Monthly Archives: November 2011

The New Republic has a piece of Mitt Romney’s latent urbanism. I found this paragraph noteworthy:

Then there was the day Romney and Foy were together at a ribbon-cutting for a traffic-calming project and Romney started lamenting that Salt Lake City’s streets were too wide because they were designed in the days of wagon trains that needed to be able to turn around. “He thought that that was a problem and that New England had thankfully not had wagon trains, so its streets were more tightly knit … and more pedestrian-friendly,” Foy remembers.

Though Salt Lake City is not pedestrian friendly, the wide berth of its city streets is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the SLC auto transit system. It’s absolutely amazing. One of those anachronisms that proved the city particularly well-suited for the age of the automobile. That’s not to say that there isn’t significant traffic downtown, but (a) it’s still considerably better than most places I’ve been and (b) due to the fact that all of the streets are so wide, it’s remarkably easy to avoid the worst spots. Or was when I was driving down there regularly. The freeway system is nothing but headaches. I look forward to getting off the interstate and onto the city streets. There aren’t many places I would say that about. At all.

To deal with the increasing downtown traffic, though, they’re doing something rather neat with the busier areas in order to cut down on left-hand turns (h/t Abel). They show a sign for the “thruturns” and I swear that I have actually seen it before but didn’t know what it meant. Now I know! It’s a pretty great concept, where you get to take a protected u-turn away from the congested intersection. It’s the exact sort of thing I do on a pretty regular basis when I can’t get to the right lane in time, except it’s implemented into the system.

Colorado tried something interesting where they sped everybody up by keeping and enforcing a 55mph speedlimit. By enforcing, I don’t mean straw-picking to get a ticket, but rather police cars out there actually making sure nobody is going faster than 55. If the age of antcars ever come, this should prove to be a real timesaver.

The Atlantic endorses congestion pricing. I am actually sympathetic, though tired of hearing about how “increasing the size of freeways doesn’t speed traffic up.” It’s not true anecdotally, and arguably not true at all or at least not true in any universal sense.

Category: Road

I was reminded to look into something relatively trivial today: Whether a former apartment complex I used to live in (Midlerth) was located in a particular district in town. I discovered, to my chagrin, that it’s not. I say “to my chagrin” because, with a city as sprawling as Colosse is, it’s helpful to be able to say I lived in Cameron Grove rather than trying to find the two nearest streets of note and saying “around there.” On the upshot, being able to say that I lived right by Cameron Grove is almost as good.

Anyway, Cameron Grove is actually more known as a business district. It includes the corporate headquarters of a global software company that you have probably never heard of but is actually one of the largest in the world. It was founded by a Southern Tech alumnus and benefactor. There is actually a sweet story about one of the nicer water fountains on campus that was placed there because he proposed to his wife at that particular spot on campus decades ago. They divorced three years ago.

Another generous benefactor of Southern Tech died not too long ago. This is important to Sotech, but not because he was universally beloved. In fact, a lot of people don’t care for how he made his fortune. He was also known for being a rather personally difficult, reckless, and an alcoholic. He had a DUI conviction and died in an automobile accident with a passenger (and without a seatbelt). Unmarried and childless, he left his entire state to his do-good foundation. Southern Tech, his alma mater, is expected to see a lot of that. So, god bless the bastard. (It’s actually kind of funny: Most well-known Southern Tech alumni are… somewhat disreputable individuals. The guy from the previous paragraph is an exception.)

Category: Downtown

How siblings shape our personality.

Why cheap maple syrup tastes best. I had genuine maple syrup once. I thought it was disgusting.

Some einsteins are coming up with a laser powerful enough to tear apart the vacuum of space. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s actually somewhat hilarious to me that as Microsoft starts to put out really good browsers, it’s marketshare continues to decline. Maybe if they’d cared seven years ago?

Someone may need to save Save the Dolphins. Turns out, they’re kind of… animals.

Ethical people are happier. I wonder if this ties into religion? Also, disagreeable people have better credit scores. It pays to be an arse, apparently.

Okay, so maybe I was wrong and Apple products do need to be made in China. But will it cause us to lose our ability to design new problems? The article suggest so, but I’m not so sure. China may start also designing the things that we design, but we still design TV sets in the US. Beyond which, Chinese companies employ American designers.

People are shuffling out of science majors because… it’s hard. I knew a number of science majors in college, but only one science graduate. And that was after he dropped out and later went back.

This just won’t do. The real victims here have to be women who can’t find a man with a good enough paying job.

Category: Newsroom

Clancy and I both prefer our meat well done, though she is more of a stickler for it than I am. We went out over the weekend to a diner across the street from the hospital. They are inclined to undercook the meat, so we both make a special point of requesting “well done” and about half of the time they do it. Saturday was one of the other half. Clancy waited a bit to ask them to cook it further, but the waitress was MIA and she was hungry enough that she ate it anyway.

When the waitress gave us the bill, she commented on it, politely requesting that she say something to the cook for future reference. Now, whenever we say something, we don’t actually expect them to say something to the cook. When I went to the front to pay the bill, the waitress said that the cook felt bad about it. Before she took the credit card, though, she asked if we wanted another burger for each of us. Suspicious soul that I am, combined with the fact that she hadn’t taken the credit card, I thought I was being asked to buy two more burgers because the first two weren’t done right. I was a little irritated.

But no, they were free. Apparently the cook actually felt that bad about it. So we got free burgers for lunch the next day.

I am generally of the type to not bother telling anybody that they got something wrong. Like I said, I don’t think they actually tell the cook about it. Or feel bad about it. I expect them to be irritated by the unctuous customers who want things “just so”, don’t order tip-enhancing drinks, and probably aren’t going to tip very well for a reason they view as being frivolous. Clancy is more the type to speak up. And it scored us two free burgers. Not bad.

I ate my burger straight out of the fridge the next day. Clancy thinks that’s bizarre. Is she right?

Category: Kitchen

My sister-in-law recently asked me for some advice on a new laptop that she wants to get. I’ve decided to generalize it here for any of you all that are seeking to get a laptop.

As people who know me know, I am a Thinkpad guy. And so, if you’re looking for a cheap PC, I am not your guy. My advice would actually be to buy a used PC of a good make and model (maybe I will do a separate post on that). Most of the advice I give here is not limited to Thinkpads, though. The options on Dell Latitudes E’s are very similar. Notably, LatE’s are a part of Dell’s business line. That is perhaps my first piece of advice: Go with a business-grade laptop, unless you are on a serious budget or want a gaming machine. The main reason being that more care is put into quality of business laptops. Why? Because when they sell to a business, there is a strong likelihood that the customer will be buying another laptop. Customer satisfaction matters more. When selling discount laptops, they know that either (a) the person won’t be in the market for a few years if their laptop lasts, and (b) they’re looking at price-points and are less likely to be loyal customers the way businesses are (or are at least more likely to be.

Outside of Lenovo, I have generally heard good things about Asus, though I have never owned one. Dell’s business lineup is probably okay, as well. I’ve heard good things about Toshiba and Sony, though my experiences with both have been abysmal (quite possibly because I went with the consumer line). I’d be wary about Gateway, too. Truth be told, though, a lot of the laptops are built in the same place with similar or the same parts. The difference is often going to be how much care they put into parts. That’s why I recommend business line machines, where they are likely to put more care. Though I wouldn’t bet my purchase on it, what is true of Dell (which at least used to be notorious for cutting corners) is probably true of HP, Gateway, and the others. Increasingly, Lenovo is releasing cheaper models. Though they may be quite good, I am going to steer you away from that, as well.


For Thinkpads, I most strongly endorse the T-Series. I’ve never had a bad one, and I’ve owned more than half a dozen. Since they canceled the R-Series, I’ve more or less committed to T’s. The only one I ever had that wasn’t an T or an R was an X60, which quite frankly was a disappointment. The current model for Thinkpad T’s are the T420, T420S, and T520. The T420S are stock machines, meaning that there won’t be much customizing involved. The T420 has a 14″ screen and T520 has a 15″ screen. So the first decision is what size monitor you want. This is, of course, a personal decision. Get what you want.


The processor is the main driver of everything. That makes it sound important, and it’s not *unimportant*, but processors have become so good over the years that it’s hard to go wrong. Since the conversion from Windows XP to Windows 7, though, this is less the case than it used to be. Windows 7 requires more in the way of resources and so you might struggle more than with a Windows XP machine with what used to be lower-end processors (excepting netbook processors, which can struggle with anything). This is the only reason I would steer anyone away from an Intel Core i3 processor. As more and more gets installed, it’s likely to struggle more and more.

When it comes to processors, the main thing you want to ask yourself is what you plan to be doing with it. If you’re only going to be using office software, email, and a browser, you don’t need much. The only exception is if you, like me, tend to keep a bazillion browser tabs open at once. Even then, I might suggest focusing more on RAM than on processor power. An i7 processor is still pricey at this point, so I wouldn’t get it unless you’re looking at a really good deal or plan on doing intense tasks. The other reason to consider it is if you want a quad-core processor. Quad-core processors can be useful to prevent overloading the CPU. With more flexibility, they generally keep responding even when your computer is hard at work. With single-core or dual-core processors, I occasionally have to killtask an overloaded Firefox. I’ve never had to do that on my quad-core processor. It’s also generally the case that newer processors will remain useful longer.

But the sweet spot right now is the Core i5, and for most people I think you would be okay going with a lower-end i5. In my experience, it tends to be processor model rather than hard speed that dates a processor. For instance, my lower-end Pentium and upper-end Pentium both became useless at about the same time. Ditto for the Pentium II. Speed is speed, and it’s nice. Pay for it if you want it. But this is a corner you can more easily cut.

Most Thinkpads come with Intel processors, though some will offer AMD. There is nothing wrong with AMD processors. For desktops, I almost always go with AMD. For laptops, however, since IBM and Lenovo have so long relied on Intel, I don’t have much in the way of good advice as to individual processor models. Phenom generally beats Athlon (and is more likely to come with more processors), and, be wary of anything that has a number with an “e” at the end of it (ie Athlon II 245e). AMD used to be a cost-cutting alternative to Intel without sacrificing performance, though more recently Intel has gotten their act together and done a better job of justifying the price premium.

Operating System:

I always go with Windows 7 Professional (and Windows XP Professional before that). However, Windows 7 Home Premium is going to be fine for most people who don’t tinker like I do. The main reason to consider going with Professional is if you want to be able to run programs in XP mode or the Backup and Restore. I’ve personally never used either; I just like to know that they are there.

I would go with Home Premium as a good way to save money by sacrificing features you probably won’t need if you’re not a geek. The Thinkpad T-Series doesn’t offer anything less, but if you do run across something that offers less, don’t do it. Just trust me on that. You never know what these lesser versions can’t do until you need to do it.

If for some bizarre reason you are buying a laptop with Vista on it (first, I would question why I am buying this particular laptop…), go with the 32-bit version. My experiences with the 64-bit version cost me a lot of headaches. With Windows 7, go with the 64-bit version. The transition is going in that general direction and I fear that 32-bit will rot faster. I’ve noticed no difference in terms of reliability. Also, 64-bit allows for more RAM. I rarely see the 32-bit version advertised anymore.

Display Type:

My philosophy is “the higher the resolution the better.” The resolution is the pixel-width by the pixel-height. So 1366×768 means that you have 1366 pixels wide and 768 pixels of height. The main reason that I prefer higher resolutions is for things like spreadsheets and databases. It also allows for you to use splitscreen and more easily look at more windows at once. For instance, right now, on the left side of my monitor is the Lenovo customization page in the browser and I am typing this on the right. You can do this with less resolution, but it’s more cluttered. (Also, if you care, 1600×900 looks nice and in my opinion 1366×768 does not.)

However, this is something that a lot of people don’t care about. Plus, lower-resolution notebook monitors tend to be more reliable. So if you don’t really multitask and want to save a bit of money, here is a place you can do that. Also, while higher resolution looks nicer, it can also be a little harder on the eyes because the text is smaller (albeit much more clear).

I recommend 1600×900 if you have a 14″ monitor. Either 1600×900 or 1920×1080 should be fine for 15″. But if the price differential ($50 between 1366×768 to 1600×900) puts you in a pinch, it’s not hugely important and here is a corner you can feel perfectly okay cutting.

System Graphics:

Unless you intend on doing graphic-intensive stuff, the standard (usually something like “Intel HD Graphics 3000” or will contain the word “Integrated” and NOT the word Discrete) should be fine provided that you get enough RAM (see below). Some models (Thinkpad or not) will only list one or the other.

Total Memory (RAM):

Do not, under any circumstances, go with less than 4GB. Do not. Under any circumstances. I would recommend 6 or 8. My laptop has 6. I intended to upgrade to 8, but got an especially good deal on 6. It’s been acceptable, though I may still upgrade to 8. I think you would be fine with 6.

Memory remains one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of a computer. With too little RAM, it doesn’t matter how fast your processor is because the bottleneck will be swapping information back and forth from the hard drive. Cut corners on the processor (within reason). Cut corners on video, or audio. Do not cut corners on RAM.

The most miserable time using a computer (except when it’s broken) is when it is having to swap data from the memory to the hard drive and when the CPU is overloaded. If you’re buying a new computer, you don’t have to worry about the second part. The more RAM you buy, the less you have to worry about the former.

Pointing device:

A touchpad is a little pad below the keyboard that you drag your finger across or gesture to move the pointer. A trackpoint (also known as an eraserhead or a combo word referencing a part of the female anatomy) is a little stick that points out of the keyboard with a hat that looks like a pencil eraser. Almost all Thinkpads will come with both. Almost all non-Thinkpads will only come with a touchpad.

Hard drive:

Thinkpads generally come with 500GB and that is more than sufficient space. There is also something called a Solid State Drive. These are smaller and more expensive, so why get it? Because it’s faster. When a computer has to move data from the hard drive to the RAM, that immediately becomes the system’s bottleneck. With SSD, the bottleneck just became a lot larger. I won’t say that it makes RAM a non-issue, but it greatly mitigates the effects of RAM overload when it does occur.

Also, having an SSD means that boot-up will be much faster. I upgraded an old, struggling machine with an SSD drive and boot-up went from taking six minutes to taking under sixty seconds.

I love SSDs, but if you have a tight budget, I would go with the standard hard drive for now and just stock up on RAM.

Expansion slots (of the Cardreader variety):

They’re nice to have, but far from a necessity. Thinkpads often come with them standard. Sometimes there is a “smart card reader” option. Ignore it.


Whether to upgrade to a 9-cell depends on how often you want to use it without it being plugged in. If you want to be as wireless as possible, get it (I always do). But it’s not a necessity. You can always get a separate 9-cell later when you have more money. It can be helpful to have more than one battery.

One thing to keep in mind: On Thinkpads, at least, 9-cell batteries protrude from the laptop. So it makes it less likely to fit in a tighter carrying case and can be awkward-looking. This never bothered me, but I could see it bothering some people aesthetically.


Sometimes they come with it, sometimes they don’t. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about getting it. If you need bluetooth, you can always buy a dongle later.

Wireless (WiFi) adapter and Mobile Broadband:

Here you can get the standard, as long as it is G-band and N-band. All of the Thinkpad options are (I would suspect the same is true for non-Thinkpads, too). Do not worry about “3G capable” unless you plan on paying a monthly fee for 3G access.

Category: Server Room

Women in committed relationships ditch their slutty friends..

An interesting pointcounterpoint on whether Mormons count as Christian. I tend to agree more with Goldberg on the issue (I mean that in no way as an insult), though I thought the Economist made some good points. Good enough that – in combination of the BoM itself – it sits as a matter of perspective to me.

Speaking of Mormons, it seems a bit ironic that two of the more moderate candidates in the GOP primary are Mormons, coming from a religion that votes 90% Republican. Timothy Stanley makes the case that Mormonism actually moderates their politics. I’m not sure I agree, though it is fair to say that Mormons are not particularly conservative from an economic standpoint and it is those issues at the forefront right now.

Should people be able to take smart drugs if they choose to? I lean towards yes, but am open to being convinced otherwise.

Why movies are in the TV business. The studio revenue chart is interesting. And a little depressing, seeing as how it actually does make sense for American movies to de-Americanize their products (“GI Joe… International Heroes!”) for foreign sales. It’s sort of like finding out that “cooling off a kicker” in football actually works.

I think Jobs has been dead long enough that we can speak ill of him, now.

Austin is exploring photo parking ticket snitchery. Take a picture, send it in, get somebody a ticket. As long as people aren’t being paid to do it, I don’t mind all that much. Houston, meanwhile, is going to be launching unmanned drones that might have weapons. What could go wrong?

If this isn’t prole drift, I don’t know what is. So what? The notion that “tattoos are not really the taboo they used to be” is part of the problem.

How northern transplants are ruining southern manners.

Category: Newsroom

New York Magazine has an interesting slideshow on the ratings of various shows. These are what I thought were the highlights (Quotes are in italics):

Men and women are more in sync about Two and a Half Men, however: It’s the No. 2 show on TV among both men and women. // Really? The Gamesters are going to have a field day with this, bad boy Charlie Sheen (even if he isn’t on the show anymore) and all that. This is one of those shows that I really thought would tilt pretty heavily in the male direction.

Not counting football, NBC has zero shows in Nielsen’s list of the 40 most-watched shows on TV. // There really is no end to the bad news of NBC doldrums. Given the success of USA (owned by NBC) you wonder at what point they don’t just start taking USA show ideas and putting them on NBC instead.

NBC may not have a lot of viewers, but the viewers it does have are well educated. The Peacock boasts eight of the top ten shows with the greatest concentration of adults 18-49 with four or more years of college. // This doesn’t surprise me. For a network nobody watches, it’s #2 among the shows I watch. So that’s good news, but…

TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles, with nearly 9 million viewers, is the most-watched scripted show on cable this season, and its overall audience is bigger than every show on NBC save SVU and Harry’s Law. // And Harry’s Law “doesn’t count” because its viewership is old. I’ve been meaning to watch HL, but the more I read about it, the more I fear that the politics of the show will make Boston Legal pale in comparison. Notable tidbit: Kathy Bates replaced James Spader as the headliner in a David E Kelley legal drama (albeit not the same show) and Spader replaced Bates on The Office. I’ve seen a couple episodes of R&I, and while it’s not bad, I don’t for the life of me understand the popularity. I guess I’m not the target audience.

Young women hate nerds: Among females 18-34, the lowest-rated scripted show on any network, including the CW, is Chuck, with a 0.7 rating. // So they’d rather be watching programming where the women are the butt of jokes rather than where an alpha chick falls in love with a nerdy guy. Gamester vindication, again.

The network show rich people like the least? Fox’s Cops, which averages a mere 0.6 rating in upscale adults 18-49. // No further comment.

Category: Theater

As the college football season descends into chaos, the subject of playoffs is again coming up. Which, as many of you know, I oppose. One of the main reasons for that opposition is that playoffs can render regular seasons moot.

Long before I took this stance, I got an object lesson in this. A particularly absurd one. This is more a telling of a story than a post about the BCS. I said almost all I have to say about college football playoffs here.

I am not a particularly athletic person. But there are two things to keep in mind: I started playing little league from a very young age. And I was pretty good at baseball. On the first point, it meant that while I didn’t have a whole lot of talent at sports like basketball or soccer, I was at least considerably more practiced than most. So when we played these things in PE, I was actually an asset to anyone willing to overlook that I was fat.

When it came to basketball, the “team leader” – Donnie – was not particularly willing to overlook that even despite the fact that I was 6’0″ tall in the 8th grade. There were six to a team and he had me swapping in and out for the 5th spot only because everybody had to play. One time we had six and the other team had four and I played for the opposing team and did remarkably well. It didn’t matter, though. I was not very athletic-looking. Our team came in second place (of six) overall, though. First and second place won a week of free time (fifth and sixth had a week of running laps).

After basketball came softball. This time there were only two teams. Donnie was one of the team captains. The other was Cory. Cory was on my little league team. Because he – like myself – was plugged in to the local little league, he knew who was good and who was not. So while Donnie was picking the jock-types, Cory was picking people he knew to be good. Donnie actually chuckled when I was Cory’s third pick, Cory, for his part, said he actually would have picked me sooner – as I was the best hitter on our little league team – but he knew he could wait for me. We both agreed he should have waited longer since it was apparent Donnie wasn’t going to pick me any time soon.

We destoyed them. Day after day, game after game. There were a lot of games because the mercy rule was called into effect regularly and we started over. Every now and again they would get lucky. We won 15 and they won twice. On the last day, the coaches announced it was the last day and that we were playing a “championship game.” And wouldn’t you know it, they won their third game that day. The end result? They had a week of free time and we had a week of running laps*.

What stood out to me was that nobody thought there was anything wrong with this. So hardwired into our thinking that a playoff is how champions are determined, that this seemed perfectly fair to everybody involved. We’d had a playoff for basketball, hadn’t we? Well yes, because there were six teams, two of which had tied for first and a third was only one game back. This, on the other hand, was essentially stating that the first 17 games were scrimmages.

* – I say a week, but it was probably only a couple of days. The 15-2 record I am more sure about. If I’m off, it’s not by more than a game or two in either direction. I know they won no more than three games. I know we won no less than 13.

Category: School

Category: Server Room, Theater

Such is The Atlantic’s solution to the problem of bullying:

Instead of asking why bullies bully, scientists led by University of Illinois psychology professor Karen D. Rudolph are beefing up the coping side of bullying research by looking into why victims retaliate, ignore, or repair relationships after an attack. Through a series of surveys to 373 second-graders and their teachers, they investigated how each child approached and valued his or her peer relationships, how many of the children had been bullied, and how they responded to such attacks.

The data was revelatory. Though it wasn’t astounding to find out that half of the children reported being the object of taunts, gossip, or intimidation, how they reacted to their harassers was. The key to anticipating victims’ responses, it turns out, is to figure out their motivations for interacting with their peers in the first place. That is, kids who wanted to be popular and feel superior tended to retaliate impulsively. Those who wanted to appear cool by avoiding criticisms were more likely to pretend like nothing happened. And those who were genuinely interested in fostering friendships tended to react in healthful, positive ways. They asked their teacher for advice, sought emotional support, and found means to solve the tension with those who harassed them.

From a moral perspective, it is, of course, beyond agitating that we put the burden on the bullied to smart their way out of the situation. Of course, as I’ve said in the past, there is a certain logic to it. After all, it’s the victims that care what’s happening. It’s the victims that agree with society as a whole that bullying is a bad thing. It’s not, of course, the bullies themselves.

And there are some truths to this. While some people will get bullied no matter what, there are different ways to cope with it and some are more productive than others. There were three things that worked for me, two of which involved changes on my part and the third a system change at the school district.

If we look at the public school popularity echelon as we look at economics, I was a low-class kid. One thing that improved my situation was making middle class friends. The more of those I had, the less of a target I was. Middle class folks have at least some upper class friends, and the bullies to some extent watch themselves. The more you surround yourself with people that the bullies don’t want to get into it with, the more they will target people that are alone or that associate in target-rich environments. Of course, this was a negative-sum approach. Being less a target than the next guy doesn’t help the whole. Unless you become middle class yourself and lend aid to lower class people. I did this a little, though not much.

The second thing I did was crass bribery, which no school would recommend but which worked for me. Instead of giving away money, I helped a couple of bullies with their homework. On the first order they stopped picking on me and even became friends of sorts, but on a second order they provided a degree of implicit protection. They never threatened other bullies, but so long as I was on friendly terms with the former bullies, the others started avoiding me. Unlike the previous, this actually may have been positive-sum. Not only did the bullies I bribed not go after me, they also stopped going after my friends. And I think there was a net gain. (My friends didn’t receive the second-order effects that I did, however.) It was this that got me through my eighth grade year.

The third change was a systems one, and I believe a positive net gain. I changed schools, from a relatively unwealthy middle school to a wealthy high school. The bullies were vastly outnumbered, and made smaller by the fact that the worst were shipped off to the alternative school. I hated my high school, but it was great in this respect. It provided me enough breathing room that I could at first be invisible, and then start making middle class friends.

My experience in substituting has reinforced the notion that dealing with bullies – at least from an institutional standpoint – is exceptionally hard. Even for teachers and administrators that mean well. Last spring I mentioned a story at Pitts Elementary where two kids got into a fight, of sorts, and when the detention slips were sent out one of the kids was crying and the other was showing it off to all of his friends. How, precisely, do you punish a kid who shows off his punishment slips to all of his friends?

Category: School