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Thursday, February 28, 2008

DC Tries to Make Change

The District of Columbia has no vote in Congress, despite being home to more people than Wyoming. Our license plates bear the slogan "Taxation Without Representation" to drive the point home.

DC was recently asked to submit designs for its "state" quarter. The District submitted three designs, and all bore the slogan as well. It took the U.S. Mint less than 48 hours to say they were unacceptable.

Okay, so it's not too surprising the Mint wasn't keen on this idea, but I don't think it was an unreasonable proposal. They rejected it because it's "controversial." But, of course, there's not any controversy about whether we're taxed or have representation in Congress, so the slogan is a statement of fact. Apparently the Mint ended its rejection statement by saying that it "looks forward to working with District officials to develop narratives that will lead to a quarter honoring the District of Columbia of which the entire Nation can be proud." Gotta agree with them there -- it is difficult for the entire nation to be proud of a quarter that reminds them that our entire capital city is disenfranchised.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Small Worlds, Again

A few times I've posted about coincidences involving people I have some sort of connection to showing up in unexpected places. I've also explained that I realize this is not as improbable as it always seems.

Still, I find this sort of thing really striking when it happens, as it did again this past weekend. April, a grad school classmate, shared a house with me in Baltimore. She spent last year in Tanzania working at a home for street kids, but she has now moved to DC; she's living with a roommate she met while they were both working in Tanzania. On Friday there was a happy hour, in part to welcome her back, and her new roommate came along -- she turns out to be Beth H., who lived in the room next to me in my sophomore year of college. Dang.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Top 10

As I was listening to "Holland, 1945" by Neutral Milk Hotel, I noticed that iTunes says I've listened to it 127 times. Which is a lot. But it also way understates it, because it doesn't count the times I've listened to it on CD (many), iPod (a good number), or on my computer before I got the version of iTunes that keeps these stats.

The ten songs I've listened to most often in iTunes are:
134 times: Animal Collective - Grass [YouTube]
127 times: Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945 [mp3]
107 times: Broken Social Scene - Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl [YouTube]
104 times: Modest Mouse - Gravity Rides Everything [mp3]
104 times: Wolf Parade - Shine a Light [mp3]
96 times: Calexico - Service and Repair
96 times: Dismemberment Plan - The City
96 times: Modest Mouse - White Lies, Yellow Teeth
96 times: Radiohead - Karma Police [YouTube]
96 times: The Thermals - No Culture Icons [YouTube]

The median number of times I've listened to a song in my iTunes collection (4631 tracks) is 18.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

YouTube Roundup

I seem to have been spending a lot of time on YouTube this weekend. Here are some videos I highly recommend:

Dramatic Chipmunk - This has the highest time investment/payoff ratio of any video on YouTube. I still think it's hilarious after watching it more times than I care to admit. (Adam showed me this one.)
Ms. Pacman, Feminist Hero - I had no idea.
Hover Bacon - Can you imagine a world with hover bacon? Can you imagine if pork had levitation?
Charlie Bit My finger - Zach showed me this one, and it's an instant YouTube classic. You may have seen it already, but you should check it out if you haven't. (Afterwards, you can check out some of the cover versions.)
Sneezing Panda - Self-explanatory; you may have seen this one, too.
Drunk Squirrel - Also speaks for itself.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Semicolon Spectacle

Sometimes an article makes its way to the top of the New York Times most-emailed list just because it's totally absurd. I think this is typefied by today's most-emailed article, Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location. While carefully studying this article during lunch today, I noticed the following ridiculous characteristics:

> There does not seem to be any "news peg" for this article. That is, it looks like reporter Sam Roberts simply loves semicolons, and found pathos and inspiration in this brave semicolon sticking it out in the harsh environment of a subway advertisement, like a nerdy kid in glasses walking home through a crowd of the neighborhood toughs.
> References to Ernest Hemingway's suicide, as well as serial killer David Berkowitz.
> Quotes on this particular semicolon from various authorities, including Noam Chomsky, who chimed in with the gratuitously political “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”
> Ostentatious use of a semicolon in the article. ("In response, most New Yorkers accelerate; they don’t pause to contemplate.") Admittedly, this one was probably impossible to resist.
> Correction appended noting that the article had incorrectly excised the punctuation from the title of a book on punctuation, Eats, Shoot & Leaves (which was itself the subject of a most-emailed article some time ago, I recall).

And in only 615 words. Now, I consider myself a person who has some compassion for underappreciated punctuation, but this whole article is ridiculous to me, so I can only imagine how it comes off to other people...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Inscrutable Weather, Traffic Design

I biked out to Target in Falls Church this afternoon to get some things that are hard to find in my neighborhood -- at least until we get our own suburban strip mall, folded and stacked into an urban footprint, which looks finished enough that it could open in a couple months.

The errand was spurred in part by the fact that it was over 70 degrees and sunny this afternoon. This was jarring because yesterday afternoon at frisbee it had been chilly with a little drizzle. I hadn't checked the weather for today, so I was genuinely shocked when I went outside. The weather continued to be disorienting, because between when I left at 1:30 and when I returned at 5:00, the temperature dropped more than 20 degrees and it clouded up and started raining. (I took Metro partway back, and a couple people looked at me weird for having a cookie sheet and compact flourescent light bulbs in my bike basket.)

I generally don't like the Northern Viriginia suburbs very much, even compared to other suburbs. They sprang up long enough ago to be worn around the edges, yet are for the most part too recent to have any sort of charm. It also happens that they were built at a time when there wasn't much attention to urban planning -- or, at least, we weren't very good at it yet. Witness the suburban commercial hub I went to today:

View Larger Map

It's called Seven Corners, because there are, in fact, seven corners to this intersection of highways. That's seven arterial roads converging on a single point. (To be fair, it's technically only five roads, since two of them pass through, but it's still ridiculous.) It is pretty much the disaster you might expect it to be, especially if you're on a bike -- I had to choose a somewhat circuitous route to avoid certain death. (It might look like I took I-66 with my bicycle, but I was actually using the bike trail that runs alongside it.)

Anyway, it was worth it, because I will be happily toting my vegetable soup to work tomorrow in a ceramic mug with a spillproof plastic cover, fresh from Target.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lance Armstrong, Bike Commuter

Apparently Lance Armstrong is planning to open a bike shop in Austin. I would not find this worth noting, except that it's going to be commuter-centric -- i.e. practical bikes, a cafe and even showers for commuters. As that blog post notes, it's cool to have someone so high-profile poised to be a public face of bike commuting. In most people's minds, bike commuting is decidedly uncool, so if the ultimate cool competitive cyclist takes an interest in it, or maybe even advocates for it, it can only help.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Modest Mouse - Gravity Rides Everything [mp3]
> Cat Power - Maybe Not
> M.I.A. - Paper Planes [YouTube]
I'm a little conflicted about her sampling of machine gun fire...but I really like this song.
> Liars - Pure Unevil
> Peter Bjorn and John - Amsterdam
> Rage Against the Machine - New Millenium Homes
I have no explanation for this one.
> Radiohead - All I Need [YouTube]

(P.S.: Check out M.I.A.'s website for a user interface apocalypse.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Implements of Destruction

Driver + cell phone = mortal enemy.

Crossing Massachusetts Ave on my bike this evening on the way home from work, with the green light, a woman talking on a cellphone while trying to turn right on red makes eye contact with me, so I assume we're cool. But apparently it's cell phone zombie eye contact, because she proceeds to pull out in front of me (despite my bright blinking headlight), almost causing me to hit the driver's side door of her car and disturb her conversation.

A few minutes later, in the bike lane on 14th St, a different woman on a cell phone makes a righthand turn close enough in front of me that I have to hit the brakes. She didn't signal, either.

When talking on a cell phone, please remember that you are piloting a several thousand pound piece of equipment. Also, it's illegal in DC.