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incoherent ramblings of a crazy man

About someday i'll actually start writing here again

Как убрать полоску LjTimes Oct. 3rd, 2010 @ 02:27 am
Вам надоела панель LjTimes? Она выводит из себя и мешает сосредоточиться на чтении?

( Прочтите как её убрать )
Меня лично она особо долбает на телефоне, потому что она остается в фиксированной позиции и таким образом закрывает текст.

Последний вопрос и можно отправляться в путь! Jul. 17th, 2010 @ 04:19 pm
Вот, помогите решить люди! Есть два варианта добираться из Нижнего Тагила в Питер.

Вариант 1.
Летим в Москву на S7, потом на поезде
-выход из дома около 16
-доезжаем до Екатеринбурга на автобусе
-садимся на аэроэкспресс который нас привозит прямо в аэропорт. прибываем в 19.40, за час до отлета (20.50).
-дальше прыгаем по Москве (с багажом) и садимся на поезд «Афанасий Никитин» (отправление в 0.44). Если вдруг получаем багаж очень быстро и нам приспичит, можно сдать билет и сесть на «Экспресс», отправление в 23.59.
-прибываем в Питер утром следующего дня (примерно через 8 часов после отправления)

Вариант 2.
Летим прямо в Питер на Уральских
-на поезде в аэропорт можно только на простой электричке + автобусе-подкише
-прибытие в аэропорт около 15, т.е. за 2 часа до отлета (17)
-выход из дома около 11 утра
-прибываем в Питер в 17.45 (в тот же день)

Вариант 2 стоит на $60 больше, отнимает возможность покататься на ночном поезде (правда я еду аналогичным способом в Москву 22 числа), и гораздо проще. Вариант 1 позволяет мне провести 5 дополнительных часов в Нижнем Тагиле (или Екатеринбурге). “Разумные люди” говорят ехать вариантом 2, потому что лишнии пересадки создают только проблемы. А вы что скажете?
feeling: anxiousanxious

Apple "stealing" from PARC May. 8th, 2010 @ 04:38 pm
It’s funny, every time you mention to people how Apple is innovative and how all Microsoft does is copy them, everyone loves to bring up the Xerox PARC example and how Apple didn’t actually “invent” the GUI. Sure, that might be so, but:
  • Xerox granted Apple engineers three days of access to the PARC facilities in return for the option to buy 100,000 shares of Apple at the pre-IPO price of $10 a share
  • That was over 30 years ago, and Apple has certainly innovated since. Microsoft? Meh.
But I guess if you’re looking to hate Apple, you’ll always find one reason or another. I just happen to like some of their products.
posting from: balcony

GPAs and grad school admissions Dec. 12th, 2009 @ 06:44 pm
So since I didn’t get into the CS 5-year MS, I’m reapplying, albeit to a different department. In the process, I started redoing my Cal application, and discovered that my GPA calculations, which I submitted, were actually lower than what was the reality. I’m not sure how much of a difference it would have made, but still.
Also, I wonder which major you’re supposed to put when they ask for your “major” GPA if you’re a triple (or double major). Currently my units/GPAs look like this:
Major   Units   GPA
CS 58 3.25
ES 36 3.24
Slav 23 3.90

There’s a few interesting things going on here. For one, note the unit disparity. After I’m done with this senior year, these numbers will change somewhat, and the GPAs will change as well. Something along these lines:
Major   Units   GPA
CS 65 unchanged
ES 44 higher
Slav 33 lower

Still, the disparity doesn’t really go away. Even if I take out elective courses in CS, we’d still be looking at 54 units. I don’t have any particular insights about this, other than the fact that I’ve apparently taken a lot more CS classes than any other. Which might explain why writing essays is still quite the exercise. It’s also worth noting that both ES & CS are being weighed down by a C+/C; if both grades were B’s instead, the averages would go up to 3.29 and 3.36, respectively. Lesson for the future: don’t get C’s, lol.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of units, it’s interesting to see that of my ~175 units, only about 130 come from major-related fields, leaving about 45 units worth of classes from completely unrelated departments which do not satisfy any major requirements. Take out ~12 units for breadth classes which I actually took at Cal (as opposed to community college), and you can actually see that it would have been entirely possible for me to graduate in four years (with three majors) had I planned things early enough. Not that the extra ~30 units were not interesting classes, or ones I wouldn’t want to take again, but it just shows that the feat would have definitely been possible.
feeling: mathy

iphone etc Jun. 8th, 2009 @ 11:19 pm
so apple announced the new iphone. wohoo. they also lowered the price on the current model by $100.

as a number of people know, I’m awaiting with trepidation the arrival of a natively, legitimately unlocked iphone 3g from Russia. This phone was bought for 21k rubles about a month ago, which came to about $625. at the time, this was the cheapest unlocked phone you could get anywhere on the planet – apple sold the phone themselves for $700+ in hong kong, and european prices, after currency conversion, approached $800, which was absolutely ridiculous.

what’s interesting to me is to watch what will happen now. apple’s new price for the phone in HK is ~$550 (of course, I have no method of either buying it there, or getting it shipped back to the US, so that’s a bit of a moot point). none of the Russian carriers have updated their sites with any of the new info; the prices remain unchanged from this past winter. there is no mention of 3GS pricing or availability either.

i’m curious to see how this plays out. i have very minimal regrets about getting the phone before the announcement – exchange rates have since become much less favorable to the transaction, and the 3GS doesn’t seem like a very significant upgrade and won’t be available in Russia until August anyway.

it will be interesting to see how long it will take for people to figure out how to turn on Voice Control and Video on 3G devices, as I see absolutely no hardware limitations on this, especially on the voice component.

finally, i really wish people would stop talking about ditching ATT and going to verizon when the “4G” phone comes out. People are basing this on two things – strong internal wishes, as well as somerumors” that when an iPhone with LTE comes out, Verizon will offer it. But then something interesting came up – Verizon claimed it could offer the Palm Pre in 6 months, and Sprint had to come out and deny this to prevent people from waiting. You know what this smells like? Sort of like that whole foods CEO talking shit about wild oats. Seems to me like Verizon is afraid of people leaving it to go to Sprint and ATT, so they are tempting them with “oh, just wait a little, and you can get these phones soon too!” Yeah, I don’t think so. The fact that the iPhone is a single, world-wide device with one OS simplifies things a lot for Apple. And it doesn’t seem like they are hurting for more customers – if that was the case, the phone would be available on TMo by now. For whatever reason, Apple has shown that they will do non-exclusive contracts only in places where they are required to do so by law. The US isn’t one of those places, so keep dreaming folks...

edit: one thing I realized just now: the iPhone is advertised as having UMTS/HSDPA. note the “D” in that acronym – it stands for downlink. this is interesting because it means that upload speeds on the device are only at UMTS levels, which is 384 kbit/s max. That’s pretty slow for uploading that great video you just made, and only a tad above type 1 EDGE speeds (236 kbit/s) (and actually *slower* than type 2 EDGE, at 474 kbit/s). I find this odd – you would have thought that with the iPhone 3G Speed they would have gone ahead and supported both HSDPA and HSUPA @ the 7.2 mbit/s rate. oh well.

voting this tuesday in california: my take Oct. 31st, 2008 @ 08:25 pm
so i mailed my absentee ballot earlier this week and since i feel like i spent good time on picking my choices, i figured i’d let others know how i made them so that i may perhaps help you make a decision. i’ll be touching on just the presidential position and state-level propositions, as those are the only real issues i actually researched.
  • president: barack obama. the short reason for this is because i believe this man has much more sound policies for dealing with energy and healthcare than mccain, and because from what i’ve read about him, i have the impression that he listens to people and wants to learn about the issues before making a decision. mccain sounds like a grumpy old man desperate to be in power who went back on every issue where he was a “maverick” – campaign finance, immigrant issues, taxes (he was against bush’s tax cuts a few years back), and others.

    side note: back during the democratic primaries, i wasn’t personally crazy about obama, but what eventually made me vote for him was the campaign that hillary was running. mccain’s campaign, similarly, has resorted to using smear tactics instead of talking about real issues, which, ironically enough, were responsible for mccain’s losses in 2000 during the primaries. the amount of hate spread by that campaign is, imho, despicable. the thing that bothers me, personally, is how many people still support him despite this (or worse, because of this).

  • prop 1a: whether to sell nearly $10 billion in bonds to build a high-speed rail line connecting Anaheim-Los Angeles to SF? Yes. the fact that the US, despite supposedly being a leading economic and military power, still does not have true, european-class (never mind japanese-class) high speed rail is pathetic. high-speed trains are more efficient in terms of energy needed to transport a person over a given distance than pretty much all other transportation methods. increasing capacity once a system is in place is much easier than for roads or airports, as is the ability to reduce emissions by simply changing the electricity source which powers the trains. finally, the market potential for this system is huge, and the improvements it will bring to commuter services along the line would prevent needless collisions and accidents, such as the ones on metrolink and caltrain over the past few years.

  • prop 2: whether to require some farm animals be provided with enough space to be able to turn around (animals covered are egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs, and calves raised for veal)? Yes. the campaign against this proposition is based mostly on (surprise!) unfounded claims that food safety will decrease as a result of the entire poultry and veal industry moving out of the state, which i find a bit ludicrous. not only that, but organic standards already require this type of treatment from animals and none of the supposed bad things that would happen have happened with organic products. finally, none of the dire predictions have played out in other states which have passed similar measures. finally, providing animals with more spacious living quarters is more likely to decrease spreading of disease outbreaks. as a result, i see no reason to vote no.

  • prop 3: whether to sell nearly $1 billion in bonds to fund improvement of children’s hospitals? No. For one, there’s still money that was authorized from an earlier proposition for the same purpose that still hasn’t been spent. In addition, I feel that this is something that should be addressed directly through the budget, instead of through a bond issue. Plus, taking on additional debt is iffy.

  • prop 4: whether to require physicians to give 48 hours notice to a parent/designated adult before performing an abortion on a minor? No. This proposition is now up for the 3rd time in as many years, and to be honest, i’m tired of it. you can’t force kids to talk to their parents, so the most that will happen from this is that girls will try to get around this somehow, with probably bad results.

  • prop 5: whether to allocate $460 mil annually to expand drug treatment programs, as well as limit the prison punishment for certain (mostly drug-related) non-violent crimes? Yes. I’ve always been of the opinion that the vast majority of drug crime offenders are best served by going through rehab programs rather than sitting behind bars. Not only that, but this measure has the opportunity to reduce California’s prison overcrowding problem. though, i’m not crazy about the required annual spending level.

  • prop 6: whether to require a minimum of $965 mil spending annually for police and local law enforcement, as well as make 30 revisions to the criminal code? No. For one, this number of $965 mil seems to come out of thin air and imho places an unnecessary constraint on the budget. more importantly, though, i feel that the increases in penalties for crimes outlined by this are way too harsh, and there are a number of provisions which seek to diminish the role of juvenile courts and try juveniles as adults.

  • prop 7: whether to make a number of changes to current rules on renewable energy production and delivery? No, unfortunately. There are a number of provisions that I like here, such as requiring public utilities to adhere to the same renewables requirements as private ones, but after reading this memo from the CPUC, which currently regulates power generation and delivery, i decided that it would be best to vote this down.

  • prop 8: whether to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry? No. this is wrong on so many levels, and the supporters of this proposition are using scare tactics (see a trend here?) which are either unfounded or simply not true. regardless, passing this measure is equal to writing discrimination into our constitution where before there was none, which feels wrong on too many levels. it’s also worth noting that a significant part of the funding for the “yes” campaign is coming from the mormon church in utah. um, guys, mind your own business plz?

  • prop 9: whether to provide crime victims with additional rights, decrease the frequency between parole hearings, and some other things? No. A few parts of this measure are interesting, such as requiring that payment by offenders is given first to victims before any is used to cover fines, etc. Unfortunately, part of this measure is in direct conflict with a current federal court order, so it’s DOA for me.

  • prop 10: whether to issue $5 bil in bonds for subsidizing the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles? No. the main issue with this is that it does not require any improvement in emissions, only that the emissions are not worse for the alt-fuel vehicle than for a gasoline/diesel-powered one. the funding source for this measure is also a bit sketchy, coming from a single oil guy from texas. finally, this duplicates a number of other programs that are on the books which have a bit more legitimacy to them.

  • prop 11: whether to change authority to redraw district lines from the legislature to a special commission? No. While i think it’s a scam that legislators redraw their own district lines, the solution proposed here is flawed, with a commission which is created as part of a multi-step process which is convoluted and a bit strange. not only that, but the new districts would only apply to state legislators; districts for the federal house of reps would remain unchanged.

  • prop 12: whether to sell $900 mil in bonds to provide farm and home aid for California veterans? weak Yes. imho, this should be done at the federal level, or at least in a way that minimizes the amount of interest paid (what’s with this country’s love of 30-year loans?). i had opposed this because i thought it would put responsibility for repaying the bonds on the state, but it turns out that these bonds are actually repaid by the veterans themselves – the state essentially acts like a bank and gives out loans to them, which they are then responsible for repaying. so i guess i support it now. (lol now it looks like i don’t support the troops...)

oh, and a final plug – please vote No on city prop KK if you’re voting in Berkeley. it would make the creation of new BRT lanes needlessly protracted and hard to accomplish.

that’s all – now don’t forget to go and vote on tuesday, or mail in your ballot if you’re voting by mail! to find your voting location, just go to http://maps.google.com/vote. make sure you bring your voter registration card and ID in case there are issues with finding your name on the rolls, and be sure to cast a provisional ballot if for some reason they can’t find you.
listening to: По Крайней Мере · (album "Пятиугольный Грех") · Террариум

McCain/Palin vs. Obama/Biden Sep. 30th, 2008 @ 01:08 am
explain to me again why the former still has any support at all?

* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you’re “exotic, different.”
* Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, a quintessential American story.
* If your name is Barack you’re a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
* Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you’re a maverick.
* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you’re well grounded.
* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran’s Affairs committees, you don’t have any real leadership experience.
* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you’re qualified to become the country’s second highest ranking executive.
* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you’re not a real Christian.
* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you’re a Christian. If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
* If , while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state’s school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant , you’re very responsible.
* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family’s values don’t represent America’s.
* If your husband is nicknamed “First Dude”, with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn’t register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

honestly, this makes me sad.
Other entries
» random quotes
one of these days i’ll start using this like the real journal it was supposed to be...
« were we happy tonight because we were happy or because once, a long time back, we had been happy? was our happiness tonight like the light of the moon, which does not come from the moon, for the moon is cold and has no light of its own, but is reflected light from far away? »
« you meet somebody at the seashore on a vacation and have a wonderful time together. Or in a corner at a party, while the glasses clink and somebody beats on a piano, you talk with a stranger whose mind seems to whet and sharpen your own and with whom a wonderful new vista of ideas is spied. Or you share some intense or painful experience with somebody, and discover a deep communion. Then afterward you are sure that when you meet again, the gay companion will give you the old gaiety, the brilliant stranger will stir your mind from its torpor, the sympathetic friend will solace you with the old communion of spirit. But something happens, or almost always happens, to the gaiety, the brilliance, the communion. You remember the individual words from the old language you spoke together, but you have forgotten the grammar. You remember the steps of the dance, but the music isn’t playing any more. So there you are. »
bonus points to the person who can say where these are from (same novel).
» simple math
can someone explain this to me?
The AP says “Clinton Wins California Primary”.
I look at the Secretary of State’s website. It tells me that in the 6 most populous counties of California,† which make up almost 60% of the state’s population combined, only about 9% of precincts are reporting any results at all (keep in mind: these results are not even final). Only Riverside has a significant number, with 40% reporting. Alameda, San Bernardino, and Santa Clara have absolutely 0.

What sort of journalism is this?

† – the counties are Los Angeles, Orange, San Mateo, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Riverside, and Alameda.

Edit: this info is obviously quickly obsoleted...20 minutes later, LA and SC are well on their way to providing results, though Alameda and SB are still at 0%. we’ll see, but my original point still stands – I find it irresponsible for someone to report that “Clinton wins” when in reality less than a fifth of the state is reporting results, and only a tenth of the majority has reported results.
» why did PDAs die?
the question of why the PDA market completely fell through is one that I think is both interesting and worth considering. about 4 years ago would be the peak of this market, by my cursory and uninformed observations of it. namely, it was in the summer of 2004 that sony pulled out of the PDA market in the US, and less than a year afterward, ceased producing PDAs entirely.

the reason i mention this? i have a sony clie ux-50, one of the greatest, in my opinion, Palm-powered devices ever made. In its feature set, it hearkens to the smartphones that have been coming out in recent months, such as the nokia n95 or sony ericsson k850 (albeit with a much crappier camera). namely, the ux50 boasted of the following connectivity methods:
  • bluetooth 1.x
  • 802.11b wifi
  • infrared port (albeit low-powered)
  • mini-usb jack (interestingly enough, no serial expansion port. i believe this is a singular exception to the entire clié line.)
  • MemoryStick Pro slot

as well as a fair number of multimedia features, including
  • a headphone jack for playing any audio and alarms. it also comes with Sony’s MP3 player, which can read from internal RAM, “Internal Media” built-in flash memory, and Memory Stick
  • speaker, which plays everything you’d get through the headphones, including MP3s (apparently, there were Palm devices that would only play alarms through the speaker)
  • microphone, which can be used with the Voice Recorder application to make quite usable recordings. the higher-quality setting, at 22.050 KHz with DVI ADPCM encoding, gives you about 1.5 minutes/MB
  • digital camera featuring both still (JPG) and video recording (MP4) capabilities.

also, its screen, which is just under 2.75 inches (diagonal), still features a pretty 480x320 resolution – probably one of the densest PDA screens made. in addition, it has a decently-sized full QWERY keyboard. granted, this device isn’t all peaches – it has a number of caveats. namely:
  • the PIM applications are all still OS 4 ones, despite the fact that the OS is supposedly 5.2. my guess is that this mainly is a result of sony’s customizations to the apps (such as ability to assign a picture to contacts, which didn’t exist in the regular OS 4 PIMs), which sony never got around to porting for the v.5 PIM apps.
  • the camera, of course, sucks, taking still pictures at the glorious resolution of 640x480 and video at 320x240. more importantly, regardless of the resolution, the optics (or lack thereof, lol) make themselves known.
  • the MS Pro support is stupidly limited – almost all sticks with capacity above 512MB can be improperly handled by the handheld, leading to unpredictable data corruption. the really interesting thing is that two older 1GB MS Pro models, MSX-1GS and MSX-M1GS, do not suffer from this problem. so much for “support,” I guess.
  • the supposedly-involatile “backup” memory has actually cleared a number of times on me. i suspect that the problem is that the handheld, once reset, simply cannot find the backuped files, despite the fact that they do exist.
  • updates for system programs are essentially non-existent – and no, copying programs from the TH-55 or VZ-90 doesn’t count. the latest update from sony is from november 2004.
  • the MSBackup software can’t backup to the truly non-volatile flash “Internal Media” memory. This is actually terrible, because otherwise this memory is not that useful, since getting files from it to a computer requires transferring them to a MemoryStick first, and the “intended” non-volatile backup memory is actually volatile. this supplied software is extremely basic, but it would do the job more than wonderfully if it would just recognize the internal media memory as a flash memory device and allow backups to it.
  • there is no screen rotation at the OS level – the interface is always in landscape mode.
  • there is no vibrating alarm, as is apparently the case for a lot of OS 5 handhelds. I have no idea whose brilliant idea it was to get rid of a vibrator in PDAs, but it is absoultely crucial. i don’t want everyone around me to know that I have an appointment in 5 minutes, and worse, when my handheld is in my pocket, i might not even hear the alarm at all. what the hell!
  • the WiFi software only supports WEP encryption. this is shitty, because it means that if you want to use the WiFi at home, you either leave your network at a lower security setting (i.e. WEP instead of WPA), or prevent your handheld from going online in an easy fashion. of course, tethering via IR or Bluetooth to your phone still works (I remember trying to get BT tethering working with my Mac and never quite succeeded).

anyway, you can’t buy it anymore, so that was a lot of rambling for nothing. BUT there is a point here. and that point is that today i was browsing Palm’s website, and went over to their Handhelds section. the “top-of-the-line” handheld is the Palm T|X handheld. what are its specs?
  • 802.11b wifi
  • bluetooth 1.1
  • IrDA port
  • 100 MB user-accessible memory (flash non-volatile)
  • headphone jack + speaker
  • support for SD/MMC/SDIO cards
  • serial expansion port
  • Palm OS 5.4
  • 320x480 screen (just under 4” diagonal)
  • no vibrating alarm

I should get to the point here. and the point is this: in three years, we have a device that has ... 54MB more of usable memory. and that’s it?? are you serious? that is absolutely pathetic. what happened to making more advanced devices? bluetooth 1.1 is so old i can’t even remember when it came out. 320x480 resolutions are so...old school. no mic? no .11g wireless? the software itself hasn’t really progressed very far either, and the basic PIM applications have not changed by much, if at all, in those three years (can you say the same, for, say, Mac OS X?).

i wonder if this industry really died because there was no demand, or if the manufacturers simply couldn’t produce good devices. regardless, i’m still waiting for a true, portable, stable device that will have proper connectivity, not cost you your first-born child, and work as expected. the latest smartphone models I mentioned – N95 and K850 – look promising, and certainly have much better cameras – but still have a fair way to go. for example, the N95 has built-in GPS, but it is [according to reviews] so slow to lock onto satellites that it’s pretty much useless. the K850, otoh, lacks WiFi connectivity and uses a closed OS that does not allow for custom applications (that is my understanding, anyway). you’d think we’d be a little further along in “all-in-one portable gadget” development at this point.
» playing the blame game
so right now i’m in hawaii and coming back to the mainland tomorrow. on wednesday, i totally missed my flight here. like, completely. but it was actually somewhat close, except for a number of things that totally fucked up all chances of me making it. namely:
- me. first off, i got up slowly, and second, i assumed that half an hour would be enough to pack the rest of my shit into my car. i could not be more wrong – i left my house 40 minutes later than i was supposed to. then, i wasted at least 15 more minutes due to not knowing exactly where i was going and missing exits/turns.
- BART. we stopped a number of times on the way to the airport for no apparent reason. it was nice for the AirBART driver to let me get on with just a $2.55 ticket (instead of $3), but it wasn’t so nice for her to be going slower than she could have.
- Aloha. this is a big one – I had checked in online, but didn’t print my boarding pass because i had no printer. I had assumed I’d be able to just print it when I got to the airport. Wrong – the checkin kiosks shut themselves off automatically 30 minutes before departure, and despite the fact that I simply needed a reprint – I had already checked in last night – the thing wouldn’t let me do anything.
- TSA. these guys had a number of things going against them. First, a TSA woman told me that Aloha was flying out of Gate 18 – a special gate at OAK where you get on a bus and then get driven out to the plane, with no security checkpoints. I don’t know why I listened to her, but I did kill a good 5-10 minutes going there and then back. Then, the boarding pass check guy held me up for combining the number of carryons I had – I had intentionally left out my Facebook messenger bag out so that taking out my laptops (2 of them) wouldn’t be a problem. Then, he refused to accept a PDF of my boarding pass for my boarding pass. Honestly, I don’t see what the difference is between a document on a computer and that same document printed on a sheet of paper, but whatever. Then, for the final blow, a screener threw out my yobaby yogurt and organic cottage cheese because they were “creams” (wtf?).

in this entire mess though, there were a few positives. namely:
- anshul. i made this guy get up early, and even though he partly gave me the wrong directions to get to his house, he drove fast, just the way i like it.
- a mexicana airlines ticket agent. i unfortunately did not get her name, but this woman let me into their office to hook up my laptop to their printer so that i could print out my boarding pass. even though she had no idea who i was and i wasn’t even flying with her airline.

anyway, hawaii’s been pretty sweet, it’s just too bad that i essentially killed a day. also many thanks to brian for letting me crash in his apartment on wed night since the next flight out wasn’t until the following morning.
» Letter to the CA High-Speed Rail Authority
I went to the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s meeting in San Carlos back in June. I didn’t publicly comment at the time because I didn’t feel like I was ready, but I did send them this letter a few weeks afterwards.

To the members of the Authority:

I was in attendance at the Authority’s June meeting in San Carlos on June 27. It was the first meeting of the Authority that I’ve been to. Since I felt that three minutes might not do justice to the issues I would like to address here, I decided instead to send a written “comment” instead. If it is possible to somehow incorporate it into the record, that would be great; otherwise, I only wish that Authority members have an opportunity to read it (and respond if they so desire).

Member Lindsey pointed out a number of times that it would be prudent for the project to be fully funded before construction goes forward. I would beg to differ in this respect, however. I believe that both private partners, as well as government agencies, would be much more likely to provide funding to push a project “over the edge” and get it running, compared to providing money to start a project that is essentially “dormant.” In my opinion, it is much harder to “refuse” a request for funding for a project that’s 80% complete than one that’s 0% done. This, it seems, would be especially true for private investors, who would probably be more willing to put forward money when they have some idea of how realistic a project’s completion is – which is way more realistic when the project is already partially built.

I also feel that the authority’s insistence on involving private investors in this venture, or measuring its success by how much profit the train system will generate, is misguided. While self-suffiency is certainly a laudable goal, and even one that could be potentially achieved with the system and plans currently being presented, it should not, under any circumstances, be used as the measuring stick for success. The state of California needs a high-speed rail system not because such a system would make a profit, but because the state’s population deserves to have fast and modern transportation alternatives to flying and driving, and it needs these alternatives as soon as practically possible. The high-speed rail systems in Europe and Japan did not break even in their first or even second year of operation, but they were very valuable and extremely prudent investments nonetheless. Some Authority members also noted that some private investors were “itching” to get their hands dirty with some toll highway projects. While that might be the case, the fact of the matter is that these investors are not actually building any roadways and the initial capital construction costs of building the highway itself have already been covered for them. Finding investors to build a 30+ billion dollar project from scratch seems like a tough feat to pull off.

I’d like to also highlight two important issues about rail infrastructure construction in general. First and foremost, spending money on railroads is the best use of public money as far as investing in transportation infrastructure is concerned. Given proper signaling and railroad switches, capacity on rail lines can be increased by simply purchasing additional trainsets or train coaches, in contrast to never-ending highway widening projects. Even when an additional tracks are needed to further increase capacity, the physical amount of land necessary to construct and add an additional track – or passing sidings – pales in comparison to the amount of land needed to widen highways. This problem is especially acute in downtown areas, where acquiring land for such highway widening projects is problematic due to extremely high living densities and land prices. Another reason that rail infrastructure should be the first in getting funding is that improving the energy efficiency of transporting passengers of an electric rail system is much easier than in other transportation modes. With electrically-powered trains, simply increasing the percentage of renewable energy in the electricity mix used to power the trains immediately makes them cleaner and less-polluting. On the other hand, nothing of the sort happens with either cars or planes. In both cases, so long as old equipment remains in service (which, in the case of cars, can be a long time, since California has very mild weather), fleet-wide fuel efficiency lags behind and emissions for those older cars and planes remain at unbelievably high levels. In addition, even when locomotives do need to be replaced with more efficient models, the impact is much higher, since one locomotive change immediately decreases the environmental impact of hundreds of passengers. We must also remember that the high-speed electric train will use ⅓ the energy of auto travel and ⅕ the energy of air travel (both per mile), and emits 1/10 the amount of pollutants compared to other transportation modes. With the Governor’s proclaimed intent of reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions, not building the high-speed rail system seems like putting in the first nail into the coffin of the state’s success in greenhouse gas reductions.

Lastly, the system is necessary for both long-, medium-, and short-distance travelers. Commuter services that lie along the HSR’s alignment would benefit tremendously from grade separations and track and signaling upgrades. This would further lessen our dependence on imported gasoline, decrease statewide emissions, and improve the quality of life in the communities served by commuter rail systems. As someone who’s lived for the past two years in Los Angeles, the numerous grade crossing accidents that have happened on the Metrolink system in the past few years come to mind; their impact was far from minor and could have easily been avoided with grade separation. What’s more, with higher gas prices, more and more people are starting to look at public transit as an alternative for their daily commute – which is all the more reason to make the public transit options available to them that much more appealing and fast. One of the main reasons my coworkers do not take the train to work is simply because it is too slow – even with traffic, driving can at times take half as long as taking a combination of MUNI and Caltrain. Medium-distance travelers would greatly appreciate the HSR system as well, allowing people to possibly live farther from work (and consequently be able to afford more generous housing) and making the possibility of a “day trip” that much more possible. Long-distance travelers need the system as well as an alternative to flying and driving. Flying can at times be expensive, and is generally a hassle that is not extremely conducive to getting work done, especially on the relatively short segments (in terms of air travel) that would be covered by the HSR system. Driving, with current gas prices, is often not that much more affordable, but takes much longer and forces you to be occupied with driving for the entire duration of the journey. A high-speed train, on the other hand, would allow you to catch up on work, take a nap, grab a snack, or any combination of the three – all at an affordable price and with frequencies that would not require day-long planning.

In closing, I would like to remind the Authority that we are debating starting the construction of a system which already exists in practically every developed country in the world – except the United States – and has performed exceptionally well in those places for decades. The fact that there is even any debate at all as to whether such a system should be built, and whether or not it is financially viable, seems absolutely absurd once we step outside of the argument for a second. It is my sincere hope that whatever reservations Authority members have can be resolved in due time and that construction of the system can start as soon as possible, with at least some right-of-way acquisition in 2008.

Thanks again for all the hard work that you’ve done. I look forward to getting a response from you soon.

I haven’t heard back from them yet.
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