Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Thanksgiving Left-Over News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 30, 2013 @ 12:49 pm PDT

Observation StewAh, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Time to sit down to a hearty bowl of Turkey Stew, with nice chucks of news:

  • Smelling The Subway. This is a real interesting article (and quite likely of interest to Andrew Ducker and those in the UK). A fellow who has synaesthesia, a neurological condition which prompts an involuntary reaction to sensory experiences, tastes things that he hears. In particular, place names provoke real tastes and intense cravings for particular foods. Using this knowledge, he has made a “taste map” of the London Underground. For example, to this fellow, Tottenham Court Road provokes a particularly strong taste of a sausage and egg breakfast, whilst nearby Bond Street prompts the less appealing tang of hairspray. Among the flavors that appear on the map are apple pie, bubble and squeak, HP sauce, purple grapes, chicken soup and soft boiled egg. Others include sweets such as love hearts, poppets, soft wine gums and jelly tots. Obscure flavors include coal dust, putrid meat, burnt rubber, wet wool, pencil eraser, fuzzy felt and dried blood.
  • Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite warped authors is Shel Silverstein. His kids stuff is great; his adult stuff is even better. He was also an accomplished songwriter, penning many folk and comedy songs. Here’s an interesting article on the unlikely way he rose to fame. Here’s a hint: Whenever you read his children’s stuff, look for the hidden subversive adult message.
  • I’m Bored. Many of us, I’m sure, get bored. But most of us don’t make it their job to boredom. Luckily, there are researchers that do. Did you know, for example, that there are five types of boredom … one more than researchers expected? (Well, you did if you were bored enough to listen to Wait Wait).  The types of boredom that they expected were: (1) Indifferent boredom, a relaxing and slightly positive type of boredom that “reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world”; (2)Calibrating boredom, the slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts and “a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation”; (3) Searching boredom, the kind that makes you feel restless and leaves you “actively seeking out specific ways of minimizing feelings of boredom”; and (4) Reactant boredom, which is so bad that it prompts sufferers “to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid those responsible for this situation (e.g., teachers).” What they discovered was a fifth type of boredom: Apathetic boredom. I’d go on, but I’m sure you’re bored by now.
  • Next on Wait Wait. Do you ever see scientific studies, and go “That’ll be on Wait Wait”. Here’s one for Wait Wait: Sexual frustration decreases lifespan — at least in flies. Specifically, the chemical attractant wafting from a female fruit fly shortened the lifespan of male flies when the femme fatale didn’t deliver on the signal’s promise, according to a new study.
  • Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning. I’m a morning person. In fact, I often get up just shortly before my alarm goes off. Turns out, there’s a reason why. It’s due to having a very accurate body clock. The body happens to love predictability. Your body is most efficient when there’s a routine to follow. So if you hit the hay the same time each night and awake the same time each morning, your body locks that behavior in.  The implication of this, of course, is that having constantly changing bedtimes and waking times puts stress on your body. That’s one of the reasons that, for me, sleeping me means sleeping until 530am.
  • Good News for Steve Stepanek. Dr. Steve Stepanek is one of the folks I work with regularly at CSUN, as he is head of the Computer Science Liaison Council. The Daily Sundial is reporting that Steve just got elected to the CSU Board of Trustees. That’s great news — they’ve got a great educator, an engineer, and a computer scientist (as well as a train aficionado) as a member.
  • Eating the Brain. One last science related item: Scientists have discovered an overlooked type of brain cell that may be responsible for learning. What it does is prune connections (essentially, eating them) in the brain, permitting new connections (and thus new learning) to be recorded. This could carry important implications for the battle against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for psychiatric disorders, and for the nagging loss of memory that comes with aging.



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It’s Hot Enough to Fry News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 29, 2013 @ 2:03 pm PDT

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday. It’s lunchtime. It’s 105.7°F in the shade on the back porch. You know what that means — it is time to fry us up (on the sidewalk, ‘natch) some tasty News Chum, using those links we saved earlier in the week. Better eat it quick, before it spoils in the heat:

Music: Memories (Barbra Streisand): “My Heart Belongs To Me”

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Architectural Relics: Las Vegas, Nike Missile Silos, and Train/Subway Stations

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Feb 06, 2013 @ 11:42 am PDT

userpic=las-vegasToday’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:

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British News Chum…. But Wait, There’s More!

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 09, 2013 @ 11:22 am PDT

userpic=lougrantToday’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….


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Good News for Vanpoolers

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jan 03, 2013 @ 5:08 am PDT

userpic=vanpoolingBy 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.

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Friday News Chum: Autos, Subways, Buses, Hotels, Secession, GF Wheat, and Hats

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 30, 2012 @ 11:42 am PDT

Well, it’s Friday at lunch, and you know what that means–it is time to clear out the bookmarked links that didn’t quite form into themes (although, as I type in the times, there does seem to be a general transportation/travel theme). So here we go… (and as a reminder, I’m still looking for thoughts regarding use of iTunes 11 with the iPod Classic):

  • Three-Cylinder Power. This article from the LA auto show caught my eye. Evidently, Ford has a new 3-cyl. Fiesta, and the engine is designed in such a way as to give more power than a conventional 4-cyl. engine. The trick is to turbocharge the engine, combined with patented engine mounts and with weights installed outside the engine, on the pulley and flywheel to address the inherent unbalance of 3 cyl. If this approach works, I’m guessing we’ll see some revolutionary strides in small car efficiency.
  • Subway Problems. We all know how Super-Storm Sandy knocked out the NYC Subway system. What you probably don’t know is the work involved in getting it running again. Here’s an interesting article on why it is going to take a long time to restore the R train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. One of the longest tunnels, it saw all of its electrical equipment coated in salt water. Not good.
  • Busing It. Megabus is returning to California, with low-price tickets between Vegas, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Oakland to Union Station. This is of particular interest to me, as it provides an easy way for my daughter to get from Berkeley to Los Angeles (and then Red Line or Metro-Link to the valley). However, as the service is run by Coach USA, I’m unsure it will last (given Coach USA’s problems — they used to run the Flyaway). Still, I hope it succeeds.
  • The Cost of Hotels. LA Observed has an interesting discussion on why hotels cost so much, working off an article from Slate. There are a number of basic reasons: travellers tend not to bargain (especially when on expense accounts), and hotels don’t need to discount all rooms (they can discount the unsold few at the last minute). [By the way, this may be similar to the demand pricing Megabus uses to discount tickets — a few tickets purchased really early may be cheap, and tickets purchased at the very last minute may be cheap.] The Slate article itself talks about the excessive taxes, location costs, and high level of services, but concludes “Hotel customers tolerate these marked-up amenities because they generally aren’t very interested in driving a hard bargain. The business traveler is likely to feel that he “needs” appropriately located accommodations and isn’t going to be interested in exhaustive research about the costs and benefits of staying someplace cheaper and more remote. What’s more, he’s generally not paying out of pocket. A responsible employee will of course try to be reasonably frugal, but even so frugality is benchmarked to local costs. “
  • Costs of Secession. We’ve all be reading about the secession petitions, and even humorists have addressed the subject. But here’s a more interesting question: Suppose you have a DOD Security Clearance and sign a secession petition. Does that affect your security clearance? This article explores the question. When you think about it, it is a real issue: you have an individual who has just publically advocated working against the US government. Is that adverse information, and does it bring into question their loyalty to the US. As Ben Franklin once said, “Oh sure, harmless. I know how these things happen. You go to a couple of harmless parties, sign a harmless petition, and forget all about it. Ten years later, you get hauled up before a committee. No, thank you, I’m not going to spend the rest of my life writing in Europe.”
  • Gluten-Free Wheat? An intriguing article in the LA Times about some scientists who believe it is possible to engineer a wheat variety that goes not contain gluten. It might be possible, but I’m not sure I’d trust it… for a number of reasons. First, I would be far too afraid the processing would contaminate it with other wheat; secondly, I’m still unsure about engineered food.
  • Finishing With the Hat. And lastly, an interesting story about a woman who lost her hat while traveling. It was a hat her mother wore during her last days of chemo. How is she solving the problem… she’s putting the request on social networks.

P.S.: Received my first challenge coin today. Cool.

Music: Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (Martin Short): “Glass Half Full”

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Friday News Chum: Failure, Magazine Covers, Binary Units, Teachers in Porn, and some Business Notes

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Oct 26, 2012 @ 11:35 am PDT

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.


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History in the News: Miss Subways, Historic Theaters, Blue Dolphins, and the OK Corral

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Oct 26, 2012 @ 11:25 am PDT

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.


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