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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Eli's LiveJournal:

[ << Previous 20 -- Next 20 >> ]
Friday, May 29th, 2009
1:25 pm
WSJ article on the American myth of homes as investments
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124336746233955539.html

Glad to see that busting this mythology is starting to get some serious press.
Thursday, May 7th, 2009
6:12 pm
Star Trek movie was ***awesome***
It was so awesome that I almost felt guilty for not going more out of my way to invite a friend (Microsoft rented the entire theatre for 6 hours for 5,000 employees on my division and we were each allowed to invite one guest).

If you haven't seen:
http://www.theonion.com/content/video/trekkies_bash_new_star_trek_film

It was fun going with a usability team. One could argue that the traditional divide between designers and research was expressed by Kirk ("I intuitively know the right answer, just go do it") and Spoke ("We need to think through this logically, get some data, and make a rationally reasoned decision.")
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
6:46 am
Awesome lecture I attended last night: Soaring Health and Energy Costs, Crashing Economies and Ecosy
Dr. Richard Jackson (MD MPH) - one of the first people to explore the link between why Americans have become disproportionately obese (and disproportionately suburbanized) -- did an awesome lecture last night on the link between health, the environment, and American city planning.

I thought it was one of the best presentations I've attended recently -- the "meta"-point was that it's easy to get medical funding for medical problems, but the moment they become social issues (e.g. telling people that they need to change the way they build cities, or what foods the American gov't should remove subsidies on -- or tax -- because they cause health care costs later), it becomes a debacle: "in public health, we look at the causes of causes". (not debating this point in LJ unless you've actually seen the video ;-)

An HQ video of a shortened, earlier version of this presentation (intended for doctors, rather than for urban planners like the one I went to!) is at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlDLnkQ_s3E

Highly recommended.

(Ironically I am losing 10 minutes of my morning exercise in order to post this. Oh well.)
Monday, April 13th, 2009
9:51 pm
Fuel-efficiency as a safety fearmongering tool
Perhaps the most persuasive argument I've heard against improving fuel efficiency in piggish American automobiles is that it makes the cars less safe. For example, this New York Times article discusses an insurance company's safety tests warning about the dangers of smaller cars.

But this line of reasoning never raises the question of why driving in America is still 2-3X more deadly than countries (such as the Netherlands) which already have these oh-so-deadly small-car fleets in ubiquitous use. How is it that they already drive these smaller cars, but still enjoy a much lower fatality rate? Easy: they treat driving as an earned privilege, not as an entitlement, make sure roads are safe by design (e.g. greater speed restrictions + reduced cognitive complexity), and eliminate the need to drive when it's not necessary in the first place (you can't kill people with your car when you're not driving it).

I'm curious why the people and media who supposedly care about lives of American drivers enough to oppose shrinking vehicle size never also seem to come out advocating for the many things that would improve driver safety -- most notably the removal of driving privileges from the people most likely to kill themselves and other road users, such as through:

* Eliminating driving privileges by people under the age of 18 (driving is the #1 cause of death among American young people)
* Increasing the rigor of driver certification so that only people who have the physical and cognitive skills to safely operate a vehicle receive the privilege.
* Aggressive enforcement (vehicle confiscation) and fining of people who are driving without insurance (who are statistically much more likely to cause fatalities) -- this could easily be done through automated cameras that compare license plates against databases of registered cars.
* Requiring traffic calming on federally funded infrastructure (the faster you go, the exponentially more likely you are to kill people when you inevitably make a driving mistake)
* Assigning motorists automatic legal responsibility in collisions with peds & bikes (they chose to drive, so why should they not be responsible for the violence created as a consequence?)
* (etc)

Ultimately, American cars are going to become smaller whether Americans want it or not: few of the Americans still able to drive in the post-cheap oil and cheap-credit era will be able to afford anything else. I would be really excited to participate in any organization seriously working to bring about changes to our national culture surrounding driving as entitlement vs. life-and-death privilege limited to those who handle it responsibly.
Sunday, April 12th, 2009
8:54 am
Best unsolicited recruiter e-mail yet...
It's for a usability researcher. At Microsoft! Oh -- wait --- I already have that job.

And it's indeed a "perfect fit"! ;-)


Subject: Jobs for which you are a perfect fit
Date: April 10, 2009 12:28:33 PM PDT

Dear Eli,

The following jobs should be of interest to you:
-------------------------------------------
Job # : 09-05470
Job Title : CS - Usability Researcher
Job Location : REDMOND, WA
Duration - 364 Days

Read more...Collapse )
Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
12:42 pm
Really cool interactive illustration - design patterns that make streets pedestrian friendly
This is really sweet - it lets you click on the different design features that make the difference between roads that are hostile towards pedestrians/cyclists/buses (e.g. prevailing American design patterns) and ones that endow equal dignity and access to other users (e.g. prevailing Dutch design patterns).

http://planetizen.com/news/redirect_new.php?id=38195-0

(To use it, click "After", and then click on the different numbers.)
Sunday, April 5th, 2009
9:21 am
Peter Schiff in 2006 (pre-collapse) at Las Vegas Mortgage Brokers' Conference
This is incredible -- recorded before the "credit crisis" happened.

In a 10 minute segment, it pretty much describes everything happening today. Of course, it's no different from what all of us were saying on the Housing Bubble blog from 2003-2006. More amazing that only a few hundred people have watched it.



Saturday, April 4th, 2009
12:32 pm
Awesome Peter Schiff lecture -- well worth an hour
From a guy who lucidly explained the root causes of the bubble back when Americans were in denial that one exists.

About how the bubble happened, economics 101, and why the US economy can't recover until home prices return to normality. IMHO *well* worth an hour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgMclXX5msc

(Peter Schiff, parenthetically, rents his home.)
Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
8:20 am
TANSTAFL in action
I just got a "free" Intel iMac from Apple as they've been unable to fix damage done by a prior Apple tech on my iMac G5 after 3 or 4 repair attempts spanning 4 months. I really like the new Mac and am not complaining, but I think it illustrates the TANSTAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch) nature of the universe.

Costs incurred on account of a "free" computer:

#1: $100 (eventually) -- bigger hard drive probably needed for backups -- as the drive is 2X my existing
#2: $120 -- AppleCare @ UW discount
#3: $330 (to get a 24" inch display rather than the low-end unit they offered)
#4: (etc)

Total cost of free computer: about $550. TANSTAFL.
Sunday, March 15th, 2009
3:01 pm
Dutch bicycle design patterns: from a 2-minute video I took on my bike in Enschede
Click for a short video I took biking through Enschede with narration (and panting ;-)

A few interesting things:

0:20 - Note the convenient raised surface to the left of where cyclists wait for the light. This both protects cyclists, and provides a comfortable footrest while waiting.

0:29 - Yes, there really are separate side-by-side traffic lights for cars and for bicycles at major intersections. There's one below the red triangle, conveniently placed where cyclists can see it at eye-level, and a second one above.

0:47 - The bus stop, to me, is a great example of the theme that roads should be designed to prevent collisions by eliminating the opportunity for them to happen in the first place. In America we normally just run the bike lane right through the bus stop, and then publish tragic stories about the lives and orphaned children of the dead cyclists (or their bereaved parents).

Presumably an American cyclist would be held at-fault for trying to pass a stopped bus, thus "making" himself invisible to the driver, and somehow deserving of his or her premature death. Or we'd blame the driver for not seeing a small, barely visible moving object -- perhaps on a typical dark, rainy night -- where one wasn't really expected.

Instead, the Dutch actually solve the problem in the first place rather than the American approach of fixating on elaborate and expensive systems of assigning blame for the inevitable deadly consequences of unsafe designs...while ultimately doing little-to-nothing to solve the root cause problem.

1:10 - If you're not an American cyclist, the "door zone" refers to the space in America that bicylists try to leave between themselves and the opening doors of parked cars. I quickly discovered that such a concern didn't appear to exist at least in Enschede, since drivers generally are also cyclists and understand that looking for cyclists is part of opening a car door.


(The streets are normally not this empty, this was taken in the morning of one of many all-day bike tours I did around the area.)
Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
8:42 pm
Beautiful Infrastructure: An intersection in Enschede
I've been finishing up on a side-project with my employer's community affairs manager: tracking down and recording all the people on my team who have self-reported being recently hit by cars (four) or nearly hit by cars (dozens) while walking just two blocks from the transit station to our office. When we're done, we're taking the data to the city in the hope that they'll take pedestrian safety a bit more seriously -- at least in these two blocks.

The one thing I truly hate about living in America is its infrastructure, or more specifically, the values implicitly reflected in its infrastructure.

I've wanted to post some videos and photos I took around Enschede which captured bits of how infrastructure can be designed if you equally respected people on a bus or on a bicycle, rather than just car owners. I think Americans are so accustomed to infrastructure that disrespects non-drivers that they don't even consciously realize it anymore.

This is probably going to be the first of several posts.

Click for photo & for why I find this inspiring...Collapse )
Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
10:08 pm
Possibly the saddest children's song I've ever heard in 35 years
This is a Dutch children's song from the perspective of a child whose mother died. It took about 3 days until I could hear it without breaking down in tears myself.

Couldn't find an English translation, so I took my best 5 minute stab at it to share with my mom (who lost her father at a young age). Thought the song might be of interest to some people -- the production is just superlative. Sorry that the translation is a bit off in at least a few phrases.

MP3 and translation below.

Read more...Collapse )
Sunday, February 15th, 2009
3:14 pm
When did electronic build quality turn to junk?
A few examples:

* After four months and three repairs (the most recent was today), the $1000 Sole E25 elliptical I bought still doesn't work. I actually spent a full day researching this puppy before buying, and am really surprised - they have a good reputation in the mid-range category for quality. (I've also gained a whopping 15 pounds, actually, since buying it and have started my first diet today 'cause it doesn't look like I'll be getting much cardio at this rate. ;-(

* My iMac (after a zillion repairs) loses its iSight connection whenever I pick it up and move it; you have to reboot the computer to use the camera again. (I noticed this when putting it on the floor to try to capture a video of the elliptical for repair.)

* Prometheus' (expensive!) Pelouze postal scale's weighing platform broke off when I brushed it with my thumb last weekend. (I sent their VP of product development the frail, broken plastic part that held it together with a letter encouraging them to improve their build quality.)

* The Amcor mini-dehumidifier (which keeps the CD inventory dry) broke after just a few months. (Admittedly they replaced it after a letter I'd sent them on brand equity.)

(etc)

Maybe we just own more stuff these days so there's more things to break. But I gotta say I'm gonna save a lot of money if it means no longer buying things 'cause so many things are badly made!

Grr....
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009
7:00 pm
Just brilliant: senate voting tax break for new car purchases (just before we fix fuel efficiency!)
There are times I wonder why I live in the U.S. This is definitely one.

The cost of gas is probably set to skyrocket in coming years. Our fuel efficiency standards are on track to increase 40% in as few as 7 years. Whether they realize it or not, many Americans will need to replace their cars in coming years if they want to be able to afford to drive in a future era of $5-$10/gallon gas.

So what does the Senate do? They vote to create taxpayer-subsidized incentives to convince Americans to buy new cars today -- just before the fuel efficiency increases kick in. After all, people "need" jobs, even if consumers don't want the outcome of those jobs at normal market prices.

I bet we'll have another taxpayer-funded bonanza subsidizing these new fuel-efficient cars because "hard working American families" won't be able to buy new cars again in 2016, as they'll be paying off the ones they're buying now at taxpayer subsidy.

Only in America...

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008690122_apcongressstimulus.html
Monday, January 26th, 2009
9:33 pm
Alternative universe America
My own higher-level skepticism about Obama as savior aside, I have had to blink several times this past week reading the news to realize that, yes, this *really* is happening -- it's not just a journalist writing a fantasy alternate universe.

Today's biggest news story was that Obama is encouraging the EPA to allow states to set their own standards for fuel-efficiency. If all goes well, the U.S. hits 35 MPG-ish fuel efficiency in 2016 rather than 2020 on newly manufactured cars.

It impresses me almost as much how clueless New York Times reader comments are about just how far behind Americans are from the rest of the world. Supposedly, reaching this unprecedented 35 MPG in just 7 years rather than 11 requires some sort of new technological breakthrough which will be beyond the reach of both American and Japanese car companies. (I'm also baffled by the cognitive dissonance that the U.S. has no business telling car companies what they should make -- but somehow should be sending our military to intervene at taxpayer expense to keep gas prices cheap -- which is arguably only necessary because we don't drive fuel-efficient cars.)

Hint: Most other first-world countries will still already have equally or more fuel-efficient car fleets than we would in 2016

* Australia: 34.5 MPG (2010)
* European Union: 47 MPG (2012)
* Japan: 39.5 MPG (2015)
(etc)

In other words, even with Obama's accelerated automotive CO2 reductions, the U.S. remains on track to remain a laggard in terms of fuel efficiency. But I'm really proud of him for breaking from our legacy and at least taking the first step.
Monday, January 19th, 2009
8:18 pm
Now *that's* healthcare!
A week ago, I started hearing sounds in my right ear when I'd yawn, sigh, or otherwise. I didn't do anything about it, figuring it was a minor ear infection.

Since it was actually getting worse over the weekend, it was time to call a doctor. Except: I never picked a primary care physician, and despite stressing out something like 30+ minutes at work looking for a doctor, they were all booked.

So Microsoft has a 24-hour nurse healthcare hotline you can call to ask questions. The woman I spoke with was a nurse for over 30 years, and urged me to see a doctor within 24 hours (despite my not being able to find a doctor).

And it turns out Microsoft has a solution for this: they send an actual doctor to your house that evening. Seriously. No $1000 copay (actually, no copay period).

So he came and checked out my ear (it really is just fine, as originally expected). My understanding is that Microsoft actually doesn't just do things like this because it makes employees fanatically appreciative, but it actually makes good business sense: some number of people like me would otherwise panic and go to the emergency room, which would cost the company a small fortune. The home visits, as I understand it, essentially curtail unnecessary emergency room visits.
Sunday, January 11th, 2009
10:20 am
Compounding frugality
I save money by not driving to work; Microsoft provides a free bus pass to employees and contractors.

Furthermore, the City of Redmond (in partnership with MS) actually pays you in Amazon gift certificates to use it. So I racked up $150 in Amazon certs last fall and winter. I just used that money to buy a really nice Japanese slow cooker. It makes it possible to save *more* money by doing more homecooked food.

Perhaps there is such a thing as taking frugality to excess, but I haven't found it yet. ;-)
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
4:07 pm
Sunday, December 14th, 2008
10:21 am
"Stocks can't go lower" -- Nikkei 225 over the past 25 years
A few friends have mentioned that it's a great time to buy stocks because they "can't go any lower".

I wonder how people who bought seeming bargains in the Japanese market after it fell 50% from 1990-1992 (less than the Dow has fallen) feel now? Hint: the Nikkei 225 has fallen another 60% in those subsequent 18 years.

http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=%5EN225&t=my&l=off&z=l&q=l&c=
Thursday, November 27th, 2008
9:10 pm
Wow, iPhone data plan here I come.
I don't spend money without a good reason. In fact, I prefer to keep my budget to roughly my former grad school stipend of $1200/month (rent + food + transportation + everything), even though I am mysteriously paid significantly more than this. So I rarely buy stuff unless it's really valuable.

Having been using the iPhone 2.2's mass transit & walking features, I am so adding a $25/month data plan next month for my (unlocked) iPhone.

This software changes everything: Google Transit walking & bus directions are given equal status to driving directions. Mass transit for tens of millions of iPhone users is as simple as pressing a single button to see the bus directions for the destination you've already entered: your phone tells you where to board, and when to be there. No need to learn the "system model" of memorizing dozens of cryptic bus routes. No advance trip planning needed. And the phone already knows where you are.

I've also had times where I've gotten off buses early or late in the dark (since I couldn't tell where they were going, and thought I'd missed my stop -- actually I did that today, and had to walk an extra 20 minutes or so). It's a lot harder to do that if you can see the bus route superimposed onto a map with your destination -- I believe this is a feature no standalone GPS on the market has.

I still hate the time-wasting and often degrading experience of using American urban bus systems, and think American city governments are sorely misguided and narrow-minded for blowing billions of dollars a year to heavily subsidize our slow, expensive and polluting diesel bus systems rather than spending that money once to provide Americans with safe, cheap and equitable Dutch/Danish-styled infrastructure access through bicycles. But that's still culturally off the table in the U.S., where roads are mysteriously construed as automobile infrastructure with other users held as illegitimate.

Until then, this suddenly makes mass transit useful - or at least understandable. It wows me that something this useful for mass transit and walking-as-transportation came from two Silicon Valley companies (a region which is not exactly supportive of either activity. ;-)
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