Monday, July 15, 2013



Washington, D.C., has the fourth-highest rents in the nation, according to a new survey by ApartmentList.com. Crap.

The median apartment rent in D.C. is $2,699 a month, more than double the national average. Rents range from $1,675 a month for a studio to $3,110 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

San Francisco is the most expensive apartment rental market, with a median monthly rent of $3,396. New York City was second, with a median monthly rent of $3,344. Boston is the only other city with higher rents than Washington, with a median monthly rent of $3,190.

Los Angeles; San Jose, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; Miami; Seattle; and San Diego round out the list of the top 10 most expensive apartment rental markets.

Crud.

Welcome to the future!

July 15, 1983: Ninetnedo released the Nintendo Entertainment System Family Computer, or FamiCom. The Famicom featured a top-loading cartridge slot (the black device on top in this image), and a 15-pin expansion port on the unit's front panel for accessories (controllers were hard-wired to the back of the console). A peripheral Family Computer Disk System (FDS) sat beneath it (that's the large red boxy thing in this image), which contained proprietary, 2", single-sided floppy disks. The disks had a total capacity of 112 KB.

The system had an 8-bit microprocessor which ran Binary, and had 2 KB of RAM and 32 KB of ROM. Most game cartridges had an additional 16 KB of RAM as well (of which about half was SRAM).

Sunday, July 14, 2013



Elmer Bernstein, born in New York City in 1922, was a precocious artist in music, art, and dance who studied at Julliard. He became a concert pianist, but with the encouragement of Aaron Copland he studied composing. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and his film composing career began to take off in 1949. But his leftist politics left him blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Bernard Hermann recommended him to Cecil B. DeMille in 1956 to score The Ten Commandments (replacing the ailing Victor Young). His jazz score for The Man With the Golden Arm the same year earned him his first Oscar nomination.

His career skyrocketed with his 1959 score for The Magnificent Seven -- John Sturges' remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. Sturges declined to hire Dimitri Tiomkin, whom he had worked with before and who was the acknowledged master of Western film scores. Bernstein eschewed a sung ballad (a Tiomkin trope) in favor of a sweeping symphonic score because he felt it fit better with the film's episodic nature.

The opening contains boldly syncopated chords, whle the theme itself is a series of rising fifths over a hard-driving accompaniment. The theme is often played up-tempo, in comparison to the slow riding or walking which is seen visually on screen. During the film's quieter moments, Bernstein replaces the symphony with guitar, to evoke nights in the Old West.

The theme for The Magnificent Seven is purposefully pushed to the forefront of the picture, often substituting for visuals as the emotional driver of the film. This is a conscious choice by director and composer, and makes the music an integral part of the picture in ways most directors never imagine.

At the 33rd Academy Awards in April 1960, the music was nominated for Best Score. It lost to losing to Ernest Gold's score for Exodus. (Also up that year: Dimitri Tiomkin's The Alamo, Andre Previn's Elmer Gantry, and Alex North's Spartacus.)

Oddly, the soundtrack was not released at the time of the film. A revised soundtrack was issued in 1966 for the sequel film Return of the Seven. The original soundtrack was not released until 1998!



I find that the Internet can be immensely alienating. We learn about terrible things happening in places far away -- say, the Trayvon Martin case. And then things don't turn out the way we want in that case, and we get upset about it.

But we get alienated, too. We don't live there, cannot change the political system there, and must remain passive about it.

That's alienating. We become less and less trustful of the political system, because we are more and more alienated from it.

My sense is that we can overcome this alienation -- but it takes LOCAL action. That is, if we are concerned about racial issues, we need to take action in our own local, imperfect community to overcome racism and discrimination. If we don't like the Keystone Pipeline, we need to take local action to ensure that our own local rivers are safe and free of pollutants. If we dislike homophobia, we need to find ways to wipe it out locally.

Often, people throw their hands in the air at such a suggestion. "What can I do to change any of that?" But that's the alienation talking. (After all, if you can't change things locally, how in the world do you expect to change them in Florida, Nebraska, or Uganda?)

We need to understand that change does not come quickly. Thurgood Marshall spent nearly half a century fighting to change racism in education -- and only won a single, important, opening battle. Harry Hay did not form the Mattachine Society of Washington with the goal of seeing change within a year or two... or even a decade. Or two decades.

But change comes.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Big story in today's Washington Post about how Metro train operators have been turning off the emergency intercoms on the trains. After 9/11, it turned out that Metro trains had radios that didn't work underground. It took WMATA a decade to find and begin installing new radios. But now it seems that those radios interact with the emergency intercoms on the 10000 Series rail cars (the oldest and least safe cars). The feedback whine is so bad, an unspecified number of train operators have turned off the intercoms.

Metro believes the number of disabled intercoms is low, but doesn't really know.

Worse, Metro was aware of the problem in 2009 -- and did nothing to solve it. It did learn that the feedback was lower if the 1000 series cars were not immediately behind the lead cars, and has tried to put them further back. But it still hasn't gotten that right, by its own admission.



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When a problem is identified, no one really expects a solution immediately. Complex problems require complex solutions, more often than not. Even when the problem affects safety, and is critical, one expects public acknowledgement of the issue -- and the application of resources to fix it as fast as possible. But still, immediate solutions may not be possible.

But Metro seems unwilling to acknowledge safety problems publicly, seems unwilling to apply resources to critical issues, and seems unable to solve any problem until there is a crisis. Crisis refocuses the organization's resources, and nothing else seems to. Why? Where is the organizational flexibility? Why is WMATA so rigid and unyielding?

Thursday, July 11, 2013


DC Streetcar is going to release the results of its environmental impact study at a meeting to be held July 16 from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the Savoy Elementary School, 2400 Shannon Place SE. (This is a half-block northeast of the Anacostia Metro station.)

A construction completion timeline will be announced. The study results will include analyses of noise, traffic impacts, and what construction disruptions area residents can predict.

Anacostia was supposed to have the very first streetcar line, as Wards 7 and 8 are the most transit-dependent of any areas in the city. Only one in eight residents of Ward 8 has a vehicle... However, the line was largely canceled after several setbacks: 1) The city discovered it could not use the CSX railroad tracks because CSX did not own the right-of-way; 2) Residents howled about streetcars moving up narrow Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.; and 3) Major changes to the St. Elizabeths campus redevelopment left the streetcar line attached to nothing.

Today, DC Streetcar plans two lines in the area:

  • The Anacostia Initial Line Segment -- This is a 1.1-mile line connecting Anacostia Metro Station with Bolling AFB via Firth Sterling Avenue and South Capitol Street. It is designed to get Virginia commuters from the Metro station to the military base. It is not designed for local citizen use. The Initial Line includes a testing segment so that streetcars can be put to use on other lines. (In other words, streetcars get tested here, but serve citizens in richer parts of the city.)

  • The Anacostia Extension -- This is a line of undetermined length intended for an area bounded roughly by 16th Street south to Wilkinson Rec Center, west along Pomeroy Road to Suitland Parkway, the St. E's northern border from Suitland Parkway to I-295, and I-295 northeast to 16th Street again. (The area used to extend in an inverted V-shape to include the East St. E's campus and the Douglass neighborhood, so that the line could connect with the Congress Heights Metro station. It no longer does so. It also used to carry the streetcar over the new 11th Street Bridges to link with a proposed streetcar running along 8th Street SE from Navy Yard to H Street. It no longer does so.) No streetcar is expected to reach into "far Ward 8" -- that is, anything south of Suitland Parkway and the St. E's campuses (which so far have no Metro, no streetcar, and almost no bus lines).