Romney lies more than Obama

After reading a detailed fact check of the debate between presidential candidates Barak Obama and Mitt Romney, it’s pretty clear that the two parties are not equal their truth telling. Yet, in the usual bizarre way that news agencies try to spin the ‘both sides are equal’ viewpoint, the NYTimes summary of the fact checking goes to great pains to make it look like Obama fibbed on one major point—yet the ‘lie’ is Obama’s guess at the unannounced (and mathematically impossible) tax cuts that Romney proposes. Arguably, however, it’s Romney that’s the liar in this case as well since he’s the one making impossible claims.

Not that it matters. I get the feeling that most people don’t actually know how to processes all the information being thrown at them and filter out the crap. I also get the feeling that people like Mitt Romney are well aware of this, and use it to their advantage.

Fall traffic

I’m amazed at the seasonality of traffic in the Kirkland/Redmond area on my commute. The summer was great, I could leave anywhere between 7 AM and 8:30 AM and expect very little traffic variability. But after Labor Day, the traffic snarled up again, as it had been before the start of summer. I read somewhere, that I can’t find at the moment, that this change is due to kids going back to school. It’s not that the kids themselves are driving at the same time, it’s that their parents are now driving them to school all at the same time.

One example on my commute is the backup along Juanita from the 98th Ave/116th Street intersection. On my drive down this morning, I passed the intersection at 7:15 AM with moderately heavy traffic, but no backup. On my return at 7:40 AM, traffic was backed up over 1.5 miles up the hill!

Morning commutes are fairly predicable, in my experience (today’s example was typical), and there’s a pretty clear cutoff for when traffic gets bad. Afternoon commutes, on the other hand, seem to have much greater variability, and span a much larger window. So, even if I leave early enough to avoid a morning mess, I still usually end up with some afternoon agony.

Apple Fail #1: Video chatting

Over the last several years, especially over the last year, I have noticed a disturbing trend: Apple is losing its perfectionism. The details that Apple has long been known for getting right, seem to have been lost somewhere along the way to Cupertino (perhaps on a long winding road that went through Redmond in the 1990s).

Of course, there has always been the occasional kludge, but after too many hair pulling events in the last few months, I have decided that things have taken a significant turn for the worse.

Up first: Video Chatting.

I have a conservation going with a buddy of mine, and now we want to video chat. Since 2003, I have been able to click on an video camera icon and immediately begin video chatting with the buddy with whom I am conversing. In 2012, Apple introduces iMessages—clicking on the video camera icon results in this:

iMessage video chat options

Uhhhhhhh. That’s one telephone number, six email address, and some special separated username. The first seven options are “FaceTime”, while the special (and nicely separated) username is “Video”. What am I suppose to do with that?

That’s a rhetorical question, if you’re trying to answer it, you’re missing the point. The point is that this needs to just work.

Thinking more than one move ahead

I’m constantly amazed at how few moves (or cars) ahead that most drivers think. Over and over again I see drivers shouting at the bumper in front of them as if the preceding car is the source of all their traffic troubles. You may think that this is just diffuse anger and the driver deep-down knows that it’s not the car in front of them, but you’d be wrong.

I witnessed this in spectacular fashion while I was out on a run along Pelham Parkway when I lived in the Bronx. It was a stretch of the road with two-lanes and clear visibility. Up ahead, a car was disabled in the right lane. If I’m remembering the setup correctly, three cars were approaching, two were side-by-side and one was behind. The two that were side-by-side started to slow down, forcing the guy behind to slow down as well. He didn’t like that, and got all aggressive. The two that were side-by-side managed to finally move over to the left-lane in order to pass the disabled vehicle. But, the guy behind who’d gotten all aggressive had apparently not realized that the slow down was due to a car disable in the right lane. So as the car in front of him moved over, he was moving fast due to his aggressive driving and had to lock up the brakes to barely avoid hitting the disabled car. He had to be going 45 or something, and it was a pretty impressive lock-up. It was the worlds most avoidable accident which, fortunately, was avoided. But damn, what an idiot.

Something similar happened to me today while at the parking lot of my son’s preschool. I backed out of my parking spot, and another car two spots up also started backing out just after me. Were I an aggressive jerk, I would have just proceeded to go and then blocked the other car from backing out and maybe gotten hit because he wouldn’t have seen me. But obviously I waited. However, some intense Lexus driving women driving into the parking lot, decided to just keep going and not let either of us finish pulling out. This was stupid, because it essentially blocked all three of us in. She honked her horn in disgust, of a situation she caused!

I remember hearing that race car drivers watch six cars ahead and it seems like an obvious goal to aspire to, but sadly, I think that most drivers can’t think past the car in front of them.

Domestic automakers make appealing cars

Reading the review on the Chevy Spark in the NYTimes this morning and I like this assessment of the big American automakers,

Currently earning billions as the “new” G.M., the company is not out of the woods. But while this 1.2-liter 84-horsepower urban runabout is about the slowest thing on wheels — and as much a niche car in America as any Hummer — its very existence says something good about G.M. On all fronts, the company is at least trying to anticipate market trends, rather than propagate an action-movie fantasy worthy of Michael Bay.

That is not to say there isn’t room for cinematic Camaros or modern S.U.V.’s. What it does mean is that the parochial Midwestern bubble that once surrounded G.M. — and in which Chrysler and Ford happily floated as well — seems to have popped for good.

Seems like a pretty fair assessment of the past state of American automobiles. Even just five years I wouldn’t consider an American automobile, not out of some weird reverse patriotism or something, but simply because they didn’t offer anything good in the type of car I was interested in. Today, however, there are tons of great models from domestic automakers that are appealing to me. In fact, the next NYTimes article delves into this.

I’m also always weirded out by how vain and single-minded the car magazine writers are. First, the assessments of vehicle styling are always written from a very traditional perspective. Anything slightly out-side-the-box is criticized or mocked by these writers. Yet, fortunately, most American buyers have much more varied tastes and the roads are filled with a huge range of vehicle styling.  And second, these reviewers always seem to focus on power. That those two criteria (styling and power) drive most of the reviews almost certainly hurts the domestic automakers each time they try to step out said that “Midwestern bubble” described above.

Bad driving habit cause gridlock

Via DC StreetsBlog, an article from Toronto highlights how bad driving habits cause gridlock. One example is how last-minute braking causes congestion,

When approaching a known congestion zone such as an accident or construction area, drivers often accelerate before braking hard once they are very near the stopped car ahead. But research shows that this approach speeds up the amount of time it takes all cars to reach stopped traffic by pushing the so-called line of zero movement further away from the congestion cause. In other words cars are forced to stop sooner and for longer. It then takes much longer for all traffic to begin moving again. A smooth traffic flow keeps the line of zero movement to a smaller area, trapping fewer vehicles.

The other points in the bullet list of ‘tips for better driving’ can basically be summed up as “don’t drive aggressively”, with the exception of the point that the left lanes in a highway should be used for passing and/or higher speeds.

Patent laws have a place

There are all kinds of things that I think are stupid about US patent laws, but the core idea, in my opinion, is that patents give a company company a short term monopoly on a product or concept. I don’t think this is inherently a bad idea. This gives inventors an incentive to invest in original ideas, rather than simply commoditize existing products. The risk of initial investment maybe offset by the reward of a short term monopoly on the idea.

That said, capitalism would certainly function just fine without any patent laws, but I do think that done right it can offer an enhancement to the system.

On news that a court issued an injunction against Samsung selling blatant copies of Apple’s iPad, Matt Yglesias strongly disagrees,

The great thing for the world about the iPad is precisely that it clearly was vulnerable to copying and from day one it seemed like there was a chance that Apple’s runaway success would be eroded by copycat Android products. That’s why to stay on top of the game Apple’s had to release two new, successfully better iterations of the iPad while bringing prices down. Similarly, Apple’s MacBook Air products have been imitated by Windows Ultrabooks and now thanks to the power of competition Airs are better than ever and they made the new Retina MacBook Pro. In a free market to succeed you can’t just innovate, you have to successively innovate to constantly succeed. The alternative model in which you innovate once and then sue everyone to protect your lead is nice for lawyers, but terrible for consumers and the world. 

But here’s the thing: we all know damn well that mega-corportation Apple is going to survive ripoffs of their products by continued innovation and therefore we have somewhere between zero and epsilon amount of compassion for them. They have deep pockets and therefore don’t need the advantage of a short-term monopoly on iPad concept in order to keep the company afloat and continue to invest.

But is that true of smaller startup companies? I think this is where there’s value in patent laws. If the same thing had happen to Joe-Blow Electronics, would the patent laws seem really as absurd? Should Joe-Blow Electronics get at least a year, maybe two, on selling their innovative new iPad product before Apple rips it off with shameless copy?

Real gas prices have barely increased in 30 years, but neither have wages

Awesome article from the Motley Fool arguing that gas prices really aren’t that high which concludes,

I hope this presents the other side of the argument — that neither OPEC nor oil companies are the direct cause of your pain at the pump. It’s really a combination of poor wage growth and a disassociation with the effects of inflation that have people on edge about gas prices. We really don’t pay very much for gas relative to other industrialized countries, and we should be thankful for the current level of gas prices.

The article points out two of my favorite little facts: 1) gas taxes are relatively low and 2) real (inflation adjusted) wages in the United States haven’t increased in the last 30 years. And yes, that last point gets the heart of the 99% movement.

Cross Kirkland Corridor

The City of Kirkland acquired almost six miles of the Eastside Rail Corridor that cuts through Kirkland. This is a really awesome opportunity for Kirkland and the city is soliciting feedback in an online forum for how best to utilize this corridor.

Personally, I’m a bit torn. The corridor absolutely needs to be used for a pedestrian and bicycle path. It could connect to the Sammamish River Trail on the NE east end, and the new 520 bicycle path on the southern end (somehow) and therefore create an awesome connection in the region.

However, Kirkland is also in need of some high capacity transit in the form of Bus Rapid Transit or, ideally, a connection to the region’s fledgling rail system. The problem is that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice a good pedestrian/bike path for the rail system. Both should be built, not one or the other.

Man versus Machine in Paradise Valley

Matt Seguin and I spend much of our leisure time mountain biking and running on the many trails around Kirkland and King County and often wonder which form of conveyance would be faster for a particular section of trail.

In general mountain biking will be faster on most trails simply because of the mechanical advantage afforded by the bicycle. We’re both fairly technically skilled riders and therefore the usual obstacles encountered in typical Pacific Northwest trails may slow us down, but don’t usually stop us from riding. However, there is a certain level of technical difficulty and grade which does slow a rider down to the point where running would be much faster.

Take two examples from Saint Edwards State Park. The Perimeter trail, #13 on the map, is unquestionably faster on a bicycle either direction. It’s low technical difficulty and there’s no way a runner could go faster than an equivalent biker. However, take the South Ridge trail, #7 on the map. This trail (while not open to bikers) is pretty clearly technical enough that there’s no way a biker is going to beat a runner, especially on the first half of the ascent out of Lake Washington.

So is it possible to find a trail that is equivalently fast on a bike as it is to a runner? Lloyd’s trail in Paradise Valley struck us as a possibility. What’s intriguing about Lloyd’s trail is that it’s basically flat—all the challenge to the cyclist is from the sharp corners, and not from a technical ascent.

Yesterday we set out to race Lloyd’s. Matt put on his biking shoes, I put on my running shoes and we warmed up the half mile to the start of the trail.

Lloyd Trail in Paradise Valley

Neither of us were sure which was going to be faster, so we decided on a staggered start. Matt started up the trail on his bike, and I followed 60 seconds later. With a bit of adrenaline going, I started out a little too fast and had to throttle back on my pace and having never actually run the trail before, I struck by the technically difficulty even for a runner. The hard cornering definitely slowed me down. I never once saw Matt the entire 0.8 mile race. I finished in 6:40 according to GPS track drawn in yellow in the image above. Matt finished 6:07–33 seconds faster.

Machine: 1, Man: 0.

For the race back, we decided to start at the same time. This turned out to be an interesting test because the more technical section of the trail is the Southern half. I was able to quickly pass Matt on one of the corners, he passed me, I passed him, and then finally half way through he passed me for a final time. The trail was narrow enough that we both slowed each other down, and passing was done by kindly stepping aside. I was still on his back wheel at the boarded bridge over the swamp, but lost him very quickly after that and didn’t even see him until the finish. My time on the way back was 6:25, Matt finished on the bicycle in 5:50–35 seconds faster.

Machine: 2, Man: 0.

Of course this race is entirely dependent on our respective fitness levels and technical ability, so other’s results may vary. In our case, Matt is unquestionably more fit and a better technical cyclist than I am, although I’m not usually too far behind. Running-wise I seem to have an ever so-slight-edge on Matt, although for this distance of run it wouldn’t be much. Given this, we both think that this was a pretty fair man versus machine challenge.

One hypothesis suggested by Matt is that Lloyd’s trail is more technically limited to cyclist, while the runner is more fitness limited. So this would suggest that if our fitness levels improve over the summer, the race may be closer if we attempt to repeat it in the fall.