Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ten years of Artemis and Orion (and Happy New Year!)

It's actually been a bit over ten years since I got these two ridiculous furballs (they were adopted right before Thanksgiving 2007):

Needless to say, they've grown a bit over the past decade. So have I, for that matter:

Although their "official" names are Artemis and Orion - I've always named my cats after figures from Greek mythology - they've always gone by "Little Girl" and "Black Cat," respectively.

From the three of us to all of you: Happy New Year!

UH wins and attendance, 2017

With another season in the books, here's my annual update of the wins-versus-attendance graph for UH Cougar Football:

The cougars averaged 33,250 fans per home game in 2017, which is 5,703 fans per game fewer than the 2016 season. This drop-off isn't particularly surprising: the 2016 season was by all accounts a disappointing, deflating one, and the 2017 season wasn't much to get excited about either (this is evidenced by the fact that the Coogs drew steadily smaller crowds as the 2017 season progressed).

While it's not time to panic yet - 33,250 is still a pretty good average by Houston's historical standards and larger than any crowd that could have been accommodated at old Robertson Stadium - it's clear that significant adjustments are going to need to be made to this team if they are to recapture the interest of this city's notoriously fickle, fairweather fan base and put more butts in TDECU's seats next season.

This starts with an improved, high-scoring offense that people will want to pay money to see, rather than the predictable, sputtering system that the Coogs ran this past season.

Fewer 11 am kickoff times would help, too. Those kill attendance, especially in September.

Quito: the New York City of the Andes?

Katharine Shilcutt made a trip to Quito, Ecuador and wrote about it in December's edition of Houstonia Magazine, where she compares it favorably to New York City:
You shouldn’t try to rent a car in Ecuador; you are not nimble or practiced enough for the driving conditions, the congestion, the loose interpretation of traffic signals and lane dividers. And anyway, in a metropolis like Quito where 2.7 million people make their home, it makes as much sense as renting a car in New York City—which, as it turns out, is very close to what Quito looks like by daylight. 
The next morning, we gasp as we round a corner from our apartment down a hill toward Avenida América. Beyond the seven-lane thoroughfare sprawls a dense, colorful city packed with tall buildings that would seem even taller were they not dwarfed by the Andes Mountains beyond. In the far distance, the snow-capped Pichincha—an active volcano whose last major eruption, in 1999, covered the city with a layer of ash—looms like the home of an ancient god. The largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, Basílica del Voto Nacional, is the only structure that comes close to competing with the natural landscape, its twin spires jutting into the sky like two jagged Andean peaks. 
As we walk the avenue, we see women selling fresh red crabs from deep blue buckets, next to a Colombian bakery where old men are laughing loudly at a curbside table, while diesel buses puff along, about one for every ten taxi cabs. Stick your hand out, and you’ve got a cab in, well, a New York minute. I can’t help thinking that long, skinny, built-up and crammed-in Quito feels like what would happen if you dropped Manhattan from the sky into the middle of the mountains.
It's nice to know that the drivers are just as crazy today as they were when I spent my teenage summers there, but otherwise I get the feeling that Quito has changed quite a bit since the last time I was there. It's always been a bustling metropolis, and it's always been densely-built - a geographic necessity, given that the city is hemmed in by Mount Pichincha to the west and the Valle de Los Chillos to the east - but I certainly wouldn't have compared it to Manhattan back then. While it was a somewhat cosmopolitan city, Quito was also the capital of a desperately poor and largely agricultural nation, and it simply did not possess New York City levels of wealth, sophistication or infrastructure. Three decades later, however, things may have changed: now Quito's even building its own subway.
ON A SATURDAY MORNING, Hala and I stroll through the city to brunch. In the huge Parque La Carolina, we pass a farmers market with live music, a Zona de Crossfit that proves the fitness trend is inescapable, and a grand botanical garden. We land at a German bakery where the table next to us chats away in Japanese as we munch on “Janky” (see: Yankee) waffles and bacon and gulp down dark, delicious blackberry juice and Ecuadorian coffee.  
“I didn’t expect this city to be so international,” Hala remarks, not for the first time. (The final time will be some nights later in a sushi restaurant, where I enjoy fresh eel while she carries on in Arabic with some diplomats from Qatar and a local Instagram celebrity originally from Tunisia.)
Sushi restaurants? Yeah, when I was 14 I resented the fact that Quito didn't even have a real McDonalds. In fact, looking at Google Maps I notice that almost all the restaurants I remember - the place down the street from our apart-hotel that had the excellent llapingachos and locro de queso, the quirky "El Pub" next to the British Embassy, the cheap "Chifa" restaurants serving fried rice and "wonton soup" with chicken organs in it - have all disappeared, replaced by vegan restaurants, Brazilian rodizios, coffee shops, tandoori restaurants and, yes, American fast food outlets.

Given its size and location in the center of the city, Parque La Carolina is fairly analogous to Central Park in Manhattan. But the only thing I really remember about that park is that once my mom and brother went down there to play tennis and were accosted by a bribe-seeking police officer for not having their passports with them; it certainly didn't have a botanical garden or live music back then.

For all the things that might have changed over the years, however, Shilcutt did discover one thing about Quito that is exactly the same as when I lived there:
Back in town and heading out for dinner, we notice the clouds are tumbling quickly over the mountains, into the streets of the city. “That cloud looks like it’s walking!” Hala exclaims. I always thought T.S. Eliot’s anthropomorphized description of fog in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was a little affected. But now that I’ve seen a cloud creep along a street like an animal, I’m regretting everything I wrote in that 12th grade English lit class.
Almost every night, the mountain fog would creep into the city. Watching it roll down from the mountains and up from the valleys was a sight to behold - it really would "crawl" along Avenida 12 de Octubre, Avenida Colon and the other streets around our apart-hotel - and once it enveloped the city it would completely transform it, creating a mysterious, shrouded cityscape punctuated by faded streetlights and passing headlights. It was a landscape that was a serene as it was eerie, and it was very cool to experience.
Quito is a city that upends expectations and offers fascinating contrasts: It’s a few miles south of the equator, yes, but it’s also 9,350 feet high, so it’s cool here year-round, with crisp, thin mountain air. Centuries-old cathedrals and cozy 1950s-era cafeterías coexist alongside hip, open-air food truck parks and post-modern high-rises out of The Jetsons. All of this, in a small country with an outsized global reach, thanks to its petroleum exports and fruitful trade agreements with countries like India and China.
The "crisp, thin mountain air" was one of my favorite things about Quito, especially since it meant escape from the oppressive summertime heat of Houston, and also because it came infused with a distinct aroma of diesel exhaust, firewood smoke and food being cooked: the "Quito Smell," I used to call it. And although I can't speak to Ecuador's trade agreements with China and India - the United States was, and still is, Ecuador's top trading partner - the fact that places like China and India play a larger role in Ecuador's economy than they once did almost certainly makes Quito more of an "international" city than it was a quarter-century ago.

Thanks to dollarization, Quito is a more expensive city than it was when I first spent my summers there, when the sucre was constantly being devalued and everything was crazy cheap. I first noticed this in 2001, during my most recent visit to Ecuador, and it drove my then-girlfriend crazy that I would complain about how much more expensive things had gotten in Ecuador because everything was still very cheap when compared to the United States. This appears to still be the case, if some of the prices Shilcutt reports for taxi rides ($2-$4), simple meals ($7-$12) and Airbnb nights ($40-$90) are correct.

Nobody's going to mistake Quito for New York City anytime soon; it's probably not even the "New York City of the Andes" as long as cities like Bogotá, Colombia or Santiago, Chile rank higher in the "Global Cities" index. But Quito is nevertheless an international city - obviously much more so than it was when I lived there as a teenager - and it is poised to continue to grow as an economic and tourist destination. It is a city full of history, culture, good food and amazing sights. And it's a nonstop flight away from Houston.*

Next summer will mark the thirtieth anniversary since my first trip there, in 1988. I haven't been back since 2001. Hence, another trip to Quito is in the planning stages. It's time to go back, and see the ways in which the city I once considered my "home away from home" has changed.

*Which is another thing that's changed since I was a teenager: back in the 80s, the only way to get to Ecuador from Houston was to fly through Miami. Now, United flies non-stop, and it really wouldn't surprise me if Southwest started flying to Quito from Hobby one day in the future, too. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Cougars lose Hawaii Bowl, end season with 7-6 record

A lackluster season came to a lackluster end in Hawaii on Christmas Eve, as the Cougars fell to the Fresno State Bulldogs, 27-33.

The Cougars scored the first touchdown of the game but sputtered after that; they couldn't even score after the defense intercepted the ball deep in Fresno State territory and didn't find the endzone again until late in the fourth quarter, after the game's outcome had already been decided. Cougar special teams created a spark late in the third quarter when they blocked a Bulldog field goal and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown, but Fresno State slammed the door shut with an 44-yard touchdown return of a D'Eriq King interception late in the game.

Fresno State outgained the Cougars, 473 yards to 341; had 25 first downs to Houston's 17, and led in time of possession, 33:18 to 26:42. All in all, it was not a memorable bowl appearance for Houston.

Nor, for that matter, was it a memorable season. The Coogs ended with a just-above-mediocre 7-5 record, whose highlights include a road win over Power 5 program Arizona and an upset victory over a ranked South Florida team in Tampa. But the Coogs also lost to Tulsa (2-10) and Tulane (5-7), and blew a 17-point lead against Memphis. The Cougars started three different players at quarterback but were never able to find much offensive momentum; they ended the year with an offensive production of 28.2 points per game, which is the program's lowest since the 2005 season.

The UH defense also had its issues, especially in the secondary; the Cougars ended the season as one of the worst teams in the nation in regards to passing yards allowed. But considering that the defense generally did well enough to keep the Cougars close - UH lost four of its five games by a touchdown or less - the focus for improvement going into 2018 really needs to be on the offense. The recent departure of (frankly unimpressive) offensive coordinator Brian Johnson to Florida gives head coach Major Applewhite an opportunity to bring in somebody that fill find a way to being productivity and excitement back to the Cougar offense. That person will also have to do it without graduating key players such as wide receivers Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar or running back Dillon Birden. (The Cougars lose some talent off the defense as well, but Ed Oliver - whom the University will almost certainly promote as a Heisman candidate - returns for one more season.)

As mediocre as the 2017 was, it wasn't quite as disappointing as the 2016 campaign that started out with so much promise and ended with a thud. In fact, I predicted that 2917 would be a unexceptional year for UH. Given the new coaching staff, all the talent that was lost off the 2016 team, and the fact that the season began with the distraction of Hurricane Harvey (which even resulted in the season opener at Texas-San Antonio being canceled), 2017 wasn't so much a "rebuilding" year for the Coogs as it was a "throwaway" year.

If the program wants to remain relevant both locally and nationally, however, Major Applewhite, his staff and his players need to aspire to better performances in 2018. "Rebuilding" year or not, a 7-6 record and a scoring offense that is #65 in the nation is not going to excite the fickle, fairweather fanbase of this city, let alone put the team in position to compete for conference titles.

Oh, and hopefully the UH athletics department will work with the conference and their TV partners to ensure more 6 pm kickoffs next fall, too. 11 am kickoffs ruin tailgating, and in September and even October temperatures at those times can be brutal.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The 747 begins flying into history

The aviation geek in me is sad to see this happen:
It was a beautiful morning to fly, as Delta Air Lines 9771 broke free of cloudy and cold Detroit and ushered itself into the orangey-pink sunrise waiting just above the drudgery below. The jet, one of the last U.S.-operated passenger Boeing 747-400s, gently lifted off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport several minutes earlier at 7:47 a.m., bound for a rather unusual destination: the Boeing factory from which it was made.
The special homecoming charter flight kicked off Delta’s farewell tour for the original jumbo jet, which will go on to stop in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles this week. It comes as Delta – the last U.S. passenger airline still flying the 747 – winds down its schedule on the aircraft. Delta has only one regularly scheduled 747 flight left – a Seoul-to-Detroit flight that’s scheduled to land Tuesday. 
After that, Delta’s remaining 747s will fly a handful of NFL charters before retiring altogether by the year’s end. With that, nearly 50 years of passenger 747 service with U.S. based airlines will come to an end.
Delta's fleet of 747s originally belonged to Northwest before the two airlines merged, and in fact my very first flight on a 747, from Detroit to Osaka in 2005, was on Northwest (I've since flown on KLM 747s as well). After United retired its last 747 a month ago, Delta was the only domestic airline operating the 747. Now that is coming to an end as well.

It's sad that the fifty-year reign of the iconic and spacious "Jumbo Jet" is seeing its twilight, but it's simply a matter of economics. Two-engined jets are simply cheaper to operate than airplanes with three or four engines:
Today, the industry has moved toward twin-engine planes such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330, with three-engine planes being relatively unpopular because of the high labor costs of working on an engine bedded into the tail fin. 
The four-engine 747 retained a clear place in the market because twin-engine planes must stay within a certain distance from an airport in case of engine failure. 
This allowed the 747 to achieve shorter journey times on the longest routes because it could use more direct flight paths. 
However, improving engine reliability means authorities have slowly increased the distance a twin-engine airliner can fly from a runway, gradually reducing the advantage of having four engines. 
And those newer, more reliable engines have also been bigger and more efficient.
The aforementioned three-engined widebody jets - the DC-10/MD-11 and the amazing and underappreciated Lockheed L-1011 - have long since disappeared from passenger service. Four-engined widebodies - the Airbus A340 and the double-decker Airbus A380 as well as the 747 - have been able to continue in service because of their range and capacity advantages over their two-engined counterparts. 

However, the gradual relaxation of ETOPS requirements, as well as the fact that two-engined jets can land at smaller airports than their four-engined counterparts are therefore more flexible to airlines wanting to provide specific non-stop long-haul routes, have cut into the usefulness of the 747 such that fewer and fewer airlines think it makes economic sense to replace the 747s reaching the end of their service lives with new ones. This is why domestic carriers like United and Delta have phased the 747 out of service; they feel it makes better business sense to replace their four-engined aircraft with advanced two-engined ones such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. 

This is not to say that the 747 is immediately disappearing from the skies; it will continue in service as charter aircraft, as cargo freighters, and in the fleets of foreign carriers. Boeing is still building 747-8 aircraft (although orders are understandably slow); newer 747s still have a good two decades of service ahead. 

But otherwise, time marches on. The Boeing 747's importance to America's passenger aviation industry has, after many decades, come to an end.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: North Texas 30, Troy 50

North Texas kicked off the 2017-18 college bowl season in New Orleans at high noon last Saturday. Unfortunately, things didn't go very well for them:
When Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers glanced around the Superdome, his eyes would stop on the name of Archie Manning, who has become one of his mentors, or on spots in the stands where he's sat during games he attended as a fan. 
During his next visit, he'll be able to look at spots on the field where he threw four touchdown passes, as well as the end zone where he ran for a short score, to help the Trojans beat North Texas 50-30 in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday.
"Just being on that field today is going to be one of my great memories for a long time," Silvers said. 
Silvers, a former counselor at Manning's football camp, threw for 305 yards, completing 24 of 31 passes. The Orange Beach, Alabama, native was intercepted once on a deep throw, but that hardly mattered in a game controlled by Troy's defense, which produced five North Texas turnovers.
In addition to the five turnovers, the North Texas offense had negative net rushing yards (-8) and quarterback Mason Fine was sacked six times. Add in the four touchdown passes thrown by Silvers and the 435 total yards of offense that the UNT defense surrendered to Troy, and it was a long afternoon for the Mean Green as well as the fans who made the eight-hour journey from Denton.

It's a tough way for the Mean Green to end a strong season. They netted a 9-3 regular-season record, an appearance in the Conference USA championship game, and made their second bowl appearance in two seasons. Although they were beaten by a combined score of 47-91 in their last two games, UNT's 2017 campaign was definitely better than last year's 5-8 record or their abysmal 1-11 campaign of two years ago. The Denton Record-Chronicle's Brett Vito sees positive signs for the future of head coach Seth littrell and his team:
It's important to not let a couple of losses to end the season overshadow those accomplishments and what Littrell and his staff have done to set UNT up for the future.
UNT won the C-USA West Division title on its way to a 9-5 finish. It's just the seventh season with at least nine wins in program history.
What might be even more promising is that the Mean Green reached those goals while featuring several young players. 
Quarterback Mason Fine set UNT records for passing yards (4,052) and passing touchdowns (31) in a season as a sophomore. Wide receivers Jalen Guyton and wide receiver Rico Bussey also were key contributors in their sophomore campaigns. 
The return of that trio is just one reason UNT should feel good about its future.
The Mean Green took a step towards that future today, as their early signing day haul included three JUCO transfers that should be able to step in and play right away.

Time will tell if UNT can replicate or even improve on their success of 2017, but as of right now the program has reached a point where its goals for 2018 should include a conference championship along with a bowl victory.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Moody Blues are Hall of Fame bound

The Moody Blues are one of my dad's favorite bands, so growing up I got to listen to them a lot and developed a taste for them as well. So I was happy to learn today that this underrated British band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For the band and their fans, this honor was a long time coming:
For The Moody Blues, the honor comes after years of fans harping that the group deserved recognition. The band became eligible for the honor in 1989, and "in 2013, a Rolling Stone reader poll listed the Moody Blues as one of the top 10 bands that need to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," according to the organization.

If you want to seem them live, they'll be performing at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land in mid-January. Rolling Stone's interview with frontman Justin Hayward about the honor is worth reading, too.

UH hires a new Athletic Director

The University of Houston has hired one of its own to run its athletics program:
Chris Pezman was introduced as the new vice president of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Houston on Tuesday, telling a crowd of supporters he's back for the long haul. 
"I don't plan on being here for one year or four years," Pezman said. "This is my life. This is home."
Pezman received a standing ovation during the news conference, which was attended by several teammates from his time as a walk-on to team captain in the early 1990s. 
Pezman becomes the 11th athletic director in school history and the first alumni to assume the school's top athletic position. He received both degrees from UH, was a three-year letterman on the football team and served as a graduate assistant and later in an administrative role. 
Pezman, 47, spent the last four years as senior associate athletic director and chief operating officer at the University of California, Berkeley.
Houston's AD position position opened up as a result of former AD Hunter Yuracheck's sudden departure to Arkansas early in December. Pezman's name was floated almost immediately; UH Board of Regents chairman Tilman Fertitta and UH President Renu Khator met with him shortly afterward and made the decision to hand the keys to the department over to him.

If the chatter on UH athletics message boards is any indication, fans are happy with this hire. Acquaintances of mine who are well-connected to UH athletics say he did well during his previous administrative stint here in Houston and also performed admirably while at Cal-Berkeley. The fact that he is originally from here, and understands the relationship between this city of fair-weather fans and its largest university, also helps. 

I'm pretty confident UH got this hire right, and I'm happy to welcome Chris Pezman back home. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Obligatory snow photos

In the wee hours of Friday morning, a rare snowfall fell across Houston. The flurries actually began Thursday night, and my girlfriend and stayed up late enough to see a few flakes fall. We went to bed thinking that very little additional snow would fall and none of it would stick. We were happy to be proven wrong the following morning.

Here are some photos that I took at my apartment complex Friday morning right before heading in to work:

(No, I can't take credit for building the snowman.)

So once again, Houston experiences a snowfall the December following a hurricane. You'd think these two weather phenomena are related or something...

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Flat-Earthers, and the fundamental problem with their conspiracy theory

Over the past few months, I've discovered that people who actually believe the earth is flat are, indeed, a thing. Take this guy, for example:
It is a stunt worthy of Evel Knievel. This week, if all goes to plan, "Mad" Mike Hughes, a Californian, will launch himself 1,800 feet (550 metres) into the sky in a homemade steam-powered rocket made of scrap metal. As well as providing entertainment, Mr Hughes wants to prove a point. On his trip over the Mojave Desert, which could propel him at speeds up to 500 miles (800km) per hour, the 61-year-old limousine-driver-turned-daredevil hopes to prove the earth is flat.
Some may be surprised to learn that people still hold such views. After all, the earth has been photographed from space. But such photos could have been faked by the evil forces who secretly control the world, right? And all those centuries of scientific evidence suggesting that the Earth id spherical could be wrong, right? In America interest in the flat-Earth movement appears to be growing. In September Bobby Ray Simmons Jr., a rapper also known as B.O.B., launched a crowd-funding campaign to send satellites into orbit to determine the Earth's shape. On November 8th, 500 "flat-Earthers" assembled in North Carolina for the first annual Flat Earth International Conference. Data from Google Trends show that in the past two years, searches for "flat earth" have more than tripled.
Aside from the distinct possibility that Mr. Hughes's stunt (which appears to be on hold, at least for now) could earn him a Darwin Award, his attempt to prove that the Earth is flat, B.O.B.'s aforementioned GoFundMe account (as well as his rap battle with Neil DeGrasse Tyson), and that Flat Earth Conference in North Carolina - in the research triangle, no less! - are all indications that this conspiracy theory, as ridiculous as it is, is gaining momentum. NBA player Kyrie Irving may or may not be a flat-Earther. People in Colorado who believe the Earth is flat are claiming to be “persecuted.” During last August's solar eclipse, the Chronicle actually bothered to find out what a local flat-Earther thought about the phenomenon.
The Earth has been known to be round since the days of the ancient Greeks (the story that Christopher Columbus sailed to America to “prove” that the world is round is bullshit). Easily-observable natural phenomena - not just sunrises and sunsets, but the movement of the stars, the change of seasons, weather phenomena, lunar and solar eclipses, etc. - are easily explained by the existence of a round earth spinning in space. Flat-Earth explanations for these phenomenon, such as they are, are invariably convoluted, hand-wavy, or simply non-existent. Furthermore, just because you can’t perceive the curvature of the earth with your eyes doesn’t mean that it isn’t curved. You’re just too small, and the earth too large, to the curvature to be perceptible.* 
So on one hand, it doesn’t matter what flat-Earthers think. The planet on which we reside is spheroid, and that fact will not change no matter how many conferences they have, how many billboards they try to erect, how many B-list rappers or sports figures they recruit to their cause, how many nutjobs fly homemade rockets over the desert, how many ridiculous Youtube videos they make, how many levels they bring on to airplanes, or how many arguments they start in the comments section.

On the other hand, though, it matters a lot. The fact that we even have to have this argument in 2017 is as disturbing as it is humorous, and says a lot about the power of anti-intellectualism, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and even the internet itself. It is in many ways an extreme example of the same forces that give us everything from Alex Jones to Pizzagate to 9/11 Trutherism to creationism to climate science denial to the anti-vaccine movement to the fact that a profoundly ignorant and pathologically-lying buffoon is currently the President of the United States. There's a notion that science itself is a conspiracy, that everything we’re being told is wrong, and it only appears to be gaining momentum. It's a "tsunami of stupid," and it's really quite depressing.
Science aside, however, there's a fundamental problem with the flat-Earth conspiracy theory. It's the same problem that plagues any large-scale conspiracy: the bigger it is, the more likely it is that somebody involved in it will either intentionally or inadvertently reveal its existence, or that something else will go wrong with it.

People talk. Whistleblowers come forward. Cover gets blown. Somebody, either in a moment of moral clarity or because they're disgruntled with the whole enterprise, comes forward and spills the beans. It happens all the time in the real world, whether it be corporate conspiracies (Enron) or criminal conspiracies (mob informants who bring down entire crime families).

In order for the Flat Earthers' theory - i.e., the idea that the Earth is actually flat but the truth is being hidden by a vast conspiracy - to be correct, it would require that untold millions of people employed in a wide range of professions have to be complicit as well as silent. This includes astronomers, physicists, meteorologists, geographers, geologists, oceanographers, aerospace engineers, historians, the military, the entire aviation, shipping and telecommunications industries, even everyone who has claimed to have flown across the southern hemisphere.** This complicity would have to extend across both the public and private sectors and to every country and advanced culture on earth regardless of political or religious ideology.

Not only would the silence and complicity of each and every one of these untold millions of people, both living and dead, be required, but so would astronomical money and resources be required to continually and flawlessly perpetuate the hoax. The odds that a whistleblower wouldn’t eventually emerge out of the millions and millions of people involved in the conspiracy, or that something wouldn’t eventually go wrong with the apparatus supporting the conspiracy, are pretty much zero.
What purpose, furthermore, would such a vast, complicated and expensive conspiracy serve? How does foisting the false idea of a round globe on the population benefit anyone in any way? There are much easier ways to get rich, maintain power, keep the masses uninformed, or inflict evil upon the world that don’t involve an elaborate conspiracy about the shape of the earth that would involve untold numbers of people and resources and require rigorous maintenance across the centuries.

I honestly don’t think that a lot of the people who call themselves “Flat-Earthers” are truly believers in a flat earth. I think some of them are bored internet trolls, others are hoaxers or satirists testing the limits of Poe’s Law, others are simply looking to make a name for themselves or to profit from Youtube video hits. But the "true" Flat-Earthers - biblical literalists (even though the Bible really doesn't say anywhere that the earth is actually flat), people who are easily suggestible, and people who are hopelessly ignorant of science - are, sadly, out there. There's really nothing that can be done for them, except to laugh at them.
If there’s a bright side to Flat Earth, it is that it is truly is the conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories. Unless you want to argue that the sky is really not blue or that water is really not wet, you really can’t get much crazier than arguing that our globe is actually flat.
*Although, on several occasions, as I’ve sat at the window of an airplane at cruising altitude, I’ve fixed my eyes on a point on the horizon in front of me, and have faintly but definitely perceived the earth’s curvature. This is especially easy to do if you’re flying over an ocean or area of generally flat topography and there are few or no clouds. I've also seen this for myself coming back from a recent trip to New Orleans.

**There’s a rather simple, albeit expensive, way to disprove a flat-Earther: invite them to fly with you around the south pole. There are plenty of options for doing so: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland, New Zealand to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Qantas flies from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile and Johannesburg, South Africa; LATAM flies from Santiago, Chile to Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. According to the dominant flat earth model (the north pole is the center of the earth and what we normally think of Antarctica or the south pole is actually its outer edge), then these flights would be impossible. You could even make a really cool vacation out of it!