ReCaptcha

I've upsized my spam-blocking to ReCaptcha, which is what ArborWiki is using. ReCaptcha is a blurred-word test, but it has real utility. I at first thought the bit "stop spam. read books." was some snarky meaningless "get off yer computer" thing, but I knew something was up when I saw "Carnegie Mellon" attached to it.

Apparently, ReCaptcha is hooked into the Internet Archive's scanned text recognition engine: it gives you two words to decode, one of which is known, and used to see if you're a real human, and the other of which is unknown, and your answer combined with other recaptcha entries to provide the text recognition with an answer. Neat!

Amtrak officially as cheap as gas

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In two weeks, I'm headed to Chicago for the National Brownfield Association's "Big Deal" conference (my department got a "free registration" scholarship to come show off one of our sites to developers). So I'm looking at travel options.

* Amtrak, Ann Arbor -> Chicago, AAA member discount, midweek round-trip = $48.60.
* Google maps, Ann Arbor -> Chicago = 241 miles, x2, at 30mpg, at $3 gallon = $48.20. (That would be driving our Sunfire, rather than the City's Crown Vic, which probably gets worse gas mileage.)
* The Federal mileage compensation rate is what these days, about $0.38/mile? That'd be $183.16, or 3.75 Amtrak tickets.

Metro A2 transit inching closer!

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In one of the previous iterations of this blog - which Google can't seem to find - I laid out a 3 item wishlist for Ann Arbor area transit.

1. Arrange for free rides on all AATA routes for UMich students.
2. Transit service from some point in A2 to Metro Airport (my target price point: $10 one-way.)
3. Tragically, I can't remember. Sigh. But I think it was a regional express service linking A2, Ypsi, and Detroit?

At any rate, #1 was implemented about 4 years back (showing how long I've been at this). And now, #2 was announced the day before I left for Montana! For, yep, $10 one-way. Check the Michigan Flyer website for details, and ArborUpdate for discussion.

Back from MT

We've spent the last two weeks in Montana and Chicago. If there's anything you think I'll find important in that period, you may wish to reinform me. I skim *really* quickly when I have this much e-mail.

(p.s. Do we still have a state government?)

"Ender's Game" - like HP, but good.

Yesterday, I read Shadow of the Giant, the current-last book in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series.

As I've mentioned before, I harbor a general dislike for Harry Potter, stemming from when I worked in a used bookstore with an excellent science fiction / fantasy selection, but found that parents couldn't think of buying anything but HP for their adolescent kids, neglecting a huge corpus of darn good books. Whenever such shoppers could be bothered to listen for two minutes, rather than turning and walking out the door as soon as they found that we didn't have a hundred copies of Rawlings' latest, I tried to make sure they ended up with a copy of Ender's Game.

Restoring vs. replacing historic windows - data?

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Perhaps the most frequent and bitter of debates I see between historic preservationists and the average resident of an older home is window replacement. From the preservationist's standpoint, original windows are among the most important of defining characteristics of historic residential architecture. The typical rejoinder from the homeowner, convinced that replacing old drafty windows is key to home energy savings, is, "Okay, but are you going to pay my heating bills?"

The preservationist, in turn, will assert variously that significant energy savings can be achieved by properly restoring and weatherstripping the existing windows; that the return on investment from replacement windows vs. repair and weatherstripping is too low for replacement to be financially worthwhile; and, showing some savvy when dealing with purely environmentalist criticisms, that the embedded energy that goes into a replacement window is far greater than the lifetime savings of the replacement, and that the R-value of even a high-end energy efficient window is still very low.

Think Global: Act, Dingell!

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Southeast Michigan is blessed with a political powerhouse in Congressman John Dingell (D-15th), the longest serving member of the House, and the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Dingell's therefore pretty well placed to Make A Difference when it comes to addressing climate change.

However, as the Congressman from Southeast Michigan, Dingell is also strongly wedded to the auto industry (literally - his wife Debbie is President of the General Motors Foundation). With the Big 3, and their unions - Dingell's largest funders and voter bloc - digging in their heels every step of the way on anything that smells like a fuel efficiency mandate, Dingell is notably hesitant to embrace positive energy legislation. In response to calls for increased CAFE standards, he put forth what was at first a stunt - a proposal for an intentionally unrealistic plan meant to kill debate on the issue by being too sweeping. While the political chessgame aspect of this has received its share of criticism, I think Dingell has also been surprised to see people taking it seriously, and he's now starting to get behind the proposal as a serious attempt to address climate change.

And that's where we come in. Whether you're a Dingell constituent or not, you can show him that you support strong action on climate change. A group of Ypsilanti residents have set up a petition to urge Dingell on, and state their support for action. I've signed the petition, and you can too.

Water: check. Next step: heat.

The major project of year one in Houseone has been keeping out the water. Between soggy roofing and rivulets of water running across the basement floor during every rain, water was a significant issue when we moved in. However, this month gave us about two weeks of daily rain, much of it quite heavy, with the net effect of small amounts of dampness detectable at the basement wall-floor intersection. I'd say we've got the water problem pretty well solved.

The next major issue, looking at my spreadsheet of utility costs, is clearly heating. Our baseline cooking + hot water cost is about $1/day, but that spikes to $5-$6/day in January and February. Some of the window caulking we've done should help, and the new front door en route will do wonders. But some of the water repairs pushed us backwards on heating.

"Middle class" is now the wealthiest 7%, says DetNews

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The DetNews today rails against suggestions for a graduated State income tax, saying,

Under one scenario, that highest bracket would kick in once household income hits $150,000. . .Democrats will try to sell this to voters by convincing them it hurts the evil rich and not good, wholesome working families. But look at the chart -- you don't have to make all that much money before your taxes go up substantially. Like every other tax hike, this one will rob the middle class, because that's where most of the money is.

Robbing the middle class at $150,000 and up, eh? Let's check some facts. (This is where it's especially nice that the Census Bureau's website is called "American Factfinder".)

Bike buzz

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Recently, the local police decided to start enforcing the ordinance against bicycle riding on the sidewalks in business districts. As a daily pedestrian in said districts, I'm pretty happy with this - the sidewalks are too narrow and cluttered to allow cyclists to zip down them without threatening pedestrians. Those of us on foot have frequent near misses with cyclists as we step out of doors, come around corners, or are crossing the street and have bicycles go for the curb ramp with no regard for how close it takes them to other people.

I also bike to said business districts on a regular basis, and have to say that biking on the street just isn't that bad. No, not even on Michigan Avenue - traffic is well-behaved enough downtown, especially with the lights breaking up flow, that I'm fairly comfortable in traffic, and I'm far from a hardcore, spandex-and-scary-calves, veteran cyclist.