July 15th, 2016

Alexa Easter Egg

I found an Alexa Easter Egg!

If you ask Alexa to tell you a very (for any number of verys) funny knock knock joke, she will say, "Sorry, I don't know any jokes about Renfield."

Knock in Nosferatu (the film) is the character equivalent of Renfield in _Dracula_. I think.

I have been googling in search of anyone else who has encountered this joke (well, first I just wanted someone to explain it to me because I didn't get it). Let me know if you can find any indication! I have found other lists of easter eggs.

You Think Your Road Is In Terrible Shape

A friend posted this to FB:

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/why-one-vermont-town-tearing-asphalt-instead-repairing-potholes

I lived in Mayberry, NH (<-- not its real name) for a number of years. I have some personal experience with gravel roads. I didn't much care for them, especially during "mud season". So I was a little suspicious of this positive portrayal of a widespread phenomena. I thought I'd dig around a little.

Here is recent news from Omaha, Nebraska.

http://www.wowt.com/content/news/Citys-plan-to-turn-neighborhood-streets-into-gravel-road-sparks-outrage-385133501.html

Okay, so that has some people's names and some addresses. Let's have a look at that road, shall we? Street View from August 2014, and apparently, it has gotten even worse.

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.2495088,-96.0512601,3a,75y,198.2h,77.58t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1szunh8yOZjMFELCBuCok8uA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

If you have difficulty with that, try typing in 9xx South 89th St, Omaha, Nebraska and go to street view.

The road is undoubtedly in bad shape and I don't doubt that Omaha is having to make some difficult decisions about what to do about roads it cannot afford to maintain. But jeez, this ain't a rural area. This isn't some kind of romantic decision. If I lived on that street, I'd be peeved. Zillow says that at least one of these well maintained, 3 bedroom houses with about 2800 square feet, dating from the early 1950s sold in the low $300Ks. Without a lot of local knowledge that I don't have, I can't really speculate about what is going on (is this because the collapse in oil prices completely wiped out the tax revenue for the city of Omaha?), but this is an aspect of the re-centralization of the US -- the move to the coasts, to cities, and closer in to the center of cities -- I had not contemplated. If you are in an older suburb, your road may stop being paved. At all.

(Ah, so much fun in the snow. Not.)

ETA: I feel compelled to add, for my Seattle readers, that yes, I am aware of just how awful some roads on Queen Anne were in the past and, for all I know, still are to this day. I always harbored a suspicion that the neighborhoods like it that way, because it discouraged through traffic and forced everyone to slow down. It's not all bad. I get that. But I can't help but feel like this is the asphalt equivalent of poorly maintained rail and accompanying slow orders.

ETAYA: My town has a sidewalk plan (they are slowly building additional sidewalks to create a full sidewalk system in the town -- they've been doing this since before I moved here and they won't be done for I have no idea how long, but I really appreciate some of the recent additions). Similarly, some rural areas with the money to do so have annual plans to pave their gravel roads (Mayberry, did, too). This article has substantial discussion of the tradeoffs:

http://www.republic-online.com/news/local_news/article_8765de1e-60bf-5806-b28c-c114f2060f9e.html

If you are confused, Miami County is in Kansas. Among the factors: they are careful not to build out too fast, and produce pavement they cannot maintain. They are paying attention to the drainage changes introduced by comparatively impervious asphalt. They are also paying attention to the effects of salt treatment on the land the road is one, because gravel roads aren't salted and paved roads are (but gravel roads in a more populous area/which are traveled extensively may have dust control measures -- and that was a factor they were considering in prioritizing for paving). Pretty much everything you could want in a discussion, right down to how now is the right time to do the work, because commodity prices on the components are still quite low and labor is available. If you are wondering why places in Texas are suffering but Miami County is okay, I suspect, but am not certain, it is because natural gas pricing and the pipeline business has not been as painfully impacted as the oil industry in general. But that's purely speculative.

ETA still more: Trucks are WAY harder on roads than cars. It isn't even close. And the heavier the truck, the more they damage the paving. Going to gravel can be a really great way to get the trucks to go Somewhere Else. Of course, this is only a valid option in a very rural area that doesn't intend to change that feature any time soon. Here's what that looks like:

http://columbustelegram.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/county-weighing-paved-vs-gravel-roads/article_6b1557b6-8e77-5d89-b8ca-bd0f4b948f55.html

My favorite part of this article is the last paragraph, unrelated to paving:

"paying a $21,783 claim on behalf of Loup Township. The county took over control of the township in 2014 because no one wanted to serve on the Loup Township Board."

I didn't even know that could happen. My imagination is clearly inadequate to the task of anticipating reality.

The Columbus of the newspaper name is in Nebraska, which was named after the one in Ohio.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loup_Township,_Platte_County,_Nebraska

http://www.nebraskahistory.org/lib-arch/research/public/county_finding_aids/platte.pdf

ETA I know no one is still reading:

Treehugger enters the debate and not on the side you may have predicted!

http://www.treehugger.com/infrastructure/unpaving-america-its-back-stone-age.html

Arguments against gravel included in the piece: people will sell their Priuses and buy SUVs if they have to drive on gravel roads everywhere. Comments thread is extensive and notes the MNN article that my friend posted to FB which got me to pay attention to this whole thing in the first place.

ETA _again_:

http://atlantadailyworld.com/2014/06/04/new-road-construction-technology-being-introduced-in-metro-atlanta/

Some technical details about Perma-zyme. R. does not think he has ever ridden his bike on or driven a car on this kind of road, nor have I.

Disincorporation/deorganization

I grew up in unincorporated King County, now the City of Shoreline (it incorporated after I had moved somewhat south into the actual City of Seattle, as opposed to the Seattle postal address I had grown up with). I am quite familiar with how services can be provided -- and often were provided in the era of white flight suburban growth on the west coast -- by the county and various "districts" (water district, school district, etc.), rather than by a town or city. But boy, here in New England, the county is vestigial. Everything is handled by the town.

Except sometimes it isn't.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/us/in-maine-local-control-is-a-luxury-fewer-towns-can-afford.html

Instead of unincorporated county with county supplied services, it is the Unorganized Territory, with services supplied by the state (and apparently some even by the county).

R. points out that unlike the rest of New England, some of Maine never was part of an actual township.

"Other states have unorganized or unincorporated areas, but in Maine about half of the land is Unorganized Territory. The area predates the state itself — it was laid out when Maine was still part of Massachusetts and new settlers were expected to flock there. But the harsh climes of Maine’s wild lands, as they used to be known, never filled out with enough people to self-govern."

"“Maine has this oddity of having all of this space in an area of the country that cherishes town meetings and town governments,” said Kenneth Palmer, a professor emeritus at the University of Maine. “These tiny towns don’t have enough people to generate the municipal staff to really run the town. It’s this abandonment of a town structure.”"

Other things to note: previous rounds of deorganization in Maine occurred in the Great Depression; the transition away from paper to electronic equivalents has damaged the logging industry perhaps permanently (I mean, you never know -- homebuilding could restore it).

Cary's deorganization did not succeed at least yet:

http://bangordailynews.com/2016/03/31/news/aroostook/after-state-denies-deorganization-effort-cary-residents-vow-to-try-again/

It's for roughly the reason you would expect, at least in a place like Maine:

"“Basically, their [the state’s] argument was if they allowed us to deorganize, it would encourage other towns to do the same,” Kai Libby, first assessor for the town, told the roughly 35 residents gathered Monday in the lobby of Hodgdon High School."

What do you expect from a place that has cut everything else it can possibly cut?

Apparently, a population of 200 is too big a town to just throw in the towel on being a town.