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ResQgeek

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It seems to me that it is long past time to find a solution to the problem of Congressional Representation for the people who live in the District of Columbia. The House of Representatives is currently considering legislation that would impose limitations on abortions in the District of Columbia. Not only do the residents of DC not have any representatives that can vote on this issue, but during a subcommittee hearing for this bill, their non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, was not even allowed to speak. If that isn’t the antithesis of representative democracy, I don’t know what is. Regardless of your position on the issue of abortion, we should all be outraged that Congress is willing to impose legislation without so much as even considering the views of those upon whom the law will be enforced.

An analysis about why we can't seem to give DC true representation )

SnOMG!

Feb. 11th, 2010 03:07 pm
resqgeek: (Default)
It started with Snowmaggedon the weekend before Christmas. It continued last weekend with the Snowpocalypse, and culminated with the Snowverkill yesterday. Unless you're living in a complete media vacuum, you've probably heard that Washington, DC has been buried in more snow than ever recorded for an entire winter season. I grew up with snow of this magnitude...the Great Lakes can generate snowfalls of truly epic proportions. But the regions around the Great Lakes also have the equipment and skills to cope with such snow. Here in the South, they struggle to plow residential streets with pickup trucks, and I'd be surprised if any of the plow operators has ever even heard of a wing plow.

The federal government closed early on Friday, and has yet to officially reopen. After spending the bulk of four days shoveling snow (I actually was able to take a break on Tuesday!), I decided to go to the Office today anyway. I have work that needs to be completed this week (though I'm now in a holding pattern, waiting for a response from an attorney in Seattle). Besides, it was nice to get out of the house for a while. I might come in again tomorrow, at least for a while, even if the government makes a full week of it.

The good news is that all the shoveling has been good for me. Yes, my arms, shoulders and back ache. But I've noticed that my pants have become increasingly loose around the waist. I pulled out the scale to confirm it...I've lost almost 15 pounds since I last weighed myself before we left for Steamboat Springs, CO! Now, if I can just manage to keep it off...

I've long told people that I miss having a "real" winter here in the DC area. I missed having real snow and real cold. I always thought that I'd really like to have a week or two of it every year, just to get my fix. Well, I've got my fix for this year. Unfortunately, the forecasts seem to indicate that we are going to continue in our current pattern for a while. In fact, I'm hearing that there may be more snow coming early next week. At some point, it will warm up, and the snow will melt. The question then will be how fast will the melt off be? If it warms up quickly, and especially if it rains at the same time, we may well have some serious flooding problems...

Meanwhile, the Winter Olympics begin tomorrow in Vancouver, and they don't have enough snow, and the temperatures are above freezing so they haven't been able to make any. I wonder if we could load up a train with some of our snow and ship it west...
Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a link to a Washington Post article about a mom experimenting with public transportation for her high school son. That link generated some great comments that got me thinking about my relationship with the public transportation system.

I have used public transportation to commute to and from my office virtually every workday for almost 12 years now. For many years, my commute involved a combination of city buses and the Metrorail trains. Currently, I'm just using city buses. While I do get a subsidy from my employer to cover the costs of using public transportation, I was already using the system before the subsidies were offered, and I would continue to do so if they were discontinued. There are a number of reasons I prefer public transportation to driving:

  • Exercise - The public buses don't stop in front of my house (in fact, they don't even run on my street), so I have to walk to the end of the street to the nearest bus stop. This fits with my goal of trying to increase my activity level by taking advantage of opportunities to get exercise that arise during my normal day. (I have found that I cannot exercise just for exercise sake, but that's a topic for another post, another day.)

  • Stress - Driving in this area, especially during the peak traffic periods, is VERY stressful. Before I switched to public transportation, when I was driving to work every day, I was becoming a dangerous driver. I suffered from road rage and had become a dangerously aggressive driver. Now, I can read the newspaper or a book, and someone else has to worry about the traffic. My blood pressure is lower, and when I do have to drive, I'm less aggressive and have a more relaxed attitude.

  • Money - With the subsidy, my commute is essentially free. But even without the subsidy, the bus is less expensive than driving. Parking at my office would cost me $100/month. Add in the cost of fuel and maintenance for the car I would need to drive, and driving would be significantly more expensive than the $50-$60/month it would cost me to ride the bus everyday.

  • Intangibles - It doesn't have a big impact, but using the bus every day is my small contribution to improving my community. I'm helping, in my small way, to reduce the traffic volume on our streets, and at the same time, I helping to conserve fuel and reduce pollution. By myself, none of these change things very much, but there is a certain satisfaction from knowing that I'm doing something.

    As for our daughters, their elementary school is only a block up the street, and they've walked to and from school since the very beginning. While we walked with them when they were younger, they've been walking by themselves for more than a year now. However, if you go up to the school at the beginning or end of the school day, you will find cars lining both sides of the street, with parents dropping off or picking up their children. Many of these people live within easy walking distance (some live closer than we do!). Most of them leave their engines idling while they wait (and then complain about when fuel prices go up). I find it very irritating. Not only are they wasting fuel and contributing to our traffic and pollution issues, but they are also training their children to be inactive and lazy, rather than active and healthy. I just don't get it.
  • Twelve years ago, yesterday, my wife and I stood in front of the altar in my parish and exchanged vows. Yesterday turned out to be a beautiful day to spend remembering that event.

    On Saturday afternoon, after the girls' soccer games were finished, we drove to my MIL's house, where we dropped the kids off for a couple of nights with grandma, giving us a day to ourselves yesterday. We started off with a champagne brunch at a nearby restaurant. We enjoyed the buffet and ate far too much food, but it was relaxing and fun. Afterwards, we drove into DC and after a bit of searching managed to find a parking space that wasn't miles away from the Tidal Basin and the cherry blossoms.

    This was one of those years when the peak of the blossoms happened to coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and so as we made our way toward the Tidal Basin, we found ourselves surrounded by thousands (probably tens of thousands) of other people. Yet even with all these people, it was a surprisingly relaxing way to spend the afternoon. We took a leisurely stroll around the tidal basin, past the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, across the bridge on Independence Avenue, with the Washington Monument off to the left and around towards the Jefferson Memorial. There were crowds of people walking along the paths around the Tidal Basin, people picnicking on the grass and posing for pictures among the cherry trees. Everyone seemed very relaxed and patient. When we finally made it around to the Jefferson memorial, there was a stage set up in front of the memorial, so that the steps became seating for an outdoor theater. On stage was a group of Japanese drummers performing, which was interesting, but didn't hold my attention for very long. However, on the pavement in front of the stage was a pair of performers costumed as a dog, hamming it up with the crowd. They were pretty good, and it was fun to just stand in the sun for a few minutes and laugh.

    Eventually, we made our way back to the car and headed home, where we spent a quiet evening alone. It might not have been an exciting anniversary celebration, but it was relaxing and fun.
    The week after the Inauguration, President Obama made a bit of a splash in the DC area news by making some critical remarks about the inability of this region to cope with winter weather. As someone who grew up in Western New York, I can sympathize with what the President was saying, but I've lived here long enough now to recognize that that it simply is unreasonable to expect this area to cope as well as areas that deal with this weather on a more frequent basis. The local governments cannot afford to invest the same kind of money into snow removal that local governments further north do, when it might be used only three or four times a year. That simply isn't money well spent. So I try not to be critical.

    However, I still find the responses to snow events in this area amusing. We have something like six inches of snow on the ground now, which has accumulated since yesterday evening. Pretty much all the area schools are closed, and the Federal Gov't is excusing up to two hours of late arrivals and allowing people to stay home without having prior approval for leave. But I made it to the Office at my usual time, walking through the snow to my bus stop, where my bus was pretty much right on time. No real hardship involved. Listening to others, you'd think that my arrival that early was some sort of amazing feat. Hmmph.

    I also found the coverage on The Weather Channel last night annoying, so much so that I changed the channel after only about five minutes. They were hyping this as the "East Coast Mega-Storm" or something similar. Mega-Storm? To me that conjures up images of the Superstorm of March 1993. I was visiting a friend in Syracuse when that storm hit. Syracuse recorded 43 inches of snow in that storm, and it was truly massive in scale. By comparison, today's snow doesn't amount to much. This need to over-hype stories (which is probably driven by the chase for higher ratings and the corresponding increase in advertising revenue) is one of the things that annoys me most about the modern media, especially television news. It causes people to over-react and inspires a level of panic way out of proportion to events.

    Okay, so six inches of snow in the Washington area does cause problems. I understand that it will take longer to plow and treat the roads, and that not all our drivers have the necessary experience to drive safely and comfortably in these conditions. But why do we have to act like its the end of the world every time it happens? I mean, really, just deal with it folks.
    My parents were in town over the weekend to celebrate the younger daughter's birthday. On Monday, the girls had another birthday celebration to attend, so my parents and I headed into DC to play tourist. We had never visited the Newseum before, so that became our destination. It turned out to be quite an impressive museum. It is dedicated to the five freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment (religion, speech, press, assembly and petition), with an emphasis on the Freedom of the Press. Among the memorable displays was an archive of historic newspapers, a collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, a big section of the Berlin Wall and an exhibit about the 9/11 attacks and the role of the media that day. On the top floor is a terrace that looks out over Pennsylvania Ave, with a spectacular view of the U.S. Capitol. I thought it was interesting that the only flags readily visible from this vantage point are those on the Canadian Embassy next door. I snapped this shot with my cell phone to try and capture the scene.
    After a long afternoon of promoting books at the Kensington Day of the Book Festival and a relaxing evening meal at Panera Bread, it was time for everyone to go their separate ways. I had to honor of hosting [livejournal.com profile] teotakuu for the night, and so after making sure all her luggage was successfully transfered to my van, we set of for what would be her fifth different state for the day. We crossed the Potomac River into Virginia and drove down the George Washington Parkway towards the heart of the nation's capital. We crossed the river again at the Memorial Bridge, admiring the views of the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument as we drove. I found a parking space on Constitution Avenue, right next to the Vietnam War Memorial, and we got out for a stroll.

    The night was damp and chilly, with a bit of wind, but even so, there were still a number of tour groups moving among the monuments as we payed our respects to those who served in Vietnam and in Korea. As we walked, we talked at length about these conflicts, and the histories of our countries, and it was clear that she found these monuments quite moving. We also walked up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but the climb was simply too daunting after such a long day, so we decided to take a pass on a closer look at old Abe. We did pause and admire the view down the National Mall at the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome, though, before heading back to the van.

    The rest of the tour was conducted from the vehicle, as I drove past the White House and the Jefferson Memorial, before returning to the Virginia side of the river. We drove within an easy stone's throw of the Pentagon before heading down into Old Town Alexandria, where I think [livejournal.com profile] teotakuu was a bit surprised to find street names, such as King, Duke, and Royal, that are clear holdovers from our colonial days. Finally, we arrived at my house, where my wife was waiting up for us to return. We sat and talked for a spell, but eventually we all needed to get some sleep.

    Monday morning started with the usual bustle of getting the girls up and ready for school. I don't know if [livejournal.com profile] teotakuu managed to sleep through all the ruckus, but she (perhaps wisely) stayed out of the way until the girls were on their way. She had some tea and toast and checked her e-mail and such, while we waited for crrcookie and her son to join us from Maryland for the trip to Manassas to meet [livejournal.com profile] buffra and [livejournal.com profile] futurecatnz. The steady, soaking rain made any detailed sightseeing at the battlefield an unpleasant prospect, so we limited ourselves to the views from the visitor's center and a quick glance through the small museum.

    We then headed for lunch, after which we said our good-byes. It was lovely to meet both travelers from New Zealand, even if it was only for such a brief period. I hope they enjoyed their brief time here, and I look forward to reading about the remainder of their travels in the coming days.

    [cross posted in [livejournal.com profile] bcxchange]

    (no subject)

    Jul. 5th, 2007 09:24 am
    resqgeek: (Default)
    Last night I took my daughters to see their second fireworks display in less than a week. Since we usually are traveling over Independence Day, we haven't been able take the girls to see the fireworks on the National Mall, but this year we were home, so I decided to give it a go.

    We spend the afternoon at my MIL's, having lunch and relaxing, and as we headed back to the city, we were clearly just ahead of a nasty patch of storms. The tornado warnings were posted for places we had just passed through as we made our way along. Luckily, the storms moved through quickly, without any major damage (at least I haven't heard any reports of any), and by the time we dropped my wife off at work and headed to the Metro station to catch a train, the sun was trying to peak through the clouds.

    We got off the train at the Arlington Cemetery station, and walked towards the river. We found a spot on the grass, just to the north of Memorial Bridge, on a gentle slope down to the river. We had a fine view of the Lincoln Memorial across the river, and the Washington Monument poked up above the bridge. I set up my tripod and camera, and got set to take pictures.

    The fireworks started right on time at 9:10pm, and continued for a full twenty minutes. I shot over 120 pictures, a few of which are available on my Flickr account. The girls were thrilled by the size of the explosions (after I pointed out how much bigger than the Washington Monument they were), the length of the display, and by the shaped displays (the younger daughter loved the heart shapes!). I was expecting to be crammed into the train for the ride home, but was pleasantly surprised to find the trains relatively uncrowded. Both girls have clearly expressed a desire to do this again.

    DC Fireworks 2007
    Anyone who has ever tried to get around the Washington, DC, metropolitan area on a regular basis understands how bad our traffic has gotten. We hear a lot of debate about how to solve the problem, with proposals for road improvements and smarter development flying around as thick as the mosquitoes in July. But one thing you don't hear a lot about is the Potomac River, except that it presents a barrier to efficient traffic movement. But what if we were to use the river itself to move people? In today's Washington Post, columnist Steven Pearlstein discusses this very concept. I doubt it would be a magic solution to our traffic woes all by itself, but it makes a lot of sense to consider it as an integral part of a comprehensive transportation plan for the region (yeah, like that's ever going to happen...).

    Steve Pearlstein's column from today's Washington Post.
    Tags:
    Just got a call from my wife. Our financial adviser called the house and offered us four tickets to tonight's Washington Nationals game (against the Florida Marlins). Free! So, I'm trying to finish up here so I can get home and change before we head to RFK Stadium in DC.

    Unfortunately, the Nationals have lost their last eight (!!) games in a row, so I'm not holding my breath on it being a really exciting game, but it should be fun anyway. The girls have never been to a professional sports game before, and I can't wait to watch them soak up the experience.
    An article in the Metro section of today's Washington Post includes a list of 22 pedestrians that have been killed by vehicles in the Washington, DC area since January 1. Some of these are the pedestrians own fault (six of the incidents are listed as including jaywalking or pedestrians crossing against the signals), but what about the others? It appears to me that motorist here are not looking for pedestrians, or respecting pedestrians right-of-way. In an incident on Feb. 16, a woman was struck and killed by a car, and then run over by a second car! At what point did we decide that pedestrians are invisible?

    This is an issue that I take quite personally. Except for long trips, I drive very little any more...just the odd errand on the weekends, mostly. I haven't driven to work regularly in almost ten years. Instead, I walk to the nearest bus stop and catch a public bus to the office. Along the way, I have to cross one residential street at a stop sign, an exit ramp from the Capital Beltway (I-495) at a traffic signal and an entrance ramp to the Beltway (at a crosswalk with no traffic control devices). On the way home, I also have to cross Eisenhower Ave., a four lane commercial street, at an intersection with a traffic signal. I have had close encounters with vehicles at every single one of these crossings. People regularly fail to stop at the stop sign in my neighborhood, and turning traffic (which doesn't have a stop sign) rarely slows down as it whips around the corner. Seldom do I get through a week without watching a number of cars run red lights at the two traffic signals. And the entrance ramp to the beltway can be a nightmare to cross during evening rush hour as the commuters stream past me, intent only on getting home, and most unwilling to pause long enough to allow me to cross.

    It doesn't make any difference to these drivers, but it has caused me to become very aware of my behavior as a pedestrian. I wait for signals to change, even when there isn't traffic. I generally avoid jaywalking. Part of this is me trying to feel superior, but I also want to believe that if pedestrians were better at obeying the rules, perhaps the drivers would be more willing to yield to us when we have the right-of-way. I'm just tired of drivers giving me a hard time when they are the ones breaking the rules (that means you, the guy running the red light after I get my "walk" signal...).

    So, next time you're in your car, please try and be aware of the pedestrians and remember, we have rights too.
    I came to the office a bit later than usual yesterday, as I wanted to see my parents before they headed back to the snows of upstate NY. As a result, the bus I caught didn't quite get me to the office, but dropped me at the nearest Metro station. As I walked the rest of the way to the office, I had a chance to observe a number of other people as they made their way to and from the Metro station. The sleet/snow mix from Wednesday is now frozen into a solid mass that will support my weight, and it quite slippery, especially where its smooth. This presented some difficulties for many of the pedestrians I was watching.

    Here's how I deal with such conditions...I have a pair of waterproof hiking boots with rubber soles and a nice deep tread pattern. If there is any kind of texture on the surface I'm walking on, I can traverse it with relatively little difficulty. I have few problems slipping and falling, and, as an added bonus, my feet stay nice and warm.

    What struck me was the number of people (both men and women) trying to negotiate the slippery, frozen terrain in dress shoes. Okay, I understand that many jobs require people to dress better than I have to (my hiking boots don't even get a second glance here), but such dress shoes are perhaps the worst shoes for the current conditions. The smooth leather soles provide zero traction, they have virtually no insulation and the salt and other chemicals used to (hopefully) melt the snow and ice leave ugly stains on the shoes. Wouldn't it make more sense to wear a good pair of boots and carry the shoes in a bag? Then, when you get to work, change shoes. Seems simple enough to me...

    I'd love to do a survey of local emergency departments and urgent care facilities to see how many people who come in for treatment of injuries resulting from falling on the ice were wearing business or formal style footwear. I'd almost be willing to bet that the majority of these people weren't wearing weather appropriate boots.

    A local hoax

    Oct. 27th, 2006 07:57 am
    resqgeek: (Default)


    Fliers have recently appeared at bus stops along some of Washington, DC's most heavily used bus routes offering free bus passes for individuals who report buses that fall behind their schedule. The fliers look official, and include the Metro's big "M" logo on them. The problem is, its all a hoax, as the few people who have actually called Metro have found out. While I can understand the frustration of relying on chronically late buses to get around, but I'm not really sure what this hoax was meant to accomplish. It has created some attention, but was it worth the effort of conceiving and implementing the hoax?

    [from The Washington Post]
    Back a couple of weeks ago, I posted about taking my parents to see the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon at the Iwo Jima Memorial, together with some pictures I took that evening. Here's a video of their entire drill, shot in Jefferson City, Missouri:

    [Error: unknown template video]

    Unfortunately, it was shot from the back of the parade ground, instead of the front. Pay attention to the final rifle exchange about 8 minutes in...this was where the Marine dropped his rifle the night we watched them!

    Semper Fidelis

    Aug. 2nd, 2006 08:45 am
    resqgeek: (Default)

    The Silent Drill Team
    Originally uploaded by ResQgeek.
    My parents arrived yesterday afternoon to take our daughters to visit them for a few days. I mentioned that I'd been thinking about taking the girls to see the Marine Corps' Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial (aka the Iwo Jima Memorial), and my parents indicated that they'd never seen it either. I would have sworn I had taken them before, but I guess not. So we drove up to Arlington and found a place to sit on the lawn under the trees.

    The parade starts with a performance by "The Commandant's Own," the Marines Drum and Bugle Corps (once lead by a Marine named Sousa). After they finish, two companies of Marines march onto the field, and one of the platoons performs a silent drill. Not only do they execute their drill without verbal cadence or command, they do so with fixed bayonets! The platoon then lines up for inspection, which is also a detailed drill involving the sergeant and an individual Marine. One of the Marines dropped his rifle, and had to repeat his entire drill! The peformance ends with a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps" in memory of all the Marines who have fallen in defense of the country.

    I've seen the Parade several times, and it never fails to impress me. The marching, music and drilling are all so crisp and polished. If you are ever in the DC area in the summer, I highly recommend looking into attending one of these weekly performances.

    Lurking

    Jul. 13th, 2006 07:34 am
    resqgeek: (Default)
    Today is my first full day at the office this week. I spent the last three days attending a technical conference in Old Town Alexandria (about a mile from my office). The Office paid for the conference out of the technical training budget, and it was a nice break from my usual routine, but it limited my on-line access. I've been lurking, reading everyone's entries, but I haven't had time to post much in the way of comments.

    Tuesday night, the conference attendees went on a dessert cruise on the Potomac River, which was included in the conference fee. I've lived in this area for fifteen years, and have never been out on the river (at least not down here by DC and Alexandria), so I decided to go along. I had a fun evening, chatting with the various researchers and engineers about their work, and got to see Washington from a very different point of view. Unfortunately it got dark early in the cruise, and I just couldn't get good pictures from a moving boat in the dark. I'll take a look at what I did get and post any interesting pictures I did get.

    Of course being out of the office for two and a half days allowed things to explode on my desk, so now I've got a number of small fires to put out. I think I can get them taken care of today, and then I can try to get back to my normal routine.
    In the Style section of today's Washington Post, there was an article about the gala celebration at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. This building has been closed for renovations for the last seven years, and is scheduled to reopen to the public on July 1. The neighborhood around this building has undergone a dramatic revitalization during the closure. The MCI Arena (home to the NHL Washington Capitals and NBA Washington Wizards) has drawn large numbers of people to the area and a number of upscale retail establishments have opened in the vicinity to serve these crowds. The International Spy Museum is across the street as well.

    I've never visited the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, but I definitely want to. The portrait collection includes portraits of all the US Presidents, and the American Art collection should be interesting as well. But beyond the art collections, I'm drawn by the building itself. This museum and gallery occupies the original Patent Office Building, a Greek revival structure built in the 1830's. It was home to the agency I work for until 1932, which makes me curious about the building itself, and its history. By all accounts, it is a remarkably beautiful building.
    Tags:
    Here are some more pictures from my excursion to the Mall in Washington, DC, last night:

    pictures )
    I went into Washington, DC this evening to play with my camera some more. I got some pretty nice shots, including this one for [livejournal.com profile] bookczuk:
    Picture )
    I find it interesting that Virginia and South Carolina are right next to each other at the World War II Memorial! Is there a deeper meaning??