Saturday, April 12, 2008

Electric Car: Something I Could Never Do

I have three brothers, and we all do different things.

My oldest brother Mark is a school administrator in Connecticut. Before that, he was a math teacher.

My youngest brother Brett is in grad school in Virginia. He's married to a Navy officer. They both graduated from George Washington University (Brett with a degree in History).

I work in public relations outside Boston.

And my next older brother Scott, he turns gasoline-powered trucks into electric cars.

Scott is a brilliant inventor and mechanic. He knows engines and cars like the back of his hand. He's always the first person I call when something weird happens with my Honda (which lately has been often).

Scott owns a marine engine dealership in Mystic, Conn. Recently, the New London (Conn.) Day published a story on how he was hired to turn an old Chevy truck into an electric green-friendly car. It's an amazing story.

What I find so interesting is one of the reasons he did the job was to practice. Marine engines are gas-guzzlers. The time is coming when boat owners will want to conserve money and make their boats re-chargeable. I can't imagine any other person is more knowledgeable on how to make this happen than Scott. Al Gore, if you're out there, maybe you should give him a ring?

NOTE: Photo taken from The New London Day, April 11, 2008. Photo Credit: Tim Martin, The Day. Original Caption: Scott Levanto, a mechanic at Masons Island Marina in Mystic, raises the hood on the 1989 Chevy S-10 pickup that he converted to run on power supplied by 20 electric batteries. The truck, owned by Orin Robinson of Mystic, can travel up to 40 miles on a single charge.

Mid-Majors Can't Win National Championships

When Kansas won the NCAA national championship Monday night, I was celebrating 38K feet above ground. Work had sent me west, to San Francisco, for the annual RSA IT security conference. My flight conveniently took off three hours before the championship and landed about an hour after it finished.

I was happy Kansas won. I told my old roommate Blake earlier this year that there is no way a mid-major conference team can ever win an NCAA championship. Maybe it was a visceral comment, but I felt strongly all year that Memphis was overrated. Whenever a team has to go around saying they are ready for the tournament because they played nine non-conference games against other teams that made the tournament, you know there's a problem (Hint: None of Memphis' fellow Conference USA teams made the field of 65).

Memphis' biggest game of the year was against Tennessee, and they lost. Tennessee, in my opinion, was also overrated, because its conference, the SEC, had a down year. So the alleged best team in the country played one good team all year-- a team that was also overrated-- and that team won.

My NCAA bracket reflected my distaste for mid-majors. I had Memphis losing to Michigan State in the round of 16. I had Tennessee losing relatively early too (I was right there).

Why am I down on the mid-major conferences? The NCAA basketball season is long, unlike its sister football season, and the NCAA playoffs are long as well (also contrary to the football season). The point of a long season is to prepare a team for the post-season. Playing in a major conference, against opponents that are national caliber, day in and day out, prepares a team for the big dance.

Being a UCONN fan, I naturally favor the Big East. But I certainly respect many other conferences (even though I hope their teams lose to Big East foes). The ACC. The Big 10. The SEC (even though this was a weak year for that conference). And last but certainly not least-- the Big 12.

The Big 12 has had it rough for a long time. It's tough to find their games on national TV (thank you ESPN for being an exception). The conference tends to represent midwest schools that favor the pigskin over the three-point stripe. There's only one problem: Big 12 basketball is really fun to watch. The teams are well-matched and very talented. The style reminds me a lot of the Big East, and so I like watching Big 12 games.

I have also always favored Big 12 teams heavily in the NCAA tournament. And it's usually cost me. I had Texas winning the national championship last year-- that didn't work out. Before Kansas' victory Monday, the Big 12 had only won a single national championship in the last like 50 years.

So why did Memphis lose on Monday? Fittingly, it's because the team broke down in the final moments of regulation. Missed free throws. Not fouling when Kansas needed a three to tie (by fouling, they could only get two free throws). These are the types of mistakes made when you win every regular season game by 50. These are the types of mistakes you make when you don't play national caliber teams every night. These are the types of mistakes made by a mid-major conference team.

When Chalmers hit the three for Kansas to tie the game with less than five seconds remaining in regulation-- sending the game to overtime where everyone knew Kansas had the momentum-- I nearly jumped out of my United Airlines seat. My friendly pilot had placed the Westwood One broadcast of the game on the inflight radio system. I could even hear the pilot changing channels as we cruised out of range of a certain frequency. I certainly would have rather watched at home in front of my HD screen, but since the color commentators were Billy Rafferty and John Thompson (the dad), it wasn't all that bad.

I imagined that we were over the state of Kansas when the final horn sounded, and the Jayhawks captured the crown for the Big 12 and major conferences everywhere. I am sure bedlam reigned in Lawrence (as Brent Musburger would have said). And the Kansas faithful should know that high above them, in a Boeing jet sailing west, this major-conference fan was indeed smiling.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Road to Denver

I have never been to Denver. Well, I have been to the airport, but not to the city. This August is looking like a great time to go.

Yesterday, a large group of my Democratic neighbors in the Massachusetts 8th Congressional District elected my good friend Nikko Mendoza to be a delegate to the Democratic Convention, which is in Denver this year in late August.

It was a long but exciting day, and another lesson for me in democracy. A few general observations:

-- The Bunker Hill Community College has a grilled cheese sandwich vending machine. The caucus I attended last night was in a BHCC auditorium. In the main lobby, where I was greeting caucus-goers with other Nikko supporters, a hot food vending machine offered the cheesy treats along with french fries and pizza. Curiosity overtook me. I tried a grilled cheese. Not horrible, but I am not about to buy one of the machines for my apartment.

-- We Democrats know how to demonstrate the chaotic side of the process. I remember watching some of the Iowa caucuses on TV. The Republican caucuses seemed neat and orderly, with people sitting in chairs and casting votes by dropping a paper in ballot box slots. Pretty uneventful TV. The Democratic caucuses were kind of like a cross between an organizational PTA meeting and a baseball game. Organized chaos, perhaps. The caucus yesterday at the BHCC was organized chaos. Matt O'Mally, one caucus organizer and recognized party member, wasn't even listed on the voter registration lists. Despite this, I was disappointed that many attendees got upset. As Democrats, we should know by now that we excel at organized chaos (See: Texas prima-caucus [Prima-Caucus is a new word for me!]).

-- I really like the community side of politics. It was truly great to see local Charlestown neighbors coming out to support John "Jack" Kelly, who was running on the same slate as Nikko. (Jack grew up in Charlestown). The community feel of the event was overwhelming, and great to see. I have often said that Boston is a city of neighborhoods, and it was great to spend a day in an adjacent neighborhood to where I live.

After the caucus, I went to the Mission on Mission Hill, where I ran into some Obama supporters just exiting their 8th Congressional Caucus. Unlike the Hillary caucus, which ended on one ballot, the Obama caucus went on forever.

I am also very proud of Nikko. She really deserves to be a delegate, as I have written earlier, and it's great to see her recognized for her efforts.

P.S. For anyone who really is interested, Nikko won with 85-percent of the votes cast. As I screamed after the results were announced "LANDSLIDE."

P.P.S. It's great to see extensive coverage of the caucuses yesterday in today's issue of Boston's hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe, given that the events were the big political news in the city of the last month. (For those who can't read my tone, the Globe didn't cover them at all.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Some metered spots on Beacon Hill switch to resident parking at 6 p.m. and remain resident-only from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. I parked in one of these metered spots at 5:54 p.m. this past Friday. I returned thirty minutes later to find the ticket above on my windshield.

Check the time. The parking officer gave me a ticket 39 seconds before 6 p.m. Thirty-nine lousy seconds.

Granted, I was parked illegally. I will pay the ticket. But I have to take a minute to register a complaint with Boston transportation (BTD).

Here goes: There is a section of Beacon Street along the Common that is resident parking after 6 p.m. Before 6 p.m. parking is only allowed for state house press. There is signage clearly indicating that state house press can park before 6, and residents can park after 6. If I try to park on this street on a Saturday, they will give me a ticket. Even if there are no other cars on the street (e.g. plenty of parking for state house press), I get a ticket.

Fair enough. Except the majority of the time when I try to park on this street after 6 p.m., there are several state house press cars still parked. In many cases, especially during the spring, the combination of state house press cars and visitor cars parked illegally means I cannot find a spot at all.

Why doesn't BTD ticket these cars, which are also parked illegally, as vigilantly as they ticketed my car this past Friday, a mere 39 seconds to victory?

Cruel, I tell you. Cruel.