the series — the 2009 card was still mostly handmade, but then I discovered the economy and efficiency of photo cards from a certain well-known wholesale retailer.

By the numbers:

0.71 — miles traveled to shoot the card.

5 — number of days before Christmas when I shot the principal photography (obviously not enough time).

13 — photos shot for this card on my family’s Sony Cybershot that I received from my sister. While I’m excited to share photos from upcoming cards, this one’s pictures don’t have a lot of variation to them (aside from trying to find the best angle and camera settings). Here’s a look at the thumbnails:

Here's a look at the 13 shots I took for my 2008 Christmas card at Bird in Hand in Chico, California.

Here’s a look at the 13 shots I took for my 2008 Christmas card at Bird in Hand in Chico, California.

Posted in Getting crafty, La vida Chico, World at large | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Day 1 – 2008 – The 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Turning the voting kiosk into a photo booth OR How I stopped worrying and learned to love the ballot selfie

In just over 24 hours, the grueling 17-month-long election cycle will grind to a merciful halt. Even after weeks and weeks of ceaseless discussions, debates and squabbles, there are still some issues that haven’t been analyzed to death. One of those issues is the ballot selfie.

For those needing an explanation, the ballot selfie is where a voter takes a self-portrait with his or her ballot primarily to show who he or she voted for. In years past, it generally wasn’t an issue because people generally don’t take standalone cameras with them into the voting booth, much less wait for the photos to be developed and then converted into a format that can easily be broadcast to others. It became more of an issue in the past decade as nearly everyone now has a camera on their smartphones and can share anything with the tap of a screen.

States have conflicting laws about whether these self-portraits are permitted. USA Today publshed a breakdown, showing about two-fifths allow them, while two-fifths ban them and the rest is a muddle. For example, California law doesn’t currently allow them (despite a last-minute appeal by the ACLU), but a law overturning the ban will go into effect next year. Conversely, Utah allows selfies.

When I first heard about the issue about two years ago, I was generally opposed to allowing such photos. I theorized that the photos could provide proof in any sort of vote-buying arrangment. Such a thing could undermine the integrity of a secret ballot.

At the same time, that’s merely a theory. At least one federal court has ruled that it’s not a compelling reason to abridge a person’s First Amendment rights to express themselves in this manner. That makes sense — under strict scrutiny, a government needs to be able to show a compelling reason for a narrowly tailored law that abridges a constitutional right (and that the proposed law is the least restrictive means to accomplish this compelling purpose). That said, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not 100 percent certain that strict scrutiny is the standard here.

In any case, my concern about any hypothetical vote buying diminished when I thought about some of the practices around voting. Of note, if a voter incorrectly marks a ballot, I know some states allow the voter to return the mismarked ballot and ask for a clean one.

So, it’s possible for voters to take a photo of a ballot marked one way and then to ask for a clean ballot and cast their votes as originally intended. Given that possibility, it would be a pretty inefficient and unreliable way to manipulate the system. (Note: there may be ways around that, perhaps by checking the ballot receipt.)

Theoretically, someone could take a photo of a blank ballot prior to filling it out and subsequently  use Photoshop or a basic redeye tool and virtually mark the ballot as they see fit.

With those potential safeguards, I reached a measure of peace about the ballot selfie. Ideally, people use these photos to show they are engaged in civic participation, something we generally need more of in this nation.

Then again, there’s the old adage: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” We’ve certainly seen a lot of family and friends prove this saying on social media during this election cycle and posting a ballot selfie may only provide additional confirmation.

I’m tempted to take a ballot selfie myself Tuesday, but I would have to obscure my actual choices. It’s professionally unethical for me to disclose who or what I voted for and that suits me just fine (especially after what I mentioned about people proving themselves the fool).

In any case, Tuesday is the big day. If you haven’t already voted, this is your chance to have a say (balanced against others, of course). I’ll see you at the polls.

Posted in Gadgets and technology, World at large | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Turning the voting kiosk into a photo booth OR How I stopped worrying and learned to love the ballot selfie

Monday Tuesday Karaoke in Utah

Richard plays a saxophone cover of 'hello' during karaoke night at Keys on Main in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.Richard plays a saxophone cover of “Hello” during karaoke night at Keys on Main in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.

It’s been interesting getting used to a different karaoke scene. Back in Chico, I knew where I could go out and sing every night of the week, even when it wasn’t practical to go.

Since I moved back to Utah nearly three months ago, I’ve gone out to karaoke four times with last Tuesday being the latest. Part of my challenge is that I now work most evenings, except for Monday and Tuesday. The pickings have been relatively slim, but I’ve still been able to find some gems.

Although my sample set for testing is limited, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the performers in Salt Lake City. Conversely, I was disappointed by the general unprofessionalism of the karaoke night I found in Provo on Monday. I’ve also been happy to take advantage of late-evening runs on the TRAX light rail and FrontRunner commuter trains, although it does end my evening at around 11:30 p.m.

Beginning with a Twist

My first time getting back on the karaoke horse was last month at Twist, located just north of 400 South and Main Street in Salt Lake. It was in what could be described as a small street or alley, so I didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to the establishment. The entrance was raised and set back from the street. Patrons have to walk up some broad, shallow steps and past an enclosed patio to enter the restaurant.

Inside, the establishment was divided into three areas. The main serving area was the top-most level with the bar and kitchen. I didn’t immediately see the karaoke setup, so I headed down the stairs to a basement that included a smaller bar area and bar games, including pinball.

The basement area was too small to host karaoke so I headed up a second set of stairs and discovered a mid-floor that housed some restrooms. As I made my way around the space, I thought that it seemed a little risky to have so many stairs in an establishment that caters to people drinking alcohol, especially with the restrooms on a mid-level. Thankfully, some of my concerns were ameliorated when I discovered a second set of restrooms on the main floor — there really wasn’t a reason to go down the stairs unless a patron was partaking of games in the basement.

When I reached the top of the second set of stairs, which ended near the back of the business, I could see the karaoke setup. I didn’t immediately see the karaoke host, so I moseyed to the bar and waited, somewhat distracted by the large projection screen hanging over the opening to the basement.

The evening was off to a slow start, which is unfortunately pretty predicatable for most karaoke nights. Thankfully, the night eventually started and I was able to pick up a mic and have some fun.

My setlist was a mix of songs that are particular favorites and one Fourth of July song because the holiday had just passed. I warmed up to the karaoke host when he was surprised that he had Los Cadillac Fabulosos’ “El Matador” in his library. He was eager to sing it himself on a future night.

Here are the songs that I picked for that night:

  • “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO.
  • “El Matador” by Los Cadillacs Fabulosos.
  • “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles.
  • “Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” by Flight of the Conchords

The set up was basic — the by-now common laptop connected to a sound system. I don’t remember where the flat-screen monitor was on a stand or a table top, but it was an average situation with no serious demerits.

The crowd began to trickle in. Many of the first people to sing seemed like regulars and their friends. A couple of the regulars seemed to be fairly talented and I found myself thinking about the quality of performers possibly being a little higher in Salt Lake than relatively small Chico.

It was fun to sing again, although I’ve gotten a bit self-concious about singing after watching a recording I made at a live concert where I’m heard singing along with the crowd on a song. This self-conciousness has extended to when I sing along with the radio in the car. It’s not enough to deter me from singing or staying away from challenging songs, but it’s a good reminder that I’m still a rank amateur and these evenings are just for fun (especially when singing difficult tunes, like “El Matador”).

All too soon though, I noted I had to catch the light-rail back to my car before the system shut down for the night. As much fun as it is, I definitely I don’t want to be stranded away from home for the evening.

Unlocking Keys on Main

About three weeks ago, I stopped in a place across from Gallivan Center on Main Street that advertised karaoke on Tuesday — Keys on Main. As with Twist, I didn’t have a good idea of what to expect but the evening was ultimately a success.

The evening got off to a slow start — I guess it would be more noteworthy if a karaoke night actually started on time. There was a small group taking turns singing, so there was already a modest rotation by the time I added my name to the list.

As with Twist, there seemed to a handful of regulars joined by a small group of others. So far, I haven’t really seen a place since I’ve returned to Utah that was hopping. That’s probably because of the day of the week — two years ago, I went to a place off of Highland that eventually got crowded, but it was on a Saturday.

Whatever the crowd, the regulars were definitely solid singers. One fellow named Richard even brought a saxaphone to play Lionel Richie’s “Hello” as a solo and then joined Millie as a duet called “Millard.”

The set up at Keys was as professional as Twist and DJ Wes ran a pretty tight show. Instead of being casually set up in a corner of the bar, Keys’ karaoke set up on small stage that also accommodated dueling pianos (which were actually keyboards that were turned off, much to my disappointment). I definitely like having a stage to perform on, but any place that isn’t cramped or awkward is OK.

My song selection was based on tunes that I like singing, but haven’t had a chance to sing in a while.

  • “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons.
  • “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen.
  • “Here For a Good Time (Not a Long Time)” by Trooper

Some of the songs have generally gotten a good response (like Queen), while others are just fun, like the Trooper tune. After I sang “Here for a Good Time,” a couple of guys said they really enjoyed it and wanted to know the artist. They were interested to learn that it was a band from Canada, which they reasoned why they didn’t know the song.

Again, I had to leave early so I didn’t get stranded. One patron was generous enough to offer me a ride to the train station, but I had plenty of time to get back to Salt Lake Central Station.

Disappointment in Provo

On Monday, Aug. 15, I decided to finally check out the limited downtown Provo night scene. While I’m happy to live in downtown, there’s only three late-night spots on Center Street and I have had no real compulsion to visit any of them. For example, City Lights looked appealing on the outside, I was turned off by photos of interior’s light wood paneling that screams family basement from the ’70s.

I’m not going to say which establishment I visited because what I found might get them in trouble (although there may be enough context clues for someone to take a big guess and figure it out).

I was pleasantly pleased when I first entered the business. It felt a bit like a dive, but I prefer places that are comfortable and a little lived in. I was excited when I heard somone singing on a back stage. The crowd seemed pretty diverse, although tending to be on the younger side. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise considering what I was expecting from Provo.

I grabbed a beverage and headed back to see if I could sign up for a song, even though it was getting late. I stopped in my tracks when I saw that the karaoke host was using YouTube to play the karaoke tracks. I politely waved at the karaoke host when he looked my way, but I decided I wasn’t going to try to sing that night.

I’m generally positive about karaoke tracks on YouTube … at home. It’s exciting that several karaoke music companies post their music videos to YouTube. It can be great fun to do YouTube karaoke at a house party.

However, a professional karaoke event is not a house party. Some things that people can get away with at a house party can’t fly in a place of business. For example, playing a stereo or watching a football game is generally OK at home with a small group of friends. At a local business, the owner needs to have a license or face fees from licensing groups.

The main problem with YouTube is that it is generally licensed for private, personal use. I don’t know if Google has a YouTube that’s available for commercial use.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter as the KJ handled YouTube in an amateurish way. The YouTube status bar was often visible during performances and autoplay would automatically start another (unrelated) video after the singer was done.

On top that, the KJ would scramble to mute the sound when an ad came up. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the host. He was obnoxiously enthusiastic and interacted with performers to the point where it was distracting. Toward the end of the evening, he jokingly cursed at the audience for not being engaged.

But seriously, YouTube karaoke could be trouble

I am not a lawyer, but my impressison is that karaoke hosts generally need to use tracks licensed for commercial use — they can’t just download them from iTunes. There may be some winking at these restrictions (I don’t know how many karaoke hosts or regular people who can vouch for every song in their library). However,  using YouTube as a core component of a professional gig seems like an invitation for trouble, especially if a licensing group does decide to look closer at an establishment or KJ.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. When I shared my concern online, one friend who’s a KJ responded: “Very unprofessional and they could get into some trouble if the right people found out.”

Back to Keys

I returned to Keys on Main last week. It definitely confirmed that the singers that I though were regulars were indeed regulars (although there was no sax that night and some people I thought were regulars were not present). The crowd was also about the same as before — filling less than a quarter of the seats in the large space. I don’t know if they anticipated more people — there were song sign-up slips on most of the tables, so perhaps there was a time when the place gets busy.

I drove into the city that night, so I didn’t have to worry about catching the last train out of town. I did have to watch my beverage intake and limited myself to one, which is for the best in more ways than one.

When it came time to pick songs, I stayed towards the tunes that I like singing and usually get the best reaction.

  • “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C.
  • “The Distance” by Cake.
  • “Africa” by Toto.
  • “Lights” by Journey

I was surprised to find that I haven’t sang “Africa” in a few months, considering that it became such a favorite in Chico. I started off with “Graduation,” explaining that I usually sing it at the end of the school year, but didn’t get to during the spring.

A couple of song choices were dictated by the fact that the songs I would’ve preferred to sing where either unavailable or unplayable. I would’ve rather sang Cake’s cover of “I Will Survive,” but “The Distance” was OK. I jumped to “Lights” when The Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” wouldn’t load (which is a shame given that the band was just ending what will likely be its last tour).

All in all, the Monday Tuesday karaoke scene isn’t too bad. It’s not hopping like it was most nights in Chico, but it’s something that can get me out of the house every once in a while. I don’t know if I’ll be making the trip every week, considering the time and distance involved (especially with curling league starting on Mondays), but it’s a nice option.

Posted in Entertainment industry, La vida Chico, Travels, Understanding Utah, World at large | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Monday Tuesday Karaoke in Utah