Archive for April, 2007

Pittsburgh, Pierogies, and (Best) Places?

Much like Dave Barry, let me preface this entry with…I am not making this up….

Pittsburgh (#1) and Rochester (#6) have been voted the “Best Places to Live” by some hack journal – Places Rated Almanac (story here):

I can only assume that their weighting factors include such variables as

  • Number of sunless days
  • Percentage of population over age 80
  • Lack of diversity
  • Ability to buy a pierogi

Of particular note is the last time Pittsburgh was #1 was back in 1985 when that city was seriously tanking.  I guess the fact that they’ve won again can only mean its about to lose another 30% of it population…

Let me state for the record that I really like Pittsburgh, it has these major positives:

  • Its citizens are some of the friendliest, most helpful people in the US
  • Affordable housing relative to other major cities 
  • Some of the best schools (Carnegie Mellon, Pitt)
  • One of the best hospitals (UPMC)

But when it comes to weather, job opportunities, and diversity the ‘Burgh is somewhat lacking.  The Deer Hunter offered a pretty accurate depiction of Pittsburgh in the late 1970s and it hasn’t change much.  The heavy industry and smoke stacks are gone -they’ve been mostly replaced by office parks and shopping malls – but the general pall portrayed in the film still hangs over the city.

But who knows?  With the absurd rise in house prices in other urban areas, Pittsburgh could be once again back on the rise – best of luck to the Pittsburghers and can they pass me a pierogi?

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Government Inaction and the Google “Airbrush” Conspiracy

The threshhold for what exactly constitutes and rises to the level of “conspiracy” seems to be getting lower and lower.

Last week, the House Committee on Science and Technology, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee (yes, that is the real name) chairman Brad Miller, D-North Carolina accused Google of “airbrushing history”  He wrote (in an open letter to Google):

 “Google’s use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history.”

Now, the real scandal and conspiracy here involves the huge sums of money the government spends on acquiring and processing map data (satellite imagery, street/road maps, and other geospatially descriptive data).  If the government was doing its job, it would have provided a similar easy-to-use satelite imagery service to the public many years ago. 

The government has spent many 1000s of times more than even uber-rich Google ever could, yet let’s see the federal governments version of Google Maps – http://www.geodata.gov.  Huh?  What am I supposed to do with this site again?

Now one could argue that letting people see satellite pictures of their house is not necessarily a key mission of the federal government.  But how about providing satellite imagery for the national Defense?  Are they doing any better of a job here?

This guy doesn’t seem to this so:

“Google Earth’s major problem was not it’s ease-of-use, but the manner in which it showcased the shortcomings of the American NGA (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency).” 

If a national web map had followed the GPS model, firstly it would actually work and provide a valuable service and secondly there would be 2 levels of imagery available to everyone in the world: one for those with a National Defense (or verified commercial need) and one for the rest of us.

So by not providing these services, the government creates a commercial need which then actually imperils us all.  For proof of this, read “Terrorists ‘use Google maps to hit UK troops’

The “conspiracy” has been abated by the way, Google has buckled under Congression pressure and restored the post-Katrina imagery.  Wow, that was a lot quicker and easier than getting the government to do its job – can we outsource all of the other government functions to Google as well? 

Seussologic Dendrology

I was corrected by someone with more knowledge of Seussology than myself that in my Joshua Tree post I appeared to have mixed up the Truffle and Tuttle -Tuttle Trees from Seusslore. 

The tree should have been identified as matching the shape of a Tuttle-Tuttle tree (as in “Ten Tired Turtles in a Tuttle-Tuttle Tree,” from Dr. Seuss’s ABC Book) instead of the Lorax Truffle tree.  Seen here thanks to the wonder of public domain images.  But wait, it gets worse, because in the Lorax, it is actually called a Truffula Tree.

Big T..Little t…What begins with T?  Tripping Tensile Tonsils on Tricky Tuttle-Tuttle, Truffle, and Truffula Trees.

The Most Painful Toy and Pencil-Lead Cookies

Kissing kids goodnight in the dark can be a perilous activity indeed.  Kids’ Rooms’ floors are often strewn with all sorts of spiked toys and other implements of parental torture.  These synthetic artifacts – primarily from McDonald’s Corporation and overly affectionate grandparents – are played with for the requisite 5 minutes and then promptly cast aside to serve as perfect parental land mines.  

This is particularly true with overly permissive parents like myself.  I am little better at setting an example for and raising my own kids than your average house-trained pet.  That is, I know where I should eat and go to the bathroom, but other subtleties of hygiene and normal social living somehow escape me. 

So after many years of this goodnight-kissing activity, I think I have “stumbled” upon one of the more painful things to step on – a Thomas the Tank Engine Matchbox Car.  I don’t exactly know why this is true – a fortuitous combination of size, density, and prickliness perhaps – but it is so.

Speaking of cabon-based child units, while baking (i.e. accidentally burning) some cookies for my kids the other day, my youngest daughter informed me that these {burnt cookies} “taste exactly like pencil lead” – and I felt quite sure that she knows quite precisely from personal experience exactly what pencil lead tastes like.

I imagined my youngest daughter going about her day and exploring her world – grabbing and sampling everything in sight: pencils? how do they taste? bad – got to remember that one – chapstick? tastes great – but don’t put it on the dogs’ lips though they “just lick it off” (another recent direct quote). 

Far from being repelled – I was envious.  God, I wish I still had that spirit of curiosity and adventure.  By the way, this keyboard and monitor tastes horrible – but the mouse wheel is not bad…

Blue Tongue Never use Magic Marker as Lipstick

Disclaimer: Don’t Read this Email

Quite a few years ago, I noticed I started seeing legal disclaimers everywhere.  Software licenses that were larger than novellas, product users manuals that contained more legalese than actual product information, and then curious email disclaimer attachments that were many times longer than the emails themselves.

For some odd reason, the concept of email disclaimers seemed somehow especially ridiculous – even by the already warped standards of the modern office space.  That someone would send me something I didn’t request and then establish many conditions for using this information.  It all seemed rather OfficeSpace-esque to me.  Perhaps along with the disclaimer the email trailer could ask: “Is this good for the company?”

Good for the company?

It is refreshingly honest that even a website set up to promulgate this memeEmailDisclaimers.com admits “The disclaimers added to the end of emails are not legally binding.” 

Huh? A legal disclaimer that has no legal basis?  What purpose could it possibly serve then?   Increase your required network bandwidth?  Act as a minor legal speed-bump?  Make your company sound letigious? 

I liked some of the disclaimers so much I figured I get into the act and attach my own silly one (with language actually borrowed from a typical software license) to the bottom on my emails.  Here is the one I used:

TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED ON AN “AS IS” BASIS AND THE AUTHOR DISCLAIMS ALL OTHER WARRANTIES AND CONDITIONS, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, CONFORMANCE WITH DESCRIPTION, TITLE AND NON-INFRINGEMENT OF THIRD PARTY RIGHTS TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHOR BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES OR LOST PROFITS WHATSOEVER (INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF BUSINESS PROFITS, BUSINESS INTERRUPTION, LOSS OF BUSINESS INFORMATION, OR ANY OTHER PECUNIARY LOSS) ARISING OUT OF THE USE OR INABILITY TO USE THE EMAIL PRODUCT , EVEN IF THE AUTHOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. IN ANY CASE, THE AUTHOR´S CUMULATIVE AND ENTIRE LIABILITY TO YOU OR ANY OTHER PARTY FOR ANY LOSS OR DAMAGES RESULTING FROM ANY CLAIMS, DEMANDS OR ACTIONS ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT SHALL NOT EXCEED THE PURCHASE PRICE.

I tried using this disclaimer signature – but people must have thought it was serious and no one questioned it or saw any humor or irony in it – or maybe they just thought they’d get sued if they replied.

But just to show that this in not merely a US phenomenon, Jeffrey Goldberg from the UK lists various incarnations of these he’s seen at UK companies.

I liked Jeffrey’s stance that it is quite fine for a company to say: “this email is the opinion of the author and not the company” but that other disclaimers serve little purpose.  Especially since companies don’t attach similar disclaimers to non-electronic, paper mailings. 

Another, better approach might be to simply provide a web link to whatever litigious language/contract/”Terms of Use” a company wants to promulgate and force on people.

Information is a corporate tool that can cut both ways – how does a company allow its employees unfiltered communication with the outside world yet shield itself from the consequences?  Sorry, but email disclaimers are probably not the easy answer to this very difficult and complex question.

In the Garden of the Gods with the Truffle-Truffle Trees

Probably the biggest (and only) role of government could be summed up as this: “Keep the big guys from stepping on little guys.”  This often means that we have to protect the public from itself.  For instance in the case of public parks, we need to keep people who want to enjoy nature and open spaces from people who need to use these spaces for commercial interests so they can have a job. 

Nowhere is this role better demonstrated and fulfilled than in the U.S. National Park Service.  Founded by President Teddy Roosevelt (even though you can barely tell by the poor coverage of this topic on their website), the National Park Service is government at its best.  One might argue that we could do without Big Bird and the Rural Electric Association, but managed open space in the form of national parks truly benefits all.

Boulder Beach

I got to enjoy a slice of this reserved open space on a recent trip to the high desert Joshua Tree National Park.  It is good (and should be a prerequisite) that as you drive to this park from LA that you see every available hill and mountaintop capped with multi-million dollar mansions.  It makes you appreciate this open space all the more and you quickly realize what might have happened without government intervention.

Truffle Truffle Tree

The park is best know for its desert landscape (the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet in the park), huge rockpiles, and, of course, the Joshua Tree.  The park’s namesake, the Joshua Tree, reportedly got its name from the Mormon immigrants who thought it looked like the Biblical Joshua beckoning their people from the desert to the promised land.

In describing these fantastic trees, even the normally reserved Park Service is forced to write something interesting. As Jane Rodgers does in her article (published on the web and in the literature given to visitors) “I Speak for the Trees” in which she compares them to trees from Dr. Seuss books and describes their history – oddly enough starting out as humble lilies.  Just as all living things are dependent and connected, the Joshua tree depends on the Yucca moth for pollination.  And the Yucca moth on the Joshua for seeds for its developing young -a simple and perfect example of symbiosis. 

Adapting and flourishing in one of the harshest environments in the United States, these trees are a fitting symbol for rugged American Indians and early pioneers: rugged, tough, adaptive, and utterly unique. 

Joshua Looks into the Valley