Speed Bumps

I saw a CNN article just now about fake speed bumps, the use of ‘optical illusions’ to paint 3D-looking objects on the road to slow people down. People are praising them as great things to get people to slow down.

The problem I see is that they look nothing like speed bumps, but rather like gigantic obstacles in the road. I would probably slam on my brakes and swerve around them.

The people who praised them are also saying that they expect them to result in decreasing the number of pedestrians struck every year. (By getting people to slow down.) I humbly submit that they might just increase the number of pedestrians struck each year, as people swerve suddenly to miss the gigantic box they think is in the road, not taking the time to notice that they’re swerving into a pedestrian.

My problem isn’t necessarily with slowing people down, and I think fake speed bumps might be a good idea: if they looked like speed bumps. (Although after getting tricked the first time, I probably wouldn’t slow down on subsequent trips over them, greatly reducing their effectiveness in the long-run.) So fake speed bumps? Not a bad idea. Fake giant things in the road? An awful idea, even though people seem to be singing their praises right now.

Gun Safety

During my super-brief time at the police department range, if there was one key message, it was this—always treat the gun like it’s loaded, and never point the gun at people unless you’re intending to shoot them. Even as the instructor demonstrated a gun that he’d already showed us was unloaded (by removing the clip and showing us the empty chamber), and then disassembled and reassembled to show how it was done while demonstrating various things, he always kept the gun pointed at a cinder block wall to an empty room, and would lower the gun to the floor if he needed to turn, such that the absolutely-positively empty gun was never pointed at anyone.

This advice is apparently not universal, though. A soldier in France shot 16 people during some sort of demonstration, believing this his gun was loaded with blanks. It seems to me, though, that this was deplorably preventable: one might check that the gun contained blanks before shooting at people, for example, or one might simply avoid firing a gun at people at all. And even if one did insist on firing a gun into a crowd without verifying that the blanks weren’t actually live rounds, one might stop after the first few people fell over bleeding.

And good old CBS News’ comments section brings us an argument over the French military and their merits and value to the United States, including whether they helped or hurt us during the Revolutionary War, apparently.


If I ever become an Economics teacher or professor (rather unlikely), I’m going to go back to DC and take a picture of the scene I saw there with gas stations.

Gas in most parts of DC was $3.99 to $4.09, about the same as it was here in New Hampshire. But then we drove by a gas station inexplicably charging something like $4.59 a gallon, directly across the street from a place charging something like $4.39 a gallon. My gracious hosts told me that the price discrepancy was long-running: these places have arbitrarily* charged significantly more for quite some, and remain in business.

The reason I’d begin with this is threefold:

  • It’s a good way to demonstrate my “problem” with Economics as a subject: it describes perfect scenarios. In real life, things are rarely perfect, so economic models don’t always match up all that nicely with reality.
  • Studying those discrepancies between economic theory and reality, I think, is where you really learn about the subject. If rational people seek to minimize loss, why the heck are people paying $4.59 a gallon when they could cross the street and save 20 cents a gallon, or drive less than a mile and save 59 cents a gallon?
  • It’s also a good lead-in to a discussion about how cost isn’t everything, and how people value things differently.

It turns out that a few things are going on allowing them to charge this much, as I learned from the driver of our shuttle back to the airport.

The first is the simple fact that it’s located in the middle of a bunch of millionaires’ homes and apartments. If you’re driving your Mercedes from your $6 million condo to your country club in the suburbs, do you really care if gas is $4.59 or $3.99? (I would: I’m convinced that people who stay rich are the frugal ones.)

Further, it’s apparently a full-service station. You pull in and they fill up your tank for you. They probably wash your windows and say, “Good afternoon, Dr. Barlow” to you with a bit of a bow. (Assuming your name was Dr. Barlow, although I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone by that name.)

But perhaps most interestingly of all? The shuttle driver mentioned that a lot of the customers are people driving company cars, or on business trips. In other words, they’re not paying. If your company is paying for your gas, do you care if it’s $4.59 or $3.99? If the line at the $4.59 place is shorter, you’re going there—the benefit to you is greater (a shorter wait), whereas the cost to you is the same (free!).

How many other people do you think had the same thoughts upon seeing these gas prices?


When we toured the Capitol the other day, we sat in on Senate and House sessions for a few minutes. There were maybe five Congresspeople in each chamber. This is actually very common. They just go and read a statement to someone who transcribes it. And every now and then people convene to take votes.

And, as is well-known, the Democrats sit on the left, and the Republicans sit on the right.

Today’s newspaper had an oddly comical bit about a senator who insisted on reading the full text of a 490-page bill to “punish” Democrats for some past action; I don’t even remember what.

All of these things combine to confirm something I’ve thought for a long time: Congress is fundamentally broken. One of the great things about having a two-party system is that they keep each other in check. Republicans and Democrats come up with bad ideas, but the other party is watchful and keeps those bad ideas from coming to fruition. That much is good.

The problem is that the whole thing is set up as an “us against them” system. A Democrat idea is a bad idea to the Republicans, and a Republican bill is a bad bill to the Democrats. When the Democrats introduced an expanded GI Bill, the Republicans opposed it until recently, over petty squabbles with one of its provisions. (This happens with Democrats opposing good Republican bills too, I just don’t have any examples fresh in my mind right now.)

The problem is that one side comes up with a bill and puts it up for the other side to shoot down. I’d much rather that both sides met to collective work towards something. And that everyone showed up in Congress. Have a Democrat get up and say, “Returning veterans aren’t getting the care they deserve as our heros,” and have both sides work to outline a proposal. Because both sides want that legislation on the books. Each side can put forth its concerns about the implementation—we don’t want to give “new” members of the military incentive to leave right away, for example. And then, instead of it looking like Republicans are trying to block the bill, the Democrats would say, “Oh, good point,” and we’d collectively work on it.

Of course this is a Utopian view, and the system would never work that way. But I really don’t think having the two parties opposing each other’s moves 100% of the time is the way to do things, and I really don’t think having Senators and Representatives miss 90% of Capitol proceedings is the way to go, either.

A Little on the Religious Right

Time Magazine has an interesting article about James Dobson’s recent attacks on Obama. I missed Dobson’s actual remarks, but the article essentially suggests that Dobson’s attempts at tearing Obama down have backfired, resulting in even conservative Republicans being bothered by his attempts to suggest that he has the ‘only’ right interpretation of Christianity.

The article links to JamesDobsonDoesntSpeakForMe.com, a website founded by a Christian group. The site begins:

James Dobson doesn’t speak for me.

He doesn’t speak for me when he uses religion as a wedge to divide;

He doesn’t speak for me when he speaks as the final arbiter on the meaning of the Bible;

James Dobson doesn’t speak for me when he uses the beliefs of others as a line of attack;

It’s interesting that it so closely matches what Obama’s been saying. It also contains some of the more interesting quotes from Obama speaking on religion: really not at all the atheist, “don’t even say the word ‘religion'” view that Republicans love to paint of the Democrats.

So then I went to look up James Dobson on Wikipedia, and came across this sentence that really strikes me as strange: “[F]rom his earliest childhood, religion was a central part of his life. He once told a reporter that he learned to pray before he learned to talk. In fact, he says he gave his life to Jesus at the age of three, in response to an altar call by his father.”

Can a three-year-old grasp the concepts necessary for religion? It seems to me as if the typical three-year-old would have no idea what “eternal life” or “salvation” was, so it seems pretty odd to think that one could commit their life to Jesus at age three. Or at least, do so and understand it.

It gives me a lot of hope, actually, for Christianity. Increasingly, it seems like the people who speak out as Christians do so in hateful manners. They’re never seen calling for an end to torture or world genocide, or helping the homeless. (Of course, they do all of that, but you never see vocal religious leaders speaking about those things.) Instead, they get painted as just lambasting people over absurd things. The reaction to Dobson’s rant is making me think that maybe Christianity can be restored to preaching love, not hate.

DC, Part II

I don’t have a picture handy to accompany this, but the ‘slogan’ on the DC license plates is “Taxation without Representation,” which any astute history scholar—or anyone who was awake in history class—will recognize is the complaint of the American colonies leading to, among other things, the Boston Tea Party. It also perfectly reflects the status of Washington, D.C., which pays the same taxes we do but has only non-voting members in Congress.

It really amuses me, because it’s sort of thumbing the city’s nose (that metaphor doesn’t work so well here?) at the very government that it houses. That they actually put it on the license plates amused me. But what amused me even more was discovering that one of Clinton’s last acts as President was to put the new “Taxation without Representation” plates on the Presidential limos, which thus led to one of the first things Bush did in office being to remove them and replace them with the more conservative ones that don’t bear that slogan.

Today we toured the White House. I have no photos, since cameras aren’t allowed. It’s quite a posh place, but it seemed smaller than I’d imagined. It is in excellent condition for something so rich with history (200-year-old artifacts line the White House walls, looking as good as new). I did conclude that I’d like to be President. I’d have the lawn aerated, among other things. (That might not be the platform on which I run, however.) I also started thinking that I’d periodically ditch the security and just take a walk outside the White House, down to one of the many restaurants. The odds of a terrorist happening to be waiting outside the White House for me seems relatively slim. It also seems like it’s kind of important in terms of being viewed as “one of the people,” versus someone holed up separated by hundreds of guards.

Towards the beginning were some photos of the Presidents throughout the past, including some contemporary ones. All sorts of historic events were chronicled. Maybe it’s just that it’s hard to see things in full historical perspective, but all the contemporary ones appeared goofy and out of place. George W. Bush was out front of the White House with a Nascar car and various racers, and the photo was in between various interesting historical shots, something like JFK addressing a crowd and Hoover at the Hoover Dam. (Okay, I made the latter one up entirely since I couldn’t remember what else was there, but it’s the sort of thing that might have been there.)

I also found it strange that Bush had allowed several paintings of the Clintons to stay up: Bill and Hillary both had photos on the lower level. Everything I had heard suggested that there may have been some rather childish pranks played between the two, so I figured they’d have been the first things to get taken down.

We also hit up the Smithsonians today… My dad and I did the Air and Space Museum. (Which, fittingly, is across the street from the FAA.) The Smithsonian is exactly what I think a museum should be: free, open to the public, and a place that practically encourages photography. While some museums seem to be for-profit, this one is all about the public domain. Woot!


That’s not at all a great photo, but one of the better ones. I was going to try to pretend it was the real thing rather than a scale model, but the giants in the background, and the fact that the ship is sailing on top of a wooden plank in the ocean ruin that. It was quite dark inside many of the exhibits, which meant that even at ISO1600, I was getting 1/8-second shutter speeds. (Incidentally, I noticed a lot of people with very fast lenses… I was quite jealous of the people taking the same touristy shots I was, but doing so through thousand-dollar L-series lenses.)


I believe that’s a recreation of the Wright Brothers’ original plane. The real artifact they had from the Wright Brothers was a bicycle they manufactured. (Perhaps they weren’t initially sure what form of transit they wanted to get into?)


That’s the flight deck from… The Apollo? I think? Showing how pathetic my frame of reference is, the first thing I thought is, “Wow, they’ve got to let Apple design the next one.”


There were easily a dozen of these around the Smithsonian museums, all with the same signs. They begged for a very saturated HDR shot, and I gave into the temptation.


Here’s the FAA building, also showing the crazy weather… It seems as if a bigger storm is coming in an hour or three. If weather and time permit, I’d like to go back to the White House tonight to grab some pictures…

Washington DC

Thought I’d post some photographic highlights from my trip so far….

Thanks to Garrett for suggesting that we take a trip to the monuments at night. We talked about HDR a bit, and I got some great shots.

Jefferson Memorial at Night

That was as the sun was setting, so the sky is still a bit light. It’s definitely worth checking out the inside, too:

Jefferson Memorial

It’s right on what I keep calling a pond or lake, but is properly called the Tidal Basin. On the other side is the Washington Monument:

Washington Monument at Night

We actually haven’t (and probably won’t) visit[ed] it yet, as it’s apparently a ludicrously popular destination. I had to abandon (well, put away) the tripod after a while when the security guards informed me that tripods weren’t permitted, so I switched to ISO1600… It’s surprisingly useful in the dark:

Washington Monument

That’s the Monument framed by two pillars of the Jefferson Memorial. The Tidal Basin in the middle smells awful, BTW.

Garrett and I talked about HDR a bit, and I began by taking what might be one of the most tacky HDR photos ever:

Tacky HDR 101

It’s a gorgeous photo really small, but it bothers me if I look at it much, mostly because it looks really unnatural.


Today we toured the Capitol, which is an intriguing place. I took an equally-tacky HDR shot of that. I think the problem there is just that the dome and the building don’t match at all. I took a shot of the rotunda (think “the underside of that big dome”):

Capitol Rotunda

We also hit up the National Cathedral today… This shot burns my retinas a bit, but that insanely bright, insanely vibrant color on the church was actually pretty accurate… The sun was setting, leaving a nice, warm, golden glow.

National Cathedral

The Globe

I honestly have no idea what that thing is (besides “a globe”), but between that and the stellar sky behind it, I like this shot.

We hit up the White House (among other attractions) tomorrow, though they don’t allow anything to be brought in, so don’t count on any shots of that. (Unless we go back and photograph the outside separately.)

What Awesome Weather

Today was one of those days where we “almost” had a storm about three times. I was desparately trying to get the lawn cut before it’d start… And then the dark storm clouds loomed, and I’d frantically pull the tractor into the garage and admit defeat, only to have four raindrops fall and it become sunny again.

After a while of this flip-flopping weather, it started to rain for real. And then I kept hearing loud clicks on my air conditioner, when I realized it was hailing. I went onto our (covered) front porch for a while to watch the storm, and grabbed some pictures.

Storm Clouds

This is actually as the storm retreated, but the clouds look pretty fierce…

You know that point where it seems like it’s raining as hard as it possibly can, when it’s absolutely pouring out? There seems to be an upper limit to just how hard it rains, and we spent several minutes there.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the volume of… stuff… coming out of the sky must have tripled. In addition to the torrential downpour, it started hailing again, this time with great intensity.

Downpouring of Hail

You can see the accumulated hail on the walkway.

The temperature dropped quite drastically, too, going from close to 80 to close to 60 in a matter of minutes.

Here was an HDR capture of the hail falling, which seems to lose some of the intensity:



The hail was pea-sized, but boy was there a lot of it. This is after the rain had subsided… Also note that massive distortion on my hand caused by taking such a close shot with an 18mm lens.

Of course, now it’s gone from pouring to boring. :'(

Citizen’s Arrests

I’ve seen a few references to the concept of citizen’s arrests lately, which motivated me to post some of the things I’ve discovered. The short answer is this: you should never, ever attempt a citizen’s arrest.

It’s first worth mentioning that merchants get additional protection under the shopkeeper’s privilege. I’d give the same advice, though: except for large department stores which have excellent lawyers and are surely much more intricately familiar with the law than I am, you should never, ever attempt a citizen’s arrest.

The police have explained the issue as a matter of safety: if some crazy guy goes around shooting people and you try to detain him, it will most assuredly end badly for you. However, removing the element of personal safety, I’d argue that even if you have been personally wronged, a detainment is a bad idea.

While the Shopkeeper’s Privilege seems to suggest you just have to go by reasonable suspicion, my understanding of the law regarding citizen arrests (really a detainment) are that the crime must have been “in fact committed.” So enter nightmare scenario #1: you suspect someone has just robbed the bank and detain them. It turns out that they were simply wearing their hamburgler mask and had withdrawn their cash from the bank, and then went for a job. What do you get for your valiant attempt at stopping crime? Arrested, of course, for unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, or a related charge.

In most places, it is only permitted in regard to felonies and/or crimes you personally witnessed. Scenario #2, you see a person unloading lots of merchandise into their car that was tucked under their shirt, and you detain them. Not a felony (kind of), and you didn’t witness the shoplifting occurring. You’re probably getting arrested.

And these are all criminal wrongs. You’re also just asking to get sued in civil court, too. (I wonder… If someone attempts to effect a citizen’s arrest which you believe to be improper, can you then place them under a citizen’s arrest, on the grounds that they’re committing kidnapping / etc.?)

And as something totally off-topic, the police don’t have to “read you your rights” (the Miranda warning) unless you are (1) in their custody and (2) being questioned about the crime. In the citizen’s police academy, one of the officers mentioned that it was pretty amusing how often people would act all smug, thinking their case would be dismissed because they weren’t read their Miranda rights at the time of their arrest.

For the love of God, and all that is holy!

Do you guys recall Obama’s “fist bump” with his wife when he clinched the nomination? It was a big hit with younger Obama fans.

It was not a big fan with E.D. Hill, a Fox News anchor who called it a “terrorist fist jab,” as I was just reading about. That’s not the real concern, though. I just rolled my eyes at that.

What really concerns me is the “news contributor” Liz Trotta who suggested that Obama should be assassinated.

Are you serious?! How the hell is that acceptable? Can you imagine how outaged everyone would be if a CNN anchor joked that someone should shoot McCain? It would be incredibly inappropriate.