Curing Poor Cell Phone Coverage

“My cell phone coverage stinks!” is a common cry from Montclarions.  When you drive around the village, it’s a hit-or-miss proposition.  Carrier signals vary from one neighbor to the next, in a seemingly random fashion.

“The Hills are probably the worst area to service from a cell phone provider’s standpoint,” explained Soren Jensen, who lives in the Village. “The geography combined with the need for line of sight and limited range requires you to be able to ‘see’ a cell tower in order to get reliable service.”

Ancient Phone Switch

Before you give up and simply rely on old wire lines, consider these tricks while at home.  Props to Paul Lindner, who shared some ways to fix your limited or non-existent cell phone reception:

  • Try a cell phone repeater: Amplify the signal with a device like zBoost.  This might work if you get some reception on your roof already, but not indoors.
  • Use a special cell phone: Buy a special, unlicensed mobile access (UMA) cell phone, and then rely on your WiFi/Internet service to make calls.
  • Look into a femtocell: Ask your carrier (i.e. Sprint or Verizon) for this device, so you can make Internet calls from any cell phone model.

It seems like you have nothing to lose by trying out some of these in-home solutions.  If you can freely use your cell at home, then lucky you!

P.S.  Thanks to everyone complaining about their cell phone carriers and coverage tonight, on the Montclair SIC message board…such inspiration.

Thornhillers Must Buy Hyperlocal Veggies

The gauntlet has been thrown.  Today a brand-new market with fresh veggies and fruits has opened on Thornhill Drive, in the little strip mall next to Thornhill Coffee.  It’s up to Thornhillers and other Montclarions to support the new place, and create healthier options than our beloved 7-Eleven.

Delicious Avocado

Even though I was headed to work, I stopped by and bought my first avocado.  It was $0.99 and this item typically runs $1.50 or more at the supermarkets.  My specimen was getting ripe, looked good, and tasted great for lunch – rivaling the farmers market quality.

This new market is small but quite nice looking, with flowers for sale placed outside the front door.  Inside you will see dark-tile floors, wood shelving and artfully displayed freshies plus other goods.  The proprietor was friendly and I look forward to getting to know him.

Because change is so gradual around Thornhill, I shared my glee while picking up morning libations next door.  Sure enough, the contractor who built out the market was getting coffee and was duly proud of his recent work.

As someone who lives nearby, I’m bound and determined to have a market survive here.  Yet stores won’t survive on a single veggie purchase, so this is a challenge for Thornhillers to graciously accept.

Research Your Roots, Without Leaving Oakland

You don’t have to leave Oakland city limits to find out about your roots.  These days anyone can visit genealogy sites, like, and start digging into their past through vital records.  But we’re talking about flesh-and-blood help in conducting research, which comes in handy when you’re not an expert sleuth.

St. John's Elderberries

California Roots:  California Genealogical Society (CGS)

This statewide treasure trove is located at 2201 Broadway, Suite LL2 (map), where you can begin searching for kin.  There are records at state, county and local levels, dating back to pioneers from the 1800s.  Fortunately, the CGS has taken the time to identify and access these disparate sources.

The Elderberries, who attend St. John’s Church in Montclair, recently paid a visit to the CGS library.  However you can go it alone, and attend the next Genealogy for Beginners class on April 4th, from 11:00am – 12:30pm.  To sign up, call 510-663-1358 or email

CGS library hours are Thurs-Fri (from 9am – 4pm) and Sat (from 10am – 4pm), and it costs $5/day.  For those who want to know their roots but can’t stomach the work, CGS librarians will provide quick look-ups or conduct extended research at low cost.

Scattered Roots:  Oakland Regional Family History Center (ORFHC)

This worldwide treasure trove is located right in the Oakland LDS Temple’s visitor center, at 4766 Lincoln Ave. (map).  Especially when you don’t know much about your roots, these resources aid the hunt for forefathers and mothers.

The LDS have excellent genealogy databases, available through their Family Search tools.  Staff suggests that you come prepared with any family names and even a disk (or flash drive) to save data for later use.  If you have questions, then please call 510-531-3905 or email

ORFHC hours are Tues-Wed (from 10am – 9pm) and Thurs-Sat (from 10am – 4pm), without entry fees.  There are also frequent classes and you are asked to register beforehand.

Can’t Decide:  Learn From Both Camps

Oakland-based genealogists are combining their efforts next month!  These alphabet soup groups (CGS and ORFHC) are co-hosting their Beginning Genealogy Seminar on April 18th, from 9am – 4pm at the California Genealogical Society (map).

To attend the newbie seminar,  just send this form and the $15 registration fee to the Family History Center.  You’ll need to sign up quickly because there are only 30 spots available for this session.

Admittedly I have never really researched my roots, except when visiting Ellis Island over a decade ago.  I like all the offerings from local groups, but this all-day event seems like the best way to learn – in one fell-swoop.

How To Solve Field Shortage

It’s difficult to build “fields of dreams” in the Oakland Hills.  Based on our recent survey, Montclarions and Piedmonters recognize the field shortage but also want to keep development to a minimum.  They believe that current parks, schools and colleges could be better scheduled for league sports.

Montclair Soccer Club

Is There A Shortage?

About 60 percent of survey takers said there are not enough youth soccer fields while 40 percent felt otherwise.  We saw similar results for little league baseball and adult sports leagues.

The contention becomes more clear when asking whether we should “make do” with current field options.  Some 46 percent disagree/strongly disagree and 45 percent agree/strongly agree – quite the horse race!

Where To Play Sports

Where To Play Sports

Despite their disparate attitudes, respondents seem interested in solving the field shortage and moving beyond the status quo for sports practices and games.

Over 70 percent said they agree/strongly agree that we should use our public schools and colleges more, while 50 percent want to approach private schools and colleges as well.

Locals also are willing to burn fossil fuels, and drive around Oakland or even Berkeley as needed.  When it comes to traipsing to Contra Costa County, however, respondents are less eager to go through the tunnel.

Scheduling City Parks

The survey also sought to understand optimal uses of the Montclair and Piedmont parks and their existing play fields.  We asked what percentage of time should be devoted to league play on weekdays and weekends for all five parks.

Over 40 percent of respondents want to schedule 50-74 percent of city field time for league purposes.  Another 20 percent suggest 75 percent or more on weekdays, jumping to 30 percent on the weekends.

Pay More For Play

Besides using the public parks more intensively, survey takers are willing to open up their wallets in return for more play time – and over a third look at nearby public and private colleges to close the gap.

In fact, sixty percent said they would agree/strongly agree to pay club or use fees to secure schools and colleges. These fees would help maintain fields in return for play time, which might be possible to arrange…or a pipe dream.

More info:   The Field Survey is reported in two postings.  See the first report about Blair Park here.

To Blair Or Not To Blair?

If you have been a reader here, then you know about the Blair Park controversy.  While many Montclarions and Piedmonters want to keep the Park undeveloped, there are others who are seeking additional sports fields particularly for soccer players.

We decided to conduct a survey about all local sports fields and uses, and respondents were not shy.  The results are split into three posts because there’s too much to cover, and today you can catch the top-line results about Blair as well as survey participants.

Playing Fields At Blair

To Blair or not to Blair?

We started by asking a general question about development, and 56 percent said Blair Park should remain “as is” today.  Over 60 percent of respondents are against the Blair field construction as well.

At the same time, more than a quarter of survey-takers would like to see playing fields built at Blair Park.  Our survey isn’t a scientific sample, but we think passionate supporters from both sides are speaking here – and these ratios have been holding up since the survey launch.

If the fields were built, then we wanted your opinions about helping players cross Moraga Ave.  Respondents were evenly split on whether constructing a traffic light was a good idea, if this were possible to do.  The concrete overpass seemed less appealing, with 51 percent giving this bridge a thumbs-down.

We also tested the temperature about funding sources, and that brought out the nayer-sayers generally.  It turns out that the funding source didn’t push the needle too much, but nine percent moved to “no” if the fields were theoretically constructed with private funds alone.

Who took the time to respond?

Older Montclarions and Piedmonters participated in the survey, in what appear to be equal numbers.  Nearly three-fourths of respondents were between 40-59 years old, consisting of half in their 40s and a quarter in their 50s.

The split between sexes was almost even, with 48 percent male and 52 percent female survey-takers.  We had at least 200 visitors to the survey, but around a quarter answered all the questions.

Interestingly, the survey takers were not all sports mothers and fathers.  Exactly 52 percent were league parents and 35 percent were organizers of league sports.  About a quarter were parents of high school players as well.  Some five percent were athletic kids (ages 13+) who chimed in, too.

Park Visits by Respondents

How often do you visit parks?

We wanted to know if respondents actually used or showed up at local parks.  Not surprisingly, 46 percent of respondents sit on the league sidelines at least once/week.  Some 37 percent said they also play weekly or more, and we suspect some parents fall into both groups.

Yet there is more informal use of the parks as well, with nearly a third showing up to play with their families or friends.  Over 80 percent reported visits to City and East Bay parks, with 50 percent visiting at least weekly.  While this strikes us as very high, perhaps this survey attracts more sporting Sams than average Joes.

Stay Tuned:   Please stop by this weekend, when we’ll discuss survey results about all local fields and their appropriate uses.

Montclair Elementary’s Budding Artists Here

In the old days, you could find local children’s artwork by walking around their schools, visiting family homes or seeing special exhibits around town.  Flash forward, and the budding artists are displayed online now.

Ruth Teitelbaum, Montclair Elementary’s art teacher, has shared many creations.  We selected a few works, to show you how much things have changed – and because this art is really impressive.

Montclair Elementary Pastel

This first pastel was created by a third-grader and looks a bit like something Pablo Picasso might whip up.  Seriously, look at this angular head and bifurcated face more closely.  Would you have considered drawing this in grade school?

Montclair Elementary Splatter

This second work reflected what students had learned about Jackson Pollock.  A bunch of second through fourth-graders were able to splatter tempera paints together, joyfully producing this Pollock-inspired action painting.

Montclair Elementary Print

Next we have a nice print created by a fifth grader, which strikes me as folk art.  There’s a fish that might be disguising a devil (note the tail), trying to swim upstream.  We’re wondering about that symbolism, hhmm.

Montclair Elementary Painting

Last, here is a colorful painting of a deer foraging in the woods.  Like any budding artist, this fourth grader was inspired by local surroundings.  We like the classics sometimes, plus this deer came out very well.

Anyway, all this art makes me happy about what kids are learning in school.  Art class should be about exploring and expanding horizons – and that’s different than what (latter-day) boomers experienced in the 1960s and 1970s.

Power Outage = Wind + Tree Falls

High winds and downed trees are nothing new for Montclarions.  If you have both of them, then you learn to live with the consequences.  A few folks noticed power outages very early this morning, while others just spotted the news trucks and figured something was up.

KRON Montclair Report - March 9

It turns out the power outages occurred in homes located above Colton and Gaspar – and we believe power has been fully restored already.   PG&E’s first priority was to repair service, and then clear up the trees that caused the damage.

We have spotted PG&E trucks all week around Montclair, not only this morning.  Oakland Public Works trucks have been showing up as well, as they deal with recent drain stoppages or overflows.  Yes, the storms and winds are having their usual – if a bit delayed – seasonal impacts on the hills now.