Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#BadMedia Just tell us the truth KPRC

Last Sunday I tweeted my disappointment that KPRC Local 2 (Houston's NBC affiliate) decided to not broadcast live the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco.  It was unfortunate because the National Network (as well as NBC Sports Network) heavily advertised that the flagship would be broadcasting the race, live, at 7AM EDT.  Since KPRC Local 2 never offered up a notice saying they wouldn't broadcast the race, I was up for a 6AM (local time) broadcast only to be greeted with their morning news show.

Today then, KPRC has issued a "statement" regarding the incident, and it seems as if it was designed to insult the viewers.

A letter to Formula One fans. Jerry Martin, KPRC

I wanted to let you know that we heard from many Formula One fans this weekend regarding our decision to air our local news in lieu of the Monaco Grand Prix. We will reevaluate the decision for next year's race. That evaluation will not only be based off ratings data, but also the amount of viewer confusion caused by not airing the race after NBC promotes the coverage heavily in their programming. 
Our rationale for not airing the race was based on KPRC being a "news comes first" local television station, which includes holiday weekends
Yes, what you have just read is a flimsy rationalization.
Were there breaking news on Sunday that could cause the race to be preempted I would heartily agree, but there was no "news comes first" event that would call for preempting the race.  And, were the event Sunday Night Football or some higher rated show they would not preempt with a local newscast for regular news.

They based this decision on expected ratings, period. That's fine if you don't think enough people will tune in to watch who makes it through Rassgass unscathed to make it worth your while but don't insult our intelligence by claiming to be following some time honored "news comes first" principle that we all know doesn't exist.

If you choose to air local news because it will rate higher then that's fine. I can live with that.  F1, in America, is a very small niche sport and I don't have an expectation that it will run live on TV unless, that is, you constantly run advertisements with no disclaimer that it's running live on your station.

But then, when all is said and done, don't come back and lie to us.

Because, if you're telling the truth, then I expect to see the 10PM coverage of the upcoming Olympics to be preempted for the local news cast.  We all know that's not going to happen.

How did this not exist before now?

The horrible transit agency addition:

Metro starts shuttle to Houston Food Bank today. KTRK.com

METRO is adding a new route today.

The new route will include a stop at the Houston Food Bank to accommodate families who have trouble picking up their food

Sometimes the only thing to say is just WOW and shake your head and walk away.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A quick observation on Texas' LockStep Political Media

I realize the ol' blog hasn't had any updates for a couple of weeks, but life (esp. the paying and family parts) gets in the way of typing thoughts for free.

I would like to make one observation however, regarding Texas LockStep Political Media.

Outside of Burka the Clown, no group has done a worse job covering the 83rd Texas Legislative session than the Dallas Morning News.  Robert T. Garrett has devolved into a gossip writer, Wayne Slater has not only lost his fastball, but his change-up is gone as well (he never really had a working curve that could surprise), Christy Hoppe seems to have no idea what the issues are, much less how to report on them and Karen Brooks Harper needs to go back to the lifestyle section and write articles on fashion trends that few read.

Yes, The Texas Tribune is populated by young staffers who, more often than not, miss the key points behind what they're watching, are continuing their unique obsession to have Carol Alvarado be paid a living wage and are seemingly edited by a spider monkey, but at least they are making an attempt to report it straight, at times.  Jay Root's piece on Sen. John Carona is evidence of that.

I never had any hopes for Hearst's Austin bureau, they have a limited budget, no editors and no indication that they are really into news reporting (their focus seeming to be limited to gathering [and then providing snark to] actual news reported by others). Quorum Report is more interested in getting involved in Twitter flame wars with conservatives than it is actually working on it's product (their website is horrible, and their reporters view Twitter victories as something important), and other news outlets are either too self-involved, or too uninformed to really care.

I guess I have to put the DMN Texas politics team at the bottom of the heap because they're past reporting was (comparatively mind you) pretty strong.  And let's be honest, being a strong political reporter in Texas is like coming in first in a Congressional popularity poll.  The bar is pretty low.

Now that Paul Burka has officially removed himself from the realms of political journalists by basing all of this year's work on personal grudges and unsubstantiated rumors fed to him by political consultants (instead of just most of it, as he did in the past) the DMN is setting the official floor.

At the top?

Taking a page from Ring Magazine, I'm going to declare the belt vacant.  Overall it's been a very lackluster reporting season, and Texans are worse off for it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Breathless overselling of what might be a good idea. (Yup, it's ChronBlog)

"Two hot, new bars set to open downtown" shouted the headline on Chron.com last Friday as their entertainment portal, 29-95 (now less vulgar, still pretty uninteresting however), published a glorified press release from the folks that brought you Anvil Bar & Refuge (and their high prices and brilliant scheme to ensure obscure liqueurs don't go to waste) announcing the opening of two new concepts downtown.

The headline for the story itself however was a little more muted.

Clumsy Butcher to open new wine/beer bar on Main St. Alison Cook, 29-95 a Chron.com blog

Ironically, this new wave of bars and party spots opening downtown is reminiscent of the wave of openings that occurred right before Houston's, now infamous, SuperBowl event.  Of course, soon after Janet Jackson revealed herself to the world.........*crickets*

But, this being Houston and Houston being ever the optimist about downtown drinking and revelry here we go again. Maybe it means something that a majority of the new space opening has a connection to Bobby Heugel and maybe it doesn't.  Right now he and Brian Caswell seem to be the two owners who, with the obvious exception of Stella Sola, have the magic touch when it comes to making recycled concepts stick.

I think part of this is because both operators have learned to expand their demographic appeal beyond Houston's FoodBorg.  The problem with catering to the collective is that the collective soon grows bored with your establishment and, having run out decent folks who just want to grab a cocktail without being regaled with the history of the British rum industry by some know-it-all food blogger who might (or might not) moonlight occasionally in one of the city's print outlets,(or, they might have a job at said publication blogging about food, who knows?) decides to move on to the newest and greatest bauble in order to ensure the great unwashed stay away from there as well.  The notable exception to this is the aforementioned Anvil, which seems to remain a favorite of the Borg while continuing to draw from the general population. I attribute this to the fact that no one has been able to approach Anvil's concept with anything resembling the success of Heugel. Sure there are other high-concept cocktail places in Houston, but none pull it off as well.

Now you might think that I find all of these bars and restaurants opening to be silly. That I might think they're whistling past the graveyard trying to reinvigorate a downtown area that's notoriously barren after office hours.

You'd be wrong. I think having a block of bars/restaurants on Main St. is a great idea and I wish the proprietors of the new establishments much luck in their happy hour catering to the downtown business-person.  If they can also perform the function of containing the FoodBorg to downtown during nights and week-ends all the better as this would mean being able to enjoy a beer at Christian's Tailgate without some foodie telling you the origin of the hops and that they know the brewmeister personally.

All that said, "Hot, new bars"?  Before they even open?

C'mon ChronBlog, you can do better than that.

Texas abroad (Dubai)

Part of an occasional series of images depicting Texas in other countries. (including other countries within the United States).

In Dubai, this is Texas:

Complete w/Peanuts on the floor
The funny thing was, every time we told someone we were from Texas the reply was "Yee Haw!" and a thumbs up.

I didn't have the heart to tell them I don't even own a pair of cowboy boots so the wife and I just went along with it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

That winning Spirit

The fact that Spirit Airlines recently changed their customer service number from toll-free to a 'traditional' line doesn't surprise me.  It's cheaper to use traditional lines rather than toll-free for a company and Spirit is all about running on the cheap.  Whether or not you like them, it's a profitable business model for them, and enough people seem to be utilizing their services to get from point A to point B to keep them flying so they're going to be around for a while.

What did surprise me was the following:

Spirit Airlines dumps toll-free number to 'better assist you'. Tim Winship, Yahoo!
Want to call Spirit Airlines? Chat up a friendly res agent? Maybe change a flight date or time?

You'll search long and hard on the airline's website to find a phone number. And when you do—I finally tracked it down by following the links to "How do I change a reservation?"—you probably won't recognize the initial three numbers in 801-401-2222.

Is that yet another variant of the 800 code used for toll-free numbers?

There's nothing toll-free about it—801 is the area code for the Wasatch Front in northern Utah, specifically Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, and Weber counties.

It seems odd that Spirit selected a rather obscure location for their line, one that keeps the appearance of being toll-free. Not only that, but it doesn't appear that they're doing much to inform customers that this is not a toll-free call, and that they'll be paying the phone company to contact Spirit, even if it's to correct an error on the airline's part.

Is it coincidence that they chose a number that's similar to the toll-free option? Possibly. 

Is it possible that they made the change and were hoping no-one noticed by keeping it so close to the 800- option people are used to?  Who knows?

I'm not accusing Spirit of deliberately trying to deceive customers.  I have no knowledge of the thought process that went into changing the number as they did.  All I'm saying is that the number they ultimately did choose, in my mind, opens them up to an awful lot of questions. Unfortunately, you have to call them long-distance to get an answer to any of these questions.  Given Spirit's attitude toward customer service, I do think it's very possible they hope this change means that you won't contact them at all.

Thoughts on Dubai

Recently the wife and I spend a long-ish weekend in Dubai.  Should you wish, you can view the pictures from our trip here on my Flickr account.  I liked Dubai, but I don't see myself returning there anytime soon.

The best way that I can think of how to explain it is to say that Dubai is a city without a soul.  For example, Paris has a romantic soul, Madrid has a laid-back soul, Rome has an ancient soul and Dublin has a drunken (and fun) soul.  Dubai is nothing but sand and tall buildings. At times, this is something that creates stark beauty.

Burj Khalifa

Dubai Marina
And, at times, it's something that just creates blah.
A Dubai Street
One of the more interesting dynamics, to me, was the UAE's attempts to juxtapose traditional Islamic culture with Western influences.  To me, this picture (taken by my wife) is the best representation of that problem.
A pork shop in Dubai Mall
Of all the locations in Dubai my favorite was Deira, the old part of town, where you find the Souks. It felt the most traditional in a city that's wiped away all of its tradition in the name of progress.


The Gold Souk
Given all of the attention paid to the malls, I think it's safe to say the Dubai Mall knocks the pants off of the Mall of the Emirates, as a matter of fact it's not even close.  The Dubai Mall is laid out better, it has better attractions and is much more open in design.  If you click on the picture link above you'll see several pictures from the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo that, and Deira obviously, was a highlight of the trip.

Mall of Dubai waterfall
Finally, if you ever wonder why people have a negative image of American food, I give you the American food section at the grocery store inside the Dubai Mall.
Old El Paso and Newman's Own.

On the technical, travel side, we flew United Airlines from IAH, laying over at IAD both coming and going. The United lounge at IAD is OK, at DXB, before departure, we were given access to the Lufstansa lounge, it was tiny but well stocked.  While we were there the band Everclear came in, as they were on our same flight back to the States.  Unfortunately, my camera was stowed so I have no pictures.  I will say this, based on our limited time getting to talk with them they are a very nice groups of guys.  Really enjoyed speaking with them for the few minutes we did.

We stayed at the Sheraton in Deira Creek, which I booked on Hotels.com for around $150/night.  It was a nice hotel with very good customer service, six restaurants (the two we tried were good) and four bars.  The cover band that plays at the Marbles bar on various nights is outstanding.  The guitar player can play almost anything, and the three ladies and one guy doing vocals gives them the range to not make a dog's breakfast out of almost any song.  One lady even did a very solid version of Whitney Houston's "I will always love you" which is a hard song to sing.

Since you're in Dubai, be aware that there is no alcohol service before 6PM in any bar, even the ones at the hotels, and prices are high.  Food in Dubai, unless you're eating at one of the many Indian/Pakistani locals dives are expensive. I highly recommend popping into one of the sticky-floor joints where the local workers eat.  The food there is inexpensive and tastier than most of what's on offer at the higher-end establishments.

Speaking of the workers, I'm aware that Dubai has a horrible reputation for how it allows it's workers to be treated and you can see that on their faces.  If you want to see an example of no hope, take a look at the grunt-workers in Dubai.  If Dubai as a city is soulless the immigrant workforce is even more so.  As an Emirati, or an expat from a developed nation, life can be pretty good, it's very common to see Ferrari's and other luxury cars on the roads, if you're a manual laborer from a developing country however, life appears to be pretty Spartan. 

As I stated earlier, I enjoyed Dubai, but have no desire to return.  But the wife and I did want to see it before it's gone.  The fact is the UAE is rapidly running out of oil.  They're trying to re-invent themselves as a financial/travel destination but I don't see that having long-term staying power. Historically however I think the odds are against them. If history in this region has taught us anything, it's that the desert always wins.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Only if you believe good government = more government does this make sense.

The Texas Tribune, continuing their drive to get Texans to pay Carol Alvarado a living wage, raises a question today:

Do Over votes in Texas Legislature raise questions. Aman Batheja, Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature took three high-profile mulligans last month. Twice in the House and once in the Senate, a majority of lawmakers voted one way on a bill or amendment, only to quickly turn around and vote the other way.

The incidents raise a troubling question: Are lawmakers regularly voting on legislation they don't understand?

The underlying theme is that, due to the Lege's part-time status, our elected representatives are running around willy-nilly casting votes on bills they haven't read, nor do they fully understand.  The obvious answer to this is to greatly expand the Texas government, pay them a competitive salary obviously, and expand them to full-time status.

All of the arguments for expansion (ethics, uninformed votes etc.) lose water when you realize that the US Congress IS full time and they are often worse than the part-time Texas congress in all of these areas.

Sure, it's tough for a news-ish political site to fill the required inches of column space given that the lege is only in session for 3-4 months every two years, but their desire to have more to opine on is a terrible reason to increase Texas government spending by Billions.

Public Transit in Houston.

Presented with only one comment.  This is behind the Chron's paywall so I'm only going to quote a very small piece (which I believe is keeping with the spirit of fair use) and encourage you to go read the whole thing.

US Transportation Chief: Houston needs to 'get it's act together' on Light Rail. Dug Begly, HoustonChronicle.com

LaHood said the area is coming up short because more hasn't been done to extend lines to the suburbs where most people live.
He said he spent the morning in Houston talking about projects to extend transit farther from the downtown area. Suburban taxpayers who supported referendums in 2003 and 2012 especially have demonstrated a desire for development, only to have officials shortchange them
"The fact that these people voted for a referendum and are paying these taxes and have never seen any benefit from it is just not right," LaHood said.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/U-S-transportation-chief-Houston-needs-to-get-4481101.php#ixzz2S963ptyp
My comment: I can't believe I actually agree with LaHood.

The scary thing is, some people take these rankings seriously.

Houston is the 9th happiest city for young professionals.  At least, it is if you take this report from Forbes' Magazine seriously:

Happiest cities for young professionals. Jacquelyn Smith. Forbes.com via Yahoo!

The problem, as I see it, is that none of the "criteria for happiness' have anything to do with the cities themselves:

Young professionals, defined by CareerBliss as employees with less than 10 years' experience in a full-time position, were asked to evaluate ten factors that affect workplace happiness. Those include one's relationship with the boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks, and control over the work one does on a daily basis.

In other words: the rankings are for a companies, and have been inappropriately applied to municipalities in order to....?

One guesses in order for certain groups to run ragged with (faulty) results to suggest that if only more green space/public transportation/arts/trendy restaurants were added (preferably in the central core) their fair city would move up the ranks.

In reality, this is a survey of corporate culture.  But that won't stop the unproductive class from using as proof of case that Something! Must be done.  Nor will it stop Texas Lock Step Political Media from reporting it incorrectly as well.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tesla is a sprint. I prefer to take a longer view.

There's been a lot of breathless adoration over Tesla Motors of late and it's pretty easy to see why.  Their latest vehicle, The Model S, is a pretty little thing to look at which has (mostly) led to it being named the "Car of the year" by Motor Trend Magazine. Sure they gush about it's handling, it's power, it's storage space etc. But then you have to take into consideration that this is the same organization which named the horrible Chrysler 300 their car of the year in 2005, and gave the equally terrible Ford Thunderbird the nod in 2002.  They've also honored the PT Cruiser and the Chysler Cirrus with the award, so read into that what you will.  Seen a lot of Volt's around lately?

I understand what you're thinking here, that I'm just negative toward Tesla because I hate the environment and want to ensure that the internal combustion engine continues adding to the world's pollution ad nauseum.  You can think that, but you would not be further from reality.

The reason I'm not enamored with Tesla, Fisker (RIP), the Volt, the Insight or the Prius is that I feel they're all barking up the wrong eco-tree.  At the end of the day the power from all of these cars comes from an electrical grid which is, for the forseeable future, driven by coal and other fossil fuels.  Nevermind the extremely carbon-unfriendly processes that are needed to construct the vehicles in the first place.

No, the real future in the automobile industry is Hydrogen fuel cell technology that doesn't require the burning (mostly) of fossil fuels and for which the only emissions are H2O.  Hyundai is already mass producing them, and Honda has a fleet running around California right now.  Compared to these vehicles plug-in electrics are really just fanciful toys for the smug. They make a certain type feel superior but don't do much in the way of weaning us off fossil fuels for transportation.

Not that I think we're in imminent danger of 'running out of oil' as the Peak Oil theorists suggest.  Will oil require some creative technology to extract in the future?  Sure.  But we've already seen that in the fracking boom, an event that the Peak theorists didn't take into consideration in their initial modelling runs.  I do believe that it's going to continually become more expensive to extract oil however, so I think we need to reserve as much oil as possible for it's true societal benefit: plastics.  That's right, plastics.  Without fossil fuels we wouldn't have many of the medical and technological advances we enjoy today, so we need to ensure that what we are pulling out of the ground is allocated correctly.

All of this brings us to today's bit of speculative blogging regarding the future of Tesla:

Is Tesla the next Apple or Google? Dan X. McGraw, ChronBlog

Tesla is riding a wave of optimism, making some hedge fund managers question whether the electric carmaker could follow in the footsteps of Google or Apple.
Investment firm Longboard Asset Management believes the automaker's stock will be selling for $200 per share within the next five years. The firm said Wall Street is currently underestimating the car company's brand and unfairly tying it Solyndra, the failed solar panel company.

Short-term, I think yes, given the amount of buzz surrounding the company, Tesla's stock will continue to rise because people want it to. They're currently churning out the best product in the entire business segment and there are plenty of people who purchase stuff to increase their perceived social standing to keep them in business for a while.  Where the hot Hollywood car was once the Prius, I see the Tesla taking over that role in short order.

Long-term however I think their fame clock is already reading 14:59.  Once some entrepreneurial sort figures out how to convert Hydrogen to fuel in a cheaper manner, and convinces companies (and the government) to buy into building infrastructure, I see the demise of the plug-in electric car coming suddenly.  While you plug in your car to your home to charge it up currently, there could be a time you plug your car into your home to turn on your living room lights and run the TV.  That's a pretty big difference right there.

A difference that convinces me plug-in electrics are just the wrong way to go long-term.  For that reason I don't see the Tesla rising out of niche status, unless I've missed where they're embracing the Hydrogen future.

As we stumble toward the 2014 Texas political season

Something to remember come election time in 2014.

Potential Lt. Governor candidate (and Current State Comptroller) Susan Combs released $29.3 Million dollars of taxpayer money to the father of this lady:

Tamara Ecclestone bares all for Playboy. Celebrity Buzz, Chronblog

The billionaire daughter of Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has bared all for Playboy.
Tamara Ecclestone, dubbed The Diamond Heiress by editors of the men’s magazine, graces the cover of the May issue, lying naked with her intimate areas covered by sparkling gems.

Remember that, and that she has difficulties with the basic function of her current job, oversaw the department when a huge data breach came about and imposed the Amazon Tax on Texas taxpayers the next time she runs her fiscal conservatism up the electoral flag pole.

What's really sad is, due to the dearth of serious candidates Texas Democrats are putting on the slate, should she win the (R) primary there's a good chance she beats whatever fodder Battleground Texas selects as her opposition.

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