Inside Tom's Head - August 2021
21 Sep 2021
I spent a good bit of August on vacation, which was nice. I also got a new phone, switching from my trusty Sony XZ1 Compact to an iPhone 12 Mini. The transition has eaten up a lot of time (because instead of just using the migration tool I wanted to see what I actually needed and use the transition as a way of cutting some digital clutter), but I’m pretty happy with my new auxiliary brain.
In more important news, my kid had his second pandemic birthday, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little frustrated by people being unwilling to vaccinate, contributing to much higher case rates than we had at this time last year (by a factor of 10). So even though my partner and I are fully vaccinated, no party or friends over for him. We made the most of it though, with vegan sushi and a birthday present scavenger hunt, and he had a good birthday.
Work continued to be tough in August, and I’ve been feeling rung out, which means that I haven’t had a lot of oomph to put in much work on this blog. The good news is that I’ll be starting a new job in a week and a half here and think that I’ll be much happier there. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading online:
- The Key to Slowing Traffic is Street Design, Not Speed Limits. I have to wonder how much of the danger posed by teens driving is due to them trying to follow the speed limits even when that is at odds with the speed that feels right on a given road. Put another way, if the posted speed differs from the design speed, that seems like it would create conflict as drivers are essentially following two different sets of rules. When we teach people how to drive, we teach them to follow the speed limits, so it might follow that newer drivers (teens) are behaving very differently from experienced drivers (who are probably more likely to be driving at the road’s design speed) as a result. That being said, I’m guessing that it would be a relatively small contributor to teen driving safety, probably dwarfed by reduced impulse control, the desire to impress peers, and general inexperience.
- The Olympia Police Department has said that the new laws around use of force mean that they can’t respond to calls where an actual crime isn’t being committed. Fortunately, the Attorney General’s Office disagrees, saying: “Nothing in the statute’s plain language indicates that specifying permissible uses of force prohibits an officer from responding to community caretaking calls.”
- This feels like old news now, but seeing the calculations of the R0 values of the delta variant definitely got my attention.
- A story about a city that had parking problems downtown and chose to spend $75,000 for a year of valet parking instead of building a $12,000,000 parking garage. This is really cool in the short run, but probably works out in the long run too, once you factor in operations and maintenance cost for the garage, lost tax revenue from having a garage instead of something like housing or retail on the same lot, and possibly increased tax revenue from downtown businesses if valet parking makes going downtown more desirable (and increases property values as a result).
- Farmers have started using hybrid rye to deal with some ‘superweeds’. This is really cool. The weird thing to me is that one of the things holding it back is that the market for rye is pretty small. Given that it can be used as animal feed, I interpret that as meaning that it has trouble competing with subsidized corn, which seems like an eminently solvable problem.
- A community on Vancouver Island (BC) is considering phasing out gas stations. In essence, they are talking about changing their zoning codes to prevent the installation of more gas pumps, even at existing stations. This may sound a bit extreme, but if Comox Valley is much like every other community that I’ve lived in or visited, there are plenty of gas stations (and it sure looks that way on Google Maps). Strong Towns makes a good argument that we have already built enough roads (and in fact that we can’t afford to maintain the roads that we already have) and many of the same arguments apply to gas stations. Given the tendency of gas stations to turn into petroleum brownfields and the fact that we really need to be moving away from petroleum as fast as possible, is building new gas stations really a responsible thing to be doing?
- A pretty compelling argument that the IRS should make it’s own free tax filing system/service. Of course, I’m probably not the target audience for this article, I’m already on board with the IRS automatically filling out your tax forms since, you know, they already have all of the information that you are sending them.
- If you think that machine learning is going to fix everything, Cory Doctorow has some bad news for you.
- Portland City Hall is definitely making it look like they are okay with violence in their community. I can’t help but to contrast this with the state response to the George Floyd protests last year.
- Mushroom ketchup?!. From that recipe, follow the link for cucumber ketchup for a brief history of the condiment. Fascinating.
Books, Movies, Video Games, etc.
- I read Mine! by Michael Heller and James Salzman, which is a book by a couple of really enthusiastic law professors about ownership and ownership design. It had a definite Freakonomics vibe to it, exploring the normally unnoticed underpinnings of everyday life. I listened to it, and the audiobook was excellent, but I also kind of want to get the physical book so that I can read through all of the footnotes/endnotes. In particular, the argument that if the Irish had been allowed to use primogeniture the Irish potato famine might not have happened seems fascinating. I’d recommend this book for just about everyone.
- Some might criticize Jungle Cruise (Disney+) as just being a big dumb adventure movie, and while I agree that it isn’t highbrow by any stretch, it’s more than just a treasure hunt and has some heart besides. In any case, it was a ton of fun, and you should watch it if given the chance.
- I was distinctly ambivalent about Cruella when it first came out. I didn’t like 101 Dalmatians as a kid and the trailer didn’t give me any sense of what it was about. But, between my partner wanting to watch it and it being free on Disney+ (as opposed to the $30 premium access tier), we watched it. And I loved it. It was fun, incisive, had good music, and was a movie about women’s fashion without being exploitative (the fashion was about style, not sexiness). I think of it as kind of a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and The Count of Monte Cristo.
- My new phone came with a free 3-month subscription to Apple Arcade. I had initially disliked the idea of a subscription-based gaming platform, but I was clearly in the wrong. I don’t play a whole lot of video games, so paying $60/year to play any game (on the service) I want is actually kind of a good deal since one top tier game will run you about $60. I’ve played a few things that I’ve enjoyed, such as Cat Quest II (I’ll write more about this later) and Super Impossible Road, but by far my favorite has been Fantasian. It’s by one of the creators of the Final Fantasy series, and it feels like Final Fantasy with the governors removed. I haven’t finished it yet, but the first half of the game feels super accessible with some wonderful quality of life improvements for seasoned gamers, the second half leans in to the puzzle aspects of RPGs and is hard. I probably have another ~20-30 hours before I beat it, so I’ll probably follow up about it then. Also, even if you aren’t going to play, follow that link and look at process of making the game, all of the physical areas in it are actually dioramas, the game is gorgeous.