Steam train ride available … for $500 to $1,000

I enjoy the Barenaked Ladies song “If I Had a Million Dollars.” This week, I’m singing about having a $1,000 to take a train ride. Not just any train ride — for a special excursion aboard a train pulled by a 65-year-old steam engine.
According to the Mercury-Register article, the engine is steam locomotive No. 844 — the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific. The excursion was organized by the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola for the 100th anniversary of the Western Pacific Railroad (since acquired by Union Pacific).
To ride the train this week, it will cost $1,000 to go from Oroville to Portola or $500 to go from Portola to Winnemucca, Nev. The money goes to a good cause — it’s a fundraiser for the Feather River Rail Society.
For people who don’t have a hole burning in their wallets, the train will be arriving in Oroville Thursday, spend the day there Friday for viewing near Mitchell Avenue and depart on Saturday morning.
It would be fun to go on the excursion, but it will be exciting to see a piece of history this week. It’s not just the train, the Feather River Canyon route was one of the scenic highlights for passenger rail travel for years.

Chico State back on Playboy party school list – sorta

Chico State’s entry on the party school list. This is a simulation of my surfing a potentially “Not Safe For Work” site while at work.
I was interested to see the new list of top 10 party schools from Playboy magazine, especially how Chico State would measure up. Chico State was first and second on the first two lists, but disappeared from the third list in 2006.
As I reported in today’s Enterprise-Record, Chico State didn’t make the top 10, but managed to eke its way on to an expanded list of 25 campuses at number 20. The whole thing is fascinating, especially Playboy’s description of Chico’s “scene.”
I was pleasantly surprised to see Chico on the extended list. While the list could either be a badge of honor or mark of shame, I was just glad to see CSUC on the list after it was absent three years ago.
I almost missed it just looking at the top 10. I was interested in learning more about the list so I dug a little deeper on Playboy’s Web sites … while at work.
I was worried there would be images of naked ladies on the screen jeopardizing my professionalism and potentially my career. I shrunk the size of my Web browser window so I could navigate past any … obstacles. Thankfully, the specific pages the magazine referred to were devoid of nudity and I was able to quickly find the information.
So, until Playboy ranks the schools again next year, Chico State will be nestled between Michigan State University, a prominent Big 10 school, and Hampshire College, a school I had to Google to learn more about.
The magazine’s description of Chico State seemed a little off, at least in my eye. Here’s what they wrote:

Legendary party scene despite the fact that the student body is not made up of stereotypical meat-head party boys and Stepford sorority girls. Think green—and not the stoner green, the environmental awareness green.

While many Chico State students have helped promote increased awareness of environmental sustainability, I reckon it’s a stretch to say the campus is devoid of “party boys” and “Stepford sorority girls.” Just walking around Chico’s downtown core on a Friday or Saturday will uncover a decent number from both groups of people — and environmentalists too.
I couldn’t comment on the specific ratio of party boys to green sceners, but Playboy might. They developed a matrix of five categories (including a “bikini” composite category that looked at factors such as boy-girl ratio, the weather, etc.). It rated the schools in each of them and combined that information with input from students and others.
Having Playboy use algorithms to pick the top party school reminded me of the system the BCS uses to find the top football team in the country. I wonder if Playboy’s system is more worthwhile than the heavily criticized BCS.

My Earth Day editorial cartoon

My third editorial cartoon was published in today’s Enterprise-Record and Mercury-Register. I call them “cartoons,” but they’re really more like photo-montages and computer illustrations to illustrate my thoughts.
In this case, I used Photoshop to modify an image from NASA’s Visible Earth site. That image was then imported into Freehand, where I added the ribbon of text.
These cartoons are unusual for me because I don’t divulge my opinion in such a permanent way very often. I don’t feel my opinions have any part of the reporting I do. I strive to make sure I cover people and issues as fairly and accurately as possible given deadlines and other constraints.
As further separation, I don’t report or cover the subjects of my cartoons (disc golf and the Earth, I suppose).
I’m curious about what you think when you saw this cartoon. I think it can be viewed in several different ways given our perspectives on the environment and the economy.
I think this is a modern version of an exercise I took part in growing up. I recall teachers in English classes asking me and others about what the author was “thinking” when he or she wrote the story we just read. The exercises were interesting and probably helped with critical thinking. On the other hand, I always thought part of it was silly — how do we _really_ know what the author thought especially when we’re looking back over decades of time and space?
Anyway, I’ve got a gallery of my other cartoons. The Enterprise-Record also keeps a small gallery of recent cartoons it has run on its opinion section.
I’m curious about what you think about the cartoon. If you wish, please leave me a comment.

The sounds of the Chico streets

Sometimes when I’m walking on the streets of Chico, the little things will catch my attention. They can be grotesque — like physical evidence of over-partying, but once in a while, the little things can be magical.
I was walking on East Third Street in March when I noticed an unusual clanging sound coming from the ground. I traced it to a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. grate between Main and Wall streets.
The sound was definitely mechanical, but the repetitive clanging and wheezing of the subterranean machine had an oddly musical quality to it. The sound was loud, but it diminished quickly as one moved away from the grate.
I don’t know what caused the sound. It was gone the next time I walked past it a week later. It was a nice addition to the normal sights and sounds that one might see on the street.
I recorded a snippet of the sound on my cell phone. Give it a listen and tell me what you think.

Tax time: Introducing my new credit card

20090227_wallet_card.jpgWith the deadline to file taxes thankfully past (and hopefully buried), I wanted to introduce my new credit card. As you can see, I think it’s a design that fits well for the state of the new economy.
Using Well Fargo’s new credit card lab, I created a new design. I hope that whenever I pull out my card to buy something, the empty wallet will make me think twice about whether this purchase is something that I really need.
I was a little worried that Wells Fargo wouldn’t approve the design, but it was OK’d with no problems.
This card has been in use for a couple of weeks. While it’s an amusing novelty, it hasn’t stopped any of my purchases.

NBC, please re-up “Chuck”

As the second season of the NBC spy spoof, “Chuck,” winds down, fans are gearing up to fight for a third season. Where else are you going to get a and witty spoof of both spy movies and geek culture expertly woven into 44-minute packages?
Marueen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune sums up the situation quite well.
Personally, “Chuck” is one of the best things about television on Monday night or any other night of the week. I was recording it along with “Heroes,” but it’s gotten to the point where I’ve dropped the superhero show from my lineup and focused on “Chuck.”
It’s a great combination of spy drama and geek comedy with just a touch of ’80s nostalgia thrown in for kicks. Some of the plot falls apart when you probe for specifics, but it holds up for most casual viewers.
Considering all the creative energy the show has in its tanks and the lack of many strong one-hour programs on NBC (can you name two?), I hope the network considers picking up the series for at least one more year.

“Unusuals” harkens back to old police drama … not necessarily in a good way

I watched about 2 minutes of the premiere of the new ABC drama (or dramedy) “The Unusuals.” I didn’t give it a full 44 minutes Wednesday night, but the scene I watched was lifted from a classic crime show from 15 years ago. Well, I don’t know if it was a homage or lifting.
That show of yesterday was the incomparable “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” What was the scene? It was the one where Baltimore detectives are interrogating a suspect and they hook up to a “lie detector.” The gag is, and has always been, that the lie detector is really a photocopying machine but the detectives have done a convincing enough job to dupe the subject into thinking that it was a real polygraph.
The gag involves the subject placing his hand on the scanner while the detectives ask a series of three questions. The first two are gimmies — Is your name John Doe? Do you live on Clancy Street?
The suspect would tell the truth, the detective would push the “Start” button and, lo and behold, the copier would spit out a piece of paper with the subject’s handprint and the word “TRUE.” Of course, the detectives had arranged the paper tray in advance to obtain that very result.
The third question is crucial — did you kill the victim? The subject would lie and somehow the polygraph would know this — the paper that emerges says “FALSE.” Faced with such overwhelming evidence, the suspect then confesses.
Something similar did happen on the “Unusuals,” although it was after one of the detectives showed the suspect body parts in a cooler and imitated the victim’s voice.
I can’t say the creators of this new show were lifting from “Homicide” — It’s apparently a very old tale (according to In modern storytelling, the Xerox polygraph was in David Simon’s 1991 book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” and it cropped up twice in TV shows based on Simon’s work or created by Simon himself — “Homicide” and “The Wire.”
That’s where I first encountered the story, although even the source material alludes to the incident happening in Detroit.
Regardless of where the polygraph by photocopier originated, I wonder why we’re seeing it again. It’s a good gag, but shouldn’t a new show strive for new ground at least for the first few episodes?

If “SportsCenter” was broadcast in the middle of a forest, would anyone notice?

ESPN started broadcasting its 10 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter” from Los Angeles this week (LA Times article). Can anyone tell me if they can notice the difference?
To be honest, it took me a while to realize that the switch was made. The LA broadcast looked very similar to every other edition (all other editions of “SportsCenter” continue to originate from Bristol, Conn.).
I was catching snippets of Tuesday’s “SportsCenter” while at The Maltese. Every so often, there would be background footage of Los Angeles — Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, stuff like that. I didn’t think there was any major sporting event originating from LA, so the whole thing threw me off until I remembered about the changes.
At first, there don’t seem to be any major changes — the sports highlights looked the same (although the graphic presentation looks to have been updated in the past few weeks). The studio looks pretty similar to its Bristol counterpart.
I think many of the changes are beneath the surface. Some commentators have said ESPN is throwing the West Coast a bone after decades of being headquartered in New England. I think the changes could be more profound than that.
Having a production center and “SportsCenter” in Los Angeles is an excellent move on ESPN’s part. Sports is increasingly becoming “sports entertainment” (to steal a phrase from pro wrestling). I think the network could have a better access to superstar athletes with their studio across the street from Staples Center instead of relatively rural Connecticut.
Being close to Hollywood could help with other things, such as their series of original movies. ESPN is also ready to kick things up to the next level of TV production — the new studio is the first capable of producing 1080p high-definition TV.
I guess we’ll see if the left coast has an influence on the worldwide leader in sports.

My “ER” memory

The long-running medical drama “ER” is ending tonight. I never was a die-hard fan of the show, but I do have one memory that I hold somewhat dear.
It was my first year of college and I was working at the student newspaper. We published the paper twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays, IIRC), but we were there other days of the week too.
Thursdays were always kind of a fun day — the paper had just come out and we had some breathing room before next Monday. Often times, we would hang out and watch some TV in the sports office.
“ER” was one of the shows we would watch. It was 1996 and the show was in full stride. The characters were interesting and the frantic pace of the drama was exciting (even if they did seem to intubate every patient that set foot in the hospital). It also didn’t hurt that our opinion editor looked like Dr. Greene.
Just as I lost track with most of my college newspaper colleagues, I haven’t kept tabs with “ER” as the years have rolled past. Nonetheless, the show will have a place in my heart for entertaining us all those years ago.