Monday, August 31, 2009

Say NO to blindspots

Here is a neat trick I learned from the book Traffic to get rid of blindspots:

While sitting in the driver's seat, lean your head against the driver's side window. Now adjust your mirror so that the edge of your sight barely touches your car. Lean right so that your head is between the driver's seat and the passenger seat and do the same thing for the passenger side mirror.

When you sit back upright, the mirrors will probably be facing further out than you are used to, but it should show cars in the side mirrors that you can't see in the rear-view mirror. This is all assuming you actually use the mirrors...


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Friday, August 28, 2009

A solution to congestion (you're not going to like it)

There is a solution to all that congestion. It's going to cost you find out what it is. From Traffic, (148):

Parking may be part of the problem of urban traffic congestion. Cars spend 95 percent of their time parked. One survey found that a third of cards entering lower Manhattan were headed to free or subsidized parking spots. If those spots were not free or subsidized, there would be fewer drivers during the morning rush hour. Ironically, near the Department of Transportation itself, the streets are filled with DOT vehicles bearing special parking permits.
When the city of Copenhagen was looking to reduce the number of cars entering the central city in favor of bicycles and other modes of transportation, it had a very crafty strategy: Get rid of parking, but without anyone noticing. From 1994 to 2005, Copenhagen cut parking spaces in the city center from 14,000 to 11,500, replacing the spaces with things like parks and bicycle lanes. Over that same time, not accidentally, bicycle traffic rose by some 40 percent - a third of people commuting to work now go by bike.

Much of the time when you are driving down congested downtown streets, many of the cars are looking for parking. Garages are around five times more expensive than street parking; therefore, many people cruise around causing congestion looking for cheaper spaces.

When Donald Shoup and his researchers tracked cars looking for parking near UCLA (they rode bikes, so other cars would not think they were looking for parking and throw off the results), they found that on an average day cars in one fifteen-block section drove some 3,600 miles - more than the width of the entire country - searching for a spot. One car stopped on a two-lane street creates a bottleneck that cuts traffic capacity in half.
Shoup's solution - charge more for parking on the street. Then people will use the garages rather than getting in my way. I like the idea most of the time - except when I am going to eat at Lulu's downtown and only want to park for an hour. Then I am one of those annoying people slowing everyone down, waiting for cars to move, and backing into a spot.

Here is a better solution - let everyone work from home at least two days a week. Stop making "time sitting at a desk" a performance review; start making results as what really counts. People can make results happen from all over the place, and often results happen the least in the cube. But more ranting on that later.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I've loved roundabouts from the time I started driving. They seemed to make sense because when you were at an intersection, many cars could be moving to their destinations whereas at a stop sign only one or two generally go at a time. Many people that I have known over the years don't like them, and some even fear them.

I finally feel vindicated (lately I have to derive some kind of pleasure even from the small things). The pictured roundabout from Laweiplein is a cool one that incorporates cyclists and pedestrians in a high volume area - and was incredibly effective.

From Traffic, (124):

"A properly designed roundabout can reduce delays by up to 65 percent over an intersection with traffic signals or stop signs. Sure, an individual driver who has a green light may fly through a signalized intersection much more quickly than through a roundabout. Roughly half the time, however, the light will not be green; and even if it is green there is often a rolling queue of vehicles just starting up from the previous red."


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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Winter Past

Search me now and see me gently
idle into that soft green meadow
where the spring breeze is whispering softly
to the lazy rows of lush grass weaving
of an elusive past; but now the meaning
this wake-up call is singing is of a time to grow.

Look inside at the water barely ripple
moving slowly towards the outlying earth
to encompass the pond while the minute movements trickle
in remembrance; but at the moment
it is enough to have your energy spent
in circling the water and measuring its girth.

Be still, my heart, in peace and tranquil ease;
but stir not that dark memory.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

Parental delegation

At the beginning of the week the kids were arguing and I was on their case about and we were all upset. We have spent a lot of time together this summer, much of it in close quarters and it is bound to happen. Overall, our kids get along very well. But it had been going on consistently lately and we had to do something about it.

I came up with my best parental solution of the summer (which may not be saying much) - the kids were all sent to one room and were not allowed to leave until they figured out a better solution.

It was pretty quiet the first thirty minutes. After that, I could hear some laughing. After about an hour, they came out and showed me their solution. It was very good.

They created a chart with their names on it. For each time that they are rude or are raising their voices, they get an X next to their name. When they get three Xs, they have to work for an hour or they lose screen privileges (computer, TV, video games). They had lines for each of them to sign their signature saying that they agreed to the stipulations.

The best part - it was a deterrent that they bought into. When they are caught using words that are not nice, they know and accept the result. It also doesn't punish every single mistake, but gives them a chance to see what is happening over time. It also keeps me from grumping at them every single time something happens, a standard parental response that really does very little to help train them in new behavior patterns.

I also signed off on the agreement. So far this week I'm doing pretty good - only one X.


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Friday, August 21, 2009

Cellphone driving coverup

Do you talk on your cellphone while driving?

It really is an interesting expectation that we can drive thousands of pounds of metal at speeds humans are not meant to go while distracted - and assume nothing will happen. But accidents do happen. The problem is that we do it once and nothing serious results so we take that to mean that nothing ever will. Near misses for some reason do not compute. But for the sake of myself and to be a model for my children, who are future drivers that are only a few years away from license (gulp!), I'm trying to wean myself from the phone while driving.

But it is so convenient. There are all those ten minutes here and twenty minutes there when I can have a conversation. Or when someone calls and it is easy to justify just chatting briefly. It really is hard to remember when we didn't have phones in our vehicles and somehow we managed to survive (as a teen driver, "survive" is probably the best grade that you could have given me even without the cellphone).

Here is an amazing fact about technology - people can leave messages. Or even if they don't, I still know who called and can call back again soon. If it is an emergency, I can pull over and make the call. So if you see me talking on the phone in the car, you have permission to give me a kick in the rear (after we've gotten out of the car).

What is amazing is that there may be a coverup on the risks. A study on the risks of driving with cellphones is being covered up reports the New York Times. Somehow money must be involved.


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Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Secret Garden

there are those quiet moments
in life, where time passes slowly,
that I can soak
in the beauty of a stroll
through a garden. You know
of my retreats where I take passage
in my secret gardens, those places
not so hidden:
the butterfly
eden, the hinterland
view, the encroaching

capture my thoughts
in those refreshing pauses
where I can gather myself;
a still moment of beauty
that is a joy, a drink
from a private and pure fountain.

“Dear lover and friend, you’re a secret garden, a private and pure fountain.” -- Song of Solomon 4:12


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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The road you are on

"Roads are what we make of them."

Those words struck me and I can't get them out of my head.

They come from the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (181) from a chapter in which he is describing a trip he took in Spain. One road he mistakenly took was through rural Spain that turned out to be "a climbing, twisting, broken-asphalt nightmare of blind hairpin turns." One of the few signs he saw said PELIGRO. How did he do? Just fine - because he took it incredibly slow and was intently focused on trying not to drive off the edge of a cliff. Later he was on a smooth, flat road with plenty of visibility and plenty of signage. What happened? He was so bored he started to fall asleep and almost ran off the road.

Actions like this are examples of the Peltzman Effect: the idea that when given warning signals or when provided with a safer environment, people tend to then offset the safety efforts by behaving in riskier ways.

We can be on a safe road and make it dangerous by our actions, or lack of them.

We can have a care-free day and fill it with worry. We can drive along with great company and fill it with silence. We can take a challenging road and grow with it, or avoid it all-together.

Our parenting, marriages, relationships, work, recreation, school, abilities, styles ... are what we make of them

Roads are what we make of them.


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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Sitting high, freedom calling;
gripping tight to earth-
bound chains.
Chest forward, ground rushing;
ripping wind over face
past blur of soft green.
Legs reaching, sky entreating;
falling to the smell
of sweet honeysuckle.


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Monday, August 17, 2009


As part of my desire to be some shape other than round, I'm trying to swim laps once or twice a week. I've been working on a new swimming technique and so far it has been fabulous. I'm getting the book from the library, but so far I can swim at least twice as far as I could previously and with much less effort.


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Friday, August 14, 2009

In some kind of shape

I've recently been working on my physical condition. Not too long ago I was running in place with my oldest son using the Wii Fit when he thought it was funny that he left me behind. I tried to make myself feel better by pointing out some flawed techniques with his running style.

My youngest son was emboldened by the spanking I received from his older sibling so the seven year-old challenged me to a race with the Fit. He totally dominated me. I resolved to get back into shape.

I started off by jogging around the track with my ten year-old daughter. Now, she is in great shape. She scampers up the climbing wall and plays year-round soccer on a cup team, the top level for our area. I like a pretty fast pace but I thought I would take it easy on her and stay with her so it could be a bonding thing. Turns out it was all I could do to keep up with her at her pace. She was always five steps ahead and looking back telling me to hurry up. After about a half a mile at her pace I knew I couldn't last much longer, so I thought I would be funny if I passed her. As soon as she saw me coming she took off and lapped me before I could finish.

My daughter and I went again earlier this week. This time I kept up with her for the first .75 of a mile run, and then she just took off. She kept going around until I finished, and on the last lap I was proud of myself because we sprinted to the finish line. While I was leaning over trying to catch my breath, she was adjusting her flipflops. I may need another month to keep up with her if she wears running shoes.


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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You are not special

I was watching The Incredibles (gotta love Pixar) with my daughter the other day while reading the book The Narcissism Epidemic at the same time.

I love the line from Buddy, the Incredibles' nemesis, when he talks about selling his technology to people so that when everyone is super, no one will be. Poor Buddy, his feelings were hurt when Mr. Incredible told him as a kid to fly home - he works alone. Basically Mr. Incredible didn't need help because he was bigger and stronger than anyone else - he was special.

It's a great movie where the family pulls together, the kids get to use their talents and skills (as long as they aren't sticking it to the other kids), and the good defeats the bad in the end.

So how did you feel when I told you in the title of this post that "you are not special"? I'm not sure that is the prevailing thought for most people, unless they have extremely low self-esteem. Haven't you ever had the thought that you are at least more important than that person? I know you think you are a better than average driver; I know that, because almost everyone thinks they are a better than average driver (more coming on this later). You've sized yourself up at some point, maybe while standing in line somewhere or in the midst of humanity, and thought, "I deserve better."

But isn't that what leads us to think that we deserve more than someone else? Isn't that when we decide that other people shouldn't live in our neighborhoods and shouldn't attend our schools, and ultimately it leads to the decision that some people don't deserve to live?

I know most of us haven't been going around wishing death on people, but it all stems from the same thought - I'm more special, I'm inherently more valuable. Maybe because you think you contribute more, or you value your skills more. This is what keeps me from becoming a materialist, from an all-in evolutionist (although Christians can certainly exhibit a "holier than thou" attitude). I don't believe that any one of us should decide that. It is what is at the bottom of most conflict - we both think we deserve it [whatever it is] more than the other person.

I like this quote from the Flobots' MC Jonny 5 (a.k.a. Jamie Laurie) about the song "Handlebars":

The song "is about the idea that we have so much incredible potential as human beings to be destructive or to be creative. And it's tragic to me that the appetite for military innovation is endless, but when it comes to taking on a project like ending world hunger, it's seen as outlandish. It's not treated with the same seriousness."

The book "Narcissism" (191) talks about this growing trend for people to act as if they are entitled and are special. Special means above average. You don't have to be a math genius to figure out that if everyone is special, no one is.

If you are a parent, you may not like their advice at first: the book talks about the problems of parents telling their children that they are special.

Now I know if you are a parent, and you love your kids, it doesn't quite feel right telling your children that they are just average. "Goodnight, Davey, goodnight, Matilda. Remember - you are just middling, undistinguished, unexceptional children!"

I know that they are special to you. Tell them that. Tell them that you love them. Tell them that they have unique personalities and wonderful gifts. But the authors believe that we may be raising socially destructive people if they grow up really believing that they are inherently better than others.

Every life has potential, and every life has value. It may not be realized at the moment, but maybe with the right community support and training, everyone can contribute, in different ways, and be a part of something bigger than themselves rather than themselves being the biggest concern.

You can be unique, you can have certain gifts that are above average. But even being too unique can cause problems for teens; those that see themselves that way don't have close friends and relationships, and are more apt to be depressed and face suicidal thoughts. We need a healthy dose of understanding our strengths and contributions that make us unique and realize our commonality and web of connections with others. Like a team of diverse people working together to do something special.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

What's different?

A few years ago my daughter Autumn and my son Jonathan were playing the game "What's Different?" In this game, one player turns around and the other changes something about their appearance. The other player then turns around and tries to guess the change. For example, maybe a button was undone or glasses were removed. After playing a few turns, Jonathan was having a hard time figuring out what was different with Autumn. Eventually he gave up. When he asked, she responded, "My name is Rico."

Sometimes change is pretty easy to see. When we show people pictures of our wedding day, the general comment is to Nancy, "Who was your first husband?" I looked very young; in fact, not long after we were married and owned our first house, someone knocked on the door. When I answered, the person asked if my mother was home. Today I have some grey hair which I choose to see as distinguished, weigh a little more, and can feel it more after a workout (when those actually happen).

Sometimes change is difficult to see. The changes that I want other people to see are not quite as evident as the wrinkles around my eyes. A year from now I want my kids to see a better parent, my wife to see a better husband, and I want to see myself as the person that I want to be.

Hopefully I won't be the same a year from now, with the only difference in that my name was changed to Rico.


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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Aspriations, squared

Vocational aspirations keep popping up, so let's keep chatting about it.

In the book The Narcissism Epidemic (93), the authors talk about how American cultural trends are pushing people towards more and more narcissistic behavior. If you are on the fence about this, just watch the first month of American Idol and watch thousands of people line up to get a shot at fame, 99.9% of which have little signing talent and will be given the boot. Or take a look at MySpace, or the people competing to have the most friends on FaceBook. Or go to the malls and shopping centers, asking people how much they spend on clothing a year. On cosmetics and surgeries. Or read the book on many more ways that we Americans try to say: "Look at me!"

In 2006, 51% of 18- to 25-year-olds said that "becoming famous" was an important goal of their generation - nearly five times as many as named "becoming more spiritual" as an important goal. The most popular answer was "being a celebrity." "Good looks" and "being rich" rounded out the top three, making for a perfectly narcissistic triumvirate.
Who is to blame?

The easy answer is the media, but I'm not buying (or trying not to buy it, literally). Media is just my fantasies played out because the media just feeds what we want. We have to take some kind of responsibility for our choices. I can't complain about the dire effects of fast food to my spouse while in the drive-thru at McDonald's. I can't complain about TV advertising with the TV on.

Another easy answer would be the government. While I think the government is pretty incompetent in many areas, if we don't like what is happening then all we have to do is elect someone else. It is up to us. Change 10 seats in the house and it would be a big swing in either direction and a statement. If we aren't happy about the current state of affairs, it's like looking at your reflection and saying, "You're not very good looking."

Well, my first answer has to be us parents. Not because we aren't telling the next generation any different, but because we aren't showing them any different. We aren't going against the growing trends, we aren't making the hard choices, we aren't living by different standards. There are many wonderful things happening in today's world, maybe we just need some more discriminating voices and actions to lead a grassroots movement.


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Cutters go to the back of the line

Let me guess something about you - you don't like it when people cut in line in front of you when they didn't wait their turn. Maybe it isn't just the line at the store or at the DMV or at the amusement park (have you ever just wanted to throw your cotton candy at them?), but it is also who gets the promotion, who gets the job interview, which of your peers is doing better, which students get the attention.

Tom Vanderbilt says that it is not only a phenomenon that happens as you watch cars go by to get to the front of the line while you patiently wait in the middle (from Traffic, 42):

What really seems to rankle us is seeing people get ahead. This is why, says Richard Larson, director of the Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world's leading authorities on queues, any number of companies - from banks to fast-food chains - have switched from systems in which multiple lines feed multiple servers to a single, serpentine line... Why? Social justice, says Larson. "If you have the single serpentine line, you're guaranteed first come, first served. If you have the multiple lines, you have what happens at McDonald's at lunchtime. You have the stress of joining a line with high likelihood that somebody who's joined a queue next to you will get served before you. People get really irritated with that."

If you can do something about it, maybe it is better to think about the system, or any system that you can do something about, and to figure out who needs to get what. How can we optimize it for everyone? After daydreaming about the proper punishment for those people, figure out what you can do about it in situations that really matter.


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Monday, August 03, 2009


So what do you want to do when you grow up?

When people would ask my oldest son Jonathan his vocational dream when he was four-years-old, he had an amazing occupational aspiration. Most kids want to be a fireman, or a policeman, or an astronaut. My son, when you asked him, would respond, "I want to be a chicken!" He would then proceed to run around waving his arms around and making squawking noises. Isn't it great to have high hopes! At least he could have said something cool like Barn Owl, something a little higher up on the food chain.

If you ask him now as an almost-teen, he's likely to tell you that he wants to play video games for a living. Articles like this one don't help my cause to limit his playing time.

So what is it that you want to be when you grow up? Is it what you are doing right now? Maybe reality has a little something to do with that, but is there any reason that you couldn't use some of your spare time to learn something along those lines, take some classes, join that organization, learn a new language, make new connections, etc?

You can. Maybe you might have to watch your time, a little less tv, a little more productivity, but you will feel better about life if you are swimming after a dream rather than just floating downstream.


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