Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 22 Oct 09 12:01
What other books have you written?
Tom Vanderbilt (tomvanderbilt) Fri 23 Oct 09 11:54
My last book was called Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, a sort of architectural-cultural travelogue into the nation's secret, and not so secret, Cold War past. It began, again rather accidentally, by coming across some nuclear storage bunkers in the Utah desert while visiting a friend who doing an arts residency. I was struck by their form, and the way they had sort of vanished into the landscape, as well as cultural memory. What else was out there? There was a vast infrastructure built for this 'war that never happened,' (the Internet, of course!), and a lot of it is out there, gathering dust, falling into premature ruin, or invisible before our eyes. I did the research before 9/11, when it still wasn't so difficult to gain access to places like White Sands Missile Range, or Cheyenne Mountain. Interestingly, some of these places were a bit dormant prior to 9/11, and then sort of flickered back to life. Mt. Weather, for example, in western Virginia, a place designed as part of the 'federal relocation arc,' meant to house the president in the event of a nuclear attack, had more or less become a FEMA training center. But after 9/11, there was a burst of new activity there, and when I went poking around the area, it didn't take long to attract the attention of black SUVs with tinted windows that just seemed to pull up out of nowhere. I wrote a story about my visit for the Guardian newspaper. As it happens, the book is being published in paperback next year by the University of Chicago Press.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 23 Oct 09 16:16
sounds interesting. Did you ever see The Atomic Cafe?
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 26 Oct 09 14:10
Sharon, I remember seeing that film when it came out years ago. This documentary - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Atomic_Cafe The use of popular songs and government propaganda segments intercut with gut-wrenching archival footage of atomic testing worked very well. That approach is less novel now, but it is not hard to imagine using the pop-culture edge for a multimedia piece on cars and traffic. Yesterday at a WELL party I heard a great tale of parking angst. It reminded me that there have been moves by several cities to cash in on street parking, not just by raising the hourly rates and the fines, but in some cases by extending the hours of meter operation dramatically. Chicago evidently sold parking meter rights to a private company that made meters 24 hours, including in residential neighborhoods where some residents have always had to park on the street. I was there this summer, and walked out to a park along the lake, and there was a public art area with painted benches, a few of which were political protests. Of course there was an anti-parking meter protest painting in the bunch of them. Oakland California just had a big battle with this, and backed down. Are there other examples, anybody know? It appears to be very hard on restaurants, theaters, and evening culture in general to not have street parking free up at 6, or at least by 8, and it sure angers drivers. Cities are in big trouble with revenue -- but they can't kill off their businesses. This is a very weird trend to see.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 26 Oct 09 15:08
It's not just revenue, it's also economic development in the sense that people won't shop if they can't find parking, and they can't find parking if people show up in the morning and take up a space all day.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 26 Oct 09 16:10
The way I understood it was that the idea used to be that you'd use meters to limit the stay during the daytime, allowing more people to shop, but allow longer parking stints at night. Each is good for economic development of a rather different kind of business, seems to me. That lets people go to a movie, a club, a play, or just dinner after the shops close. No big hurry or cost for that is good for the arts and the food venues. Making the meters shorten parking stints last all night, or just til 10:00 or 11:00pm, is contrary to the interests of a lot of evening businesses. There's probably an invention (maybe already in production?) that would fix that -- variable rate metered parking, where you could program a meter in a certain neighborhood to charge, for example, a quarter per 10 minutes with a maximum of 30 minutes during working hours M-f, but have it shift to, say, a quarter per hour with a maximum of four hours in the evening. That would help make it flexible and multi-use.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 26 Oct 09 16:27
I thought that was part of the point behind the meters now in use in Berkeley/Oakland -- though they have the unintended consequence of getting rid of individual meters, which bicyclists used to chain their bikes.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 26 Oct 09 19:49
There are still some meters in place, albeit defunct. Such was not the case, however, in the story of parking angst I related to Gail yesterday. And I realize now that I left out a significant detail, so allow me to retail the story. In Oakland, California, mentioned above, they went from individual meters to a parking slab or monolith of kiosk or whatever you want to call it in which you put money or a credit card and receive a receipt in return that you place face-up on your car's dashboard. Some places in Oakland are difficult to finding parking, as is the case of Piedmont Avenue where I had an appointment for a mani-pedi. Usually, as a last resort, I will go to a little parking lot, but on this day, it was full up. Finally, I resort to looking for parking on the nearby residential streets, and immediately, right around the corner from the nail salon, I find a space, the first space on the block. Hallelujah, Lord. The only problem is that there is a bucket in the street, evidently reserving the space. I look around carefully for a sign or a posted permit similar to the No Parking signs on sawhorses that had occupied the adjacent block of Piedmont, but nothing. I conclude that the person had no legal permission to attempt to save the space for themselves, so I move the bucket and park the car. I notice a parking meter at a space across the street, but since all of the ones I've seen since the slabs went in have been gutted and are defunct, I didn't even think twice about it. I went to the slab and paid for my parking, returned to my car and put the slip on the dash. Just then a small pickup truck comes roaring around the corner, and a woman jumps out and furiously confronts me for moving her bucket. She's doing landscaping and I am just unforgiveably rude for taking that space, especially since she had a bucket in it. I go to my appointment and return to my car, to discover that this woman is making up for my rudeness by having left her car, door open, exactly where she had planted it when she confronted me, so everyone driving down the street in either direction has to skirt the car to get by. She's gonna show me! Later that night a friend who is much taller than I looked down at my car and said, You have a parking ticket and reached into the windshield wiper well and pulls it out. I look at it, and to my astonishment, I have gotten a ticket for failing to pay the meter, during the exact time for which I have a receipt on my dashboard. And that's when I noticed the tiny print at the bottom of my receipt: "not valid at individual meters." But...what meter? I saw the one across the street, but not one at the parking space, and I remembered seeing landscaping items stacked up at the curb that must have been blocking the meter from sight. But the biggest shock of all was that those four spaces on that street evidently had functional meters, while the entire street adjacent, and no more than ten feet away used the slab. It never occurred to me that two different parking systems would exist within feet of each other. Instead of mailing a check to pay for the ticket, I sent a letter contesting the ticket, explaining what happened, and pointing out that I had clearly demonstrated my INTENT to pay, I had simply put the money in the wrong slot. I followed up months later, but the parking department was backed up and hadn't gotten to it, and I haven't gotten any response. I suppose I won't get one, either, until the day that I get arrested for failure to pay a parking ticket and the fine will have increased exponentially.
Gail (gail) Tue 27 Oct 09 12:20
Yeah, that's disturbing, Linda. No question that could make a driver snap!
Gail (gail) Tue 27 Oct 09 13:01
Just noticed a very cool post at http://www.howwedrive.com/ It's about which cars bears select for breaking into in Yosemite. Check it out -- minivans are number one, and ease of access is one possible reason. I lived in Yosemite for a year in 1974, and at the time there was one model of car that was highly preferred. It was not a station wagon or minivan-like vehicle, but a sedan which I seem to remember was a Datsun. It was a particular year -- and the rangers at that time thought they knew why. That car still had the triangular "quarter glass" or fly vent windows, but unlike the other similar cars on the road at the time, had no metal in the space between the main window and the triangle, just a rubber seal as a hinge. A friend told me she had watched a bear cruise around a parking lot, ignoring all other vehicles, just popping the windows out of that particular model of those little cars, just to stick his head in and sniff see if there was anything good inside. I may have misremembered some of the details, but at the time I thought that was quite the display of efficiency!
Jerry Marks (jmarks) Tue 27 Oct 09 16:11
I can remember a period in the 80's when bears in the Tuolumne Meadows campground were breaking into Mercedes Benzes. Apparently they had taken a liking to leather upholstery.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 27 Oct 09 19:27
Wind wings we used to call those little windows. You could stick your cigarette out the window and tap the ash without opening the whole window and disturbing your passengers with the resulting rush of air.
noahj (noahj) Tue 27 Oct 09 19:51
And there was a period a few years ago when a few Yosemite bears figured out what to do with Dodge Caravans. All the bear had to do was jump up and down on top of the vans, and eventually the doors would pop open. I remember seeing a video of this (unfortunately, pre youtube). But fortunately, bears do not jump on moving minivans, of any make, in traffic. So back to traffic... So tell us about late mergers vs. early mergers. I remember something about this a while ago, and the notion that "late mergers were quite rationally utilizing the highways maximum capacity, thus making life better for everyone". An aerodynamic engineer would view traffic as a flow, with the understanding that laminar flow is good, and that turbulent flow is very, very bad. Drag increases radically when flow becomes turbulent, with a corresponding decrease in speed. Late merging seems to be nothing more than turbulent flow, a big rock in the stream. Where did this notion of "maximizing the highway's capacity" come from, anyway?
David Albert (aslan) Wed 28 Oct 09 02:45
If we're talking about two lanes converging into one so that all traffic can get through a bottleneck, it seems to me that the only number you need to measure is the number of cars per minute going through the bottleneck, which should be a simple function of the speed of the cars at the point that they go through the bottleneck, and the distance between the cars at that time. If drivers all did what we were taught at some point in driver's ed and kept exactly two seconds behind the previous car no matter what speed we were going (four seconds in wet weather), then the function gets even smoother: it doesn't matter WHAT speed the cars are going when they go through -- exactly 30 cars per minute will go through the bottleneck in good weather, 15 cars per minute in bad weather. And it shouldn't really matter WHEN the merging occurs, unless it slows things down EXACTLY at the bottleneck and not ONE car before. Which I can't quite picture happening.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 28 Oct 09 03:13
Tom, I have a question for you: I grew up in Southern California and freeways grew up at about the same time. When I moved to Northern California, I was astonished at how different the freeways were, and not for the better. In Southern California, transitions between freeways are designed to be smooth and merges are barely noticeable (with a few notable exceptions on older freeways around downtown). In Northern California, transitions appear to be afterthoughts, tacked on as though someone had a thought halfway through the design that, oh, people might also want to go that way from here, and predictably, the worst traffic jams are at the bottlenecks created by the need for people from the right needed to merge to the left in a very short distance, and vice versa. And there are some overpasses that I absolutely cannot drive because they are so high - two narrow lanes with no shoulders - and I think it's only a matter of time before I go over the side. Sometimes I think that the freeways in Southern California were designed by engineers, and the freeways in Northern California were designed by the interns. My question is, how can the freeway systems in one state be so vastly different?
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 28 Oct 09 08:46
(I am going to guess it is the age of the freeways, and that the older SoCal ones got state funds for rebuilding sooner in their lifespan because of the political clout of the southland, but that's just a guess.)
Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 28 Oct 09 20:30
I think the oldest freeways were designed for Model T's.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 29 Oct 09 05:30
Yup, I think so too. A lot of the parkways around the NYC area were designed in the mid 1920s (although it took a while to fund and fully construct them). They've all been upgraded to some degree, but require close attention in a modern car at modern speeds. Of course, not everyone gives them full attention, which is one of the reasons they require full attention.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 31 Oct 09 07:18
Wish I'd seen these before this interview ended, but perhaps people are still peeking in: SOFIA (Reuters) Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating a new gambling game in which drivers defy death by speeding through red lights for bets of up to 5,000 euros ($7,400), the chief prosecutor's office said Thursday. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20091029/od_nm/us_crime_roulette_odd WASHINGTON (Reuters) No need to curse that bad driver weaving in and out of the lane in front of you -- he cannot help it, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday. They found that people with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people with a different DNA sequence. The study may explain why there are so many bad drivers out there -- about 30 percent of Americans have the variant, the team at the University of California Irvine found. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20091029/od_nm/us_genes_driving_odd
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Sat 31 Oct 09 07:27
Heard the second story--and doubt very much that the researchers said that they "can't help it" as they were telling the story. But the first one is pretty terrifying. Russian roulette with who knows how many other people's lives at risk. Eeep.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 3 Nov 09 14:31
Tom kind of faded away on us, but I do want to post a thanks. If you get back here you're welcome to jump back in of course. Thanks to Sharon, too. And for anybody who is not sure what the next conversation is about -- there is a lot of overlap. If we credit or blame road and car designers for some of our social behavior getting from point A to B on the ground, there is an analogy, though not a direct translation, in the design choices for social websites, and behavior online. Some of the details and implications of those choices are pretty interesting... That's <http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/368/Christian-Crumlish-Designing-S oc-page01.html> if you are not logged in, or drop by <inkwell.vue.368> if you are.
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