Today’s lunchtime “News to Chew On”™ deals with relics. No, I’m not talking about the US Postal Service, which has decided to stop Saturday delivery in August. Rather, I’m talking about architectural relics:
- Las Vegas. By the time you read this, the sun will have set on Bill’s Casino and Gambling Hall, which was formerly known as the Barbary Coast… and which was the Desert Villa [Note: link requires IE or Chrome] before that. When the property reopens next year, what had become a Strip antique will be a boutique hotel with new hotel rooms, a refurbished casino, a second-story restaurant, a rooftop pool and nightclub, … and yet another name. In other Las Vegas relic news, the International hotel, which became the Las Vegas Hilton, which became the LVH (so they didn’t have to change the monogram) has just become affiliated with the boutique Leo brand within Red Lion. This will serve them well, because everyone thinks of the Red Lion brand when they think of Las Vegas. Right? [And as a P.S. regarding Las Vegas: We're actually going to Vegas at the end of April for a week's vacation. I'll get to look for Las Vegas relics (so I do plan to visit the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum, and we're all going to see a different type of relic: Elton John in concert!]
- Nike Missile Launching Sites. Most people don’t remember it, but Los Angeles was once ringed with a bunch of Nike ABM sites. The LA Daily News has an article on the site closest to my house: the Oat Mountain station in Chatsworth, which has been taken over by vandals and taggers. Actually, this was quite an interesting read… and it makes me want to explore the former site in the hills above Encino that has been preserved as an interpretive park.
- Transportation Relics. The Infrastructurist had a number of articles on its RSS feed today related to transportation relics (although, for some reason, I’m not seeing the pictures). This includes an article on abandoned subway stations around the world (including the abandoned Subway tunnel in Los Angeles) and 11 destroyed train stations. Speaking of train stations, KCET had a recent article on the destroyed train stations of Los Angeles. Lastly, the Infrastructurist had an article about how tearing down a freeway can help a city. Alas, the article they link to for San Francisco includes a link to my site… or at least to where my site was back in the 1990s when it was on Pacificnet. [ETA: Looks like the Infrastructurist posts were an RSS hiccup from 2009, meaning that many of the links to images are broken. That explains why they weren't showing up--not that my work firewall was blocking them ]
Today’s collection of lunchtime news chum brings together a number of articles all connected through a great city and great country, in fact, a Great Britain….
- Underground Anniversary. As this is the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, there are loads and loads of articles being written about the service. One in particular caught my eye (not surprisingly): An article from The Atlantic on how the London Underground map has changed over the years. But wait, there’s more! Two additional things. First, the Underground is well known for its escalators. Escalators are a plague for many an underground railway, so here’s an article about all the work BART is doing to maintain its escalators. Secondly, given my love of maps, you know I can’t stop at one. Here’s a neat map of the San Fernando Valley from 1924. Note what is there… and what isn’t.
- Good British Food. EaterLA alerted me to an article in the Burger Business blog that asked the question, “What is a Pub Burger?” After all, more and more restaurants are trying to attract patrons by serving burgers supposedly similar to those sold in English pubs. So what are they? The conclusion. Pub burgers are… trendy. I actually chuckled at the one comment, “I don’t know why you would want to copy English pub burgers, as on the whole they are cheap, overcooked rubbish.” But wait, there’s more! The same EaterLA post also alerted me to a fascinating article about a restaurant that serves burgers: A tell-all from a Hooters waitress about what it is really like working there.
- It’s More Complicated… A hat tip to Andrew Ducker for this one… A very interesting article on all the implications of the proposed change to royal succession in Britain to permit the eldest daughter to assume the throne before a younger son. There are profound and far reaching changes, including the ability to marry Catholics and changes to some of England’s oldest laws. But wait, there’s more! In another story about needing to change an old law to reflect modern times, an 1872 law in California will likely be changed because it only recognizes rape for married women. According to this law, as interpreted by the judge, if a man impersonates a husband and rapes the wife, it is legally rape, but if they aren’t married and he is impersonating the boyfriend, it isn’t.
By now, everyone knows that the fiscal cliff has been averted, and a compromise bill passed. What you probably don’t know is everything that was in the bill. It is your usual mix of good and bad, but there is some good news for those of us that commute via shared rides (buspools, vanpools): the commuter tax benefit has been restored. According to LA Metro:
As part of the fiscal cliff legislation adopted by the Senate and House yesterday, a provision was included that will extend (through December 31, 2013) the increase in the monthly exclusion for employer-provided transit and vanpool benefits from $125 to $240. By increasing the monthly exclusion for transit and vanpool participants, the benefit now matches those provided for employer-provided parking benefits.
Further, according to the American Public Transportation Association:
Under the new “fiscal cliff” legislation passed by Congress this week, the parity between public transit and parking benefits are now up to $240 a month and are retroactive from January 1, 2012. This will expire on December 31, 2013.
This is a significant jump, and drastically reduces commuting costs. I have no idea whether “the ranch” will provide the retroactive side of the benefits; I could see that as an accounting nightmare.
There were also improved benefits for those that used Compressed Natural Gas (CNG): “Also included in the fiscal cliff legislation was a provision to extend, for one year, the CNG tax credit. In addition to being extended through December 31, 2013, the CNG tax credit language included in the final bill provides for the tax credits to be retroactive for 2012.” This is of significant benefit to public transit agencies.
Well, we’ve reached another Friday again… and you know what that means. Time to clear out the links that couldn’t be formed into a coherent themed post. So on to today’s incoherent jumble:
- Learning from Failure. One of the many books I remember from college is “To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design” by Henry Petroski. The key point of the book is that we can learn much more from failure than from success. I mention this because Wired has a very interesting article on why things fail. Manufacturers know that components in every product will eventually fail (they know this from statistics). The trick is finding the right point for them to fail: a point at which a consumer would consider they had gotten satisfactory value from their product. For example, in an automobile, you might expect to replace the transmission after 200,000 miles, and so there is no need for them to engineer that component to last longer. It isn’t worth the extra effort. This article explores that tradeoff.
- Cover Stories. Speaking of posed pictures, the American Society of Magazine Editors has chosen the top 40 magazine covers of the last 40 years. Now, I know a number of you are going “What’s a magazine?”. But for those of us who remember magazines, we probably remember at least a large number of these covers. Winners include a naked John Lennon on Rolling Stone, a pregnant Demi Moore on Vanity Fair, the New Yorker’s view of the world, the National Lampoon’s dog, and many more. So what magazine covers do you remember, and how did they influence your life?
- Units. One article I read this week talked about the discrepancies in our use of prefixes such as K — sometimes we mean 1000, sometimes 1024. The article linked to something at NIST I never knew about — did you know that there are standardized prefixes for binary units? In other words, while my iPod is 160GB, it isn’t 160 GiB. Do you think that if we adopted use of the binary prefixes that consumers would be less (or more) confused?
- Teaching the Past. One of the stories that has been interesting me this week is the trial of a science teacher in Oxnard. Why is she on trial? Simple: Before she became a teacher, she did porn. Some administrators found out, and …. . In a recent article on the story, she explains why she did it. It is bad enough that she had to go through that experience in order to survive, but to have one bad decision — and one that she has since repudiated — damn her forever is (to me) wrong. She should get her job back and be able to recreate her life. Some argue that it would distract the students, but I find that argument non-credible. First, given the life-cycle of any porn scene, the odds that a particular student would find a particular scene from many years ago and positively identify a teach are low… plus where are the parents who are providing the student with the access to the porn. No, this is a problem with puritanical parents and administrators who want to judge and punish. We’re well beyond the 1600s, folks.
- Business Notes. A few business articles that caught my eye, out of personal interest primarily. First, Gluten-free food and drinks have become a $4.2 billion market. I remember when there was essentially no market, and it was impossible to find GF foods. Although this makes it easier for my wife (who is GF), I wonder when the fad bubble will burst, making GF food as hard to find as Atkins diet products. Remember the no-carb craze? Secondly, Target is selling its credit card business to TD Bank. This refers specifically to its credit cards, which had been handled by Target National Bank. Target was very good at catching credit card fraud and misuse, and it will be interesting to see if TD Bank has the same quality of service. Lastly, Tesco may be about to give up on Fresh and Easy. That’s too bad — F&E is one of our three regular markets (the others are Sprouts and TJs); we never go to the big chains (Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons) anymore.
As I work on clearing out the accumulated links in preparation for the Friday News Chum clearing, here are some articles all related to history:
- Miss Subways. If you know me, you know I love musicals. One classic musical is On The Town, which revolves around three soldiers search for that year’s Miss Subways. Well, it turns out that Miss Subways is real. In fact, a New York Transit Museum talked a number of them to returning for a new exhibition on Miss Subways. Interesting to read the article, and find out what happened to these girls (who, by the way, received nothing for the title).
- Historic Theaters. Another interest of mine is history. The LA Times has a nice article on the historic Tower theater downtown that is being remade into a concert venue. The theater has much of its original history still present. The balcony still has seats equipped with wire racks on the bottom for moviegoers to stash their hats. The projection booth has a built-in toilet for the projectionist and steel safety shutters designed to automatically drop down in case the projector’s hot carbon arc light ignited the flammable nitrate film. There are basement tunnels that connect the theater’s boiler room and its huge, built-in Carrier air conditioning machinery to hidden rooms under the front of the auditorium, which included a hydraulic lift to make the 216-style Wurlitzer pipe organ majestically rise so organist Stephen Boisclair could accompany silent movies. Behind where the movie screen once stood is the spot where the pioneering Vitaphone sound system speakers were fitted into the theater wall. Fascinating history.
- Books Coming to Life. When I was young, I remember reading the book The Island of Blue Dolphins. Turns out, the notion for the story was true, and they have recently discovered the cave that may have housed the lone woman of St. Nicolas Island.
- OK Corral. An interesting look at what really happened at the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ. Hint: They weren’t making pizzas.
One of the unfortunate side effects of the recent RIF at the Circle A Ranch was that I became the operator of our vanpool (as one of the folks RIFed was the longtime operator; we also lost Nicole as a regular rider). This brought our vanpool down to 6 regulars and one regular casual (3 days a month) in an 8 passenger van. [As background, the 8-passenger van is a Ford E-150 Van, configured as 2, 2, 2, 2, with a relatively stiff truck suspension, that gets around 12-15 mpg]. This was doable.
In June, we had a confluence of bad things: two of our regular riders were off most of the month due to medical conditions, and one of the other regulars announced his retirement. We had days when we were going in with only two people. This was more of an economic problem, and so we started thinking about downsizing. There are two 7-passenger vans available: a 7-passenger Dodge Grand Caravan, and a 7-passenger Toyota Sienna. These get around 20 mpg, and cost the same to lease as the 8-passenger. Being minivans, they have a more car-like ride, in exchange for being slightly smaller with a tighter back seat. I think they are configured as 2, 2, 3.
Given the low ridership, we decided to downsize the van, whilst simultaneously looking for more riders. Guess what happened? We’re scheduled to downsize on Monday, while at the same time we have a summer intern starting as a regular rider for July and August, with two more potential riders in the wings.
So now the question is: do we still downsize? We could be at 8 regular riders in a 7 passenger van, which might work for the summer given the number of absences. It all depends on the tradeoffs between the size and seat comfort of the 8 passenger van versus the better ride and fuel mileage of the 7-passenger van. We’ll have to see what happens.
A number of news items in today’s lunchtime news reading address transportation in some form:
Lastly, a PS to my post of the other day on new musicals: Work is being done on a Broadway-bound update to Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, featuring a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. Tony nominee Beane (Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones, The Little Dog Laughed), who also delivered a fresh book for the Broadway production of Sister Act, recharted the journey of the classic tale in a new way: Retaining all classic elements of the fairytale, it will now be Cinderella’s turn to rescue the Prince. Beane’s treatment will incorporate songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue, as well as songs from the original television version, including “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible/It’s Possible,” “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” The casting, which is for a workshop, also looks interesting.