Sunday, October 11

Edwin Chadwick on Public Transportation

One-hundred and fifty years ago, Edwin Chadwick described the grim public transportation situation in Paris. He could have been writing about almost any Third-World urban center of today. His observations reveal a unique market failure: that transit operators don't compete on the basis of price. Rather, their competition results in inefficient, undesirable, and dangerous outcomes. As Andres Gomez-Lobo puts it, public transit operators should compete for the market instead of in the market.

“I Found at Paris that the attention of the Municipality had also been turned to the service of Public Conveyance, which was in a state analogous to that in London, of vehicles provided by numerous conflicting small capitalists giving inconvenient, and, in every way inferior, service to the public. By authoritative intervention an improvement was effected on the same principle as that effected in respect to the supplies of gas, and with like results… The separate Proprietors were allowed either to take money awarded as compensation, or shares to the amount in the one new Company, which had made the best offer for the whole field of service…The immediate gain to the public was increased convenience, regularity, and freedom of communication, and a general system of correspondence and increased responsibility. Instead of, as in London, streets encumbered and disturbed by nearly empty, or only partially filled inferior vehicles, sometimes crawling with a few passengers, annoyed by detentions for a full load, at other times racing, and dangerously over laden, the circulation throughout Paris was made regular from regularly appointed stations, at fixed charges, which excluded extortionate variations. But I was particularly struck with the necessary effect of the change in the social relations of the men engaged in the reformed service, in the immediate suppression of that antagonistic relation, and its consequences, which we see most fully developed in London, in perpetual wolfish conflict, engendering habits of ruffianism, with extortionate yet precarious earnings spent in dissipation and without reserves for sickness and old age."

Monday, October 5

Street Lighting In 17th-Century Amsterdam

Lettie S. Multhauf, "The Light of Lamp-Lanterns: Street Lighting In 17th-Century Amsterdam" Technology and Culture 26 no. 2 (1985): 236-252.

"Van der Heyden's first oil lamps had apparently been quite unsatisfactory. Great amounts of oil had spilled, drenching the lanterns and posts. The lanterns had been so greasy that they had been difficult to handle and the lamplighters had raged against the manufactureres of the lamps, who, not realizing the cause of the spilling, had vainly searched for leaks. But van der Heyden had come to realize that the oil was veing pushed out by air, which was enclosed in a small space and expanded when warmed by the flame or by sunlight: "The air, as can be seen in weather glasses, is such that it shrinks by the cold and expandes by the heat." To solve this problem, he experimented with a glass lamp in which he could observe the displacement of oil by the expanding air. Figure 2 shows both the unsatisfactory initial model and the improved final design, whereas figure 3 shows mode of constructing the entire lantern.

"In his treatise, van der Heyden devoted considerable attention to the placement of the streetlights. At the begining of the installation, some large lanterns, each holding four lamps, had apparently been placed 300 feet apart. But he showed mathematically that less oil was consumed and the light was brighter when smaller lanterns with only one lamp were placed closer together. After a detailed calculation taking into account the price of oil, wages, and the cost of lanterns, repair, and interest, he concluded that the highest efficency was obtained with single lanterns spaced at a distance of 125 to 150 feet. He suggested that in the poorer districts the lanterns could be somewhat further apart, since "poor people usually have less light inside, so that their eyes are used to to it."

Wednesday, August 26

Interesting Seasonality

I've been playing with Google trends more than usual lately.

Last fall, on September 15, when AIG and Lehman failed, we wanted to read about it in the Wall Street Journal. But for the election, we sought our coverage from Fox News. You can see that we thought a lot more about bankruptcy, but it seems to be calming. But not in Nevada. Even if we weren't worrying about bankruptcy, it many of us had to skip our vacations this year.

The recession can be sad stuff, but sadness can is also seasonal. In the winter, we are a little sad, but those who are really serious are not sad about the weather.

Other things have an internet seasonality that is, in some years, blown entirely out of proportion.

Some trends that have funny shaped but consistent seasonality:
we stop looking for the last third of the year, but come new years, it seems we don't do much else. It makes sense that spikes are sharper in the upward direction than the downward direction. It's a shame you can't zoom more because there are very detailed blips that are common to every year. This is especially distinctive in the UK, perhaps contractual employment is more common there and tends to follow a calendar year.

Exactly what you would think. New Years. Maybe we just use the internet more in December.

Has a consistent structure that is interesting, pronounced, and which I in no way understand.

Wednesday, August 5

Soaring Rhetoric

I left my office for lunch and as i looked up to note how the weather had improved i noticed something unusual in thw sky: indeed it was a batsllion of skydivers careening to the earth pulling behind them "T-Mobile" flags. Sure, somewhere in Korea there is a factory of workers and somewhere in Missouri there is a town with a call center of customer service representatives. The livelihoods of these communities and their families surely require the successful promotion of T-mobile's new touch phone with google, but even trying to take seriously the social value of their enterprise i lost the battle not to laugh when the announcer announced over fireworks, as the last of 100 skydivers landed, that the T-Mobile touch with google had, with his touchdown, officially launched. U2's "Beautiful Day" blasted over Justin Herman Plaza. We were encouraged not to leave, but to go meet the brand ambassadors as they untied their parachutes.

Thursday, July 16

Monetizing Emma

Someone has taken seriously the idea of securitizing investments in human capital. Gary Becker likes to explain that, were it not for the difficulty/immorality in collecting on the contracts, education and therefore earnings would be more equitably and efficiently allocated if there were a market for investments in human capital. Smart kids would borrow money against future earnings and be obligated to pay it back.

The returns to education are very high (Grossman, Becker, Murphy estimate an 18% return to an additional year of school for the marginal american highschool student (marginal here meaning one who has the lowest return of those staying in school---or the highest of those dropping out)). Even poor parents are better off investing in their children than in a savings account--assuming that they believe their children will 'repay' that debt. But they often can't borrow money to invest in their kids.

Why don't rich people/hedge funds/etc invest in the education of poor kids?

I am glad to see that Monetizing Emma has taken on the question.

Thursday, June 18

Iranian Pro-Democracy Rally

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, June 17

Decided to go to the ocean at 7:10

Arrived at 7:31

-- Post From My iPhone

In Praise of Complex Financial Instruments, Things in California Could Be Worse

The State of California will be bankrupt in 44 days.

But it could be a lot worse. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the financial crisis, or at least of the complicated MDS and MDS-derived securities that are blamed for the financial crisis, may be that they saved the state from a deeper, earlier, harder bankruptcy. Here is how I see it: This state, perhaps after Florida, has the highest home foreclosure rate in America. We made the most bad loans. We have the worst defaults. It's on a scale you can't imagine, especially in the southern half of the state.

Traditionally, home lending is local. If seven million Californians default on the mortgages (as they may), that was ten million write downs on local bank loans, which would basically destroy the entire state's network of banks, putting their assets under the receivership of the FDIC until they could sell them to another bank somewhere else, probably out of state. The loss, meanwhile, would be much worse than that seven billion in bad loans that are written down--it would be the leverage on that (if banks borrowed cash against assets to make the loans, which could be as much as 30xs the cost of the defaulted loans--around 210 billion dollars! All in CA!) and the cost of banks collapsing, which could be a true disaster for local economies, and would certainly be a disaster for savings of Californians, who traditionally owned all the interest in local banks. CALPERs would be done. Any anyone else who had any savings took a serious hit. The state would have collapsed a in the summer of 2007. The all-but-inevitable CA bailout could have cost a lot more.

Thank god for complicated financial instruments that distribute that risk geographically, such that it was shared around the world. Instead, an unsuspecting village in Norway is bankrupt and pension and sovereign wealth funds from Detroit to Dubi are eating it. Japanese elderly and trust funds on the Upper East side all take a slice of this. And California gets a pass, which we still manage to fuck up. But it could be a lot worse.

Be skeptical of financial regulation. Distributing risks can be a good thing.

Monday, June 8

My apartment is finally condemned...

50 years too late. Long live the peperland, Built for the worlds fair.

-- Post From My Mobile

Tuesday, May 19

Racist Automated Phones in Harris County District Court

At work today, I had to call the Harris County district courthouse. Harris County is the third most populous county in the US, and contains the city of Houston. Until 1848, it and the hundreds of miles surrounding it belonged to the Republic of Mexico.

Annoyed that it was taking so long to get a hold of a human--which I needed in this case--I thought I'd try in Spanish.  I hang up and call back and am confronted with the menu of options: for Spanish press 7, for civil suits press 1, for press inquiries press 2, for department of records press 3, for criminal trials press 4, for family court press 5, etc... I press seven.


Press 1 for criminal trials
Press 2 to contact a parole officer
Press 3 for family court/child support


In my best attempt at fairness to Harris County, if you are involved in a civil lawsuit in Harris County and you don't speak English, you probably have bigger problems.  But even if it isn't efficient, shouldn't a court be trying to do something other than opperate efficiently? Is it difficult to furnish a Spanish speaking line in Houston?  


Thursday, May 14

Recyclable: Boats

From the Times:

HONG KONG — After more than five years of negotiations, delegates from 64 countries reached broad consensus here Thursday on a new international agreement regulating the recycling of ships. They scheduled a final meeting Friday to approve and sign the pact.

The dismantling of ships, so that their steel and other materials can be sold as scrap, is often done on or near beaches in poor countries, notably India and Bangladesh. Both nations have pledged to improve working conditions and environmental practices. But labor advocates contend that the process still kills and maims many workers each year and results in the contamination of shorelines with asbestos, oily waste, toxic paint and other dangerous materials.

Full Story:

Bike to Work Day 2009, San Francisco

So many people on bikes this morning, I have to believe many were not going to work.  

The SFBC's energizer station on Market Street was a great place to drink coffee and people-watch.  In this photo, two City Supervisors, on City Planning Director, and Gary Fisher.  

Note that half of the Supervisors rode on tandem bikes with staff/partners.  I joined Supervisors Dufty and Mirkirimi here to ride to City Hall.  We led them down polk street, against the flow of traffic, without a bike lane to show them what their daily commute requires with the current state of SF Bike Lanes.  Passing the Polk Contra-Flow Lane would fix this problem.

At City Hall Supervisors Duft and Mirkirimi joined Supervisors Chiu, Chu, Campos, Avalos,  and Mar, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, DPW Head Ed Reskin, a spate of SF directors, and maybe 250 cyclists.  Every one of the officials in attendence, all expressed enthusiastic and unconditional support for every one of the 56 proposed bike improvements that the city is considering.  I look forward to them keeping their promises.  If they do not vote for each one, they are liars.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera (picture, badly, below) had the best shirt:  "One Less Lawer in a Car".

Celebratory drinks tonight at Rickshaw Stop.  Gary Fisher told me he would be wearing his new tweed suit!

Tuesday, May 12

Unexpectedly in Petra

This was not the plan.

-- Post From My Mobile

Goodbye Europe

-- Post From My Mobile

Thursday, May 7

My Mom is Crazy

Albuquerque Journal
Monday, April 27, 2009


City's Chief Financial Officer Heading to Iraq

Journal Staff Report
         Anna Lamberson is preparing to leave the political war zone for a real one.
        She will head to Iraq this summer with a civilian contractor to help rebuild local governments there.
        "I'm very grateful to the mayor and city of Albuquerque for the opportunity," Lamberson said this week in an interview. "I've learned tons. I hope I can put it to good use."
        Lamberson, the city's chief financial officer, has served in the mayoral administrations of Martin Chávez and Jim Baca. She has a doctorate in economics from the University of Utah, where she focused on international trade and development.
        "This is like going back to what I wanted to do," she said. "This is an offer I can't refuse."
        Lamberson will work for the Research Triangle Institute. She will be located in Iraq but isn't sure where yet.
        It's a one-year assignment. She will be a public-finance adviser for a reconstruction team.
        Under Lamberson, the city has seen its bond rating climb to "AAA" — one of the highest in the country for a municipality.
        Chávez said Lamberson is one of only a few executives he hired from the Baca administration after succeeding him in 2001. Chávez said he "didn't have to worry" about finances with Lamberson keeping watch.
        "She's a star in any environment," he said.

Train to Belgrade

We did not have high hopes of the overnight train from Budapest to Belgrade after seeing some of the trains in the Budapest station and reading a hysterical New York Times travel piece on how profoundly awful the train is ("the pastries were passable but the coffee was horrible") (I loathe the Times Travel section).

We are showed to our cabin (we ride first class because we are rappers in the former Yugoslavia) by a stern and disciplined Serb who had no English but good German, a language I speak famously well. Our cabin is great. Made better only after I pimp it out with a Budapest acquisition: a small iPod dock with speakers.

We have a bottle of Hungarian wine (pretty damn okay!) and jars of beautiful Hungarian preserved peaches. We listen to This American Life. We watch Hungary fly by. We are rappers. The NYT travel writers are fools. We sleep soundly.

We get to the Serbian border and police trained in a dictatorship pound at the door and turn the handle to find it locked. It's 3 AM! I contemplate putting pants on, more pounding and jostling the doorknob. Fuck. I open the door. Serbian police want my papers. Everything goes fine except that I have been in Serbia for 20 minutes and I already dislike the police.

5:30 AM and we are in Belgrade. Belgrade does not have a beautiful train station except maybe from this angle:

We seek out a hotel, picking a big, ugly, communist affair. Decidedly, it fits the city which could have been built by Stalin himself.

The view was very... Belgrade.

We can't check in yet, so we walk to the acropolis, a fort built most recently by the Austro-Hungarians and before them the Ottomans. It offers a view of the confluence of the Danube and Selva, rivers that have long sustained Belgrade's large population and ensured its status as a trade center. Situated atop the only hill in a town on the edges of the Pannonian plain and Balkan peninsula, the hill is the key to ruling a very large area. The forts atop this hill have been destroyed at least 42 times in recorded history.

The confluence

Now the fort is used as a park, Zoo, and military museum.

I climb on a soviet tank. A little boy arguing with his parents about why he was not allowed to climb on tanks cited my example. His parents explain to him that I an an American on a Russian tank, and that this is understandable.

These kids using the howitzer are at least old enough to drink. This scene would disturb me more after seeing what remains of Sarejevo, where most of these weapons on display were used by Serbs to starve and murder Sarejevans for 4 years.

On display inside the museum are the remains of a shot-down American Stealth Fighter.

I speculate that this is one act of vandalism, not two.

This is awkwardly right next to government buildings and the Russian embassy in downtown Belgrade (also close to the US Embassy, which makes a very small footprint and flies no flags). NATO planes did this. Note the trees growing in the rubble.

But they buy American. These are G-Plates.

A particularly polemical bookstore.

Saturday, May 2


Critical Mass twice/year, 10,000 riders, city shuts down. Good poster.

Largest Synogogue in Europe, most Jews percapita in Europe, a stranger at the train station makes a point to tell me.

Czech Republik

The border with Germany is mountainous, my theories of the world are confirmed. I drink the real Budwiser.


I am leaving AMS from an unusual station, Ams Zuid. To be sure I get it right for my early train, I dedicate several hours in my last day to locating the station. Still, I mannage to miss the high-speed ICE train, but in an unusual way: I was too early. I got on the train that was immediately before the ICE, a safe position to ask whether this is the train to Germany. As soon as I hear "I think not" the doors closed. I watched them announce the next train is to Berlin. I an trapped. After a fit of rage, the details of which are now irrelevant, I get off the train, see my error and head to Amsterdam Central station where I buy a new ticket and board a train from a conventional station. I am 2 hours late, violent. I only get over this failure days later.
I arrive in Berlin. Kreusburg is great. Weather is great.

Thursday, April 30


We survive.

Ranching the suburbs...

Salmon triangle on Easter...

And we rode along a Schipol runway..

A surprising number of people spent their Easter watching airplanes take off. Who knew?

Tuesday, April 28


This is what we were thinking when we decided to ride through Holland.

Delft, Easter

Delft might be the cutest town in Holland. We are here for Easter, near this great big, old church where William the silient is burried.

Tower is about to fall. Deserves more hype than that of Pisa.

-- Post From My Mobile

Rotterdam is the new brooklyn

Left a literal tabula rasa by some german fascists, it's been re-planned as an architectural labratory. Proof that it was possible to build a well designed, bike and public transit based city starting in 1945. Compare to: Phoenix.
Below, the Erasmus draw bridge with bike lane.

I of course love draw bridges. And Renzo Piano buildings (right side).

We are taken in by a Dutch social worker.

Bike tunnel under the Maas river! From a late-night ride.

I've stopped wearing a helmet because the bike lanes are seperate from the car lanes.

From My Mobile

Friday, April 24


We made it at sun down!

-- Post From My Mobile

Antwerp to Rotterdam

It was a long day and we got a late start. We are armed with a map of Belgium that includes bike routes. We want the feitzen route 5 to the Rotterdam. The good news is we have what seems to be a good map of Belgium's bike routes. The bad news: we don't have a map of the Netherlands. Literally, we will cross that bridge when we come to it-it crosses the maes river- but then well be off the map.

I like the train station at Antwerp.

I want to dispel any notion that 'they' eat better than us. Fast food in Antwerp's endless suburbs sucks. But it was a suburb and we were hungry. It reminded John of Indiana.

This is a bike lane in Suburban Antwerp. Red brick lanes all the way to Amsterdam. It's elevated above the street and often also below the sidewalk. The best ones allow parking Between cars and bikes, offering great protection to riders. I wish they would do this on Cesar Chavez street in San Francisco rather than the proposed huge median. Colored bike lanes are also novel but seemingly obvious and cheap.

It's not strictly good to have so many bike lanes. We got lost near Flanders field. We found a bridge and fort the Nazis destroyed. John contemplating the rubble. This railway bridge used to run to a nearby airfield.

While the Low Counrries are famous for beer, bikes, chocolate, refer, hookers, tollerance, and being bruralized in wars they also have an population of water fowl in both diversity and quantity. This is maybe a more banal example--and definately a bad photo--these birds snorted at us in a threatening way. I would not have noticed the birds had I traveled by train.

Bunker next to train tracks. It's important to protect your train tracks.

The blue is the bike route.

We saw so many spandex street gangs.

Everyone loves to show off their artillery, even if they surrendered in 8 days.

This was the most beautiful part of the ride, through a marsh in a national park. Note that this road is for only bicycles and pedestrians.

We were tired, cranky, and very hungry. We were blessed by an angel, a Flemish angel, who gave us bread, chocolate, meat, cheese, and beer. We ate and made ammends. We are not sure we will make it to Rotterdam. We are sure we can't do it before dark. We may spend the night in the town of Roosendal? It's on the map.

We got to Roosendal. It sucks. We would rather sleep in a pile of hay. We carry on, 60k from holland. Unfortunately, we don't have a map of the netherlands and don't know precisely where Rotterdam is. "there will be signs" we say. "I don't know where we will sleep tonight, but it will be a good story" we say. "you don't want to die without good stories" we say.

We push on. The sun is setting.

A bench, a bike lane, and SHEEP. Onward.

A suspension bridge across an irrigation canal? Onward.

-- Post From My Mobile