This is Your Train on Drugs, UK and Detroit Editions

High speed rail scheme cost to double to £80bn, economists warn:

HS1, the high-speed rail line that connects the Channel Tunnel with London, was initially expected to cost £1billion. The final bill was around £11billion.

The London Underground’s Jubilee Line extension, the biggest rail project before HS1, came in at four times the original estimate in real terms.

And unlike buses, trains require the destruction of everything along their route:

Even though the first train is not due to run along the new line until 2026, values of homes close to the route have already fallen by as much as 40 per cent. Estate agents have said that properties up to a mile from the route are being blighted by the proposed line, with some close to the proposed line failing to sell at any price.

Apparently the UK wants to be Springfield to Detroit’s North Haverbrook.

Everyone’s heard about Detroit’s financial problems. One of the many failed attempts to revitalize their downtown (and to funnel taxpayer money to political cronies) was a train system, the Detroit People Mover:

The Mover costs $12 million annually in city and state subsidies to run.[9] The cost-effectiveness of the Mover has drawn criticism.[10] In every year between 1997 and 2006, the cost per passenger mile exceeded $3, and was $4.26 in 2009,[11] compared with Detroit bus routes that operate at $0.82[11] (the New York City Subway operates at $0.30 per passenger mile). The Mackinac Center for Public Policy also charges that the system does not benefit locals, pointing out that fewer than 30% of the riders are Detroit residents and that Saturday ridership (likely out-of-towners) dwarfs that of weekday usage.[12] The system was designed to move up to 15 million riders a year. In 2008 it served approximately 2 million riders. In fiscal year 1999-2000 the city was spending $3 for every $0.50 rider fare, according to The Detroit News. In 2006, the Mover filled less than 10 percent of its seats.[12]

Among the busiest periods was the five days around the 2006 Super Bowl XL, when 215,910 patrons used the service.[13] In 2008, the system moved about 7,500 people per day, about 2.5 percent of its daily peak capacity of 288,000.[14][15]

Under-utilized and overbudget is a pretty good summary of recent urban trains.

PreviouslyThis is Your Train on Drugs: CA Train Versus Endangered Species, Asthmatic Children

Posted in Economics, European Union | Tagged | Comments Off

Good and Evil, and Commerce and Capitalism as a Way to Cure Poverty

“In fact, Bono, C. S. Lewis has a great quote which I love: ‘When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that’s left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”
Jim Daly, interviewing Bono

That was in the context of interviewing Bono, who recently said “Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse.”

A crazy new idea for Africa and most third world nations is to observe the rule of law, recognize constitutional rights, engage in democracy, bring women and minorities equal rights, and engage in free market capitalism. Historically, that’s a hell of a winning formula. It worked for most first world countries.

India and China have improved their lot just by practicing that last part, free market capitalism. Both of them – but especially China – have a long way to go on the other parts that have to do with human rights, but the little bit they’ve done so far has improved the lifes of several billion people. Foreign aid and economic redistribution could never have done what capitalism has done for those people.

PreviouslyBreaking News: Bono and Matt Yglesias Mugged by Economic Reality

Posted in Economics, Political Survival Kit, Quotes | 1 Comment

Word of the Day – Predicate

My fourth grader asked me for help with her English homework, which was all about predicates. I had completely forgotten the difference between objects and predicates and had to look it up. The lesson? Once you graduate high school you’ll probably never use this stuff in daily life and will eventually forget it, but it is nice to know.

We watched a School House Rock video on predicates, but this page had the best explanation.

One of the two main parts of a sentence or clause, modifying the subject and including the verb, objects, or phrases governed by the verb. Adjective: predicative.

In both grammar and logic, the predicate serves to make an assertion or denial about the subject of the sentence, as in “Merdine sneezes” and “Gus never smiles.”

Previous WOTDBliss Point

Posted in Word of the Day | 1 Comment

Still Alive and I Have a Job No Less

No posts lately because I’ve been busy at a new full time gig, which I like a bunch. I needed a job and they needed me badly. ‘Nuff said.

Meanwhile, I’m putting out the videos I’ve been working on for a while. Here’s one.

Hootchie Cootchie Man

Posted in A&E, Home Life | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

“Kids and dogs: If you’re having a baby, do not get a puppy.”

The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids – Don’t get a dog. People in comments are raking her over the coals for dissin’ the dog.

I don’t think her problems were caused by the dog. Read between the lines and you discover that at the time she got fed up with the dog she had three kids under the age of five. That’s a lot of butts to wipe.

We had two kids under the age of three, plus a dog and three cats. We were in our mid-thirties and couldn’t put off kids too much longer, my wife was in school which actually worked out great with kids, and so we decided to go ahead and have a second. It wasn’t easy, though I can’t imagine having three that young. A year or two later my mom couldn’t live alone any more due to failing health and being mostly blind, so she moved in with us, and after she developed Alzheimer’s things got much more difficult for a few years. Thus endeth my tale of woe.

So I don’t think the lesson is don’t get a puppy. The lesson is that if you can it’s nice to put a little space between the kids’ birthdays.

Posted in Home Life | 1 Comment

Detroit Files for Bankruptcy

Trying to pay for stuff you can’t afford will do that to you:

It’s the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, dwarfing Jefferson County, Ala.’s $3.1 billion sewage district restructuring.

In June 2012, the City of Stockton became the largest-ever city to file for bankruptcy, at the time.

The Motor City faces $20 billion of long-term liabilities. The Wall Street Journal’s Matt Dillon says those holding onto $11 billion in unsecured debt are basically staring into the abyss, facing the prospect of getting next to nothing from the city’s obligations.

The pension funds want to block Orr’s attempt to drastically reduce the amount of benefits owed to current and former city workers.

Pension funds for unionized city employees are one of the reasons Stockton went bankrupt.

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Consensus Changes on Salt

CDC says Americans still consume too much, but studies show no benefit in reducing salt

Richard Feynman said that one of the advantages of the scientific method has over religion is that science has the freedom to be wrong. Religious institutions are reluctant to ever admit error. The scientific method lets experiments and new data supercede previous ideas.

That works well when science is an ivory tower institution. The problem comes when bad science is applied to real world problems or used to set public policy. By the time science corrects itself the damage has been done, or how long it will take the new science to replace the old.

Posted in Science | 3 Comments

I had wondered what was going on in the peak oil world

Oil and gas production in North America is booming and we’re past the usual estimates for peak oil. Now it turns out that one of the peak oil advocacy sites is shutting down.

Posted in Environment | Tagged | Comments Off

DNA May Solve Boston Strangler Case Once and For All

Mysteries without closure bug me, so I’m glad to see this: Mass. DA: DNA links DeSalvo to Strangler victim.

Posted in True Crime | Comments Off

Update on the Crispy Fried DeLorean

Joey-Paul Gowdy writes:

Howdy, a friend sent me the link to your article:

http://www.lesjones.com/2008/07/17/crispy-fried-delorean/

I purchased that car in Sept. of 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLBjOTthCk

Did a lot of work to it… current progress:

http://www.RowdysTimeMachine.com

It’s a mighty good restoration of a burned car.

Posted in Nifty | Comments Off

Double Edged Safety Razors – The Blades

Double Edged Safety Razor Cartridges

For various reasons, I’ve decided to try shaving with an old-fashioned, double-edged safety razor. One part of the appeal is price. Most plastic cartridges razors cost around $2/cartridge, or $1 at the Dollar Shave Club.

At local grocery stores, plain old razor blades were 10 for $15, which is nuts. I bought a 120 pack of blades on Amazon for $19, so about 16 cents per blade. Can’t beat that.

Breda asked if I also bought Band-Aids in bulk. I didn’t (smartypants), but after shaving with one of these blades I walked straight to the kitchen and wrote styptic pencils on the grocery list.

But what a close shave. Here’s hoping that over time I’ll either get much better at shaving with a DE, or slowly, bloodily carve my face into a shape that’s better for DE shaving.

Posted in Home Life | Tagged | 4 Comments

New Industry Standard for IS/VR Lens Performance

Canon offers IS and Nikon offers VR – technologies that reduce picture blur when handholding a camera. There’s always been some debate about how well those systems worked, and the companies keep coming out with new versions that area supposed to be more effective, but there’s never been a standard for measuring effectiveness until now.

Nikon has published the results of their CIPA testing. Results range from a low of 2.5 stops to a high of 4.5 stops. 4.5 stops means that the image-stabilizing technology is as effective as increasing shutter speed by 4.5 stops. So a photo taken with VR at 1/60th of a second would be equivalent in sharpness to a photo taken without VR at 1/1500th of a second.

VR (and Canon IS) mean you can get a sharp picture using shutter speeds that are slow enough to get a good exposure in a broad range of lighting conditions. They also mean you can get the shutter speed down in the range where you can use a flash at full FP sync – typically 1/200 to 1/250th of a second.

P.S. VR/IS lenses are also great for handheld video. You shoot video at a shutterspeed of 1 over twice the frame rate – so 1/60th of a second for 30 fps video -  so you can’t get sharp images by using a quick shutter speed.

Posted in Photography | Tagged , | Comments Off

Former East German Stasi Head on NSA Surveillance

“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used. This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”
Wolfgang Schmidt

Posted in Political Survival Kit, Quotes | 2 Comments

Go Visit Longnow.com, and a Different Theory About Easter Island

Too busy to blog much right now, so go visit Longnow.com. Lots of good seminars there on a variety of topics. The videos are subscriber-only, but the summaries are good and you can listen to the MP3 version under the Downloads tab.

I found it by way of an article about Richard Feynman’s involvement in Thinking Machines Corporation. (If you don’t know who Richard Feynman is, eat 10 packs of Ramen without the flavor clod, then find a copy or Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman or What Do You Care What Other People Think? He’s turning out to be one of the more relevant figures in 20th century science culture.

I liked the seminar on Easter Island. The traditional Easter Island narrative is an ecological morality play:

  • The stupid Maori people spent all their time building statues in a fit of vanity.
  • The stupid Maori cut down their forests for the logs needed to move the statues.
  • The stupid Maori spent the rest of their time and resources in intra-island warfare.
  • Stupid Maori were stupid.

Anthropologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo’s talk presents a different view:

  • There’s no archaeological evidence of inter-Maori warfare prior to European exploration. No fortifications. No battle-related injuries on skeletal remains. Their primitive stone implements had the blunt tips of tools instead of the pointed tips you would expect of weapons.
  • The Maori moved the statues with ropes, not logs, so deforestation had nothing to do with the statues. Their experiments seem to support this. Besides, how many freakin’ logs do you need to move some statues? Not enough to deforest an island. (Wikipedia notes that some suggest the Little Ice Age of 1650 to 1850 contributed to the decline of native trees.)
  • Based on carbon dating, Hunt and Lipo propose that Easter Island was colonized around 1200 AD, rather than other estimates which put the date as early as 300 AD.
  • They posit that the deforestation was caused by the introduction of rats from European ships – the rats ate the trees’ nuts. From a study quoted on Wikipedia: “Rat teeth marks can be observed in 99% of the nuts found preserved in caves or excavated in different sites, indicating that the Polynesian rat impeded the palm’s reproduction.”
  • The depopulation was largely a result of the resulting deforestation combined with diseases introduced by European explorers such as tuberculosis and smallpox, combined with later slaving raids from Peru on the island’s reduced population.
  • The apocryphal overpopulation to 30,000 inhabitants never happened. That makes sense – indigenous populations are unlikely to exceed their historical resources. It isn’t like they can ask their central bank to print money to buy food from another country.

True or fales, since Easter Island makes such a pat simple ecological ghost story I expect the old narrative to be defended to the last man standing.

Posted in Environment, Science, Social Media | Comments Off

Why I Ignore Emails from People Who Promise to Improve My Google Position

Any time someone offers to improve my Google position I ignore them. It’s a waste of time talking to them. The email you received was canned. The SEO they offer is canned, likely hasn’t worked in five years, and may get you banned from Google’s index. Their money back guarantees are worthless (most of them are overseas – good luck pursuing remedies in court).

Google’s Matt Cutts gives the world’s best example of why you should ignore them. Funny SEO Emails Part 6:

Folks at Google get cold-call emails out of the blue just like everybody else. Here’s an email that a colleague of mine got recently:

I was on your website www.google.com and wanted to shoot you a quick note. I think I can make a few changes (aesthetically and/or SEO – wise) to make your site convert more visitors into leads and to get it placed higher in the organic search results, for a few of the select terms.

So this person is offering help to convert Google visitors into leads. Or, you know, to improve Google’s rankings in organic search results. Sigh.

Here’s my rule of thumb: if someone sends you an email with an SEO offer out of the blue, be skeptical. For example, check out some other fun SEO emails that I’ve gotten in the past.

Posted in Ecommerce | Tagged | Comments Off