November 20, 2011

Circular reasoning in traffic control

Filed under: Britain, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:26

If you’ve ever been driving in Britain, you’ll have encountered the ubiquitous roundabout. The arguments for adopting them in North America are pretty strong:

The modern, safe roundabout first entered service in Britain back in 1966, after it adopted a rule that at all circular intersections traffic entering had to give way, or “yield”, to circulating traffic. This innovation, along with the sloping curves of the entry and exit of a roundabout (which slow traffic down), created a design that is now found worldwide. Though tens of thousands of roundabouts exist across Europe, America still has only 3,000 of them.

One of their main attractions, says Mayor Brainard, is safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent research group, estimates that converting intersections with traffic lights to roundabouts reduces all crashes by 37% and crashes that involve an injury by 75%. At traffic lights the most common accidents are faster, right-angled collisions. These crashes are eliminated with roundabouts because vehicles travel more slowly and in the same direction. The most common accident is a sideswipe, generally no more than a cosmetic annoyance.

What locals like, though, is that it is on average far quicker to traverse a series of roundabouts than a similar number of stop lights. Indeed, one national study of ten intersections that could have been turned into roundabouts found that vehicle delays would have been reduced by 62-74% (nationally saving 325,000 hours of motorists’ time annually). Moreover, because fewer vehicles had to wait for traffic lights, 235,000 gallons of fuel could have been saved.

Once you get used to using them, you realize just how much of your urban and suburban driving time is spent waiting for the damned traffic light to change (especially if you live in an area with non-permissive left turn lights). The benefits don’t scale well, however: at least in my experience, multiple multi-lane roads entering roundabouts are actually less efficient than traffic lights would be.

In praise of Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:22

A conservative senator writes of the greatest Liberal prime minister in Canadian history:

Today, almost 100 years after Laurier’s death, I believe as strongly as my grandfather did that great figures from our history like Sir Wilfrid and Sir John A. should be celebrated and honoured, regardless of party.

Like John A., Laurier had that special touch and talent that makes nation-building possible. He was a visionary leader who built upon the foundations laid by Macdonald and brought Canada into the 20th century with success and a healthy confidence. In a country so divided in the early days — divided by race, religion and geography — the guiding principle and mission of his life was the unity of our nation.

Some have said he was the perfect prime minister — too French sometimes for the English, and too English sometimes for the French. He challenged both main language groups in Canada, while simultaneously opening the door to the settlement of Western Canada by immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Shortly before his death, Laurier addressed a group of youth in Ontario. His words are as inspiring in 2011, 92-years-later, as they were when he first spoke them. Canadians, particularly our youth, would do well recall his advice.

“I shall remind you that already many problems rise before you: Problems of race division, problems of creed differences, problems of economic conflict, problems of national duty and national aspiration,” Laurier said. “Let me tell you that for the solution of these problems you have a safe guide, an unfailing light if you remember that faith is better than doubt and love is better than hate. Let your aim and purpose, in good report or ill, in victory or defeat, be so to live, so to strive, so to serve as to do your part to raise even higher the standard of life and living.”

If you’re not paying for the service, you are the product

Filed under: Economics, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

John Naughton points out that TANSTAAFL still applies, even to “free” services on the internet like Facebook and Twitter:

Physics has Newton’s first law (“Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed”). The equivalent for internet services is simpler, though just as general in its applicability: it says that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The strange thing is that most users of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other “free” services seem to be only dimly aware of this law. Facebook, for example, handles the pages of 750 million users, enables more than half of that number to visit and update their pages every day and hosts more than 70 billion photographs. The cost of the computing and communications resources — in terms of server farms, energy, bandwidth and technical expertise — required to make this happen doesn’t bear thinking about. And my guess is that most Facebookers don’t think about it.

But it costs money — millions of dollars a month, every month. The monthly amount is called the “burn rate”. It comes from investors who make their cash available for burning in the hope that it will eventually pay off in terms of a stock market flotation or the evolution of a profitable business whose shares will be worth holding. In the internet era, the favoured strategy has been to “get big fast” (the title of a famous book about Amazon — that is, add users/subscribers at an exponential rate, and then find a way of monetising the resulting hordes.

How is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff like a used car salesman?

Filed under: Government, Military, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:58

Answer: when he uses the latest technology to get the Defense Secretary to a meeting on time.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta shoved his head into a snug aviator helmet topped with goggles one September morning and swooped into Lower Manhattan on a V-22 Osprey, a $70 million aircraft that Marines use for battlefield assaults in Afghanistan.

“How’d you like that gizmo?” Mr. Panetta said after landing at the Wall Street heliport in the Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter, flies like an airplane — and has been responsible for the deaths of 30 people in test flights.

Defense Department officials say the hybrid aircraft was the fastest way to get Mr. Panetta and his entourage to New York that day. But anyone who has followed the tortured history of the Osprey over the past quarter-century saw the persistent, politically savvy hand of the Marines in arranging Mr. Panetta’s flight — and another example in what has become a case study of how hard it is to kill billion-dollar Pentagon programs.

“At a car dealership, what the salesman wants to do is get you inside the vehicle,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and defense analyst. “You take the test drive and wow, it’s got a great stereo, it feels good, it has that new-car smell.”

That flight with Mr. Panetta, he said, is “an insurance policy against future defense cuts.”

NFL week 11 predictions

Filed under: Football — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:46

After a strong start to the season, my picks have been regressing to the mean over the last few weeks. I’m hoping that this week’s predictions will turn that trend around (getting the Thursday night game wrong didn’t help):

    New York (NYJ) 13 @Denver 17
    @Cleveland vs Jacksonville (0.0) Sun 1:00pm
    @Detroit vs Carolina (7.0) Sun 1:00pm
    @Green Bay vs Tampa Bay (14.0) Sun 1:00pm
    @Miami vs Buffalo (2.5) Sun 1:00pm
    Oakland vs @Minnesota (1.0) Sun 1:00pm
    Dallas vs @Washington (7.5) Sun 1:00pm
    @Baltimore vs Cincinnati (7.0) Sun 1:00pm
    @St. Louis vs Seattle (1.5) Sun 4:05pm
    @San Francisco vs Arizona (9.5) Sun 4:05pm
    @Atlanta vs Tennessee (6.0) Sun 4:15pm
    @Chicago vs San Diego (3.5) Sun 4:15pm
    @New York (NYG) vs Philadelphia (4.5) Sun 8:20pm
    @New England vs Kansas City (14.5) Mon 8:30pm

Last week: 7-9
Season to date 87-59

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