Seattle’s Bike Master Plan needs work

Via Seattle Transit Blog, there’s an absolutely spot-on critique of Seattle’s Bike Master Plan by Bob Hall that everyone should read.

Call me nit-picky, but I was hoping that a Bicycle Master Plan would be, well, a little more master planny. So far everything in the plan is disjointed and piece meal: “Safety! Bike lanes! Education!” Those are nice ideas, but squishing a few good ideas together is not a plan. There isn’t a single section that attempts to answer questions like this: “How will a cyclist to get from the University District to Capitol Hill in a safe, continuous, easy to follow path with the least steep hills possible?” We have been talking about biking in Seattle for decades now and still nobody can answer this.

Now go read the rest, it’s great and quite constructive.

Cleaning up scanned slides

I’ve been spending a lot of time fixing up scanned slides lately, and thought I should jot down the workflow that I use so that I can refer back to it. I’ve been cleaning up the colors, splotches, dust, and graininess of slides from the 1950s through the 2000s. I basically have almost no idea of what I’m doing, but I’m pretty sure I’ve made the photos generally better than they started.

Given the amount of hard drive space available these days, I’ve decided to do nondestructive editing and simply save everything in Photoshop format. My images seem to be around 200 MB doing this.

1. Convert the background layer to a Smart Layer. Right-click on the background layer and select Convert.

2. Use the crop tool to properly size the image. Do this nondestructively by selecting Hide instead of Delete from the options menu. If you didn’t do step 1, this option won’t be available.

3. Add a Levels layer, as well as a Vibrance/Saturation Layer on top of that. The goal is now to get the photo’s colors correct. To do this, I find it helpful to oversaturate the image by cranking up the saturation to some absurdly high value. If the image is slightly too yellow, this causes the yellow to be hugely exaggerated.

4. Now adjust the levels in the levels layer to get the colors right. Do the individual color channels first and try to get the black and whites in the image to look good. Then, adjust the mid tones of each color channel to get the remaining colors correct. Finally, switch back to the RGB change and shift the mid tones one way or another to lighten or darken the foreground.

5.  Now go set the saturation back to 0—or adjust it slightly to bring some of the colors back.

6. Use the smart sharpen filter. Pretty much any scanned slide will need some sharpening. The amount of sharpening seems to depend on what you want to output to. If you’re shrinking the image pretty small and just showing a thumbnail, you might need to sharpen quite a bit, but if you’re printing to high quality paper, you might need only a little sharpening.

7. Finally, add a layer to do some content aware healing and get rid of the scratches and dust.

Please let me know if there are improvements to this workflow!

Thoughts on gun control

Freedom’s always have a tradeoff. American’s have decided that it’s important enough to have extremely liberal guns laws, that we as a society are willing to tolerate a fairly high level of gun violence, including shooting sprees, murders, suicides, as well as accidental deaths. This is a decision that citizens of the United States have made.

This decision that we Americans have made has consequences. Gun violence in the United States has actually increased in the last 20 years, although murder rates have declined. The reason? Modern medicine has prevented more gunshot victims from dying.

Now, it’s perfectly reasonable for us a nation to decided that we no longer like this tradeoff. In 1996 Australia decided that this tradeoff between freedom and death was imbalanced, and added substantially greater restrictions on gun ownership.

What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.

So let’s be clear. We can’t prevent crazy people from trying to kill others, but we can reduce the number of people killed by taking away firearms. The fact is that guns enable a greater death toll, and this includes suicides.

Personally, I am not at all opposed to gun ownership for hunting—but beyond that, I don’t think American’s have a good argument for needing to own firearms. To me, this means that automatic weapons and handguns have no place in our society for private citizens and firearm ownership needs to be substantially restricted to hunting rifles and shotguns with a comprehensive permitting process.

Reduce the deficit by raising the gas tax

The numbers that get are getting thrown around for ‘fixing’ the Federal deficit are around 1 trillion dollars over ten years. A pretty simple solution would be to raise the gas tax to $0.40 per gallon, from it’s existing $0.184 per gallon. It would still keep the gas tax to one of the lowest in the world, yet raise over $500 billion in revenue.

For perspective, over the last year and a half I have paid, on average, $3.87 per gallon. That would raise my average gas price to $4.09 per gallon, a mere 5.5% increase. That’s nothing compared to the monthly fluctuations in gas prices, yet it was raise over $500 billion dollars in revenue over the next 10 years, using that we currently collect around $25 billion per year.

Sounds pretty simple to me.

Deficit increasing austerity bomb

The reading comprehension of American’s is apparently quite horrible. Via Paul Krugman

by a margin of almost four to one, people think that going over the fiscal cliff will cause the deficit to increase.

according to this online survey. I would be appalled if ratio were 1:1, but 4:1??? That’s nuts. I think that’s why our founding fathers were a bunch of elitists who didn’t intended for the uneducated masses to weigh in on such issues directly. In fairness, the whole point of a representative democracy is that we elect someone else to pay attention to such details for us, and such a poll demands we voice our justifiability uneducated opinion anyway.

Seattle Area Employment and Link Ridership

It’s not exactly user friendly, but once you know how it’s pretty easy to get at local employment statistics. I was looking at Link ridership reports and trying to explain why growth was exceeding all expectations, so I went on over to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and plugged in either SMU53426440000000001 or SMU53426600000000001 to get the following employment graph.

October 2012 Seattle area employment

The thing to notice here is that Link opened up basically right as Seattle area employment was bottoming out from the Lesser Depression. According to the Sound Transit Blog, typical ridership growth should be at around 2-3% after a few years. However, I would argue that we’d expect things to be different coming out of a recession.

First, note that under normal ridership growth conditions, the new riders must be coming from new infrastructure created along Link. In other words, some apartment buildings go up in Columbia City, and a new office building opens downtown. This allows more people to take the train. The reality is that it won’t be that simple, but in the long run the ridership must correlate to new housing and work infrastructure. The 2-3% ridership growth says something about how often cities typically add this kind of infrastructure.

Now, however, consider what things are like at the bottom of a recession. In this case the infrastructure is already there, but sitting vacant. The number of employees that the existing buildings can handle can be estimated from the total number of employees before the recession. As employees go back to work, they’ll be heading back to these vacant buildings, to existing infrastructure. This allows a much accelerated ridership growth rate.

So, my prediction is that ridership will continue to exceed the 2-3% until employment is beyond the pre-recession levels of mid-2008.

Apple Fail #4: Update descriptions

The new iTunes 11 download found in Software Update reads,

Introducing the new iTunes. With a dramatically simplified player, a completely redesigned Store, and iCould features you’ll love—this is the best iTunes yet…

Excuse me? Features that I’ll love? Urgh. Somehow that just rubs me the wrong way.

Apple Fail #3: Address Book

The usability of Apple’s Contacts application, went from okay, to horrible over the last few OS updates. It’s gotta be one of the simplest application to write (so maybe Apple has its interns create the thing), but in its current incarnation I find it completely unintuitive and ugly as hell. I don’t know how an address book can be unintuitive, but somehow I constantly myself clicking in the wrong spot, or unable to find the person I need, or otherwise lost in the UI.

I’m not going to analyze it more than that, other than to say that somehow the contacts application on my iPhone is substantially easier to use.