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Saturday, January 28, 2006


It was in the mid-to-upper 60s here today. It was very nice, though nowadays brilliantly warm weather in cold parts of the year carries a psychological undercurrent of foreboding about global warming. But the natural fickleness of the weather can do some pretty weird things, too, so I'll just tell myself it's that.

I drove up to the huge kosher supermarket in far Northwest Baltimore today, which I discovered earlier this month in my search for Sabra Salads hummus. You can buy the huge 17 oz. containers there for $4. At least you can if you don't go on Saturday, when it is of course closed for the Sabbath...doh. Many of the neighborhoods along Reisterstown Road on the way up there are thoroughly depressing -- more boarded up houses than occupied ones, few businesses have any windows, etc. It seemed almost third world when about 10 kids on dirtbikes showed up going the other way, some doing sustained wheelies while waving, others riding on the sidewalk.

This afternoon I took a bike ride out to Druid Hill Park. I'd never biked out there before, even though it's not far from our house, and it was pretty nice. It's a very large park, and it could be great if it were a bit better taken care of. Baltimore has a lot of parkland, and I suspect that resources to take care of it are very stretched, like everything else in the city budget. I remember many people in Minneapolis making disparaging remarks about the fiefdoms within city government, including the Park Board, which in many ways acts as an independent municipal government. But the parks in Mpls are extensive and well taken care of, and it might be due in part to having a strong institution behind them. Anyway, I took this hazy picture with my cell phone from the edge of Druid Lake, looking east.

I-83 is hidden in the valley immediately below, and the Wyman Park Building, where my program is located, is the large building with the white cupola toward the left side.

On Tuesday I went to the Transportation Research Board conference in DC, courtesy of my new employers at the state highway department. I got there at 8am and stayed until 9:30, so it was a long day. It was actually pretty interesting; there were hundreds of sessions, but fortunately you could search through them online ahead of time. (The conference ran all week and took up three hotels.) My favorite session was on the implications of information technology for travel patterns.

My two Public Health classes started last week. Research Methods seems like it will rehash a lot of stuff I feel like I already know, which is too bad, but it should still be useful (and required, anyway). Social Inequality and Health is taught by a complete socialist. It will be interesting, but way ideological. My Homewood classes start Monday.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Baltimore Biking

Baltimore City is finally taking initial steps to build bike infrastructure.

Actually, one big thing they could do is repave streets. This city has the bumpiest urban roads I've ever seen, and it's not only jarring, but it can be dangerous when you have to swerve or lose control.

A couple of interesting tidbits gleaned from reading the city planning department's new (draft) bicycle infrastructure design guidelines:

1) For traffic lights that turn when cars are present, there are differently configured sensors available that detect bicycles. (Page 8) Doesn't work if your bike wheels are made of something other than metal, though.

2) Some cities have experimented with something portentiously called an "Advanced Bicycle Box." (Page 29) This addresses a thorny problem -- bikes trying to make left turns at busy intersections -- by allowing left-turning cyclists to move in front of queued auto traffic at the light. In combination with the above-referenced bike detectors, lights can even be programmed to give bikes their own left-hand turn signal before cars are allowed to go.

Clear and Present

Doesn't "The Committee on the Present Danger" sound like spy movie boilerplate? But it's actually a real live present day right-wing organization. Just like Jack Abramoff showing up at the courthouse wearing a black trenchcoat and fedora, it makes me wonder if they're trying to sound evil.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Flaming Lips - The Wand (The first single off their new album (At War With the Mystics, due the beginning of April), and it sounds fantastic. Go download it on iTunes!)
> Dosh - I Think I'm Getting Married
> Kid Dakota - Winterkill
> Modest Mouse - White Lies, Yellow Teeth
> Silver Jews - People
> Love Cars - Northwest Orient
> Animal Collective - Grass (click on link under "Attachments" in the upper right corner)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Negative Connotations

This week I'm preparing a script for our spring interviews with public housing residents. The following appeared in a government paper on interview best practices that I was reading today:

When used in almost any context, certain words can
be considered “loaded,” because they evoke strong
emotional feelings. “American,” “freedom,” “equality,”
and “justice” generally evoke positive feelings, while
“communist,” “socialist,” “bureaucrat,” and “nuclear
holocaust” may evoke negative feelings. Since it is
difficult to control the emotional connotations of
such words, it is usually best to avoid them.

Yes, "nuclear holocaust" may have some emotional connotations. It evokes a few negative feelings in me, I must admit. Perhaps the "bureaucrats" who authored this rather dry report decided to add a little humor and/or political comment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Heat, Vampyres

The heat in our house here in Baltimore stopped working while I was in CT. A repair guy came yesterday, but it only worked for a couple hours and then conked out again. He was supposed to come again today, but never showed. Luckily it's not that cold outside at the moment, but the temperature in here is in the low 50s, which is pretty cold for inside your house.

Lest all my blog time be spent whining, I direct your attention to this hilarious yet remarkably earnest interview with the "vampyre" candidate for Minnesota governor. The whole thing seems a lot less jokey after he mentions at the end of the interview that his wife was fired from her job as a school bus driver as soon as press coverage of his candidacy revealed her pagan beliefs. I realize there's a fair amount of shock value in finding out your kid's bus driver is a satan worshipper, but she sounds pretty innocuous to me, and she had held the job (apparently without incident) for 5 years.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Heading back to Baltimore

My dad came home from the hospital on Saturday as planned by the insurance company. A lot of things that used to come easily (like using a computer mouse) are still a struggle for him, but he's making progress. After being in the hospital since before Thanksgiving, it's nice that he can eat meals at the table, etc.

An ice and wind storm last night left us without internet until late this evening. We really weren't sure what to do with ourselves without it. Another side-effect of the storm was that it took me a good 20 minutes of work to prepare my car before driving it.

Tomorrow I'm heading back to Baltimore. I don't mind the drive because it's as good an excuse as any to listen to music for 5 hours. I've got some very taking-care-of-business reasons to return: a doctor's appointment, some research assistant work (even though the full-time thing for next week fell through), and an IPS student government meeting (I was elected secretary of the IPS Student Association -- I was the only one who ran).

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hey, I know that woman...

There was an article in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago about a woman in my grad program. She edits (from afar) one of the few remaining independent magazines in Belarus.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Blogging sort of got lost there amidst the other stuff I was doing -- apologies to the several of you who are still checking. But I think I'll pick it up again here.

The big news for me is that my dad, after being in the hospital pretty much since Thanksgiving (with medical twists and turns galore) is doing better now. He's in a rehabilitation hospital, getting intensive physical therapy for the effects of a stroke and a still-nebulous neurological condition. As of a few days ago he can walk (tentatively) without someone supporting him and is feeling a bit better in general. His doctors wanted him there for another couple weeks, but he's coming home this Saturday on the orders of the caring folks at Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Regardless, it's so good to finally see him make some sustained improvement.

As idiotic as it is for the insurance company to send him home before he's really better, it will be nice to see him come home while I'm visiting -- I drove up from Baltimore today. (I made it in just under five hours, which is pretty darn good.) My brother is still on break from school, too, which is nice.

Let's see...to recap what I've been up to since I last posted without getting too long-winded:

I successfully completed my first semester at IPS. It was intense to the end, but I did manage to get all my work done and not fail the stats and econ exams. From what everyone tells me, the first semester is the hardest by far, so things should be a bit less stressful for the remainder. I've scheduled myself for seven classes this coming semester, but they should still add up to less work than the fall (a couple aren't full courses).

After spending Christmas in Connecticut, I went to Minneapolis for New Year's. Amanda was kind enough to let me stay on her futon and constantly check my email on her computer for an entire week, and it almost felt like I was still living in Minneapolis. I got one wish when it snowed the night after I got there, and we went sledding in Kenwood Park the following afternoon. And of course there was plenty of hanging out, game playing (esp. Apples to Apples), eating, etc. in the course of the week. John and Becky held a nice New Year's party where I earned some pictures of myself that will surely be used to blackmail me at a late date. It was great to see everybody.

I stopped by the union office while I was in town, and everybody seemed pretty wrung out, as you might expect. It was good to see them, though; while the strike formally continues, everyone is making other plans out of necessity. I went out to lunch with Ted, who's been having some trouble getting a job due to his rep as a union rabble-rouser. I suspect he'll do fine in the long run, though, since he's actually developed a lot of managerial and people skills during his time as a union officer.

I returned to Baltimore to find that the our rat had reasserted himself with a vengeance, even having the gall to crack open my new canister of oatmeal. I bought a big Rubbermaid container for all my food. I've had the misfortune of seeing him a couple times in the last week; he is rather large, which makes sense since he has plenty to eat. We have ceded the pantry to him (or more likely, several of them), and are in the process of negotiating limited local autonomy in exchange for a non-agression pact. Failing that, we're going to get some better poison.

While I was in Baltimore I also secured a 12-hour per week position at the Maryland State Highway Administration starting at the end of the month, with no firm end date. This is a bit odd considering my ambivalent (at best) feelings toward automobile infrastructure, but it's good experience and the folks in the policy office there are friendly and will let me spend part of my time on relevant projects I select/make up. I do have to wear a shirt and tie, though, which probably means I'm going to have to expand on my two-shirt repetoire.

I was supposed to commute to Frederick, MD to work on HOPE VI housing stuff full time for the last week and a half of break, but that just fell through today because of a hangup at the Housing Authority. I'll probably be in Baltimore from next week onward anyway, doing some related work, but not full time.

So much for not being long-winded...