May 01, 2003

Let the Flamewar Begin

The Twin Cities Linux Users Group is having a meeting on Saturday, May 3rd. It'll just be open discussion, which would be good if anyone wants to learn more about Linux in general.

Or, meet people at Pizza Luce Friday night for the (usually) bi-weekly TCLUG beer meeting.

Posted by mike at 05:10 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 13, 2003

Newsies

Some silly news stories.

Britney Spears to have inflatable breasts:

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. pop star Britney Spears (news) is to get a pair of inflatable, throbbing breasts that will pulsate in time to her dancing—at least her waxwork model will at Madame Tussauds museum in London.

“There are plans to make a new figure of Britney Spears,” a spokeswoman said on Friday. “She'll be very sexy and she'll have heaving bosoms. But this is only in the very early stages of planning.”

Spike Lee is winning so far

State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub on Thursday said Lee presented enough evidence at a hearing this week to warrant a trial to decide the fate of the network's new moniker. Until then, no name change can take place.

But just in case he can't prove his case in the courtroom, Tolub made Lee post a $500,000 bond to cover Viacom's potential losses.

Just out of curiosity, I searched Google Images for “spike” and found a hell of a lot of images of Spike, the character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer...

Posted by mike at 10:56 AM Central | Internet , News , Spike , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 16, 2003

Chip 'n' Dale

Hmm.. All this time, I thought Rosedale was the first fully-enclosed shopping mall, but that was actually Southdale. I guess the many dales in the Twin Cities must have messed me up. Southdale opened in 1956, but Rosedale didn't open until 1969...

Posted by mike at 10:49 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 19, 2003

Boeing Boeing Gone

Wow. Late last month, a Boeing 727 was stolen from an airport in Angola (in Africa). It had been sitting out on the tarmac for over a year when a white guy climbed up into it and flew it away. For some reason, reports indicate that the plane had been loaded up with fuel before it left. It's believed that the man who took the plane was actually from a company that bought the plane two years ago (Aerospace Sales and Leasing), and he has been missing since he left for Africa in mid-May. He's not a licensed pilot, though—just a mechanic.

One of the more humorous things about this situation regards the non-presence of an emergency locator beacon:

[L]osing a plane as big as the Boeing 727 is not common.

The authorities have considered the odds of a plane just vanishing into thin air to be so remote that emergency locator transmitters are not installed on large aircraft, said former US National Transportation Safety Board director Ira Furman.

The devices are standard equipment on small planes to help locate them in the event of a crash.

Airliners such as 727s had not been provided with the transmitters “on the theory that we don't lose them,” ABC news quoted him as saying.

Posted by mike at 08:02 PM Central | News | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

August 14, 2003

United Parcel Service

As seen on Slashdot:

Didn't anyone notice the time the blackout happened? 4:11pm! That's 4-11! OH MY GOD! THE TERRORISTS WANT INFORMATION!

Posted by mike at 06:14 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 18, 2003

Fear My Cape of Doom

Hurricane Isabel is making landfall, so don't be surprised to see those silly television reporters standing out on beaches in the next day or so (I'm sure they've been doing it for a day or so already).

There's just something very strange about someone willingly standing out in the wind and rain, if only to show how hard it is to stand up.

I forget who it was (probably a “reporter” for Channel One), but I once saw someone doing a piece where he stood in a wind tunnel and stood up to hurricane-force winds. The big joke afterwards was that he had so much goop on his head that his hair stayed perfect through the whole thing ;-)

Posted by mike at 09:26 AM Central | News , TV , The Media , Weather | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ignoble

Woo! The Ig Nobels will be handed out on October 2nd.

Posted by mike at 07:20 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 22, 2003

Scorched Earth

I tried to drive past the house that burned over the weekend, but I guess I didn't drive on the right path to go past it. I drove down 8th Street and turned south onto 15th Ave, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. It must be past the railroad bridge north of 8th…

Posted by mike at 09:13 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 28, 2003

That'th Thuper!

Heh. I think Escondido is a funny name. Ethpethially if you thay it with a lithp.

Posted by mike at 11:01 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 29, 2003

Fight Fight Fight. Bite Bite Bite.

The team behind The Simpsons were almost sued by Fox News Channel for their fake news crawls (NPR interview ~6:00)? Priceless. That conglomerate has some serious issues to work out.

Spent the afternoon helping Adam install Debian on his old machine. I hope I didn't take control too much, but I could tell that it wasn't the best first impression of a Linux install. Oh well, that's Debian for ya.

I managed to snag a LiveJournal code from him, so I now have a user account there, which I will be using for the friends page.

Posted by mike at 07:44 PM Central | Comedy , Internet , News , Software , TV | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 31, 2003

Do You Know Any Slow Or Special People?

Staying up late flipping through the channels, I came across some video on one of the public access channels of Al Franken when he came to town a few weeks ago.

So, you're asking, what would Stuart Smalley have to say to President Bush? Well, to get started:

Hello Me.
I'm President Bush
I haven't created any new jobs
But that's okay
Because I'm good enough
Smart enough
And doggone it
Almost half the people voted for me

It was mentioned that Bill O'Reilly had an odd interview on NPR. I listened to it and could tell it had been designed to be moderately confrontational, not unlike the setups that O'Reilly has on his own shows. Listening to it, I had to admit that he's pretty good at what he does, but there are inconsistencies in what he says versus reality. Towards the end of the scheduled interview period (30 minutes or so), he decides to shut down the interview, which was done via radio between two separate locations, so he only had to flip a switch. That's kind of funny, because the context of him quitting was some questioning along the lines of how he shuts out or shoots down any negative criticism so that he always gets the last word.

In fairness, you can't believe every word you hear from Al Franken's mouth. He's a comedian and a satirist. On the other hand, you can't believe every word you hear from Bill O'Reilly because he's a lying bastard. ;-)

Posted by mike at 01:45 PM Central | Books , News , Politics , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 02, 2003

Wordplay

I've been seeing ‘insurgents’ pop up a lot in reports of what is going on in Iraq. Since Donald Rumsfeld was so fond of the dictionary in the ‘slogging’ incident last month, I thought I'd look up this one. A flag has just been raised in my mind that this is a different word that has been used in the past, and I'm just a little suspicious of it.

In Webster's Unabridged Dictionary from 1913 (isn't the public domain fun?) we have:

A person who rises in revolt against civil authority or an established government; one who openly and actively resists the execution of laws; a rebel

Merriam-Webster (online currently) adds:

a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent

For those who tend to forget the stronger meaning of “belligerent,’—like when you're not talking about kids causing trouble—I think the first definition applies (from M-W again):

waging war; specifically : belonging to or recognized as a state at war and protected by and subject to the laws of war

Now, amazingly enough, I must admit I don't know the specific state of conflict between the United States and Iraq at this point. I don't recall seeing anyone sign a document of surrender, nor do I remember a specific declaration of war (though perhaps the events of 1991 carry over to the present time). Still, I think much of the public would tend to believe we're at war over there.

Anyway, getting back to the point—I don't really think that the term ‘insurgent’ should apply to people who shoot down Chinook helicopters and bomb international agencies. I would consider the term applicable to bombings of police stations and portions of the Iraqi infrastructure. I suppose it's a thin line I'm drawing, but, uh…Okay, okay. I was bored.

Posted by mike at 11:24 PM Central | News , War | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 20, 2003

Assume Deposition

I'm pretty sure that the change of government in Iraq is going to follow a similar pattern to what has usually happened when the United States has deposed someone in power in hopes of creating a new ally. There's a guy named Ahmed Chalabi that has been pulling strings for over a decade, trying to convince the rest of the world to get rid of Saddam Hussein. He was one of the most important members of the Iraqi National Congress, a sort of government-in-exile that actually existed in the UK, but supposedly spoke for the Iraqi people. About 10 years ago, Chalabi formed a friendship with current Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who was a professor at the time.

Through the years, Chalabi brought forth all sorts of information about what was going on inside Iraq. However, much of the information is sketchy at best, even though some governments took it at face value. Wolfowitz eventually came into a position of power, and was preaching the story his friend was telling. I don't know exactly why Wolfowitz liked the story so much, but I believe he had his own reasons for wanting to get rid of Hussein, and Chalabi's stories were good at convincing people.

Of course, we now see the end result of all of that campaigning: Iraq is now occupied by the U.S., and Chalabi is a prominent member of the transitional government there.

The thing that concerns me is that Chalabi doesn't seem to be an entirely ethical man. There are allegations of fabricated evidence regarding chemical and nuclear weapons. He supposedly has a criminal past. Yet, he is widely seen to be a likely candidate to head any new Iraqi government. They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Considering that Chalabi is already a bit iffy, I imagine we'll see a new example of that truism in no time.

Posted by mike at 04:33 PM Central | News , Politics , War | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

By the Numbers

According to a study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks, only 20% of the viewers of Fox News Channel are in touch with reality. In fact, none of the commercial TV news outlets can claim that over half of their audience knows the truth: CBS rates 30%, ABC 39%, and NBC and CNN are tied at 45%. Print media works out to 53%, and people who tune in to NPR and PBS rate at 77%.

Okay, it's wrong to say that these people are totally in touch with reality, but they did manage to correctly determine three things:

  1. The majority of the world's population did not favor the U.S.-led war on Iraq
  2. No substantial connections have been found between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda
  3. Weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq

Anyway, there's more info in this poorly HTML-ized press release. Here's a nicer table of the data from that page:

NetworkNo MisperceptionsOne or More
Fox20%80%
CBS30%70%
ABC39%61%
NBC45%55%
CNN45%55%
Print53%47%
NPR/PBS77%23%
Posted by mike at 07:56 PM Central | News , Politics , September 11th , TV , The Media , War | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 21, 2003

Chasers

I guess a big police chase ended right in front of University Village today. Channel 5 was “on the scene” a few minutes ago—which is hardly an accomplishment for them, considering the fact that their studios are just up the road.

I'm curious how the police forces of Minneapolis and St. Paul interact in a case like that. There was some video showing some St. Paul squad cars pretty banged up from crashing into the car being chased, but the place where the chase ended was most definitely in Minneapolis.

Posted by mike at 12:04 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 14, 2003

The Flying Virii

Heh, don't worry if you didn't get a flu shot this year. There's a good chance it won't work anyway.

Isn't mutation wonderful?

Posted by mike at 08:40 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 21, 2003

A Little Song, A Little Dance, A Little Seltzer Down Your Pants

Heh. Here's another week-late entry. Paul Magers finished 20 years working at KARE TV on the 12th, and they have a sappy goodbye story. I only mention it because he's been around so long. Only a handful of on-screen personalities have worked in the Twin Cities for that long, and certainly no one has occupied the anchor desk for that much time (except Diana Pierce, who came to Ch. 11 with Mr. Magers).

I really respect the abilities of Paul Magers a lot. I always liked the way he delivered the news much more than any of the other anchors I'd see. There are rumors that he may get pushed up the chain at CBS (he's going to KCBS in California) and end up on the national newscasts, which could be really good. In my opinion, he's better than all of the national anchors I know of, though Peter Jennings is darn close.

Hmm. Actually, I think that if you take away the paradigm of silliness on The Daily Show, Magers and Jon Stewart seem to have fairly similar deliveries. Maybe that explains why I like that show so much…

Anyway, we in Minnesota will have to peek in on what he's doing out there in California every so often. I get the feeling that the Los Angeles market is still stuck in the clutches of cheap shock journalism. Maybe he can snap them out of it, but I guess I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Actually, from what I've heard, the Twin Cities' news departments are pretty good. I suppose it's an effort to break any ideas that people might have gotten from watching Mary Tyler Moore. I still think they could be a lot better (for instance, the last time I was home, we watched BBC World News on a PBS station, and saw a report from Minnesota, talking about stuff my parents hadn't really heard of).

Well, I hope things go well out there for him.

Posted by mike at 11:26 PM Central | Daily Show , News , TV , The Media | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 24, 2004

Follow the Bouncing Rover

NASA's Opportunity rover will be, uh, “bouncing” down (“touching down” doesn't seem quite right) at about 11:05 PM CST tonight.

Posted by mike at 01:38 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 25, 2004

Void 90 Days After Issue

I just pulled my CD settlement check out of the mail. It had actually been sent home, but my mom mailed it here. $13.86. About what I expected, I guess.

In other news, Wired has a pretty awesome issue this month, though it bugs me that it is the third place I've seen the military-funded desert-traversing AI robot project story. I think I've also come across in in IEEE Spectrum and Scientific American. Someone wants to get more funding…

Update: Oops, it was SciAm and Popular Science.

Posted by mike at 06:00 PM Central | Law , Music , News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 02, 2004

Heavy Emo

Apparently the halls of JPL have been abuzz with talk of “significant findings” from data being returned by the Mars rovers. There's going to be a press conference on NASA TV at 1 PM CST (though they have a knack for delaying press releases for one reason or another). Anyway, it might actually be interesting to see, so I'll be on Ch. 77 this afternoon. However, I imagine it's just something simple about water, so that would fulfill the missions' goals, but in the end I'm not sure if it will excite people very much.

Weird. I downloaded a video of Electric Six's “Gay Bar,” hoping that it was a larger version of this, but instead found it to be the regular version. It had been captured off of MTV2, and I noticed that the words “war” and “nuclear” were censored. What?!? A guy writhing around in various skimpy outfits with phallic symbols all around is fine, but mention war and you're out of the picture? Viacom is one messed-up organization…

Posted by mike at 10:17 AM Central | Music , News , TV , The Media | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Dude, Where's My Cult?

Agh! This is a freaky image:

Jesse Ventura talking to students

I'm more accustomed to seeing a rather hairless former governor…

Posted by mike at 04:56 PM Central | News , Politics | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 03, 2004

Go Stewie! Go Stewie! Who's Your Daddy?

Yay! New episodes of Family Guy will begin airing in January 2005. Woo! They will at least be on Cartoon Network, but Fox might also air them.

I put an article up on the Twin Cities Independent Media Center site about the caucuses. It's kind of disappointing to see that the IMC has pretty much turned into just a protest organization with articles that usually have very slanted views. That's not to say that my article wasn't slanted in any way, but I think it's a lot less volatile than most of the stuff that shows up there. It's a site full of editorials rather than actual news… I suppose some of the more neutral people have spent more time on Wikipedia instead.

Update: Oh yeah. Two other things I wanted to mention but don't feel like writing much about now: McDonald's to dump supersize portions and Ed Asner reprises his gruff newsman's role for KSTP.

Posted by mike at 03:25 PM Central | Internet , News , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 29, 2004

I'm Sorry, Did I Break Your Concentration?

Heh. Water buffalo with cheese. Funny. Jason had some interesting ideas last week ;-)

Well, this is an awful transition sentence.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen any news on a car fire that happened yesterday on I-94. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong place. Anyway, there was a fire in the eastbound lanes of 94 right above Cedar Avenue. A fire truck had gotten on the highway just a few cars in front of my brother and I as we were going to Uptown, though the fire truck had to go and turn around somewhere. I suppose that if the fire wasn't in the news, then nobody died. But who knows.

Anyway, smoke was drifting to the north from the fire, though it wasn't thick enough to cause visibility problems. Every car in the westbound lanes was slowing down to gawk, which was annoying, though I suppose I was just pleased to be driving faster than 30 mph for once this month and didn't want to slow down for much of anything.

Posted by mike at 12:14 PM Central | News | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 06, 2004

ArBaedkwo nnIT ehS apecT-mi eoCtnniuu m

Hmm. I suppose it's always been this way, but I've been noticing the word swathe showing up recently. I think that must be the British/colonial spelling, or maybe someone has just neglected to consult their dictonary. In the U.S., it's more common to use swath, and keep swathe as a totally unrelated verb usually reserved for Christmastime (i.e. “swathe him in swaddling clothes”—er, make that “cloths”)

Oh god, I'm becoming an English teacher. That's not right. I used to hate it when strict language rules were imposed on me.

Other little things have been bothering me lately. I wish I knew what the hell Spike TV (née TNN) is doing to mangle their video. Ever since they started airing Star Trek: TNG, I've been annoyed with the weird things they do. It used to be that they'd squeeze the image to fit their little black bar underneath. For the past several months (at least), many Star Trek episodes have very jittery video that makes it hard for me to watch. I noticed it again now that they've started airing Deep Space Nine.

I think they must have some sort of time-compression device set up to squeeze portions of the show, but it leaves troublesome video artifacts. It seems to me that the fields of video (field: 1/2 of a full video frame) have been swapped, though I'm not exactly sure what has happened. I'm going to try to take some frame grabs once DS9 starts showing again today and see if I can figure it out.

If this is what's happening, it might be diagrammed like this:

      normal       inverted
   11111111111   22222222222   odd
   22222222222   11111111111   even
   33333333333   44444444444   odd
   44444444444   33333333333   even
   55555555555   66666666666   odd
   66666666666   55555555555   even
   77777777777   88888888888   odd
   88888888888   77777777777   even

I think the technical term for this is field inversion, though there are a couple of different ways it can get screwed up (I think).

This is why we need progressively-scanned/non-interlaced video. Actually, it's interesting to note that Star Trek was largely recorded on 24 frame-per-second film, so most of the video frames can be un-interlaced (in a sense). The film went through a telecine or 2-3 pulldown process to be converted into 59.94 field-per-second/29.97 frame-per-second video. Given the right software/hardware, it's possible to convert the video back into the film format. Unfortunately, most of the post-production for Star Trek: TNG and DS9 was done on regular video-editing decks that weren't set up to worry about keeping the full frames intact. Many video effects and transitions between different camera shots can't be un-interlaced without exotic tricks.

But, I'm just whining at this point.

Posted by mike at 10:50 AM Central | News , TV | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

May 21, 2004

Crunch Time

I wandered downtown today. I was going to try to take pictures of the light rail train cars, but I just felt weird with so many people around. Maybe I'll try again on Sunday or something (though they probably won't be running). Anyway, it's only a matter of time before one of the trains gets into an accident with a car. From the looks of it, people are violating the rules about once every 3 minutes along the downtown stretch. Fortunately (I think), most cars that make mistakes are turning onto the part of the track that goes the same direction as the cars are supposed to. So, hopefully there won't be any head-on collisions for a while. Still, I think the design of the tracks is probably inappropriate.

For most of 5th Street South, they go down the middle of a one-way street. This means that people must figure out if they are going to make a right turn, go left, or straight before they get on the road. In theory, if people know where they're going, this is safer than the alternative of having the tracks running off to one side, since drivers turning off of the road don't have to cross the tracks this way. However, the way it is now, everyone who makes a mistake either has to go around the block (which most people are too impatient to do), or cross over the tracks. There are some little curb-like things that discourage people from crossing along the city blocks, but I'm not sure if crossing over in the intersections is any better.

Well, the (simulated) bell on the one train I saw seems to be a lot quieter now. Last time I was right next to a train, the bell was very annoying. I think they've got the volume right on the bell and the whistle-ish thingy (though I was out in the open—who knows what people in cars will be able to hear).

I really think the Hiawatha line will be successful, though. I thought the route stunk when I was still in my U of M-centric mode, but the route connects some of the most important things in and near Minneapolis. I'm sure that many business travelers will see it as a godsend. I think the official number for ride time is supposed to be something like 23 minutes from one end to the other. It's damn near impossible to get from downtown to the airport or Mall of America by car or bus in that amount of time during the day. Now we'll have to see if I actually live in this area long enough to take the train down to the mall. It's quite possible that I'll move before the last stretch of track opens up.

Posted by mike at 04:54 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 22, 2004

Built Like a Ton of Bricks

I'm pretty much convinced that the light rail lines we are seeing today are overbuilt. The Hiawatha Line cost something like $715 million, though more than half came from the feds. The line would have to carry somewhere around 40,000 riders per (week)day for the next 20 years to pay off the investment of Minnesota communities. Not that they were expecting to ever get paid back with hard cash, though… The big thing these days is the amount of money saved by not building new roads, and the level of taxes pulled in from new people and properties. I think the investment will pay off in that sense, but who knows if the amount of money pulled in by ticket sales will ever cover the cost of building the thing.

It just bugs me that the old streetcar systems way back in the day were actually money-making systems. Well, the companies went up and down in the short term, but they generally made money up until automobile-related companies started playing dirty. It doesn't seem right to dump money into these systems and expect to never see it come back directly.

From pictures I've seen of the old layouts, it seems that they had a much lower footprint than modern light rail lines. From the looks of things, old rails were not very visible when embedded in roadways. Today, the Hiawatha Line has big pre-formed chunks of concrete with special grooves built in to hold the rails. Old systems used wooden railroad ties, like practically every other railroad on the planet. Today, they're made out of concrete. Granted, I don't like the idea of tearing down a forest to make a railroad line, but there have got to be other materials (compressed wood chips or other recycled stuff, maybe?) that would fit the bill. Then again, maybe concrete is cheaper than I think it is…

Anyway, I suppose certain concessions have to be made due to the passage of time. I'm not sure how safe the old systems were. Newer light-rail trains, which often have their very own space to run on, probably have fewer accidents. It's hard to say, though.

I suppose people should take time to look at the systems in Europe and certain parts of the U.S. where they didn't get totally destroyed. They still seem to have much lower impact…

Posted by mike at 12:21 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Back to the Future

It looks (to me) that I was at least partially right in my previous entry. The Midtown Greenway Coalition did a preliminary study indicating that it would cost something like $53 million (in 2005 dollars) to build a “heritage” streetcar system along that corridor. The proposal only has a single track for much of the way, but they liked the idea of the low-impact style of tracks (take a look at this and this (from old Orleans)), which allows grass to grow through them. They're projecting ridership at around 7000 people per day, which could possibly pay for the system (at least the cost of initally building it, not counting operational costs) in two decades.

That seems like a much better way to go about things, though who knows which method would turn out to be more successful in the end.

Anyway, I did happen to take the bus down to the lakes today so that I could go on the Minnesota Transportation Museum's streetcars there. I ended up just taking a ride on the old one. I guess the track they use is partly/mostly original (pretty much the only original track left in the city), so it's kind of shifted around over the years. Not quite as smooth of a ride as I expected, but certainly not bad considering the trolley I went in was built of wood and made in 1908 :-p

I was really shocked to hear the air compressor running (for the brakes). It's really the only thing on the streetcars that makes enough noise to be truly bothersome.

The museum was also running some vintage buses. The engines need just a little work—I choked on blue diesel fumes more than once this afternoon. Kind of sickening.

Posted by mike at 09:21 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 27, 2004

Around the World

Today is my one-year anniversary of being a Wikipedian. Too bad their servers are sucking lately. Theoretically, they just got in some new hardware which should be up and running soon, but I am becoming worried. It's been a few months now since things were last running smoothly on a consistent basis.

I'm finally becoming happy enough with my Twin City Rapid Transit Company article to point it out to people. It's about the old streetcar lines around here (see, there's a reason why I've been talking about that recently).

I found out the other day that the Twin Cities actually had the most expensive track in the country. At the time (the early 20th century), it cost $60,000 per mile. That translates to, uh, lots today, like $10 to $20 million, maybe? (Update: I totally did my calculation wrong. It should have come out to something more like $1.5 million) Hmm. That seems really high, but I have no idea what things really cost these days. Then again, the whole 12-mile Hiawatha Line project is over $700 million, which is like $60 million per mile (of course, there are a few big tunnels in there too, plus a lot of modern gadgetry). I'm not sure exactly what date the $60k figure comes from, I just found it in a book on Tuesday.

Heh. That makes another number come into an interesting perspective. In 1932, probably the worst year of the Great Depression, the company made a net profit of $50,436.

Update: Well, it's hard to say exactly how things translate over time. Certain goods certainly translate differently. According to this page about historical dollar values, the $60k cost would translate into something like $600,000 to $700,000 1991 dollars, which would be like a million or so today.

Sheesh. That makes me want to hurt the Hiawatha designers. Again, I'm not sure if other things like overhead lines and labor were figured into that number or not. Hiawatha needed new things like stations, electrical systems, maintenance facilities, and, uh, trains. Still, we probably got ripped off bigtime in at least a few categories.

Posted by mike at 12:10 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 20, 2004

A Desire Named Streetcar

So I was kind of watching the news this weekend since it's 50 years since the last streetcars in Minneapolis, and since the Hiawatha Line opens in just a week. Both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press published a clump of stories which were mildly interesting. They had a few more facts than my Wikipedia article, probably due to the writers having access to Lexis-Nexis versus my dependence on free material. Channel 5 (KSTP) did a short story in their 10 PM newscast about the new line, and channel 11 (KARE) did an “Extra” piece that had a fair amount of film of the old streetcars, which was kind of neat.

In a lot of ways, it's kind of surprising that the Hiawatha Avenue corridor was the first to get a rail line. Many people initially hoped that the first line would go between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul along University Avenue (and presumably Washington Ave near downtown Minneapolis). I was surprised to see someone mention that rail had been at least mentioned as something to go down the middle of I-394 instead of the sane lanes (a part of the road that I don't think I've ever seen open, though I've never gone down that road during rush hour).

It seems most likely that the next line will split off of Hiawatha just north of the airport and then sort of trace Highway 5 toward downtown St. Paul. Many people still want to see something go down University Ave, but that will require a lot of bridge or tunnel work on the University of Minnesota's campus, and I don't know how well trains would fit down most of University Ave.

Still, I think this initial line was probably the best possible choice, since it will (eventually) let business travelers get downtown easily, or allow people on layover at the airport to stop by the MoA or even swing by downtown for shopping. Well, maybe it's just a pipe dream. If those other lines I mentioned just above also eventually get built, that would make a pretty effective triangle-shaped route. I think it wouldn't be good to expand much outside Minneapolis and St. Paul proper until at least one of those lines is built (Probably the Highway 5 one. There are already some basic plans for it. I think that's called the Riverview corridor).

Well, whatever. I guess people have to see if ridership on the first line is anywhere near projections first. Too bad that'll be a bit difficult to figure since the last few stops won't be open until December (and it's not unreasonable to think that might get pushed back).

Posted by mike at 11:48 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 26, 2004

Quad City DJs

Oh boy. I got really sunburned while waiting in line at the Hiawatha Line stops today. I only stopped at three places since things just ended up taking so long. I probably waited in line for over three hours, but went on the rail line for just about one. The cars were pretty much packed like sardines or like the U's buses, except without people who knew how to maneuver in such crowds. Plus, so many people were bringing in strollers and other things, so it got to be pretty hard to get in and out.

I guess I'm glad I went to the opening ceremony thing, since the news stations haven't covered it very well so far (maybe they're waiting for the “official numbers” and not putting anything special together until the 10:00 news).

The crowd definitely had a lot of people who are regular Metro Transit riders. I know it's not nice to say, but I stood next to a number of developmentally challenged individuals during the course of the day. Yes, in many ways, it was the creepiest crowd I've ever seen.

I'm not sure if my brother got a chance to ride today or not. He was suposed to be doing a HAM club thing for part of the day, and probably didn't have enough time to go very far (or at all, really).

Oh! I should mention that some of the speakers were heckled at the opening. I suppose one reason why not much of the opening ceremony has shown up on TV is because of that and generally poor audio (their sound setup was a bit messy).

The signals along the line are still pretty fubared. I guess it is now sounding like the main problem is getting at least three separate systems talking to each other in a nice way, and the pre-emption also has to work for emergency vehicles at the same time. Of course, at the moment, this really only affects the cars and not the trains, so it doesn't matter to me much.

I finally got a bird's-eye view of the construction happening on highway 62 at the Hiawatha Avenue intersection. I didn't really understand that they were doing away with the lights there until I looked down from the rail bridge. Suuure, now they fix that mess ;-)

Hmm. Governor Pawlenty (I think) mentioned something about setting up a busway in the Midtown Greenway area. Ugh. I hope that they do a light rail line or heritage trolley there instead. They spent a lot of effort cleaning that thing up, no sense putting noisy buses in there.

This is kind of a disjointed post. Oh well.

Posted by mike at 07:11 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 27, 2004

You're Going the Wrong Way

More light rail randomness:

At the Fort Snelling station, there was a guy from LEGO there with a version of one of their trains with the blocks colored to look like the Hiawatha Line.

After some more reading, it sounds like the signal problems along Hiawatha Avenue may be due to the transit people being overly cautious and activating the pre-emption system too often and too early while also preventing traffic from moving in any direction in some cases. It makes sense from their perspective, but backs things up pretty badly.

I took the Route 155 shuttle dow to the MoA today. One of the drivers I had was a bit of an asshole. 155 is a boring stub route with just three stops (I think), and he was being very insistent that he only went to Fort Snelling and not any farther, though he should have mentioned that a transfer to the train would go farther. Maybe he just doesn't like the train.

Oh, and my route to work (once work moves to Inver Grove Heights) is starting to look pretty convoluted. The simple way to go is to do University Ave to Huron to I-94 and then south on US 52, but I may end up doing University to I-35W to MN 55 to MN 110 to I-494 to US 52. I've only tried the routes in non-peak traffic so far, so it's hard to say how things will go. 55 and 110 aren't freeways by any stretch of the imagination, so there's a lot of area where I can get bogged down by traffic lights on that route, and if I have to deal with I-35W, that would suck. Then again, dealing with the US 52 to I-94 interchange is a mess since it involves the nearby I-35E.

The routes are nearly equal in travel time, which surprised me greatly. The 55/110 route actually took longer for me by about two minutes, but I didn't really know where I was going at the time and I could shave off another few minutes by doing the route properly. Almost actually makes me wish that they'd turned Hiawatha Ave into a freeway, but not really…

Posted by mike at 10:28 PM Central | Car , News , Work | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

July 04, 2004

Smoky Joe

Steam engine!Today was supposed to be a day of sanitizing my apartment in an attempt to get rid of these annoying nearly-flightless-but-winged ants that keep showing up all over the place. However, around 9:30, I heard a toot from what could only be a train whistle. My brother had told me that a train was coming up along with the Grand Excursion, so I had been keeping my ears open just in case one popped up near me. The Minneapolis Junction is only a few blocks from where Dan, Erin, and Josh lived. I'm another few blocks away, and I heard the whistle quite well. After finding my way down to where the engine actually was, it appears that the sound traveled about a mile. Pretty damn loud.

Anyway, I wandered over there without a camera or phone or anything, but after hanging out for a while, I overheard that the train was going to actually pull out around 11:00. I ran back to my place and called my brother to let him know about the train, and grabbed my camera.

The man behind the curtainI'm not exactly sure when the train arrived there. I suppose it had just come in. The engine had decoupled from the train by the time I first showed up, and was leaving its 25,000 gallon water tender there to drain. Compared with other places, it appears that they decided to move some Amtrak diesels that were helping out down to the end of the train. They were near the head (see here—that image actually was taken with two steam engines at the head), but I suppose they were looking to make a better photo op for today.

Poor viewUnfortunately, putting the diesels at the end kind of ruined the view for anyone who would be traveling in the observation car at the tail end of the train. The types of rail cars were really mixed. Some were really old ones, possibly dating back to the 1920s or so (but I suppose I shouldn't guess too much). Others were obviously from the streamliner era, like the observation car. There were a few, uh, “classic” Amtrak passenger cars too.

Anyway, I milled around for a while taking a lot of pictures, though mostly of the steam engine. I was one of a few people to go up on a nearby bridge to get a better view. It was really neat to see how long the thing was. Most special trains like this only have a few cars attached, but this one had eighteen. Normally, I'd pooh-pooh any steam train that had to have diesels as backup, but I can accept that in this case.

Long trainAnyway, the train started moving on time at 11:00, which surprised me to no end. Of course, it didn't move very far at first—the first order of business was to “wye” the train so it would be heading east rather than north. I was pretty confused by this, but ended up getting a few more decent pictures. However, I think I'll have to leave you with this gem showing that there's a good reason why steam engines are dinosaurs today:

Standing in the wrong spot

Oh, and for anyone who is wondering, the steam engine here is the Milwaukee Road 261. For a while on the Grand Excursion, the engine was joined by the Canadian Pacific 2816, though it wasn't there today (aww…)

Posted by mike at 04:16 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 17, 2004

Malfunctioning Eddie

Come! Visit Minneapolis! Go to the house of a crazy person! ;-)

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July 24, 2004

Streetcar Daze

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. Image by Wikipedia user Leland. Copyright 2004. History: recompressed to reduce file size

Bah. The GFDL sucks ass! (And I still probably didn't get the blurb right ;-)

However, I just wanted to put this image in here as a guide to what I'd like to see on the Midtown Greenway transit project, if that ever goes anywhere. Some noisy people (ie, Tim Pawlenty) want to put buses down there in a BRT system, which I'd really hate to see. Anyway, the image is just to show that rail systems can be pretty unobtrusive. I want the “Green” to stay in “Greenway”

Interestingly, it looks like the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution to “explore the feasibility of bringing back a streetcar system in Minneapolis” just yesterday. Of course, resolutions don't necessarily mean anything.

Posted by mike at 09:42 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Aqua Vitae? Aqua Velva?

Heh. Everybody who came to Minneapolis for the 4th of July fireworks got gipped bigtime. The Aquatennial fireworks own (or 0w3n, even).

Posted by mike at 10:37 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 08, 2004

Are You Fornicating with the Devil Again? Gosh!

Heh. I guess I had no idea that Brother Jed toured around the country: here's his schedule. He even has a Wikipedia entry. Heh, he's even celebrating 30 years of campus evangelization this year. You better come out and heckle—looks like he'll be at UMN early next month.

Posted by mike at 11:01 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 14, 2004

Do Doo Do Doo

Weird. St. Anthony's mayor, Randy Hodson, died on Thursday after a plane crash. I had seen a blurb on TV last weekend where he was saying that his modified 1966 Pontiac GTO (supposedly worth $80,000) had been stolen while he was out of town.

Posted by mike at 09:19 AM Central | News | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

August 24, 2004

I, Donut

There's craziness going on with the Crosstown interchange because the city of Minneapolis wants better busway lanes going down the middle of Interstate 35W. The city is threating to block any work if they don't get what they want. Wacky. There's this Strib editorial saying that they're probably right.

Here's the current design plan for the interchange (it's linked to the original Flash version that you can zoom in on and stuff):

Looking at that, it's crazy to say, but it'll probably be an improvement.

Posted by mike at 08:10 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 11, 2004

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Rap I Learned on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

If I could pound one word out of the British vocabulary and replace it with the American counterpart, it would be “manoeuvre.” Sheesh. “Maneuver” is hard enough to spell as it is.

Cross-posted to the twin_cities LiveJournal community.

On Thursday evening I went to an open house held by the Red Rock Corridor folks. The corridor itself is actually a wide swath running from Minneapolis to St. Paul (served by Interstate 94 and surface streets) and from St. Paul southeasterly toward Hastings, roughly along the route of U.S. Highway 61.

It turns out that, despite the fact that they pretty much started off as a group researching the idea of commuter rail (an idea that their Phase 1 research suggests would be feasible along that corridor), they now essentially have to take a step backward for the “Alternatives Analysis” phase and research all of the different possibilities for getting people from one place to the other. And they underlined all. I guess they even have to take a look at things like ferrying people along the Mississippi and someone had recently mentioned to them the idea of flying people between destinations.

It does appear that they have at least narrowed it a bit to the mostly ground-based transportation options, though. They had boards up discussing various bus options (regular express bus service and bus rapid transit or BRT) along with various rail options (personal rapid transit (PRT), light rail (LRT), what they call heavy rail (aka subway or metro service), commuter rail, and high-speed rail) Now, a lot of those ideas are pretty silly for a corridor of this length. It's probably too long for PRT, and too short for high-speed rail. (However, that same area is being considered as a route for high speed trains going between the Twin Cities and Chicago, so there might end up being some cross-pollination.) It's hard to say if light rail would end up being an option, since new rail would have to be laid (the busway and commuter rail options would mostly be extending existing roadways/railways).

It was kind of hard for me to get any specifics of what is going on, since they are just starting this phase of the process and are still looking at many different routes. It was an open house, so they were somewhat more interested in hearing the ideas of the community rather than discussing each option in depth (since, well, planning just hasn't gotten that far yet).

So, I got some general answers rather than the specifics I had hoped for, which is okay considering that this won't appear for several years yet. They would probably have to add some dedicated lanes to certain spots on the highways involved if they went with buses. I asked about whether they'd need to make a tunnel anywhere to get around traffic or big obstructions, like what the Hiawatha Line does at the airport or what will most likely happen with the Central Corridor near the University of Minnesota, but they weren't really prepared to answer that. However, it was noted that the rail corridors being considered are largely grade-separated, so they wouldn't have to be modified too much.

I asked about whether any train option would likely be diesel-powered or electric. Since the trains running along the corridor already are diesel (it's actually one of the busiest routes in the nation with more than 60 trains a day if I heard them correctly), it would be hard to see a transition to electric power. Also, the catenary wires would likely get in the way whenever cargo haulers wanted to bring through really big stuff.

With the existing rail route being so busy, a lot of new rail sidings would be required so that trains could pass each other if necessary. I imagine that the high level of traffic could end up being a downside to the route, but I don't know enough to say much more about that.

One thing that is a bit of a concern is the fact that the Central Corridor is probably going to add a light rail line, so having two roughly parallel rail options going between Minneapolis and St. Paul might seem redundant (well, at least to politicians and people opposed to such things—we definitely have more than one road going between the two). Optimally, whatever is chosen for the Red Rock corridor would connect directly with Northstar, although the maps they had at the open house indicated they are considering running it from a start point near Lake Street (I think it would be the eastern edge of the Midtown Greenway). Someone wanting to go from Northstar to Red Rock would then have to take the Hiawatha Line between the two.

I did suggest to the planners there that they be sure to consider that some people would want to head out from the downtown region rather than commute in from the suburbs. I'm one of those weird people who lives in Minneapolis yet has a job down in the southeastern metro area, so I'd certainly be interested in seeing trains run both directions in the morning and evening (and actually that is a plus for them since a train can't magically teleport from downtown back to Hastings in order to carry the next load).

Okay, I think that's about all I can say now. I hope that's at least mildly understandable.

Posted by mike at 11:36 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 27, 2004

Not Quite Pan Am

Wow.

Richard Branson + SpaceShipOne = Virgin Galactic

And, according to Wikipedia, the first ship will be the VSS Enterprise

Posted by mike at 11:13 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 04, 2004

N328KF

SpaceShipOne won the X Prize today. I was a bit late getting up and going to work, so I ended up watching a portion of the flight on CNN. It's kind of weird to see space flight stuff not show up on NASA TV ;-)

Anyway, it broke the altitude record of the X-15 from 1963, although it looks like it only went about half as fast (or maybe 2/3 the speed) in the process. Apparently the next step for them is to demonstrate regular operation. Wikipedia says that there is a plan known as “task 21” which should consist of 20 consecutive flights happening on a weekly basis.

The modern speed demon, the X-43A, is getting set up for an attempt to reach Mach 10, possibly in early November. We'll see how that goes.

Update: Google commemorates today's events with a different logo:

Posted by mike at 12:42 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 15, 2004

I Have the Power

Do my eyes deceive me? Is it October 15th? Does that mean that Team America: World Police is finally in theaters?

Well, well, well…

I've had an eventful day already, with the power supply for my computer going out overnight. So, I guess it's good that I had that other PC sitting in the other room without any functioning drives. I quickly swapped out the power supply and was back up.

Jon Stewart will apparently be on CNN's Crossfire this afternoon at 3:30 PM CDT.

And speaking of CDT, daylight saving will end in the wee hours of October 31st, so all you Halloweenies will get one more hour of that day this year.

Posted by mike at 09:48 AM Central | Hardware , Movies , News , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 30, 2004

Ray Saw Birth

Pioneer Press: Mask sales for candidates neck and neck

“Oddly enough, we're selling a lot of the [Bush and Kerry] masks in pairs,” said Berg. “I don't know if they're buying them and putting on their own debates or what.”
Yow… People can't even decide who they want for Halloween.

Posted by mike at 07:02 PM Central | Decision 2004 , News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 11, 2004

Titanium

Rumor has it that Phase II of the Hiawatha Line might open about a week early so that people can use it to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving at the MoA.

There's an odd intersection next to the Bloomington Central station. It's odd because there are no roads connected to it. There are the regular signals and they have the red/yellow/green lights in them, but there isn't anything to signal. I guess they must be pre-planning for the big Bloomington Central project where there will be a huge apartment/commercial structure.

Posted by mike at 07:36 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 02, 2004

Manoeuvre

Humorous domain name of the day: CanEHdian.com.

Did you hear the one about the fire in a butter plant in New Ulm? The butter (an estimated three million pounds) melted and flowed out of the plant, later solidifying two feet thick in some places, with some chunks entering the nearby Minnesota River and flowing downstream just like chunks of ice.

P.B. Loco is going to start franchising. Wacky.

I was going to say something worthwhile, but I guess that didn't happen.

Posted by mike at 09:42 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 18, 2004

Hot Gay Gridiron Action

I'm not sure if this is still in Dinkytown, but it might be: old newspaper box.

Now, it's just a box, but it's a box with character.

Update: Another thing I saw on James Lileks's site was the Northwestern Life headquarters (now owned by the annoying ING), which was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same guy who did the World Trade Center in New York. Yeah, he was a pretty awful architect.

Maybe the Northwestern building would look better in silver. But they'd still have to do something about that gnarly green glass.

Update update: Yamasaki also apparently designed the University of Minnesota's dastardly Civil Engineering Building, where floors are numbered downward. He also did a structure named Reliastar II next to the earlier Northwestern building, but it's a total piece of crap (as compared to the other buildings, which are at least interesting despite their ugliness).

Posted by mike at 02:28 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 19, 2004

Monkey Gone to Heaven

Continuing my interest in the architecture of Minnesota, it appears that by some measures, the two big bridges in Duluth-Superior outstrip the length of the Millau Viaduct by a considerable margin. Though it's agreed that Millau is the tallest bridge in the world, it's only 8,070 feet (2,460 m) in length. The Blatnik Bridge is at least 7,975 feet (2,430 m) long, with overland approaches (whatever that means, exactly) adding another ~2,800 feet for a total of about 10,775 feet (3,284 m). Blatnik was originally completed in 1961, and gained its current name in 1971. The Bong Bridge, finished in 1985 (as far as I can tell), clocks in at about a thousand feet longer at roughly 11,800 feet (3600 m).

Since historians have usually been obsessed with the center span rather than overall size, nobody bothers to write down the numbers. Just because someone puts a pier in the middle of a bridge doesn't mean that it's any less difficult or costly to build the whole thing…

Anyway, it appears that the Bong and Blatnik bridges don't require tolls, so they appear to be the second- and third-longest toll-free bridges in the country after the Seven Mile Bridge in Florida. Blatnik may have been the third-longest bridge in the country (maybe the world) when it went up. But, that's just judging by an incomplete list on Wikipedia.

I haven't been able to find hard numbers yet, but the rumor is that the Cedar Avenue Bridge carrying Minnesota State Highway 77 over the Minnesota River is the longest bridge entirely within the state. The I-35W bridge could possibly be longer, I'm not sure, and I'm sure the I-494 bridge nearby is also very long. The Mendota Bridge is also in the neighborhood and is 4,119 feet (1,255 m) in length.

Posted by mike at 10:02 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 20, 2004

O Paganbaum, O Paganbaum

Inherently funny words and tragedies don't mix:

Larry Oakes (December 20, 2004). Zamboni explodes; fire destroys arena, Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Posted by mike at 04:37 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 30, 2004

Strange Days, Dangerous Nights

Weird. We all know about the Great Chicago Fire, but what about the Peshtigo Fire (the deadliest fire in U.S. history) and the fire that hit Holland, Michigan on the very same day? Three fires around Lake Michigan starting around the same time. That's pretty crazy.

Posted by mike at 12:00 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 08, 2005

Doppelgänging

I saw this image on the Pioneer Press website and thought, “Who is this weird guy standing next to Sid Hartman?”

Yeah, if you're not Minnesotan, you probably won't get that.

Posted by mike at 10:55 PM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 18, 2005

Fowler Up

Wow, this Reggie Fowler stuff with the Vikings is pretty wacko. He's been claiming all sorts of strange things about his background. It's hard to say if he can even afford to buy the team (he'll supposedly give Red McCombs $625 million, but some say he only has $400 million). He might become the first black owner in NFL history, but only if he stops acting like an idiot.

By the way, sports puns are way too easy.

Posted by mike at 11:07 AM Central | News | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 14, 2005

ILLIAC

I spent a few minutes flipping through channels to find something interesting, but didn't have luck sticking with anything. Wrong time of hour, and it's impossible to get good stuff during the day anyway. Still, a few cool things popped up. I saw the tail end of something involving Mesaba Airlines (a regional Northwest carrier) and MSP airport. Apparently that was some press related to the deployment of TAMDAR sensors on 64 aircraft in the fleet. Pretty cool that they could fit sensors and a satellite transmitter into a 1.5 pound (⅔ kg) package. They use them to create a flying network of observation stations (figuring out weather anywhere above ground is often a challenge, simply because there hasn't been anything there). Here's a TAMDAR press release. Hmm. I guess they call it the "Great Lakes Fleet Experiment."

The other thing I came across was the last five minutes of Patrick Stewart's appearance on Saturday Night Live. Honestly, if it wasn't for SNL, I'm sure I'd have dropped E! from my TV's channel lineup by now. I don't watch very often, especially since 89.3 launched, but it's still a good show from time to time. Eventually I'll have to see that episode, and I think Bob Dole's appearance was a pretty notable one too. I wonder if anyone keeps a ranking of some of the best SNL episodes somewhere. There are too many episodes to watch all of them, and besides they're often not that great—The Daily Show ranks a lot higher on my laugh meter most of the time.

Posted by mike at 12:22 PM Central | News , TV | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 26, 2005

Would You Like to be a Pepper Too?

It still looks like the Minneapolis smoking ban will go into effect, which I think is good. It still might get knocked down by a higher court, but it's doubtful.

Posted by mike at 12:26 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

April 06, 2005

Pole-lympics

Prepare for the Incredible Popeman!

Posted by mike at 09:30 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

April 11, 2005

Fundamental

Here's a good one: The Unitarian Jihad Name Generator. I suppose I'll take The Shuriken of Quiet Reflection. The page was inspired by a column by Jon Carroll, which is pretty entertaining: "There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution."

Edit: I just had to point out that David Brooks is an idiot. He likes to use big words, but doesn't really have anything to say. Well, I don't have anything to say either, but I don't work for The New York Times.

Posted by mike at 09:10 AM Central | News | Comments (0)

April 12, 2005

Rick James

Remember when you didn't know what "esoteric" meant? Too many people understand that now, so it will soon be supplanted by "abstruse".

In totally unrelated news, I watched Mean Girls finally. Very good and it came from an unexpected angle, though I suppose I purposely avoided knowing much about the movie when it first came out. I just had to avoid Lindsay Lohan until she was legal ;-)

Oh, and bonus points for using "Halcyon + On + On" at the end, even if they cut it off kind of quick.

Posted by mike at 03:40 PM Central | Movies , News | Comments (0)

April 29, 2005

The Prodigy

Hmm. I've printed out a form from the EPA's fuel economy site. You can set up an account and add the mileage of your car to compare it with what others get and what the original EPA test values were. There isn't a huge population of users yet, but there are some. Heh, according to the numbers, the mileage of diesel Volkswagens is darn close to that of the Toyota Prius ;-)

Posted by mike at 02:11 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

May 08, 2005

Yippie-Kay-Ay

Nice.

Posted by mike at 12:42 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

NRG

Interesting. Bet you didn't know that Texas uses more energy than any other U.S. state. On a per capita basis, Texans use over twice as much energy as Californians (464 vs. 227 million BTUs). The state as a whole used 12.0 quadrillion BTUs in 2001, while the more populous California used 7.9 quadrillion BTUs. The biggest energy users per capita are Alaskans at a whopping 1,164 million BTUs each, while Rhode Island residents sip energy at 215 million BTUs per capita. Minnesotans use a little more than the median level at 350 million BTUs per resident and 1.7 quadrillion BTUs overall.

Posted by mike at 04:33 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

Buffer

Heh, listening to 89.3, "These Are the Ghosts" by A Band of Bees came on. I thought I heard them say "sjøstøvler" (Norwegian for "rubber boot", pronounced something like "shoe-stev-la"), but the actual lyric was "show stiff lip." One of the few multilingual mixups I've had...

Bet you didn't know that one of the world's longest oil pipelines runs through the northern part of Minnesota. The Lakehead Pipeline was the longest pipeline in the world when an expansion was completed in 1953 (and still is if you count both of today's separate routes used to get around Lake Michigan). Overall, it's 3100 miles long, and one of the routes runs 1765 miles from near Edmonton, Alberta to Sarnia, Ontario (near Detroit).

There are one or two pipelines that go farther, about 2500 miles each: there's the Druzhba pipeline from Russia to western Europe, and another of similar length is being built from Russia to the Sea of Japan. I have a suspicion that the Druzhba pipeline was built in response to show "Soviet Might" or whatever during the Cold War, but I haven't found any reference that would support the idea yet (heck, maybe it was the other way around).

Anyway, the Pine Bend and St. Paul Park refineries (owned by Koch/Flint Hills Resources and Marathon Ashland, respectively) are both primarily served with Canadian oil that originates in the Lakehead Pipeline. There's a junction in the small town of Clearbrook, Minnesota where the Minnesota Pipeline splits off to bring oil to the Twin Cities. And here you thought your oil came from Saudi Arabia! Hah!

Posted by mike at 03:35 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

July 27, 2006

Rare Word Watch: Yare

Occasionally unusual words and phrases start popping up with unusual regularity in news articles, get used for a while, then fade. Vis-à-vis was popular back in my freshman year of college, for instance, but I haven't seen that for quite a while.

Here we have a Los Angeles Times article about the Tesla Roadster:

The event — where Tesla was offering its first 100 "signature edition" cars for $100,000 apiece — felt like automotive history, and I have the feeling that one day I'm going to be very glad I bothered to attend. The yare and sleek carbon-bodied sports car is, by my reckoning, the first plausible electric automobile of the 21st century. And, without electrics, the 22nd century is going to be very rocky indeed.
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

  yare \yare\ (y[^a]r), a. [OE. yare, [yogh]aru, AS. gearu; akin
     to OS. garu, OHG. garo, G. gar, Icel. gerr perfect, g["o]rva
     quite, G. gerben to tan, to curry, OHG. garawen, garwen, to
     make ready. Cf. {Carouse}, {Garb} clothing, {Gear}, n.]
     Ready; dexterous; eager; lively; quick to move. [Obs.] "Be
     yare in thy preparation." --Shak.
     [1913 Webster]

           The lesser [ship] will come and go, leave or take, and
           is yare; whereas the greater is slow.    --Sir W.
                                                    Raleigh.
     [1913 Webster]

Well, someone was making use of their thesaurus...

Anyway, plenty has happened since I last posted. I got a new car. I sold an old car. My brother visited. My family and I saw art cars and visited the Guthrie (we saw Loni Anderson acting touristy). I watched F1 Powerboat racing on the Mississippi River. See my Flickr page if you don't believe me.

Posted by mike at 10:13 AM Central | Car , Family , News , TV | Comments (0)

September 07, 2006

Saskatchewan

The Guthrie added another showing, so I'm going to see The Great Gatsby on Sunday. I'll have to see how similar the stage is, since I saw Hamlet earlier in the year at the old theater. Yeah, this is mostly for bragging rights.

Posted by mike at 11:21 AM Central | News | Comments (0)

October 08, 2006

Anti-Spam

So, Spamalot is coming to town in July and August 2007. Tickets went on sale this morning at 8 AM. Of course, there were some folks who were there before 6 (and there may have been people sleeping out there overnight), but I figured I could get there a little after 8 and be okay. Um, no. I showed up at about 8:20 by my reckoning (I would have been earlier if all of the street parking hadn't been taken up), but more than 450 people had gotten there before me, and at the time they were serving people with numbers around 60 to 80.

I was shocked that there was such a huge gap, but I figured it was still doable. Well, not really. They managed to get about 100 people through per hour, but that was about it. Then, of course, the phone and Internet sales opened up at noon. The line started moving slower and slower, then finally stopped at 12:30. After "rebooting the server" for an hour, they finally gave up and put together some forms for the rest of us waiting in line where we gave preferences on date, time, and price range. Presumably someone from the Ordway will give me a call tomorrow with info on whether we (er, my mom, dad, brother, and I) can get anything or not.

Posted by mike at 02:41 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

October 11, 2006

Decay

According to GasBuddy/TwinCitiesGasprices.com, it looks like the national average price for gasoline ticked upwards very, very slightly yesterday. That's the first time since early August. Gas prices fell faster in the Twin Cities than in most places, so the local market slowly started returning to its normal pattern about a month ago. Hard to say where things will go from here—I don't know if it's bottomed out for the time being, or if the price decline has just slowed down for a while. But, I suspect that the national uptick might have something to do with worries about North Korea.

Hmm. There I go, pretending to know stuff about things again. Nah, disregard that last bit. I don't want to be like a TV "analyst."

Posted by mike at 02:50 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

October 18, 2006

Chugga Chugga

Well, I'll have to write something about my experiences going on the train to Milwaukee and Chicago this past weekend, but for now I'll just point at my photo gallery.

Posted by mike at 08:42 AM Central | News | Comments (0)

October 19, 2006

Toot

Alrighty, I guess I'm in the mood to talk about my Milwaukee and Chicago trip, so I may as well start on it.

I had to get up early on October 12th so I'd be prepared to get on the train. I took the #3 and #87 bus routes to get to Midway Station from my apartment. I figured I was going to be pretty early, since the scheduled time for bus 87 was something like 7:11 AM while the train isn't scheduled to pull out until 7:50 (well, as of October 2006 anyway). So, I was a bit surprised when I saw the train waiting to get through a rail yard just as the 87 bus was passing over the tracks south of Energy Park Drive.

A few minutes later, I got off the bus and started walking to the station. I saw the Empire Builder was just pulling in, so I guess it must have been on time or very close to it. Amazing, considering that it had come from Portland and Seattle (two trains combine into one in Spokane, WA), though it does have periodic "service stops" which take half an hour or 45 minutes, which is built-in buffer time. St. Paul is the last service stop before reaching Chicago.

I waited around for a while and gave my parents a call before boarding. The procedure is quite different for a train versus a plane: You don't need to do an initial check-in, unless you have big baggage that needs to be checked. But, carry-on requirements are less strict on the train, so few people need it. Since this is a long-distance route, we had to show our tickets before boarding, but that isn't always the case for trains. There wasn't any baggage screening, and nobody showed their ID as far as I'm aware.

The person at the counter handed me a slip with "MKE" printed on it as he handed back my ticket stub, and told me the number of the train car to get on. Well, I think he said "17, three cars to the left", but that's actually the last two digits of the car number—"8217" would be the whole number, if I remember right. Anyway, I got on the passenger car and followed the lead of the guy in front of me. There's a shelf area near the entrance for bigger bags that you don't want to lug upstairs, though most items could fit upstairs if need be. There are a few rows of seats on the lower level of the car (a "Superliner"), something like twelve or sixteen seats total, but most of the seating is upstairs.

I came upstairs and then proceeded to get very confused. For this train, you are assigned a car, but not a seat. My ticket had a "28" on it, but even as I tried to sit in seat 28, I knew that this wasn't really correct. 28 is the train number—specifically, the train that came from Portland. The 8 train comes from Seattle (correspondingly, the westbound trains are 7 and 27). Well, that took a little getting used to. Also, it's worth noting that there were a lot of people already on the train when it got there. It's obvious if you think about it, but I'm so accustomed to getting on a plane which is empty to start off with.

Anyway, eventually I moved back a seat when a couple came onboard and I figured they should sit a little closer together rather than kitty-corner. It was pretty obvious from looking around the cabin, but eventually the stewardess tasked with our car came by and had everyone put their three-letter ticket up above their seat along the aisle. This helps them make sure you get off at the correct stop, especially for those late-night runs. So, future Amtrak travelers, the way to find an open seat is to look for ones that don't have the tickets hanging above them (though you might be sneaky and find one with the three-letter code for the stop you got on at, since those folks have just left and the ticket hasn't been pulled down yet).

We pulled out at 7:50, right on time. I enjoyed the ride down quite a bit, especially the early part as we followed the Mississippi River south from the Twin Cities to La Crosse. There are places where the train is running 70 mph just a few feet from the water, so it's pretty amazing to see a huge body of water off to the left and then have the high bluffs of the Mississippi gorge off to the right. I was also pleased to see that the train was fairly quiet. Definitely much better than a plane, though there was still fan noise from the HVAC system. I also noticed that it's probably best to sit near the center of a train car (at least if you're on the top level), since the doors can let in a lot of noise when they're opened as people walk forward and back. Another thing I noticed was a quiet sort of "chucka-chucka-chucka" noise that I didn't expect, since it seemed more evocative of steam trains. My best guess is that it comes from slightly worn-down wheels that aren't completely round anymore, making noise as they roll along the track.

The seats also had a huge amount of legroom compared to a plane or even most cars. You can recline most or all of the way and barely bother the person behind you, plus there is a leg rest that comes up from your seat and a footrest that pulls down from the seat in front of you. I'd hate to be stuck in one for the whole trip from Chicago out to the coast, but it's quite nice for a day trip like mine.

Unfortunately, the train ended up running slow for a while. I'm not exactly sure when we started running behind, but by the time we got to Wisconsin Dells, it was about an hour late. I think the train made up some time between there and Milwaukee, but it still arrived 45 minutes late (for long trips, Amtrak considers anything within 30 minutes of the schedule to be "on time", so no, it wasn't even "on time for Amtrak", but it wasn't hours late like people have seen in some cases). But, I didn't really mind that the train ran late, since it meant that I didn't have to mill around wasting time before I checked in at my hotel. It was only about four blocks away, actually closer than I had anticipated.

The next day, after visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum (very futuristic architecture on the new bit), I took the Hiawatha train from Milwaukee to Chicago. This was different from the Empire Builder in several ways. First off, there weren't any reserved seats or cars, and I didn't show my ticket until after the train left the station. There wasn't even a specific day or time on my ticket! It's almost a commuter line, so the seats are closer together, meaning less legroom. These train cars also only had one level, and were designed to run bi-directionally (half the seats faced one direction, while half faced the other—two sets of seats in the middle were arranged to face each other). The heavy baggage storage area was less obvious to me on that one, but it still existed behind the rear-most or forward-most seats.

Since the Hiawatha only has a few stops between Milwaukee and Chicago, the conductor and stewards didn't bother writing down the destination for most people, though a small strip of leftover paper from the ticket was put up next to people who were getting off at one of the intermediate stops (most people just went all the way to Chicago).

When I arrived at Chicago's Union Station, I was pretty surprised by the layout. Chicago is a "big" station for the United States, but it felt tiny in comparison to an airport. Well, the big main hall was kind of blocked off, which was a disappointment, but it only took two or three minutes to get from one concourse to the other. Heh, I got out so fast that I forgot to get my visitor pass for the Chicago transit system, so I had to go back in and get one (I mistakenly paid for the $12 3-day pass, though I could have gone for the two-day one. I figured that I'd be in town for parts of three days, but the three-day pass is valid for 72 hours after you start using it...)

For my return trip, I ended up getting just as confused. The various train tracks are numbered, so I was confused when the arrival/departure TV said "Gate B". It turns out that Amtrak has some lounges for people to congregate in before boarding the trains. I'm just glad I figured that out before it was too late.

Anyway, I boarded the train again and tried to be smart by sitting on the right-hand side. I figured this would put me closer to the Mississippi as we headed north, but then I did a quick calculation in my head and realized it would be completely dark by then. And wow, did it get dark. With roads, there's usually some light somewhere, coming from houses or cars or street lighting. But the train lines have virtually zero lighting. Must be scary to be the engineer on one of those things zipping through the middle of nowhere late at night.

Another thing that people noticed was that cell phone reception is pretty bad on the train. That might partially be due to the fact that the metal skin of the train cars has a Faraday cage effect, but I'm sure that the cell companies focus on the Interstates rather than rail lines when figuring out tower placement... I want to see that Verizon guy try to make a call in the middle of Montana...

Oh, and on my way back, I made a dinner reservation. Breakfast and lunch are usually first-come, first-serve, but they take names for supper. I ended up sitting next to three other people from the Cities. Two had visited the Milwaukee Art Museum and the third works for the Minneapolis Institute of Art, so we talked art a fair bit. Of course, we also talked about the train and how we were all essentially trying to support a form of transportation that nearly got killed off in the U.S.

Back in my coach seat, I was sitting next to a lady who got on in Columbus, Wisconsin (that's the stop nearest Madison). I think it was her first train trip in decades, but she compared it very favorably to the bus which she had taken before. She said it cost about the same too, though maybe the comparison is a bit closer for seniors. There's much more space, you can walk around, there's an observation car, there's a dining car, the train doesn't lurch as much as a bus, etc.

Anyway, it was nice to finally go on a legitimate intercitystate train trip in the U.S. and see how everything works. Sure, the thing stops once every half hour or so, but the non-service stops go by very fast in most cases. If they can run more often and just a little bit faster (with better priority compared to freight trains), then many more people would choose the train over their cars. If it can go a lot faster, many people would choose it over a plane. It'll be a miracle if I see that happen between the Twin Cities and Chicago in my lifetime, though.

If they do it, they'll probably have to move the stop to one or both of the downtowns. That was one very interesting thing about going to Milwaukee and Chicago—both stations were right in or near the downtown districts (Chicago's Union Station is only two blocks from the Sears Tower, for crying out loud). The current Midway station in St. Paul is weird since it's halfway between the downtowns and not really within walking distance of anything interesting.

Posted by mike at 05:56 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

October 23, 2006

Hiding in Plain Sight

Ever heard of "Bar Code, MN" before? Neither have I, but it exists in geographical databases for some reason, and it's right in St. Paul. The Flickr website has added "geotagging" to their list of features in the last few months, allowing users to give latitude and longitude coordinates to their photos (it's actually as simple as clicking and dragging putting an icon into the right spot on a map—no GPS required). Anyway, some photos taken in St. Paul have ended up being labeled as "Taken in Bar Code, Minnesota".

Flickr uses Yahoo! Maps for their engine. Bar Code is also a recognized place according to Google Maps. I'm curious how that exists in whatever database they use when places like Hader and Salem Corners can't be found by typing their names into the search bar (though they do exist when you zoom in on the map, interestingly enough..).

Anyway, doing a normal Google web search, I found some other things that must be using the same database of place names that Google and Yahoo! use, but nothing that really explains what's happening. For instance, you can get help moving to Bar Code, although I guess the links for looking up foreclosures and finding female roommates in the city have gone 404. There you go—an imaginary town to go with your imaginary girlfriend.

Hmm, as an experiment, I think I'm going to write a letter to "Postmaster, Bar Code, MN 55172".

Posted by mike at 10:53 AM Central | News | Comments (0)

October 27, 2006

Hey Nonny Nonny Woo Hoo!

At least twice in the past year, I've heard celebrities use the phrase "would that we could." What the heck does that mean? I haven't been able to find a good definition of the idiom (or is it some other class of figures of speech?)

Posted by mike at 10:24 AM Central | News | Comments (0)

December 21, 2006

Spline

Here's a neat site for tracking airline flights: FlightAware. It appears to use actual radar tracking data to give a nearly-up-to-date position and flight path (they say they have a roughly six-minute delay in their data).

Posted by mike at 03:36 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

January 08, 2007

Pepé Le Pew

That Smell? Freedom.News organizations are abuzz with reports of a strange smell wafting through large chunks of Manhattan. I'm wondering if someone accidentally or intentionally spread some mercaptan around the city. Something similar happened at the University of Minnesota in late 2002, apparently because a professor had been dumping the stuff directly down the drain and it eventually started seeping out of the sewer.

Well, who knows… I'm just glad I don't have to smell it ;-)

Posted by mike at 02:30 PM Central | News | Comments (0)

January 30, 2007

South of the Poles

What? When did that happen?

*search* *search*

Oh, January 1, 1993. Huh.

I didn't know that Czechoslovakia had split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia until reading about domain names today. I mean, I'd heard the name "Czech Republic" used in the news for a long time, but I always figured that was just a synonym used for variety...

Posted by mike at 01:35 PM Central | News | Comments (0)