Vid's Space

Hello! You are visitor number 82310! I may be a bit narcissistic, but I don't quite want to talk about myself for pages and pages on my website anymore.  I could, but that might be a bit depressing.  Meh, at least I have a job.

Suffice it to say I'm a pansexual nudist roadgeek with issues including but not limited to depression, selective eating disorder, and possibly Asperger's syndrome.  But again, this page isn't about me.  Instead, it's my space for random thoughts which I hope you'll find interesting or amusing. 

By the way, if you don't like the fonts or colors on my website, now you can override them using the Style Chooser!  As for other improvements to this site, I really need to redo the guestbook, get the counter/greeter system to work how I originally intended, and oh yeah, get in the habit of adding content more often…

Random Quotes

I hope you'll find the following quote amusing and/or thought-provoking.

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.”

— Jerry Seinfeld

A new quote is randomly selected three times each day. For your convenience, here's a permanent link to this quote.

Cool Story, Bro!

Here you'll find brief anecdotes which usually are worth the time spent reading them.

New items will be selected in 3.1 days.

Familiar Music

So, back around 2004-ish, I was already familiar with the songs “Steppin' Out” by Joe Jackson and “Day After Day” by Badfinger, from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and real classic rock radio stations, respectively. Then I heard this song that sounded really similar to the former, but the verses began with a few notes almost exactly like the latter. Well, it turns out the song was “Breaking Us In Two” by Joe Jackson. So of course it sounds like that other Joe Jackson song, but I think Badfinger might still have a case with the similar melody.


I've been a fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic for a long time. Somehow, it took me until a few years ago to discover the song “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota”. Not actually a parody of an existing song, it's a rambling yet charming tune that reminds me a bit of my family vacations in the 90's, even though I think Al was trying to go for more of a 60's experience. The song also reminds me of “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” by Harry Chapin, but I can't put my finger on exactly why. Incidentally, my dad had a Harry Chapin tape we'd listen to on road trips, including that song, which became something of a family favorite. Anyway, then I found a “Weird Al” fan website which had a section about Al's original songs. Specifically, it pointed out that many of them sounded quite similar to existing songs, even though they weren't explicit parodies. There were opinions from many people on this subject. Several apparently agreed with me that “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” sounds like Harry Chapin's style generally, and a few agreed that it sounds like his song “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” specifically.

I recommend both songs, if you haven't heard them. But regarding “30,000 Pounds of Bananas”, I suggest getting to know the studio version (5 minutes, hard to find) before listening to the live version (10 minutes, more commonly found).


I don't generally listen to new music, but it was hard to avoid Gotye's “Somebody I Used To Know” last year. Elements of it sounded familiar, however. Then a friend of mine showed me a parody, “A Song I Used To Know”, which compared the song to both “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”; mystery solved! It's quite an amusing parody, but be warned: there's just a bit of profanity.

Get In The Phone!

The Matrix is an awesome movie. Not a perfect movie, but an awesome one still. One time in my college dorm, someone had The Matrix on TV, and a few of us were watching. It got to that scene near the end, where Neo and Trinity are going to leave the Matrix by answering a telephone and sort of teleporting into or through it. Agents are closing in, and the telephone starts ringing. Trinity is going first, but first she has to make an angsty confession to Neo about love and prophecies. Why can's she wait till they get out? So the phone just keeps ringing while they talk, and someone in the dorm starts yelling at her, “Get in the phone!” Soon all of us are shouting the same thing at the television.

Later that day, a phone in one of the dorm rooms starts ringing. It rings several times, without either resident of that room paying attention to it, so someone shouts, “Get in the phone!” That got a lot of laughs, but even better, it got the phone answered.

This was back in the day when people let their answering machines (physical devices in the home) answer incoming calls, then listened to the messages being left in real-time, possibly deciding to pick up the phone and talk to the caller. (If your elderly relative ever leaves you a voice mail like “Are you there? Pick up the phone!” this is why.) So a few times when I called home, I actually left messages asking Mom to “Get in the phone!” Of course I had to explain it to her at some point. I've told this story to my friends, and they occasionally use the phrase, though with voicemail service largely replacing actual answering machines, “Get in the phone!” isn't very useful anymore.

Tornado

I was one of those kids who not infrequently made messes for fun. Usually there was some kind of imaginary drama playing out in my mind. Once I knocked down every item on the bathroom counter. When my mom found the mess, she scolded me, saying “It looks like a tornado came through here!” While I was apologizing, I thought to myself, “Tornado — that's exactly what I was going for!”

More Cool Story, Bro!

Passing Thoughts

This is the opinion section of my site. If I have something to say to a general audience that won't fit in a tweet, it'll probably end up here.

New items will be selected in 78 minutes.

Induced Demand

So there's this concept called induced demand. It says if you build a new road, or add capacity to an existing road, people will change their habits and drive more, using up the added capacity. I won't claim this is untrue.

I've seen it stated several times now, however, that the extent of this effect is such that all of the new capacity is used up, resulting in exactly as much congestion as there was before. It's like how if you make a water pipe bigger, it will immediately draw more water into it. Nevermind the absurdity of enlarging a pipe while it's in use, this analogy breaks because water is an incompressible fluid, while traffic often isn't.

Sure, when a road is at capacity, the traffic may as well be considered an incompressible fluid. But there's no vacuum force sucking cars into every available lane-mile of all the rural highways of America. Not even metaphorically. There is no macro-economic, group-behavior phenomenon putting upward pressure on the traffic counts of rural roads. Unless a highway is at capacity, the traffic is a compressible fluid which is perfectly happy to exist in a low-pressure state in the absence of compressive forces.

Okay, so clearly this idea of congestiostatic induced demand is framed in the context of urban transportation planning, and my rural roads counterexample is irrelevant. Yes, in cities, essentially all new capacity is immediately filled by induced demand, resulting in nearly (but not exactly; more on that below) the same amount of congestion. This is because in cities, the overall demand for vehicular mobility is greater than the capacity of the system; roads that might have more capacity than demand are filled to capacity with traffic seeking an alternate to other roads with more demand than capacity. The limiting factor on an individual's travel (and on the total vehicle miles traveled) is how much congestion people are willing to put up with.

Note how this observed macro-economic effect is driven by individual choices. Now let's examine the hypothetical situation transportation planners like to conjure, of two cities alike in every way except for their highway capacity. Let's say one city (Broadville) has 50% more lane-miles of highway than the other (Narrowtown). Some measure of "congestion" is performed, and the transportation planners will expect the congestion is exactly the same in both cities. Folks in Broadville drive 50% farther, or 50% more often, or some combination thereof, compared to their Narrowtown counterparts. 50% more capacity means 50% more traffic. But why? Why does a person in Broadville do 50% more driving than a person in Narrowtown if they have the same levels of congestion? If a Narrowtowner and a Broadvillianite were to switch places, they'd take their habits with them, and not increase or reduce their respective weekly driving, because they experience the same amount of congestion as before the move. The exchange of these two individuals alone would not significantly impact the congestion, as they are just two out of hundreds of thousands of people driving about their hypothetical surrounds. I assert this is an impossible scenario.

The congestion can't possibly be the same in both cities. Narrowtown must have slightly higher congestion than Broadville. Specifically, driving 150 miles a week in Broadville must be exactly as tolerable as driving 100 miles a week in Narrowtown, or people would change their habits until equilibrium is reached. Even at capacity, traffic is slightly compressible, so that the tiniest difference in "congestion" results in enough of a difference that people can tolerate 50% more time and distance in the "same" congestion. Even liquid water will compress a tiny amount under some applied pressure.

Now urban planners will probably try to say almost-the-same congestion is just as bad as exactly-the-same congestion. Why build Broadville, when for the cost of only slightly more congestion we can build Narrowtown and have "safer, more pedestrian-friendly" streets and save a bunch of money on asphalt?

Because Broadville is 50% more mobile. Free to drive 50% farther, Broadvillianites have access to twice as many choices of grocery stores, dentist offices, parks, museums, erotic poetry slams, appliance stores, and sports arenas as compared to Narrowtowners. Broadville may seem just as congested as Narrowtown, yet the former enjoys more options and lower costs that come from greater competition.

That's the macro-scale argument in favor of greater road capacity and mobility despite induced demand. On a small scale, we can throw out the whole claim of induced demand leading to congestion staying the same. We can because that claim is based on measuring capacity, vehicle miles traveled, and congestion over entire cities. That argument is completely irrelevant when the discussion is about whether to widen or otherwise improve capacity of a specific segment of the road network that experiences higher congestion than surrounding roads. Frequently the reason for this higher congestion is concentrated demand (such as at a suburban freeway interchange) or a local drop in capacity, for which few or no alternate routes exist. Improving capacity at these locations might result in a modest traffic increase, as cars return to the preferred route from whatever alternates drivers may have come up with, but that actually means fewer total vehicle miles traveled, because people aren't pressured to take a longer path around the congested spot.

To conclude, arguing against a road project that adds capacity, "because induced demand", is not a sound argument. On the other hand, I am very much in favor of — in addition to adding road capacity where needed — alternative transportation options such as rail and/or bikeways, and planning different land use types close together so residents have more options without getting in their cars.

And if you oppose a road project because it will "cause more development", you really need to tell your city leaders (or whatever local government is applicable) that you oppose more development. Development is not stopped by congested roads; I've seen farmland go right on becoming housing developments despite the farm roads already being choked with traffic from the developments that came before. Development is stopped by zoning boards who say no to developers. Any other tactic amounts to making your own town unlivable, and hoping prospective new residents notice before they buy.

Dashes and Quote Marks and Ellipses, O My!

There are certain characters that are traditionally used in English-language printed text, but too often different characters are substituted when a computer is involved. There are a few reasons for these substitutions. In some cases (with decreasing frequency) the text is limited to a small character set such as ASCII. Much of the time, the person entering the text doesn't know how to enter the correct characters if they're not found directly on the keyboard. Or the person doesn't know the difference between the proper character and its common substitute. Or the person knows the difference, but simply can't be bothered to use the correct character. Microsoft Word has for many years attempted to compensate, but doesn't do so perfectly.

Hyphen, En Dash, Em Dash

The hyphen has legitimate uses. It can indicate that a word has been broken across multiple lines, though this isn't usually done manually. It is the correct separator in compound words such as well-trained or hunter-gatherer.

But the hyphen is also frequently and incorrectly used as the separator in a range of numbers. The correct character here is an en dash. For example, in Lincoln Tower, floors 2–14 contain administrative offices, while floors 15–24 are residential. The en dash is also properly used in identifying a relationship or connection between two entities. Much of State Route 161 is locally known as Dublin–Granville Road.

The em dash is the proper character to set off a side-thought within sentences—though parentheses can usually be used to similar effect. The common substitute is two adjacent hyphens; Microsoft Word usually auto-corrects two hyphens to an em dash.

Apostrophe and Quote Marks

Apostrophes are properly used in contracted words, and possessive forms of nouns. Microsoft Word usually auto-corrects typed apostrophes to beginning or ending single quote marks, because traditionally the apostrophe has also been used as an ambiguous single quote mark in computing. When the usage actually calls for an apostrophe, this behavior is semantically incorrect, though some may find the result more visually pleasing.

Single quote marks are properly used to mark the beginning and end of quoted literal text, usually in one of two contexts. One is when the quoted text appears within another quote. The other is when the passage isn't referring to a specific instance of the quoted text. Different characters exist for beginning and ending a quote. Microsoft Word usually does a good job of detecting whether a typed single quote mark should be a beginning or ending quote mark, except when it's supposed to be an apostrophe. In the past, some computer users have used the grave accent character as a beginning single quote, and the apostrophe as an ending single quote; neither substitution is proper.

Double quote marks are properly used to mark the beginning and end of quoted literal text, in the context of a specific instance of usage of that quoted text. Different characters exist for beginning and ending a quote, distinct from the ambiguous double quote mark found on most keyboards. Microsoft Word usually does a good job of detecting whether a typed double quote mark should be a beginning or ending quote mark. I have seen some instances of two adjacent single quote characters used instead of a double quote character; this is not proper.

Ellipsis

Ellipses are used to denote omitted portions of a sentence, quote, or sequence, which are unnecessary to comprehend the whole or can be easily deduced from context. Ellipses are also used to indicate pauses in speech, or an unfinished or uncertain thought. An ellipsis is a single character, though most computer users will type a sequence of three adjacent full-stop (period) characters. Microsoft Word will usually convert this sequence to a proper ellipsis character. A better substitution is three full-stop characters with spaces before, after, and between, but a single ellipsis character is the ideal choice when possible.

Economy of Characters

In some situations, such as Twitter, it is desirable to minimize character counts of messages. Using proper em dash and ellipsis characters, rather than their multi-character substitutes, offers a slight practical advantage in these situations.

How to Type Proper Dashes, Quote Marks, and Ellipses

CharacterUnicode (dec)HTMLWindowsMac
– En Dash8210–Alt+0150Opt+-
— Em Dash8211—Alt+0151Opt+Shift+-
‘ Beginning Single Quote8216‘Alt+0145Opt+]
’ Ending Single Quote8217’Alt+0146Opt+Shift+]
“ Beginning Double Quote8220“Alt+0147Opt+[
” Ending Double Quote8221”Alt+0148Opt+Shift+[
… Ellipsis8230…Alt+0133Opt+;

As you can see, it's not that hard to use the proper characters. And while, most of the time, there's little practical difference, and few people will notice, isn't it worth it to do it right, just for the sake of doing it right?

More Passing Thoughts

Cool People

Cool Famous People

Here are, in no particular order, some of my favorite people from movies and TV:

Cool Obscure People

Here are, in no particular order, some of my favorite people of whom you may not have heard:

Best of my LJ

You know how radio shows often run "best of" shows during the weekends or when the stars are on vacation?  Well, I haven't posted to my LiveJournal much recently, but there are some good nuggets from the past I thought I might share here.