The Miracle of Minneapolis – The Atlantic

I found The Miracle of Minneapolis at The Atlantic fascinating, and not just because I am fond of the Twin Cities after coming of age there. I’m far from an expert on urban planning but I’m interested in the problems associated with cities, including the social, economic, educational, and quality of life issues. The Twin Cities do suffer from the climate, but truthfully you adapt and the cold weather just isn’t that much of a burden for most folks. I had never heard of the story about the destruction and rebuilding of the St. Anthony Falls and was unaware of the redistributive tax policies that have succeeded in being the tide that raises all boats. It’s a nice example of how to transcend partisan theoretical arguments in order to accomplish something.

What grabbed me most, though, was the blurb at the end about Seoul’s importation of some of these tax policies. When I was doing visas, I saw several applicants employed by the state or city who were applying for professional visas to study and learn about urban planning in the U.S. I enjoy visa work in part because I know what an impact it can have on people lives, and I confess it was thrilling to see the effects of our nation’s visa policies working this way too.

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▶ History vs. Christopher Columbus

Chris Columbus and Columbus Day have risen in public consciousness since the first time I saw anti-Columbus graffiti as an undergraduate. I fall enough into the “don’t just history by modern standards” camp that I’m not ready to pick up a pitchfork against CC just yet but I also absolutely believe that we need to be aware of what he accomplished and the impact of his history on the world, both good and bad. The following video does a great job of hitting both sides of this discussion with a pretty common sense perspective. And then there’s the argument for Bartolomé as well. I don’t know if the shining light on Bartlomé de las Casa is deserved or not, but it’s nice to think so.

 

2013 Books read list

Sheesh, I’m way behind on this. Here’s a list of the books I read last year.

  1. Columbine:  Excellent look at the student attacks on the Columbine  High School. Non-prejudicial writing examines the perpetrators and discusses the aftermath with the benefit of time and distance. Includes discussion of the investigation into the attack as well as some of the hyperbole, myth, and misinformation about what happened on that day and why. Highly Recommended
  2. No Easy Day: The insider account of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.  Great writing about the assault itself but the first half of the book covers the authors’ life as a SEAL and isn’t nearly as well written.  See Lone Survivor for a much better discussion of the entrance process and life as a SEAL narrative.  Recommended for the account of the raid on OBL.
  3. The Unthinkable: Well written look at the human response to disasters and emergencies. Thought provoking in a reflective way and likely to inspire readers to consider their own response to such situations.  Interesting in both its look at human nature as well as the impact it has on one’s own  emergency preparedness.
  4. Second & Third Shift (Wool Prequel): Books two and three of the Wool prequel trilogy.  Fun stuff.  If you haven’t read Wool, do so! Then read these.
  5. The Godfather: A classic that I’d always wanted to read and finally picked it off the shelf.  Good story. One of the last physical books I’ve read.
  6. War -Sebastian Junger: Junger’s account of life in a remote FOB in Afghanistan. Powerfully written, an excellent account of what its like to live, fight, and die in these places.  See also Tim Hetherington’s photo book “Infidel” and the documentary “Restrepo”. These three media accounts cover the same topic at the same time and pack a powerful punch. All are highly recommended.  Note: Hetherington was killed while covering the war in Libya in 2011.
  7. Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet: Interesting look at the physical structure of the internet. The author travels the world to physically visit the data exchanges, witness the landing of undersea fiber optic cables, and explore the literal tubes under the streets that carry the data we’ve all come to depend on.  Interesting in a geeky way and recommended.
  8. The Greatest Game Every Played: One of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a true golf story of an old U.S. Open match and the local amateur who competed against the titans of the golf world but even non-golfers would find it an amazing and enjoyable story. I’m not afraid to reveal that it brought tears to my eyes. Highly recommended.
  9. Pirate Cinema: Cory Doctorow’s fiction tale examining the impact of restrictive corporate copyright control on the media (music and movies, primarily) of our social lives. It’s a pretty obvious diatribe against current political trends towards increasing copyright controls but its fairly readable and enjoyable.
  10. Bloodbrothers: An early Richard Price novel but no less awesome for it.  A story about young men coming of age. It isn’t the content of Price’s novels that are so compelling, it’s the quality with which he ushers us into the world of the characters. He’s easily the best writer I know of.
  11. A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Sci-fi Classic that I’ve been intending to read for year. Finally got around to it. Worth it for that old-school, fear-of-nuclear-annhilation feel that it has.
  12. Old Man’s War: Future Earth gives you the option to join the military at the end of your life. Nothing is known what happens after you join except that you never come back to earth and no one ever hears from you again. Well written, fun story. Recommended.
  13. America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy: Decent book looking at the work of the Foreign Service. Especially recommended for family members and friends who may be interested in what kind of work Foreign Service Officers and Specialists do.
  14. Good Intentions – Elliott Kay:  I guess this genre is called “urban fantasy”. Rather readable story about an every day guy who gets mixed up with some demons and angels. Decent story but mostly reads like a geek fantasy: nice but under appreciated guy ends up with multiple beautiful girlfriends who love having mind-blowing sex (and don’t mind that he has multiple girlfriends), friends who fight for him, and he ends up saving the world.
  15. The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2): More from the Old Man’s War series, looking at the special forces. Good stuff
  16. SuperFreakonomics:  More good stuff from the Freakonomics guys. If you like Freakonomics, be sure to check out their podcast.
  17. The Mike Murphy Files (and other Stories): I got this as part of a StoryBundle. Gritty noir-style writing. Fun.
  18. The Walk up Nameless Ridge (short story): Good short story by Hugh Howey, author of Wool.
  19. Spin – Robert Charles Wilson: I think I got this via StoryBundle as well.  Reminded me a bit of Oryx & Crake. Enjoyable.
  20. I, Zombie – Hugh Howey, short story: I like zombie stories but am not a rabid fan or anything. Would say that this is fantastic, written from the zombie viewpoint. It’s actually the view of the people who end up conscious and aware but utterly incapable of controlling the zombie body or communicating with the outside world. Horrifyingly awesome. As good as World War Z.
  21. The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How we Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves: I was disappointed in this.  Check out my review on GoodReads. Reading that review now, I didn’t realize how much I guess I hated this book.
  22. Wool Omnibus (re-read): I re-read Wool and the Prequel trilogy before diving into the final book.
  23. First-Third Shift (Wool Prequel: Re-read)
  24. Dust (Silo #3): The final chapters of the Silo saga. I know some where disappointed with this finale (“underwhelming” is a word I heard frequently) but I thought it was well executed. People complained about the finale of Breaking Bad too.
  25. The Remaining: Enjoyable series examining the collapse of society in a zombie breakout. Looking forward to Book 5 this year, which might be the last book planned.
  26. The Remaining: Aftermath
  27. The Remaining: Refugees
  28. The Remaining: Fractured
  29. One Second After: Fiction but based on official analysis of the aftermath of an atmospheric nuclear explosion that destroys the entire electrical system (electricity and all machines that use it in any fashion). Good read but a bit polemical and you can feel the author is trying to make the point that we need to ramp up our national posture to ensure that such events never happen. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t make efforts to protect from such calamities but it’s a bit Cassandra-ish.
  30. Indian Creek Chronicles – Pete Fromm: Great story recommended by dad about a guy’s winter spent in Montana protecting salmon eggs. He signed up for the job without any preparation or even awareness of what he was getting into.  A great coming of age tale with some pretty neat tales. Highly Recommended.
  31. The Last Colony (Old Man’s War #3): More of the Old Man’s War series. Perhaps not as good as the first two but still enjoyable. If you like the first ones, these are worth reading.
  32. Zoe’s Tale (Old Man’s War #4)
  33. The Human Division (Old Man’s War #5)

 

 

On the American failure to keep pace with the world: Broadband

This article examining the failure of American telecommunication companies to provide better service in exchange for greater control really nails the situation. The United States is a very pro-business economy with pro-business political ideologies influenced by pro-business lobbyists support by pro-business funding.  The notion of “public good” isn’t valued or applied as a legislative metric as much as in the past, and even when it is considered, the prevailing pro-business ideologies posit that market solutions will provide public goods better than any other alternative.  This is a theoretical fact but fails in the real-world because public goods are market externalities rather than the currency (i.e. markets are not designed to maximize public goods, even though they’d be very good at it if they were).

The authors of the article point out why the U.S. has fallen behind in the development of telecommunications infrastructure and it all comes down to the hands-off regulatory attitudes driving legislative priorities. I’m not advocating for or against either of these positions here. I just thought it was a well written piece that explains a lot. We seem to spend too much time in theoretical arguments of political decisions. This article examines the actual results of a regulatory approach. It’s up to us to decide if it is an approach worth keeping.

10 Easy Things That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

10 Easy Things That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science – The Mind Unleashed.  I don’t really know what else to add to this succinct description except that this stuff really isn’t hard to do and likely has real effects on quality of life.

Fascinating – and disturbing – look at the cosmetic surgery craze in South Korea

The K-Pop Plastic Surgery Obsession – Zara Stone – The Atlantic.

I wanted this job in part to get the Eminent Child out of Japan and give her a wider breadth of cultural experiences as part of her natural growth, development, and education.  We are thrilled to be going to South Korea, of course, and articles like this don’t concern me in as much as the effect it will have on her.  But I can’t imaging raising daughters in that kind of social environment.

Disappointed (a rant about the way things are)

I’ve been in DC for about 2 weeks now and I’ve been hit a couple times with situations that caused an internal rolling of the eyes at the petty and annoying ways that business is run these days. The first is the draconian attention to one’s age when purchasing alcohol. We’ve got huge problems with alcohol in this country, with 1/3 of our road deaths caused by drunk driving not to mention the domestic abuse, health issues, and lost productivity due to alcohol abuse. But those problems aren’t what we focus on. We are instead extremely concerned that young adults (legally eligible for every right and benefit our states and nation provides as well as full accountability under our laws) might gain access to alcohol in those precious 3 years between legal adulthood and the age of 21. It’s a overcompensation for an embarrassingly paternalistic policy that doesn’t pass the “land of the free” test in my opinion.

The drinking age policy aside, I don’t understand why we legislate punishments for those who sell the alcoholic beverages. Everyone knows the rule, so why not hold those under 21 accountable for it? If you buy beer when you aren’t old enough, you should get punished. Of course sellers should be permitted to request verification of age on patrons they suspect aren’t old enough, but we are now in a state where failure to ask for ID is punishable. Grocery store checkers can’t tender the sale without checking ID. If it takes 10 seconds to check an ID, thats 1 minute of productivity for every 6 people. If a bar sees 360 people, that is an hour of labor spent checking ages. Just seems like a needless waste for a country that prides itself on liberty and personal accountability.

More than this annoyance is the “gotcha” approach to business employed by large corporations who have no need or incentive to build a quality relationship with customers. I stopped by Ruby Tuesday the other day on my way home from work only because it was between the bus stop and the hotel. I initially balked at going to a chain restaurant but since all I wanted was a beer and some chicken wings, I relented. I was there during happy hour and asked to be seated in booth. When I got my bill, I was confused to find that I hadn’t been charged happy hour prices. Turns out you only get happy hour prices if you sit in the bar area, even though all I ordered was wings and beer in the middle of the happy hour time period. Apparently where I sit determines the prices I pay these days.

Finally, I had to spend about 45 with an Avis manager to figure out why I was charged $147.xx for a car that I’d reserved and prepaid $118.xx for. He did a good job dealing with it, so I give them good grades for the point of interaction care. But I learned that my rate went up because I’d used the car for less than the reservation agreement. Yup, I paid more because I used the car less. My flight was delayed arriving so I picked it up about 3 hours later than I reserved and I returned it about 30 minutes earlier. This change in the reservation resulted in my account being charged a different (i.e. higher) rate. We got that mostly sorted out but I was still being charged more than expected. Looking closely at the taxes, the math wasn’t adding up. It looked like I was being overcharged on taxes, $11 for an 11% tax on $80 of services. Turns out that the taxes are calculated according to my “base” rate. This is the rate for the car before I got my USAA discount and then the manually adjusted discount he’d added to make up for the higher rate associated with using the car for an shorter period.

Yup, they charged taxes on a theoretical base rate that had about 20% discounts on it. I don’t know how this is legal, to be honest, as I thought taxes were assessed based in what you paid for goods and services. I paid about $100 for the car and GPS but paid taxes on $125 dollars of “base rated” before the discounts and adjustments that I actually paid for. Disappointing that there are hidden fees and charges in this kind of interaction at all, doubly so that I’m paying taxes on prices I didn’t pay.

Needless to say I no longer intend to have any commercial relationship with these companies.

 

I’m a Seoul Man

Got my assignment yesterday, a Consular-Political rotation in Seoul starting June 2014. I’ll get a full course of Korean in DC that is perfectly timed for Miku to get a full year of school in the U.S. This wasn’t even close to my top choices (it was #15 on my list) and I’d really wanted to do a full Political tour instead of a rotation, but I’m not complaining in the least. I know the guy who got the job I really wanted, a Political/Military post in Singapore and I’m very happy for them. I’m stoked to learn Korean and this is going to set me up well for future career work in EAP. Maybe I’ll be able to get Chinese somewhere along the way and really lock things up.

This is still a long way out. I’ve got a year left in Abuja and then 9+ months of training before Korea. The next 4 years are set though. Odd to think that Miku will be 13 when we leave Seoul in 2016.

Also, Happy Birthday, America. Hope we can all take a moment to reflect on what has made our nation and country great. We need to consider how we are failing to live up to that legacy too.

My reading list 2011

I don’t know why I don’t care for the flurry of “Top 10” lists that saturate pop media at the end of every Gregorian calendar cycle and I suppose its a bit hypocritical, self-indulgent, and maybe even downright narcissistic to post my list of books read in 2011.

  1. Fool Moon (Dresden #2): Dresden files are a weird first person noir pulp fiction tale of magic and mystery. Oddly enjoyable.

  2. Akira Vol 1: Extremely overrated, at least for $18 I paid for this first volume. Maybe the whole story comes together later on but I’ll read this at a library if at all.

  3. Y: Last Man. Deluxe Vol 1: I’d heard great things about this graphic novel but was underwhelmed. Again, perhaps something worth reading at a library or as a gift.

  4. Neuropath (Bakker) : This was recommended by a trusted friend. Sci-fi premise associated with neurologic implants but not far off from today. Disturbing story though. Recommended

  5. Traffic: This got a lot of media attention when published and turned out to be worth it. It might not seem to be the most exciting topic but it was enjoyable and interesting. I learned quite a bit about driving, what makes a good driver (and why we are all worse than we think), and how design affects traffic.

  6. Liar’s Poker: Michael Lewis’s tale of bond sales on Wall Street. Not only educational and informative, but entertaining as well

  7. The Big Short : Best book I’ve read on the collapse of the housing market. Same author as Liar’s Poker and also Entertaining, Educational, and Informative.

  8. Stranger in a strange land: I loved Starship Troopers and Moon is a Harsh Mistress but was disappointed in this one. I just couldn’t accommodate the all-powerful abilities of the protagonist.

  9. Tokyo Vice : Good book written by an American reporter for a Japanese newspaper on the crime beat. Looks at the redlight district and criminal underworld.

  10. Dancing on the Brink : Written by former ambassador to Nigeria, good look at the history and current state of politics in Nigeria

  11. The Village : Recommended by a Marine friend of mine. The story of a platoon of Marines in Vietnam who stayed in a village for a year or so. An aspect of Vietnam that isn’t well known. Good war memoir both in the accounts of the combat they had as well as the concept behind the tactic of stationing US forces in a village.

  12. Game of Thrones (Song of Fire and Ice #1) : I watched the first season on HBO before reading. Great adaptation of the book, but of course the book was more enjoyable. I went on to read books 2 and 3 almost immediately

  13. REAMDE : Neil Stephenson’s newest, more of a thriller than the dense historical fiction ala Crytonomicon and The Baroque Cycle. Takes place in Idaho in parts and incorporates a good bit of MMORPG. Loved it.

  14. Swampful of Dollars : Written by a brit, looks at the corruption associated with Nigeria’s oil industry.

  15. Methland : Good look at the methamphetamine epidemic that so many of us know in one way or another.

  16. Where Men Win Glory : Good biopic of Pat Tillman. The author clearly fell in love with his protagonist but did a good job writing about his life and death.

  17. The Tiger : My mom gave me this true story of a man eating Russian tiger. Good story that delves into the lives of people on the forgotten edge of civilization. I gave it to the guards on the compound as they don’t have much to do but listen to the radio, chat with each other, and read the Bible. Not that there’s anything wrong with those activities, but I wanted to give them something new. I don’t think they’d enjoy most of the non-fiction or fantasy that I read though.

  18. Clash of Kings (Song of Fire and Ice #2)

  19. Storm of Swords (Song of Fire and Ice #3): More about the collapse of the Seven Kingdoms. Very enjoyable.

My Digital Photo Catastrophe

I bought a 1 terabyte hard disk before I left DC in order to back up my entire desktop system and the most important of my files. I was going to send it to my dad, just to have an distal backup in case the container with all my goods got washed off the ship. In my overloaded and distracted state in my final days before leaving for Nigeria, I accidentally set up my backup program to write everything to my other terabyte drive, the mirrored drive that houses all of my digital photos.

The backup program erases the drive at the first backup and then installs everything on a clean disk. It should have take a minute or two to wipe the disk and when I noticed it had been initializing for a lot longer than that, the bottom of my stomach dropped out. I stopped it before everything was gone, but all of my pictures had been deleted. I thought that I was protected with the mirrored setup because even if one drive failed, the other had an exact copy, but in this case, the mirrored copy mirrored all the deletions as well. About 35,000 pictures, everything I’d shot since before the Eminent Child was born, was gone.

When files are deleted, they usually still exist but are just rendered invisible and the space they inhabit on the disk is opened up for new files to overwrite them. I got a file salvage program that took about 80 hours to scrape the disc and save every file that it could. It did an amazing job and found thousands of Nikon files, .jpeg files, video files, and more. A lot of it was corrupted and garbage, though, and none of it had any identifying data like a file name or anything. I barely had enough time to salvage everything and get it copied to a few different discs before I had to pack everything up. I knew that thousands of files had been salvaged, but I didn’t know how many would prove to be usable.

My stuff arrived in Abuja about 2 months after I did but I wasn’t able to set up my computer for another 6 weeks or so because of problems with the UPS battery backups. Without those, I couldn’t use the computer due to the intermittent power fluctuations that pervade life here. I finally got my UPS, but a friend from Poland was assigned here on temporary duty for a few weeks and then the girls were here. I have been able to finally sit down and see what’s going on.

It looks like about 1/4 of the Nikon files recovered are garbage. I loaded them all up into Aperture and thankfully the thumbnails reveal which files are good and bad. I still have 33,000 that I have to manually go through to mark the bad ones. After I sort them out, I’ll trash the bad ones and then begin actually organizing the good ones. There is about the same number of jpegs which are all the pics I took with my Fuji cameras. I can tell that many of the jpegs are duplicates of the Nikon files, so that’s a doubly daunting task. I doubt I’ll ever sort out the duplicates.

The past week I’ve been spending an hour or two a night just scrolling through the entire archive with my arrow key. It’s slow and progress is hard to measure, but I’m just about halfway through now. It is impossible to know exactly how many I lost, but there is still a lot of good stuff that was saved, thankfully. And one other positive from the ordeal is that going through and looking at each file I still has given me a huge journey down memory lane that has been a lot of fun.