Saturday, October 12, 2013

Amazon review culture and Google endorsements

Years ago I rage-quit Facebook largely primarily I objected to proposed programs that would portray people in ads for products they merely used. Just now Google, the company I work for (I didn't then), is creating a “shared endorsement” program, and it's uncomfortable to me for similar reasons. The actions that might get your face in an ad are more explicit, positive reviews and “+1”s, like Facebook's “Likes” today. That's clearly less objectionable...

Still, there's a step between providing information on a business and endorsing it that I believe is truly significant. A difference between offering information about your positive experience at Menards and driving a car that looks like this:

... or appearing on TV like this:

(Also, the architecture on that... paging Dr. Kunstler...)

I would never rule out the possibility that I'd endorse some business, if that business approached me and we came to an agreement! Probably that agreement would involve me being paid — I am, after all, American — but there would be an actual agreement that my name, words, and image be used in a specific way at a specific time.

Anyway, this stuff is all old hat, and (as REM might have had it) withdrawl in disgust from Facebook may as well have been apathy for all its effectiveness. A boycott with no compelling social underpinning might as well not exist; a solitary boycott that undermined what limited social influence I had was, if anything, counterproductive. Actions that draw on and strengthen social connections are the only ones that have a chance.

So that's where Amazon review culture comes in. My knowledge of Amazon review culture is limited, but, this is pretty much what I'm talking about. Amazon celebrates its funny reviews a little, but no company would ever want a random sampling of positive Amazon reviews shown with its paid advertisements. Could funny, subversive reviews be a response to shared endorsements? Social networks provide exactly the sort of feedback mechanisms to allow these sorts of things to take off, and the message would be reinforced and the community strengthened by engagement with the technology rather than withdrawl. To the snark machines! For great justice!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hash Tag Pacific Rim

There's some sort of pithy quotation about the great stories being retold, over and over again, every generation, but I can't seem to find it right now...

Also it would be silly to even start on the ridiculousness of practically every element of the movie, so here's a bunny with a pancake on its head:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mayoral forum on livable streets that happened TONITE...

I went to it, and learned who not to vote for. That would be Charlie Staadecker, who before he made his pitch not to get involved in divisiveness between cyclists and drivers decided to explicitly call out younger generations as being less attentive drivers than his generation. I went to this event in part to be seen as a person under 30, because so many politicians get the idea that young people don't vote or don't turn out for local politics, so that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

As for the other candidates, from right to left:

  • Peter Steinbrueck has never appealed to me very much. He's not running as a technical or administrative expert, but as a vision guy; at that, his vision is unclear. His platform seems to be, "Trees are pretty and change is bad." He didn't do anything to change my mind tonight.
  • I'm not that concerned when people call McGinn divisive; his willingness to stand up against things he opposes is one of his best qualities, and the really divisive rhetoric has come from his opponents and the media. I'm not that concerned when people say he pushes patchy and incremental fixes for transit or cycling, because his patchy fixes are opportunistic, and he's being incremental when everyone else in power wants to stand still. I'm somewhat more concerned with challenges of his effectiveness, leadership ability, and grasp of the city. I think he performed OK today; with this crowd, on this subject, he can actually point to his record instead of confronting his critics, and that's basically what he did. He could get away with telling easy lies instead of hard truths, and he did that a few times, too.
  • Mary Martin appropriately rejected the framework of every question asked. I sympathize with someone of her stripes finding the subject matter trivial, but she had ample opportunities to tie in her rhetoric to that subject matter and did not do so.
  • Staadecker mentioned above. He came off as a crumudgeon.
  • If Joey Gray is as good an administrator as she boasts she'll do fine work in the private sector, non-profits, or appointed office. If she aspires to elected office she'll have to improve as a politician and probably aim lower to start.
  • I don't know what Ed Murray is doing here. Is mayor of Seattle a step between the state senate and governor's office? He's polished enough but are his issues city issues?
  • Kate Martin sometimes sounds a little spacey and unpolished online. She sounds surprisingly plausible in person. Maybe she's a natural in-person politician and activist that badly needs an editor and strategist.
  • Bruce Harrell is pretty intriguing; he's a good speaker, has a grasp of issues and finances, and in contrast to someone like Murray he just sounds like someone that belongs in city politics. He honestly addressed the pedestrian master plan question (asked how long it would take to implement top priority items, he gave the longest time frame and actually defended his answer, while the other candidates mostly seemed to make up numbers based on nothing), and I imagine his answer to similar questions about the bike master plan would be similarly sobering.
  • Deb Salls and Tom Fucoloro are definitely the front-runners... oh, wait, they were the moderators. OK. They might have been able to get candidates to differentiate themselves more by asking questions about specific places and proposals. If they were trying to get candidates to promise things they could be held to later, or trying to demonstrate general support for cycling and walking among Seattle politicians, they did a ton of that. Maybe that's as important as anything; I'd hardly claim to have a better idea what they should be doing than they have...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

King Street What?

So King Street Station looks really nice. Good for it.

All works, artistic or otherwise, say something about their creators. Train stations like this were monuments to the wealth and power of long-dead rail barons and their once-proud companies, statements (perhaps aspirational) of cities' positions among their peers. When they're restored this projects cities' commitment to preservation and restoration of their histories and become monuments to that. Preserving a city's history. Put that way, almost anyone will support it, and so urbanists and NIMBYs alike marched hand-in-hand to protest Madison Square Garden.

Train stations like this are just not that interesting to me because they tell the same story in every city. If people still traveled by rail they could go coast to coast walking through the same opulently overdecorated halls in every major city. They're as banal as airports and freeways in that way. Airports and freeways give the awful impression that nobody cares about this place... or if someone does, maybe you wish they didn't (LOL? Actually Denver is a pretty rad place to change planes as these things go). American train stations in the year 2013 give the impression that nobody cares whether or not they work. They just need to preserve something about the city's history... its history, its history, its history, its history...

But at least someone cares about the inside space of the place. In a country where we aggressively don't care (you may not want to listen to Kunstler rant bitterly for 20 minutes, but stay on through the intro muzak and listen to the first bitter, ranty sentence) about our public spaces. So... I guess when we have a space like this, even if it's in a sense generic, we should make it a place people can pass through as much as possible. Yeah. I wasn't quite sure where I was going to go with this post, but I think I'll go there. It should at least be a place people can use to exit the Sounder if it's on their way (or if they feel like detouring) like Chicago's Union Station, or can cut through during lousy weather like the Merch Mart.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Best-kept cycling secrets of Seattle

The first one is temporary, so ride it while you can. The Mercer project is going to make everything better for cyclists trying to get around SLU/Cascade/LQA/Seattle Center/Uptown/insert other names here. But until then getting across Aurora is still a pain, right? Actually there's a great route under Aurora until the cruel gods of construction take away the glorious bounty they've given us: two open lanes of Broad cutting right under Mercer and Aurora.

I don't know of any overhead images or maps that illustrate the current situation correctly; Google Earth images are out of date and SDOT's construction maps show the whole Broad Street underpass taken up by westbound car traffic. But on the ground right now the northern half of the underpass is blocked off entirely from car traffic. From the northwest corner of 9th and Mercer, ride west down the curving northern sidewalk until you're past the barrier, then hop off the curb into the empty street for a traffic-free ride straight to Taylor and Harrison. From there it's two blocks to Seattle's famous Bike Squid (I know that's what you came to town for)... and several decent bike routes to Belltown and downtown.

The second one is a permanent bridge over the Interbay rail yard that people just don't know about. Someone recently commented on Seattle Bike Blog that he'd been asked for directions from the Elliott Bay Trail to the Interbay Whole Foods and was stumped for a route across the tracks; you can't really get to the Magnolia Bridge, the Dravus Street Bridge is out of the way and not much fun to ride, the Amgen Bridge is out of the way to the south and requires hauling your bike up and down stairs.

But there's another bridge, just south of the Magnolia Bridge, that gets you over the tracks and, optionally, Elliott Ave/15th Ave. It seems the road it carries is called Galer Street (Galer has to be the most disjointed street designation in Seattle), but what's distinctive about it is that it's shaped like a big S, so I call it the S-Curve Bridge. I imagine it gets lots of traffic certain times of day (it looks like the main motor vehicle access to Amgen and Piers 90 and 91) but much of the time it's almost eerily empty. On the eastbound side of the road there's a shoulder you can use as a bike lane if there's traffic trying to pass you; the westbound side has both a shoulder and a protected sidewalk leading to/from a winding ramp down to the west side of Elliott. If there was lots of bike and pedestrian traffic on the bridge the sidewalk and ramp would get pretty crowded... but then again, it probably wouldn't be any worse than the Fremont Bridge, which the City of Seattle seems to think is showcase bike infrastructure.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Via the great Human Transit, here's a map of where people “miss connections” in every state.
  • There's a Walmart belt, and it's right where you might think it would be.
  • Arizonans miss their connections at LA Fitness while Californians prefer 24-Hour Fitness. I feel like LA is one of those places whose name signifies something totally different to people that live there and people that don't. What other places are like that? Vegas? Nevada does miss connections in casinos, though I wonder how many of those were visitors. I think I've mostly lived in places where locals and outsiders have similar ideas of the place.
  • Rhode Islanders miss connections in parking lots and Coloradans in gas stations. I guess I can understand how that might happen. But Georgians miss connections in cars? Someone call Frank Lloyd Wright, somehow the social context has transcended the windshield.
  • Wisconsin and North Dakota miss connections in bars (so does Vermont). But in between them, born-to-be-mild Minnesota misses connections in supermarkets.
  • I like some states' unique entries. South Carolina, at the football game. Natch. Oklahoma, at the state fair!?! I had to look this up — does Oklahoma have an unusually long state fair, or do Oklahomans only fall for mysterious strangers one week out of the year? It looks like their state fair park is in OKC and hosts events all year, so most of the missed connections are probably at other events.
  • Indiana has both the most boring and inexplicable entry: at home. Come on, Indiana!
  • As Nathan Vass says, in Seattle (and apparently Portland) the full 99% ride the bus.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I hope that when my children's generation looks at me and says, "God, what a troglodytic asshole that condemned all my friends to this hell," I have the wisdom and balls and self-knowledge to just say, "Sorry."