Saturday, June 08, 2002

Susanna at cut on the bias points out this story about the refusal of the Birmingham News to cover or accept uncensored advertising for the hit off-Broadway play The Vagina Monologues, making it one of the only papers in the country to make such a decision. The reason? Advertising director Bob West says the paper "didn't want to risk offending anyone." Well, I'm offended by murder, but I certainly don't expect my newspaper to stop covering it. Grrr.
As you may have grokked out from a previous post, I am slowly working toward a master's degree in Technology Management. Right now I'm taking a class on Project Management, which is turning out to be pretty interesting. So far, I'm really liking the textbook, which seems to be much more down-to-earth than some of the other management books I've used. Here's today's quote:
To be frank, we do not know how to cure or prevent micromanagement. It is practiced by individuals who have so little trust in their coworkers that they most control everything. Micromanagers are rarely likable enough for anyone to try to help them. Our considered advice to PMs who are micromanaged is to request a transfer.
Came across a link to this amusing article on phobias at Missives Anonymous. Who knew there was such a thing as Papaphobia (fear of the Pope)!
Here's a little nugget gleaned from today's paper:
CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — A would-be rapper from Mt. Juliet has been charged with holding up the Alpine Lodge in Cookeville and is a suspect in two similar motel robberies in Crossville and Carthage, police said.

Earl Raymond Vantrese, 22, of Mt. Juliet, was pulled over on Interstate 40 Thursday after a clerk was held up at gunpoint at the Ramada Inn in Crossville around 6:30 a.m. that day, police said.

After stopping Vantrese's 1981 Buick Regal near Monterey, police said, they found numerous rap lyrics and a boom box in the front seat, along with a Victoria's Secret lingerie catalog, a video camera and pictures in the back seat of Vantrese stomping on the American flag, along with $812 in cash.

Now I know as an aspiring rapper you gotta keep up a certain image. But listen up, buddy boy... You got nerve stomping all over the American flag while still partaking of the cultural bounty of America! Do you think they even have Victoria's Secret catalogs in places like Iraq or Libya? Sheesh!

Friday, June 07, 2002

OK, this really ticks me off:
CHATTANOOGA (AP) — The Ten Commandments have been removed from Hamilton County court buildings, ending an episode that may cost the government as much as $80,000.

[County Commission Chairman Bill Hullander] said he believes a drop in Hamilton County's crime rate can be attributed to the posting of the Ten Commandments. [...] The ACLU submitted a bill this week for more than $50,000. Hamilton County's attorney estimates the county owes between $30,000 and $40,000 for outside legal fees.

Many of the quixotic chumps pushing this crap are the same ones protesting big government and wasteful spending. Well, here's a perfect example of waste in government. (the article goes on to say that the county commissioners who voted to post the commandments originally said public money would not be used to defend the decision, but it fails to state where else the $80,000 in legal fees might come from.)

Before the bible thumpers track me down, I should point out that I have nothing in particular against the 10 Commandments. But I also believe in the Bill of Rights, which is designed to keep government out of the religion business. Say we post the 10 Commandments. Well, what happens next week when Satanists want their manifesto posted in the courthouse?

And the idea that this is some sort of deterrent to crime is absurd. I can just see it:

HEAVILY ARMED ROBBER: Stick em' up. And gimme all the money from the register before I blow your brains out.
SCARED CONVENIENCE STORE CLERK: You know, according to the 10 commandments posted in the county courthouse, holding up convenience stores is wrong.
HEAVILY ARMED ROBBER: Really? I had no idea. I'll be off now -- I'm so terribly sorry for the inconvenience. Have a nice day!
I wonder what the $80,000 spent on this travesty could have purchased if it were put toward improving schools or building affordable housing...
It appears that the laptop I bought from PC Mall last December may be a grey-market refugee from Canada -- Toshiba USA has never heard of it, and says the serial number on it doesn't have the right number of digits. To their credit, even at midnight they answered the phone after two rings, and the woman I talked to was very helpful. Unlike some other companies I could mention.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

In response to my previous rant, Susanna thoughtfully commented on the additional time and effort required by a car-free lifestyle:
I was car-free for 3 months year before last, and took the train or bus everywhere. I discovered that, for me, there was a major issue of time. ...

I grew up in eastern Kentucky far from any buses, trains or hints of public transportation; people sometimes still rode a horse to the nearby grocery store. I remember with longing the slow lazy summer days; I hope to be back to some semblance of that again some day. But using public transportation consistently isn't similar to that kind of slowing down, and requires basically a restructuring of your life. Not many people who've grown up in other contexts (i.e. Nashville) are likely to embrace it.

Good point. I commuted across the city periodically using public transportation when I was in DC, and it was somewhat more inconvient then driving. This was mostly because the place I was going to wasn't very well served, and there were multiple transfers involved. To really make it work, I think you probably have to make a concious decision to live where you have very good transportation access, and you have to work somewhere well-served by public transportation. Even if I were to move to a city that had excellent transportation, I'm not sure I'd entirely give up my vehicle. But I would certainly make use of the added flexibility provided by the better transit.

Part of the problem (I think) is that even cities with excellent transit systems are afflicted by sprawl and poor urban design. If planners and architects design with cars in mind rather than pedestrians, then people will tend to use cars. It takes a concious effort to build in such a way that walking and public transit alternatives are actually MORE convienient. That's why I got so fed up a few years ago when I heard that folks were opposing a dense new-urbanist apartment/retail building next to a Metro station near where my parents live. People were upset by the "density" and "lack of space for parking lots" inherent in building in the urban location, and concerned that the buildings would reduce green space. The thinking seemed to be "Well, there's all sorts of land out in East Bumblefuck, why can't they build out there and leave my neighborhood alone?" People missed the whole point -- that putting dense residential and commercial development right next to a train station is a great idea. It allows people to easily use the train rather than a car, thereby reducing traffic and pollution. It cuts down on new development in the countryside, reducing sprawl and saving more true greenspace. And it helps create the sort of vibrant urban community where many people like to live.

Building a pedestrian-friendly city with good transportation requires a leap of faith. You have to build the infrastructure first, and do it in such a way that it will tend to encourage more better-planned and more pedestrian-friendly development. It's not going to happen overnight. but just as Krusty Burger joints and Exxons tend to cluster around Interstate exits, walkable communities will tend to cluster around rail stations.

German website sponsored a contest to design web pages that are smaller than 256 bytes. The results are pretty impressive. For the sake of comparison, this blog entry is about 280 bytes!
What makes a good city? According to Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida, the the key factors in fostering community and economic development are no longer "underwriting big-box retailers, subsidizing downtown malls, recruiting call centers, and squandering precious taxpayer dollars on extravagant stadium complexes." Instead, cities must attract what he calls the "creative classes": artists. scientists and engineers, entertainers, technical people, musicians and cultural producers. This is the reason that cities like Austin, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco have quickly outstripped traditional economic powerhouses like Pittsburgh and Detroit in terms of cultural and economic development. Florida says that interviews with members of the "Creative Class" yielded revealed definite preferences about where they want to live and work:
Diversity, we want a place that's diverse, where there's different kinds of people on the street. Of course a job is important, but it isn't just "a" job: We need lots of jobs because we know now that "a" job isn't going to last long. We want a city to be creative, we want it to be exciting, we want it to have all kinds of amenities, we want it to have outdoor sports, extreme sports, rollerblading, cycling, art scene, music scene. Then we asked, "Do you do all that stuff?" and the answer was "No, we just want to know it's there."
Read more in Christopher Dreher's Salon article Be creative -- or die.

UPDATE: Bill Hobbs has more on this subject.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

What's up with people breaking into song around me today? Earlier I was sitting in the server room working on a machine, and one of the computer operators behind me starts belting out Rocky Top at the top of her lungs. Then, a few minutes ago, I'm sitting in my office and I hear some sort of operatic effort coming from down the hall -- I think from a guy working in a mechanical room. When the chorus line shows up, I'm outta here.
Fascinating article in the Houston Press about efforts to preserve a collection of 300,000 photographic negatives created by a small photography studio over the course of 60 years. (Via Alt-Log)
Jonathan Alter is right on the money when he points out that the only good way to address homeland security concerns is to demand accountability by getting information out in the open. Writing in the latest issue of Newsweek, Alter says:
The basic Bush attitude toward accountability seems to be: stuff it. This distaste for what he considers “Monday-morning quarterbacking” predates September 11. Allow historians continued access to old unclassified presidential documents? Nope. Release the names of those corporations that had private audiences with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force? Not gonna happen without a court order. Come clean at long last on the contacts between the White House and Enron? In your dreams.

(...) [T]he only way to secure our safety—at the FBI or the chemical plant down the road—is holding people accountable for performance. Bush understands that in the field of education. It’s about time he starts raising standards for homeland defense too.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

You know those e-mails you get from Chief Oooku Booku, who is a dethroned nobleman in his small African country and just needs your help to safely abscond with his inheritance? Ever wonder what would happen if you responded? Click here for a rather amusing exchange...
Quote of the day from my project management textbook:
Realists cannot solve problems, only idealists can do that. Reality is far too complex to deal with in its entirety. An "idealist" is needed to strip away almost all the reality from a problem, leaving only the aspects of the "real" situation with which he or she wishes to deal.
For the sake of comparison, the word "Pretzel" has only appeared near the word "Bush" once in the same time period.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Interesting fact gleaned from an afternoon teaching Quickwire to summer interns: the word "Tyson" has appeared near the word "Ear" on national news wire services five times in the last two weeks. Expect this total to increase as the Bloody on the Muddy approaches. Meanwhile, Tyson attempted to show what a peachy-keen, touchy-feely sort of guy he really is by hugging the vice-chairman of a gay-rights organization who was protesting Tyson's alleged homophobia. Quoth Mr. Tyson in the Commercial Appeal:
"Listen. Listen. I'm not homophobic; I told them I'm not homophobic," said Tyson, who has used derogatory remarks in his everyday language. "So if I use a homophobic term . . . I'm not homophobic." And his thoughts on Saturday night's showdown at The Pyramid with Lennox Lewis? "I'm ready," Tyson said. "I'm going to kill him."
Ain't boxing just the greatest sport...
In Washington, DC, where I grew up, plans to bury large swaths of the city under ribbons of unnecesary freeway catalyzed a massive grassroots movement in the 1960s and 70s. That the city retains its sylvan character is a testament to this movement. Instead of continuing to build gridlock-prone highways, the city spent billions of dollars to design and build a first-class subway system. As Zachary M. Schrag put it:
Dreaming of a beautiful, efficient, democratic, growing capital, [Washingtonians] have tried to build a beautiful, efficient, democratic, growing rail system. That Metro serves so many functions so well marks it as a triumph of democratic consensus. In 1970 the Washington Post described Metro as "the last best chance to make this metropolitan area a decent place to live in the future."
Since moving to the "New South" hamlet where I now reside, I've really begun to realize how good we had it in DC. Nashville's not as bad as some cities I've visited, but its populace has clearly subscribed to the idea that the automobile is the only worthwhile form of transportation. Once centrally located on the Louisville & Nashville railroad, the city now has no passenger rail service. (The city's decaying Union Station was finally converted to a luxury hotel in the 1980s.) Once serviced by a fairly extensive network of streetcars going to a variety of destinations, the city now has no commuter rail or light rail. Buses, which were touted in the 1940s as quieter, faster, and more modern replacements for the streetcars, are now seen as transit of last resort for the poor and downtrodden.

While plans to open a single (federally-subsidized) commuter rail line have been tied up in political wrangling, the state has foged ahead on plans to build a massive 186-mile circumferential highway around the city, pushing sprawl further out into the countryside.

People here just don't get it. You can barely survive in this city without a car. Fewer than 1% of Tennesseans use public transportation to get to work, and even those who would be willing to are unable to find convienient ways to do so.

Which brings me to the point of this little diatribe. In her fascinating article Without a Car in the World, Jane Holtz Kay describes a five-year experiment in "life-sans-automobile." She notes that urban geographies take on an entirely different meaning when not encountered through the eyes of a speeding SUV:

One spring day in my car-free life, a new friend took me on a ride to trace the geography of my childhood and child-rearing days in my home town. In only ten minutes, we traversed the arc of my life: by the courtyard apartment where I grew up in an intimate, sidewalk community...up a hill to the small house on a dead-end street where I reared my children...past the home of my high school days, just paces from the classroom. In short order, we had swung by the library, the corner store, the town swimming pool, my sister's house. "You have lived your life in such a small space," my friend, a planner, said thoughtfully.

"Small…," I said. It had seemed universe enough. Not small at all to a child on foot. Not small to an adolescent or young mother. Not in the detail, the change, the shifting drift of streets, the palette of tree and vegetation, the variety of architecture, the scale of windows, the ornament of accretions through the years. Each locale, each corner, each doorway had meaning and actuality. Each segment had a rich and diverse presence as I walked from store to school to playground. To me, the arc was large as life: It was built at a walker's pace, and paced it I had. Its mobility was the pedestrian's--the person's--mobility, shifting, evolving, engaging eye and mind. How different from carbound America's hypermobility, the endless passing of faceless places.

Something to think about. Personally, while I own a used pickup truck, the idea minimizing its use and avoiding the hassles of traffic, parking, and trips to the mechanic is very appealing. But it's really a chicken and egg problem -- public transportation doesn't improve until people see its benefits, and people don't see its benefits unless they have a good public transportation system. Maybe one of these days folks will get a clue about this -- in the meantime, I'll have to get my subway fix when I visit Boston or DC.
More like four hours -- and we're still running on a backup server. All sorts of fun.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Wire server failure at work. Just what I needed to spend two hours of my Sunday evening on.
First a bit of background. I rent a 1920s-era house that actually belongs to a couple who, last I heard, were somewhere in Germany. So to handle maintenance, collecting the rent, etc, they have appointed a local management company. (Which, as near as I can tell, consists of a woman operating out of her dining room. And she *gasp* doesn't have e-mail!) Through years of experience, this company has developed an extensive list of the least qualified maintenance people in the region, and will promptly dispatch them whenever I call. (The actual names change, but I just generally call these folks Larry, Moe, and Curly.) To ensure survival of house, I tend to avoid calling them at all. As a result, I have accumulated a list of housing-related issues which I will now share with the reading public free of charge:
What’s wrong with my house: a list for the perusal of the public
  1. Garbage disposal doesn't work. Evil sounding electric humming when switch is flipped. Did not wait around to find out what would happen if left on, but suspect it would involve fire department.
  2. Gate to back yard has screw loose. Multiple screws, actually. Will fall off if wind blows wrong way. Mildly concerned about security of $10 plastic patio chairs.
  3. Roof on top of front porch appears to have collided with tree limb, causing minor case of shingles. (ba boom, ching!)
  4. Caulk in shower is deteriorating.
  5. Crack floor replacement team of Larry, Curly, and Moe apparently did not re-secure insulation in crawl space after having destroyed laundry room in December. Discovered when went to hide back yard detritus in crawl space.
  6. Attic window appears to be broken. Don’t have ladder long enough to actually enter attic and investigate – for all I know, could be dead bodies stashed up there. Yikes.
  7. Front walk is developing massive pothole/sinkhole type of thing.
  8. Family of birds seems to have taken up residence inside roof at back of house. Strange noises provide hours of entertainment for resident cat, but probably do not bode well for future of roof. Suggest eviction at some point.
Actually just testing my "Blog This" link... But the Washington Post's recurring feature LIFE IS SHORT | Autobiography as Haiku is definitely worth reading.
Ok, nothing real exciting to say yet. This site is the culmination of months of thinking that one of these days I'm going to set up one of them Blog things. Well here it is. Sort of a let down, huh.