Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Liberty Mutual Tower

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

There is a new skyscraper going up in Boston and one can finally see it rising above the trees.

I saw the construction site from the other side of town on Sunday, and it is very much in the wrong place to be the Copley Place Tower. It is in fact the Libery Mutual Tower. I do remember hearing something about this tower before, much more recently than I heard about Copley Place. I cerainly didn’t realize they were ready to build it. It’s only 25 stories, so it’s hardly something to write home about, but I already did.

Hopefully they will start on the Copley Place Tower soon! The first time I heard about it was in this laughable song in opposition to the tower. But I could not be happier that this one got approved. Well I could, its not particularly tall. It is a 47 story building with 43 stories of fancy condominiums right next to the Back Bay MBTA station on the Orange Line. From some angles it will fill a very large gap in the skyline between Copley Square and the Prudential Complex. There are lots more pictures and information about the tower in this fourm.

Actually, the opposition is always how I hear about new towers. Somehow their first complaint is always about shadows. I can only guess they have not spend a summer in Boston in search of some shade. In other Boston tower news, the developer behind the buildings that were famously not approved in my post It’s a City may get a slightly less tall shot.

“Sources tell the Boston Business Journal that [the new head of the Boston Redevelopment Association, Peter] Meade told [the developer, ] Chiofaro: “Ill help you get the project built, but you have to stop talking to the press.”

You know, it is stuff like this that is probably why I always hear about new buildings from the people who are opposed to them.

Heat Wave

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Tomorrow, the official high temperature is expected to be 89 degrees, but temperatures could easily climb above that, said Rebecca Gould, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Regardless of how hot it gets, meteorologists are confident that temperatures will be in the 90s for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, meaning the region will meet the definition of a heat wave, which is three consecutive days with temperatures in the 90s.

So this is officially what qualifies as a heat wave in Boston, this was news to me. Does this mean I am allowed to complain about it being 89 when the rest of the country is complaining about it being 100? I think it does. No wonder I love it here. Maybe I won’t have to wear long pants to the July beach fire this year.

Damn Vulcan Ears

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The picture says it all:

Yesterday, this hot picture showed up in my news feed, and I “liked it”. Today, and probably forever more, I now get to enjoy this clearly pandering ad. I know it’s your business model, and I would never have met her without Facebook, but it does suck more than a little.

Dear Comcast

Monday, November 29th, 2010

I do not care if the entire city of Boston, New England, East Coast of the US, the entire country, or the entire world is having internet connectivity problems! When I call you because my service is not working I expect to either:

  • Talk to a person, to whom I can explain my service problem and receive help or direction
  • Be able to loge a service out notice with a computer
  • Be told of known service problem in my area and be provided with a estimated time of service restoration

Any of those is acceptable. Just to be clear and ensure that I am not being unreasonable in my request, when my power goes out, my power company offers all 3 of those options depending on the circumstances. Now, the ETA I am told by the power company is not always correct. However, it is updated from time to time, and they will call me back if and when they update the ETA. Also, they call me back after they expect the power has been restored to confirm that my reported outage has been resolved. That is how a service outage should be handled, if you ask me. Excellent job government sponsored monopoly, nStar.

Being told to go online for help when the internet is not working is not acceptable! At the very least your system should detect that there is an internet problem and not play that recording. With the power company, most of those options are handled automatically by a computer, which is fine. No one expects a service provided to have enough people answering calls to deal with the flood of complaints during a service outage. However, we should be informed of the problem, when we call; not disconnected because too many people are calling. If I have to turn to twitter to find out that this is a larger problem and not just me, as well as find the solution (use google’s dns servers), then you as a service provider have failed miserably. I don’t know why I expected that you would not fail in this case, you fail every day all of the time. I really don’t understand why the government monopoly power company provides an entirely different level of customer service than you; you technically do at least have some minor form of competition.

Not Cheating

Monday, November 29th, 2010

In this video, which I found via, a class of 600 students is accused of widespread cheating. The results of their midterm were thrown away, and they were required to take a new midterm. Also, they attempted to identify the cheaters by name, some 200 students, but offered amnesty to those who admitted guilt. The “cheating” was discovered when someone placed a copy of the “complete set of test bank questions” for the exam in the professor’s mailbox, and was suspected based on the grade distribution.

Now, hold on. I no way is what they did cheating. Lets list the ways you can cheat on a test:

  • Copy someone else’s answer(s)
  • Use a written, electronic, or other method to view a copy of the answers or any other disallowed information during the test
  • Use a tool, such as a calculator or cell phone, when use of that tool is not permitted
  • Acquire or transmit information about the test from someone who has taken it prior to you, or while you are taking the test

Note, that use of a set of questions which may or may not appear on the test as a study guide prior to the test is not a method by which one can cheat on a test. It is a method by which one can study for the test. It does not matter where this list of questions comes from. It does not matter what the probability of appearing on the test any one, or the collective set of questions has, may have, or is expected to have. Unless you bring this material to the test, and use it during the test, it is not cheating. The fact that the entire class did not study via this method is not any indication of cheating; the entire class should study via this method. It is highly recommended to view a professor’s previous tests while studying for a test. This is a tried and true method; tests are passed down year to year for this purpose. However, a prior year’s test is nothing more than a list of questions. It is no different from a set of questions acquired from a test bank. This class did not cheat, and their scores have been thrown out in error. Those scores should stand. The students who did not study using a set of questions or prior year’s tests have learned a valuable lesson to do so in the future.

I would argue, that any student who wants a quality education should in fact use this method as it provides a free market incentive demanding a better education. Also, any student who wants a quality education should likely not attend the University of Central Florida, although; if you have to live in Florida, I do realize there are not a lot of options once you count out Florida and Miami as I would have you do ;-). The professor in this case is really the one at fault. He created a test which relied heavily on “Test Bank” questions. That is, the same test questions appear year in and year out, and maybe also on tests at other schools. A higher quality education would be provided by a professor who took the time to personalize both his course, and his tests. His tests should include a preponderance of questions which do not appear in their exact form at other schools, and in previous years. The class should be tailored to the students, and as such topics that have not been covered or tested in previous instances should occur. By studying from previous questions sets, if a professor fails to provide such a test/class then the grades in that class will be inflated, and the class will be considered easy. It is considered easy because it does not properly provide a quality education to the level of students taking the class. If the professor desires to avoid this sort of situation, and provide a quality education, he should make up his own, new tests every time. If he does this, then studying previous tests and using questions sets is still invaluable to the students, as it does prepare them for the kind of questions they will face, but it does not inflate grades, as the students are still required to understand the material in order to answer the different questions that appear on the test.

Anyone who argues that this is simply to difficult for high school teachers or professors to do, is forgetting that their job is provide a high quality education. If they were doing their job, this wouldn’t happen. The fact that they may not be paid highly enough to compensate them for the time that providing a quality education, and writing their own unique tests may take is another story entirely. None of this means that anyone who used the question set to study for that class cheated. Now, maybe someone in that class did copy answers from someone who studied using a question set; such a person would have indeed cheated.

Renwable Biofules Law in MA

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago my Dad sent me an interesting article via e-mail about a law that we will apparently get to vote on in Massachusetts. It caused me to do a lot of thinking about if the law is good or not, and who would be in favor of such a law. Here’s the article, I can not find it on the net to attribute it:

Massachusetts Evaluates Carbon Neutrality of Biomass

WASHINGTON – The carbon-neutrality of biomass is up for debate in Massachusetts at both the regulatory and legislative level, with a study, ballot initiative and legislation in the spotlight. For [company] and the forest products industry, it is critical for biomass to be considered carbon-neutral because our facilities use an average of 60 percent biomass to power our operations. [company] is a leader by using 73 percent biomass to run our U.S. mills, and we support the science that when biomass, such as wood, is combusted for energy, it releases back into the atmosphere carbon dioxide that it absorbed from the atmosphere during growth. When harvested biomass is replanted, the cycle repeats. In contrast, fossil fuel is not carbon neutral. The combustion of natural gas, coal and petroleum fuels results in a net increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since this carbon dioxide was never originally absorbed from the atmosphere and there is no balancing cycle to remove it. Failure to recognize the carbon neutrality of biomass could lead to unintended negative consequences such as increasing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing forest land, creating substantial uncertainty and deterring growth of renewable energy, as well as driving jobs away from the U.S. and toward jurisdictions that recognize biomass carbon neutrality.

Biomass Study
The Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources (DOER) has begun a six-month study to examine the carbon neutrality of biomass and biomass sustainability. The Commonwealth has suspended consideration of all applications for biomass facilities under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard pending the outcome of the study. It is expected that the study results will be used to inform new regulations addressing biomass facilities and may be precedent-setting elsewhere. The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) attended the public meeting on the study last month and submitted written comments. [company] and AF&PA will continue to be engaged moving forward.

Ballot Initiative
The “Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign” has gathered the required amount of signatures necessary to move forward with a proposed ballot law that would require biomass energy sources to emit no more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour to be considered renewable. The proposal would not take offsets into account and would rely solely on smokestack emissions. The initiative, which must be approved by the legislature by the first Wednesday in May, is expected to appear on the November 2010 ballot. AF&PA is working with other organizations that are also opposed to the initiative to discuss formation of a formal opposition campaign.

Related Legislation
Legislation that would prohibit the burning of construction and demolition waste and treated wood in biomass facilities has been pending in the Massachusetts legislature for approximately one year and had previously received minimal attention. After the political and media attention given to the study and ballot initiative, interest in the legislation grew. At a December hearing, a number of environmental groups testified and expanded the conversation to biomass facilities in general. AF&PA is closely monitoring the bill to ensure it is not expanded to an outright ban

These are my Dad’s comments that accompanied the article:

It is an interesting political debate, but I would think the science is well known. I would think that if you burn it, you make CO2. Of course, the paper itself ties up carbon, as long as it is not eventually burned. Fossil fuels are just as carbon neutral as wood – They just took a lot
longer to “repeat” the cycle.

In any event, in Massachusetts, they will actually ask the voters to decide…. Weird !!

Here is my analytical response about the nature of the law and possible laws in this area:

Certainly, in the long run, the amount of carbon and oxygen on the planet remains the same with the exception of fusion, fission, meteors, and material carried by the solar wind. In this sense, we are always carbon neutral. This is the same sense by which it is easy to say fossil fuels are as carbon neutral as wood because they are produced via a cycle.

Now, the carbon neutral everyone else is talking about has to do with where the carbon is stored and in what molecules. Specifically the ratio of C02 (and CH4) in the atmosphere to the carbon stored in biomass, fossil fuels, and other stored resources. In this arena carbon neutrality is all about rates. The rate at which we release carbon from stored resources into the air, and the rate at which stored resources take up carbon from the air.

Fossil fuels take carbon from the air at an incredibly slow rate. First requiring that animals or plants bleed it from the air and then requiring they decompose for a long time. It is because of this slow rate that almost any fossil fuel burning is considered non-neutral. Trees, of course, take up carbon from the air at some, much larger rate, and so stand a much easier chance of being carbon neutral. It appears that ballot initiatives is targeting this exact sort of definition of carbon neutral. Specifically it requires “biomass energy sources to emit no more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour to be considered renewable.” This defines a rate at which carbon may be burned for it to be considered renewable. It is a convoluted rate calculation, one that is not expressed in units comparable to carbon intake by trees per unit, but one that fundamentally can be converted and compared.

There does exist a scientific question, the answer to which is also the answer to whether or not this is a good law. That question is, at what rate does biomass pull carbon from the atmosphere, and is that higher or lower than the purposed rate in the law? The law should stipulate a burning limit rate that is exactly equal to the rate at which biomass removes carbon from the atmosphere. To set a rate too high or too low would injure some party without cause. This rate may very based on the type or source of the biomass, perhaps widely, perhaps not. If it varies wildly by type then the law should take different sources and their rates into account, breaking out burning limits by source type. Such a law would correctly include the fundamental scientific nature of atmospheric carbon neutrality, which seems like a reasonable thing to do. Its already a scientific law anyways.

Of course, if the burn limit lower than what [company] burns, then [company] will have to substitute another energy source to make up the difference or it can pay the fines that I’m sure will be the penalty in the law. This is an economic choice, but not one that should be avoided. It would be up to [company] and its competitors to individually choose alternatives that minimized cost. Now, if the proper carbon externality cost is not applied to all sources of carbon, this can create perverse incentives that actually increase pollution. That is why all non-neutral carbon should be taxed at the same rate. Externality taxes (and their functional equivalents) to counteract pollution must treat all sources of pollution in the same way in order to avoid costly perverse incentives.

The fines this law would impose on non-neutral biomass combustion constitute a tax and would need to be set at the same levels as equivalent carbon taxes on other carbon sources. Therefore, this is also a requirement that must be satisfied for this to be a good law. Given that fossil fuels are not carbon taxed in Massachusetts it seems unlikely that this law will meet this standard, unless they also pass fossil fuel carbon tax equivalents at the same time.

As to the paper containing carbon, it is the person who choses to burn it that should pay the tax on the carbon produced by doing so. As stated, the only neutrality we care about is in the atmosphere vs. not. [company] putting carbon in paper should not result in a tax payment. It should result in a carbon tax credit if that carbon (the whole process in general) were to, in some way, result in a net drop of carbon from the atmosphere.

If fact, if one were to credit trees owned by a person for reducing carbon, and tax all carbon put into the atmosphere it should be equivalent to the properly calibrated law that induces taxes only above
the limit at which burning becomes non-neutral. That is, it is equivalent to the government in terms of net tax collected. It may change who pays the tax and who gets the credit. But [company], owning lots of trees, would surly fair the similarly under both systems.

However, I failed to understand until my father responded that his company would be in favor of the law. I had clearly assumed above that they were opposed due to the taxes they may incur if they burned too much. Here is his response:

I would go with your definition, but suspect that is not the one that will be used.

I’m not sure what it takes for “biomass energy sources to emit no more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour to be considered renewable” but it takes at least 15 years to grow a tree, and only a few minutes to burn it, so I cannot see how that can be carbon-neutral.

Certainly [company] would benefit greatly from defining biomass as carbon-neutral. We currently generate over 75% of our energy from biomass. I’m sure we could easily move that to 100%. If the price were right, we could exceed 100% [& sell power to the grid]. The problem I have with this is the definition of biomass as carbon-neutral. Burning wood &/or other biomass &/or ethanol or other petro-like products created from biomass actually contribute to exactly the same problem. We need to find cleaner solutions.

I had failed to understand the scope of the badness of the law. I had assumed above that the units did actually work out properly. This time I set out to discover if that was indeed the case:

Lets look at the “biomass energy sources to emit no more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour to be considered renewable” part. Lets consider only one adult tree of mass 850kg (when burned) that will be burned under this regime, and we want the burning to result in zero net co2 creation after considering the absorbed co2 during the life of the tree.

250 lb co2/megawatt hour = 0.315×10-7 kg co2/Joule

( wood provides 15 GJ/1000kg = 15×10^6J/kg wood (ignoring energy spent in drying, lets say solar does this for us)

Combining we get: .4724920521 kg co2/kg wood

therefore any wood that we burn will have to produce co2 at a rate equal to or less than that per kg to be renewable. Now, how long will it take a tree to absorb that much co2 per kilogram.

a tree absorbs co2 at a rate of 48lb co2/year ( which is 6.899×10-7 kg/s

it will therefore take a tree 684870 seconds (190.2 hours, 7.9 days) to absorb the co2 that is released by burning 1 kg of it. Therefore out 850kg tree would need to live for 6737.7 days (or about 18.459 years) before it was burned in order for burning it to be renewable.

A more complex calculation can clearly be done involving a varying rate of co2 absorption based on growth, and more exact figures for specific kinds of trees. This type of calculation could produce a graph showing when it would be renewable to burn the tree.

Anyways, that is how the rate comparison pans out I think. I expected that [company] would be opposed to this law. Since they use so much biomass to generate so much power it would be quite bad for them if it turned out that they burned at a non-renewable rate, as defined by the 250 lb co2/megawatt hour.

But yes, I think I see your point. As shown by that rate calculation above this 250 number implies a certain amount of time that our tree needed to be alive, in order for it to be neutral. The law as described imposes no such restrictions on the age of the tree burned, and therefore it has zero bearing on if the burning that takes place is actually neutral or not.

I now understand why [company] would favor this law. When I first responded I assumed [company] would not favor the law, because as we both agree, the burning that they do could easily be non-neural in reality, and clearly I fixated on encoding reality in to law. This law, as described, since it does not include a time factor, violates an assumption I made in my 4th paragraph above. I had assumed that the rates were comparable, equivalent in units, but they are not.

So, fundamentally flawed law has no basis in reality really. Except that as my dad says ~15 years is about how long they usually let the trees grow for other reasons and so as he says:

That is actually a lot closer to carbon-neutral than I had imagined it would be. I wonder who figured out the 250 lb co2 / megawatt hour limit? Maybe they knew something.

Know Your Meme and More

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The Internets and I had an excellent evening together tonight. It all started with a need to eat up the most perishable foods in the house before I head home for the holidays. What can you make with eggs and chicken, google of course has the answer. What, it needs spinach, too oh man, there’s a huge bag of it that’ll never get finished before I leave. I was lacking for tomatoes, but with a little salt instead Tuscan Chicken Scramble was a crazy fast meal with all the right ingredients.

While I was trying to eat my dinner, and watch episode of Sliders, my phone interrupted asking for advice on buy it’s girlfriend… rather my friend’s girlfriend a holiday gift. I love turning goals into gifts, especially for significant others, but having always been alone for Christmas, I often just help. He suggested a “cookbook? Not the greatest gift but… it will give us something to do together (and you know that’s something I think we need).” I respond, “Yes, activity book for adults, good deal. Another idea along the same line (something to do) tickets to a show,” eliciting “Ooh. That’s an even better idea. Damn you. I love that idea. I’m already in a bookstore And now I’m going to have to see what shows are going on”. Luckily, “our phones rock.” And he was able to do it all standing right there in the bookstore. All the while discussing the shows, which I was surprised to find I knew a lot about. For instance, earlier today I had in fact read about one of them selling out often. And that was in the same vain as another show I’d heard of. One my other goals, besides not being alone for Christmas, is to know what is going on, apparently I do, and I didn’t need the net for that, strictly speaking in this case. There is still something to be said for knowing facts, even with the net always in my cargo pocket.

SlidersSo I digress. But yes, that Sliders episode is the one where they did get Sabrina Loyd back to reprise the voice, but not the body of her former regular character.

Following dinner, I started cleaning house, and left the roomba to do it’s job downstairs. I sat down to wrap a gift and finally get to know, Know Your Meme. I really love their style, and there are few memes that I did need to hear an explanation on. But mostly it was an excellent trip to some of the best places on the Internet, without even going, just listening to them being extolled for their virtues. It was like a mini roflcon!

Finally, it came time to but a bow on that gift. I don’t have fake bows, but I do have red ribbon left over from that Halloween costume. So pause that know your meme episode, and head over to google. First result, of course, a ~2 minute you tube video. 5 minutes later, ribbon tied, gift wrapped ready for tomorrow.

Know Your MemeBack to more meme history goodness. Via the Three Wolf Moon episode, a quick stop, back by you tube for an actual meme instance, in the form of this amazing Three Wolf Moon music video set to a Disney song. And of course, now I stay up too late considering I’ve got a 9:30 meeting telling the internets about how it fully entertained me for a night.


Monday, October 5th, 2009

Since my friend Sparky got a job at Harmonix Thursday night games has frequently involved playing Rockband. I was never very good at Guitar Hero, and I was never a huge fan of the songs it came with but Rockband is awesome for two reasons:

  • Lots of great songs as downloadable content, which Sparky picks up for us.
  • Singing!

I have never been very musical. DDR and Guitar Hero proved that rhythm is not my thing. We’ll, the amount of concentration it takes me to clap in rhythm proved that long ago, but they reinforce it well. I’ve also never been good enough at singing to earn any sort of accolades for it. Thanks to my elementary school drama teacher for making me an understudy every year to get that little lesson across. But I still enjoy it, and I can apparently fake it well enough to make a machine happy, which makes me happy.

But I’m only any good on songs that I’ve heard before, so I have added the Rockband 1 & 2 songs to my usual playlist, so that I get used to them and learn what they sound like. I’ve been consequently paying more attention to all of the songs on my playlist and thinking about them in the same way as the songs that I’ll someday have to perform in from my friends to the satisfaction of the machine. It’s a lot of fun. I just wish that you could take any old song and play it in Rockband, as there are pleary of songs I already love to sing that aren’t options (pretty much all of Avril).

The other good thing about Rockband is that its introduced me to some new music. Avoiding advertising really cuts down on access to music pop culture. Well for those of us too cheap for satellite radio, and whose musical tastes are not well captured by Pandora. Anyways so lots of the new songs on the latest revision of my car mp3cd are from rock band. You know, i should really put my car mp3cd under subversion control. Anyways some of them are:

  • Panic at the Disco – Nine in the Afternoon
  • Weezer – Say it Ain’t So
  • The Main Drag – A Jagged Gorgeous Winter
  • Silversun Pickups – Lazy Eye

But my two favorite songs these days, both oldies from the ’90s, that I really wish were in Rockband are:

  1. Alanis Morissette – That I Would be Good: I’ve had a cropped short version of this song for a long time, but the full length one is even better.
  2. Aimee Mann – You Could Make a Killing:This is the only Aimee Mann song that I even approach to liking, but it is great. She was in an episode of Buffy and even that association couldn’t make me like the song she sang in the show.

Speaking of oldies, Beatles Rockband. I’ve always had an issue with the Beatles. I love the parts of their songs that I remember from my childhood, listening to oldies radio, but the songs I never heard, and even the non-choruses that I don’t remember I don’t like very much. A couple weeks ago I went to Beatles Rockband night at Improv Boston, entirely because of a girl, but while I was there I noticed that I like a lot more of the Beatles catalog than I realized. Last week at Thursday night games we had an actual singer, Ethan, and so I eventually settled into providing some harmonies while playing the drums. I can actually drum to the Beatles with some sort of competence on easy mode! It was way more fun to drum when I didn’t suck at it.

Congradulations Kim Clijsters

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Congradulations to Kim Clijsters for making women’s tennis interesting again. Finally, there is once again a woman playing tennis who is not named Williams when it comes time to hand out trophies. Not that Clisters is newbie, but hey anything that prevents Williams vs. Williams matches is welcomed.

I would have watched, but for some reason the U.S. Open Finals were not on broadcast television and not on basic cable, but on some channel no one gets, WTF?! That is almost as bad as there not being a single College Football game on broadcast television last Saturday night! But hey, one problem at a time.

I Guess I Know Enough People Now

Monday, September 14th, 2009

The last two times I’ve gone out to bar in Boston I’ve run into people I know randomly. Now, granted, it was 2 months between consecutive bar trips, and the bars were actually in Somerville and Cambridge, but still. The first trip was to Joshua Tree in Davis Square on July 18th for my birthday. Across the bar I spotted some coworkers. Well actually, I first spotted a cute girl, and then I later noticed she was with my coworkers. Unfortunately for me, she’s recently married to one of them. Previous to entering the bar I’d seen Krishna, a gaming buddy & coworker, and his girlfriend out on the street. To be fair they live within a 500 yards or so of the bar.

View of Harvard from DaedalusThis time we were out last Friday for my room mate Sriram’s birthday. We were at Daedalus in Harvard square on a stormy night. We were the first of our group to arrive. Scoping out the room, I saw a guy I vaguely recognized, but did not know from where. Surprisingly, Sriram walked toward him, but that was just a coincidence. His name I found out is Doug, and I knew him as a 3 hop friend via Sparky and his friend Lilly. I met Doug at the 4th of July and a BBQ in August. Doug was there for a friend of a friend’s (2 hop) birthday. As it turns out, the birthday boy was Sriram. Doug recently became room mates with one of Sriram’s friends. Small world! Later on, one of my former room mate Biran’s friends, whom I know from Hog Island parties showed up.

It was a pretty fun night. Very similar to my birthday, there was Indian food followed by drinks. Lacking anything else interesting to try I had two Absolute Boston, yes that is a variety of vodka now, & Lemonades. The first one was very good, but the second one got old.