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South Peninsula Neighborhoods

This is pretty neat: Palo Alto Online has historical notes on many neighborhoods on the southern SF peninsula. For example, Castro City in Mountain View, or Loyola Corners in Los Altos, or Fair Oaks in Menlo Park.

Of course, my own house isn’t in a historical neighborhood. We’re newfangled sorts around hereabouts, I guess.

It’s strange that the former town of Mayfield hardly rates a mention. Mayfield used lie between Mountain View and Palo Alto, and it eventually was absorbed by the two other cities when it was outgrown by them. The southern half of Palo Alto was mostly Mayfield, and I believe California Avenue was Mayfield’s downtown, which is why Palo Alto effectively has two downtown districts. The now-defunct Mayfield Mall at the north end of Mountain View was named for it, and is the only location I know of which still bears the Mayfield name (though there may be others I just don’t know about).

Impending Baseball Milestones

The other night while the Yankees were routing the Red Sox, Alex Rodriguez hit his 522nd career home run, moving into 15th place on the all-time home run list. Combined with an article in this morning’s paper, I realized that there are actually a cluster of career stats milestones likely to be passed this year:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. is 4 home runs away from 600, which would make him the 6th player to reach that milestone. (ARod probably won’t hit that mark for a year or two.)
  • Manny Ramirez hit his 494 and 495th home runs last night and should reach 500 in the next month or so. He’s currently 24th on the list, but should crack the top 20 this year.
  • Gary Sheffield is at 481, and has a shot at 500 if he can stay healthy.
  • If anyone signs him, Barry Bonds (2935) has a shot at 3000 hits. No other active player is close, and I think Derek Jeter (2369, age 34) is the most likely active player to get there.
  • Greg Maddux goes for his 350th career win tonight. He’s already 9th in career wins, and seems likely to pass the recently-retired Roger Clemens (354). If he can stay healthy, I think it’s not ridiculous to think that he could claim the 3rd spot all time (currently shared by Pete Alexander and Christy Mathewson with 373). Walter Johnson (417) and Cy Young (511) are likely out of reach, though.
  • Maddux is also likely to be the 13th person to pass the 5000 innings pitched mark.
  • Randy Johnson (284) could reach 300 wins this year.
  • Johnson (4623) could also pass Clemens (4672) for #2 on the career strikeouts list this year, though his back has been so balky that nothing is really certain with him. In any event, Nolan Ryan‘s record (5714) looks safe.
  • John Smoltz should reach 3000 strikeouts in his next start or two.

Of all the milestones on this list, I think Maddux’s are the most impressive. He’s not thought of as a strikeout artist since he’s not a classic power pitcher, but he’s 11th on the all-time list. He is, however, 52nd on the list for walk rate (and 2nd among active pitchers), which means he’s been both effective and efficient, which is why he’s been pitching for so long.

Maddux’s last great season was 2002, but he was 36 in that year, and he’s been a consistent league-average pitcher since then. Anyone who can be an average player in their 40s at the highest level of professional baseball is clearly doing something right. He still only walks about 1 guy every 8 (!!) innings, which is just amazing, so I could see him doing this for several more years. He doesn’t get a lot of fanfare since he left the Braves, but he’s still one of the all-time greats.

On the hitting side, Griffey and Ramirez are busy polishing their admission tickets to Cooperstown (or whatever bad metaphor you’d care to apply), but ARod is clearly going to blast through all sorts of records over the next 8 years, so we’d better save up some superlatives for him. Like Barry Bonds, he’s not a widely-loved player, but being likable is rarely a requirement for playing Major League baseball.

Dinner with Trish

Went to dinner tonight with my friend Trish. Trish is another one of the “olden days” journallers, having started her journal, Rant and Rave, back around the same time I started Gazing Into The Abyss. We became friends when I moved to the area, and I introduced her to her “evil twin” Lucy, and they became fast friends. Trish moved away a few years ago to be with her boyfriend, then moved back here last year, and this is the first time I’ve seen her.

We went to Cascal, a local tapas restaurant I haven’t yet tried! Very yummy! Expensive, though!

Trish was her usual cheerful-yet-smartassed self. I think she’s happy to have a job in the tech sector and not to have the godawful long commute she had the last time she lived here. Plus she has two cats, which makes her happy. She’s more in touch with many of the “old time” journallers than I am, so I got the scoop on some people I haven’t heard from or about in years. And mostly we just caught up on what we’ve each been doing for the last few years.

We should do this again sometime.

Comic Shop Remodel

My regular comics shop, Comics Conspiracy, closed for the weekend in order to do a major remodel – the biggest they’ve done in the 9 years I’ve been going there: They replaced the old dark red carpet with a lighter brown carpet, and rearranged the bookcases so they’re all up along the walls rather than forming little alcoves along the side of the store. As a result they were able to move the back issue bins to the middle of the room, providing much wider aisles on either side. Add a few new bookshelves and the place looks brighter and as nice as it has while I’ve been going.

The owner, Ryan, started as an employee there a couple of years before I moved to the area, and he’s been there through two previous owners. He bought the place from the last owner, Ken, last year. (Ken still comes by to work every so often, but his regular job doesn’t let him come by on Wednesdays anymore, so I rarely see him, which is too bad because Ken’s a fun guy, but that’s the way it goes, I guess.) Ken was into action figures and statues, while Ryan is more of a pure comics guy, and that’s the way he’s taking the store (though he says some action figures are still good to have to sell to kids).

(Incidentally, the store’s owner when I first started going there was the late comics writer Doug Miers. He published comics through a separate Comics Conspiracy imprint. I never really knew him, though, since he sold the store to Ken soon after I started going there.)

I remember their last really big remodel, when they moved the new comics racks from the front of the store to the back. It took me a while to realize they did it so that customers would have to walk through the store and see all the merchandise when picking up their weekly books. “Retail 101″ Ryan called this when I mentioned this to him tonight.

I commented when I walked in that the place smelled like new carpet and paint – a smell I said is good for 2 months or 200 high school students, whichever comes first, since there’s a high school across the street.

The comic book market collapse of the late 90s – not to mention the economic ups and downs since then – have wreaked havoc on area comics stores, but several good ones have survived. Hopefully CC will continue to survive and prosper.

Here are some photos of the store. The guy in black in the second photo is Ryan, who was still restocking the shelves when I went by.

Comics Conspiracy remodel: Bins & recent comics

Comics Conspiracy remodel: Spinner rack & trades

I just happened to take these photos when the store was nearly empty. There were about a half-dozen people when I arrived, and a couple more showed up after I snapped these. Once in a while I go by after running errands over lunch and there are several other Apple employees also picking up their weekly fix there.

The State of the Place

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m now into my fourth week of updating at least once daily. Yeah I know, I’m as astonished as you are! I’m not sure where this flurry of blogging came from – maybe I just needed to recharge my batteries for a while. I’d certainly bottomed out during the first three months of this year.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up. I’ll surely miss a day sometime in the next month, perhaps when I have a really busy day at work and gaming or a baseball game or something scheduled at night. Who knows?

I’ve been getting a very small uptick of visitors during the flurry of activity. I’m not sure whether it’s significant (i.e., actual new readers) or just happens to coincide with more people happening to come in via search engines. My guess is probably the latter.

I know that FP will likely never be a popular blog. When I started journalling blogs were still called “journals”, and they were mostly chronicles of the authors’ lives. In the early 2000s they started getting more specialized, and it’s pretty hard to write a popular general-interest journal these days. But every time I think about trying to narrow my focus, I think, “Well, I don’t want to write about just comic books, or just science fiction, or just music.” And I know I don’t write often enough to keep a multiple blogs going with enough content for each one, so splitting up into several blogs won’t work for me. I also want to write about my personal life from time to time, since it’s often handy to go back and see what I was doing around thus-and-such a date, or when I last visited thus-and-such a place.

It’s slightly vexing to me that I haven’t gotten at least a little more traffic from my comic book entries, which I’ve been writing weekly since I started this site. Of course, that might be because they suck. :/ (I do get a fair amount of search engine traffic from people who find the cover images in my reviews.) That’s dissuaded me somewhat from following my original plan of also doing occasional music reviews here – particular because I find it very difficult to write meaningful music reviews – although I’ve been thinking about dusting off that plan in the near future.

Anyway. I’ve also gone back and added tags to all my old entries, which I find kind of nifty (tags for an entry are listed below the title, on the line after the categories). I might add a tag cloud to the sidebar, too; I haven’t decided.

My next medium-term plan is to come up with a new visual look for the site, as this one is wearing a little old. I might go with a more minimalist style, although I do like having some color around here.

Anyway, as always I mainly write here for myself, because writing entertains me and helps me organize my thoughts, and as I said it’s nice to have a record of these things. But it’s nice to have readers, too. My blog isn’t going to be all things to all people, but I do like to connect every now and then with someone new who shares some of my admittedly-peculiar tastes. Doing so has resulted in some of my most rewarding experiences on the net.

The Problem with Endless Titans Revivals

The Titans vol 2 #1Like Valerie D’Orazio, I decided to pass on Titans #1. (Rachelle Goguen and others weren’t so lucky, apparently.)

To me, though, the interesting matter isn’t whether the book sucked or not, or why DC keeps bothering trying to revive the title so often (trademarks, if nothing else). After all, the beloved (and deservedly so) New Teen Titans from the early 1980s was itself the third attempt to do something with the Teen Titans property. So why did it succeed so brilliantly, and why have other attempts failed so badly?

It wasn’t all Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, was it?

I think what Wolfman and Pérez tapped into with New Teen Titans was not just a good mix of characters, it was a mix of characters all of whom were at a major point of transition in their lives. The first two attempts at a Teen Titans comic book featured characters who were teenagers and who were essentially stuck as teenagers: They were in the shadows of their mentors, and essentially unable to break free of them because, well, they were teenagers, and continued to be teenagers for quite a few years. In “real world” terms, it was because the characters weren’t really allowed by DC editorial to age until the 1970s, and it took Wolfman and Pérez – creators of enough stature that they could pretty much do whatever they wanted with the characters – to take them into adulthood.

The New Teen Titans vol 1 #1So then, in The New Teen Titans we have four established heroes who actually do break free of their mentors and establish themselves as adults:

  1. Robin becomes Batman’s equal and adopts his own identity as Nightwing.
  2. Wonder Girl establishes a career and gets married
  3. Kid Flash decides he doesn’t want to be a superhero anymore and leaves the team.
  4. Beast Boy takes on the name Changeling and has a difficult transition to adulthood as “the rich green geek”.

The other four major Titans of the Wolfman/Pérez run – Starfire, Cyborg, Raven and Terra – are new characters, but are all going through their own phases of maturation, and they play off of the four established characters, making for a dynamic set of personalities who happen to be at a complicated stage of their lives. Result: Drama and character development, even without the superhero action-adventure.

The Titans revivals since then have generally featured the same characters as adults, often with new characters mixed in, but have been far less successful by any yardstick. And the reason for that, I believe, is that you just can’t take established characters – especially iconic ones – through the life-altering transition to adulthood twice. You can unmarry Wonder Girl, rename her Troia, change her costume, or whatever (and DC has done all of that and more), but she’s an adult now, and even if her life is pretty screwed up, the stories you tell about her are going to be fundamentally different than those Wolfman and Pérez were able to tell.

The lesson to be learned here is that it’s not necessarily putting together the right mix of characters which makes the book work. It’s what you do with those characters that matters, not just sending them off on adventures, but illuminating them and changing and growing (or even diminishing) them in some way. The Titans books since the Wolfman/Pérez days may have been rollicking superhero action yarns (I’ve read a few of them and haven’t generally found them to be awful, just kinda… there), but they didn’t have that underlying sense of lives transforming because that’s the way life is which marked The New Teen Titans. (And, to be sure, once that title finishing bringing its characters to adulthood, it slid into mediocrity pretty quickly.)

We should be glad to have had the Wolfman/Pérez Titans, because they absolutely nailed what the book should have been, and produced one of the great superhero comics as a result. (And we should give them props for being great creators who had the skill to recognize how to deliver on the series’ potential.) But also because there’s never again going to be a Teen Titans series with those characters which works the same way. And it’s not entirely clear what the point of the Titans is, without that element of growing up driving it.

(Incidentally, Kid Flash was fortunate enough to be involved in another such coming-of-age storyline; after he left the Titans, he followed in his uncle’s footsteps to become the Flash, and after years of just sorta being there, Mark Waid had him make the mantle of the Flash his own in The Return of Barry Allen, which was one of the great superhero stories of the 1990s. So you can take a hero through this sort of transformative experience twice. But as in real life, it’s not the sort of thing that happens every month! Do it well, though, and you’ve produced something special.)

Through the Tunnel

This morning we got up and were joined by Mark and Yvette for a bike ride. We headed into Shoreline Park and had lunch there, and then headed down the Stevens Creek Trail to check out the new reach that opened yesterday, including a tunnel under El Camino Real!

For those not familiar with the area, El Camino Real is a major artery down the San Francisco peninsula and through Silicon Valley. In Mountain View, it’s a 6-lane road with plenty of traffic. I have to cross it somehow whenever I bike to work, and I usually cross at a traffic light at one of three intersections. But this underpass will help make it easy to avoid all that, especially once they build the next reach (hopefully by the end of the year) which could make my bike commute a lot easier. They built the underpass with surprisingly light impact on the road and it looks great, nice and clean and wide and with a skylight at the median of the street to let some natural light into the tunnel.

A few shots of the tunnel and trail’s end:

Entrance to the El Camino underpass

Interior of the El Camino underpass

The end of the trail (for now)

Additionally, we’re in the middle of a heat wave here, with highs in the mid-80s. Zoinks! It was breezy and it wasn’t too bad in the shade, but a lot of our ride was in the sun. At least it was dry out, too, so it was still fun. After three days of heat, it sounds like it will be back to normal tomorrow (highs in the high 60s). And now that frisbee is winding down I should consider starting to bike to work regularly.

For dinner I made my recently-mentioned “ex-girlfriend tacos” and we watched the Red Sox/Yankees game on ESPN, and the god damned games between these two teams go on forever, this one running about 4 hours. Fricking Yankees. Fortunately, the good guys won.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #8, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #3 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen & Freddie Williams II (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #14, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Nova #12, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Echo #2, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946 #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • The Complete Peanuts 1967-1968, by Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics)
  • Locke & Key #3 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Justice Society of America #14 I don’t get the cover to this month’s Justice Society: It shows all our heroes either walking away (from what?) or standing around (why?) while the face of (presumably) the villain appears in the clouds in the background. But this has nothing at all to do with the issue, although its composition seems to indicate that it does! Basically it’s a typical “The heroes have been so defeated that they’re giving up” cover, the sort exemplified by the famous cover to Amazing Spider-Man #50.

Yet it has nothing at all to do with the issue, whose story goes like this:

  1. The JSA having a meeting about who’s going to go after the very powerful Gog.
  2. Gog shows up in their meeting room
  3. Fight!

Anyway. It’s not so much a bad issue as a “well, let’s get this out of the way” issue. Basically, John and Ross have let us down as far as building dramatic tension and bringing it to a climax goes. In other words, regardless of where the story “They Kingdom Come” is going, it’s going there very slowly and is being boring while it’s going there.

Nova #12 It seems like when I have little to say about the rest of the haul, Nova always stands out and makes me smile. Nova’s quest to rid himself of the Phalanx technovirus comes to an end, and he and his allies have to face a powerful adversary. Abnett and Lanning also cleverly manage their characters, setting up expectations for how things will turn out for all of them, and then arranging things so they works out differently. This story has gone on a little too long, but Abnett & Lanning managed to pack some more stuff into it to keep it from dragging, and they managed to deliver a satisfying payoff – really exactly the opposite of how JSA is going.

And it turns out that it’s been dragged out this long because now Nova’s going to loop back to where this story started in the conclusion to Annihilation Conquest. Which might seems self-indulgent, but since both series have been plenty of fun, I don’t really mind. (This also explains why Nova’s 4-issue involvement in Annihilation Conquest last year ended so anticlimactically – it was just the set-up for this longer arc which would then tie back in to the mini-series. I guess I shoulda had more faith!)

Oh, and there’s also a hint at the end of the issue that Drax is starting to revert a little to his “big dumb destroyer” form. I wonder if he cycles from weak-but-clever to strong-and-stupid and back again every few years?

Ampex Appreciation Day

Mike Cassidy in the San Jose Mercury News:

OK, so it was stunning 60 years ago. But Ampex, which pioneered audio and video tape recording, is still with us. And so is the towering Ampex sign honoring the company’s history. You’ve seen it just off Highway 101 in Redwood City.

Last week, Ampex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its head count is down to 101 from a long-ago peak of 12,000. Its shares are trading at about 40 cents. Watching Ampex is like watching some beloved relative stagger and wheeze and shuffle around the house.

And so I’m declaring today Ampex Appreciation Day.

I actually knew nothing about Ampex before reading this article. I’ve seen their sign from the freeway plenty of times, and often wondered what they did. I never remembered to check when I got home.

More about Ampex at Wikipedia.

2008 Baseball Picks

I finished my picks for the 2008 baseball season, so I thought I’d share. :) First up are my Predictatron picks at Baseball Prospectus, picking how the whole season will turn out:

AL East
Boston 95 – 67
New York 90 – 72
Toronto 81 – 81
Tampa Bay 80 – 82
Baltimore 65 – 97 (mortal lock)
AL Central
Cleveland 93 – 69
Detroit 90 – 72
Chicago 76 – 86
Kansas City 72 – 90
Minnesota 69 – 93
AL West
Anaheim 88 – 74
Texas 81 – 81
Seattle 80 – 82
Oakland 75 – 87
NL East
New York 90 – 72
Atlanta 88 – 74
Philadelphia 88 – 74
Washington 75 – 87
Florida 67 – 95
NL Central
Milwaukee 88 – 74
Chicago 87 – 75
Cincinnati 85 – 77
St. Louis 73 – 89
Houston 70 – 92
Pittsburgh 70 – 92 (mortal lock)
NL West
Arizona 90 – 72
Los Angeles 88 – 74
San Diego 86 – 76
Colorado 82 – 80
San Francisco 68 – 94

I approached this by trying to figure out who I thought would be the “surprises” in baseball this year (either doing better than expected, or worse than expected), and I had an awfully hard time coming up with some. It seems like there’s a lot of parity in the Majors these days, with few truly great or truly abysmal teams. A few observations:

  • The two really bad teams in the Majors are Baltimore and San Francisco, both of which lost their best player in the off-season after a bad year last year. Both will struggle to win 70 games.
  • The young teams on their way up are already here: Arizona won their division last year – partly through luck – but should be better this year. Cleveland and Milwaukee are already contenders. Detroit is not exactly young anymore but is a contender.
  • I think the Tigers will overcome their slow start, but lose by a nose to Cleveland.
  • I expect both Texas and Cincinnati to be modest surprises this year. Texas I think had off years from a bunch of guys in 2007 and will be better this year. Cincinnati is a young club, but not yet a good club.
  • Like some sabermetric analysts, and in opposition to some mainstream analysts, I expect Seattle to be a mediocre team this year. Their offense is bordering on the moribund, with three infield hitters who could all be abjectly bad. Their pitching is Erik Bedard, Felix Hernandez, and a bunch of uninspiring guys in both the rotation and the bullpen.
  • The NL East is especially hard to pick since it’s full of teams who have some good points and some bad points and a lot of risk. I could see the top three teams finishing in any order.

Here’s how I picked the playoffs:

American League Division Series:

  • Cleveland over New York in 4 games
  • Boston over Anaheim in 3 games

National League Division Series:

  • New York over Milwaukee in 4 games
  • Arizona over Atlanta in 4 games

American League Championship Series:

  • Boston over Cleveland in 6 games

National League Championship Series:

  • Arizona over New York in 6 games

World Series:

  • Red Sox over Arizona in 6 games

I decided to give in to my Red Sox bias this year, in part because last year I did my picks and came down to picking the Sox and thought, “I pick the Sox every year! I’d better pick someone else.” And we saw how that turned out.

I do think the Sox have the best team in the Majors; it’s not a perfect team, but I think it’s better than any other team. But of course that only gives them a slight edge and they could certainly get knocked off in a short postseason series. But this is the way I decided to bet.

I also picked my HACKING MASS team, which is basically a set of players who I expect will provide the biggest aggregate drags on their teams during the season:

C Ramon Hernandez BAL
1B Rich Aurilia SF
2B Jose Lopez SEA
3B Pedro Feliz PHI
SS Yuniesky Betancourt SEA
LF Juan Pierre LA
CF Willy Taveras COL
RF Brian Giles SD
P Matt Morris PIT
P Barry Zito SF

You can see how I thought Seattle’s infield would suck. (1B Richie Sexson is the third infielder they have who I think won’t hit this year.)

I also wonder whether Barry Zito’s giant (or Giant) contract might be the worst contract any team has ever signed a pitcher to. On top of his 8 year/$126M pay schedule, he has a 2014 option which vests if he pitches enough in 2011-2013, and a full no-trade clause. Which means the Giants are likely stuck with him for the next 6 years, unless the team is so abjectly terrible that he waives his no-trade clause to get out, and they’re willing to take on enough of his salary that they can unload him. (I’m skeptical he’d ever waive his no-trade clause, though, since I have the impression that he loves living in San Francisco.)

It’s going to be a grim year for the local baseball teams here in the Bay Area (the A’s are rebuilding, the Giants don’t seem to have an idea how to start rebuilding), but it should be a good year for us Red Sox fans! :)