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Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall in Connecticut

I took a quick trip to Connecticut this weekend to visit my parents. It was great to see them, and it's absolutely beautiful there this time of year with all the foliage. A few pictures are up on Flickr.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Evil sounds

I've got a new seasonally-appropriate post on the DC Listening Lounge blog. At last night's DCLL get-together, I took people aside and asked them to give me their most evil cackle. The piece is unedited, I just stopped and started the recording. (The first one is me.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brooklyn Space Program

This is pretty cool, and impressive: A group of kids and parents from Brooklyn make a balloon that manages to record images of space from the outer atmosphere.

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Capital Bikeshare

Capital Bikeshare launched last month here in DC. It provides over 1,000 bikes at stations all around the city (concentrated in the denser parts of town), as well as in neighboring Alexandria, VA. Rides are free if they're 30 minutes or less, and charged by the half hour after that. You can join by the day, but it's much cheaper to get an annual membership, as I did, which also gets you a key fob that unlocks the bikes.

You might be asking yourself why I would join CaBi (as people have dubbed it) if I already have a bike. I originally signed up with the idea that it would be useful only a few times a month. Since getting my key fob in the mail a couple weeks ago, however, I've found myself using it more often than I envisioned. Because you can drop off the bike at a different station than the one you pick it up at, a key advantage is that it allows one-way bike trips. I used it when picking up and dropping off a rental car, for example. But it's also useful in instances where a bike trip is interrupted by other forms of transportation -- for instance, when meeting friends for happy hour, walking or taking transit to dinner, and then heading home. This can be awkward when I have my own bike along, but well-suited to bike sharing. Another situation where it's useful is when you're out and about and realize you want to go somewhere else that would be best reached by bike, as I did today. (This last scenario means you're riding without a helmet, which isn't ideal, but the bikes are big and heavy, with conservative gearing, which leads to cautious riding.)

An app on my phone shows the location of stations and how many bikes (and empty docks) each has in real time. (That data powers this very nifty map that lets you see the number of bikes at each station over the previous 24 hours.) Combined with the fact that my phone knows where I am on the map, it makes it very easy to use.

More broadly, this also contributes to a sense of having lots of options available for getting around the city. To get to any given destination, I can walk, take Metro or a bus, hail a taxi, or grab a CaBi bicycle. I can even take a Zipcar on a few minutes' notice, though that needs to be returned to the same location. The usability of all these forms of transportation (except taxis) is greatly improved by a smartphone, which, in addition to pointing me to CaBi bicycles, can also tell me which way I'm walking, the arrival time of the next bus, or the location of the nearest available Zipcar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Outer Banks

I went to the Outer Banks for the first time this past weekend. Matt, Risa, Leslie and I shared a beach house (in the Rodanthe area), and it was wonderfully relaxing. We lucked out with unseasonably warm 80-degree temperatures and not a drop of rain, so the swimming was quite nice. I posted a few pictures on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Teleport me!

A neat little web gizmo: Globe Genie takes you to a random location in Google Maps Street View every time you press the cheekily-labeled "Teleport" button. So awesome.

EDIT: I'm still sitting here clicking. I'd like to suggest a game I sometimes play with myself in the real world, especially when going somewhere new: Look at your surroundings in a given spot; if you had just been plunked down with no context, would you have any idea where you are? Using Globe Genie makes it possible to actually do this (there's even an on/off toggle for the locator map). If you have no idea at first, wander down the road a bit to look at that house...Peugeot in the driveway, can't be the U.S. Etc., etc. It's still fun even when you're totally wrong.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Florida vs. Detroit

The Big Picture blog at the Boston Globe recently had a selection of satellite shots of "human landscapes" in southwest Florida. The irrational exuberance of the housing boom comes through in these aerial views, and the subsequent bust is also clearly visible in many cases.

Take this one, for example:
(photo copyright: Google)

Minus the fake lake, this bears some resemblance to certain parts of Detroit:

View Larger Map
Will either of these neighborhoods ever recover and be a good place to live? The reasons for the strange landscapes are different in the two places, but when you step back and look at it in macro terms, all those new houses being built in the marshlands of Florida aren't entirely unrelated to the hollowing out of inner cities. I remember a developer quoted in an NYT article I read a while back, talking about an uptick of new housing starts in Las Vegas despite the dire state of its housing market. Paraphrasing, he said "Sure, there are lots of unsold houses that are a few years old elsewhere in town, but people want new houses. And that's what we're selling." That's not sustainable, of course, and I really dislike hearing people talk of houses as a pure commodity, since they're not just widgets, but part of the fabric of communities. Anyway, if you're looking for a place to build new houses to sell, there's room in Detroit.