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fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Apple's futuristic new building is neither a new concept nor a progressive innovation. Like the Pentagon and GCHQ, both of which are also owned by secretive organizations, the building is designed to be viewed from the air with no consideration for how it is to be viewed from the street other than hiding it like an embarrassing relative behind a forest of trees, rendering it invisible to all but airline passengers. Its sprawling and insular design philosophy is a last gasp of a dying utopian architectural vision that is thankfully being abandoned as we return to more traditional and sustainable models of urban planning." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Police departments of small American towns and cities have been stocking up on an arsenal that would hold back an alien invasion. Meanwhile, an aerial observation system called Persistence Surveillance Systems that can record the movements of vehicles and pedestrians for later analysis, allowing police to go back to the time and place where a crime was reported and see it taking place, was used in 2012 in one Californian city for two weeks without public knowledge or consultation. Such invasive surveillance combined with excessively militarized policing could undermine support for, and hence the effectiveness of, law enforcement." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Following an investigation by the US Department of Labor, LinkedIn has agreed to pay over $3 million in overtime back wages and $2.5 million in liquidated damages to 359 former and current employees working at company branches in four states. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires companies to have record-keeping systems in place to record overtime hours worked and to ensure that employees are paid for those hours, requirements that the company was not meeting." Link to Original Source top
USA's record-breaking high speed flagship could be saved from the scrapyard
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "The SS United States is the fastest ocean liner ever built. A far cry from the heyday of these great ships that were made obsolete by jet travel, her gutted hulk has been rusting in Philadelphia since 1996. However, like the majestic Queen Mary that now serves as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, there are plans afoot to finally find the "big U" a permanent home in New York as part of a waterfront redevelopment." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Before the current offensive in Gaza erupted, the city of Tel Aviv grabbed headlines and the imagination of futurists everywhere with the announcement that a so-called “hover car” passenger transport system will be implemented by the end of 2016 on a trial basis. The concept of Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) is not new. Various attempts at PRT prototypes have been proposed and built in the past, some resembling small bubble-shaped pods running on a rollercoaster-like rail system. Perhaps the most extensive study was carried out in Hamburg in the 1970s. Cabintaxi was a network of elevated tracks using a clever arrangement that had cube-shaped pods suspended underneath the track going in one direction, and other cube-shaped pods sitting on top of the track going in the other." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Governments sometimes see the value of science in purely economic terms, resulting in short-term thinking about what should be funded. For example, the Irish government has been criticized for focusing to much on scientific research that produces immediately tangible benefits, i.e. jobs, that bolster the image of politicians. "Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, European Research Council president, recently reiterated a criticism made two years ago that Ireland is too focussed on research aimed at immediate job creation and as a result is missing out on potential funding. He is also quoted as saying that basic science must be left to flourish before people move to exploit it to create jobs."" Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Wired reports one mathematician's mission to find love online by data mining from OK Cupid and applying mathematical modeling to optimize his profile(s). His methods included using "Python scripts to riffle through hundreds of OkCupid survey questions. He then sorted female daters into seven clusters, like “Diverse” and “Mindful,” each with distinct characteristics." But the real work began when he started going on dates." top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "Yahoo recently revamped their email service and it has been met with widespread hostility. Many features had been removed but most contentious is the obliteration of tabs. So far nearly 100,000 people have called for tabs to be restored on the Yahoo voice feedback page. Other issues that have had fewer votes have been fixed, but the lady does not seem to be for turning on this one. There are also reports of widespread service disruption. I have been unable to access the service at all since yesterday either from desktop or iPhone, and can't even get in there to retrieve my contacts. Being cut off from email has been a humbling reminder of how much we have come to rely on cloud services." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan writes "Teams of scientists from across the continent are vying for a funding bonanza that could see two of them receive up to (euro) 1 billion ($1.33 billion) over 10 years to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technology.
The contest began with 26 proposals that were whittled down to six last year. Just four have made it to the final round.
They include a plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm; a massive data-crunching machine to simulate social, economic and technological change on our planet; an effort to craft the most accurate computer model of the human brain to date; and a team working to find better ways to produce and employ graphene — an ultra-thin material that could revolutionize manufacturing of everything from airplanes to computer chips." Link to Original Source top
Wikipedia visual editor may increase participation
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "What a hard time Toyota is having now. Rather than blaming over-expansion, The Economist is attributing their current woes to a shortening of product development cycles, and increasing reliance on electronics to do jobs that were previously done by mechanical parts:
But software is not hardware, and software “engineers”, despite their appropriation of the name, are a different breed from the sort that bash metal. Programming digital controllers is not one of Toyota’s core competences. Even with the most diligent of testing, bugs will always find their way into software. Right now, it seems Toyota is learning that lesson the hard way.
America’s Supreme Court is about to issue a ruling which, by all accounts, will make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a patent for a business process. And because most business processes are, at bottom, computer algorithms, the Supreme Court’s judgment could also bar all sorts of software patents in the process. As a result, a lot of patents for online shopping, medical-diagnostic tests and procedures for executing trades on Wall Street could be invalidated.
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "A bill introduced in the U.S. Congress would double the number of immigrant worker visas available each year under the H-1B program. "The Innovation Employment Act, introduced by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (D-Ariz.), late Thursday, would increase the cap in H-1B visas from 65,000 a year to 130,000 a year. In addition, there would be no cap on H-1B applications for foreign graduate students attending U.S. colleges and studying science, technology and related fields. Currently, there's a 20,000-a-year cap on visas for graduate students in all fields."
I've been on my H1-B for about eight years and I'm still waiting for my green card. I wish someone would pass the "hurry up and gimme a god-damn visa number" bill." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "British Member of Parliament Paul Farrelly had tabled (posed) a Parliamentary question about the oil traders Trafigura and its solicitors (lawyers) Carter-Ruck. London-based Trafigura is an oil trader connected with dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast in 2006. A court injunction then prevented The Guardian newspaper from identifying the MP who had asked the question, what the question was, which minister might answer it, or where the question was to be found. In a twist the paper described as "Kafka-esque", it was also banned from telling its readers why it had been banned from doing so. But the story soon leaked out via Twitter and the gagging order was lifted after the lawyers dropped their claim. The BBC reports:
The social networking site Twitter was soon awash with posts deploring a threat to media freedom and the reporting of Parliament.... And the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg tweeted: "Really pleased Guardian ban has been lifted. This is a victory for freedom of speech and online activism".
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "An international plan to build a nuclear fusion reactor is being threatened by rising costs, delays and technical challenges.
Emails leaked to the BBC indicate that construction costs for the experimental fusion project called Iter have more than doubled. Some scientists also believe that the technical hurdles to fusion have become more difficult to overcome and that the development of fusion as a commercial power source is still at least 100 years away. At a meeting in Japan on Wednesday, members of the governing Iter council will review the plans and may agree to scale back the project.
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "You think your local water supply is polluted. But you're getting the runaround from local officials, and you can't get your local newspaper to look into your concerns. What do you do? A group of journalists say they have an answer. You hire them to investigate and write about what they find. The idea, which they are calling "community-funded journalism," is now being tested in the San Francisco Bay area, where a new nonprofit, Spot Us, is using its website to solicit ideas for investigative articles and the money to pay for the reporting from a large number of small donations." Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "This is the kind of work that makes a body wish President Bush would read books. The author's point is that diplomacy is America's strength, and it should be used first with force held as a last resort, especially in a world where the US is not the only superpower anymore due to the growing influence of countries in the developing world.
'The Rise of the Rest' is what Mr Zakaria uses to refer to the economic and political growth in developing countries, principally (but not limited to) India and China. Globalization and the opening of international trade has generated great improvements in living standards lifting many millions of people out of poverty across the globe. India and China have been most noticeable because of their sheer size, accounting for over a sixth of the human race between them. India's and China's stories are, of course, slightly different. China has a lot of advantages (from their government's point of view) in that they can ride roughshod over the wishes of its people in the interests of achieving economic goals, whereas in democratic countries such as the UK, people have more freedom to object to development that will adversely affect their standard of living or property values. A proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport meets many obstacles in the form of objections from local residents, whereas in China it's possible for the government to just build an entire airport and sweep anyone out of the way who gets in it. India also has similar checks and balances as Western countries in that great public works projects are subject to objection from local people, and so their growth isn't quite at the same breathtaking pace as China's, but it is still impressive nonetheless.
However strong their performance on the economic stage, it will be a long time before China or India reach the same levels of domination as the US has today. Nor do they seem to want to. China certainly has no interest in becoming the world's policeman. Ending centuries of self-imposed isolation, China's main interest for now is in securing its own borders, reining in runaway regions, and protecting its own interests. Similarly, India is more interested in continuing to build its own prosperity than imposing its own democratic values on the rest of the world. The USA is likely to remain the only major power wishing to export its values as well as its goods.
While international political structures are useful, some of them, like the UN Security Council, are hopelessly out of date. Japan and Germany are among the world's biggest economic powers but still don't have permanent seats on the council just because they were on the losing side in the second world war. Nevertheless, the USA remains the power that people go to in search of a diplomatic solution to international disputes, and that is likely to remain the case for quite some time.
Zakaria goes on to discuss the complexities of nuclear proliferation and to make suggestions on how to deal with this and other problems. The Iraq war is touched upon, remarking on how it is sign of America's unchecked power that it was able to launch an unprovoked war on Iraq and dupe other countries into helping it. The author approves of the end result of ousting of Saddam Hussein, but disapproves of the botched post-invasion occupation and the sheer incompetence of it.
The overall tone is non-partisan and contains none of the childish and heated conservative/liberal bombast that pollutes so much of the bookshelves these days. This writer doesn't fall neatly into the liberal/conservative pigeonholes that some commentators seem determined to push everyone into. The facts are there, the bibliography is extensive, and the case is made very well. If only work of this caliber were more widely read." top
fiannaFailMan writes "A six-year-old Chicago Tribune article about United declaring bankruptcy in 2002 was mistakenly published online "as new" by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a newspaper owned by The Tribune Company. The journalist saw it on Google News, it didn't have a date assigned to it, he assumed it was new, published it on Bloomberg, and before long, millions of dollars were wiped off the value of United's stock. The Washington Post (free registration) writes "the light-speed wipeout is a powerful reminder of how quickly bad information can spread via the Internet to a trigger-happy Wall Street that is willing to dump millions in stock before checking the facts."" Link to Original Source top
fiannaFailMan (702447) writes "The BBC is reporting that the UK Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that a television advert for the iPhone misled consumers. Two complaints to the watchdog noted that the advert said "all the parts of the internet are on the iPhone". But the ASA said because the iPhone did not support Flash or Java — the claim was misleading. Apple had argued its claim referred to availability of webpages, rather than their specific appearance." Link to Original Source
I would urge people to join me in calling for an end to openly racist comments on/. directed against developing nations, principally India, or at least for them to be modded 'Troll.'
Every time a story is posted on/. concerning a technical development in India, there are usually a small number of comments about the technical merits of the article, but a huge wave of blatent racist comments that poke fun at Indian cinema, food, the accent, and just about everything short of the colour of their skin. It's as if the concept of a non-white person achieving anything complex is a source of amusement. What alarms me even more is the fact that these comments receive 'Funny' mods and are not treated as the trolls they are.
I recently got into a flame war with one of these racists who openly justified his racism because of outsourcing. His view was that Indians deserve to be the butt of racist jokes because they are taking jobs from good white Americans. The debate about outsourcing is not one I'm going to get into here, but whether you agree or with outsourcing or not, there can be no justification for racism.
Anyone with mod points, use them wisely. Use them to fight racism, not promote it. It is totally unacceptable and we must point it out as such whenever it shows up./.ers must be made aware of what they are doing so that they can change their behaviour.
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 9 years ago
Carrying guns is a fundamental right. Right? And guns make people safer. Right? Well if we want our airlines to be safe from terrorist hijackings and suchlike, would you be in favour of allowing passengers to carry guns onto planes? After all, if guns make people safer on the ground, why would it be any different in the air? Discuss.
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
While the Ohio poll turns into a latter-day Florida and the Kerry camp rightly hangs in there until all the votes are counted, it is not looking good for the Democrats. It looks like we are in for another four years of marching towards terminal decline in America. Here is what I see in store:
At least one more war against a state that the evangelical Christian ideologues of the far right take a dislike to - probably Iran despite the democracy there and despite the strong movement in favour of reform
Total carnage in the Middle East as the misguided support for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine continues
At least one more small country's democratic government deposed in favour of a more neo-conservative-friendly puppet as happened in Haiti
Another attempt to depose the democratically elected president of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez. Mr Chavez survived one coup-attempt already (and there is plenty of evidence of CIA involvement in that one) and will doubtless be prepared for a second one. The Bush administration has made no secret of the fact that they do not recognise his mandate. A White House spokesman is quoted as saying that "a majority of voters" did not confer "legitimacy" on the Venezualan government. But then they would know after having lost the popular vote in 2000. Chavez is a clever guy though, and it'll be interesting to see if he can thwart any schemes to unseat him.
More of the Reverse Robin Hood Syndrome, i.e. robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. Stand by for more tax cuts for billionaires while schools close left right and centre for lack of funds. In my area, three schools are closing next year in San Jose, CA. They aren't the first, and won't be the last. Cities all over America are being starved of funds for basic maintenance of infrastructure and public works projects.
More incompetent handling of the war on terror. Bush let Osama Bin Ladin slip through his fingers at Tora Bora by diverting troops to his misguided adventure in Iraq. He's still out there, still influential, and still agitating for more death and destruction on US soil.
Skyrocketing debt. The last time I looked at the Federal budget deficit it was around $450 bn, an all time record. Bush, who in his first state of the union address complained about government spending too much, has become the biggest spending US president EVER. He has run up more debt than the previous six presidents combined.
Lack of checks or balances. With Republicans dominating the Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, and conservative judges holding sway in the Supreme Court, there is no stopping the right-wing ideologues from doing whatever they like.
Marginalisation of international institutions, contempt for treaties, and the breakdown of international law as we know it.
America now looks to be out of control, self-centred, and heading for a collision course with the rest of the world in its quest for global domination. There has never been a time when a need to counterbalance this threat has been so great.
Europe has already shown its ability to force the hand of the US on matter such as international trade, when George Bush was forced to rescind his disgraceful and illegal tarrifs on steel imports under threat of retailiatory measures that would have been imposed by the EU and designed to hurt him in key electoral states. It was a rare moment of US humility, but the sort of thing that we need to see a lot more of.
Those who are looking for a way to inspire the people of Europe into getting enthused about the benefits of greater European unity now have the perfect opportunity. A threat is there, Europe can unite against it. For the sake of the rest of the world, we must.
The next time someone criticizes John Kerry for being a flip-flopper remind them:
Bush was against campaign finance reform; now he's for it.
Bush was against a Homeland Security Department; now he's for it.
Bush was against a 9/11 commission; now he's for it.
Bush was against an Iraq WMD investigation; now he's for it.
Bush was against nation building; now he's for it.
Bush was against deficits; now he's for them.
Bush was for free trade; then he was for tariffs on steel, and now he's against them again.
Bush was against the U.S. taking a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; now he pushes for a "road map" and a Palestinian State.
Bush was for states' rights to decide on gay marriage; now he is for changing the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage.
Bush said he would provide money for first responders (fire, police, emergency); then he doesn't.
Bush said that "help is on the way" to the military; then he cuts their benefits and health care.
Bush claimed to be in favor of environmental protection; then he secretly approved oil drilling on Padre Island in Texas and other places and took many more anti-environmental actions.
Bush said he is the "education president;" then he refused to fully fund key education programs and rarely does his homework, such as read position papers so he will be more knowledgeable on issues.
Bush said that him being governor of Texas for six years was enough political experience to be president of the U.S.; then he criticized Sen. John Edwards for not having enough experience after Edwards had served six years in the U.S. Senate.
During the 2000 campaign, Bush said there were too many lawsuits being filed; then during the Florida recount, he was the first to file a lawsuit to stop the legal counting of votes after Gore took advantage of Florida law to ask for a recount.
On Nov. 7, 2000, the Bush campaign supported Florida county officials drawing up new copies of some 10,000 spoiled absentee votes in 26 Republican-leaning counties that the machines did not read and marking them for the candidates when they showed "clear intent;" they opposed doing the same thing after Nov. 7 when Gore asked for such recounts. Bush dominated absentee balloting in Florida by a two-to-one margin.
Bush said during the 2000 campaign that he did not have a "litmus test" for judges he appointed to be against abortion; then he mostly appointed judges who were against abortion.
In the early 1990s, Bush led a campaign to raise taxes in Arlington, Texas, to build a new baseball stadium for the team he partly owned; he later criticized politicians for supporting tax increases - after he got rich by selling the team with the new stadium to a wealthy campaign contributor.
Bush opposed the U.S. negotiating with North Korea; now he supports it.
Bush went to the racist and segregationist Bob Jones University in South Carolina; then he said he shouldn't have.
Bush said he would demand a U.N. Security Council vote on whether to sanction military action against Iraq; later Bush announced he would not call for a vote.
Bush first said the "mission accomplished" Iraqi banner was put up by the sailors; he later admitted it was done by his advance team.
Bush was for fingerprinting and photographing Mexicans who enter the U.S.; after meeting with Mexican President Fox, he decided against it.
Bush was opposed to Rice testifying in front of the 9/11 commission citing "separation of powers;" then he was for it.
Bush was against Ba'ath party members holding office or government jobs in Iraq; now he's for it.
Bush said we must not appease terrorists; then he lifted trade sanctions on admitted terrorist Mohammar Quaddafi and Pakistan, which pardoned its official who sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
Bush said he would wait until after the Nov. election to ask for more money for the war effort; then he decided he needed it before the election, after all.
Bush said, "Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America." His administration now says that U.S. troops will pull out of Iraq when the new provisional authority asks. Then he said they'll stay "as long as needed" again. Now he's saying that the Iraqis can ask the troops to leave, and they will. Or is he?
The Bush administration officials said that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to "enemy combatants." Now they claims they do.
Bush officials said before the Iraq invasion that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to U.S. security and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and even nuclear weapons; after the invasion, they denied saying the word "imminent" and saying that Iraq had WMDs and nuclear weapons, even though they were caught on tape making such statements.
"The most important thing is for us to find Osama Bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." - George W. Bush, Sept. 13, 2001
"I don't know where he is. I have no idea, and I really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." - George W. Bush, March 13, 2002
Are you getting tired of this? Well, some in the American military are getting tired of this, too: "The (Bush) administration has an overly simplistic view of how and when to use our military. By not bringing in our friends and allies, they have created a mess in Iraq and are crippling our forces around the world." -Retired Admiral William Crowe, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Ronald Reagan
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
We don't have the luxury of Single Transferable Voting in the US, so there is no room for third parties. And even if we did, it would be irrelevant to the Presidential election because there is only one position up for grabs. So let's not kid ourselves, there may have been some similarities between the Democrats and Republicans in years gone by but we simply cannot allow the country to fall under another four years of fascist rule by this brain-dead puppet. There is no room for a third party in this election, especially when the top priority has to be making sure that all liberals, progressives, and reasonably sane people cast their votes to the candidate most likely to beat Bush. Don't throw away your vote to Nader. After all the thievery in Florida last time and the indications that this election will be every bit as close, only a handful of liberals voting for Nader could be enough to give us another four years of Bush. PLEASE don't do it!!!
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
Scenario 1. A post appears that pokes fun at the French, or the Germans, or the Brits, or any other nationality. Hell, it might even make light of some terrorist atrocity commited in any of those countries. How does it get modded? 'Funny.'
Scenario 2. A post appears that pokes fun at the USA or maybe just the US government (which, it should be noted, is a very different thing from the USA itself). How does it get modded? 'Flamebait.'
I see these double standards all the time on/.
Well I am going on a mission to metamod these bozos as 'unfair' until the/. crew learns that if you can't take it, you shouldn't give it. Who's with me?
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
A player must be able to sprint like a 100 metres champion, catch a high-flying ball (as hard as a baseball) in his weak hand with no mitt to help him, twist and turn like a basketball player, avoid being shoulder-charged into the ground, and be able to swing his stick while running to hit the ball in mid-air with a forehanded or backhanded swing, and in both cases with pinpiont accuracy. He must be able to hit the ball on the ground like a field hockey player, scoop the ball up off the ground with his stick to get it into his hand, and if he wants to take more than three steps with the ball in his posession, he must balance it on the end of his stick. The solid wood sticks swing at head-height, padding is non-existent, helmets are optional.
Am I describing some strange version of a game of accelerated, suicidal, ariel field hockey? No. This is Hurling, Ireland's national game and the fastest game on grass, period.
It is a two thousand year-old sport that has been played in Ireland in one form or another since pre-christian times. It originated as a way of training warriors for battle, and this heritage is reflected in the almost militaristic pageantry of the All-Ireland championships and the severe intensity at which the sport is played. The speed is breathtaking, and the violence is a little too much for some, but the skills involved in controling the ball make it an absolute spectacle to watch.
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
The sleepy suburbs of the US are causing mayhem, death, and destruction around the world. Period.
Let's start with the causes of sprawl before we deal with the effects. As I said elsewhere in my journal (skip this and the next paragraph if you have already read it), in the post war period, it made a lot of sense to seperate industry from residential areas since production in those days was a dirty business in most cases. So industry was zoned off in its own corner of town and lo-and-behold, quality of life improved for the residents. Sensation.
Where it started to go horribly wrong was when the planners decided to zone everything from everything, and the spectre of single-use-zoning, aka the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) rules came into existence. Offices go here, factories go there, shops go somewhere else, and all the houses go in a residential area. Makes for neat and tidy diagrams on paper, but in practice it pushes common everyday uses out of walking distance of each other. We all have to sleep, work, shop and play at different times of the day. Put these things beyond walking distance of each other, and you effectively force everyone to drive just to get through the day.
Now, the single-use-zoning golden calf isn't the only thing that causes sprawl. There is in American society an inherent undercurrent of anti-urbanism. It's nothing new, it dates back as far as Jefferson. "I view large cities," he wrote, "as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberties of man." This was a commonly held view at the time, and the trend in American cities was for the wealthy to move to big mansions on the outskirts, whereas in Europe the well-off people preferred to stay downtown right at the heart of things and it was the poor who were pushed to the outskirts. Anti-urbanism in the US has never gone away - as recently as last year I saw some people with a stall at Sunnyvale farmer's market complaining about some tall buildings that had been built towards the end of the dot-com boom in the centre of Sunnyvale. They didn't like the fact that they were so tall, that they prevented sunlight from getting in (which they didn't), that they were too close together (how close is too close?), all manner of subjective and half-baked complaints. There were no complaints about a low-rise sprawling development only a block away where about five identical, boring, two-story office buildings had been built in the traditional suburban manner, i.e. surrounded by acres of parking spaces and some landscaped footpaths where nobody walks and where the whole thing goes dead after five o'clock. Anecdotes aside, the majority of Americans still prefer to live in the suburbs - the image of the busy bustling city street is perceived in a negative light. It draws to mind images of the Bronx and slums of older cities, while the existence of successful, vibrant, and exciting downtown areas (like parts of San Francisco or Times Square in NYC) do not feature prominently in their thinking.
The main problem I have with life in the suburbs is that they are soulless. There are neither urban nor rural, they combine the worst of both worlds. I thought that the whole point of a city was that everything is close to hand, and as a trade-off you sacrifice a bit of space. Well in the suburbs you have less space than you would in the countryside (albeit a little more space than in an urban apartment), but your location in the middle of a sea of houses puts you so far away from amenities like shops, resturaunts and the like that you might as well be living away out in the sticks. If you have to get in your car and drive a mile just to buy a postage stamp, what benefit is there to living in a suburb?
So how does this affect the rest of the world? Simple. The dominance of suburbs forces increasing numbers of people to drive more than they would if they lived in a traditional, high-density urban environment where daily needs are close at hand and mass-transit offers an advantage over the private car. This in no small part contributes to America's ultra-high energy consumption.
Figures from eia.doe.gov about the USA:
Total Energy Consumption (2002E): 98.3 quadrillion Btu (2003E): 98.1 quadrillion Btu (25% of world total energy consumption)
Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions (2002E): 5,796 million metric tons of carbon (about 24% of world total carbon emissions)
Per Capita Energy Consumption (2003E): 338 million Btu
So the country with about 4% of the world's population consumes 25% of its energy. A bit of an imbalance.
Our dependence on oil is interwoven into our society as comprehensively as slavery was in the old south. The USA's dependence on oil is so desperate that it must be maintained at all costs. This leads to desperate measures to ensure that the oil flows. It leads to alleged CIA involvement in coup attempts like the one in Venezuala a few years aback. It leads to war with Iraq. It leads to our leaders cosying up to the Bin Laden family and repressive undemocratic regimes like the House of Saud. It leads to a military presence in the Middle East that draws resentment from a certain other member of the Bin Laden family with whom I'm sure we're all familiar. It leads to a foreign policy that creates enemies, and breeds mistrust and resentment around the world.
This is the price we are paying for our suburban utopia. We're not paying for it in our gas taxes (which only cover a third of the cost of motoring). We're not paying for it through our other taxes that are spent on urban renewal and road-building. We're paying for it in the lives of American servicemen. We're paying for it in the lives of whoever is going to die in the next terrorist atrocity. We as a people have got to wake up to the fact that our everyday choices have an effect on others not just at home, but abroad as well. We are not an independant untouchable island. We are part of a global system where our fates are intertwined no matter how much we want to believe that we can do what we like without affecting anyone else.
I am not suggesting that everyone should be forced to live downtown or that our suburbs should be bulldozed and replaced by traditional urban streets. I am suggesting that where demand for high-density living exists, it should be met. I am suggesting that mixed-use zoning should be allowed back into our lives and let the market decide. So far the evidence suggests that there is a place for mixed-use developments. Santana Row in San Jose is one example of how the ability to walk to the shops is one that people are willing to pay a premium for. Enough of this communistic parcelling off of land into neat, boring, dead blocks of mediocrity. It's time to let people live in vibrant streets if they want, and let them show to the rest of us that the urban street is not evil.
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
My last journal entry got a good response, so here's one in a similar vein.
Interesctions in the US, especially in California, are of the four-way type. You either have a four-way stop, or a four-way traffic-light junction. These are both inefficient and they are death-traps. Why?
Let's start with the inefficiency. At larger suburban intersections the cycles on the lights are very long. If you stop just as a light turns red and you're waiting for the left arrow, you can be sitting there for a good few minutes. Traffic is going to back up behind you. This can create problems further back at the previous junction, so to avoid it, what do we do? We build extra lanes, not to accomodate all that moving traffic, but to store stationery vehicles stuck at the lights. This contributes to the horrors of sprawl as well as being a monumental waste of resources.
From the motorist's point of view, it turns his journey into one big stop-and-go session. No wonder automatic gearboxes are so popular in America, the amount of stop-n-go driving is unreal! And regardless of whether your transmission is automatic or manual, stop-n-go driving is not good for your engine, fuel consumption, or the environment.
Now let's take the safety issue. How does a 4-way stop-light encourage you to drive? That's right, it gives you an incentive to speed through it at the most dangerous time, i.e. when the light has just turned amber. I read that a third of all crashes happen at intersections. This is not one bit surprising.
Then you have the four-way-stop. These are fine, but what happens when you come to a stop sign where the cross-traffic does not stop, but there's no sign saying so? Someone approaches the stop sign, stops, sees a car coming from the side, assumes that he has right of way, moves off, *BANG!*
So. What are the alternatives? One word. Roundabouts.
Anyone who has been to Europe will have seen them because they're everywhere. For the uninitiated, these are 'yield-at-entry' traffic circles. As you approach the roundabout, you slow down as it flairs off to the right (in a country where you drive on the right) and you approach a yield sign. If nothing is coming around the roundabout towards you, you drive on. If something is coming around the circle, you yield to him. In fact, you don't have to stop, it's better if you slow down and just fit yourself into any gap that comes around. Once on the circle, you drive anti-clockwise without stopping because everyone else approaching the roundabout now has to yield to you and you keep on going until you're off the roundabout and on your merry way.
It works on the principle that it's unlikely that a large number of vehicles are going to be going to be going in the same direction, so you never have to wait very long for a gap to open up. If a car is coming around but shoots off the roundabout into the exit before yours, that buys enough time for you to drive on.
Advantages? Well for one thing the traffic overall flows a lot better. You seldom have to stop, so there's no need for big wide roads to store stationery vehicles. They are also safer than 4-ways believe it or not. Studies show a reduction in the number of accidents where 4-ways are replaced by roundabouts. Reason? Well instead of giving the motorist an incentive to speed through to make the light, one is forced to slow down because of the curvature of the thing. Also, there are fewer points where a collision can occur. On a 4-way there are over 30 potential collision points, twice as many as on a roundabout.
Disadvantages? Bigger roundabouts can be difficult for cyclists to navigate. Also, because traffic flows more or less continuously, they are not suitable for urban centres where large numbers of pedestrians need to be able to cross the street. Lack of familiarity when they are first introduced would be a problem, but one that is easily overcome with public education campaigns.
There's a section in the San Jose Mercury News called 'Roadshow' where readers can write in for answers to their questions about anything relating to the roads in Silicon Valley. A common question is "My commute along highway [blah] has gotten very slow lately. When is this road going to get widened?" More often than not, there is a plan to widen said road. Public policy in California seems to focus on adding extra lanes almost as if it's a requisite solution to congestion. But it's neither requisite nor is it a solution. Here's why.
In the 1980s they built a huge orbital motorway around London called the M25. At the time it was hailed by the British tabloid press as a 'traffic jam-buster' and 'the end of congestion in London at last.' Within a few years it became known as 'the world's longest car park (parking lot)' and a 'complete disaster' as well as an infinite number of other negative descriptions. It was this monstrosity that propelled the concept of 'induced traffic' into the collective consciousness of the average Brit.
With Induced Traffic, adding extra roadspace leads not to a reduction in congestion, but an increase in traffic which in turn leads to an increase in congestion right back up to the same levels as it was at before the new roads or extra lanes were built. No sooner do you build a road than it fills with vehicles.
Reasons? There are many. People who live close to their place of work (usually in a city) frequently have to pay more for their property. To take advantage of cheaper property, they move out of town. Growth further away from town leads to an increase in traffic, leading to extra demand for roadspace. So the road is given extra lanes supposedly to ease congestion from the outlying location. The commute temporarily gets a bit quicker. People living in town want to take advantage of cheap property further out as well as the quicker commute from there. So they move out in huge numbers, and hence the traffic to and from the remote location increases at peak time. A vicious circle.
Bay Area gridlock was supposed to result from the refusal to re-build the elevated freeways that had collapsed in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake. It didn't happen. The motorists who were supposed to clog up the city's streets ended up making other arrangements. They took alternative rooutes, rode their bikes, took the bus, took the tram, took the BART, took the cable car.
So it's obvious that roadspace has no correlation with good traffic flow. If it did, Los Angeles, where a full third of the city's surface area is dedicated to roads, highways and parking lots, would be the least congested city in the world. It isn't.
Well for one thing, roads are free at the point of use. In other words, this limited resource is rationed out by queueing as opposed to price, something that should have disappeared with the Soviet era. The congestion charge in London has been a huge success. Before it was brought in, traffic in London proceeded at the same average speed that it had done 100 years previously when it was propelled by horses. Charge people for the privilege of getting into central London and they start making sure that the journey is absolutely necessar or else they use more efficient mass transit.
However, mass transit only works efficiently when urban density is above a certain level. In low-density Silicon Valley, getting around by public transport will take you two to three times as long as driving. This sort of low-density sprawl is fairly typical of California. Why? Well it's kind of a long story, but to cut it short, after WWII it was decided that industry (which was pretty dirty in those days) should be moved from residential areas. The policy worked and was a gret success. But then the planners got a bit carried away with it. They decided to seperate everything from everything. Houses go here. Shops got here. Offices go over here. Industry goes back there. Single Use Zoning, aka the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) rules took hold and we were left with a situation in which the suburbs replaced the traditional urban environment. Now, when a suburbanite runs out of milk, he has to strap himself into a three-tonne vehicle and create a cloud of pollution to take himself to the nearest 'convenience' (sic) store. Whereas someone in an older city like San Francisco usually just steps out of his apartment and walks to the little grocery store across the street.
All these different uses, shopping, living, working, playing, are something that we all do at different times of the day. Put them out of walking distance of each other, and you give the people a huge amount of driving to do just to meet basic daily needs. Widening roads to accomodate them just spreads everything out further, another vicious circle.
So let's get back to basics and build our cities in the tried and tested way they have been built since time began, i.e. put everything close at hand. That's kinda the whole point of cities anyway.
Let's have a fairer tax on fuel so that the full cost of motoring is included in the price of petrol. US motorists only pay a third of the cost of road-building through their gas taxes, the rest comes from federal income tax. Cut income tax, increase petrol tax. Furthermore, use that tax to invest more in efficient mass-transit and less in inefficient roads.
Currently Amtrak is expected to pay for both rolling-stock AND railway infrastructure. It is not a level playing-field with the federally-subsidised interstate freeways. Let's level it. Let's have proper subsidies for railway infrastructure and open up the railway operations to privatisation and competition. With the tracks and signalling paid for by Uncle Sam, the privatised railway operators might actually be able to make a profit whilst improving services.
As well as roads, the airline industry is also unfairly subsidised. Time to tighten the purse-strings and let the market go to work for the benefit of the consumer. Time to provide a bit more choice as to how people want to live and get around.
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
Slashdotters hate Flash. Period. Try posting anything in favour of Flash anytime the subject comes up and you'll see what I mean. I even saw one guy go as far as to say that 'Flash can only be used for evil.' Gawd! Tell us how you really feel!
Here are the criticisms that they come up with:
Flash is bad because it is used for annoying animations that get in the way of website usability
Flash is bad because it is used to spring music on people without warning
Flash is bad because it hogs the processor
Let's take criticism 1.
Moreover, Flash has moved on from the days of animations. In fact, go to any Macromedia user group and confess to creating animations and the response will be 'shame on you!' Flash is nowadays used for querying databases and displaying data without refreshing a whole page of HTML. For example, e-Trade used to have a little Flash app on their website that let you query prices of a particular stock. You type in the ticker symbol, press the button, and after a second or two the price would appear in the swf without having reloaded a single byte of HTML. A bit more efficient than redisplaying the whole page for the sake of updating one little string of characters. This is a whole different approach to web-based applications. The metaphor of the 'page' is inefficient for complex interactive sites like Travelocity or Netflix etc.
Oh, and Flash is also the most sophisticated web-based video-playback platform yet developed.
Criticism 2: "Flash is bad because it springs music on people without warning."
Well Flash isn't the only technology capable of doing that. I seem to remember java applets doing that to me in years gone by. Once again, I didn't hear any complaints from slashdotters about the evils of Java. The fallacy behind this criticism is the same as that behind criticism 1 above. It's not the technology's fault that it gets abused from time to time.
Criticism 3: "It hogs the processor."
Okay, I'll give you that. But for Joe Consumer surfing the net in his living-room, I don't think he's gonna be aware of any problem unless he's doing a bit of finite element analysis in the background.
Bottom line: Don't blame the technology. Flash has moved on from creating animations. In fact a lot of Flash stuff is now being done without making any use of the timeline. I've seen some people create apps in which they never show the stage. The developer tools are getting more powerful with each release, it has evolved into a fully-fledged software development environment. If you're a programming type and you had doubts about Flash before, I invite you to look again and get into it. You might actually like it if you opened your mind and gave it a chance!
fiannaFailMan writes | more than 10 years ago
Government of the people, by the people, for the people is a great idea. However it starts to fall down a bit if the people are as thick as two short planks. Take California's voters micromanaging the budget for example. Who are the voters to tell legislators how to handle the complex financial issues of the day? What's the point in electing people to the assembly on the one hand, if we just turn around and tie their hands and prevent them from doing their job on the other?
Voters yesterday voted down Proposition 56. This would have reduced the required majority to raise taxes from 67% to 55%. In effect, one of the worst effects of Prop 13 is still in force: an anti-tax minority effectively has the final say over whether or not taxes should be raised. What's so democratic about that?