Interesting Histories

Continuing the clearing of some themed groups, here are some interesting histories that I’ve seen come across my feeds of late:

  • LA Theatre. Here’s a complete history of LA Theatre while standing on one foot.  OK, well, it’s not complete (there’s no mention of the LA Civic Light Opera, for example, or the other major large theatres that are no more, like the Huntington Hartford or the Shubert in Century City), but it is a great summary of the current situation with 99 seat theatres and how we got there.
  • Jewish Culinary Tradition. Here’s an article (and a discussion of a cookbook) related to a classic Jewish food tradition: pickling and preservation. A number of the recipes described sound really interesting .
  • Left Turns. If you’re like me, you get … annoyed … at the current crop of drivers that wait behind the limit line to make a left turn, and then do a sweeping arc that almost cuts off the car waiting on the cross street to turn (plus, it means one car per light). If you’re like me, you were taught to pull into the middle of the intersection, and then to do an almost 90 degree turn to go from left lane into left lane. Turns out, left turns have changed over time, and I’m old-school.
  • Old Subway Cars. When your light rail cars die, where do they go? Often, they are dumped in the ocean. Los Angeles did that with some of the Red and Yellow Cars. New York does it with its subway cars. But this isn’t pollution, and here are the pictures to prove it. Rather, it is creating reefs for oceanlife.
  • Tunnels Back In Service. An LADWP tunnel that dates back to 1915 is going back in service.The Los Angeles Daily News reports the tunnel is being refurbished to capture water runoff from the Sierras, which was inundated with snow this winter.The tunnel is part of a larger system, called the Maclay Highline, that runs from “the L.A. Aqueduct Cascades in Sylmar to a group of meadows in Pacoima.” Once restored, the tunnel will carry a significant amount of water—130 acre-feet a day—to the Pacoima Spreading Grounds, where it will filter down into the city aquifer and become drinking water. (One acre-foot can supply two households with water for a year.)

As we’re talking history, here’s another interesting themed historical group, this time focused on air travel:

  • Lockheed L-1011. I remember back in the 1990s flying between LAX and IAD, when I could still occasionally get an L-1011. This was a tri-jet from Lockheed, and was nice and spacious with great overhead space. They have long since disappeared, but one recently took to the skies as part of a ferry to a museum. The refurbished plane will be used as part of a STEM teaching experience.
  • Boeing 747. The Queen of the Skies has been dethroned by someone skinnier and cheaper. The last few 747s for passenger service are coming off the line; airlines are phasing them out of the fleets. There will be a few more for freight service, but like the DC-10, they will be disappearing. The market can not really support such large loads — and the multiple engines and fuel it takes to ferry them. The Airbus A380 is facing similar problems. Airlines want at most two engines, with the planes packed to the gills.
  • Old Airports. Here’s an article on an interesting dilemma: What to do with old municipal airports, such as the one in downtown Detroit? (NYTimes article) Should they be restored for general aviation purposes, and perhaps the occasional commercial craft? Should their land be repurposed for more housing and manufacturing, as was done quite successfully with the old DEN (Denver Stapleton). Repurposing can be temping. Cities such as Detroit will soon run out of wide-open, city-owned spaces that can be offered to companies looking to build manufacturing or other commercial facilities here. A decomissioned airport can provide just the opportunity needed. But others say cities should reinvest in the airports, saying it could be an economic engine as well. (I’ll note similar questions exists for former Air Force bases as well — how is former George AFB working out, San Bernardino?) The article  notes that cities across the nation are reconsidering the value of municipal airports in the era of superjumbo jets and budget cuts. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association estimated the nation loses 50 public-use airports a year. Almost all are general-aviation airports, ones that cater primarily to owners of private planes, and most have operating deficits that the cities must make up for in their budgets. Detroit, for instance, faces a $1.3 million operating loss in the 2017 fiscal year for Coleman Young, which averages just 30 landings a day. The main airport for the region is Detroit Metropolitan, a Delta Air Lines hub about 20 miles west of the city limits.

I’ve Got a Little List: Obsolete Technology, Left-Handed Problems, LA Drivers

userpic=fountain-penThe unifying theme for today’s lunchtime news chum is enumeration: these are all lists of things. Further, they are all lists of things with which I have some disagreement:

  • 12 Obsolete Technologies Americans Still Use. Andrew Ducker brought this list to my attention. I disagree with many of these items — both with the “obsolete” aspect, and the implication that there is no rationale for their use. For almost all of these, I’ll argue that there are still narrow use cases that justify their use. #2 Pagers, for example, have the advantage of being one-way, which make them ideally suited for environments where one is worried about information exfiltration. #3, Dot Matrix Printers, are needed in cases where multiple copies are required and printing multiple originals is burdensome (or when a real signature is required). #5, Pay Phones, are vital for emergencies and cases where people either cannot use or cannot afford cell service. #7, landline phones, are a vital backup communication medium when the power goes out (they have independent power, whereas VoIP depends on main power), and still have superior sound quality to cell lines. #9, film, has inherent artistic qualities that cannot be duplicated with digital (which is the same argument for #12, vinyl). #11, fax machines, can provide security advantages as it is not stored. Which do I use? #7, #8, #11 (some places still require it), #12.
  • 18 Worst Things for Left Handed People. Being left handed, I agree with many items on this list, although some I disagree with. For example, #5 — really now? Pushing the ball? If so, then how can I write with a fountain pen. Similarly, with #6, that’s only a problem if you are using ink that doesn’t dry fast enough. #7 is only a problem if you don’t take care where you sit (it’s now automatic for me to sit in the correct corner), and I’ve never had a problem with #10 or #15. Some of these still annoy me, such as #1, #2, and #12, and my personal pet peeve is #16 — those signature capture machines are never designed for left handers.
  • 30 Things Only Drivers in Los Angeles Will Understand. This, perhaps, is the list I have the greatest disagreement with, for much of these are things that native Los Angeles people have no problems with. For example, regarding #1 — I never scream on the freeway — I just turn on a podcast and go with the flow (or get off and get some tea and wait for the mess to subside). As for #4, Sigalert is so yesterday — real people use Quickmap from Caltrans. As for #3 — that sign isn’t even from Los Angeles, although the parking signs can be confusing (which I’ve written about before).  As for #11, real Angelenos know to visit the Auto Club for most DMV services. #17 is really only a excuse for those that live in the LA Basin — those in the valley will drive anywhere. However, #13 is most definitely true!



Musings About Drivers

An article in today’s SF Chronicle talks about a California bill to protect unlicensed drivers from arrest. I was reading this article while eating lunch. It actually does more than that (details below), and it touches on some interesting questions.

The bill relates to DUI checkpoints. In the past, if a driver was stopped and they did not have their physical license on them, the car they were driving would be impounded and the driver arrested. There are many who felt this was the right thing to do, under the assumption that an unlicensed driver must be an illegal immigrant. However, there are problems with this as well: if the car is registered, it is clearly unlawful search and seizure of property–that is, the property of the registered owner of the vehicle. Further, being an unlicensed driver is typically not an arrestable crime: there are many reasons people might be driving without their license being physically there. Lastly, cities were starting to use this as a revenue source.

The new bill recognizes the importance of the car in California. Under the bill, the law enforcement officials will attempt to contact the registered owner of the vehicle, and see if an authorized representative can pick it up. The driver will be cited, not arrested.

The underlying question I found interesting was whether one must be a legal resident in order to get a drivers license? There are numerous benefits to society to having licensed drivers: they have to have demonstrated a particular level of training, and have to demonstrably have insurance. Preventing a class of people from obtaining a license does not mean those people will not drive–it only means we potentially have people who don’t know California’s rules and have current insurance on the road. That’s a risk to all. On the other hand, driving is a privilege and processing licenses does cost the state money. How do we balance the benefit to the public with the cost of providing a state service to someone who doesn’t pay taxes? It’s not a black and white question.


Distractions While Driving

OK, USA Today (that bastion of science) is now presenting research that even just listening to a hand-free cellphone is distracting to drivers.

Here’s my question: Where is the research that quantifies the distraction that comes from talking to passengers (or dealing with screaming kids in the backseat)? Where is the research that quantifies the distraction that comes from listening to the radio (either music or talk radio)? Where is the research that shows that merely listening on a cellphone, hands-free, is more distracting than passengers or radios?

I ask this because, unless we’re going ban carrying passengers or having radios in cars… which we don’t seem to be doing… then we shouldn’t be talking about banning activities that are no more distracting than what we permit. Sometimes, I think the folks doing science like this don’t understand science or risk.


Observations on the News

I’m in a good mood (no headache today), so I’ll bring you another installment of (drumroll) “Observations on the News”:

  • From the “Just the Facts, Ma’am” Department: The Los Angeles Times is reporting how a conservative high-school teacher, upset when one of his students used B.C.E. instead of B.C., has created Conservapedia, subtitled “A conservative encyclopedia you can trust. The truth shall set you free.” Reminds one of Fox News, but I digress. Conservapedia gives conservative definitions — and I don’t mean “conservative” in the sense of minimal. Rather, the definitions are in line with the bible-belting, hard-line Republican philosphy. It is also small and loaded with spelling errors… but still, people believe what they read on the networks. Sigh. Of course, if someone were to (ahem) ensure the entries were “fair and balanced” (in the correct (I was going to say “right”) sense of the word….
  • From the “And you better give a ‘Hail Mary’ as you flip that guy off” Department: According to USA Today, ‘da Pope has issued 10 Commandments for Drivers, feeling it was necessary to address the pastoral needs of motorists because driving had become such a big part of contemporary life. The document, issued by Vatican’s Office for Migrants and Itinerant People, also warned that automobiles can be “an occasion of sin” — particularly when used to make a dangerous overtaking maneuver or when used by prostitutes and their clients. The document suggested prayer might come in handy — performing the sign of the cross before starting off and saying the Rosary along the way. The Rosary was particularly well-suited to recitation by all in the car since its “rhythm and gentle repetition does not distract the driver’s attention.”

    So what are these commandments?

    1. You shall not kill.
    2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
    3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
    4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
    5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
    6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
    7. Support the families of accident victims.
    8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
    9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
    10. Feel responsible toward others.

    Alas, I’m not sure these will be of much help, although in Boston and Los Angeles, who knows?

  • From the “He Tossed a Coin” Department: The Los Angeles Times is reporting the death of Guy de Rothschild, the dynamic patriarch of one of the world’s dominant banking families, at the age of 98. Now, I have a soft spot for The Rotshchilds, as it was the musical story of their life (M/L: Bock/Harnick) that introduced me to the world of musical theatre. Who were the Rothschilds? For generations, the Rothschilds had been economic advisors to European royalty, heads of state and even popes. Rothschild’s ancestors settled in Paris and started a French banking branch in 1817 that financed wars and railroads, mining and archeology. The family became one of the richest and most powerful in the world.
  • From the “Feed the Drama Llama” Department: Livejournal has announced their perm account sale will start Thursday… with predictable drama from the Strikethrough 07 crowd, especially after barakb25’s post. Still, I’ll likely get one.

Vehicle Fire Destroys Freeway. Film at 11.

People talk about double-decking freeways (such as the I-405 or US 101) as if it is the solution to all widening problems. Similarly, people talk about tunnels as a solution. Both have a serious risk you never hear mentioned, and I’m not talking about earthquakes.

I’m talking accidents and fire. This was just demonstrated graphically yesterday (see the pictures), after a tractor trailer hauling 8,600 gallons of gasoline crashed into a pylon on an interchange connecting westbound lanes of I-80, which includes the Bay Bridge, to southbound I-880 in Oakland. It ignited and the fire led to the collapse of a second interchange from eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580 located above the first interchange. Specifically, a section of the roadway taking traffic from the Bay Bridge onto eastbound I-580 fell onto the connector that brings East Bay traffic from I-80 to I-880 and I-580. Lanes of I-580 near the East Bay Municpal Utility District sewage treatment plant at the maze are draped like a blanket over the northeast edge of the freeway below with the corner tip touching the ground below that.
[SF Chronicle report, LA Daily News report, Closures and Alternate Routes]

As for the truck? It seems to have disappeared. One Caltrans worker at the scene held up his thumb and forefinger an inch apart to describe how big the tanker is now. The driver, who suffered 2nd degree burns, got out of the truck on his own after it overturned, hailed a taxi to a nearby hospital, where he is in critical but stable condition.

This is why I believe that automated fire suppression systems are so important for any overpass, double-decked section, or tunnel. Even my idea for widening US-101 with minimal property loss* has automated sprinkler systems. Caltrans tends not to build these, which is one reason I don’t like double-decking or long tunnels, such as are proposed for I-710 or the Route 74 tunnel.

* So what’s my idea. Create an elevated roadbed, ideally from the start of US 101 downtown and continuing to Route 27. This roadbed would be for long distance traffic only. There would be interchanges only near other freeways, or perhaps half-way between freeways. Entrance and exit to this upper roadbed would be from the current #1 lane (ramps up and down), and the laning would be reversed on the upper roadbed (i.e., the outer lanes would be the fast lanes). The upper roadbed would be reserved for HOV and long-distance traffic only. Further, there would be a fire-suppression system built into the roadbed such that a detected fire in the lower roadbed would (a) signal the fire department, and (b) dump appropriate suppression chemicals and foam, if the fire was burning long enough.


How Would Jesus Drive?

Don’t worry, I’ll explain the subject line later in the post.

Did you know that California has not had a day without a traffic fatality since September 12, 2000… that a traffic collision is reported every 59 seconds, and that one person is killed every 2h4m as a result of atraffic accident… injuries? try every 1m43s, and that for every person killed, there are 73 injured. That California accounted for 9.8% of the roadway fatalities in the US in 2003?

I didn’t before today. Today, I took a vacation day and attended the California Strategic Highway Safety Plan summit. This summit came about from the SAFETEA-LU legislation, which mandates that in order to receive the highway money allocated in the bill, California must have a plan to reduce fatalities to 1 fatality per 100 M Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT). Right now we’re at 1.30. I should note that Minnesota has a more lofty goal: Zero Fatalities.

The goal of the plan is to address traffic safety through the four “E”s: Enforcement, Education, Engineering, and Emergency Medical Services.

The opening of the summit was the usual “go off and do good” speaches from a variety of people, including representatives from CalTrans, the Office of Traffic Safety, the CHP, the DMV, the California Emergency Medical Services Authory, the County Engineers of California, and the Federal Highway Administration. I think the key thing I took out from this is that these fatalities number are not statistics: each fatality means that someone’s loved one is not coming home, and that some officer has to deliver the news to the family. In 2004, that happened over 4,000 times! That’s far too much.

The first breakout session I went to related to Impared Driving. Read drunk driving. There were lots of good ideas tossed out here. More education. More enforcement. More administrative penalties (losing licenses, vehicles), which are easier to get than criminal penalties. More education for officers on how to do field sobriety checks… and more of them. Harsher penalties for first time offenders. The statistics are staggering. During 2004, in accidents where alcohol was the primary reason, 829 people were killed, and 14,707 were injured. I know this personally; in 2001 (I may have the year wrong), gf_guruilla was hit by a drunk and is still recovering. It is also known that the average age of a DUI arrestee in 2004 was 33.2 years, and 83% are men. You can help here: If you have a party where booze is served, put the keys in a bowl before someone drinks, and have designated drivers. Friends are better alive.

Lunch was a speaker from MN DOT, who spoke about how MN is moving towards zero. They are doing things like raising speed limits to the engineered speed and enforcing them (so folks don’t drive 10 miles over); installing median barriers, and pushing for a mandatory seat belt law. Which brings up point two: Wear your seat belt!.

In the afternoon, I went to a breakout session on Curbing Agressive Driving. This is where the line “How Would Jesus Drive?” came from: one person suggested that ministers educate their congregations on proper driving. Another person suggested that since most agressive drivers were men, girlfriends and wives should take over driving duties. That wasn’t taken seriously. Other ideas were good, like toll-free numbers to report agressive drivers, increased education at all levels, from kindergarten (pedestrian and bikes) to the workplace; refresher classes for lower insurance rates; lengthening the time for graduated licenses and making it based on the number of years driving, not your age; getting a good definition of agressive driving and enforcing it; bringing back driver training and education in our schools, and having them teach defensive driving again. All sorts of real good ideas. This brings us to point three: It is better to get home safe than to get home five minutes early.

I found this a real good seminar; it certainly made me more aware of safety. I contributed lots of good ideas. I’ll note that the SHSP Draft is available for review; comments are due mid-March, and another draft will be out after that. Their goal is to have it completed by the end of May.