Friday, December 31, 2010

A not-so-fond farewell to 2010

The last few minutes of 2010 are running out, and after I finish writing this entry I am going to walk (no reason to drive tonight) over to a bar near my house and ring in the new year. I am looking forward to 2011. 2010 was simply not a very good year for me.

First of all, my marriage to Lori officially came to an end last April, as our divorce was finalized. The process actually began in the summer of 2009 - I alluded to some big changes that were underway in my life at the time - but due to the backlog of cases in Harris County's family courts (as well as the fact that I don't think either of our lawyers were in a particular hurry to bring our case to a swift conclusion), the process was not completed until earlier this year.

This might come as a shock to some of the readers of this blog because I never explicitly discussed it until now; I refused to write about the divorce while the proceedings were underway simply because it would have been counterproductive to do so. Nor was I going to tell any lurid tales, accusations or recriminations once it was over. There's no scandal to report: our relationship was not abusive, Lori and I were never unfaithful to one another, and we did not face financial difficulties that put so many other marriages under stress. We simply had our differences - a "discord of conflict and personalities," according to the wording of the law - that made our further togetherness untenable.

It's not something I'm particularly proud of - absent an extreme situation, such as an abusive relationship or serial infidelity, divorce is rarely the best solution for a troubled marriage because really is nothing more than an admission of failure of both husband and wife to effectively communicate, to reconcile one another's differences, to make compromises and to make the changes that need to be made to allow the family to continue to work - but Lori and I have worked to make the best of it. We are still on amicable terms and we cooperate in taking care of Kirby (we have joint custody).

Needless to say, that was the big event of the year. But things at my work were also unsettled, owing to the nation's overall economic condition, creating stress and uncertainty for me for much of the year. Shortly after the year started the budget for one project I was working on came to an abrupt halt. I then went to work on a couple of business development proposals, neither of which went anywhere. Left without any billable work, I volunteered to take several weeks of unpaid leave in May and June, while I dusted off my resumé and prepared myself to face the very real possibility that I could soon be standing in the unemployment line.

Fortunately, I never came to that. Some new work appeared in mid-June, and thankfully things are looking better for me as 2010 draws to a close. But it was a nevertheless disconcerting situation for me and I feel lucky that I managed to avoid being laid off.

In August of 2010 I was hospitalized for the very first time in my life. Fortunately it was nothing serious, but it wasn't much fun, either. It was also a reminder that I am getting older and that, going forward, maintaining my health is going to become more of a priority for me than it has been in the past.

My favorite time of the year is college football season and I thought that it would bring me some welcome diversion. The University of Houston Cougars, after all, were poised to have a great year with an improved defense and Heisman candidate Case Keenum at quarterback. Of course, Keenum's season ended in devastating fashion against UCLA, the UH defense showed no real improvement from the previous season, and the Cougars ended the year with a disappointing losing record. (The Texans also had a lousy year, but I don't care about them quite as much.)

There were other disappointments as well: There were fewer monarch caterpillars for me and Kirby to raise into butterflies. The hometown airline merged with a really lousy one. My favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop abruptly went out of business.

But perhaps the most personally-devastating event of 2010 was the sudden death of my friend Laura. Her death was, needless to say, a profound and horrifying shock. I'm still grappling with it many months later, and my heart continues to go out to her family, her boyfriend and her friends. Her death, of course, also reinforces the terrifying realization that life is fragile and ephemeral, and that the length of our lives as well as those that we love is never guaranteed.

To be sure, there were some bright spots to 2010: I took nice trips to Washington DC, South Padre Island, New Orleans, Colorado and Los Angeles (football game notwithstanding), and I even got to fly first class for the first time in my life. I watched the University of Houston basketball team go to the NCAA tournament for the first time in eighteen years and the football team had their best attendance in almost thirty years in spite of the disappointing season. I built an awesome Rokenbok layout for Kirby and me to play with. I finally got a much-needed new car.

But, on balance, 2010 was a decidedly dismal year for me, and one that I will definitely not look back upon with any sense of fond nostalgia. I am glad that it is over, and I look for 2011 to be a better year for me.

I wish everybody a happy and successful 2011.

My iPod's Top 21

I've had an iPod for five years now: first, a Shuffle that I received for Christmas 2005, and then a Nano I purchased a few years later. I thought it would be interesting to see which songs I've listened to the most over those past five years.

Below is the list, with title and artist, and then album, release year and label in parentheses. Obviously, I like electronica, but I also like 80s pop and New Wave, 90s alternative and even some good ol' 70s disco.

I was going to stop at twenty, but the last two songs on this list had the same play count, hence the "Top 21."

1. Blissed - Jesus Jones (Doubt, 1991, SBK)
2. Primary - The Cure (Faith, 1981, Elektra)
3. Love U More - Sunscreem (03, 1993, Columbia)
4. Burst Generator - The Chemical Brothers (We Are The Night, 2007, Australwerks/EMI)
5. Birdhouse in Your Soul - They Might Be Giants (Flood, 1990, Elektra)
6. Four Leaf Clover - Abra Moore (Strangest Places, 1997, Arista)
7. Thank U - Alanis Morissette (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1998, Maverick/Reprise)
8. Let Forever Be - The Chemical Brothers (Surrender, 1999, Australwerks)
9. So Far Away - Dire Straits (Brothers In Arms, 1985, Warner Bros.)
10. Straight Lines - Silverchair (Young Modern, 2007, Eleven)
11. With or Without You - U2 (The Joshua Tree, 1987, Island)
12. Big Time Sensuality (The Fluke Minimix) - Bjork (Big Time Sensuality EP, 1993, Elektra)
13. Home - Erasure (Chorus, 1991, Sire)
14. Every 1's a Winner - Hot Chocolate (Every 1's a Winner, 1978, EMI)
15. Destroy Everything You Touch - Ladytron (Witching Hour, 2005, So Sweet)
16. Run - Collective Soul (Dosage, 1999, Atlantic)
17. Mr. Brightside - The Killers (Hot Fuss, 2004, Island)
18. Space Age Love Song - A Flock of Seagulls (A Flock of Seagulls, 1982, Jive)
19. White Love (Radio Edit) - One Dove (Morning Dove White, 1993, FFRR)
20. Let's Go All The Way - Sly Fox (Let's Go All The Way, 1985, Capitol)
21. Imagination - Xymox (Twist of Shadows, 1989, Wing)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Saying goodbye to Kodachrome

I read this story with great interest and a bit of sadness:
An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

Kodachrome was a "reversal" film, i.e. once it was fully developed, it produced a positive image, rather than the negative film images used for making prints. Kodachrome was used for slides and, although the article does not really mention it, Super 8 movie film.

As an amateur Super 8 filmmaker, I've sent many a cartridge of Kodachrome K40 to Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas for developing. In the early 2000s they would process a 50-foot cartridge for $9 and ship it back for another $3. They were always quick and reliable, and I especially enjoyed the richness of color (especially the red hues) that Kodachrome produced - something that digital photography has never been able to fully replicate.

Unfortunately, my filmmaking exploits came a pause when Kirby was born, and Kodak discontinued manufacturing Kodachrome for Super 8 movie cameras in 2005. Even if I do one day resume my Super 8 movie-making hobby, I sadly won't be sending cartridges to Dwayne's anymore. As technology marches ahead, Dywane's is moving on:
Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.
Kodak ended production of 35mm slide film last year; Dywane's processed the last roll of slides earlier today:
In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010."
Pictures of Dwayne's from the New York Times here. Parsons, incidentally, was my mother's father's birthplace.

Friday, December 24, 2010

University of Houston police officer dies in line of duty

This is always a horrible thing to have happen, but it's even worse when it happens on Christmas Eve:
A University of Houston police officer died Friday morning after she apparently lost control of her police unit and crashed into a tree.

Twenty-four-year-old Ann O'Donnell is the first UH Department of Public Safety officer to die in the line of duty.
O'Donnell was responding to a disturbance early this morning at the Wendy's across Scott Street from Robertson Stadium when she lost control of her cruiser and crashed into a tree in front of a residence on North MacGregor near Faculty, quite literally only a few hundred feet from where I was sleeping.
O'Donnell had been an officer only since November 2009. By all accounts, she loved her job and was good at it. "Very personable, very excited, starting her career and really looking forward to what she was doing and had a firm desire to serve the public in any way that she could," UH Police Chief Malcolm Davis said.
The official University of Houston press release is here. My heart goes out to Officer O'Donnell's family, as well as the entire University of Houston Police Department.

Galveston blogger Breck Porter has more.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What passes for fall foliage in Houston

Houston's subtropical climate does not lend itself to the brilliant and picturesque displays of fall foliage common in other parts of the nation. But sometimes we nevertheless get bits and pieces of autumn color down here. Here are some pictures I took while Kirby and I walked around the neighborhood and the adjacent University of Houston campus yesterday:

Kirby was obviously more interested in the water surrounding Peter Forakis's "Tower of Cheyenne" sculpture in front of the UH library than he was the colorful leaves...

Denton puts two high schools in state finals

Citizens of Denton had much to cheer about yesterday, as two of their teams were playing in state high school football championship games. Guyer High School faced off against Cibolo Steele in the Class 5A Division II championship, while Ryan High School met Lake Travis in the Class 4A Division I championship.

Alas, neither team was able to bring home any hardware. Guyer lost to Cibolo Steele 21-24, while Ryan lost to Lake Travis 7-27. The games were played back-to-back at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Nevertheless, it's pretty remarkable for a school district to put two schools in the finals in the same year; according to the Denton Record-Chronicle's Brett Vito, this hasn't happened since 1962. Keep in mind that Denton ISD, which includes the City of Denton as well as surrounding communities, isn't a particularly massive school district: its total enrollment of about 23,000 students is dwarfed by districts in and around Houston, Dallas, Austin and other Texas metropolitan areas.

Obviously the kids from Guyer and Ryan would have preferred to win their respective championships, but they should nevertheless be proud of what they've accomplished. Guyer High School didn't even exist until a few years ago!

Closer to home, congratulations are in order for the Pearland Oilers, who captured the Class 5A Division I title with a 28-24 victory over Euless Trinity last night.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

College football miscellany

College football's 2010 regular season comes to a close this Saturday; after this weekend's games, the postseason, featuring a record 35 bowl games, begins. One team that will not be making a postseason appearance is the University of Houston Cougars, who lost to Texas Tech at Lubbock last Saturday, 20-35, and cemented a losing record. The Coogs' 2010 campaign will probably go down as the most disappointing season in University of Houston football history since the Great Run-and-Shoot Trainwreck of 1991. I'll provide a thorough postseason postmortem later on, when I feel up to the task (and right now I don't).

North Texas has a new football coach. Dan McCarney, formerly the head coach at Iowa State, will take over at the helm of the Mean Green. Given the program's abysmal 8-40 record over the past four seasons, McCarney has a lot of work ahead of him if he is to return UNT football to something resembling respectability. He does have the advantage of a new stadium coming online, which might aid him in recruiting. Early word is that the University of Houston will be the Mean Green's first opponent in their new stadium next September. I plan to be there if this is so.

In other Metroplex college football news, TCU has made it official: they will be joining the Big East for all sports in 2012. This announcement came as no surprise, given recent rumors. While the move might not make geographic sense - Fort Worth is "where the west begins," after all - from a football standpoint it makes sense for both parties: the Big East is clearly the weakest of the BCS automatically-qualifying conferences and needs the strength of the Horned Frog program to bolster its status, while by virtue of joining an automatically-qualifying conference TCU elevates itself into the world of the college football "haves." This will probably not be the end of the Big East's football expansion process, either, and Houston is still being mentioned as a possible target. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Boise State's BCS aspirations came to an end last Friday in Reno, as they were upset by the Nevada Wolfpack, 34-31. It was a thrilling game: Nevada trailed 7-24 at one point but rallied to win the game in overtime. They were unintentionally aided by Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman, who missed a 26-yard attempt that would have won the game in regulation as well as a field goal in the first overtime. Nevada kicker Anthony Gonzalez would make his overtime field goal, ending Boise's BCS aspirations and leading to a celebration on the field:
Meanwhile, with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" playing on the PA, thousands of Wolf Pack fans poured on to the field of 30,000-seat Mackay Stadium to celebrate what coach Chris Ault called "the greatest win this university has ever had." The Hall of Fame inductee, who came out of retirement in 2004 in part because he'd tired of seeing his team get crushed annually by Boise State, took umbrage with the notion his team was one of the so-called "Little Sisters of the Poor" on the Broncos' schedule.
And who was it that called teams like Nevada the "Little Sisters of the Poor?" Oh, that's right, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, whose elitist and uniformed comments about college football keep looking stupider all the time.

College football. Gotta love it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Traingeek update

Following up on that Trinity Railway Express locomotive I spotted in Houston last week: I received an e-mail from Sal DeAngelo, Chief Mechanical Officer for the TRE, explaining that said locomotive was just passing through town:
What you have photographed is one of our units that has undergone a complete overhaul returning from Norfolk-Southern Railway’s Juniata Shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania, being shipped via interchange in New Orleans to our authority here in D/FW.
("Interchange" is just a fancy word meaning "where Norfolk Southern's trackage meets BNSF's trackage.")

Very soon, TRE-120 will be carrying passengers between Dallas, Fort Worth and all points in between.

Meanwhile, plans for commuter rail in Houston remain just that: plans.

Active hurricane season spares United States

We can all breathe sigh of relief: today is the last day of the 2010 hurricane season.

The meteorological prognosticators had predicted that this season would be busy. This is why I called the season's first named storm a "shot off the bow." But while the 2010 hurricane season was indeed active - 19 tropical storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes - it only shot blanks at the United States. KTRK's Tim Heller explains:
"This season was a gentle giant," said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA's National Weather Service. Although the number of storms was much higher than normal, only one storm made landfall in the U.S.; Tropical Storm Bonnie passed over south Florida in mid-July.
It just goes to show that hurricane activity does not exactly correlate to domestic damage and destruction. Given the thousands of miles of coastline that front both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it's simply inevitable a fair number of storms can be expected to make landfall in the United States. But sometimes we just get lucky, as we did this season. The storms all went somewhere else.

Conversely, a quiet hurricane season is no guarantee of calm and safety: the 1992 hurricane season was considered to be of below average intensity, but Hurricane Andrew remains the second-costliest hurricane in US history, behind only Katrina.

And it should also be noted that, even though the United States was spared from hurricane-related catastrophe this season, several other nations were not, including countries like Haiti that really didn't need any more natural disasters.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ohio State president epitomizes BCS arrogance

If you're looking of a good example of the attitude that embodies the arrogance, elitism and downright corruption of college football's Bowl Championship Series, look no further than Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, who claims that neither TCU nor Boise State are worthy of a BCS championship:
In an interview with the Associated Press, the president at the university with the largest athletic program in the country said that TCU and Boise State do not face a difficult enough schedule to play in the national championship game.

"Well, I don't know enough about the X's and O's of college football," said Gee, formerly the president at West Virginia, Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt universities. "I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gantlet that there's some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to [be] in the big ballgame."
I don't think anybody would argue that, from top to bottom, the Big Ten is a much stronger conference than the WAC (which is why Boise, along with Fresno State, Nevada and now Hawaii, are leaving it, and North Texas would rather stay in the Sun Belt (!) than join). Nevertheless, the "weak sisters of the poor" statement is rather rich coming from a president whose own school's 2010 schedule includes out-of-conference cupcakes Marshall, Ohio and Eastern Michigan, not to mention Big Ten doormats Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue. Gee's comments also ignore the fact that Ohio State's strength of schedule (59th in the nation, as of November 21st) really isn't that much stronger than Boise State's (68th in the nation), if the most recent Sagarin ratings are to be believed. (I can only wonder what the nationally-ranked Nevada Wolfpack, who host Boise State in Reno later this week, might think about being called "the Little Sisters of the Poor.")

But what is perhaps most ridiculous about Gee's comments is that he is blasting the Broncos' strength of schedule even as "big time" schools such as his won't schedule Boise State. Gee's nonsense is no different than that of a fellow BCS shill, University of Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, who early this year claimed that Utah, which was the only team to end the 2008 college football season undefeated, could have played for the national title if the Utes "played the schedule Nebraska did," even though the Huskers would never dare play Utah, much less invite them to their conference.

In other words: we don't think you deserve the title because you didn't play a stronger schedule, but we're not going to help you make your schedule stronger by playing you. A shining example of circular logic.

Of course, Utah will get their chance to prove themselves among the "big boys" of college football next season, when they join the Pac-12. But schools like Boise State and TCU remain among the "have-nots" of college football, even as the "haves" collude to continually increase the gap between the two sets of schools in hopes of one day creating a "superconference" of "big time" teams.

Boise State's president, needless to say, was incensed by Gee's comments:

Speaking to the Idaho Statesman, BSU president Bob Kustra blasted Gee for the “folly” that is the “murderer’s row every week” argument and warned that Gee might be “set[ting] off a firestorm he probably has no interest in creating.” Additionally, Kustra questioned Gee and other presidents for presenting themselves “as the pillars of moral rectitude”, which we believe in the world of academia is the equivalent of calling somebody’s momma a ho.

Regardless, Kustra was far from pleased.

“He claims that in the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 it’s murderer’s row every week and there’s absolutely little substance to that claim. … The BCS has finally found someone to stand up and defend the indefensible and Gordon Gee proved it — he not just proved that it’s indefensible but he did so with facts that are simply wrong. … Everyone in intercollegiate football knows that athletic directors of those large power conferences are scheduling more and more teams who are I-AA, who are teams at the weaker end of the non-AQ conferences, and for Gee to stand up and talk about murderer’s row every week is just the height of folly. It’s ridiculous. I think he’s going to set off a firestorm he probably has no interest in creating. To say that he overstated his case is an understatement.”

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte got in his licks as well:
But Del Conte, who appeared on ESPN Radio 103.3 Dallas, took a slightly different approach. “I sat back and just thought about our football program and our coach and realized that to start throwing stones at your house, they must be jealous,” Del Conte said. “We have a phenomenal football program. … And someone now starts taking shots at TCU? That means we’ve arrived.”
As for Ohio State's supposedly superior strength of schedule, Del Conte had this to say:
When I start to look at their [Ohio State's] nonconference schedule made up of the MAC schools — that’d be Ohio, Eastern Michigan. I had no idea they were going out and testing themselves week in and week out.

Gee also weighed in on the interminable BCS-versus-playoff debate, using some of the same tired and flawed logic that BCS defenders have long used to argue against a playoff:

Gee, long an admirer of the BCS and the current bowl system, said he was against a playoff in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"If you put a gun to my head and said, 'What are you going to do about a playoff system [if] the BCS system as it now exists goes away?' I would vote immediately to go back to the bowl system," he said.

He said the current system is better for the student-athletes.

"It's not about this incessant drive to have a national championship because I think that's a slippery slope to professionalism," he said. "I'm a fan of the bowl system and I think that by and large it's worked very, very well."

Gee is right about one thing: the "old jumbled-up system" of bowls that existed prior to the inception of the BCS would be preferable to the joke of a system that exists right now. But his comments about "professionalism" ring a bit hollow in light of the recent controversy surrounding former USC star Reggie Bush and the current controversy enveloping Auburn standout Cam Newton. Furthermore, the idea that the current BCS system is somehow better for student-athletes, especially those of non-AQ schools that don't get to play for a championship in spite of their hard work, is nothing short of absurd.

Remember that, as non-automatic qualifiers, there's no guarantee that either TCU or Boise State, let alone both of them, will be playing in a BCS bowl at all even if they do go undefeated. Meanwhile, the champion of the Big East conference will go to a BCS bowl even though that team will very likely be unranked at season's end. This is simply indefensible.

I don't have anything against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are truly a good team this year, carrying a 10-1 record into their annual showdown with Michigan. The Buckeyes have traditionally been one of college football's greatest programs. And I'd love to one day see a game at the Horseshoe. But the comments of the school's president are, quite frankly, nothing short of a pathetic attempt to defend the exclusionary and corrupt sham that is the BCS system. As NBC's John Taylor explains:

Look, these asinine statements from Gee don’t exactly plow new ground. It’s patently obvious, based on the discrepancies in BcS payouts to automatic qualifiers as compared to non-automatic qualifiers, the all-powerful presidents aren’t interested in a fair and equitable system to determine a national champion; rather, their sole interest is how to funnel the majority of the funds created by the current system into the coffers of the Big Six conferences.

The only thing that Gee’s comments do is further solidify the fact that it will take action on the part of the Justice Department or other facets of the United States government — or the threat of action — in order to create a playoff system.

Given the multitude of other problems this country is facing right now, I don't think the political will currently exists for the government to get involved in fighting the BCS cartel. However, as Yahoo's Dan Wetzel points out, Gee may have inadvertently given BCS opponents some ammunition:

Then there is this, Gee couldn’t have given a better Thanksgiving gift to the lawyers at Arent Fox, the Washington law firm that is trying to spur a Justice Department investigation into the BCS on anti-trust grounds.

If you’re trying to prove the six major conferences systematically exclude the others then getting the Ohio State president to essentially admit they should be systematically excluded is no small development.

Exactly. Which is why I'm sure Gee will attempt to issue a "retraction" in the coming days aimed at quelling the controversy he has created. This is not the kind of publicity the BCS cartel wants as the regular season nears its end.

CBS's Jerry Hinnen takes his shots at Gee as well.

2010 UH Cougar football attendance

The Cougars are coming off a 59-41 shellacking at the hands of Southern Miss and end their season against Texas Tech in Lubbock this Saturday. Given that the home schedule is over and a win against the Red Raiders is rather improbable, I've decided to go ahead and put up the updated wins and attendance graph for UH football:
Thanks to a strong season ticket sales campaign and excitement surrounding what was supposed to have been a promising season, the Cougars averaged 31,728 fans per game in 2010. This is an increase of 6,486 fans/game over the 2009 season, and it's the largest average attendance the Cougars have enjoyed since 1981.

To be fair, this represents tickets sold, not actual butts in seats; the games early in the season were packed, but the number of people actually attending subsequent games fall along with the team's fortunes. Nevertheless, more tickets sold means more money for Houston's cash-strapped athletics department, so I'm not complaining.

This number is probably represents the peak of UH football attendance in the near term. For one thing, Robertson Stadium's overall capacity is 32,000, so there's really no way this number could get much higher until the Cougars build a new stadium (fundraising activity is already underway for this much-needed facility). Moreover, the fact that the much-anticipated 2010 season turned out to be a bust will probably dissuade some season ticket holders from renewing next season. I expect average attendance for the 2011 to be lower.

Given how bad UH football attendance used to be, however, this season's attendance number is quite an accomplishment, and it represents some good news in an otherwise disappointing 2010 season.

Traingeek time!

Noticed at the BNSF railyard near the University of Houston while driving home this afternoon:
The locomotive painted like the Texas flag is a rare sight in Houston because it belongs to the Trinity Railway Express, which is a commuter rail line that runs between Dallas and Fort Worth. It is numbered TRE 120. According to the TRE's rolling stock datasheet, it is an F-59 PH locomotive purchased from Toronto's GO Transit in 2009.

Judging by what is clearly a shiny new paint job, I'm guessing that it's merely passing through town on its way from the refurbishment shop to TRE's yard. I sent an e-mail inquiry to TRE asking if this is the case and I'll update if I get a response.

I'm sure I'm the only person in the world that actually notices or cares about this. But I'm a transit geek so that's how I roll!

(Update here.)

North Texas turns down WAC invite

As the conference realignment shuffle continues, we at least know where one school is not going:
North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal told [Western Athletic Conference] commissioner Karl Benson that the school has no interest in joining the league late Monday night, just hours after Benson called to gauge the school’s interest in leaving the Sun Belt Conference.

In other words: "sorry, WAC, but we think the Sun Belt is better."


In related news, North Texas expects to announce its next football coach sometime next week. The Mean Green are 2-2 since Todd Dodge was fired and offensive coordinator Mike Canales took over as interim head coach.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Frontier shifts flights from IAH to Hobby

As of this afternoon, Frontier's Denver-Houston service has shifted from Bush Intercontinental to Hobby Airport:
"Hobby Airport offers great benefits to Frontier's guests," said Daniel Shurz, Frontier’s vice president of strategy and planning. "In addition to its easy-to-use refurbished terminal, Hobby offers convenient access to downtown Houston as well as to great tourist attractions such as NASA and Galveston."
Not to mention less congestion on both the airside and landside ends of the airport.

However, there's probably another good reason for this shift, as discussed on this thread. United's merger with Continental gives the combined airline the dominant position on this hub-to-hub route which will be difficult for Frontier to compete against. Frontier executives likely thought that it would be a better idea to move to Hobby and take their chances against Southwest, which already offers service to Denver.

Southwest, for its part, has been preparing for their competitor's arrival; over the past couple of months they've put up billboards along local freeways reminding people of their own Hobby-to-Denver service.

Fare war, anyone?

In other local aviation news, Emirates added a second daily nonstop between Bush Intercontinental and Dubai at the beginning of this month. A local blog was hoping that this would mean the appearance of the A380 Super-Jumbo in Houston, but, alas, the second flight will be serviced by another Boeing 777.

It's good to see that IAH-DXB is such a strong route for Emirates, and this second daily option will be of obvious benefit to me if I get called back my company's Dubai office. As of right now I am uncertain if that will ever happen, however.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cougars' bowl chances are rapidly diminishing

To say that the University of Houston has had a rough football season would be a monumental understatement. The loss of star quarterback Case Keenum (as well as his backup) against UCLA, coupled with the Cougars' porous defense, has resulted in bitter disappointment in what was originally supposed to be a promising year for the program. The team truly appeared dead in the water a few weeks ago when they lost to crosstown rival Rice (whose only other win to date has come against a program that just fired the worst coach in its history). But back-to-back victories on the road gave the Cougar faithful hope that the season could be salvaged: that a Conference USA West title and a trip to a bowl game were still possible.

After Houston's most recent two matches, however, that looks unlikely. The Cougars dropped back-to-back home games - a 33-40 loss to Central Florida on Friday November 5 and a 25-28 defeat at the hands of Tulsa on Saturday November 13 - and now go on a two-game roadtrip to end their season: this Saturday they will play Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg (where they've never won), and the Saturday after Thanksgiving they play revenge-minded Big XII foe Texas Tech in Lubbock. While anything can happen on any given Saturday, at this point I believe that the odds of the Cougars winning either of these games, thereby avoiding a losing season, are very slim.

The Coogs put up a good fight against one of Conference USA's better teams two Fridays ago. Houston started out slow, thanks to a David Piland interception that was run back for a UCF touchdown early in the game, and trailed 10-23 at the half. However, the Cougars scored 14 unanswered points to begin the second half and at one point even led the game. The Golden Knights regained a two-touchdown advantage in the fourth quarter, but after Houston scored again and UCF missed a field goal with 1:53 remaining the Cougars had a chance to tie the game. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

In addition to completing 15 passes for 294 yards, UCF quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey was also the team's leading rusher as he scorched the woeful Houston run defense for 105 yards. And although the UH offense actually slightly outgained UCF, 532 yards to 522, costly miscues, such as ten UCF points resulting from two David Piland interceptions and a missed field goal and extra point by Matt Hogan, proved to be difference in the game.

Last Saturday the Tulsa Golden Hurricane came to Robertson Stadium for Houston's final home game of the year. And, once again, the Cougar defense was burned by a mobile quarterback, as G.J. Kinne gained 190 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown in addition to his 154 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air.

But the outcome of this game really cannot be blamed on the defense. Tulsa had no weapons outside of Kinne, and even then he was sacked three times and intercepted twice. The Cougar defense, furthermore, was actually able to hold Tulsa to 5 of 12 third down conversions and no fourth down conversions. The defense gave up an uncharacteristically-low 28 points (in spite of the fact that they were often put into tough positions by offensive turnovers) and played well enough for the Cougars to win.

The Cougars' problem was that David Piland was clearly had an off night. He threw five interceptions - four in the first half alone - and many of his other passes were thrown into coverage or behind receivers. It's simply hard to win when your quarterback throws the ball to the other team five times.

Although by the end of the half many people in the crowd were clamoring for Kevin Sumlin to put Terrance Broadway into the game, the coaching staff stuck with Piland. To his credit, Piland (who, in addition to those five picks, completed 22 of 36 passes for 291 yards and 3 touchdowns) played better in the second half. The Cougars outscored the Golden Hurricane 21-7 in the second half and were well on their way to taking the lead when Piland threw his last interception of the night with 5:39 left. Tulsa then ran out the clock to seal the win.

I don't know if the Cougars would have done any better if Broadway had taken over for Piland at any point in the game. But I also don't know if leaving a true freshman in a game when he's clearly having a bad night and allowing him to throw five interceptions is good for his confidence. And I really don't understand why the coaching staff didn't do more to emphasize the run on a night when the quarterback was struggling. Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes combined for 120 yards on 30 carries, but considering that Houston's best offensive weapon - Beall - only touched the ball four times the entire second half and had no carries at all the last 25 minutes of the game, one has to wonder what offensive coaches Jason Phillips and Kliff Klingsbury are doing (or if they really know what they're doing at all). Consider this: neither Beall nor Hayes saw the ball at all on Houston's last, interception-ended drive.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the month that the Cougars would score 40 points against Central Florida, I would have expected a win. If you would have told me at the beginning of the month that the Cougars would have held Tulsa to 28 points, I also would likewise have expected a win. But alas, that's not how this catastrophic season has gone.

This is the first time since the infamous 0-11 season of 2001 that the Cougars have lost four consecutive games in the City of Houston. More depressingly, with no home games remaining, football season is essentially over for me and my tailgating crew. While the Cougars still have two games remaining, and while they could certainly pull off a minor miracle and win one or even both of those games, I think the cold, hard reality is this:

The 2010 University of Houston football season essentially ended when Case Keenum injured his knee in the Rose Bowl last September. Given all of the Cougars' other weaknesses, both on the field as well as on the sidelines, there was simply no way they could afford to lose him and expect to have anything approaching a successful season.

Name that Kroger! Take Two

Last year, I wrote about a popular tradition of assigning nicknames to inside-the-loop Kroger Stores. The Kroger store located on West Gray in the River Oaks Shopping Center (pictured here) apparently has several nicknames, including "Posh Kroger," "Deco Kroger," or "River Oaks Kroger."

It turns out that store management has their own ideas on what this particular store's nickname should be. I recently went there to pick up a few items on my way to getting Kirby from school, and found these laminated signs at every check-out aisle:
"Our goal is to make EVERY CUSTOMER feel like a HOLLYWOOD STAR each time you enter our store," the sign reads in part. "HOLLYWOOD KROGER IN RIVER OAKS IS REACHING FOR THE STARS IN ALL THAT WE DO!"

So there you have it: Kroger store #355 at the corner of West Gray and Dunlavy is henceforth to be known as "Hollywood Kroger," where you can expect to be treated like a celebrity as you shop! Each shopper will be assigned their own publicist and band of paparazzi to follow him or her up and down the aisles and there will be a walk-in Betty Ford Clinic next to the produce section.

Seriously, though: will the name take? Or will Houstonians reject management's decree establishing the store's official nickname and continue to refer to it by its organic, colloquial nicknames?

I think I already have my own new nickname for this store: "Really-Goofy-Attempt-At-Emphasizing-Customer-Service Kroger."

Friday, November 05, 2010

Midterm election thoughts

There's no way for the Democrats to spin this one. They got their butts kicked. Voters, angry at the sluggish economy, high unemployment and a perception of out-of-control spending in Washington, handed Republicans sweeping victories at the federal, state and local levels. Perhaps Democrats can take solace in the fact that they held on to the Senate, or that voters rejected a handful of the nuttiest Tea Party candidates, but given their losses at all levels, they really don't have much to hang their hats on. They lost because the party in power gets blamed for the economy. But they also lost on their message, as Time's Joel Klein explains:
Still, the Democratic performance this year was one of the more mystifying, and craven, in memory. Usually, a political party loses when it has failed to do its job. These Democrats lost because they succeeded in doing what they've been promising for decades. They enacted their fantasies, starting with health care reform, and then ran away from their successes. Why on earth would a political party enact major pieces of legislation and then refuse to take credit for them?
If you believe in the adage that "the government which governs least, governs best," then you're going to be happy for the next two years, because absolutely nothing substantial is going to be done in Washington from now until the 2012 presidential election. With a Republican House, a Democratic Presidency, and a Senate that is nominally controlled by the Democrats but which cannot break a filibuster from either side, there is nothing but two years of partisan gridlock in this country's future.

But isn't that a good thing? You might argue. Look at the era of reform and prosperity that occurred after the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 and forced Bill Clinton to curtail his liberal agenda! Well, as former Reagan and Bush 41 staffer Bruce Bartlett explains, things were a bit different back then:
It should be remembered also that Republicans had the very good fortune to take power right on the brink of the 1990s technology boom, which raised the real gross domestic product 4.7 percent in 1995, 5.7 percent in 1996 and 6.3 percent in 1997 — which sent tax revenues cascading into the Treasury.
But today the situation is quite different. The economy is in the tank and the budget is clearly on an unsustainable path, in large part due to actions taken by Republicans when they were in power. They completely dismantled the deficit controls put in place by the elder Bush and Clinton so that they could cut taxes willy-nilly without paying for them, and in the process thoroughly decimated the government’s capacity to raise adequate revenue to fund its essential functions. Adding insult to injury, Republicans enacted a massive new entitlement program, Medicare Part D, without paying for a penny of it on top of every pork barrel project any Republican ever imagined.

The point is that gridlock under today’s circumstances will not be benign, as it was in the late 1990s, but toxic, preventing our political system from grappling with problems that demand action and will only get worse the longer it is delayed.

Which is why I personally think that the next two years are going to be two of the ugliest years, in terms of venomous political rhetoric, grandstanding, finger-pointing and obstructionism, that this country has seen in recent memory. And this is going to occur even as our nation's worst problems - the economy, unemployment, the ever-increasing debt - continue to fester.

(And while we're here: where was the Tea Party when a Republican-controlled Federal Government was passing the budget-busting Medicare Part D, anyway? It's really interesting how this movement only appeared after a Democratic African-American was elected President...)

Now that the Republicans are in control (of the House, at least), they face a daunting task as well: they need to be able to actually govern - i.e., propose and pass laws - as opposed to simply be the "party against Obama" that they were for the last two years. Will they rise to that challenge? If they're concerned about the national debt, what, exactly, will they propose to cut? Bartlett continues:
Some Republicans delude themselves that they can enact legislation that will reduce the deficit on their terms — 100 percent spending cuts with no increase in taxes. In particular, every Republican believes that the Affordable Care Act adds massively to the deficit, despite repeated statements from the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare’s actuaries to the contrary — which means that repeal would be scored by CBO as adding to the deficit.
Of course, considering that the Democrats still control the Senate and that Obama is still in the White House, repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") is simply impossible until at least 2013. So what else do they have? Bartlett thinks the Republicans should celebrate while they can, because come 2011 the realities of Washington - as well as the party's own fault lines between the "establishment" and the Tea-Party-empowered "insurgents" - will make things difficult for the GOP:
Republicans should savor the period from Election Day to the first day of the new Congress on January 3, 2011. That will be as good as it gets for them; afterwards, it’s all downhill once they have to act, take responsibility, and can no longer blame Democrats for everything bad that happens anywhere. That goes for their allies in the business community, who naively assume that every action of the last two years that they opposed will magically disappear. And it goes double for the Tea Partiers, who have never had to take responsibility for anything. It’s a whole new ballgame in January.
Furthermore, anybody who thinks the results of this election cycle spell certain doom for Barack Obama in 2012 should remember recent history. In 1982, the Democrats handed Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party a huge setback. But in 1984, of course, Reagan was re-elected in a landslide. Similarly, the Republicans handed Bill Clinton and the Democrats huge losses in the 1994 midterms. But Bill Clinton handily won re-election in 1996. What happens in 2012 will depend on a lot of things - the economy, Obama's overall approval ratings, whomever his Republican opponent is - but history makes it clear that midterm elections are not a predictor of presidential elections two years off.

Closer to home: Rick Perry was re-elected to a third full term as Governor of Texas; this comes as no surprise given that his opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White was a Democrat in a Republican state during an election cycle that favors the Republicans. Locally, voters rejected Houston's further use of cameras to fine red-light runners. Having mixed feelings about these cameras myself, I can't say I'm really sorry to see them go.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Big East to expand; could UH be a target?

Even as we find ourselves in the middle of another college football season, discussion about the sport's future landscape continues. Last Monday, New York Daily News sportswriter Lenn Robbins reported that Big East presidents and athletics directors were holding a meeting on Tuesday to discuss possible expansion of their league, which currently consists of eight all-sports (i.e. FBS football) members and 16 total members:
The regularly-scheduled meeting of the presidents and athletic directors figures to be intense as the BCS-football playing members of the league intend on pressing their agenda to add teams to the eight-team football conference.

"The goal is to get the presidents' blessing to seriously pursue teams," said one Big East athletic director. "I don't think we're going to get pushback on that."

Several sources confirmed a Post report last month that TCU is a strong candidate. Houston, Central Florida, Temple and/or Villanova, which is in the midst of evaluating a move up from FCS, are other lead candidates.
Following this meeting on Tuesday, the Big East put out an announcement that, indeed, they were considering adding two football-playing members to their lineup. The Chronicle's Steve Campbell further analyzed the situation:
So is UH on the cusp of becoming a member of a Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying league? Is it time for high-fiving on Cullen Blvd.? Not so fast.

The Big East board of directors announced Tuesday that the 16-member league will attempt to increase its Football Bowl Subdivision-playing contingent from eight teams to 10. The league did not clarify how Villanova, which is ranked No. 3 in the Football Championship Subdivision, fits into the equation.

Among the schools that have been on the Big East's radar are UH, UCF, East Carolina, Memphis and Temple. If Villanova is ready, willing and able to make a commitment to playing big-time football, then that leaves room for only one other school. If Villanova isn't ready to make that kind of commitment, then that would leave two seats at the Big East table. TCU (No. 3 in the BCS standings) is considered a shoo-in for one invitation. Assuming there is a second spot there for the taking, then the Big East would be sifting through the likes of UH, UCF, East Carolina, Memphis and Temple.

Needless to say, discussion and speculation on various UH sports message boards related to this announcement quickly drowned out any discussion of tomorrow night's important nationally-televised home game against Central Florida. How realistic are Houston's chances of being one of the two teams chosen for the Big East's expansion? Is this all the expansion the Big East is considering, or is this merely an interim step towards increasing the conference's football membership to twelve schools (the minimum number required for a conference championship game)? If so, could Houston be in the running for a future spot in the Big East if they don't get picked now? If these additions are for football only, in what conference will the Cougars play their other sports, such as basketball, and would the UH administration even consider accepting an invitation for football only?

The Cougars would definitely like to be included in the ranks of the Bowl Champion Series Automatic Qualifying teams (i.e., the "haves"), they are located in a large media market and recruiting hotbed, Houston would serve as a good travel partner for TCU if they are indeed at the top of the Big East's list, and membership in the Big East does make sense on many levels for Houston: it is a conference consisting largely of urban schools similar to Houston, many of which - Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida - used to be the Cougars' conference-mates in CUSA. However, there are also issues that could work against the Coogs, such as facilities and fan support (although plans are in place for a new stadium and attendance for football is clearly improving) as well as simple geography. Furthermore, would football-only membership be in the UH athletics program's overall best interests? And what happens if the Cougars join the Big East, only to watch as current Big East schools like Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers or West Virginia are later pilfered by the Big 10 or the ACC?

I've long since given up trying to make any sense out of conference realignment. So while I am skeptical that the University of Houston will be one of the two schools invited to join the Big East in the short term, anything is certainly possible. If for some reason the Coogs do get an invite, however, I think the administration would be foolish not to accept it. If the goal is to become a member of a BCS-AQ conference and all the priveleges in income and prestige that entails, then this is an easy way of reaching that goal.

Regardless of what happens, the University of Houston needs to continue doing what it's doing. It needs to continue its positive trends in terms of attendance, it needs to take the next step towards a new stadium by unveiling a funding plan, and the team needs to continue putting together winning seasons. While this season has been a disappointment due to a rash of injuries (notably, Case Keenum's) as well as a defense that has shown little improvement over last season, a winning record and a bowl appearance is still salvagable at this point. Tough though it may be, a win tomorrow night over a Central Florida team that is also on the Big East's list of possible candidates would be huge in more ways than one.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Maybe not my best work, but I nevertheless got a lot of positive comments about it during this evening's onslaught of trick-or-treaters:
Happy Halloween, everyone!

Coogs crush Memphis, 59-17

It would seem that rumors of the demise of University of Houston's 2010 season have been greatly exaggerated. The Coogs won their second road game in a row Saturday night in emphatic fashion: after allowing Memphis to score the game's first points on a field goal, the Cougars rattled off 49 unanswered points on their way to a 59-17 rout of the Tigers at the Liberty Bowl.

Quarterback David Piland had a solid outing, completing 20 of 23 passes for 293 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions. He got a lot of help from running back Michael Hayes, who ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and receiving for another score. And then there was wide receiver Patrick Edwards, who in addition to his two touchdown receptions returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. Terrance Broadway also got to see some time at quarterback, completing all four of his passes for 111 yards and a touchdown on a 54-yard hookup to E. J. Smith that was a thing of beauty.

Houston's defense also put in a solid effort, limiting Memphis to three points through the first three quarters of the game. They did allow Tiger running back Gregory Ray to gain 176 yards on 26 carries, but that was okay considering that he was Memphis's only offensive weapon (The Tigers only completed 4 of 12 passes) and nevertheless wasn't allowed to reach the endzone until early in the fourth quarter, when the game had already been decided.

One could point out that Memphis is a particularly bad team, and they'd be correct. But, as history has shown, the Cougars don't always end up beating the teams they should beat. Saturday they took care of business and now find themselves at 5-3 overall and 4-1 in conference. They still control their own destiny in the Conference USA west race.

However, things are about to get considerably tougher for the Coogs. Central Florida, the eastern division's best team, comes to town Friday night. They are going to be tough. And the same Tulsa team which upset Notre Dame in South Bend yesterday awaits the Cougars the following weekend. The Cougars might be without the services of their biggest offensive weapon, too; Bryce Beall suffered a knee injury early in the Memphis game and his condition is unknown at this time.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Downtown on a clear day

Although my main office is in the Uptown/Galleria area, I've lately been spending a lot of time at my company's client's offices downtown. Earlier this week a cool front blew in and cleared the skies, giving me this wonderful view of the downtown skyline from my clients' window:
(Although, the way things have been going lately, a few rainclouds would be just as welcome in this view as well...)

My new ride

The time had simply come.

My 1997 Nissan Sentra served me well. I had it for twelve years, eight months and 129,319 miles. But the battered old car was clearly reaching the end of its useful life.
I originally had planned on holding out until early next year to get a new car. But then I asked myself, "why wait?" I had enough money saved for a down payment and Nissan was offering attractive deals on new cars. So last week I decided to bid farewell to the old Sentra and acquire a 2010 Altima 2.5S:
I'm happy with this car. The acceleration is smooth, the handling is excellent and the fuel economy is pretty good as well. And I no longer feel self-conscious driving around in a battered, dented old car.

Like I said: the time had simply come.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coogs snap two-game losing streak with win over SMU

It's probably a good thing that I took a short vacation from blogging over the past few weeks: I really wouldn't have wanted to write about Houston's losses to Mississippi State and Rice.

The 24-47 loss to Mississippi State I could handle. Sure, the Bulldogs' victory snapped a 17-game home winning streak, but let's face it: the Cougars were breaking in a brand-new true-freshman quarterback, David Piland, who had never before seen a college field, the difference in size and strength between SEC (i.e. BCS-AQ) linemen and C-USA (i.e. BCS non-AQ) lineman once again made itself apparent, and, quite frankly, the fact that it was an out-of-conference game meant that it really didn't effect the Coogs' ultimate goal of winning Conference USA. Besides, the Coogs managed to beat Mississippi State three out of four times during this series, which softens the blow of this loss somewhat.

Certainly, there wasn't much to like about the fact that the Cougar defense allowed the Bulldogs to amass a whopping 409 rushing yards. And I still don't understand why the coaching staff decided it was a good idea to have a guy making his very first college start throw 57 pass attempts while only attempting 11 rushes. Sure, the Bulldogs were probably expecting the Cougars to run, but you would at least think that the Coogs' best offensive weapon, Bryce Beall (who only had 17 rushing yards on the day), would be utilized a bit more than he was.

But if the loss to Mississippi State was disappointing, the Cougars' 31-34 loss to crosstown rival Rice at Rice Stadium the following Saturday was downright crushing

David Piland threw an interception close to Rice's goal line on the first series, leading to a quick Rice score, and the Cougars played very flat through the entire first half. Receivers dropped easy catches. The defense allowed the Owls to get first downs on 3rd and 13 and on 2nd and 18. The secondary got burned for touchdown passes of 29 and 59 yards. Rice's defensive line was blowing up Houston's offensive line. The Owls led 14-27 at the break.

The Cougars clawed their way back in the second half, playing better defense while moving the ball more effectively, and by midway through the fourth quarter managed to take a 31-27 lead. But the Coogs then gave up a 13-yard touchdown pass to Rice, and fumbled the ball on a bad snap on fourth down in the game's closing seconds to assure an Owl victory.

The subsequent meltdown on the various UH message boards was as nasty as it was predictable. A quarterback controversy emerged as fans aligned themselves in either the David Piland camp or the Terrance Broadway camp. Fans also voiced concern about playcalling - once again, the Cougars elected to throw deep passes in certain critical situations when running the ball would have made more sense - and people began to wonder if Houston's biggest loss on offense wasn't Case Keenum but rather departed offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson. Furthermore, given the poor performance of Houston's defense - linebacker Sammy Brown was a rare bright spot, recording 5 tackles for loss and two sacks - did it really matter who was behind center or what the playcalling was like? The Cougars were especially hurt by the absence of two key defensive linemen due to injuries - Matangi Tonga (out until November) and Radermon Scypion (out for the season).

What was distressing to me is that the "easy" half of the Cougars' schedule, with five out of six games in Houston, was over, with tough games against SMU, Central Florida, Tulsa and Southern Miss left to be played. I even wondered if the Cougars, given their problems, would manage another win this season.

Fortunately, the Cougars rose to the occasion last Saturday, notching a solid 45-20 victory against SMU in Dallas. The game, which was suspended in the first quarter for two and a half hours due to weather, was arguably Houston's best of the season. David Piland had a decent outing, completing 19 of 32 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. Tryon Carrier returned a kickoff 91 yards for a score. The much-maligned Houston defense limited the Mustangs' high-flying run-and-shoot offense to just two touchdowns; SMU quarterback Kyle Padron was sacked twice and intercepted twice. But most important was the resurgence of the Cougar running attack: Michael Hayes had 86 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, while Bryce Beall chipped in for 85 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

Having so many on-field issues and coming off such a demoralizing loss to Rice, the Cougars could very easily had folded their tent on the road and in adverse weather conditions. Instead, they fought back. At 4-3 overall and 3-1 in conference, they remain in the driver's seat in Conference USA West.

Next up for the Coogs is a trip to the Liberty Bowl to play Memphis. The Tigers are not a very good team. But then again, neither was Rice. And back-to-back road games are never easy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dodgeball comes to an end

Although the news is a week old at this point, this blog cannot go without noting that "Dodgeball Time" has come to an end at the University of North Texas. Faced with the reality of yet another losing season, UNT Director of Athletics Rick Villareal last week decided to relieve Todd Dodge of his duties as head coach of the Mean Green.

One could argue that it was in bad form for Villareal to fire Dodge before the season had ended, or to can him in spite of the substantial number of injuries (it turns out that the Houston Cougars aren't the only team in the nation to lose both their starting and second-string quarterbacks in a single game) the Mean Green have suffered this season.

But in the game of college football, it all comes down to wins and losses. And Todd Dodge, in spite of his pedigree as an outstanding high school football coach, could simply not find wins at the college level. He never won more than two games in any season as the Mean Green's head coach and he leaves North Texas with an abysmal 6-37 record in his three-and-a-half seasons at the helm. For a school that used to dominate, however briefly, the Sun Belt Conference and which is opening a new stadium next fall, this was simply unacceptable.

Especially considering the heartbreaking manner in which some of UNT's losses this season have occurred: a one-point loss at home to Rice last month. Another one-point loss at home to the Ragin' Cajuns early this month. These are both bad teams and these are not results that will excite the Mean Green fan base or fill UNT's new stadium next year. For that reason, a change had to be made.

Offensive coordinator Mike Canales will take over as the interim coach for the Mean Green.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gratuitious Linkfest

As we bid farewell to September and take the quarter-turn into the three-month stretch of 2010, I thought I'd share a few links that I found interesting or amusing.

The airline mergers continue; Southwest is acquiring fellow low-cost carrier AirTran. Is this good news for travelers? Yes, for some, especially those who hate AirTran's baggage fees or who fly to or through Atlanta. Probably not for others, such as those who fly from Orlando or Baltimore.

Last spring we there was concern that North America's monarch butterfly population was decimated. Now there's evidence it might be rebounding. Perhaps we'll find out when the butterflies pass through town on their way to Mexico. That should occur any day now.

There's a reason the lottery is called the "stupid tax." Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. You'll never win.

How to write a scientific article for a MSM website. (Hence, the need for warning labels.)

This kid really, really hates Auburn University.

RIP, Mike Celizic. I enjoyed reading his college football columns and even linked to them on occasion. Another tribute here.

Also RIP George Blanda. He was a bit before my time, but I still knew him as the guy who led the Houston Oilers to the AFL's first two championships in 1960 and 1961.

Jarrett has a good discussion about the often-misunderstood relationship between urban density and transit use.

The latest conference realignment rumor involves TCU to the Big East. Nothing about conference realignment surprises me anymore, but I'll believe this one when I see it.

The 2010 edition of the Houston Press's Best of Houston is out. I'll definitely have to try out some of the restaurants they praise.

World War One has finally come to an end, just in case you were wondering.

These maps showing race and ethnicity of major US cities are truly fascinating (they're based on 2000 census data; different colors indicate different races and ethnicities; the darker or bolder the color, the denser the respective population). They tell us that, even at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, our cities are still heavily segregated (this map of Detroit is particularly stark). For the sake of comparison, I'd really like to see if the person who put these maps together creates new maps when the 2010 census becomes available. What will Houston's 2010 map look like? More interestingly, what about New Orleans?

Meet ConquistaDora the Explorer. Yes, I laughed. And yes, I felt guilty about laughing.

Has Dubai learned its lesson? It appears that the Emirate has weathered the worst of its financial storm, but time will tell if it adopts a more sustainable development policy going forward.

What if the government gave us all a receipt when we filed our annual tax return? Would it help people better understand the nature of the federal budget and the ramifications of the tax and spending cuts that seem to be so politically popular these days?

That's all for now. I'll probably be taking a break from blogging for a few weeks. Enjoy October (and, hopefully, the cooler weather)!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Houston 42, Tulane 23

The weather was unbearable. The game wasn't pretty at times. But coming off last weekend's debacle in Pasadena, the Cougars did what they needed to do: get a win.

First, the heat: according to the weather app on my Droid, at kickoff the temperature was 90 and the "feels like" temperature (factoring the humidity) was 95. Inside Robertson Stadium, an enclosed place full of concrete and aluminum that reflects heat, the temperature at kickoff was doubtlessly about 100. Although the game was officially a sellout (32,007), many fans clearly did not use their tickets because of the heat (as well as a 30 percent chance of rain, which mercifully waited until after the game was over). A large percentage of fans who did show up left during or right after halftime; I even had Lori come and pick up Kirby at the half because he was wilting in the oppressive heat.

As for the game itself: true freshman Terrance Broadway got his first start as a college quarterback and did decently, completing 19 of 28 passes for 174 yards and rushing 11 times for another 21 yards. He led the Cougars to a 28-14 lead at halftime. However, Broadway also threw an interception and fumbled twice; his ability to run gives the offense an added weapon but the coaching staff needs to work with him on his ball handling abilities. Houston's star offensive player was running back Bryce Beall; he gained 124 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries.

Nevertheless, the Cougars stalled in the second half and allowed the Green Wave to get back into the game. Midway through the fourth quarter the Cougars were holding on to a precarious three-point lead. But the Coogs stepped up when they needed to do so: Beall broke off a 25-yard touchdown run late in the fourth to give the Cougars some breathing room, and cornerback Loyce Means intercepted Tulane quarterback Kevin Moore twice - one of the two picks he returned 42 yards for a touchdown - to seal the 42-23 win.

There were still some problem points for the Cougars: Tulane RB Albert Williams ran through the Cougar defense at will, gaining 83 yards on 14 carries, and the UH secondary was burned for touchdown passes of 13, 36 and 9 yards. One of the reasons why the Cougars stagnated on offense through most of the second half was because Tulane's defensive line was dominating Houston's offensive line. Houston's playcalling was rather "vanilla" - and therefore relatively easy to defend - as well, but that certainly had to do with the fact that an inexperienced young quarterback was running the offense.

All in all, though, this was a crucial win for the Cougars. They now head into a much-needed bye week with a 3-1 overall record and a 2-0 record in their division. Furthermore, now that UCLA has upset Texas in Austin, last week's catastrophic loss doesn't look quite so, well, catastrophic.

And let's face it: while a win over Mississippi State two weeks from now at home would be nice, it really isn't that important right now as an out-of-conference game. The Cougars' most important games - Rice, SMU and Tulsa - are coming up afterward.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Coogs suffer catastrophic 31-13 loss at UCLA

Here is a picture of myself, my brother David and my friend Joe before kickoff. We were happy at the time of this picture, which was taken by a member of Case Keenum's family. We weren't quite as happy after the game was over.
Not sure, but I think the guy who agreed to take this picture was Case Keenum's father.
If the University of Houston Cougars wanted to prove to the world that they had indeed taken their program to the next level, then last Saturday night's game - nationally-televised, on the road, against a beatable opponent from a BCS Automatic-Qualifying conference - was one that they needed to win.

Instead, the Coogs did the exact opposite: they self-destructed. They showed to the college football world that they're not "there" yet. And, in the process, the Coogs lost both their starting and backup quarterbacks for the season.

Simply put, last Saturday's 31-13 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was a disaster of epic proportions.

Given that the Coogs under Kevin Sumlin have historically been able to get themselves motivated to play, and beat, teams from BCS-AQ conferences - see victories against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State last year - I'm not sure why the Cougars played as flat and as uninspired as they did against the Bruins that evening. Perhaps they saw the #23 next to their name and the 0-2 next to ULCA's name and thought the game would be a cakewalk. Maybe they found themselves in awe of California (a place several of the players had never before visited) and the storied Rose Bowl. Perhaps quarterback Case Keenum, who suffered a concussion the previous week against UTEP, was still not completely healthy going into this game, and perhaps the "will Kevin play" controversy that seemed to envelop the team over the past week was a source of distraction. Maybe Kevin Sumlin and his staff "coached scared" (in that regard, some of the playcalling was truly bizarre). For whatever reason, the Cougars looked so unprepared and out-of-sync that I truly felt like I was watching a Houston team of the Kim Helton or Dana Dimel eras.

Much credit has to be given to UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. His team clearly has a lot of talent and was better than their 0-2 record indicated. After being embarrassed at home 0-35 by Stanford last week, his team was out to prove itself. Also, much has to be said about the difference in size and strength between the two teams' lines. Until Kevin Sumlin and his staff can recruit the "big uglies" on both the offensive and defensive lines, the Cougars will always be at a physical disadvantage in the trenches when they face opponents from BCS-AQ conferences.

But the bad play was one thing. The loss of Case Keenum for the year was something else. Keenum injured himself the exact same way he suffered a concussion the week before - attempting to run down a defensive player after throwing an interception. Only this time, he turned his knee on the field and tore his ACL. His season, and most likely his college career, is over.

Although Case Keenum hadn't been "himself" since the end of last season - he had thrown 14 interceptions in his last five games - and although the "Keenum for Heisman" campaign was an unnecessary distraction (because Heisman voters will never give that trophy to a player from a non-AQ conference, regardless of how good he is), he was still the Cougars' most important player. Losing him is a crushing blow.

Especially considering that the backup quarterback, Cotton Turner, was also knocked out for the season after a UCLA player tackled him and broke his collarbone. That left true freshman Terrance Broadway to run the show, and in spite of the pressure put upon him (taking his first-ever college snaps, on the road, in the Rose Bowl, with his team trailing badly), he performed admirably, leading the Cougars to two scores including the team's only touchdown of the game.

Still, the game was a disaster. Houston's offense sputtered even before Keenum and Turner got knocked out. Keenum's interception came on 1st and goal, which made the play a game-changer in more ways than one. UCLA didn't have much of a passing attack, but they didn't need to throw the ball when they could torch Houston's poor run defense for 266 yards. The Cougar defense, to its credit, did manage to recover two fumbles and an interception, but that really only served to keep the score from becoming even more lopsided than it was.

Seriously: how many teams lose both their first and second-string quarterbacks in the same game?

Anyway, the parameters of this season have completely changed. Quarterbacking duties will now fall to either Broadway or David Piland, who is also a true freshman. Although I've heard strong reviews about both of them, you would ideally prefer to give these players a redshirt season to bulk up and gain experience. Now one or both of these young men will have to learn on the fly. Any lingering questions about Houston's defense have also been answered: they're no better than they were last year, especially against the run. And is the team's apparent lack of focus a regression to two years ago, when Cougars fell behind early in several games? Why didn't Kevin Sumlin have these players prepared for the game? And did he give up after Keenum went down?

Anyway, now that the "BCS Buster" and "Keenum for Heisman" distractions have been eliminated, maybe this team can regroup and focus on what matters: winning Conference USA. I think it's still possible. But it just got a lot harder. Needless to say, my preseason prediction of a nine-win season has now gone out the window.

Other than the game, my friend Joe, my brother David and I had a great time in LA. Friday we rode the subway to Hollywood, visited Little Tokyo, and had an amazing dinner at an Argentinean restaurant in Old Town Pasadena. Saturday morning we drove down to Santa Monica and spent some time there walking around and exploring. We found the tailgating scene out on the golf course to be delightful. And the Rose Bowl itself was pretty impressive:Indeed, the only thing that disappointed about the trip was the game itself.