Sunday, May 31, 2009

xkcd tickles my funny bone for some reason...

Sometimes the jokes on xkcd are just too outside my realm of interest for me to appreciate. This one is, too, but for some reason, I found this it really funny...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Speed-reading a bill in Congress...

Interesing juxtaposition

I was at Borders today and I saw this interesting juxtaposition of titles on the shelf in the Spanish-language section: a photographic guide to the Kama Sutra next to The Essential Guide to the Bible. Either someone at the store has an interesting sense of humor, or a broad definition of "religion" (since the Kama Sutra book was in the religion section).

Reuben at Sava's

After going to several of the restaurants and brasseries (since they technically aren't cafes) in Ann Arbor, I've noticed that many of them serve reubens - a favorite sandwich of mine. Therefore, I've decided that - as a semi-recurring event - I'll review the various reubens one can find around the city. Reubens will be reviewed based on presentation, taste, messiness, and cost, each rated on a 4-star scale. (Cost: $ < 5.99, $$ = 6-7.99, $$$ = 8-9.99, $$$$ = 10+)

I've eaten as Sava's (221 South State) several times before, and I personally think that it is not that bad of a State Street restaurant. Their sandwiches are not too heavy nor do they skimp on sandwich stuffers (not as generous as Amer's, but also not as expensive). The decor is light and the tables aren't set so close together as to make navigating difficult. The layout of the restaurant is a little strange, with the kitchen being hidden behind a counter area, and stretching toward the back of the restaurant. At the end of the counter is the cashier, meaning that you have to walk to the back of the restaurant to pay for food, as opposed to a pay station up at the front. (This layout makes it a little cramped in the back during busy times, but not horrible so long as people recognize that only one member in a group is needed in order to pay a bill....)

Anyway, moving on to the reuben ($6.99), it comes to you with pickle slices on a plate large enough for a side of fries, and is a pretty traditional set of ingredients: corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, on grilled rye. The presentation was nice, and the meat was shaved very thin and didn't have a lot of fat. The whole sandwich was well-cooked through, with just enough grilling to get a fried crust on both sides, but not to the point of burning. Also, the ingredients were cooked all the way through, melting the cheese, thus gluing the beef to the kraut. Overall, I think it is a good example of what a traditional reuben should taste like.

Presentation: ***
Taste: *** ½
Messiness: **
Cost: $$

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Hampshire might allow same-sex marriage soon.

Via Dispatches, I learn this morning that - once a religious exemption (that I don't really think is necessary, since church and state should be held separate, especially in matters regarding the state) passes - the New Hampshire is willing to sign a same-sex marriage law, meaning that Rhode Island will become the only state in New England that doesn't allow for gary marriage. (Come on Rhode Island, show the rest of the nation that regional unity is not only possible, but it is also powerful.)

Inner-city Environmentalism

At some point during the U.S. environmental movement of the 1970s and 1980s, "environmentalism" became a rich (and mostly) white activity that - to some - reeked of hypocisy. Hypocisy because instead of taking actions to minimize global (or even regional) impacts, many actors "off loaded" their impacts to other places, usually those places that were less well-off. Therefore, we have the example of computer recycling leading to parts-dumping in India, Africa, China and Southeast Asia. The problem was one basically caused by the more well-off and exported to areas of poverty and little public health oversight.

The environmental movement also became to be seen as "rich" because of price premiums that were paid for "going green," along with which groups were "buying-in" on this concept (or - with the case of food stamps - able to buy at all). For example, if a family were to purchase only organic fruits and vegetables, the cost could (depending on the region, season, and vegetable) increase by 50% or more, and many food stamp programs didn't allow for their use with organic products (which leads to the question of what factors people at the governmental level were using in order to make that decision). Furthermore, even if one didn't use food stamps, the marginal cost of paying for organic is greater for people of lower incomes, and so one could easily see wealthier families purchasing organic foods. (Of course, food distribution patterns tend to follow either sale figures or expectation of sales, and so one is left with a situation today where you will find little - if any - organic produce in poorer-neighborhood grocery stores.) Once this dichotomy became established between the economic classes, I argue that it became easy to label "organic" as part of "elitism" (along with imported foods, alternative food and dietary options, etc.), and something that is "other" and unwelcome in poorer communities.

In other ways that it is seen as "rich" is that many of the concepts of "environmentalism" don't really seem to adequately address the poor. They are development projects of the "next generation" of houses, office buildings, etc.; the costly certification projects of landmark buildings; massive re-urbanization projects meant to bring in capital; etc. I would argue that these methods are drawing upon the development model that is seen in the technology sector: build expensive prototypes, get investment capital (usually from rich people/institutions), develop them for mass-marketing, and (if successful) achieve buy-in by as big a group as possible. This is a top-down approach to development, and with technological developments, this sort of thing has been shown to be necessary, short of massive investment by government (e.g., the national road network) or charitable foundations (e.g., malaria research funded by the Gates Foundation). By pursuing this course of action, though, the environmental movement has forgotten (or does not focus on) the little guy. Indeed, a technology-based solution for the "little guy" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, because this segment of the population doesn't really make a good investment for business (i.e., they don't have a lot of potential capital to spend on future technology). However, they are the most in need of a better environment.

A few years ago, I learned about Majora Carter, an environmental justice advocate working in the New York City metropolitan area, specifically the South Bronx. During a TED talk in 2006, she showed how urban renewal can actually bring about major help to poor communities. Similar activities have recently been started in Ypsilanti (Growing Hope) and Detroit by former SNRE students, as well as in other cities around the United States. Although these projects are not major cash-generating machines, they do offer things that are of major importance to people: access to cheap and healthy food, improve peoples' lives through developing a healthy psychology, and tearing down urban barriers in neighborhoods.

Some people assume that "green collar jobs" mean the development of help for rich people. However, inner city environmental groups not only help change the paradigm of how to think about "environmentalism", they also go about bringing in environmental values to urban centers - some of the least "environmental" areas one might imagine - in ways that bolster and renew those living there. The recent "stimulus package" from the Obama administration has a major part for "green jobs." One can only hope that whomever is overseeing these funds will take a lesson from inner-city green organizations and provide funds for those people who can least affort to further hindered due to their economic inability to themselves be major players in the technology-derived environmentalism that has dominated a lot of the consciousness of the past twenty years.

GIS programs

If you do any sort of GIS work, you have almost assuredly come across the company ESRI. This for-profit company is the major-player in the field; a greater presence within GIS programming than Microsoft is in operating systems. However, like the operating systems analogy, ESRI (like Microsoft) has both for-profit and non-profit competitors.

My labmate - ebina2 - recently received an e-mail with some webpages of free/cheaper GIS software. However, since ESRI is the major-player in GIS programs, there is a need to normalize file formats, and I wonder if ESRI has made the Geodatabase file format proprietary, thus making it more difficult for others to import projects made with ArcGIS 8.x and newer.

Anyway, here are the two web pages on which these alternative GIS platforms can be found:
Of course, as with any Open Source and Free programs, debugging and help might be slow in coming. Of course, too, many highly popular Open Source programs have a large cadre of "helping hands" that provide either direct help via debugging or indirect help via forum postings. Remember, though that while these larger and more popular programs might be better-served by the online community, it does not mean that it will be the best for one's particular GIS needs.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

mid-May Photos

On South University, there are a few older buildings that still remain from many several decades ago. Currently, the house the Village Apothecary and the Redezvous Cafe.
The Hatcher Graduate Library (left) and the UGLi (right)

The Kraus "Natural Science" (aka 'biology') building

Ann Arbor Electronics, way at the southern end of Church Street
Sculpture outside Social Work Building

West Hall portal in the morning.

A view through to Tower Plaza from next to Hill Auditorium.

Sunset light on the west wall of Grizzly Peak.

New pavement on Liberty St. YAY! The previous pavement had gone to shit. Not as bad as some places might be, but still was not the nicest surface to cycle over. The crews had the road exposed all the way down to the old brick underlying many of the roads in the older city limit roads.

Starting summer renovations. This time on the Chemistry building. The University does this every year: the day after all the students leave, out come the diggers and the dump trucks, and the Diag becomes another impassable zone for weeks and sometimes months. Last year it was the tunnels between Kraus and Haven Hall. This year it's not just this renovation, but also something along Ingalls Mall, between Kraus and Chemistry...

Friday, May 15, 2009

National Bike-to-Work Day in Ann Arbor

Leaving the cabin today - National Bike-to-Work Day - I saw a beautiful vista of mist on Third Sister Lake.  The sun was out, proving to that it would be a nice morning, and the dew on the grass and the light off the trees gave me a lift that coffee couldn't. It was a nice way to start any day, but today it seemed extra nice somehow.

The morning was wonderfully sunny -- not too hot, not too cold -- but when I arrived at the Great Lakes Cycling and Fitness bike shop for our 7:30 departure, I was the only one in a shirt and t-shirt. (But I have a tendency of running warm anyway, so this was not too much of a surprise to me.) The other cyclists wsere riding a mix of bicycle types: a few road-type bikes, some mountain bikes, and a few hybrid city bikes (like me). There were a mix of men and women, as well as a good age range. (If I was forced to guess, I would say that it was about a 30-year age range.) The Ann Arbor roads were quite quiet at that time in the morning, and even Stadium -- all four-and-a-half lanes of road -- didn't have many cars on it. Normally, I ride to town about an hour later, and there is a lot more traffic on the roads. Although it didn't look like there was any central organizer for the group, people did mill about with attentiveness and purpose, talking about their bikes, their realizations about being able to ride into work, the epiphany that one did not need to buy an expensive road bike in order to bike to work, etc. However, I sat down a parking curb and, squinting into the sun, quietly drank some coffee I had brewed up prior to leaving the cabin. Anyway, a set of about a ten riders set out at 7:30 toward the Farmer's Market.

Due to a nice pace (and the small number of lights along Liberty), I wasn't able to take a lot of photos of much of our ride (without being really unsafe in our small "peloton"), but I will remember that -- the Critical Mass ride I went on in October -- it was nice to become a major force on the roads. Ahh, the power that comes from numbers. There was one time that I recall when a car pulled pulled past me (I was riding in the back, doncha know), but -- not realizing how stretched out our group was -- slowed back down to allow us to pass so that the right-turn could be made. I don't know if the driver was angry or puzzled about our actions, but it was still a nice thing to see (having been cut off by car drivers and at least one bus driver). It was also nice when we rode down Main and Huron Streets, the ten of us taking the place of a couple of cars, while not impeding the "flow" of traffic (since traffic along Main Street was already starting to slowly pile up).

As we turned left on Huron Street on to Fourth Ave., and too the Ann Arbor's Farmers' Market, I noticed that (as usual) Fourth Ave. was relatively quiet. This has been something that I have found fascinating: Ann Arbor is (in the downtown area) a grid city that has a lot of traffic flow that becomes constricted along Main Street, and yet the roads parallel to Main see little to no traffic flow. Although this is something that I can explore in a different post (possibly), the nice thing about this (to me) odd traffic-flow was that we pretty much had the road to ourselves, and, now unconstrained by bike lanes or traffic, we spilled out into the road, riding more calmly down the tree-lined road.

The city had some refreshments available at the Farmers' Market, and I tucked into some more coffee, and a bagel (supplied or purchased from Zingerman's). Mmmmmm.... Our group was the first one there, having made the trip from GLCF in about 13 minutes, but as we stuck around and started chatting, more and more people showed up (including my friend Andy Cluley from WEMU), and by the time the Ann Arbor Bike Choir showed up, there were many (many) people under the roof of the Farmers' Market. Mayor Heiftje (another of the city's cyclists) showed up and congratulated everyone for showing up, and told us that the city was committed to expanding cycling opportunities in the city. I personaly wish that the city would put a cycling lane on Liberty Ave. from Stadium to just on the other side of the I-94 bridge as well as sections between the bridge and Wagner, and have more campaigns to let drivers know that they should share the road with cyclists. Anyway, it was almost like a market Saturday in that section of the pavillion, and it was nice to see so many cyclists gathered in one place (and not just because of the food and coffee, which had run out at that point).

However, I did notice several cyclists that either didn't know about the event or didn't feel they wanted to participate. If that latter, then that's fine, but if the former, then in the next year, I think the city (and possibly bike shops, too) should try and publicize the event in more places than they did this year. (I mean, I didn't learn about it until I read about National Bike-to-Work Day online and didn't know about the group-ride until I went in to GLCF. All I'm saying is that there are likely others who didn't even here about it at all.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Maine governor signs same-sex marriage act

And then there were two... Only two New England states (New Hampshire and Rhode Island) don't allow same-sex marriage. The only states that allow gay marriage are currently:
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Vermont
  • Maine
  • Iowa
No, so-called "liberal" California voted against same-sex marriage after the state's supreme court ruled that disallowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. So California's in a bit of a pickle: should they recognize the marriages of citizens who got married after the supreme court's ruling; what about those that got married in San Francisco before the supreme court ruling? Hmmm...

What's more, the federal government passed the so-called "Defense" of Marriage Act (which - one could argue - is a form of enforced "separate-but-equal"), meaning that they don't recognize same-sex marriages... which means legally married same-sex couples still have to fill out two individual tax returns, they aren't able to gain social security benefits, and a host of other problems because of this federal-level discrimination. Of course, this might come to a head with the recent passage through the Washington DC city council of a law that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states. This is interesting because the law needs to be approved by the United States Congress, and so if the Congress approves it, does it mean that the Defense of Marriage Act might be repealed?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The new NOAA center in Ann Arbor

The new center of NOAA in Ann Arbor is actually not in Ann Arbor, but slightly outside it, making it difficult for a person to get there by the use of public transportation. However, who cares about that now that they have a really large parking lot. Hmmm....
I'm not really psyched about the location's layout and landscaping either.