Wednesday, April 27, 2011

One Million Steps

by Conroy

I'm declaring my intention to take 1,000,000 steps over the next 100 days. That's an average of 10,000 steps per day, which is just under five miles of walking or more than eight miles of running (your running stride is longer than you walking stride). This is a daunting challenge. To achieve it I'll have to cover well over 500 miles on foot, more than 35 miles per week. Why do this? Well before I explain that, let's consider personal fitness.

Fitness is Work
It seems every other television commercial and website advertisement has something to do with fitness. Whether that be dieting, weight loss techniques, or some novel exercise regime. Perhaps in an America obsessed with weight, this is natural. Obesity is an epidemic problem in the United States, with over 74% of adults being classified as overweight - easily the highest percentage of any Western nation. The increase in obesity, in America and other developed nations, is a result of numerous behaviors, from less active lifestyles to increased caloric intake. Regardless of the cause, obesity is a major public health concern. It is my adamant belief that this doesn't need to be so.

There’s an awful lot of public discourse about how to treat obesity. You can read stories about city councils banning trans-fats from restaurants to school boards dictating allowed foods for school lunches. These approaches won’t make one bit of difference. No, reducing obesity and improving physical fitness, like all major personal changes, comes from within each individual.

With diligence I think most people can adopt a lifestyle that leads to a manageable healthy weight and a strong, fit body. I'm not a dietitian or personal trainer, but I have set physical fitness as a personal priority and I've gained a few insights over the years.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bad Cover Version

by Conroy

No one has ever improved on a Beatles original
I’m issuing a challenge to readers. Find one example of a cover of a Beatles song that is better than the Fab Four’s original. I am confident you will not succeed. But if you think you find one, send me the example (with Youtube or other links if possible) and I will recognize you on this blog.

The culture of contemporary music, more so than any other art, embraces imitation. Musicians regularly perform the songs of other musicians. In fact, a generation or more ago, it was very common for several artists to cover the same song. There are many examples of the cover version of a song being far more popular than the original. For example, Rod Stewart had a big hit with “The First Cut is the Deepest”, certainly more than Cat Stevens did with the original. Some songs are hits in both the original and cover versions. Creedence Clearwater Revival had a hit with “Proud Mary”, but the cover by Tina Turner was probably even more successful.

The fact that covering other musician's work is common in music provides us with an opportunity to directly compare artists, something rare in art. Listening to all these covers has led me to a conclusion: the better artist will almost always perform the better version of a song. This is why I issued the challenge about the Beatles. After all, if they are the best band of modern music, and that seems to be the general critical and popular consensus (one this blogger shares), then their version of a song should be better than anyone else's version of the same song. Fortunately, when it comes to the Beatles we can test my assertion. They covered a lot of songs in their early period and they have been covered continuously since they started recording music.

Most people have heard “Twist and Shout”, the last song off the Beatles first album, Please Please Me. It’s a classic, but it is also a cover. The original was recorded by the Isley Brothers and was a hit. One listen reveals that the Beatles version vastly improves on the original with greater energy and a famous one take vocal performance from John Lennon. The examples go on, I even think the Beatles version of “Long Tall Sally” rivals Little Richard’s howling track. What about the other side, an example of a popular cover of a Beatles song that doesn’t stack up to the original?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's in a Name

by Conroy

I promised to cover the esoteric and mundane on this blog, and I don’t know how much more mundane I can get than to discuss professional sports team names. Have you ever asked yourself how teams get their names? Today marketing is a major factor, and owners and team management spend plenty of time and money in picking a name and logo. When the Supersonics moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City they also changed their name, making sure they made just the right choice for their new home.  A long time ago names were probably chosen with a lot less scrutiny than today. In the end though, nicknames are set and it can be fun to note the peculiarities and coincidences that result. And hey, in the modern sports world of shifting rosters, changing ownership, and relocating teams, what else is a long-time fan really cheering for besides the nickname and uniforms?
Is this name as menacing as the poem that inspired it?

I’ll concentrate on the four major team sports popular in America, football (NFL), baseball (MLB), basketball (NBA), and hockey (NHL).

Baltimore’s two professional sports teams are the Ravens (NFL) and the Orioles (MLB); both bird names, a minor coincidence. The Orioles migrated to town in 1954. Before that they were the St. Louis Browns. The Ravens flew into town in 1996. Before that they were the Cleveland Browns. What are the chances of two teams with the horrible names of ‘The Browns’ relocating to Baltimore?

In Chicago there are the Bears (NFL) and the Cubs (MLB). There’s also the Bulls (NBA). Makes sense that Chicago has a stock exchange with all those bears and bulls running around. In Miami there are the Dolphins and Marlins (one a mammal and one a fish, but both majestic). Houston has the Astros (MLB) and the Rockets (NBA); they really took to the city’s space industry (the Astros are the  renamed Colt 45s). 

I like how Detroit claimed the two biggest cats, Lions (NFL) and Tigers (MLB). In Jacksonville there is the Jaguars (NFL). Unfortunately, no team is named the Leopards. Though there are two teams named the Panthers (see below).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Perfect Climate - Part 3

by Conroy

To read the first two parts of this climate series, use these links:
The Perfect Climate - Part 1
The Perfect Climate - Part 2

"...[Detroit's] winters are cruel - January temperatures average 24.7 degrees - and Americans do seem to love warm weather. Over the last century, no variable has been a better predictor of urban growth than temperate winters."
     - Edward Glaeser, The Triumph of the City

The cold is one reason people continue to flee Detroit
This excerpt from Glaeser's wonderful new book supports the argument that I have been making in my climate rankings. That is, that the warmer the weather, and especially the warmer the winter, the better.

In Part 1, I presented my climate formula and the ranking of all U.S. metropolitan areas. In Part 2, I provided some commentary on these rankings. I received many comments from readers in support of cold locations that ranked low on my rankings. I even received vehement arguments from residents of Barrow, Alaska and Leadville, Colorado extolling the virtues of these very cold climates. Of course these perspectives are totally valid, but my argument remains that most people prefer warm to cold. My intuition told me that U.S. demographic trends substantiated this assertion, and the expert analysis of Glaeser supports it even further. Still, it's worth testing my intuition and Glaeser's statement with facts.

Here is a list of the ten metropolitan areas that have see the largest net increase in population since 1950 along with their climate score and associated rank among the 30 largest metropolitan areas:

[Note the population changes are approximate because the Census Bureau has changed the definition for metropolitan areas multiple times since 1950.]

(population change in thousands of people / climate score / rank out of top 30 metro areas)
1. Los Angeles, CA - 8,530 / 37.1 / 3
2. New York, NY - 6,190 / 4.3 / 20
3. Dallas, TX - 5,790 / 18.0 / 12
4. Houston, TX - 5,090 / 29.5 / 6
5. Miami, FL - 5,000 / 44.9 / 1
6. Atlanta, GA - 4,830 / 16.6 / 13
7.Chicago, IL - 4,100 / 1.3 / 25
8. Phoenix, AZ - 4,070 / 21.0 / 11
9. Washington, D.C. - 4,040 / 9.0 / 18
10. Riverside, CA - 3,800 / 21.3 / 8

People continue to move to "warm" Dallas and other Texas cities
Seven of the ten cities on this list can be described as "warm" with mild winters. The only three on the list that have cold winters are New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. (and Washington occasionally experiences mild winters). It makes sense that New York and Chicago would be on this list because of their size and economic importance. Washington ranks because of the massive growth of the federal government since World War II.

But consider the other seven cities on this list. Only Los Angeles ranked among the ten largest metropolitan areas in 1950. Now five of these cities do with Phoenix and Riverside ranked 12th and 14th, respectively. If current trends continue, these two cities will probably rank 10th and 11th within this decade.

Surely there are more than just climate factors driving the growth of these cities. Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta all have the reputation as business-friendly, job-rich regions. But the correlation of warm temperatures to population growth is compelling.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Men in Space

by Conroy

A few weeks ago I was at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Only days before, the long delayed final mission of Shuttle Discovery had ended with a successful landing in Florida, but already Endeavor was on the launch pad, surrounded in its pre-launch sheath. The Endeavor launch, scheduled for April 19 (weather and mechanical integrity permitting of course), will be either the ultimate or penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle Program depending on some final Congressional budget decisions. This is the end of an era for American manned space flight.

The Shuttle Program has been ferrying humans to an from low Earth orbit since 1981, and is ending because the shuttle fleet (or what's left of the shuttle fleet) is aging and shuttle missions are expensive. Once shuttle flights end, NASA will rely on the Russian Soyuz rockets and space craft for transport to and from the International Space Station. It is hoped that in the near future, commercial spacecraft will be available for low Earth orbit missions. We'll see what the next few years bring, but at this point in time, with the preeminent symbol of both NASA and manned space flight soon to be a piece of history, we can ask ourselves what next for NASA? On an even broader scale, what next for the story of men in space?