Eastbound and Done?

The Future of Campus Drive
The Future of Campus Drive

Here’s an interesting footnote in the history of the College Park campus of the University of Maryland: Sunday may be the final day one can drive eastbound on Campus Drive, ever.

The eastbound lane of Campus Drive will close Monday for construction of the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center.

Officials hope to reopen the closed segment, which runs from H.J. Patterson Hall to the “M” circle, when construction concludes in December 2016, Capital Projects Assistant Director Bob Martinazzi said, though Purple Line light rail construction could cause a delay.

Work on the Purple Line, which will place Campus Drive’s downhill lane, is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2015. Should the two projects overlap, that lane may not reopen at all, Department of Transportation Services Director David Allen and Capital Projects Director William Olen confirmed.

Walking

This week I’ve taken up walking to work. It’s about 32 minutes each way, and a little under four miles round-trip. WolframAlpha tells me I’m burning over 500 Calories (that’s kilo-calories for you Europeans). I hope to keep this up until hay fever season starts. It’s enjoyable, saves money, and must be good for the environment.

What do I do while I walk? Sometimes I think. If I pass another person, I think about whether I should say “Good morning!” But instead, I do not. I wonder what they’re thinking. Probably that I’m a ne’er-do-well. I want to tell them that, no, I’m an ever-do-well. But again, I do not.

I look at the newspapers piling up in front of one house. Perhaps these people are on vacation. “I should rob them tonight!” I think to myself. Just kidding.

Today I spent most of the walk with my head cocked back looking up at utility poles. From top to bottom you have primary power distribution lines, which feed into transformers (the big buckets-shaped devices). The transformers, in turn, feed into the secondary power distribution lines below, which supply electricity to homes. Farther down, underneath the power lines, are the telephone cables, the cable TV/Internet coax, and fiber optic lines. The telephone cable bundles are punctuated with bulging splice cases. And along the cable TV/Internet cables one sees the occasional amplifier, covered with heat fins.

How do I know so much about utility poles? It’s called reading. Specifically, Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape. Highly recommended.

On the way to work, I stop at the local Starbucks. I drink coffee and read the paper, which I bring along with me in my black messenger bag. Today I sat near a crazy old woman in a blue, hooded sweatshirt. When a young man in fatigues sat down, she announced, “We have a terrorist in here!

Picking on little countries, don’t see you invading China. Bitch. Just like a bully. Just like in school.” The man quietly got up and moved to another section. “Bitch, that’s right, walk away.”

I went back to reading the paper. A few minutes later she pulled out an apple and started peeling it. She threw the peels against the front window, where they fell to the ground. I looked at her.

“What are you looking at? Bitch.”

“You’re littering,” I responded.

“So? So what?”

“So other people have to sit there. You’re giving that guy a hard time for being a bully, but you don’t care about other people, either.”

I immediately regretted saying “either.” That’s not what I meant. I got up and walked to another section myself.

Should I have kept my mouth shut? This woman is probably mentally ill. Maybe she’s homeless and off her meds. Is she responsible for her actions? Or is she just a miserable, selfish human being? Then again, perhaps I caused a moment of reflection on her part, maybe even remorse.

Who am I kidding. I’m sorry, crazy woman. It’s not your fault. The soldier was wiser than I.

An Open Letter to WETA

Dear WETA,

Allow me to set the stage. Having just finished viewing another excellent
edition of the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, I was washing dishes with the TV
still tuned — I thought — to WETA. I wasn’t paying attention at first when I
heard that nameless but instantly familiar movie commercial voice: “When
all hope seems lost … [Clive Owen and other actors speaking over inspirational
music …] what you need the most [more dialog and music] … is closer
than you think. This fall, from the director of Shine, and the producer of
Billy Elliot: The Boys are Back, rated PG-13. Exclusive engagement starts
September 25th.”

At first I wondered why my TiVo had switched the channel to a commercial
network. But when I returned to the TV, I saw that, no, this was indeed
WETA.

What gives? If that wasn’t a commercial then nothing is. Yes, I understand
that no product claims were made, and there was no call to action, so that
by your narrow definition this was not a “commercial” but an “underwriting
statement.” But whom are you kidding? Yes, this commercial didn’t
interrupt programming: it appeared between shows. This makes it slightly
less irritating than most commercials, but that’s the best one can say.

I’m a WETA member and have been for years. I’m not easily outraged (really!),
but I am now. I’m seriously considering an end to my support of your station.
Over the years I’ve put up with the ever-increasing encroachment of commercial
messages into public television, but this crosses a line.

I realize you have difficult financial choices to make. But at some point
you must ask yourself what principles are so important that you would forego
revenue rather than violate them.

You’ve apparently made your decision. Now I must make mine.

Summer Sounds

It would appear that I have yet to update my bjournal this summer, and summer is almost gone.

As I write it is after ten at night. The weather is cool, and I have opened the windows. It feels like autumn is approaching, but the sound is still firmly summer’s. Closing my eyes and focusing, I hear the steady background din of a thousand crickets, and the closer chirping of ten or so that are nearby. One of the crickets may in fact be a frog, but I’m not sure.

On the way to work, and on the way back, I still hear cicadas in the trees, and I occasionally see them resting on the ground or sitting on a staircase step. If I think one is likely to be trod upon and smushed, I gently move it out of harm’s way with a twig. Cicada’s don’t like to be moved with a twig, as it turns out. They hold fast as long as they can (they’re surprisingly strong), moving not at all. Perhaps the cicada hopes to convince me it is dead. But once forced to loosen its grip, it becomes angry and starts buzzing loudly. Some primal part of my brain immediately thinks “bee!” and I recoil like a child. I hope there is a cicada afterlife where the cicada deity shows the recently deceased a flashback of their entire life (mostly as larvae sleeping underground by tree roots), and the cicadas I encountered learn that I had good intentions, and think, “Aww, shucks.”

In a few months, when it is cold, I will notice that silent is the night, and I will wonder when everything died, or burrowed underground. So this year, I plan to listen each night and pay attention as it happens. I may even report back. As of now, though: loud insects rule the night.

I like BPA because it’s good for my baby!

What do you do when your industry depends on a much-maligned chemical,
feared by the public and in danger of government regulation? Apparently
you and your colleagues meet at the Cosmos Club and talk strategy. Not surprising, but this time the Post obtained a copy of the notes:

According to internal notes of a private meeting, obtained by The Washington Post, frustrated industry executives huddled for hours Thursday trying to figure out how to tamp down public concerns over the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA. The notes said the executives are particularly concerned about the views of young mothers, who often make purchasing decisions for households and who are most likely to be focused on health concerns.

Industry representatives weighed a range of ideas, including “using fear tactics [e.g. “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging,” the notes said.

The attendees estimated it would cost $500,000 to craft a message for a public relations campaign, according to the notes. “Their ‘holy grail’ spokesperson would be a ‘pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA,’ ” the notes said.

Those in attendance said the mainstream media are ignoring their side of the controversy, and attendees talked about how the group is focusing on “legislative battles and befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process,” the document said.”

To be honest, I don’t know enough about the science, but the article goes on to
summarize some of the research.

Skaffa Review

skaffa.jpg

IKEA is known for providing
affordable design to the masses.
Or is that Target? In any case, IKEA appears to be
proud of the design that goes its products.
Walk into any IKEA and there on the wall you will find
enormous portraits of the bespectacled, sweater-clad Swedes responsible for the
sleek couches, bookcases, tables, desks, chairs,
lighting fixtures, colanders, and egg timers found
in each warehouse-store. If the photographs could speak they might say,
“That $15 Lerberg shelving unit that you are seeing there? Yes, I
produced that in in my office one frigid, overcast day
in December over a large glass of Julmust.”

This emphasis on design makes it all the more
difficult to understand the shoddy performance of my
Skaffa
vacuum flask, purchased some months ago (for a
very reasonable sum). As I see it, a vessel such as this
should, at a minimum, fulfill the following functional requirements:

  1. Keep coffee hot
  2. Reliably decant coffee into cup

The Skaffa succeeds admirably in the former case, but
fails miserably in the latter. The first and second
cups pour elegantly from the spout in a compact, reliable
stream. But beyond that, getting
coffee in your mug, and not on your newspaper, is
remarkably challenging. It is as if one has purchased
a gag item from a novelty store. “Watch their faces
as the coffee splatters unpredictably in all
directions!”

As best I can tell, there is a critical parameter
involving the angle of inclination needed for the
liquid to reach the spout. Beyond that angle the
fluid overshoots the spout, hits the bottom of the
screw-on cap, and then leaves the Skaffa in what can only be
described as a stochastic process. The defect may be
intimately related to the shape of the curve forming the inner profile of the thermos,
but that is a guess.

If anyone can recommend a better product, available in
the United States, I would be most grateful.

2002

The Obama administration has released four classified Justice Department memos used during the Bush administration to justify “enhanced” interrogation techniques, including this newly revealed practice:

You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him.

Somewhere in the upper reaches of the CIA there is, perhaps, a fan of George Orwell’s 1984: [SPOILER ALERT]:

“The worst thing in the world”, said O’Brien, “varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.”

He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four metres away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.

“In your case”, said O’Brien, “the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.”

A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water.

You can almost hear Zubayda screaming “Do it to Osama! Do it to Osama!”.

James Glassman

So it turns out James Glassman was right after all. Modulo 30,000, that is:

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — U.S. stocks saw losses accelerate in the final minutes of trade on Monday, with the Dow industrials losing more than 300 points to trade at fresh 12-year lows. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 300 points, or 3.4%, to 6,761, a level it last traded in January of 1997.

I hope this ends soon.

Pass on the Volvic

But it’s so tasty!

Talk about an energy drink. The first comprehensive and peer-reviewed energy analysis of a bottle of water confirms what many environmentalists have charged. From start to finish, bottled water consumes between 1100 and 2000 times more energy on average than does tap water.

Read more about it here. I wonder how much energy goes into making a bottle of Bling water. Archaelogists of the future: This is what we were drinking while Rome burned.