Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Houston 30, Kansas 48

The Cougars jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and then let the Kansas Jayhawks outscore them 48-16 the rest of the way in what turned out to be a dud of a home opener at TDECU Stadium.

The Good: Cougar RB Ta'Zhawn Henry. He rushed 15 times for 56 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for another 107 yards and a score. RB Brandon Campbell broke off a 40-yard run for a touchdown as well.

The Bad: The gameday experience at TDECU. The lines to get into the stadium were slow. Concessions were understaffed and waits for food and drink were long. I realize that things were complicated by the rain and the 70-minute lighting delay that sent everybody under the concourse for cover, but it just didn't seem like gameday operations were adequately prepared for Saturday's game. Which is disappointing, considering they had two extra weeks into the season to get ready. 

Also, the stadium announcer's "third down in the third ward" cheer is just stupid. 

The Really Bad: The sputtering Cougar offense. Six out of Houston's 11 drives ended in a punt, a turnover (there were two), or a failed fourth-down conversion. QB Clayton Tune was sacked four times, and the offense attempted way too many ineffective running plays up the middle for little or no gain. The coaching staff's decision to settle for a field goal on the Coogs' longest drive of the day (late in the game, with the team down 18) was also a head scratcher. 

The Ugly: Houston's run defense was utterly clowned by Kansas QB Jalon Daniels, who rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 158 yards and three scores, and was not sacked or intercepted once. Three games into the season, and it's obvious that the Cougar defense has no answer for mobile quarterbacks.

The Really Ugly: Tackling (or lack thereof), players out of position, and penalties (10 flags for 73 yards). These problem areas indicate a lack focus and discipline on the part of the Coogs.

The Really, Really Ugly: A sideline altercation between WRs Sam Brown, Jr and Joseph Manjack IV made national headlines and epitomized the disarray that the team is currently experiencing.

What It Means: Three games into the season, and it's clear that the Cougars are simply not a good team. In fact, at this point I'm beginning to doubt that they'll even have winning season. 

I don't know if it's because they lost so much talent from last year's team, or because everybody brought into their offseason press, or because there's serious discord in the locker room, or because Dana Holgorsen is spending too much time at the bar and too little time preparing for games. What I do know is that right now this program is a dumpster fire. What I also know is that many of the 30,317 who showed up to watch the game last Saturday are not going to make another trip to TDECU anytime soon.

Kansas is now 4-0 all-time against Houston. Up next for the Cougars is crosstown rival Rice.

Ryan takes stock of some of UH's numbers through the first quarter of the season (they aren't pretty). Dana Holgorsen takes the blame for not having his team "ready to go," while defensive lineman D'Anthony Jones apologizes for letting the fans down. Chris Baldwin notes how the loss has killed excitement for UH football.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

#25 Houston 30, Texas Tech 33

For the second week in a row, a Cougar road game came down to overtime. This time, however, the outcome was not as favorable for UH.

The Good: For the second week in a row, the Cougars battled back from a 14-point halftime deficit and led the game with less than a minute to play. Derek Parrish was a beast on the Houston defense: he forced a fumble, racked up 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss - both American Athletic Conference records - and earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors. When he wasn't being sacked by Parish, Red Raider QB Donavan Smith was throwing interceptions: three of them, including one returned 54 yards for a UH touchdown by Jayce Rogers.

The Bad: For the second week in a row, the Cougars were sloppy and undisciplined. Poor tackling, dumb penalties (Houston was flagged 11 times for 121 yards), dropped passes, a pair of turnovers, poor offensive execution, a missed field goal because Tune took a sack that put the Coogs out of Baxa's range)... Hologrsen said it himself after the game: "We didn’t play well enough to win. Just a whole lot of stupid stuff. Stupid, stupid, stupid, undisciplined stuff."

Well coach, you're being paid $4 million a year to fix it. I know back to back games on the road are tough, but eliminate just a few of those mistakes and the Cougars could have left Lubbock with a win. For example:

The Ugly: For the second week in a row, a brilliant Tank Dell punt return for a TD with a stupid penalty. For the second week in a row, the Cougars allowed the opposing team to tie the game with less than a minute on the clock. 

But worst of all? The UH defense allowed Texas Tech to convert 4th and 20 in the first overtime. 

That's right. 4th and 20.

In the second overtime, Smith would run virtually untouched into the endzone to secure the Texas Tech victory. 

What It Means: The loss knocked the Cougars out of the top 25, where they probably didn't belong to begin with. The Cougars have now lost 10 out of the last 11 games against once-and-future conference mate Texas Tech; the last time they beat the Red Raiders in Lubbock was 1990.

Next up for Houston is their first home game of the season, against a Kansas team that just beat West Virginia on the road in overtime. Uh-oh.

Andy Yanez and Chris Baldwin have more.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

#24 Houston 37, Texas-San Antonio 35 (3 OT)

The Cougars overcame a sluggish start in front of a raucous Alamodome crowd to rally from a 14-point deficit and kick what should have been the game-winning field goal with 23 seconds left in the game. Alas, the Roadrunners marched down the field to kick the tying field goal in the time remaining. Three agonizing overtime periods ensued before the Cougars were able to escape with a win. 

The Good: Early in the fourth quarter, Derek Parrish deflected a pass by UTSA QB Frank Harris that landed into the hands of Nelson Ceaser for an interception. One play later, Clayton Tune found Joseph Manjack IV in the endzone, who made an amazing one-handed catch to tie the game. In the third overtime, Tune somersaulted over a UTSA defender and into the endzone to score what would be the game-winning two-point conversion.

The Bad: For much of the game the Cougars just looked rough. Dropped passes. Poor tackling. Stupid penalties, including several jumps offsides, two kickoffs out of bounds, and a holding call that negated what would have been a Tank Dell punt return for a touchdown early in the game. Tune looked tentative at times, holding onto the ball too long, taking four sacks, and fumbling once. The offense sputtered, as four Houston possessions were three-and-outs. The UH defense, meanwhile, was frustrated by Harris all afternoon, as the Roadrunner signal-caller ended the game with 337 passing yards and three touchdowns as well as 63 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The Ugly: UTSA was able to march down the field to kick the game into overtime with 23 seconds left on the clock and no time outs. That is inexcusable on the part of the Houston defense and suggests that the Cougars' secondary could be a real liability this season.

What It Means: Respect needs to be given to the Roadrunners. They were 12-2 and conference champions a year ago, they were playing in front of the fifth-largest crowd in UTSA program history (I was there; it was loud), they had a ten-game home winning streak going, and they had that game circled as a statement win. That the Cougars were able to grit it out in spite of all the mistakes they made and win in a grueling three overtimes is a testament to this team's character. There's a lot of work that the Cougars need to do, but don't let the final score or three overtimes take away from a hard-fought, quality road win for Houston.

Next up for the Coogs (who dropped one spot in the AP poll) is a trip to Lubbock to take on former SWC and future Big XII rival Texas Tech.

Chris Baldwin shares his thoughts on what he calls an "epic game", while Brad Towns breaks down the "kill shot" that was Tune's pass to Manjack after the interception. 

Austin skyscraper to be tallest building in Texas

Houston has claimed possession Texas's tallest building for the past forty years. Looks like that's about to change:

Since its completion in 1982, the 75-story JPMorgan Chase Tower on Travis Street in downtown Houston has stood as the tallest building in Texas—an honor that will soon be taken from the Bayou City thanks to a new skyscraper currently under construction in downtown Austin.

As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman's Shonda Novak, Lincoln Development Company and Kairoi Residential announced new details on Tuesday about its partnership on the project. The structure will be called Waterline, according to Novak, and will reach 1,022 feet in the sky by the time of its projected completion in late 2026—placing its peak a mere 20 feet higher than Chase Tower, which measures 1,002 feet.

Downtown Austin's skyline has certainly changed quite a bit since I lived there in the late 90s; as the city has grown, so has its number of tall buildings:

Waterline will join a menagerie of high-rises currently under construction in downtown Austin, which has seen a dramatic boom in population in recent years. According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the city's metro area saw a 33 percent population increase between January 2010 and July 2020. More than six percent of its population reported having lived somewhere other than Austin prior to 2019, the country's second-highest rate of recent transplants, per the Austin Chamber.

That growth, unfortunately, has also made Austin one of the least affordable cities for the middle class in the nation, and I doubt the high-end residences planned for this mixed-use tower (it will also have a hotel and office space) are going to make things any more affordable. But that's a topic for another day.

Houston's not likely to wrest back the distinction of being home to Texas' tallest tower. Construction of any building over 200 feet in Houston requires consultation from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has previously raised concerns with downtown building plans in excess of 75 stories, citing the importance of safeguarding air space for flights in and out of nearby William P. Hobby Airport. The Chase Tower, originally known as the Texas Commerce Tower, was initially intended to stand 80 stories tall before an FAA analysis prompted the City of Houston to ask for its design to be shaved down to 75 stories. The city has not approved any design exceeding this benchmark.

Downtown's proximity to the approach path to Hobby Airport is, in fact, one of the reasons why another tower planned for Houston in the early 1980s - a 1,400-foot, 82-story, Helmut Jahn-designed project that would have been the second tallest building in the United States at the time (see rendering here) - was never built, either. Of course, the oil bust had a role to play in its cancelation as well.

College Football Playoff Expansion

Last summer I wondered if the College Football Playoff might expand from its current four-team format. At the time, it seemed almost inevitable. Then, earlier this year, the brakes got pumped on the concept when the powers that control the sport couldn't come to a unanimous agreement about what an expanded playoff would look like. Last Friday, however, an agreement about playoff expansion was finally reached:

The College Football Playoff's board of managers unanimously voted Friday to expand the CFP to 12 teams in 2026 but is encouraging the sport's commissioners to try to implement it as soon as 2024.

In what was described as "an historic day for college football," the board's 11 presidents and chancellors approved the original 12-team model, which was first made public last summer and includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams, the board announced.

That fact that the six highest-ranked conference champions will be included in the format guarantees that at least one team from the so-called "Group of Five" schools will participate in the playoff every season. Teams will continue to be ranked by the CFP selection committee, which itself probably needs reform, but at least under this model the greatest injustice of the the college football playoff - the exclusion of deserving Group of Five schools - is mitigated. 

The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded one through four with each receiving a first-round bye. Teams seeded five through 12 will play each other in the first round on either the second or third weekend of December. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played in bowl games on a rotating basis, and the championship game will be at a neutral site, as under the current four-team format.

"This is an exciting day for the future of college football," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. "As originally proposed, the 12-team playoff creates more access for teams and conferences across the country to compete in college football's championship event. There is work to be done to make this format a reality, but I am pleased we are all moving in the same direction with a common purpose."

While there are still details to be worked out (and discussions on potentially implementing the format as early as 2024 are set to begin this week), playoff expansion will be good for the sport. It will make the playoff more interesting by virtue of the fact that three times as many teams are participating, and it will hopefully reduce the trend of NFL-bound players "opting out" of inconsequential bowl games as well. Of course, it will also produce a lot of new revenue for the sport.

Granted, most of that revenue is going to be hoovered up by the Power Five conferences; in fact, Power Five schools (and Notre Dame if it is ranked high enough) are likely to occupy 11 of the 12 postseason berths during most seasons. The dominance of programs like Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State is unlikely to abate, either. But the fact that at least one Group of Five school will have a seat at the postseason table means that any school playing FBS football will now - at least in theory - have a shot at the national title. That makes the sport more equitable than it has been in the past, and reduces the disparity between the "haves" and "have nots" of the sport.

As a fan of one of those schools that was on the "outside looking in" of the College Football Playoff (and its predecessor, the Bowl Championship Series) for so long, I'm glad we've finally reached this point (even if Houston will be a member of a Power Five conference by the time this expansion occurs). It honestly should have happened a long time ago.

The Houston Press's Sean Pendergast thinks playoff expansion will stabilize conference realignment and prevent conferences like the SEC and Big Ten from creating their own league. CFN's Pete Fiutak says expansion will be good for the sport, while ESPN staffers try to answer some lingering questions about expansion. SI's Ross Dellenger inventories the issues that still need to be resolved before expansion occurs.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

2022 Houston Cougar Football Preview

Before I go into the preview, I want to say a word about the summer's bombshell news about UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten in 2024. The fact that this move makes no geographic sense is beside the point; today, conference realignment is all about money (as evidenced by the Big Ten's new TV deal). 

This quest for ever-greater revenue streams has reached the point that the sport is cannibalizing itself:

Inequity has always existed in college athletics, particularly in football, the highest-profile sport. But this latest transfer of power widens the divide between the haves and have-nots. The Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) already stand apart as the two most lucrative leagues in college sports. They will continue their not-so-secret arms race. Eventually, the rest of the college conferences—even the once-mighty Pac-12—may either go extinct or just end up competing for scraps.

When Texas and Oklahoma, now with the Big 12, join the SEC in either 2024 or 2025, the SEC and the Big Ten will each have 16 universities. Nine of the 10 schools with the highest athletic revenue in the 2019–20 fiscal year will be members of either the SEC or the Big Ten. The two conferences include the most dominant brands in college football: Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, and Georgia, to name a few.

Over a decade ago, I wrote about the lamentable trend towards an elite "superconference" of 64 schools that would break off from the rest of college football. Now, it looks like this superconference might only consist of the schools of the Big Ten and the SEC, plus a lucky few extras (e.g. Clemson, Notre Dame, etc.) that are eventually invited into the exclusive club.

Houston, of course, is one of four schools joining the Big 12 next season; it remains to be seen how USC and UCLA's move will affect the Big 12 in general or the Cougars in particular. There was initially some talk about a quartet of Pac-12 schools - Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah - leaving the now-crippled Pac-12 for the Big 12, but no movement has occurred as of yet. It's only a matter of time, however, before the next round of conference realignment begins (remember when I told everybody that they wouldn't have to wait very long for it?) 

Between this, NIL money, the transfer portal, and other recent changes, the sport of college football is definitely changing, and not in a direction I as a fan like to see it go. The sport is suffering from a lack of leadership: the NCAA has effectively been emasculated, and college football is now essentially controlled by TV networks, conference commissioners and university presidents who are more concerned with money grabs than they are the long-term greater good of the sport or its student-athletes. 

With that said, it's time to focus on the 2022 season at hand, and worry about the future of college football later.

Looking Back: after the Cougars' season-opening loss to Texas Tech at NRG Stadium, I was ready for head coach Dana Holgorsen to be fired. However, the $4 million coach redeemed himself from there, as his team rattled off eleven straight wins before falling to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. Houston then went on to defeat Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl and end the season with a #17 final ranking in both the AP and Coaches polls.

The Big Story for 2022: this is Houston's final year in the American Athletic Conference. They'd like to go out with a conference title; furthermore, they'd like to enter the Big XII in 2023 with some swagger. Can the Coogs build on last season's success and generate momentum moving forward?

Reasons for Optimism: Quarterback Clayton Tune had a breakout season in 2021, and he and WR Nathaniel "Tank" Dell are probably the best pass-and-catch combo in the conference. In addition to Dell, Tune will have his choice of targets, including experienced tight end Christian Trahan and a slew of wide receiver transfers with experience from Power five schools. Ta'Zhawn Henry, who was the Coogs' second-leading rusher last season with 524 yards and seven touchdowns, will start at running back. 

Houston returns several starters from a defense that ranked sixth in the nation in total defense last season, including defensive linemen D’Anthony Jones and Derek Parish who combined for 12 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss last year. The linebacking corps is anchored by Donavan Mutin, who led the team with 77 tackles a year ago. Veteran cornerbacks Gervarrius Owens and Hasaan Hypolite return to lead the secondary. The defense's most important returnee, however, is Defensive Coordinator Doug Belk, whose success leading the Houston defense is causing his name to be mentioned as a future head coaching candidate.

There's also the schedule, which Ryan Monceaux calls "as soft as squeeze butter." The Coogs' opponents went a combined 64-84 last season, and Houston avoids Central Florida and Cincinnati for the second straight year.

Reasons for Pessimism: The Cougars have to replace a lot of talent from last year's team that has been lost to injury or the NFL draft. RB Alton McCaskill, who ran for almost 1,000 yards last season, suffered a torn ACL during offseason practice and is out for the season. On defense, the Cougars have to replace key players who are now playing on Sundays, including Logan Hall and David Anenih on the defensive line, and Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams in the secondary. Jones, of course, was also a game changer for the Cougars as kick returner. 

An offensive line that wasn't all that great last season - they allowed 38 sacks - has to replace three starters as well. 

While these losses bother Brad Towns, his biggest concern is that the schedule, while weak, is still stronger than last year's (which is something I noted as well):

As bad as this year’s schedule is, and it’s plenty bad, last season was even worse. UH trades Grambling for UTSA, Tech on the road vs. in Houston, and Kansas for UConn. Kansas is not good, but they aren’t UConn bad. And that leads me to my biggest concern.

Despite the lousy schedule, several games in 2021 were way too close for comfort. There was an 8-point home win over 4-8 Navy, when UH didn’t take the go-ahead lead in the 4th qtr. A two-win Tulane team was within 4 points going into the 4th quarter before UH pulled away. It took overtime to beat ECU at home. UH needed a walk-off kick return to beat SMU at home. USF, a two-win team, cut UH’s lead to five with 4 minutes to go. Memphis was within a score in the 4th qtr at TDECU Stadium before UH sealed the win with less than 4 minutes to go.

Navy, ECU, SMU, and Memphis are on the road this year (along with Texas Tech and UTSA). None of those teams are great, and I expect the Coogs to beat them all. But funny things can happen on the road.

While Brad still expects a 10-2 season, he "wouldn’t be shocked if the outcome was 8-4 and a Whocares Bowl appearance."

What the Computers Think: Congrove's preseason algorithm predicts an 11-1 season for the Cougars, Massey gives the Cougars a greater than 50% chance of winning ten games, and ESPN's FPI gives the Coogs a 50% or greater chance to win nine games. When the home-field advantage is taken into account, Sagarin's preseason ratings imply an undefeated season for UH.

What the Humans Think: Houston is ranked #24 in both the preseason AP and Coaches polls. The Cougars were also picked to be conference champions in the AAC preseason media poll, just edging out Cincinnati (who actually received more first-place votes). Athlon, who ranks Houston in their top 25, opines that the "Cougars aren't done" building on last season's success and, given their manageable schedule, "could challenge for the AAC title and New Year’s Six bowl." ESPN puts Houston 24th in its preseason power rankings, while CBS Sports puts Houston 22nd in its beginning-of-season poll (four out of seven CBS Sports writers also predict the Cougars to win the conference). College Football News foresees a ten-win regular season for Houston (read their full preview), while fansided's John Buhler predicts a 12-0 regular season, an AAC conference championship and a Cotton Bowl appearance for UH. 

What I think: While I think the Cougars are poised to have a good season, I fear that there might be a bit of a step back in 2022. The schedule, while still easy, is incrementally harder than last year, and the team has to replace some key talent from last year's team (Marcus Jones, of course, is irreplaceable). The injury to Alton McCaskill is a huge setback, and I'm still worried about the offensive line. 

While an undefeated, conference championship-winning season is certainly possible, it is more likely that the Cougars experience a few road bumps along the way, as up-and-comers and transfers grow into their roles and as opposing AAC programs give the exiting Coogs their last, best shot. 

I am predicting a 9-3 record, with losses coming against any three of Texas-San Antonio, Texas Tech, Memphis or SMU on the road. That record probably won't be good enough for a conference title, but a bowl win on that gets them to ten wins and puts them on respectable footing going into the Big XII.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The mystery of SAETA flight 232

A civilian airliner crashed in Ecuador in 1976. It took 26 years to find the wreckage:

Aviation’s history books are full of mysteries, some of which are solved and others yet to be figured out. Sometimes, we hear of those cases where aircraft have disappeared and were only found many years later. Such is the case with SAETA Flight 232, which involved a 26-year search and frustrated stakeholders. 

SAETA was a privately-owned Ecuadorian airline which competed on a handful of domestic and international routes with government-owned carriers Ecuatoriana and TAME. I flew SAETA from Miami to Quito and back during my summer 1990 stay in Ecuador. The airline's selling point was that all passengers "flew first class." It wasn't completely true - nobody got nice first-class seats, for example - but the service was attentive and the multi-course meals, which were served with real (i.e. not plastic) silverware and dishware, were definitely an upgrade from normal economy-class fare. SAETA actually underwent a significant expansion in the 1990s, at one point becoming Ecuador's dominant airline. It met its end as a result of Ecuador's financial crisis at the end of the decade.

On August 15, 1976, a Viscount operating as SAETA Flight 232 departed Quito at 08:06 hours bound for Cuenca. There were 55 passengers and four crew onboard the turboprop with a planned flight route over mountainous terrain. All seemed normal until air traffic control lost radio contact with the flight at 08:27 when the crew reported flying over the city of Ambato at 18,000 feet.

Ambato is located in the central Andean valley of Ecuador and sits beneath several tall mountains. It is the capital of the province of Tungurahua, at an elevation of 8,455 feet (2,577 meters) above sea level.

Realizing that the aircraft failed to arrive at Cuenca, emergency search operations began. One more plausible suspicion was that the plane had crashed somewhere in a nearby mountain range. So, a massive search was conducted by air and land throughout the Amazon and all along the flight-planned route. Despite an intensive search, the wreckage was not found for several years. Twenty-six long years to be precise.

It turned out that the wreckage had become embedded within a glacier over 17 thousand feet above sea level on the side of Chimborazo, which is Ecuador's highest mountain* and which is 20 miles southwest of Ambato.

In October 2002, Pablo Chíquiza and Flavio Armas, two members of the Nuevos Horizontes mountaineering club, helped mark the exact crash site after fellow mountaineer Miguel Cazar had previously come across it. The rest of the story involves accusations of government officials dragging their feet and overlooking the location during previous searches. Several parties pointed fingers at each other, while the families of those lost in the crash experienced a bittersweet moment of reliving the pain of a tragic loss while also receiving some closure after the discovery of their loved ones’ remains.

If anything, stories like SAETA 232's might give the loved ones of victims of other unsolved plane disappearances (Malaysian Airlines 370 easily comes to mind) some hope that, eventually, the mystery will be solved and they will at least experience closure. 

This accident would be eerily similar to another SAETA crash involving a Vickers Viscount only a few years later.

Another SAETA Viscount crashed while flying between Quito and Cuenca. On April 23, 1979, an aircraft registered as HC-AVP crashed in the Pastaza Province, killing all 57 people onboard. The wreckage of this aircraft also took several years to locate. The flight was considered missing until 1984, when the debris was discovered.

Due at least in part to to its mountainous terrain, SAETA 232 is just one of several commercial aviation tragedies Ecuador has unfortunately experienced. 

*In addition to being Ecuador's highest peak, Chimborazo's peak is also the furthest from the center of the earth. the Mount Everest is the world's tallest mountain as measured from mean sea level, but because the earth is not perfectly round (i.e. it is slightly fatter at its equator), there is more distance from the earth's center to Chimborazo than to Everest.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Kirby comes of age

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you've gotten to see my son Kirby celebrate several birthdays.

Here's one more: today he turns 18 years old. 

Tomorrow he also begins his final year of high school. 

Hard to believe.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Opponents of science aren't as smart as they think they are

Probably one of the least surprising studies ever:

People with the greatest opposition to the scientific consensus tend to have the lowest levels of objective science knowledge but the highest levels of self-rated knowledge, according to new research published in Science Advances. The findings are in line with the Dunning-Kruger effect, a well-documented phenomenon in which people who are lacking in skills or knowledge tend to overestimate their abilities.

“I am interested in the public’s understanding of science because it is hugely important for societal and environmental wellbeing,” said study author Nick Light, an assistant professor of marketing at Portland State University. “When people act in ways that go against good science, people get sick, lose their homes, lose money, are displaced, or even die (as is the case with COVID, natural disasters, etc.). The better we can understand why people hold attitudes that run counter to scientific consensus, the better scientists or policymakers can design interventions to help people.”

Two initial studies tested almost 3,250 people on their support or opposition to scientific concepts such as climate change, vaccines, or evolution. They were then asked to self-evaluate their level of understanding of these topics. Finally, they were given a questionnaire to assess their actual scientific knowledge of the topics in question.

Light and his research team found that people who were more opposed to the scientific consensus on their given topic were more likely to claim to have a “thorough understanding” of it. But those who were more opposed to the scientific consensus tended to score worse on the test of objective science knowledge.

“Scientists are constantly debating the best ways to explain the world around us,” Light told PsyPost. “Sometimes, however, the evidence is so strong or consistent that most of them agree on something. That’s what we call scientific consensus. In this paper we find that the people who have attitudes that are more extremely against the scientific consensus think they know the most about the scientific issues, but actually know the least.”

The research team also conducted studies focused specifically on the COVID-19 vaccine: 

In a fourth study, which included 501 participants, the researchers examined whether knowledge overconfidence was related to the willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The study was conducted in July 2020, before a vaccine was publicly available. The participants were asked their willingness to receive a vaccination in the future and then rated their understanding of how a COVID-19 vaccine would work.

The participants then completed a 23-question test of scientific knowledge, which included six items about COVID-19, such as “True or false? COVID-19 is a kind of bacteria” and “True or false? COVID-19 can be transmitted through houseflies.”

Light and his colleagues found that participants who were more opposed to receiving a vaccine tended to report having a greater understanding of how a COVID-19 vaccine would work, but their general knowledge of science and COVID-19 tended to be worse.

Websites such as and the r/HermanCainAward Subreddit are full of stories of people who felt they were smarter than the countless scientific and medical professionals who developed and promoted the COVID-19 vaccines and refused to "get jabbed." Their stories generally end with their death due to COVID-related complications. Were it not for their hubris, they might still be here today.

The study's authors note that "given that the most extreme opponents of the scientific consensus tend to be those who are most overconfident in their knowledge, fact-based educational interventions are less likely to be effective for this audience." This, in turn, has serious practical implications for scientists and policymakers alike, because it is difficult to overcome the Dunning-Kruger Effect with standard educational campaigns or appeals to reason. 

Which should come as no surprise to anyone who ever tried to argue about science with somebody on the internet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A centenarian in the family

A few weeks ago, my aunt Dorothy celebrated her 100th birthday. We had a party for her at her assisted living center in Temple, Texas. Those who couldn't attend in person were able to send her virtual well-wishes via a Zoom call.

Dorothy and my mother

Living to be 100 is a very rare accomplishment; according to the US Census Bureau only one out of every 3,390 Americans is 100 years old or older. Considering the average life expectancy for a woman born in 1922 was 61 years, I'd say Dorothy has accomplished quite a feat!

Dorothy visits with far-flung relatives via a Zoom call

Dorothy was living by herself as recently as a few months ago, when her vision issues got to the point where she could no longer live independently and had to be moved to an assisted living center. It was a difficult transition for her; she had lived in her own house in Temple for over 45 years. But she's well cared-for in her new place, and her friends and neighbors continue to come by to check up on her. 

Friends, neighbors and relatives attend her 100th birthday party

In 1922, the year Dorothy was born, Warren G. Harding was President of the United States, Pius XI became Pope, and King George V reigned over the vast British Empire. A first class postage stamp cost two cents. A gallon of gas was 11 cents. 

Even though the Roaring Twenties were underway, my grandparents - Dorothy’s mom and dad - wouldn’t have been able to legally celebrate their eldest daughter's birth with a glass of champagne. Prohibition was the law of the land. 

100 candles would have taken too long to light (and could have set off the fire alarm), so we just went with numeric candles

Other things turning 100 in 2022: Time Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and the British Broadcasting Corporation. The blender in your kitchen and the radial arm saw in your workshop were both patented in 1922. State Farm and USAA insurance companies were both established that year. 

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC was completed in 1922, as was Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California and the original Yankee Stadium in New York City. 

The radio was cutting-edge technology in 1922. President Harding installed the While House’s first radio that year and gave the first live presidential speech over the radio.

The Ottoman Empire was replaced by modern-day Turkey in 1922, and the Soviet Union was established. 

Famous people born in 1922 include comic book creator Stan Lee, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, authors Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Jack Kerouac, actors Sir Christopher Lee and Jason Robards, fashion designer Pierre Cardin, and actresses Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Doris Day, and Golden Girls Bea Arthur and Betty White (who unfortunately left is us last New Year’s Eve).

I prepared a speech for the occasion, which Dorothy (mostly) appreciated 

Dorothy has done a lot of interesting things during her 100 years on this planet: she's been a nun, a nurse, a teacher, a principal, a records administrator, and (of course) an aunt! She was very happy to spend her 100th birthday surrounded by her loved ones.

The longest-lived human lived to be 122 years old. Although Dorothy's otherwise pretty healthy, she has no intention of breaking that record!

Why don't commercial aircraft have parachutes?

It's a legitimate question. Airplane crashes are terrifying: oftentimes a single crash claims the lives of hundreds of people. If passenger airplanes are equipped with a host of other equipment meant to save lives in event of catastrophe - inflatable rafts and flotation devices for water landings, oxygen masks for cabin depressurization events - then why aren't parachutes available for passengers to safely jump from doomed aircraft as well?

The answer is simply that parachutes on commercial aircraft are hopelessly impractical. The high altitudes and speed at which commercial aircraft fly make jumping dangerous. There are tremendous logistical issues associated with storing and periodically inspecting enough parachutes to accommodate an aircraft's passenger capacity. Parachutes require training to use (there's a reason why a beginning skydiver's first few jumps are tandem jumps) that the typical civilian passenger doesn't possess. The organization required to get hundreds of passengers to strap on parachutes and exit the aircraft before it crashes is, to say the least, mind-boggling. 

Furthermore, instances were parachutes could make a difference are vanishingly small. While there may be examples of flights that were doomed but which remained airborne long enough for them to conceivably be evacuated, if such an option were available - Japan Air Lines Flight 123United Airlines Flight 232, and the hijacked aircraft of 9/11 come to mind - the vast majority of plane crashes occur during initial take-off or final descent and landing. These are situations where parachutes would not be usable due to the plane's altitude, and where the reaction times needed to get passengers to don parachutes and exit the aircraft simply do not exist. 

Aside from being impractical, parachutes on commercial aircraft really aren't necessary

There are many technical reasons for airlines not offering their passengers a parachute in the event of an emergency bailout. However, one significant reason airline passengers don't have access to parachutes is commercial air travel is our safest mode of transportation. The statistics have supported this conclusion for many years, and it's essential to keep it in mind before 'jumping' to conclusions about the need for parachuting passengers.

It's worth remembering that commercial air travel is remarkably safe; so much so that you are eight times more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than you are on the flight itself. The United States, at least, hasn't experienced a commercial aviation disaster claiming over 100 lives in over two decades. And in the rare event that an incident does occur on your flight, the National Transportation Safety board estimates that you have over a 95% chance of survival.

So enjoy your flight. 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

UH mascot Shasta VI passes away

 Sad news from the Houston Zoo:

The University of Houston and Houston Zoo are mourning the death of Shasta VI, the school's 11-year-old cougar mascot who passed away Thursday night according to a press release issued by university officials.

Shasta's death follows months of treatment for a degenerative spinal disease, according to a remembrance posted to the Houston Zoo's site on Friday. Zoo officials said the decision was made to euthanize the beloved local fixture after additional health issues were discovered that negated Shasta's chances of living out his remaining days comfortably.

"For several months, the Zoo’s veterinary team has been treating him for a progressive spinal disease which has rapidly deteriorated over the past few days," Houston Zoo staff wrote. "Over the course of treatment, Shasta was also found to have declining kidney function, which is common in older felines. The animal care and health teams made a comprehensive assessment of his overall wellbeing and made the difficult decision to euthanize him on Thursday when it became clear that he would not recover."

The University of Houston's tradition of a live cougar mascot began with Shasta I in 1947. Shastas II through V lived on-campus in an enclosure at the edge of Lynn Eusan Park (the Chron article's statement that the cougars "lived primarily at the Houston Zoo" is false and yet another example of poor journalistic standards on their part). I visited Shastas III, IV and V many a time when I was on campus as a child. Shasta was also present at UH football games in the Astrodome.

The tradition of keeping a live Cougar on campus ended in 1989, when Shasta V was euthanized due to kidney failure and animal rights activists pressured UH administration into not procuring a replacement (although it was still a big topic when I began classes there in the fall of 1991). A partnership between the Houston Zoo and the Houston Alumni Association allowed an orphaned cub to become Shasta VI, and for the tradition of live UH mascots to resume (albeit off-campus), in 2012:

Shasta VI arrived at the Houston Zoo in 2012 at the age of five weeks after his mother was shot and killed illegally by a hunter in Washington State. Washington Fish & Wildlife agents were able to locate the orphaned cougar, who had little chance of survival in the wild following the death of his mother. Shasta VI was relocated to the Houston Zoo where he became the University of Houston's first live mascot since the 1989 and lived alongside the zoo's female cougar, Haley.

Shasta VI was the first male Shasta; his five predecessors were all female. As of right now there is no word as to whether there will be a Shasta VII.

The Daily Cougar has more. The Chronicle has a slideshow of all six Shastas.

Environmental organization declares the monarch endangered

I'm back. For a little bit longer, at least.

The plight of the monarch butterfly, whose population has been steadily dwindling, is something I've been following on this blog for awhile. Two weeks ago, an international organization designated the iconic insect as being endangered

One of the most popular and recognizable insects is at risk of extinction, according to a global organization focused on conservation and sustainability.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has added the migratory monarch butterfly to its Red List of Threatened Species as endangered, the group said in a release Thursday.

"It is difficult to watch monarch butterflies and their extraordinary migration teeter on the edge of collapse, but there are signs of hope," said Anna Walker, a species survival officer for invertebrate pollinators at the New Mexico BioPark Society who works in partnership with the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration like birds, according to the US Forest Service. Every winter, monarchs that live in the eastern part of North America migrate to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico, and those in the west migrate to the coastal regions of California, according to the federal agency. Those migrations have been a spectator event in the past.

There are a couple of important things to note here: 

  • First, this designation from the IUCN does not make the monarch a legally endangered and protected species in the United States. Only the US Fish and Wildlife Service has the power to declare the monarch endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is an action the FWS considered about a year and a half ago; they deferred for the time being. 
  • Second, this designation only applies to the subspecies which migrates annually between Mexico and the United States and Canada. The monarch butterfly species as a whole is widely distributed across the Americas and is not at risk. 

The IUCN estimates the native population of monarch butterflies has shrunk by between 22% and 72% over the past decade, and the western population has declined by 99.9% between the 1980s and 2021 -- putting it at the greatest risk of extinction.

Destruction of habitat and rising temperatures fueled by the climate crisis are increasingly threatening the species, the IUCN said.

When they are caterpillars, monarchs feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

But droughts have limited the growth of milkweed, and increased temperatures have triggered earlier migrations, the IUCN said. There has also been an increase in the use of glyphosate herbicide -- particularly on corn and soybean crops -- that has caused a severe milkweed decline in the United States.

For what it's worth, the amount forest area occupied by the migratory monarch during its winter hibernation in Mexico - a proxy for its overall population - has been holding relatively steady in the 2-3 hectare range in five of the past six winters. Hopefully this suggests that the population decline that the IUCN cited in its decision to add the insect to its Red List has at least stabilized.

In any case, the IUCN's designation should be a wake-up call: the monarch migration is truly an amazing natural wonder; we would fail both the butterflies and ourselves if we allowed it to end under our watch.

If you want to help, consider creating a monarch waystation that provides both milkweed host plants for caterpillars as well as nectar plants for adults.

Monarch Watch and National Geographic have more.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler with nukes

I was working on a post about the 2022 Winter Olympics, complete with my latest diatribe on NBC's lousy coverage (which nobody seems to have watched anyway). I was also going to write a post about how College Football Playoff expansion is not happening anytime soon, and why that is not good for the sport. There are also other topics that I might normally be writing about right now, such as the postponement of the start of baseball season, or an interesting new airline service coming to Houston.

But after the events of the last week, I've lost interest in starting and/or completing those posts. They seem rather trivial. 

Make no mistake: with his messianic ambition for a new Russian empire and his paranoid disdain of the west, Vladimir Putin has brought the world closer to annihilation than it's been in decades.

A week ago, the Russian dictator invaded Ukraine with the goal of overthrowing that country's democratically-elected government and reclaiming it as a Soviet-era satellite state, if not annexing it entirely. His invasion of Ukraine was reckless and poorly-planned. The Ukrainians are fighting back. But sooner or later, Russia's strength in numbers is likely to overwhelm the Ukrainian defenders. Devastating urban warfare is already underway, as is a refugee crisis

Putin will not stop with Ukraine. In his quest to re-create the Russian empire, he will try to slice off some or all of Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, the former Soviet republics in central Asia. And at some point he will likely go after the Baltics: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. All formerly part of the Soviet Union, and all current NATO members that the United States has an obligation to protect militarily. 

He may wait to bring the fight to NATO until after the 2024 presidential election (which he will try to influence in order to get his most valuable American asset, Donald Trump, elected to second term). But he is almost certainly going to do it, because of the Russian irredentist philosophy that drives him. He's willing to bet that we won't have the courage to come to Europe's defense because we don't want to start a nuclear conflict. In fact, he's already threatening Finland and Sweden against joining NATO.

Comparisons between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler are apt. While Putin might not have the same lust for genocide that Hitler possessed - he hasn't singled out an entire people for extermination - he does have the same megalomanic territorial ambitions, and the same indifference to the amount of life lost to achieve it. He also has something that Hitler did not have: nuclear weapons. Do not think for a moment that he won't use them.

And that's the problem: if he threatens to "push the button" anytime the west tries to oppose his neo-imperialist ambitions, where does he stop? Where do we stop him? Do we risk a nuclear exchange in order to do so?

I grew up towards the end of the Cold War, where the threat of nuclear annihilation was distant but real. We might have thought that the threat of nuclear armageddon ended with the Soviet Union. Turns out, it was only taking a break.

This is likely going to be last post here at MGCR for awhile, if not forever. This is normally the time of year when I reduce activity on this blog anyway, but I'm seriously thinking about bringing this blog to a more-or-less permanent close. Posting about trivial shit that hardly anybody reads isn't a good use of my time, and given the events of the past week, I'm not sure how much time I have left as it is.

By the way, fuck Putin for destroying one of my favorite aircraft.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Name that Kroger! Redux

A few weeks ago, John Nova Lomax produced his "definitive list" of the local Kroger grocery stores that have nicknames. This practice is something I've tried to document a couple of times as well.

Of course, the most famous of Houston's nicknamed Krogers - Montrose's Disco Kroger - is no more, and Lomax is probably right with his prediction that H-E-B "will run Kroger out of Houston inside of ten years:"

I’ve never had as bad an experience with Kroger but I have a years-long beef with them over their sheer incompetence. I just don’t understand how such a behemoth of a grocery chain can allow its clock to be cleaned so easily and thoroughly by a regional rival, even one as sharp and savvy as HEB is. Why doesn’t Kroger poach some of HEB’s talent? Why don’t they stock their shelves with things Texans like? Why don’t they make the slightest effort to adapt aside from bells and whistles and inflating floor space? The stubborn incompetence offends me , as does their belief that all Americans eat alike.

Anyway….at one point, they had enough of a hold on the Houstonian psyche to spawn folk nicknames.

Here are a few stores from Lomax's list, with my comments:

Cougar Kroger - West Gray, and not because of proximity to UH. With the aging of its clientele, this Kroger’s name has followed along, going from variations on “Hot Babe Kroger” to “MILF Kroger” to its current status. Less sexist or horny observers call it Deco Kroger for its black-tiled facade. I am hereby predicting this is the next Kroger to go bye-bye.

I personally favor "Deco Kroger" for this store, although "Hot Mom Kroger," "Posh Kroger" and "River Oaks Kroger" are other names I've heard used to describe it. About a dozen years ago they tried to name themselves as "Hollywood Kroger," apparently not understanding that Krogers don't get to choose their own names. It's an organic process!

Combat Kroger - Cullen & Polk. Gentrifying but still scruffy environs give it the name. This is a minimal effort Kroger that does little to cater to its Hispanic and/or hipster customers.

I used to regularly shop at Combat Kroger when I lived near the University of Houston; now I can't tell you the last time I've been in there. I always remember it as being poorly stocked and poorly managed, although they did try to spruce it up a few years back.

Geriatric Kroger - 20th & Yale. Could also be Rendezvous Kroger. Nobody you or your downlow honey knows is ever in here (unless it’s Tim Freeman) even though it’s right there in the Heights proper. It was dry until a couple of years ago but it now sports a paltry beer and wine section. *themoreyouknow*

I've never heard this one referred to as anything other than "Zombie Kroger." That being said, I don't think I've ever shopped at this particular store. 

Try Hard Kroger - Buffalo Speedway. This is the one Kroger where they make an effort and almost rivals an HEB. The name fits the ‘hood — West U is an American Mecca of Try Hardism — as well as the ethos of the store. It’s like Kroger and West U have a mutual admiration society — Kroger really wants to impress West U, and the hell with the rest of us. Not even River Oaks gets such a spectacular Kroger.

Gonna disagree with Lomax on this one. This is the Kroger I shop at (when I'm not shopping at the H-E-B on the other side of Buffalo Speedway), and they do not "try hard." The store might have have a nice deli and an impressive beer and wine selection, but it is almost always understaffed (especially at the checkouts; in fact, at certain times of the day or night you're almost required to use the self checkout kiosks), and its produce section always seems poorly-stocked. I can't count the number of times I've gone there to find them out of basic vegetables like green onions, celery or broccoli. 

Anyway, I've always called this one "Buffalo Kroger." Other names I've heard for this particular store are "West U Kroger, " and "Spanish Kroger," referencing the architecture of the shopping center in which it is located.

Quiet Storm Kroger - Old Spanish Trail. East side of the Med Center on OST at Cambridge…Though it had a very mellow, distinct ‘80s feel, it was built in 1994, and now I see it was demolished in 2017. (EDIT: I have since read it was built in the ‘80s and passed through phases as a Safeway and an Apple Tree before Kroger got the property in ‘94.)

I called this one "Medical Kroger" when it was still open. It was clearly on its way out the last time I shopped there, which I think was 2015. 

Further to the west, where Kirby crosses OST and South Main, is "Stadium Kroger" or "Tailgate Kroger" due to its proximity to NRG Stadium. Lomax doesn't have a name for this one, and I used to call it "Does-Anybody-Really-Shop-Here Kroger" because it always seemed deserted.

Yet it remains in business. 

For now.

2022 Houston Cougar football schedule released

The 2022 schedule - likely Houston's last as a member of the American Athletic Conference - came out surprisingly early this year. Here's what it looks like:

Sat Sep 03     at UT-San Antonio
Sat Sep 10     at Texas Tech
Sat Sep 17     Kansas
Sat Sep 24     Rice
Sep 29 or 30  Tulane
Fri Oct 07      at Memphis
Sat Oct 15     (off)
Sat Oct 22     at Navy
Sat Oct 29     USF
Sat Nov 05    at SMU
Sat Nov 12    Temple
Sat Nov 19    at East Carolina
Nov 25 or 26 Tulsa

It's definitely tougher than last year's schedule. The Cougars start the season with back-to-back road trips against the defending Conference USA champion UTSA Roadrunners and a Texas Tech team that gave them their only regular-season loss last year. They then return to Houston to play their home opener against Kansas before taking on Rice.

Navy, SMU and East Carolina all gave the Cougars tough games at home last season; this fall, the Cougars have to play all three on the road, along with perennial nemesis Memphis. 

There are no "gimme" games against the likes of Grambling or UConn on this year's schedule (having been replaced by UTSA and Kansas, respectively). Every game is going to be tough; every game is a potential L.

All that said, there are a few things about this schedule that work in UH's favor. The Cougars get all of their out-of-conference games out of the way early and get three consecutive home games in late September. Houston's off week comes at the midpoint of the season and, conveniently, in the middle of their second set of back-to-back road trips. The Cougars leave the state of Texas only three times this fall (although that trip to Lubbock is going to be about as long as the trip to Memphis). Perhaps most importantly, the Cougars avoid Central Florida and Cincinnati for the second straight season. 

The Cougars' strong performance last fall will hopefully drive an increase in season ticket sales this fall, because the home schedule certainly won't. Kansas is a Big 12 school and Rice is the crosstown rival, but otherwise there's nothing on this schedule that's going to interest the casual Houston fan. This is why getting an invitation to join the Big 12 was so important to the future of the UH football program.

The home games against Tulane and Tulsa will either be Thursday or Friday night games; ESPN will determine that later. I can also only hope that ESPN does not schedule the Kansas or Rice games for daytime kickoffs; I'm honestly done going to games where I have to sit in that kind of heat.

Ryan shares his thoughts on the 2022 schedule.

Monday, January 31, 2022

The wildlife in Houston's bayous

What lurks in the waters of Houston's bayous? Watch this excellent video and find out:

Although the title says "downtown," most of this this video was shot along Brays Bayou near MacGregor Park and the University of Houston; you can clearly see the Bayou Oaks student housing complex, Moody Towers, and the Health and Biomedical Sciences buildings in the background. Some of this video was taken from along Brays Bayou underneath SH 288 as well.

The giant alligator gar was pulled out from a spot on south side of bayou, opposite the intersection of North MacGregor and Rockwood. I used to catch catfish from that general spot when I was a kid growing up in University Oaks. 

I always knew there were gar in that water as well, but (thankfully) I never managed to catch one!

Very cool.

Why transit agencies still need system maps

Transit consultant Jarrett Walker speaks to the importance of transit system maps:

As transit information tools have gotten better, some transit agencies have stopped offering a system map to the public.  Often, a website offers me trip planning software and route by route timetables, but not a map.  If it’s there, it’s often difficult to find.

I'm noticing this trend within the transit industry as well, and I am not a fan. There's just no substitute for a good system map that people can use to quickly understand and navigate a given agency's public transportation network.

Case in point: last month, as I planned our trip to Birmingham for the bowl game, I was looking for a good way to get from our hotel (near Five Points South) to Protective Stadium. A taxi or an Uber were always options, but I wanted to see if a bus was a viable choice because 1) it's cheaper and 2) I'm a public transportation geek. So I went to the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority's website to do some research. They did have an online trip planner, but in order to use it I had to type in both my hotel's and the stadium's addresses, which I didn't feel like looking up. So I moved on to their bus routes page to look for a map instead. There they had bus routes and schedules individually listed, but no overall system map. Which meant that I would have had to click through all of the routes until I found one that provided the service I needed, if it existed at all.

Walker continues: 

We think system maps are essential.  They’re not just for everyday navigation.  They’re for exploration and understanding.  Some people prefer narrative directions, but many people are spatial navigators, and they need maps.  They’ll understand details only if they can see the big picture.

Another way to think about system maps is that they show you where they could go, and how.  They give you a sense of possibility.  (It’s the informational dimension of access to opportunity.)  Maps also show visually how different services work together.  Finally, good system maps help people make better decisions about where to locate, or even where to build things.

To their credit, the BJCTA has published GTFS data for their bus network that applications like their own trip planner or Google Maps use to suggest directions. I ended up finding our hotel on Google Maps, and used that to determine that there was indeed a route that ran between our hotel and the stadium. I then went back to the BJCTA website to get its route and schedule information. It was convoluted, but it worked; we used the Magic City Connector bus to get to and from the bowl game without a problem. 

That said: while trip planning apps and GTFS feeds are definitely helpful in navigating a bus system, those should not serve as replacements for a well-designed transit map showing routes, stops, and major landmarks. Such a map would have allowed me to identify the bus route I wanted to use almost instantly, without having to click through individual route schedules or use a clunky trip planning app, or cross-reference using Google Maps. 

Given that Birmingham's bus network isn't particularly large, it shouldn't be difficult to design a good system map and place a link to it on the BJCTA web page. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would find it beneficial. Walker concludes:

But if a system map doesn’t exist, people can’t understand all that your transit system can do.


Examples of good (and bad) transit system maps can be found on

Friday, January 21, 2022

Frontier resumes services from Hobby Airport

Frontier Airlines just can't seem to make up its mind when it comes to serving Houston. They began operations to Bush Intercontinental sometime in the aughts, but in 2010 shifted operations to Hobby. Then, less than two years later, they moved their operations back to IAH. Fast forward a decade, and now the Denver-based "ultra low cost carrier" has apparently decided that two airports are better than one:

Houstonians in search of a low-cost option to jet away for vacation or a long weekend now have a new option. Low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines has just announced three nonstop routes from William P. Hobby Airport to Cancun, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Florida with fares starting at $39.

This is new service from Hobby — Frontier currently offers flights from George Bush Intercontinental Airport — and thus gives Houstonians more warm-weather destination choices.

Dubbed “Low Fares Done Right,” the promotion offers:

  • Cancun (CUN); three times weekly; service starts May 26: fares start at $79
  • Las Vegas (LAS); four times weekly; service starts May 27: fares start at $59
  • Orlando (MCO); four times weekly; service starts at May 27; fares start at $39 

This particular fare promotion ends January 24th, but given that they are directly competing with Southwest on all three of these leisure destination routes, one can probably expect Frontier's standard fares to be competitive as well. It's interesting to note that, as of right now, Frontier is not going head-to-head with Southwest on the Hobby-Denver route, as they did between 2010 and 2012. They will continue their service to Denver and a handful of other airports out of IAH:

Currently, Frontier offers regular flights to Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Philadelphia from Bush.

“We’re excited to expand in Houston and add William P. Hobby Airport to our route map with three nonstop routes beginning this May,” said Josh Flyr, vice president of network and operational design, in a statement. “We look forward to launching service at HOU and bringing increased air service competition to the market.”

Game on. The Points Guy and Simple Flying have more.

UH wins and attendance, 2021

Time to update the graph:

The Cougars averaged 25,073 fans per game over their five home games during the 2021 season, which is just under 500 fans/game fewer than their 2019 average.* 

While this is still an attendance decline, it is not nearly as precipitous as the declines in attendance that the program experienced from the 2016 season through 2019 season. Furthermore, coming off a ranked, bowl-winning season, I would expect attendance to increase in 2022.

(Had the Texas Tech game at NRG Stadium counted as a home game, the Coogs' average attendance would have been 28, 141. This is why I am not a huge fan of UH Athletics agreeing to move their marquee home games to NRG Stadium, even though I'm sure it comes with a nice check.)

* Right now, I'm showing attendance for the COVID-affected 2020 season, along with the attendant decrease in stadium capacity that was in effect that season. I may revisit how to show the 2020 season - or even omit it entirely - in future graphs.

RIP Ron Franklin

Another local broadcasting legend has passed away:

Ron Franklin, who spent nearly 20 years as a prominent voice on the Houston sports scene before rising to national prominence with ESPN, died Tuesday at the age of 79.

Franklin worked 24 years at ESPN, primarily as a play-by-play announcer for college football and college basketball. He was the voice of ESPN’s prime-time college football game from 1987 to 2005 before moving over to ESPN on ABC to call primarily Big 12 games.

Before ESPN, Franklin was the sports director at KHOU Channel 11 from 1971 to 1980 before moving over to KPRC Channel 2 where he stayed until joining ESPN in 1987.

Franklin was, along with anchor Ron Stone and meteorologist Doug Johnson, part of the KPRC news team I grew up watching on a nightly basis in the 1980s. His decision to join ESPN in 1987 may have come as a surprise, as that network was still relatively young and did not dominate the sports landscape the way it does today, but it clearly worked out well for him. That is, until his career at ESPN ended in controversy:
Franklin's run at ESPN came to an end during the 2010 college football bowl season when Franklin allegedly called sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards “sweet baby” during a production meeting, then called her an expletive after she objected. Franklin was fired by ESPN after the incident.
In addition to his local news duties, Franklin also spent much time as the play-by-play commentator for the Houston Oilers and for University of Texas athletics. Tributes from his former KPRC co-workers can be read here

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Cougars defeat Auburn in TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl, end season ranked #17

The Houston Cougars ended the 2021 football season on a high note two weeks ago by defeating the Auburn Tigers in Birmingham, 17-13. The bowl victory results in a 12-2 season for the Coogs, as well as a #17 ranking in both the AP and Coaches polls. 

The Good: QB Clayton Tune passed for 283 yards and two touchdowns: one to Alton McCaskill on the first series of the game, and another to Jake Herslow in the fourth quarter to take the lead for good. Although he didn't score any touchdowns, Nathaniel Dell was clutch his 150-yard receiving performance that included four third down conversions and one fourth down conversion. Kicker Dalton Witherspoon contributed by nailing a 52-yard field goal. 

But this game was a defensive struggle, so praise must be given to a Cougar defense that flustered Auburn's offense all afternoon. They allowed only one touchdown, recorded seven tackles for loss, and limited the Tigers to 4 of 15 third-down conversion attempts and only one of three fourth down conversion attempts. 

The Bad: The Cougars threw two interceptions and otherwise sputtered at times, scoring only three points in the second and third quarters and converting only 6 of 14 third-down conversion attempts. The UH defense forced no turnovers of their own and had trouble containing Auburn RB Tank Bigsby, who amassed a combined 164 rushing and receiving yards. In fact, Auburn might actually had won the game if they had kept giving the ball to Bigsby instead of trying to pass the ball on short-yardage situations.

The Stupid: One of Houston's two interceptions was the result of a gimmick play whereby Tune lateraled to TE Seth Green, who then attempted to throw back to Tune in double coverage. That kind of trickery was completely unnecessary in a grind-it-out game such as this. Fortunately, Auburn could not convert either of its interceptions into points.

The Pleasantly Surprising: Auburn fans. Given that we were in "enemy territory" - the crowd was easily 90% Auburn - we were ready to receive some heckling, if not outright hostility, from the opposing fans. However,  every Auburn fan we encountered was very nice. They asked us sincere questions about our quarterback and our schedule, and they all congratulated us afterwards. Very classy!

What it means: Yes, Auburn had a bunch of players missing due to injury, opt-out, or (in two cases during the game) ejections for targeting. Yes, the Coogs may have gotten a little bit of help from the refs (an obvious intentional grounding call on Tune was ignored). Yes, Auburn might have made things easier on Houston by insisting on passing the ball when it would have made more sense to give it to Bigsby. But none of that should detract from the fact that the Cougars defeated an SEC blueblood, despite giving up two turnovers, in front of what was basically a home Auburn crowd. This win was a huge accomplishment for the program and an excellent end to a surprisingly good season.

With the win, the Cougars snap a four-game bowl losing streak; they are now 12-16-1 all-time in bowl games. They end the season ranked for only the 15th time in program history and as one of only two Texas teams to be ranked. And they rather convincingly blew my preseason prediction of a 7-5 season out of the water.

Underdog Dynasty's Steve Helwick recaps the bowl game and assigns end-of-season grades to the Cougars.  Dave Campbell's Texas Football provides its own review of the Coogs' 2021 season and suggests that "Houston should be considered the favorite to win the AAC in 2022." ESPN's Mark Schlabach ranks UH #13 on his "way too early" top 25 for 2022, and Paper City's Chris Baldwin sums things up thus

For now, UH beating an SEC team in its own homeland is another important step forward. Soon, it just might be expected.

Houston will begin the 2022 season in San Antonio, when they face the UTSA Roadrunners in the Alamodome on Labor Day weekend. The full 2022 schedule should be out within the next couple of months. 

Finally, congratulations to Georgia for winning their first national championship since 1980.