June 4, 2009

A pedestrian asserts his rights


February 9, 2009

UK Government plans travel database

From BBC Government plans travel database. The UK will be tracking everyone entering and leaving. My first thought was "cool, can we get access to the data", though of course "privacy concerns" will ensure only the security apparatus will have the data.

October 2, 2008

Europe v. Pirates

From Times of London: Europe to send warships to defeat Somali pirates

September 20, 2008

Sarkozy v. The Pirates

From Bruce Sterling: Sarkozy versus the pirates

: "France will not allow crime to pay" President Nicolas Sarkozy

June 18, 2008

Can better highways save Afghanistan?

From The Atlantic, an interesting article by Philip Smucker: Asphalt Dreams about the correlation between development highways and stability in Afghanistan. The article reminds that highways are not just for moving troops quickly to deploy elsewhere, but also to help settle the places they run through. While that may not have been foremost on the mind of proponents of The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, (even though it has Defense in its name) it certainly has been important throughout history.

June 15, 2008

Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy

I have drafted a Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy.

The memo outlines ten visions, which are summarized here, for fuller discussion, see the full memo:

  1. Within eight years more cars sold in the United States will be powered primarily by electricity and bio-fuels than by fossil fuels. All buses and passenger trains will use electricity or bio-fuels.
  2. Within eight years Americans will be able to ride autonomous smart cars that drive themselves in mixed traffic.
  3. Within a year, an independent federally-funded Bridge Inspection Service will begin to inspect and publicly report on the quality of all bridges on the National Highway System.
  4. After thorough evaluation, within eight years, bridges and pavements on the US Interstate Highway System will be upgraded to handle trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds, increasing the efficiency of the trucking industry and by reducing the number of vehicle trips, increasing safety for other road users. These improvements will be paid for by the trucking industry, which directly benefits from the improved system. In heavily traveled corridors, a system of truck-only toll lanes will be constructed.
  5. Within eight years American travelers can choose to travel congestion-free by car or bus through America's largest metropolitan areas.
  6. Within four years American travelers will enter airports and transit, and train stations and cross borders, passing both security and immigration controls without delay while ensuring security.
  7. Within eight years a new source of transportation revenue based on time and place of use will be deployed, replacing the federal and state gas tax. This funding will support highway and transit networks.
  8. Returning to the vision of Democratic President Andrew Jackson, items in federal transportation legislation that do not serve a national purpose will be vetoed.
  9. Extending the bipartisan efforts of transportation deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, within four years, highway and transit services and infrastructure will begin to be competitively provided by independent (public, private, or non-profit) organizations under appropriate local or federal oversight. Infrastructure will be provided under a public utility model, ensuring quality of service in exchange for earning a rate of return.
  10. Within one year, the United States federal government will establish separate capital and operating budgets. This will be coupled with a federal program to guarantee loans and bonds for highway and transit infrastructure projects.

  11. Full memo after the jump

    Continue reading "Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy" »

March 28, 2008

Transportation apartheid

From the New York Times Palestinians Fear Two-Tier Road System .

This is a classic problem exacerbated by Middle East conflict: the road serves different people than it burdens. It is further complicated because those it serves has been reduced as Palestinians were banned from the road in response to stone-throwing and drive by shootings. It is also complicated because the road was built under the guise of serving local Palestinian areas. The most recent solution is to build a different road for Palestinians.

October 7, 2007

MnDOT says releasing bridge inspection records could be a threat to national security

From the Pioneer Press: MnDOT says releasing bridge inspection records could be a threat to national security.

Before you dismiss such threats as implausible, note that Osama Bin Laden was trained as a civil engineer at King Abdul Aziz University of Jedda and Yasser Arafat was trained as a civil engineer at Cairo University. Since civil engineering would seem to disproportionately lead to terrorism [perhaps too much statics?], we should be very careful who we give our bridge plans to, they might actually be able to read them (as opposed to say, going to the bridge and looking for cracks themselves, or just getting more exposives).

July 6, 2007

Goofballs and Trainwrecks: This week in London Transport

I come home to London from WCTR to car bombs and people driving into airports (shall we now inspect all cars driving into airports ... and then the security line becomes the target, secure areas always have insecure areas outside boundaries and entrances).

Fortunately, this particular cell were not a particularly competent terrorists, so I will refer to them as goofballs. I have yet to see whether they were competent doctors? One hopes the goofballs healed better than they attempted to inflict harm.

Later in the week, a train derails:
Metronet warned in May over derailment danger. A number of passengers had panic attacks, thinking it was another terrorist attack, coming almost 2 years after 7.7 and days after the Piccadilly smoking car.

The greater harm done by terrorists (even the goofballs) is not the physical damage, but the terror (which gives this -ism its name), and people living in terror. This culture of fear is amplified by news and free flow of information.

The book Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz talks about the curse of abundance, we have too many options and by extension too much information. This repudiates the economists argument of "non-satiation", required for well-behaved utility functions.

Of course many bad things happen in the world, but when personal tragedy strikes people I don't know, and will never know, do I really need to know and am I better off if I know?

Cars hurtling on fire toward airport entrances and dud-car bombs might rise to be slightly larger than personal tragedy, but not too much larger. Scarcity makes events like this unusual, and therefore newsworthy, but unlike "dog bites man" wherein the dog was after the man rather than the news-story, getting attention from the news and causing fear is exactly the terrorist aim.

The appropriate response would be to note it, arrest the goofballs, and move-on, rather than obsessing and changing our ways and continuously reminding ourselves of the goofball agenda, and thereby empowering it. Attention is the ransom demanded by terrorists, and we don't pay ransom for fear of encouraging kidnapping, we should not pay attention for fear of encouraging more random acts of terrorism.

June 30, 2007

Driving from London to Mongolia

My colleague and recently minted Imperial College, London Ph.D. Robin North is part of a team to drive a 1-litre, 19-year-old, Suzuki SJ on the Mongol Rally 2007 (London to Ulan Baator). This of course is an insane goal, but you are only young once. The aim is to raise funds for good causes (Mercy Corps Mongolia and Hope and Homes for Children), help the Mongolians achieve environmentally-sensitive automobility, and have a good time on the adventure of a lifetime. The website is here:
Goldenoeuf: The World Is Not Un Oeuf

May 15, 2007

The Illusion of Security 2

Via BoingBoing again: KCTV story about using fake ID to get through TSA security. I suppose we are lucky the enemy can't make fake IDs or never thought of it, otherwise they would have used that to attack us.

May 8, 2007

McCain's strategic error

John McCain, recently announced US presidential candidate, has long supported a stronger US force in Iraq, and recently endorsed George Bush's surge.

If the surge fails, McCain gets tagged with its failure. If it succeeds he can claim credit.

With enough troops and military resources, certainly Iraq (or even Baghdad) could be calmed - there are only 27 million people in Iraq, surely an equivalent force (less than 10 percent of the US population) would bring about peace pretty quickly, however, that number is more than the US and its allies are likely to commit for this cause.

That said, it is unlikely that an extra 21,000 troops are sufficient. McCain had supported more troops before Bush endorse a mere 21,000 troops for the surge.

McCain would have been able to claim the high ground either way had he said we need a surge, and Bush's plan was insufficient. If Bush is wrong, and the surge is generally regarded as a failure, McCain would have been able to say he wanted more and that would have worked. If on the odd chance Bush were right, he can still claim credit for encouraging a surge.

Endorsing Bush, instead of moving to his right, is either a strategic error, or part of a larger game where McCain hopes to gain something from the endorsement of policy (but what could that be ... a Bush endorsement of his campaign does not seem like something of sufficient value to warrant selling out for).

Note: I neither endorse the surge, the war, nor McCain. McCain seems like a nice guy, and he was held prisoner for a number of years, but he is wrong on every issue.

May 11, 2006

Highways in Africa

In the most recent episode of The West Wing(the penultimate episode "Institutional Memory"), White House Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg is being recruited to help run a foundation loosely based on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and her idea of what the best use of $10 billion would be to criss-cross Africa with highways, which would enable the delivery of medicine, expand trade, and do all sorts of good things.

Continue reading "Highways in Africa" »

May 10, 2006

War for oil vs. war against oil

I am still not clear why we entered the war in Iraq.

Many opponents of the war say it was for oil, but destroying oil fields doesn't result in there being more oil anytime soon. Given that the price of oil has gone up (as have oil company profits), maybe it was a "war against oil", but surely had that been the oil companies Machiavellian aim, that could have been achieved much easier (just bomb the oil fields).

Continue reading "War for oil vs. war against oil" »