Friday, January 20, 2012

Say Yes! to Organic Market in Petworth

This is my first ever post that's actually about farm fresh meat.

I stopped in at Yes! in Petworth for the first time yesterday. I'm not on of those people who fears non-organic food or even seeks it out. But I like stuff that tastes good, and sometimes the pesticide and/or ground-up-chicken-parts version of something just doesn't taste that good.

You know what tastes awesome?

Organic grass-fed beef.

There is no comparison between the mass-produced, corn-fed, hormone-filled stuff and a delicious juicy natural steak or burger. It is well worth paying even twice as much per pound.

You can't get such beef at Safeway or Giant. And I have some objections to Whole Foods. Mostly geographical, in that there's not one near me. I get it at Costco sometimes, but you can't go to Costco that often. Yesterday, burgers were in order, and time was of the essence. Then I remembered Yes! I don't even think it's been open that long, but for some reason, I was only dimly aware of its existence. But I remembered it in the nick of time.

It was late, and I only had a few minutes to run through the store and find the beef. But find it I did, and generally, that place looks pretty sweet. I'm sure it's expensive, but some things are worth paying extra for. The organic, grass-fed, pampered beef was 8 bucks a pound. A fair shake more than Costco (which I think is around 6?). But it was also stunningly delicious. And I don't think the Costco variety is grass-fed either.

The whole store was incredibly clean and friendly, and the produce looked very nice too. I'll be back soon to give it a more thorough review.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Traffic cameras are out of control in DC

Update Feb. 27, 2012:

The speed trap was moved one block north, to the corner of 16th & Jonquil, a couple weeks ago. The calibration lines are now in the actual intersection of 16th & Jonquil. I wonder if this had anything to do with the poor orientation as seen in the photos of my truck? If the camera was simply aimed correctly, it seems like it would have been a lot better, but maybe the curb further obscured the calibration lines in some situations.

Advice: Start using a GPS traffic camera tracker

I downloaded CameraLert and I've been very happy with it. They are a European outfit but I prefer their app to a couple other better-known ones because it's simple, elegant, and the data is verified. The downside is that their DC coverage of speed cameras seems incomplete, but I've been working on getting it filled out. The red-light camera coverage, on the other hand, seems comprehensive and accurate. I think there are some other new DC users recently because I've started seeing "unconfirmed" reports of some of the mobile speed traps.

But they've been very responsive about confirming & updating the database when I've submitted data, and the application itself is by far the best - fast, highly configurable, and stable. Submitting new cameras is a piece of cake.

I hate using these things. I don't have a radar detector. I never worried about traffic cameras before, because I don't run red lights, and I don't drive at unsafe speeds. I go out of my way to help out pedestrians - I'm that guy who will pull my car into the middle of 16th Street so nobody can pass me, put on my hazards and stop for someone trying to cross at a crosswalk because nobody else will.

But if you have to worry about making a right turn on red in the dead of night without coming to a 100% complete stop before the stop line, or get fined 150 bucks?

I mean come on. It's gone too far.

Original post:

Welcome to 2012, kids. Been dark around here for a while, but I felt the need to get this into the wild so that people searching for information on this subject will find something. I don't understand why this subject doesn't generate more outrage, since the cost to the area's residents is on the order of 300 million dollars over the last decade.

In the last 3 months, I've gotten 3 photo enforcement tickets, to the tune of about $450. All of these are found along my 5 mile commute. One was a red-light ticket at 14th and Miltary, the other two are for a newish traffic camera at the 7700 block of 16th Street.


This violation, for running a red light, comes with a $150 price tag. Unfortunately, I didn't run a red light. I made a right turn on red. Here's the actual video of me.

Now I'm sure some people will point out that I did not technically come to a complete stop (though actually, I more or less did). It was 5:00 AM. There was no traffic. I did, actually, more or less stop. And, regardless, the penalty for not coming to a complete stop is less than the penalty for running a red light.

At the end of the day, I was issued a citation for a crime that was different than the one I actually committed. I think $150 is a reasonable fine for actually running a red light. That's incredibly unsafe and I would never dream of doing that.

I think it's an insane fine for the "crime" I committed in the video above. DC seems to think that you should get your hand chopped off whether you stole an apple or robbed a bank -- and in fact, the system can't even distinguish between them.

Ticket #2: 41 in a 30

This was the first of two "speeding" tickets within a couple days, in mid-december, of the 7700 16th Street camera. Here are the photos. The top two are the original before & after, and the bottom two are after processing so you can actually see something useful.

Problem number 1: Notice of infraction received five weeks after the violation. That means, if you didn't know about the camera, you could easily rack up thousands of dollars in fines before you heard about the first one. Well heck, why not just wait a year? This is ridiculous. If you're going to charge us $150 for a computer-generated violation, there is no excuse - other than extortion - for waiting so long to send out the notification. Oh by the way - you guys also have my email address from when I renewed my registration online, for the last 10 years.

Problem number 2: Useless calibration lines, or misoriented camera. On the back of the citation is a detailed explanation of these lines, and shows how to calculate your speed from the picture. Of course, in the example, the lines are actually in the same part of the road as your car. In the actual photos above, if there are even lines on the pavement where the photos of the vehicle were taken, they are out of the field of view.

Problem number 3: Pictures so dark as to require manipulation just to see anything.

Problem number 4: It's just wrong. I was not going 41 MPH. I added the two diagonal lines in the bottom two pictures so as to have a point of reference. The first one was drawn on top of the (barely visible) calibration line that was under the front axle of the truck in the first picture. I copied it into the 2nd picture at exactly the same spot.

You can see it pretty much crosses the center of my front axle in the 1st shot, and my rear axle in the 2nd. The wheelbase of a 1995 Toyota Tacoma regular cab truck is 103.3 inches. The time between the two pictures is 0.2 seconds.

Doing some math:

103.3 in ÷ 12 in/ft ÷ 5280 ft/mile

0.2 sec ÷ 60 sec/min ÷ 60 min/hr

You get the startling result: 29.34 mph

Actually, this isn't very startling, because this camera is on my daily commute and I am not a moron. Even accounting for any imprecision while trying to analyze these horrendous photos, it's impossible I was going this fast. I would have had to travel another 3.5 feet - almost half again the wheelbase of the truck - to be going 41 mph.

Problem #5: This thing is as reliable as a Fiat

In the first week of January I saw people working on this camera for three days in a row. That certainly inspires confidence. But of course, if there was a calibration problem, why bother voiding all the messed-up citations, that you haven't even mailed yet from the previous month? I bet most people will just pay anyway!

Ticket #3: To be determined

I just finished writing all this up for my letter to DMV. It took over an hour to do the photoshopping, math, and so on. For one ticket. I'm looking forward to doing it again for the next one, but unfortunately, I have only set aside 2 hours per day for dealing with automated traffic citations. So that one will have to wait for another day. I assume it's equally bunk since there's clearly something wrong with the camera.

Conclusion: Want to drive in DC? Start paying "protection" money. Because even if you didn't break the law this time, I bet you did some other time!

I've gotten three tickets in as many months, probably none of them legitimate. It takes at least an hour to deal with contesting each one. Assuming, of course, that they are dismissed. If not, I will have to appear in court, or cough up $150 each.

This amounts to racketeering and extortion. It's gotten to the point where I have to pay a couple hundred dollars a month, or spend a great deal of time proving that I did not commit a crime that was photographed by a machine more than a month ago.

And, of course, if there's something wrong with said machine, or you didn't happen to know about it, and it happens to be on a regular route you use, you might get a dozen of these citations before you even know you did anything wrong.

This is out of control.

I urge everyone to contest every single photo citation you receive and complain to your councilmember. This is a shakedown, and it has nothing to do with safety. This has go to stop.

The only way I know to deal with this is to make noise and clog the system. Two and maybe three out of the three citations I've just gotten are bogus. That's a pretty crappy accuracy rate for something that collects $300 million in fines -- a number that will just be getting bigger as more cameras are installed.

So at a minimum, make them work for it. Contest every single one. But please start making noise. When you can't just drive to work without having to prove you didn't break a law a couple times a month, it's gone too far.