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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Off to Work

When I left for San Francisco, it was pleasantly springy; when I returned on Saturday, scorching, humid summer had arrived.

Today (Tuesday) was my first day at GAO. It was really quite exciting and I think I'll have a great summer. As per personal policy, I won't be blogging about work. But I think it's okay if I mention that the eight other interns on the Physical Infrastructure Team seem cool; most are also in policy grad programs, and most of our desks are in the same room. Also, the project I will be working on has to do with assessing public-private partnerships for transportation infrastructure -- they're on the rise, but little work has been done on them, so it'll be neat to dig into the issues.

I'm also thrilled to have a daily bike commute again. My 1.5-mile route to Penn Station is all downhill in the morning, with synchonized stoplights, so I avoid getting sweaty. (Of course, the evening is a different story.) This is along with almost an hour on the train, but there will be friends from my program to chat with most of the time (about half of us are commuting to DC), and I just kind of like riding the train.

Anyway, I confirmed that I can have July 3rd off, so I'll definitely be able to make it to Minnesota for the Carleton mini-reunion camping trip.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Old Favorites

Built to Spill's "Distopian Dream Girl" just came up in my playlist, and reminded me how awesome it remains even after I've heard it well over a hundred times. That led me to make a list of songs that remain favorites years after I first heard them:

Ben Folds Five - Battle of Who Could Care Less
Broken Social Scene - Anthems For a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl
Built to Spill - Distopian Dream Girl
Calexico - Service and Repair
Dan Bern - Estelle
Dismemberment Plan - What Do You Want Me To Say
Elf Power - The Winter Is Coming
Flaming Lips - Slow Nerve Action
Fog - Pneumonia
Fountains of Wayne - Radiation Vibe
Interpol - PDA
Lateduster - Keno
The Long Winters - New Girl
Modest Mouse - Neverending Math Equation
Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945
Outkast - Slump
Pavement - Cut Your Hair
Pixies - Where Is My Mind
Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees
Ted Leo - The Great Communicator
Ugly Casanova - Barnacles
Weezer - The World Has Turned And Left Me Here
Wilco - I'm Always In Love
Yo La Tengo - Autumn Sweater

Okay, that got long. Even though I restrained myself from designating more than one per artist...

[Edit, 5/29: Changed lead to led. Whoops.]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In San Francisco

So, I've been a bit busy and not blogging so much. I still intend to write that wrap-up post on my first year of grad school (largely for the sake of my own self-assessment), but to just briefly recap what I've been up to:

Went to Davin's graduation in Saratoga Springs this past weekend. I had not been there since he started and it was great to finally see where he goes (er, went) to school and where he lives, and to meet his friends. The actual graduation was, like all graduations, both nice and boring. There were several mentions among the speakers of global warming and Darfur, which I found interesting. Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who chaired the 9-11 Commission, got an honorary degree. In his remarks he related that quote about "Those who don't particiapate in democracy are destined to be governed by their inferiors," and followed it up with "Think about that...it might already be happening." There was fairly generous applause for that line.

Anyway, Davin is going to California in a few weeks to attend a weeklong whitewater-rafting school, and then hopefully work as a guide for this summer with a company on the American River, about two hours east of San Francisco.

Speaking of San Francisco, that's where I am now, sitting on Reed's living room floor. Check out the view:

Note that you can see the Golden Gate in the distance; if you were to turn to the left, you could see the Bay, the houses climbing the neighboring hill, and the ocean in the distance. It's pretty spectacular. For now, I'm off to eat a crepe for breakfast and then take the train down to Cupertino to join Reed at work and get a brief look at the Apple campus.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A message from your friendly local oil company...

You know, global warming is just hype. The planet's climate isn't changing, that's just what a bunch of scaremongering scientists want you to think.

At least that's what the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an oil-company-funded think tank, is telling us. They're airing two television commercials
to correct our misperceptions. "Carbon dioxide -- they call it pollution, we call it life." (I kid you not, this is the actual closing line of both of the ads.)

These are destined to be tomorrow's equivalent of hilariously false old-time cigarette ads. Or you might say that they already are.

(As is frequently the case, Talking Points Memo tipped me off to this.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Making the grid griddier

Whew. Intense week of finishing up finals-type classwork. One more 20-page paper to write this weekend and I'm done.

While procrastinating, I ran across this really smart article on distributed power generation. It's one of those essays that pretty much says a bunch of things that you already know, but puts them together in a way that makes a lot of sense and changes your perceptions.

The basic idea is that implementing renewable energy production on a home-by-home basis is actually feasible and affordable compared with the traditional generation options that we're considering, that it can make operation of the electricity grid much more efficient, and that it can reduce the risk of catastrophic outages.

This seems like the perfect thing for a Democratic presidential candidate to seize upon for his/her platform. People are mad as hell right now about energy prices, but there's also a lot of resignation that we can't do anything because, say, eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels isn't feasible. A candidate could put forward a positive vision like distributed generation and describe actual government programs that could get us there. You could require all utilities to provide "smart meters" within, say, 5 years, with some government subsidy. You could provide a direct government subsidy toward the purchase of equipment related to home generation. You could require all hybrid cars to have a plug-in supplement option so that people could use their new home generation capacity to help power their cars. The candidate could describe exactly what reductions in dependency on volatile fossil fuels we expect to achieve in 10 years and how it would benefit individuals and the economy. (And as Thomas Friedman says [repeatedly, like everything he says], it would also position America to be at the forefront of what is sure to be a future boom in green technology.)

Anyway, I think something along these lines would be really awesome -- what the Democrats need is positive, feasible visions to solve problems that Republicans have only been able to offer platitudes on. Energy policy is a really good opportunity for this, especially if Democrats can manage to say something more sophisticated than the current, extremely juvenile stance of many that amounts to "High gas prices really DO suck! And it's all the oil companies' fault. Republicans are in league with the oil companies!" Come on guys. I realize that gas prices have a unique ability to drive people into a blind rage that incapacitates rational thinking, but with a little ingenuity we can harness this political energy in a more positive direction.

Okay, I didn't mean to rant that heavily...

Monday, May 08, 2006


I spent Saturday in more or less complete denial of all the work I have to finish up before the end of the week. It was pretty fun, though. I went to the American Visionary Art Museum's intentionally wacky Kinetic Sculpture Race for a while. Basically, human-powered floats take a 15-mile course around the city, including a water entry and obstacle course. I caught up with them for their dip in the harbor in Canton, which was amusing, and I followed them up to Patterson Park for the obstacle course. (Since I'm faster on my bike than they are, I made the possibly unwise decision to stop and eat three glazed doughnuts from this excellent bakery near the park. For the record, the third was supposed to be for later, but it got eaten in some sort of mishap.)

I took some crappy pictures with my cell phone.

An enormous pink poodle:

Another of the kinetic sculptures, fresh out of the mud hazard in Patterson Park:

Also, the park's Pagoda (a tall Victorian structure) was open for the occasion, so I went up. It's pretty cool.

You can see downtown to the west pretty well from the top of the Pagoda:

On my way home, I rode through Mount Vernon and found that the Flower Mart (some Southern spring tradition) was in full swing at the Washington Monument. It also happened that the monument was open for this occasion, so I climbed my second set of spiral stairs for the day. The view to the northeast, away from downtown:

Anyway, I'm now working like crazy to make up for all this indulgent wandering around. Everything will be done soon enough, though...then off to see Davin graduate next Friday, and to San Francisco to visit Reed the next week. I start at GAO on the 30th.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Statistically Significant

Classes are over for the year, had my last one today. I've still got exams, papers and such to go, but I can't believe I'm pretty much half done with grad school. I'll post some thoughts on the first year later (you're waiting with bated breath, I know).

We had our last Stats/Econometrics class last night. The course, along with our first-semester stats course, had been taught by Keenan Dworak-Fisher, who is a really cool, relatively young guy who works at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a thank-you gift, we gave him a t-shirt:

This was partly my idea, partly Kat's idea. A bunch of us ordered shirts, too, which meant getting a custom shirt was cheap and, of course, we got to have shirts. Keenan seemed to like it, anyway, and we took a class picture with a bunch of us wearing them.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Uncle Tupelo - New Madrid
> Manitoba* - Crayon (feat. Koushika)
> My Morning Jacket - If All Else Fails [turns out they have the mp3 available for Evelyn Is Not Real, which I had previously cited]
> Paul Westerberg - Crackle and Drag (original take)
> Super Furry Animals - Venus and Serena
> Lateduster - Keno

*Now known as Caribou