Archive for July, 2006

Bus Chick shares my pain

I found this post to be particularly relevant to my often situation waiting for the southbound 48 bus at Montlake. Sharing the same experience I’ve written about in some of my previous posts, she touches on “bunching” of buses, the half-dozen 43 buses you’re bound to see before the first 48 makes its way through the logjam, etc. Great post!

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Doddsnet Photography to the rescue

HA! Eagle-eye Jodi points out that the photo of my uncle and grandfather Joanie posted in the slideshow at her myspace website was actually from our 2004 visit up to Pennsylvania.

Sweet! I’m pleased to see this photo put to great use!

Uncle John and Grandpa

And here’s another photo from that same trip, with Jodi, Joanie, myself, and our grandfather:

Grandpa, Me, Jodi, and Joanie

So cool!!

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Clerks II

Jodi and I met up with Chris again for a second Friday night out. We had such a good time at “Mexico” (at Pacific Place) last week that we decided to go back to the same place. We still have a couple of specialty martinis and margaritas on the menu to get through.

Afterward, we went to see Clerks II on its opening night. I had seen the original Clerks many, MANY moons ago (thanks Matt) and hadn’t found it to be a very funny nor interesting film (thanks again, Matt). So even though I have liked a number of the intervening Kevin Smith films, I had fairly low expectations for the Clerks sequel. This expectation was not helped by the nasty reviews it was receiving just prior to the opening.

So I stand corrected in my presumption by saying that I found Clerks II to be quite funny and worth seeing. Don’t go if you’re easily offended by Kevin Smith’s style of over-the-top sexual gags and innuendo or lots of cussing. But if you’ve seen other Kevin Smith movies and found them funny, this one is probably up in the top couple for humour.

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Man Without a Country

Listened to Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country the other day. It was a pretty short book (at only 2:24), so it took fewer than two days travel-time to get through the whole thing. It’s not much like his fiction books, and I wasn’t really able to get much into it in such a short time. As a collection of his thoughts and opinions, it was interesting to read but not great. I agree with a lot of his opinions though.

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Joanie Dodds – Who knew, indeed!

I had no idea! My grandmother had mentioned briefly in a recent letter than my cousin, Joanie Dodds, was in a modeling contest a few months back… but it seemed just in passing and I didn’t have any real context on it. Well, Martha posted to her blog yesterday that she was also unaware.

Unaware of what? Well, unaware that Joanie was not just in “a modeling contest”, but that this modeling contest was the Tyra Banks show “America’s Next Top Model” on UPN. I won’t pretend that I’m an avid follower of the show (clearly not, or I would have noticed my cousin was on it!), but it’s a national show and I’ve at least heard about it!

How totally cool for Joanie! Jodi and I were poking around the site after seeing Martha’s pointer and it turns out Joanie ended up runner up in the competition and has since been signed by the Nous Models agency!

So, without a doubt, Joanie is now the most famous member of our family. She has a fansite, her myspace, and she’s even listed in Wikipedia!


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Debugging Indian Computer Programmers

Finished reading this book (by N.Sivakumar) over the past weekend. Hadn’t heard of it previously, but a coworker suggested it to me at lunch one day and it sounded pretty interesting.

I found the book to be slightly less professional than expected. It was an unabashedly self-published book, written by a non-native English speaker, and it had been only lightly edited. Grammatical mistakes aside, he made a number of good points.

In one of his more indisputable points, the author commented on the overtly hostile work environment many H1-B visa holders face here in the US. From the subtle pain-in-the-ass of having to fill out so many forms and contort yourself into the complexities of maintaining the exact same job for several years (or start all over if a green-card is your goal) foisted upon these legal immigrants by the government… down to the derisive comments and unwarranted, stereotyped perceptions from their peers. At the end of their day, it’s in many real ways pretty unpleasant to be an H1-B worker.

He also talked about a bunch of less obvious things: pointers to Indian H1-B workers on how to avoid some of the stereotypes by making behavioral changes (avoiding curry), etc.

It was in one of these sort of “pointing out things about the world” sections that he made one mistake that frustrated me and caused me to lose some respect for the book; he fell into one of the same behaviors that he so calmly had been criticizing just a chapter or two earlier. He stereotyped various groups of workers by their ethnic background. I think he was doing it to try to make the point that different immigrant workers have different cultural backgrounds, and this is without question.

Oh well. My key takeaways from the book were:

  1. H1B visa workers (or, at least, foreign-immigrant technical workers) have played a huge part in our prolonged period of prosperity by keeping American companies at the top of their game.
  2. H1B visa workers face a gauntlet of frustration and discrimination in their effort to “just do the job” and feed their families, etc.

These both seem true to me, and it’s a shame it’s not widely recognized. As a member of IEEE, I was pretty frustrated over the past few years to see the protectionist standpoint put forth by this organization in various attempts to limit H1B visa numbers. The US needs all the talent it can get, wherever it comes from (and even better if this talent has been educated at zero cost to the US taxpayer).

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Who killed the electric car?

Jodi and I went up to the 7 Gables Landmark theatre yesterday afternoon to see the new Who Killed the Electric Car movie (out now in limited release).

The movie was about what I expected, although even cynical I was not prepared for the details of the depths to which various entities have gone to suppress electric cars! The basic summary of the movie is that out of the research success of the 1980s with electric cars (sunraycer at the World Solar Challenge), car companies were initially required by California to provide some small percentage of sold vehicles as zero emissions vehicles by some point in the future (now in the past). The car companies fought it, produced a handful (GM EV1 had about 1000 total production according to Wikipedia), and did everything they could to make them fail (according to the movie). Eventually the California Air Resource Board rescinded the requirement for zero emission and the car companies rejoiced by killing their electric car programs…

So, that was the message of the film. And I think they did a pretty good job of proving the point. The cars looked great, the owners (er… lessees) wanted to keep them, and there were waiting lists for many more. The concern was that the cars could not be produced at a cost that would make them profitable and that the batteries would be ineffective or problematic. The movie points out that they were not profitable primarily because they were not mass-produced (they were evidently hand-built at great cost). If these had been mass produced and using the more effective NiMH batteries they could have been much less expensive. And as the last few years of Toyota and Honda hybrid cars have shown, American consumers are very happy to pay a little more to get a “cleaner” car (and it’s also shown that the battery concerns are mostly unfounded).

Another point in the film that I found interesting was the dissection of the Hydrogen fuel-cell initiatives so many people are pushing for today (instead of the electric car stuff). According to the film, these are essentially just a pipe-dream. There was a 5–point list of reasons why Hydrogen fuel-cells are not going to be effective in solving this problem in the film. The movie points out that these hydrogen cars are far less $ efficient than electric cars, require far more expensive construction, and that hydrogen fuel is not widely available today like electricity. All good points.

My biggest takeaways from the film were a couple of things. American car companies will generally go with that’s the biggest short-term profit over the most stable long-term direction (notice how the Japanese Toyota and Honda jumped on the hybrid-electric thing pretty late in the game and now are going to clean up from their “early” investments). Also, that the petroleum fuel companies want not part of a future where they are not providing lots of sludgey oil fuel to millions of American consumers. They don’t produce the electricity, and they are going to hold off on allowing hydrogen fuel to be a practical reality for as long as possible. Finally, we Americans deserve a lot of the blame. We are still buying huge SUVs and trucks with great gusto. I thought $3/gallon would break us of that habit, but I guess it’ll take even more pressure to make this happen.

Finally, one other thing I found interesting at the end of the film was the brief discussion about hybrid plug-in vehicles. These would allow you to run primarily as an electric car, but you’d never end up “stranded” because it could always fall back on being a gasoline hybrid vehicle if the batteries ran down. Sounds like it’s even a relatively simple conversion kit for a preexisting hybrid gas/electric car like the Prius (ie – tune the car to run much heavier on the electric batteries when they’re fully charged and add a charger interface to let you plug it in wherever possible). Good stuff!

But one question I’ve had since I first started hearing about this stuff — why not a hybrid DIESEL electric car? I’d love to get a bio-diesel powered, plug-in, hybrid electric car. It’d be the green, tree-hugger’s fantasy car and they’d sell like crazy in places like Seattle and San Francisco! I don’t find a plug-in version, but the closest thing I can find is the GM/Opal Astra (which has a diesel hybrid everywhere but in the US, it seems). There’s rumours that this will come to the US in 2008 or 2009. I look forward to it!!

Back to the film analysis, fair play requires me to point out that GM posted a response to the film (indirectly) on their blog.

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The Fourth Hand

Just finished reading John Irving’s The Fourth Hand. In typical John Irving style, it was a fascinating and interesting book. Story is of a (disaster-style) news reporter who gets his left hand bitten off by a lion while reporting a story. He gets a hand transplant, develops relationships, and goes through his life. Irving has a way of making the extraordinary (this guy has a crazy life and is surrounded by crazy people) seem totally ordinary, but still very intriguing. You feel both close to and also very shut out from understanding his characters, a style I have liked in all of the other Irving books I’ve read. Late in the book you find out the meaning of “the fourth hand”, a phrase I had been wondering about for much of the book.

Couple of things that caught my attention… much of the story took place in Wisconsin, surrounding the Green Bay area (not far from where I grew up and even closer to where my sister Martha now lives) so there was a bit of familiarity there. It was funny to me, however, that the reader always pronounced it “grEEnbay”, run all together and with the emphasis on the ‘ee’. Growing up, we always called it “green bAy”… separated words with slightly more emphasis on the second. It’s a very subtle difference I suppose, but it jumped out and punched me each time I heard it. 

Plus, there was a discussion about PBS TV stations in the Green Bay area at one point. The protagonist notes that there are PBS stations in Milwaukee and Chicago, but that there is not one in Green Bay. I distinctly remember three different PBS channels we could get when I was growing up. Channels 10 and 36 were broadcast from Milwaukee and channel 38 was broadcast from Green Bay. 36 and 38 always seemed to have the same things on, I think, as though they were a simulcast… so perhaps they were both actually housed out of Milwaukee, although since Milwaukee already had channel 10 on VHF maybe 36/38 were actually together from Green Bay? I have no idea. But it was funny to have this set of thoughts running through my head for a few moments while listening to the book!

Overall, another great Irving book. I’m just a sucker for his writing style, so I don’t know I’ll ever find a John Irving book I don’t like! That said, I’m very disappointed that Audible only has 3 full-length John Irving books available. This means I have one more to “read” and then I’m back to proper “reading” for the rest of my John Irving needs.

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Eastside should be light rail, says SoundTransit

In a rapid follow-up to my post the other day, the final word is in… Sound Transit is going to go to the voters in 2007 with the Light Rail option. Great news for the future of the whole of the Puget Sound area, and great news for those of us who live in Seattle but work in Redmond (or Bellevue)!

But there’s some depressing news, and it has two parts:

  1. We have to wait until November 2007 to vote on it, and passing this vote is not certain.
  2. Even if it passes the vote next year, the PI points out that “the trains, planned to cross Lake Washington along Interstate 90, won’t start running for at least 15 years”.

Ugh. We need light rail TODAY, but I suppose it’s better to get it in 15 years than never…

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Eastside should be light rail, says Bellevue

In a highly anticipated (at least by me) decision, the Bellevue city council voted 5–2 in favor of the Light Rail option (over the Bus Rapid Transit alternative). Although just about everyone who had officially weighed in on this prior to the Bellevue decision (ie – Redmond, Kirkland, Issaquah) had been in favor of light rail, Bellevue had seemed on the verge of pulling a Georgetown (ie – trying to avoid “that element” coming into their community by not participating in the region-wide mass transit solution, then later on regretting it and having to hack together something much worse than rail) and not endorsing light rail into/through their community.

According to the KC Journal article, the two no votes both wanted to stall and talk about it more rather than decide between the light rail and bus rapid transit options as Sound Transit was requesting.

We’ve still got a long, LONG way to go before I (and thousands of others) can ride the train out to work in Redmond and avoid getting stuck in traffic for an hour each day… but it’s a step in the right direction!

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