"That you may ruminate"

Archive for December, 2008

…On Your New Year.

Posted by Steve on December 31, 2008

This coming year, 2009, may you experience all that is best in life.

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…On Victory.

Posted by Steve on December 31, 2008

We won! First time in my lifetime (actually, first time in my parents’ lifetime), Vandy won a bowl game. And we’ve now finished a season with a winning record.

Vandy, Vandy, oh hell yeah!

More to the point, we did it playing good team football. Zero penalties, zero turnovers. A rotating platoon of quarterbacks. Great special teams play and a stout defense. In other words, every right way to play and win a football game: as a team.

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…On “Happy Holidays.”

Posted by Steve on December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays, everyone. Seriously: hopefully you just had a good holiday, and hopefully you’re about to have a good coseasonal holiday.

Come again, you ask?

Well, there’s more than one holiday to the holiday season – just check the Christmas carol: “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Or check the things that happen while kids are off from school: Christmas, New Year’s. Hmm…

Now, I realize that people regard the use of “Happy Holidays” as a generic substitute for “Merry Christmas” based on the multiple holidays that go on this time of year and celebration of which is, to a degree of accuracy ranging from “correct” to “incorrect”, widely regarded as mutually exclusive with celebrating Christmas: חנוכה is one, Kwanzaa is another, Festivus is another, and as I recall from having a pair of Reclaiming roommates there’s some sort of Solstice thingy. And I know that some people are bothered by this supposed origin of the phrase “Happy Holidays”.

Well, I don’t think that interpretation makes sense, because if that’s all it were about, nobody’d say “Happy Holidays”, they’d say “Happy Holiday”. As in, “Whatever sole holiday you celebrate, have a happy one.” ‘Cause after all, nobody who celebrates Hannukah celebrates Christmas (I mean, besides my elementary school, and my family when I was a kid, and my Jewish Grandma), and nobody’s going to be celebrating both Kwanzaa and Christmas except for maybe the many people who are or were both Christian and AfricanAmerican. So, you know, the idea that people celebrate One And Only One holiday during December is a crock, but such is the perception, and apparently this perception’s led to the idea that people say “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid giving offense by misidentifying that One Winter Holiday when speaking to someone.

Here’s my thoughts on that: New Year’s is a holiday. New Year’s is very close to all those holidays. Everybody celebrates New Year’s – even if they really do only celebrate one holiday in December. Two holidays, minimum: New Year’s plus Whatever Else. Now, people are lazy. “Happy Holidays” covers any possible combination of (New Years)+(Something Else), without having to think about – or even learn about – any list of (Something Else). It’s five syllables, and with “good new year” taking up 3, it can only be bested by “good [monosyllabic holiday]” (by the way, if anyone knows of any monosyllabic names for holidays, I’d love to hear them – as far as I know, none exist). It’s easy. It’s great. It’s at least two holiday greetings for the effort of one.

And that, I assure you, is the real reason people say “Happy Holidays”.

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…On Background Checks.

Posted by Steve on December 20, 2008

The Google search results for my name have become interesting. The top result is my profile on Facebook (which I’ve had since back when Facebook was only available for students at a dozen universities, 5 or 6 years ago. It isn’t as good as it was two or three years ago.) The second is a ThatLead entry that correctly identifies my name and employer, and will presumably sell you my work contact info as part of a directory of sales leads. Of course, since that info’s freely available on my business card and the signature block of all my emails from work, and I don’t have any purchasing authority, I’d say that my contact info isn’t worth buying, but you know, more power to you if you want to pay for it anyway.

The other entries on the list start filling in little details of my life: the only blog comment I’ve left with my full name, the softball league page with my team’s roster, a few pages related to my short time in grad school and what I did there, Facebook pages for my friends, things like that. You could start to put together a decent picture of my life.

Or you could just click on link #4 and buy a background check on me for only $39.99.

Now, I’ve had background checks performed on me before. Twice when I applied for apartments, and at least once for employment. Or at least, I signed forms consenting to have the checks performed, I don’t know that they actually were done. Regardless, my guess is that it wasn’t from the Link #4 website, if those checks were in fact performed. That website seems kinda sketchy to me, and I’d like to think that whoever my apartment gets background checks from isn’t quite so linkfarmesque.

I’m not sure how I feel about them being available about me online to anyone, though, rather than just to specific people I’ve signed a form giving permission to gather them. Not severely worried, I guess, but still, privacy and anonymity are good. More than that, there’s people who have real and legitimate cause to want strict limits on the availability of information about them. I once knew a woman who worked in a domestic violence shelter, and she was quite adamant about keeping information about her out of phonebooks, off the internet, and out of people’s hands. No doubt her coworkers and their clients felt and acted the same.

Me, I just kinda worry about them being inaccurate. I’m half-tempted to buy a background check on myself, just to make sure there’s no mistakes in it. In principle, same as checking my credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com (the wholly-legit website run by the 3 credit bureaus and mandated by the Fair and Accurate Credit Reporting Act of 2003). After all, next time I move I don’t want the credit report my new apartment complex runs to tell them, say, that I was convicted of arson back in 1972 (I was not even born in 1972 – pretty sure both parents were virgins, actually – and I have never committed, let alone been convicted of, arson).

Of course, had I in fact been convicted of arson, a prospective landlord’s got the right to find that out. And if, say, I don’t pay my speeding ticket on time and a warrant goes out for my arrest or however that works, then in the event I get laid off and have to find a new job, prospective employers would have a right to find out about that (and accordingly decide to not hire me).

So, background checks. Useful, but I don’t like them being sold on the internet.

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…On Mentos.

Posted by Steve on December 18, 2008

While I can’t say that I’ve consumed enough Mentos products to have an opinion on them – or, for that matter, to have a firm understanding of whether they’re gum, breath mints, or just plain candy – I can say that (jingle aside) I like the consistent theme of their ads: with a pinch of audacity and a heaping of quick wits, you can get out of a jam by thinking of a clever solution.

Well, the other night (Tuesday) I was at a restaurant because I could get free food there. The waitresses were all wearing what I guess is best referred to as “Christmas Flair”. One had a reindeer-antler headband (Reindeers are actually domesticated Caribous), another had a snowman scarf on, etc. Well, one had apparently forgotten her flair that night. What did this clever woman do? She raided the restaurant’s decor, taking two small ornaments off of the Christmas tree and replacing her earrings with them. It made me smile.

And, it made me think of Mentos ads.

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…On Green Balls.

Posted by Steve on December 5, 2008

“Green” means “stay the hell put, dipshit.”

What, you were expecting perhaps “‘Green’ means ‘go'”? Well, it sort of does – but not necessarily.

Let’s consult our good friend, the MUTCD. That’s the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“2003 Edition with Revisions 1 and 2 Incorporated, dated December 2007” if you want to get specific about the current version). Pronounced… well, most people I think say “Emm-you-tea-see-dee”, but I always say “Mutt CD”… it’s the picture book that’s the starting point in any discussion of traffic control signs, pavement markings, traffic signals, barricades, those little posts with a reflector on them, etc. It is the starting point because federal law – specifically, 23 CFR Part 655.603 (based on 23 USC §109(d) and §402(a)) – says so. Specifically, the pertinent regulation states:

The MUTCD approved by the Federal Highway Administrator is the national standard for all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a). For the purpose of MUTCD applicability, open to public travel includes toll roads and
roads within shopping centers, parking lot areas, airports, sports arenas, and other similar business and/or recreation facilities that are privately owned but where the public is allowed to travel without access restrictions. Military bases and other gated properties where access is restricted and private highway-rail grade crossings are not included in this definition.

States are required to do one of three things: 1)Adopt the National MUTCD as the State MUTCD, 2)Adopt the National MUTCD with a State Supplement, or 3)Adopt a State MUTCD that is “in substantial conformance” with the National MUTCD. So, the FHWA’s MUTCD: it’s the standard for traffic control.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at what the MUTCD says about the green ball. For this, we must turn to Chapter 4D: Traffic Control Signal Features. And more specifically, Section 4D.04: Meaning of Vehicular Signal Indications and Section 4D.05: Application of Steady Signal Indications.

So… let’s take a read:

Section 4D.04 Meaning of Vehicular Signal Indications

The “Uniform Vehicle Code” (see Section 1A.11) is the primary source for the standards for the meaning of vehicular signal indications to both vehicle operators and pedestrians as set forth below, and the standards for the meaning of separate pedestrian signal indications as set forth in Section 4E.02.

The following meanings shall be given to highway traffic signal indications for vehicles and pedestrians:

1. Steady green signal indications shall have the following meanings:
1. Traffic, except pedestrians, facing a CIRCULAR GREEN signal indication is permitted to proceed straight through or turn right or left except as such movement is modified by lane-use signs, turn prohibition signs, lane markings, or roadway design. But vehicular traffic, including vehicles turning right or left, shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles, and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk, at the time such signal indication is exhibited.
2. Traffic, except pedestrians, facing a GREEN ARROW signal indication, shown alone or in combination with another signal indication, is permitted to cautiously enter the intersection only to make the movement indicated by such arrow, or such other movement as is permitted by other signal indications shown at the same time. Such vehicular traffic shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection.
3. Unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian signal head, pedestrians facing any green signal indication, except when the sole green signal indication is a turn arrow, are permitted to proceed across the roadway within any marked or unmarked crosswalk. The pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that the green signal indication is first shown.


C. A steady CIRCULAR GREEN signal indication shall be displayed only when it is intended to permit traffic to proceed in any direction that is lawful and practical.

Key, key element in 4D.05 Standard:C there (FYI each MUTCD Section is split into some combination of Standard, Guidance, Option, and Support. As my professor always explained them, “Shall, Should, May, and Why”): to permit traffic to go anywhere that’s legal and practical. So, even without an R10-7 “Do Not Block Intersection” sign… if you’re facing a green light but the receiving lane is full, then that green does not mean “go”, it means “stay the hell put, dipshit!” since there’s nowhere for you to go. The queue in the receiving lane means that the receiving lane isn’t a practical direction for you to go.

Let’s illustrate this concept!

What we have is Car 1 driving north. They have a green light, they can go! But wait: traffic’s backed up in the receiving lane, and the queue’s long enough that when Car 1 enters the intersection, they won’t be able to exit it – Car 2’s right there, blocking them! So, Car 1 will have to wait until all those cars in front of Car 2 move forward and Car 2 moves forward so that Car 1 can finally finish driving north across the intersection. If the phase changes and northbound goes red while eastbound and westbound traffic have a green, Car 3 won’t be able to go anywhere if Car 1 hasn’t cleared the intersection:


In the above image, Driver 1 has shown himself to be an asshole and has created gridlock. He entered the intersection knowing that he couldn’t get out, because Driver 2’s car was stopped there in front of him. Basically, he was hoping that 2 would be able to pull forward and he’d be able to clear the intersection before the signal changed. That was the wrong thing to do. What he should have done was wait at the stopbar until 2 pulled forward. If 2 pulled forward before the light changed, 1 would have been able to cross the intersection then, and the commutative property applies to “Wait, start crossing, finish crossing” and “Start crossing, wait, finish crossing” with regard to how long it takes 1 to get across the intersection – regardless of whether “for the light to turn green again” is part of the wait. However, if 2 was unable to move forward before the signal changed, 1 wouldn’t be blocking the intersection and screwing 3 over by “blocking the box” (the fine for which ranges at least to $200 in Virginia, and I’m told can go as high as $500 in Miami).

“Damn,” you might think, “That is obvious.” WRONG! At least, judging by the number of people I’ve seen block an intersection, it isn’t obvious. Then again, maybe it isn’t that people are too stupid to realize that… maybe they’re just too self-absorbed to care that they’re doing something incredibly rude and minorly illegal.

Either way, in my opinion it should be legal for 3 to t-bone 1 in that second picture.

Posted in Illustrated Posts, Transportation | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

…On Nardelli.

Posted by Steve on December 5, 2008

Every single time I’ve heard about the Big 3’s efforts to obtain a bailout, the newscast has included Robert Nardelli’s name. And every single time, I continue to wonder: after the hash he made of The Home Depot, how in the hell did Nardelli get hired at Chrysler… or anywhere, for that matter?

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