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wasoxygen  ·  267 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Washington Metro: When infrastructure maintenance is an afterthought

The Post has long been a champion and cheerleader for Metro. That it is now expressing such despair is telling.

It may be hard to imagine how bad a system can be that still delivers passengers to destinations daily. I am well-situated as a rider: I can walk to a station served by two lines, both of which directly connect to a station from which I can walk to work. Yet I rode my bike every day last week, and intend to do so whenever the weather allows.

Some of the original 1000-series cars delivered in the 1970's are still in service, and show their age. Since a 2009 crash, Metro only uses them in the middle of trains, away from the crumple zones at the ends. Later cars have upgrades like digital displays which can display upcoming stations, but frequently show only the name of the line.

Electronic platform signs showing arrival times were a long-demanded upgrade, but when they show approaching train times it is often bad news, and they often don't show train times at all, rather information about elevator outages, a static PSA like the website address, or stupid see-it-say-it security reminders.

The escalators are notoriously unreliable; it is noteworthy when all the escalators in a station are running. Many were built to exit a station into open air. This was a somewhat magical experience when it was snowing, rather less so in the rain. Eventually glass canopies were installed over the exits. Same with elevators; I once saw a man give up waiting for a broken elevator and take his wheelchair down the escalator.

The farecard system is complicated, fares are charged based on distance (requiring turnstile interaction at entry and exit) and there is usually a queue of confused tourists at the farecard machines on weekends. Station managers, when present, are helpful, but the fare variation, difference in paper vs. plastic RFID fares (paper farecards were recently discontinued), and primitive vending technology are challenging for newcomers.

Even a seasoned commuter must stay alert. Approaching a turnstile, the heavy jaws of the gate are likely open to admit the previous rider. You wave or wiggle or drag your SmarTrip card over the reader, and once it registers, a tiny green electronic display, appropriate for a 1980's pocket calculator, updates showing your balance. You can't read this without stopping, so you proceed through, only to have the jaws close, bruising your thigh and destroying any smartphone in your pocket. Turns out the tiny display actually showed a low balance in the same tiny green letters. Only recently were you allowed to exit a station with a negative balance of a dime or two (you can enter with a low balance because your fare is not determined until you exit).

On board, the lack of good information displays on any but the rarely-sighted 7000-series trains oblige the operators to make high-volume, low-clarity announcements about upcoming stations. These are mixed with automated warnings about the doors. Metro doors are especially touchy, and frequently require several attempts to close. (Annoyingly, they also require several seconds to open, upon arrival at a station, as the operators have to stand up and look out a window before operating doors.) Operators will sternly warn passengers of the need to offload a train if a door jams. This happens to me once or twice a year, and when a loaded train unloads onto an already-crowded platform in rush hour, it is an ugly scene.

If I am leaving work between 5 and 6, I sometimes take the train in the wrong direction, further downtown, so I can turn around and catch a less-crowded train going my way.

Official IT tools are unpolished and clunky, so most riders rely on third-party tools that depend on an API. MetroHero is a recent arrival. You can look up historical data on performance of individual lines and see that most airlines manage better performance. I don't know if WMATA has a slogan, but they might want to adopt Delta's old underachieving promise: We Get You There.

wasoxygen  ·  379 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Paul Graham: Economic Inequality

    no reason that both things can't be true

I agree, and I think Graham does too:

    In the real world you can create wealth as well as taking it from others.

The trillions of dollars in wealth now held by the wealthy was created by someone sometime in the past. The familiar examples of wealth are those who created value for many people, like Bill Gates' software, the Waltons' affordable products, or Lady Gaga's music. No doubt tax law plays a part, but even a 90% marginal tax would not reduce them to everyday levels of affluence.

    Have you ever looked at income tax rates, historically?

Yes, b_b and I discussed it.

wasoxygen  ·  433 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: James B. Steele: The Disturbing Truth About How Airplanes Are Maintained Today

No, not a very good article at all. The reader is supposed to get all nervous and upset about mechanics who "may not even be able to read or speak English."

If one of these uneducated louts leaves a tray table unattached, "the arms that hold it could easily turn into spears." Spears on a Plane!

All anyone should care about is safety, right? When you express concern about effective inspections, you are really interested in safety, aren't you? Do you value inspections that do not improve safety? Are "inspections" worth anything on their own?

b_b says that safety is improving even as maintenance is going to uninspectable hinterlands instead of to $100/hour domestic workers. But there's one exception to the outsourcing trend: "American still does much of its most intensive maintenance in-house in the U.S." So is American Airlines safer?

The Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre says no. American Airlines was rated #38 in 2012, #42 in 2013, #41 in 2014, and #39 in 2015. United Airlines performed better (#30 in 2015), Delta even better (#26), and low-cost carriers Southwest (#24) and JetBlue (#9) did better still.

The number one airline for safety is Cathay Pacific. Perhaps speaking Chinese does not impair your ability to maintain aircraft after all. Two other top-ten airlines are based in Taiwan and China.

    A century ago, Upton Sinclair wrote his novel The Jungle to call attention to the plight of workers in the slaughterhouses, but what really got people upset was learning how unsafe their meat was. Safety is an issue here, too. The Federal Aviation Administration is supposed to be inspecting...

Do we have evidence for this belief that inspections = safety? JACDEC says that "There is a direct correlation between the safety of a airline and the competence and transparency of the controlling authorities." I suspect there is a correlation between national prosperity and both of these factors. Eyeballing the safety list suggests a close relationship between airline safety and GDP.

    The reality is that from now on it’s going to be up to the airlines to police themselves... Have you noticed that this sort of arrangement never works?

No, I haven't noticed that. Evidence, please?

Here's an anecdote about how the "inspection" strategy worked once:

Airline cuts corners and takes chances with safety.

• FAA sees problems but does not inform the public.

• FAA "bent over backwards to keep the carrier flying."

• FAA finally sends a memo saying the airline should be grounded.

• Memo gets "lost in the maze at FAA."

• Airline has an accident, killing 110 people.

• FAA administrator assures travellers that the airline is safe.

    Despite the findings from their own investigators, FAA officials have repeatedly backed up Jordan's assertions about ValuJet's safety and did so again Thursday. "We believe that the airline is safe, and it is safe," said FAA Administrator David Hinson.

Good thing this is not a country rife with corruption.

wasoxygen  ·  585 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: The 4 Ways People Rationalize Eating Meatx 2

    the products of cheap human labor that I wear and consume, as you point out.

You refer to my mention of sweatshops. That could make for an interesting conversation, if you don't mind departing from the topic of meat.

I don't oppose sweatshops. I don't prefer clothing manufactured in facilities that guarantee comfortable conditions for workers.

Suppose you are scandalized by this information. Suppose that you determine to raise my awareness of the considerable human suffering that occurs in sweatshops.

Perhaps you watch documentaries to learn more about what happens in sweatshops. You discover alarming details. You feel certain that I can only act so casually toward sweatshops because I am ignorant of the truth.

You post shocking photos of sweating, weary children bent over sewing machines, of corpses burned in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. You recount stories of female workers who agreed to have sex with managers in order to get better working conditions, and you use the word "rape" when describing this scenario.

Your strong feelings on the topic lead you to use strong language in discussing the matter, to the point of being verbally abusive toward me.

What would you think if I focused on the shocking nature of your images, and your not-strictly-precise use of the word "rape," and your abusive language, in my response? Wouldn't it seem a little convenient, a little self-serving, that I deliberately miss your point by focusing on the manner and details of your presentation? I can dismiss your entire message because you do not present it in a calm, emotionless, and unoffending manner. (For your part, you feel that it will be all too easy to ignore the message if you do not raise your voice and display arresting images. You feel your only choices are to be ignored or reviled.)

What if I found exceedingly rare examples of sweatshops that were exceptions to the patterns you are concerned about? What if I asked you ridiculous questions that were obviously not honest attempts at gaining understanding, but carefully-crafted "gotchas" designed to trip up your argument? ("What about factory robots? Aren't they abused too?")

Perhaps no one would blame me if I ignore you when you become abusive and incendiary. But I feel like I am doing myself a disservice by not getting to the bottom of the question "What is this person so worked up about?", even if I have to make an effort to overlook the excesses of your presentation.

wasoxygen  ·  663 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: I chased the solar eclipse, got these pics

I guess there's no mystery then, the moon was in front of the sun, but the exposed solar edge was bright enough to dazzle your camera and provide apparent daylight. The lesson is that we should not compare 100% sun to 2% sun, we should compare 2% sun to 0% sun.

I took a test photo directly at the sun just now using the front camera of my iPhone 5s and compared the exposure settings to your image.

  iPhone 6
  Software 8.2
  ISO 32
  Exposure Mode Auto
  Exposure Program Program Normal
  Metering Mode Multi-segment
  Exposure Time 33333/1000000 (0.0333)
  FNumber F2.2
  Focal Length 2.65 mm

  iPhone 5s
  Software 8.1.3
  ISO 50
  Exposure Mode Auto
  Exposure Program Program Normal
  Metering Mode Multi-segment
  Exposure Time 187/1000000 (0.000187)
  FNumber F2.4
  Focal Length 2.15 mm
Despite shooting through a dirty office window, my exposure was over a hundred times shorter than yours, suggesting a much brighter sun.
wasoxygen  ·  715 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: How did you find yourself?

Who wants to talk about the ethics of eating meat? thenewgreen started a dialog for that purpose and it is almost entirely about organicAnt. I would like to discuss the subject rather than discuss the discussion.

Hubski has shared a few rich, detailed perspectives:

Meriadoc celebrates hunting but also has "conflicted feelings on eating meat."

pseydtonne suggests that we "Create a positive movement -- that diverse food high in fiber is cheaper, easier to spice, and feels good."

nowaypablo should tell us the story of hunting a wild pig.

elizabeth has been "making an effort to eat less meat lately."

BLOB_CASTLE gives reasons for having "cut back significantly" on eating meat.

organicAnt describes experiences leading to a vegan lifestyle.

mknod points out that there is "very little choice except to eat meat" in Alaska.

rob05c says "I don't eat much meat, and when I do, I feel bad."

bioemerl feels "zero guilt about eating meat."

caelum19 explains why "I've been vegan my entire life."

b_b has mixed feelings about using animals to benefit humans, but has the good sense to stay out of a contentious debate.

Most of the calmly-expressed opinions I have found seem to go against eating meat. Can anyone provide additional perspective for the other side?

Here is my view, and the reasons I have been reducing my meat consumption:

1) Most of the meat that we eat today is produced in ways that causes significant suffering.

2) Choosing to eat less meat is a realistic way for most people to reduce suffering in the world.

3) Therefore, most of us should choose to eat less meat.

4) The logical end point is that most of us should not eat most animal products, except in unusual circumstances where making that choice would arguably cause human suffering outweighing the non-human suffering (such as people with little access to plant food, hunters who love their sport, perhaps also people who love the taste of meat and choose sources that minimize animal suffering).

I will also mention that I think human suffering is more important than non-human suffering, and when a living thing has a primitive or no nervous system the word "suffering" may not even be meaningful. And I do not blame people who don't have the luxury of spending time online discussing this subject for making choices without weighing all the implications.

wasoxygen  ·  749 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: December Photo Challenge, Day 30: Best Of 2014
wasoxygen  ·  865 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Paul Krugman: The Libertarian Fantasy

You write a column in one of the world's most prestigious periodicals. You want to make a point about the necessity of government intervention to solve important problems in the modern world. You don't have space for a long argument, so you choose one single case to make the point in a memorable, symbolic way.

You choose to mention decades of government regulation of a chemical that pollutes lakes.

Then you mention that the government recently warned people that lake water is dangerously polluted.

That's the show pony, the slam-dunk case for the necessity of government? A problem that the government hasn't even solved is not good evidence of the government's problem-solving ability.

Let's take a closer look.

Krugman cites a USGS paper that includes a history of the subject. In the late 1960's, water pollution became a significant concern in the United States, with Lake Erie being described as a "dead lake." By the early 1970's phosphorus, mainly from detergents and fertilizers, was recognized as the most important cause of harmful eutrophication (overgrowth of e.g. algae due to substances added to water). Local laws and the 1972 Clean Water Act limited the use of the chemical. By 1998 (when the paper was written), the situation had improved, but "there is limited information at a national scale concerning the status and success of phosphorus controls."

Another study from the Conflict Information Consortium provides insight into the industry side of the issue. This paper mentions the early regulatory efforts to control phosphorus pollution, then:

    On the other side were the big three detergent manufacturers of Procter & Gamble, Lever Brothers, and Colgate-Palmolive, who accounted for about 80% of the total U.S. detergent market (Hammond 1971). Early on the detergent industry (the "Industry") took a very cooperative posture. Mr. H.J. Morgens, then president of Proctor & Gamble, said in 1970 "We recognize that the public wants phosphates out of laundry detergents and we intend to take them out. Our job is to make certain that we remove them as rapidly as we can do in a thoroughly reasonable manner. This we are doing." (quoted in Duthie 1972).

    Mr. Morgens' statement reflected the Industry's concerted efforts since 1964 to substitute phosphate with sodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA) as the binder in detergents. As of May 1970 Procter & Gamble had spent $11 million on NTA research, $6.8 million in modifications to their facilities accommodating NTA substitution, and had placed orders for NTA valued at $167 million (Hamilton 1972). By then Procter & Gamble had spent several million dollars on researching NTA's environmental effects (Duthie 1972), and other studies had shown NTA to be biodegradable and environmentally safe (e.g., Swisher et al. 1969). Nevertheless, on December 18, 1970 the Surgeon General "requested" that detergent manufacturers discontinue the use of NTA until further testing (Duthie 1972). Primary concerns were the carcinogenicity of NTA degradation products, potential toxic and teratogenic effects of NTA:metal complexes, corrosion properties, and NTA decomposition under anoxic conditions (Congressional Report HR 91-1004 April 14, 1970, Hamilton 1972). It was not until 1980, after years of extensive risk assessment on NTA in drinking water supplies, that the EPA declared NTA's cancer risk of two in a million too small to pursue regulatory action regarding inclusion into laundry detergents (Cross 1986).

Summing up:

Late 1960's: Eutrophication is perceived as a significant environmental concern.

1964-1970: Detergent manufacturers recognize the need to remove phosphorus from detergents and spend considerable resources developing NTA, a safe alternative.

1970: The government tells detergent manufacturers to stop using NTA.

1972: The Clean Water Act and local laws restrict the use of phosphorus in detergent.

1980: The government says NTA is okay after all.

Is it obvious that the government even did more good than harm by getting involved with this issue?

Krugman credits regulation for saving Lake Erie, but worries that "farming has so far evaded effective controls, so the lake is dying again, and it will take more government intervention to save it." Those scofflaw farmers!

But, as anyone with a backyard garden knows, phosphorus is not an exotic laboratory chemical cooked up to sell more Miracle-Gro. It's one of the three main nutrients needed for plant growth.

Phosphorus is the P in ATP, necessary for photosynthesis to occur. Here's hoping the farmers can hold out a while longer against Krugman's readers!

wasoxygen  ·  1089 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Weekly photo challenge: Unrest

Police riot control truck deploys water cannon against protesters.

Istanbul, 18 January 2014. (41.034439,28.97972)

wasoxygen  ·  1139 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: What Are Some Good/Fun Bets You Have Made, Hubski?

I am eight years in to a ten-year wager on the price of oil vs. Big Macs. The thesis is that, contrary to widespread perception, raw materials like petroleum are not becoming more and more scarce (and therefore expensive).

It was inspired by Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource 2 and his famous bet on the price of raw materials.

I would have preferred to bet inflation-adjusted dollars against oil, but my friend had some reservations about the stability of the dollar, so I picked Big Macs as a (not very good) substitute. This seems to be working out in my favor, as the Economist has recorded an increase of 49% in burger price ($3.06 to $4.56) while the CPI (ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/cpi/cpiai.txt) has only gone up 19% (196.8 to 233.546).

wasoxygen  ·  1141 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Rich People Actually Don't Create The Jobs - Business Insider

Ten shares, no comments? Where's the thoughtful web?

Talking points:

· A statement like "taxes on entrepreneurs and investors are already historically low" is too fuzzy to fact-check. Anyone who advertises housecleaning online is an entrepreneuer. Anyone with a 401(k) is an investor.

· The infographic states that "Between 1997 and 2008 ... All [income] growth went to the richest 10%." Was anyone here making more in 2008 than 1997, and yet not in the richest 10%? One example would disprove this absurd claim. The caption is less confident and less clear, claiming merely that "almost all of the income gains have gone to the richest Americans."

· The more disturbing claim in the infographic is that "Between 1997 and 2008 ... Income for the bottom 90% declined." This is apparently illustrated by the thin blue stripe at the bottom of the chart, which actually looks pretty flat during the named range.

The citation gives the source for the data, a spreadsheet with 54 sheets. The eighth sheet, labeled Table A4, appears to contain the data about the bottom 90%.

It looks like that the bottom 90% of household income (adjusted for inflation) has indeed been pretty flat since the early '70s. The value in 1997 was $31,056, and in 2008 it was $30,981, a change of -0.24%, validating the infographic claim. How concerned should we be?

Some thoughts to consider:

1) The people in the bottom 90% in 1997 are not all the same people in the bottom 90% in 2008. Some in the top 10% dropped out, some in the bottom 90% moved up.

2) The population is growing. Kids and immigrants tend to have lower incomes than older, established residents. Even if not a single person's income drops with the arrival of a new worker, the average can drop. It is (mathematically) possible that everyone's income is rising, but the average stays the same because of growth in the low-end population.

3) Divorce rates have increased since the fastest growth of average income before the mid-60s. If one household separates into two, the average household income can drop even if everyone's individual income increases.

The big idea of the article is fatally flawed as well. Consumer spending drives the economy, fine. But the rich guy isn't doing his fair share to stimulate because he only bought three cars and a plane? What we need is an institution to take his money and distribute it to 9,000 families so they can buy 3,000 cars instead of just three.

Mr. Blodget, I have good news for you. We already have that institution, and it is called a bank.

No, that's no good. The problem with the bank is that the millions in wealth "either sits and earns interest or gets invested in companies" ... am I reading this correctly? We want customers to buy cars. Most of them do so on credit, with money from a bank. The bank requires depositors, right? If we want to stimulate consumer activity, putting those millions in the bank seems like a pretty good technique. Or investing in companies. That doesn't count as supporting the creation of jobs because ... ?

wasoxygen  ·  1239 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: How to make perfect coffee

I lost track of time, but a while after the sun had passed top a man came walking and we exchanged good afternoons. He was a neatly dressed man well along in years, with a Greco face and fine wind-lifted white hair and a clipped white mustache. I asked him to join me, and when he accepted I went into my house and set coffee to cooking and, remembering how Roark Bradford liked it, I doubled the dosage, two heaping tablespoons of coffee to each cup and two heaping for the pot. I cracked an egg and cupped out the yolk and dropped white and shells into the pot, for I know nothing that polishes coffee and makes it shine like that. The air was still very cold and a cold night was coming, so that the brew, rising from cold water to a rolling boil, gave the good smell that competes successfully with other good smells.

My guest was satisfied, and he warmed his hands against the plastic cup. "By your license, you're a stranger here," he said. "How do you come to know about coffee?"

"I learned on Bourbon Street from giants in the earth," I said. "But they would have asked the bean of a darker roast and they would have liked a little chicory for bite."

"You do know," he said. "You're not a stranger after all. And can you make diablo?"

"For parties, yes. You come from here?"

"More generations than I can prove beyond doubt, except classified under ci gît in St. Louis."

"I see. You're of that breed. I'm glad you stopped by. I used to know St. Louis, even collected epitaphs."

"Did you, sir? You'll remember the queer one, then."

"If it's the same one, I tried to memorize it. You mean that one that starts, 'Alas, that one whose darnthly joy...?' "

"That's it. Robert John Cresswell, died 1845 aged twenty-six."

"I wish I could remember it."

"Have you a paper? You can write it down."

And when I had a pad on my knee he said, "Alas that one whose darnthly joy had often to trust in heaven should canty thus sudden to from all its hopes benivens and though thy love for off remore that dealt the dog pest thou left to prove thy sufferings while below."

"It's wonderful," I said. "Lewis Carroll could have written it. I almost know what it means."

"Everyone does. Are you travelling for pleasure?"

"I was until today. I saw the Cheerleaders."

"Oh, yes, I see, " he said, and a weight and a darkness fell on him.

"What's going to happen?"

"I don't know. I just don't know. I don't dare think about it. Why do I have to think about it? I'm too old. Let the others take care of it."

"Can you see an end?"

"Oh, certainly an end. It's the means -- it's the means."

--John Steinbeck, Travels with Charlie