Friday, August 29, 2014

Eclipse 2017

Years ago I blogged about the next great solar eclipse in the United States.  It will happen on August 21st, 2017, just a couple of days before Relia turns ten.  I told her we would go to see it and I intend to keep that promise. 
Some enterprising folks have mapped out the path of the eclipse here.  The very best spot to see it will be somewhere near the border between Illinois and Kentucky but really, there are tons of good places, literally from coast to coast. 
Who's up for a little road trip?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Baseball Playoffs

(Note: I'm going to try and revive this blog again.  No promises.)

We've got a little more than a month to go in the baseball season and the playoff picture is starting to become clearer.  In some past years I've waited until it's all set and then ranked the teams in order of which ones I would cheer for.  Last year there were some fun teams in but they were all knocked out early and I found myself disappointed in my rooting options.  I thought it might be fun to look at the last part of this season and see who I'll cheer for to get in.  The more teams that I want to see win that make it into the playoffs, the greater the odds that I'll still be cheering the last couple weeks of October! 
Ground rules:
  • There will be ten teams that make it, five from each league.  That makes three division winners and two wildcard teams from the AL and the NL.  
  • I'm only going to list teams that have a realistic shot at making the postseason.  If the White Sox somehow win 25 of their next 30 games and get into the race, of course I'll go all in for them.  I don't expect this to happen (to put it mildly).  
  • There are a few teams that are so far ahead that they can just about start printing playoff tickets right now.  My rule of thumb is that a team that is five games up is in good enough shape that I'll simply expect them to be there.  
That last rule puts four teams in: Baltimore Orioles, Angels of (wherever), Oakland A's and Washington Nationals.  I'm fine with both the Orioles and the Nats.  Neither of them has been wildly successful and they would even make for a fun World Series against each other.  I'm not a big fan of the Angels or the Athletics but I don't have strong feelings about either one.  Unless the Angels bring back the Thunderstix, in which case they quickly become my least favorite.
The 'already-in' teams have taken three of the five spots in the AL, leaving only the AL Central winner and the last wildcard spot.  I'd like the Kansas City Royals to finally make the playoffs.  They haven't been there since Regan was president.  And man, am I tired of the Tigers! 
That last wild card spot is a little tricky.  I'm torn between the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Bluejays.  If the two of them had to battle it out, I'd probably go with Toronto, just for the chance to see Mark Buehrle have some postseason opportunities.  But I'd be happy with either one.
The NL is more wide open.  The only spot that's taken so far is the NL East.  I don't have strong feelings towards many NL teams so this is harder.  I'd like both the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates to make it.  The leaders in those divisions are the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers, neither of which I have a problem with.  I guess those would be the five that I'd pick.  In fact, this part of the exercise is more about who I really, really don't want to see.  I'm somewhat tired of the Atlanta Braves but I'm down right exhausted with the St Louis Cardinals. 

If my preferred ten made it to the playoffs, my rooting interest would probably go something like this:
1. Pirates
2. Giants
3. Bluejays
4. Nationals
5. Orioles
6. Dodgers
7. Royals
8. Brewers
9. Athletics
10. Angels

Friday, June 27, 2014

100 Favorite Movies

It seems like forever since AFI was doing their '100 Movies' specials.  Which is a shame.  Seems that it's been too long for someone else too.  A new list has emerged.
Is it wrong to already declare this the No. 1 movie list of all time?

After all, there are other movie lists. Lots and lots of others. So many lists, you couldn't list them all. But this is the first to ask the entertainment industry itself to pick its choices for the best pictures ever made. In May, THR sent an online ballot all over town — to every studio, agency, publicity firm and production house on either side of the 405.

The actual list is here.  It features some different things than the AFI ones.  They're newer of course, and they have some new movies on them.  The list has 15 movies on it that were made 2000 and after. 

96. Pan's Labyrinth
92. Up
90. Memento
88. Slumdog Millionaire
87. LOTR: Return of the King
84. Inception
82. LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring
79. Wall-E
76. Brokeback Mountain
71. Almost Famous
69. Gladiator
67. Avatar
60. Amelie
57. The Dark Knight
56. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

If someone asked me for a list of the best movies since 2000, I'd choose a lot of these.  The only one that I haven't seen is 'Avatar' and frankly, I wonder if it would still be on this kind of list ten years from now.  I could happily include the first 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie.  And I thought that the 'Avengers' was better than 'The Dark Knight'.  And I'd throw something from Studio Ghibli in too.  But this list is pretty strong.
It's also interesting how the list breaks down by decade.

2000+: 15
1990s: 23
1980s: 15
1970s: 19
1960s: 12
1950s: 11
1940s: 3
1930s: 2

For some time now, the cinematic center of gravity has been firmly located in the 70's.  The 90's dominate this list by some margin.  I've got some quibbles there.  'Unforgiven' is a much better movie than 'American Beauty', for instance.  In fact, 'American Beauty' at 34 was the biggest surprise of the list for me. 

I know some people that worked their way through the AFI list of movies.  This would serve well for the same purpose (no, I'm not taking up a new project).  I've seen 92 of the movies and by my rough count, we own 47 of them.  The other eight?

100. Seven Samurai
99. Bonnie and Clyde
73. All the President's Men
67. Avatar
59. Thelma and Louise
58. Sunset Blvd
52. All About Eve
41. Psycho

Maybe I'll do some updating to my Netflix queue and bring myself up to speed...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Biking

This morning Relia showed off her new skills.  She can now ride her bike without training wheels.  She still needs some confidence but that will come quickly.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Are the Olympics Profitable?

I mentioned yesterday that I'd found a chart of Olympics profits for the past forty years.  The chart is here.  (The usual caveats about Wikipedia apply but it seems to be in good order.  Also, data from some countries is almost certainly more reliable than from others.)  First, the breakdown and then I'll have some comments.

Montreal, '76 - $990 million loss
Lake Placid, '80 - $8.5 loss
Moscow, '80 - unknown
Sarajevo, '84 - $10 million profit
Los Angeles, '84 - $250 million profit
Calgary, '88 - $32 million profit
Seoul, '88 - $300 million profit
Barcelona, '88 - $10 million profit
Albertville, '92 - $67 million loss
Lillehammer, '94 - unknown
Atlanta, '96 - $10 million profit
Nagano, '98 - unknown but a loss
Sydney, '00 - $2.1 billion loss
Salt Lake City, '02 - $101 million profit
Athens, '04 - $14-15 billion loss
Torino, '06 - $3.2 million loss
Beijing, '08 - $146 million profit
Vancouver, '10 - unknown but a loss
London, '12 - approx $70 million profit
Sochi, '14 - too early to tell

It looks like almost half (9 out of 20) were profitable.  If you read through this slideshow, you'll find that it really was a mixed bag.  For instance, Barcelona made a small profit but they spent heavily on infrastructural improvements which have proved to be a long term value.  Other comments:
  • The biggest loser was certainly Athens.  Not only did they lose the most money, the cost of the Olympic games is thought to have contributed to their general financial meltdown.  Their sites have been neglected and are falling apart.  
  • Turin (Torino) posted a small loss but they're also happy with the improvements that the games brought.  Frankly I'm skeptical of any of the numbers that show either a small profit or loss.  For Turin, that meant a budget of $700 million and a loss of less than $4 million.  I'd be shocked if there wasn't some cooking in there.
  • Speaking of cooking, the numbers for Nagano are unknown because the vice secretary general of the Olympic bid committee, a Japanese national, ordered all of the documents to be burned!  Clearly, it was a financial disaster.  Not just then, but ongoing.  It costs about $22 million per year to keep the buildings from falling apart.   
  • The '84 games, both Sarajevo and Los Angeles, were the first ones to turn a profit since 1932.  The '88 games also turned profits.  The reason is simple, this was when the Olympics embraced corporate sponsors.  Yes, that meant increased commercialization.  I'll leave it to the reader to decide if that trade off is worth it.
  • If you read through the slideshow, you'll see that one of the big reasons that the games ultimately succeed or fail is if the host city can plan well enough for continuing use of the stadiums and infrastructure.  If they can figure it out, the games are a boon.  If not, they're an anchor.  I'm guessing that there is a split between summer and winter, but that will have to wait!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why the Montreal Olympics were so Durned Expensive

Yesterday I ran across an article about the remaining bids for the 2022 Olympics.  The short version is that it seems to be coming down to Kazakhstan or China as hosts.  In other words, here comes Beijing 2022!  One of the common themes for cities withdrawing bids is that the Olympics are always big money losers.  I know from my other reading that this isn't true.  For some time I've thought of tracking down past Olympic games and creating some kind of chart but a little research (thanks Google!) and I found one.  I'll try to break that one down soon. 
In the meantime, I wanted to talk about the poster child for the 'Olympics are money losers' argument: host of the '76 games, Montreal.  The games were wildly over budget and only paid off in 2006.  It took an additional 30 years after the games ended to finally pay them off.  That's a long time. 
What happened?  The biggest culprit is probably the Montreal mayor, Jean Drapeau.  When they were bidding, he promised austerity and that the games would be 'very humble, with simplicity and humility'.  This didn't happen.  The estimated cost was for $125 million but the final bill came in at nearly $2 billion.  This means that they budgeted for about 1/16 of the true cost. 
From the book 'The Olympics' by Allen Guttman:
Drapeau's chosen Parisian architect, Roger Tallibert, designed a magnificent $350-million stadium whose spectacular retractable roof was not completed until years after the games, Drapeau rewarded Taillibert with a bonus that Nick Auf der Maur estimated at nearly $50,000,000. In the face of considerable adverse criticism, Tallibert, was by no means abashed: "The West will one day have to acknowledge that sports installations, however costly they may be to build and maintain, must be included in the State's budget in the same way as the manufacture of arms."
Drapwau, whose support of Tallibert never wavered, appointed his cronies to the organizing committee, which proved unable to cope with the extortionate demands of the construction firms and labor unions working on the facilities. Workers struck, workers lollygagged, workers demanded and received overtime pay to make up for time lost in labor disputes. The judgement voiced by Reet and Max Howell seems just: "In addition to the astronomical architect's fees and structural design problems, contributory factors were inflation, strikes, fraud, corruption and inept coordination.
Drapeau had said 'The Olympics can no more lose money than a man can have a baby'.  He somehow thought it would be impossible to lose money.  That didn't turn out to be true.  The official after report said that the losses were just under a billion ($990 million).  This would be the most costly Olympic debt . . . until 2000. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New York 2024

I'd like to think that I had a big hand in this.  (Only kidding.)