Monday, August 22, 2011

It's not all about peaches here, you know

Deal unveils new Georgia license plate | WLTZ 38
Georgia's new license plate is ... busy | Creative Loafing

At least it doesn't have a URL and QR code on it.

Although, now I think of it, a QR code would at least be functional. Passing police wouldn't have to actually type in your plate number to do a quick license check, they could just wave their smart phones at it.

But my objection was that all of the proposed tag designs were about peaches. It's enough to make me nostalgic for the days of simple, solid-color license plates.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Another street name gone, another clothesline in place

Harris Street renamed in honor of John Portman | Creative Loafing

Actually, I'm not opposed to this one in principle. Although I would have thought that most of the tallest buildings on the skyline being his, that would be a big enough mark. But couldn't it have been simply Portman Street?

At least they didn't stick his middle name up there too.

I think it may be a plot to keep people out of the downtown area. You're out of breath before you've finished telling anyone where you are. Remember the downtown Steak and Ale? We used to tell people it was at the corner of Cain and Ivy, and now the building where it once operated is at the corner of Andrew Young International Boulevard and Peachtree Center Avenue! I have to think that was a factor.

See also Wren's Nest Blog and Stop Renaming Atlanta Streets.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another "Opt-Out" list

Now, those of you who have pets, you may find what I'm about to say heartless. You're invited to skip this post. is a web-based telephone solicitation service that... Well, here's what they say:

When a child is missing, an Amber Alert is issued and the surrounding area, even the nation, goes to work to locate the child and return them safely home to their loved ones. is based on the very same principle to help spread the word rapidly about your lost dog, lost cat, or any type of lost pet!
It's a new service -- well, I guess it's new. I'd never heard of it until I received a call from them a few minutes ago. The oldest alert listed on their site for Georgia is from February 2010, but if you're as cynical as I am, you might wonder if there's any reason to believe them.

If you weren't already cynical, know this: Caller ID doesn't say "Pet Amber Alert" or anything of the kind. It gives the pet owner's name and number. That is, PetAmberAlert deliberately misidentifies themselves. 

But wait: This shouldn't be a problem, should it? I mean, this is just the kind of thing the Do Not Call List was instituted to prevent.

FAQs | What if my neighbor’s phone is unregistered/unlisted? is a leading, recognized emergency response service that is exempt by the National Do Not Call Registry, so we may call your neighbors who are on the Do Not Call list. This gives us an even greater chance of recovering your lost pet.
Human emergency response organizations don't make random cold calls to locate missing people. You love your pet so much that you don't perceive the danger in redefining the word "emergency" to mean "a lost dog."

Well, OK, you love your pet so much, and the little darling is housetrained so he's helpless outdoors, so of course there's some urgency to locate him. And how can anyone doubt the honesty of an organization devoted to such a noble task? | Lost Pets Found Using Phone Technology
"They are an do not call exempt organization because they are not selling anything."
The hell they're not! It costs $87 to issue an alert! Unless you go for the $197 package which offers ten times the number of unsolicited calls to your friends and neighbors. And just because your pet isn't lost (yet?) is no reason not to send them money: You can "pre-register" your pet and order an "Advanced Pet ID Tag" (don't worry, "advanced" doesn't mean anything useful like RFID chip technology, it's just a custom tag with their logo on it), which comes with pre-paid Amber Alerts should the unthinkable happen. (Three tiers of pricing, up to $50!)

If you do a Google search for "block petamberalert," all you get are pages explaining why you can't. But if you do a Google search for "petamberalert do not call" you can find their page containing the form to request removing your number from their database.

That will hold me until the next call comes, from an "emergency pest control" service, or an "emergency cable TV upgrade" service, or an "emergency shoe sale notification" service...

I'm trying to be reasonable, really. But something about their smug "your neighbors can't block us because we're a registered emergency response service" really gets my goat. Hey, goats can be pets, right? Maybe I should report that my goat is missing.

LATER: I'll muster up as much fairness as I can manage and tell you that they found the dog they called me about. I feel obligated to point out that PetAmberAlert had nothing to do with it: The women who had the dog saw a friend of the dog's owner putting up a "missing" poster.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shrinking the "digital divide"

Low-income families get access to cheaper Internet |
Today at a morning press conference, Comcast executives along with Mayor Kasim Reed, Gov. Nathan Deal and other area leaders will announce the program, which will be offered to families of students who qualify for free school lunch.
Families who qualify will receive broadband Internet for $9.95 a month with no activation fee, no modem rental and a voucher to purchase a computer for $149.99.
Isn't this an implicit admission that you're overcharging the rest of us?
Atlanta Public Schools Chief Technology Officer Dave Williamson, said the district will be encouraging parents to take advantage of the offer.
"We believe it will be used in large part to support our educational mission by providing students with the means to stay engaged in the learning process beyond the regular class day,” he said.
...and porn.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

We did it once...

Pimp our highway, please | Opinion | Creative Loafing Atlanta

I'm astounded that at the same time we face the imminent catastrophic failure of a regional transit proposal, Central Atlanta Progress and the Midtown Alliance are talking about, not functional improvements, but redecorating the downtown connector.

One reader takes it the logical step further and suggests "Roof it over from 17th Street to the Grady curve. Make it a linear park." Why, that's absurd, it... wait.

We did it once. Underground Atlanta is only part of a much larger area one story below downtown Atlanta's current street level. Long-time residents still call the area "the viaduct". It stretches from GSU and the Capitol west to CNN Center and the World Congress Center. Railroads became such a large part of the city's economy that multiple overpasses were built for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. An architect named Haralson Bleckley had the outrageous idea to rebuild the iron bridges in concrete and connect them with a linear mall.


LATER: Okay, "catastrophic failure" may have been unnecessarily hyperbolic. "Failed to reach a consensus" seemed inadequate.

Fulton says "we didn't ignore Dekalb, see, here's Clifton Corridor", and DeKalb says "I-20 rail line or no deal", and Clayton says "Hello, remember us?" and Henry says "Please, forget us", and Fayette says "We don't even have interstates here, let alone rail transit, and glad of it!" I had such high hopes for a committee on which other areas (read "south of I-20") were represented.

I underestimated the intensity with which the doughnut hates the hole.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Straight Dope: Whatever happened to the "paperless office"?

Well, it's a complicated question, but the ultimate answer is, we're getting there.

The Straight Dope: Whatever happened to the "paperless office"?
A more persuasive explanation [for why the paperless office has failed to materialize], however, is that computers suck. Paper is cheap and adaptable, and, equally important, almost always works. If you’re an office drone scrambling to get a last-minute report out, one disaster you're not living in fear of is the Blue Sheet of Death. Computers, in contrast, make politicians look reliable. And let’s not forget premature high-tech obsolescence.
Having worked in the report-distribution end of the computer room, my own theory is that we just plain feel better if we have our customer data nearby in hard copy. In the old days, replacing a cabinet full of data tables was something you only did every other month or so. With handy, inexpensive computer printers that could print documents far faster than anyone could ever read them, even a small office could generate thousands of pages of new, customized reference data every day.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Traffic of the future

So they want to put one of these on Ashford-Dunwoody road?

This image of a typical diverging diamond actually comes from
the Missouri Department of Transportation, but I found it at

‘Diamond' interchange coming to I-285 in Dunwoody |

I had to go see both the Wikipedia entry for diverging diamond interchanges and a YouTube video of a diverging diamond visualization before I got a feel for exactly how this would work. If you've exited GA 400 at Lenox Road, or Peachtree Industrial at Tilly Mill or Jimmy Carter Boulevard, you may have a head start. At those intersections, when you enter or exit the limited-access highway, LEDs embedded in the street show you that you drive a significant distance on the "wrong" side of the street. I consider those intersections "training wheels" for this, where even surface traffic traverses the entire under/overpass on the "wrong" side. 

It's almost guaranteed that for us Atlanta drivers, our first reaction is going to be that this can't possibly work. Look how much trouble we have with those "wrong side" HOV ramps at I-75 and Northside Drive.

But this is a completely different perspective on what an intersection has to accomplish. Sure, a traditional cloverleaf would be ideal, easier to visualize. But you need a lot of room on all sides to build one of those, and you're certainly not going to find that at Ashford-Dunwoody road. This, you can do without even rebuilding the bridge. And I sure can't think of an intersection anywhere in Atlanta that needs help worse than this one.

And Springfield, MO certainly seems happy with theirs.

I can't remember the last time I was excited about a highway intersection. I can't wait to try this thing!

Where are all the librarians?

New Assignments for APS Media Specialists | Cascade Patch
Students who have gotten used to seeing the faces of familiar media specialists in their school's libraries may be disappointed when they return to school today. That's because some media specialists have been reassigned because of the Atlanta Public Schools' cheating scandal.
Many librarians are also fully certified as classroom teachers: In fact, many librarians are semi-retired classroom teachers who wanted to return to the school, but not to the day-to-day teaching grind. But with 178 educators missing in action, Atlanta Public Schools can't be choosy. The librarians aren't happy about it: If for no other reason, this surprise was revealed to them just last week.

Those of you who know that I'm on pretty good terms with one media specialist librarian (they voted that they want to be called "librarians" and that works for me) need not be concerned. She doesn't have the certifications to be a classroom teacher. But she is still affected by this move: Since there aren't enough librarians to go around, she's now part-time at two schools rather than full-time at one.

I haven't been following the blow-by-blow of APS news coverage here the way I used to, and probably won't in the future. One, a quick Google news search for "Atlanta Public Schools" will turn up a ton of it, and two, well, there are still things I daren't say.

But other people will.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Taylor's First Law

I've had a theory for several years now, but I haven't been able to articulate it to my own satisfaction -- until now. I had to hear educators describe what they do, not as "teaching" but as "moving" students, from one reading level to the next, from one grade to the next, from one school to the next. And they do, or at least the teachers do whom I happen to be in a position to overhear, and when one says it the rest know immediately what is meant.

...and it came to me.

You're jealous of what the rest of us would refer to as "real" scientists. You want to think that education is a hard science like, say, physics. You want education to be Newtonian.

Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion (loosely expressed and simplified to an Earthly environment where gravity and friction are assumed and constant) is this: An object at rest tends to remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. Force generates motion. Apply enough force to an object and it moves.

Since I'm formulating this theory, I'll call it:
Taylor's First Law of Education
An inert mind tends to remain inert, unless acted upon by an intellectual force. 
You encounter a dozen or two inert minds in your class (I wish that brutal description weren't accurate); You apply intellectual force to these minds, in hopes of generating academic movement. Sometimes it works. *

In lieu of the newtonian "foot-pound" with which to measure physical force, I propose the "thought-grade" with which to measure academic force, or influence. You apply, say, .006 thought-grades (6 milli-thought-grades, or 6 mtg) of intellect to each student each day, and at the end of 180 school days, the student has received one complete thought-grade of influence, and therefore moves one grade upward.

Actually, that's 1.08 thought-grades, maybe 13 extra days, but there's not a teacher alive who wouldn't grant the existence of intellectual friction. Everyone knows, for instance, that the week before Christmas break is a waste of time.
*   It would be a perfect theory if we understood why it only works "sometimes." That's the difference between Physics and Psychology, and why education is not, in fact, a newtonian science.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The New Fort Mac

Fort McPherson redevelopment could change southwest Atlanta -- for better or worse | News Feature | News & Views | Creative Loafing Atlanta
But some local community members and advocacy groups say the authority's plan is myopic and treats the property as a stand-alone project, rather than a site that needs to become integrated with the rest of the city. What's more, they think the authority has overlooked the role surrounding neighborhoods can play in determining what Fort Mac should become.
Have you taken a look at the surrounding neighborhoods lately?

Here's what Fort Mac looks like now:

Here's what Oakland City looks like now:

You tell me which way you think influence is likely to flow. Insensitive and bigoted as it sounds, it's hard to imagine that opening the Fort Mac front gate is going to do Fort Mac any favors.