Friday, June 26, 2009

You Cannot See Through Trees And Walls

Just in case there is any doubt that the operator had very little time to see the stopped train, we go back to the wonder of Google Street View (since I am too lazy to go there myself and take a picture).

Metro Line Of Sight 3The picture below is standing on the bridge on New Hampshire Avenue looking north. The stopped train was actually a couple hundred feet south of here. We are looking north, while the train operator would have been looking from the north towards us. But obviously, if we can't see around the corner to the north, then she could not see around the corner to the south. You can click the photo to see a larger version.

Metro Line of Sight 2Finally, here is another version of the same overhead view showing lines of sight from further back, to the spot where the other train was stopped. The lines pass through buildings and trees. There is no way the operator could have had more than about 500 feet to see the stopped train. The building on the left from the street view is the closest building to the bridge here, barely 200 feet. The building on the right from the first image is the large building near where the train is photographed in the satellite image. It is about 400 feet from the bridge. This is basically the limit of visibility.

But the operator would have not even have been able to see the train from there - the train was stopped 200 feet further south of the bridge, further around the corner and also obstructed by the bridge itself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Scooped NTSB

This is just too good. Today, in the Washington Post:

Hersman said investigators are also examining the actions of Jeanice McMillan, the novice operator of the striking train, who was among those killed in the wreck. The steel rails show evidence that McMillan activated the emergency brakes 300 to 400 feet before the pileup, which occurred on a curved section of track between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations, Hersman said.

From my post yesterday, I said...

So if the second train was stopped a couple hundred feet on the other side of the bridge, just outside the visible line, the operator couldn't even have seen the train until she was within about 500 feet of it!

Who needs dozens of forensics experts when you've got google maps?

Some reports from passengers in the moving train said that they felt a bump of some kind before the impact but don't remember the train slowing down. The bump they felt was almost certainly the emergency brakes being activated, which would be jarring at that moment when first applied, much like slamming on the brakes on your car (your OLD car, the one that doesn't have anti-lock brakes) before it skids. This also indicates to me that the operator reacted about as quickly as is humanly possible given the set of circumstances.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Metro is safe: You have better odds of winning Powerball

PICT0019I am sure everyone is stunned by the accident that so far has taken the lives of 7 riders on Metro's red line yesterday. This was the worst accident in Metro's 32 year history. One of my coworkers was on the train that struck the stationary train. Luckily, she was not seriously injured, but it struck close to home. Though I usually drive to work, I take Metro sometimes, and I could easily have been on the same train.

Without question, Metro needs to figure out what caused this accident and ensure that the malfunction can never happen again. Metro has automated safety controls that are supposed to ensure that human error cannot cause such an accident. While we still don't know exactly what happend, clearly, both the automated and human controls failed to prevent this accident.

But I would like to point out that Metro is safe. This was the first accident involving loss of life to a passenger since 1983, and only the second such accident in the system's history. There have been four other accidents in which WMATA employees lost their lives, and one other in which passengers were injured.

Metro served 540 million passenger trips between it's opening in 1977 and the first accident killing 3 in 1983. For that period of time, your chance of being killed on a metro ride was 1 in 180 million.

Between 1984 and now, Metro has served 5.2 billion passenger trips. Seven people lost their lives in yesterday's accident. In that time, your chance of being killed on a Metro ride was 1 in 750 million.

In the history of the entire system, 5.8 billion rides, 10 passengers have lost their lives due to an accident, a chance of 1 in 580 million for any given ride.

Your chance of winning the Powerball jackpot each time you play is 1 in 195 million. You are three times more likely to win Powerball with one ticket, than you are to be killed on a given metro ride.

If you ride Metro twice a day, five days a week, your chance of being killed on Metro in a year is about 1 in 1.5 million.

Your chance of being killed by lightning strike in a year is about 1 in 3.8 million.

Your chance of dying of the flu in a year is about 1 in 14,000.

Your chance of being killed in a car accident in the DC metro area in a year is about 1 in 6,700.*

*Estimate: 280,000,000 US Residents. Approximately 42,000 deaths due to automobile accidents annually. Approximately 8,200,000 people in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. This equates to about 1,230 automobile deaths annually in the area for 8,200,000 residents.

Metro Accident History

January 13, 1983 - 3 dead, 25 injured
Janary 6, 1998 - 1 dead (WMATA employee)
November 3, 2004 - 20 injured
October 2005 - 1 dead (WMATA employee)
May 2006 - 1 dead (WMATA employee)
November 2006 - 2 dead (WMATA employee)
January 2007 - 16 injured
June 2009 - 7 dead, 70+ injured (as of this writing)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

PETA stands up for insect rights

From one of my twitter buddies comes this story on Chicagoist about PETA's response to President Obama being captured on video swatting a fly. On their blog is this nugget...

In a nutshell, our position is this: He isn't the Buddha, he's a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act.

...check out our handy-dandy bug catcher—one of which we are sending to President Obama for future insect incidents.

My first reaction was, quite simply, stunned disbelief. Really? REALLY??? But then I thought about it for a few minutes and that reaction changed to bwaahahhahahahahahha!! You guys got me good on that one! I clicked on the link to their humane bug catcher, expecting to see the punch line. Umm. Not so much. It looks real. You can order one.

Then PETA posted a followup which pretty much regurgitates the same position as the first post. The reality was dawning on me. They are serious. Dead serious. Actually, make that no-kill serious.

I have to say, I don't care how strongly anyone feels about their mission, could anyone ever take them seriously again after this? I am a lover of animals, but are you guys out of your minds?

Let us think about this for a minute. PETA has taken an offical position on the killing of flies: in a perfect world, it is not acceptable. Let's see what's wrong with this position. Flies spread disease. Flies destroy crops. Flies are routinely eaten alive by birds, which I would venture is a far less humane death than being swatted. Umm, they're fucking flies!

Let's look at this from another perspective. If flies should be protected, then what rationale is there for not protecting any other living thing? Antibiotics? Bacteria killers! You bastard doctors! Showering? You better strike that from your list of things to do. It would be a bacteria and hair mite genocide! Live and let live right?

Even walking through the lawn is rife with risks to earthworms, ants, and any number of other creatures who might be harmed due to your callous indifference to the wellbeing of your animal friends.

And forget about water treatment. I can only imagine how many billions of organisms are put to death in the interest of selfish, safe drinking water. But one day, I suppose, we can come around to the compassionate position that our own needs should not be at the expense of another life, no matter how tiny. After all, a bug bite might just give you some stupid little rash or disease. But it's the life of a bug we're talking about, and that is more important than any minor inconvenience or pain or suffering that a human might suffer. So go ahead, let those mosquitos feed!! Cuz once it's landed on your arm, you don't have a lot of choices other than killing it or getting bitten. A few welts is a small price to pay for letting that mosquito live out it's 4-day lifespan in peace and harmony with the world. Never mind that it doesn't give a crap about you.

Okay, I think you get the point. I am hoping that this is really one big joke that's they're taking too far. But it's not April 1st and it sure doesn't seem like one.


Friday, June 19, 2009

You need to see my ID?

I was at the Red Derby last night talking to one of the regulars, C, on the patio outside. He was sitting at the table nearest the front door, and I was on the other side. As we were talking, a couple kids walked up and volunteered their IDs to C. C is black.

C politely brushed them off, informing them that he didn't work there. The girl who had first pushed her ID at him, embarrassed, turned to me and asked me the same. After they determined that there was no ID checker at the door (they just check at the bar when it's early) they went inside.

Soon thereafter, another guy did the same thing. After being told by C that he didn't work there, the guy quickly backtracked and said, "Oh, I'm sorry I saw your ID and I thought...". C had an ID badge hanging from his belt for his place of work.

C and I had a chuckle about these incidents and wondered aloud, would that keep happening if we switched spots? Probably. I've had this happen to me before if I've been sitting or standing alone by the door at a bar. C's a pretty big guy, too, which maybe gives him more of a bouncer appeal. On the other hand he was also a lot better dressed than the average bouncer.

We didn't test the theory. But what was funny about this was the reaction that the people had when they found out they'd assumed that a black dude by the door was checking IDs, when he was not.

The first girl immediately found the next closest person, me, and asked me if I worked there. She gets points for a fast recovery. If I ask the white guy next to him, it'll defuse the assumption that I asked him because he was black.

The second guy stuttered out some story about seeing his ID badge. Sorry - fail on that one. Have you ever heard of a bar that issues photo IDs to their staff? I haven't.

Both people quickly came up with a cover for their blunder, with varying degrees of success. This is not a story about racism. It's not about assumptions based on skin color. I'm white and I've had people shove their IDs in my face plenty of times when sitting or standing by the door to a bar.

Rather, it's a story about the mistaken-assumers being so embarrassed by their assumptions, that they tried to cover or explain it. I've never had that happen to me before after telling someone who's presenting me with an ID that I didn't work there.

There's no moral to this story or no judgment about the state of color-blindness in the world (or at least Columbia Heights) today. I think the most we can read into this is that people are actually really sensitive to the appearance of racism in their own actions. Their little foibles were honest mistakes. But their reactions showed that they were acutely aware of how it might have appeared once their mistake was revealed.

I found the image above on a blog called Tasty Booze while googling "bouncers" for this post, and was thrilled to discover it is our very own from the 9:30 club. What an awesome picture.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Memories of 16th & T

Photo courtesy of Joel Lawson

The house at 1841 T Street NW has been making a lot of news lately. This is, or was, a gorgeous corner unit at 16th and T Streets NW near Dupont Circle, which had been allowed to deteriorate to the point that bricks and plaster were literally falling into the house.

I am not going to rail against the owners for their illegal and irresponsible management of this house as a rental, or comment on the fight to save the place from destruction, or tenant's rights. There's plenty about that already. Rather, I would like to reminsce about this place, because I have a personal connection to it. My first year in DC, from the summer of 1991 through the summer of 1992, two close friends lived in this house with four other people. I had made the horrible mistake of leasing an apartment in Crystal City when I first moved to DC, a mistake I corrected at the first legal opportunity. But as a result of living in a soulless, lifeless apartment in a concrete jungle, I spent a great deal of my spare time at this house.

We all had some incredible times in this place. We partied all night long, made lifelong friends, annoyed the neighbors, and amassed more stories than I can count in that year. I am sure I have pictures from inside this place that I'll try to dig up, but for now, I just wanted to throw out some memories.

... the ridiculous party that spilled onto the street on both sides of the house. After the kegs were gong (two or three of them), still early in the night, the masses descended on the New Hampshire mart across the street. I remember going back there again for beer just before midnight. It had been completely sold out. They had no more beer.

... Splinter, the giant rat who cohabitated with the tenants. Sure, he shat on the drum set and generally freaked out people, but Cosmo, the racist black lab usually kept him in check pretty well. He never was caught.

... My friend going to her bedroom to escape from one party, only to find it was occupied by a large number of people sitting in a circle drumming and smoking weed. They appeared to be gnomes or leprechauns performing an ancient pagan ritual. She was afraid to enter her own room.

... Mrs. Eckles, the busybody neighbor who of course hated the renters. If she's still alive today, she must be at least a hundred years old. The house has a driveway that you can kind of see in the picture above. Two cars could park there without blocking the sidewalk. But technically, since the driveway is city-owned property, it was illegal to park there. Ms. Eckles, aware of this fact, called the police every day to have the tenants' cars ticketed. Even the police would sigh as they dutifully wrote tickets. In conversations with them they said they would never ticket a car there, but because someone called, they had to. We had many ideas for retaliation, but usually limited ourselves to letting the dog shit in her front garden with the "keep your dog off" sign.

... the 16th and T Street Band, which formed organically at this house from a group of strays. The name persisted for at least a decade, through various members. They performed at too many house parties to count, including a wedding celebration for one of the former residents years later, and at at least a couple actual gigs at local bars. They were awesome. I taped a number of their performances and still have the recordings.

I certainly hope that the house is spared the wrecking ball and the deadbeat owners don't get the easy way out after years of slumlord renting an unsafe house. It would be a shame to lose this beautiful structure and a further shame to let them get away with the blatant negelect and imperiling of their tenants. But whatever happens, I will always have fond memories of that glorious rat-infested dump.

Intowner article from June 14, 2008 about collapsing walls

Pictures of the collapsing walls inside

Owners try to get permit to demolish but are denied, from July 31, 2008

Article on Prince of Petworth from June 15, 2009

Protest in front of 1841 T Street to save it from demoltion - June 2009 (Washington Business Journal)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

If I Had Twittered My Friday

Phish Jones Beach Road Trip '09, or, 'i am seriously getting too old for this.'

leaving DC. it is raining.
1:02 pm from mobile

bailing out of 95. 695 interchange construction looks like springfield.
1:30 pm from mobile

wtf. tried to get get back on 95 ten miles later, it is still broken. oh well back to 40, traffic lights better than traffic jam.
2:00 pm from mobile

just got rear ended and risked death exchanging insurance information on an on-ramp. i hate delaware. 8 bucks in tolls and all i got was a messed up bumper.
3:15 pm from mobile

goodbye new jersey, hello staten island. and i though jersey was ugly.
4:03 PM from mobile

i have gone less than 20 miles in 2 hours.
5:57 PM from mobile

just parked, been in car for more than 7 hours. i will never drive in brooklyn or long island again. desperately need a beer.
8:15 PM from mobile

omg. there is no beer at jones beach. kill me. and it is still raining.
8:30 PM from mobile

hot dog, coffee, french fries, $16. i would gladly pay $20 for a beer. at least the show is good.
9:45 PM from mobile

i have never seen more people smoking weed and cigarettes in a complete downpour
10:44 pm

in harlem.
12:30 AM from mobile

never shut down a bar in nyc before. didnt realize they closed.
5:21 AM from mobile

where am i? this cat looks ridiculous.
9:22 AM from mobile

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Empty Nest

I checked in on the mean robins this morning and lo and behold, they've moved out! And just yesterday there were four chicks in the nest, and I was viciously attacked twice just for walking outside my front door.

I saw two smallish robins hanging around the general area. It seems pretty likely these are two of the babies, though they looked a little bigger than I would have expected for only one day after being told it was time to get a job. Mommy was nowhere to be found.

According to this site it only takes about two weeks from the time the eggs hatch until the young "fledge," or leave the nest. Then the father supposedly takes a couple weeks to teach them to take care of themselves.

I have not seen this father around. He sounds like a deadbeat. I'll be keeping tabs on the newly fledged birds and see if I need to call child protection services.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

For The Birds

Walking to the cafe in my office building today, I stopped for a second to watch a robin pull a worm from the flowerbed. The creature hopped along for a little while then flitted over to a potted shrub near the front door. I took a closer look and was surprised to see a nest and several tiny chicks. I went back upstairs to grab my little camera and took a few pictures.

Mommy was none to pleased with this. And I didn't manage to get a really good shot either, since the nest was concealed pretty well, at least for such a small shrub. So I was kind of holding the camera above it and shooting blind.

None of this pleased mommy too much. After a few choice words she dive-bombed me. Luckily I am wearing glasses today, so her efforts to pluck my eyeballs from their sockets were futile. I backed to what I thought was a safe distance, but clearly I had enraged the female. She continued her aerial assualts, chasing me a good 50 feet down the sidewalk, at which point I ducked into the cafe where I would be safe.

In the first picture, you can just see mommy's head poking out from inside the shrub.

Robin Nest 3

Close up of the nest, right before I was assaulted.

Robin Nest 4

The housing complex where Mrs. Robin chose to raise her children. +5 points for guts and style. -32 points for the neighborhood.

Completely random non-sequitur: Behind the Counter is back. This was (is again) a really funny blog written by a customer service rep at a Wal-Mart in Anytown, USA. You will groan, laugh, and cry at his stories of the daily shenanigans he (she? I never quite figured that out) endures at the hands of Wal-Mart customers. A cynical yet hilarious perspective on the depressing behemoth that is bigger than ExxonMobil, probably bigger than Jesus. I think The Beatles are still the biggest, though.

The blog disappeared for a while as it's author had apparently gotten sick of it. Or maybe quit their job at Wal-Mart. But a new post appeared today, and it begins:

"I'm going to write again. I've made the decision."

So there it is. Enjoy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Your new home...

I have a google alert for "Columbia Heights" because I'm some kind of freaky neighborhood activist. And a geek. But between my gang violence and development updates, other random things come up, like this roommate wanted advertisement.

Room for rent in Columbia Heights group house, 2 blocks from metro, one block from Giant and Wonderland.

You will share a house with three low-key, fun, professional women in their mid-20s who enjoy grilling on our back porch, DC public pools, environmental causes, triathlons, and reality television (Top Chef and Project Runway are favorites).

Room is available for sublet June 15 to mid-August, with possibility of signing a longer-term lease. Rent is $817, utilities not included.

Being one block from Giant and Wonderland is certainly a plus. Though, geographically, that may be impossible, given that Giant is at 14th & Park and Wonderland is at 11th & Kenyon. But it's a minor exaggeration I'm sure.

What made me chuckle was that these women enjoy DC public schools, thrown in there among Project Runway and grilling on the back porch. Seriously. Does anyone actually "enjoy" DC public schools? Maybe if you were transferring from a public school in suburban Baghdad. Personally, I don't enjoy crumbling infrastructure, metal detectors and the occasional machete attack. Not to mention about the worst performance record in the United States.

Oh well to each their own...

Update. I have a reading disorder. Yes, i now realized they said DC public pools.

Well, I haven't actually been to one. Though I can't imagine they are a lot better than the schools. Anyone care to comment on that? Undiscovered gem of the DC park system, or frightening home to snakeheads and zebra mussels?

Oh. Nevermind.