The park that started it all

Last Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. Completed in 1992, Camden Yards started a revolution in baseball: gone were the character-free, soulless, utilitarian stadiums of the sixties and seventies; Camden Yards ushered in a new era of baseball-only facilities that were designed to meld with the cities they inhabited, have some character of their own, and be a treat to attend.

Outside the stadium, behind the center field scoreboard. The iconic warehouse is on the left.

Outside the stadium, behind the center field scoreboard. The iconic warehouse is on the left.

The stadium is situated just a few blocks from Baltimore’s iconic inner harbor and really in the heart of downtown (much like Progressive Field). Upon getting to the game, Katie, my dad and I received complimentary Aubrey Huff T-shirts.

Wide open concourses, and a very similar feel to Progressive Field.

Wide open concourses, and a very similar feel to Progressive Field.

The concourses are incredibly similar to Progressive Field in that they feel very wide open, a sharp contrast to all of the older stadiums. One difference is that Progressive Field opted for concourses almost twice as wide but added a merchants row in the middle of the concourse, making two somewhat smaller concourses. The upper deck at Progressive Field has only the one row, which is similar to Camden Yards on each of its decks. I liked Camden Yards’ approach, but I think I prefer Progressive Field’s lower deck because you are able to walk around the entire lower deck without missing a pitch.

We got to our seats in the lower deck and enjoyed this view:

Camden Yards

With the exception that I wasn’t able to get a nice wide-angle shot of the whole field, the seats were excellent. We enjoyed the game, some high-priced but substantial snacks, and the Orioles ended up winning. Overall, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, much like its contemporary, gets a 9 out of 10. If you’re interested in all the pictures I took, they’re available here.

Tiered pricing and why it sucks

Back in January, Phil Schiller (the keynote guy at Apple, in Steve Jobs’ absence) announced a couple changes to the iTunes music store. The first one, which I covered, was to remove all DRM (supposedly) from each song in the music store. The second one, which is really only starting to appear in the last few weeks, is tiered pricing.

Great news, right? Phil seemed to think so at the time. He thought that the $.69 songs would balance out the $1.29 songs, and that most songs would remain at $0.99, mostly because music companies weren’t up to going back and retroactively repricing each song.

Let’s take a look at today’s top 30 downloaded songs:

Out of 30 songs, 5 are $0.99. But that’s not a big deal, because there are songs that are $0.69, right? As Ars points out, turns out that music companies aren’t interested in discounting music.

A couple things here. First, is it really worth the music company’s time to make songs $0.69? As we’ve seen, not many are that price anyway, and the ones that are are rarely downloaded anyway. If someone’s searching for that song, that $0.30 isn’t going to give them incentive to buy it – they’ve already made up their mind that they want that song (for whatever reason) and they’ll pay $0.99. The record companies know this – the only way $0.69 songs could really come into play is for promotions, and in this case record companies like to discount the entire album to encourage users to buy the entire album rather than individual songs.

Now back to the $1.29 songs. If you remember, way back when iTunes Plus was first announced, iTunes Plus songs cost $1.29. This was a trade-off for the record companies – they make more money per song but face a greater risk that the song will be pirated or illegally distributed. As iTunes Plus matured, Apple realized that $0.99 was a fair price for a DRM-free song, and so they dropped the price and made all songs $0.99 and record companies could choose whether or not they wanted to participate.

Then in January, Apple announced that DRM was gone. Now if you’re a record company executive, what do you choose? DRM-free and $0.99, or DRM-free and $1.29? For songs that are selling fast (like “Boom Boom Pow” by Black Eyed Peas…wow.), $.30 is a 30% increase in profits. Why would they not take it?

I think Apple screwed up. The iTunes Music Store became successful because each song was $0.99, and research has shown that people want to pay about $1 for a song (except you filthy pirates) – $1.29, especially in troubled economic times, is a lot. By instituting tiered pricing, Apple stood up for the record companies, not the consumer. If iTunes is going to be charging $1.29, they should be distributing FLAC files (or the Apple equivalent), which are completely lossless and have no built in DRM or identity management.

That said, Green Day’s new album “21st Century Breakdown” is excellent, and I bought it off iTunes for $11.99. If you’re going to buy the full album, it’s still a pretty good deal. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the record company wants (“why download the single when you can download that song and 15 other songs you don’t like for $10?”). In terms of acquiring music legally, it’s record companies 1, consumers 0.

A highway song

People often ask me, “Jimmy, who is your favorite United States President?”

Well, I think we all know the answer to that question:

Sometimes, the person asking the question goes “nice! Presidential high five!” in true Barney Stinson form. Usually, however, the person qualifies the question, adding that the President cannot be fictional. My answer isn’t conventional. It’s not Abraham Lincoln, it’s not Ronald Reagan, it’s not Barack Obama, and it’s not Bill Clinton. It’s this guy:

(For those of you living under a rock, it’s Dwight D. Eisenhower.) While his greatest accomplishments weren’t as a President (he planned D-Day and won World War II for the Allies in the European theater), perhaps his most underrated and still-relevant accomplishment is something most of us take for granted:

According to the the article on Wikipedia, the entire network of highways has over 46,000 miles of roadway. To put it in perspective, that’s enough to nearly circle the globe twice. As drivers today, we take for granted that those roads have always been there and will always been there, and it’s easy to forget that before June 29, 1956, there wasn’t even the notion of such a unified interstate system.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of driving nearly the entire length of Interstate 77, which starts in Cleveland, OH and ends in Columbia, SC. You might think I’m being sarcastic, as it was a nine-hour drive (without stops), but while it would have been nicer if my car had a nicer iPod hookup, the drive alone is worth a blog post, because amazingly, Interstate 77 manages to paint a portrait of America as a whole even as it covers just over 600 miles.

I-77 has a little bit of everything. There are climbs up mountains, descents into valleys, bridges over lakes and rivers. There are two sub-ground tunnels (in West Virginia and Virginia). There are scenic overlooks worthy of being framed in a gallery. There is an eccentric rest stop in West Virginia which showcases the artisan skills of everyday Americans.

The most interesting part of I-77 though, at least in my opinion, are the cities it passes through. Drivers drive through cities that are struggling (Cleveland), through cities that are improving (Akron), cities that are thriving (Charlotte) and cities that time forgot (Charleston). It’s an amazing cross section of the country: no one’s in the same place, everyone’s always changing.

The 2006 movie Cars takes a stab at the interstate system, saying that they’re only in place so drivers can avoid tough, curvy roads. While this may be the case (especially out west), the interstate system is able to marry the concept of driving somewhere fast and having a good time at the same time. Apart from the Internet, it’s probably the most impressive accomplishment of the United States since the 1950s, and it’s why Eisenhower is my favorite President.