Thursday, November 24, 2022

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

People often complain about not having enough time to accomplish what they want to do. Yet, when delving into their detailed time usage, they find that they end up wasting a lot of their time. Off the Clock recommends being mindful of time usage in order to accomplish what we need and have more free time. 

It is tempting to pick up the phone to scan some random social media when we have a free moment. However, very few people would mention "spending three hours scanning social media" as something they want to accomplish for the day. Even though exercising only takes a few minutes, most people claim they don't have enough time to fit it into their schedule. By tracking our detailed activities each day, we can get an idea where our time really is going. We may find that we are spending less time working than we think. 

In choosing the areas to spend our time, it is often valuable to block of time, such as the start of day to engage in our high-value individual activities. We should also know how things typically work. If meetings run late, don't schedule them back to back. If it often takes longer than expected to go to a soccer game, add in buffer time. Make valuable use of the time that you have. Spending time socializing with coworkers can be help accomplish more than working through lunch. "Appearing busy" does not provide as much value as we think. Accomplishing things does. Even in a marriage, we have picked somebody that we want to "suffer the least" with. We will have challenges with our time. We can make the best of them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Television has encouraged a dumbing down of societal discourse. Neil Postman's arguments seem both dated and prenicient. When written in the 1980s, television was primarily consumed via limited broadcast stations. Cable was growing, but still limited. Computers were something of a novelty. People sat down in front of a family TV to get information. If they were bored, they stopped watching.

Today it has become worse. Moving pictures are available on phones, computers and the TV set. There are a near-infinite number of different videos that can be streamed with the click of a button. Nearly everything is "stand alone". You can watch a single youtube video then see more from the same creator. There are many series and movies available. The attention spans have shrunk further as there are many other options if something is not entertaining.

With COVID, education and religion have been migrated to screens with poor results. Church did not have the same "sacredness" when it was just coming from a screen at home. People would do things that they would not otherwise do at church. Similarly school was a different experience. Even trying to replicate the same school experience over Zoom produced poor results. Why watch a boring teacher, when there are many well-produced programs out there? Migration to screens seems to degrade the original.

TV is here to stay. We are now picking leaders based on how they appear on screens rather than on substantive issues. "Influencers" have large media followings. With the large number of video productions there are some that are daring. However, the overall quality has veered towards those with lower attention spans and less spot. It does not bode well for society. Postman observed the problems and half heartedly proposes solutions. Things do not bode well for society.

The End of History and the Last Man

The End of History and the Last Man created quite a stir when it was published shortly after the end of the cold war. The book is primarily a response to Marx's belief that history would end with the Communist revolution. This didn't happen. Instead, Fukuyama argues that a modern system with democracy and capitalism as the base has emerged as the primary system in the world.

The book is quite dense and explores many different forms of political rule and economy. War and territorial aggrandizement are no longer preferred means of growth. In past times people were willing to risk death to become rulers. Those that wanted the easier life became servants. Now things have moved more economical with people choosing what to do and optimizing for it. Economies where the government pretends to pay people have workers that pretend to work. Included in the afterward is time looking back at the decades following the publication. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health

Reducing food down to carbs, fats and protein misses out on a lot of the key nutritional value. There are many micronutrients that have value that we have yet to understand. Even isolating these misses out on the benefits of the interrelation between various compounds. People have had centuries to select food for nutritional value. 

We have spent a few decades tearing food apart and attempting to provide similar benefit. Alas, we have not done a good job. Taste has previously been a key way to identify food our bodies need. However, as scientists have been able to isolate key macronutrients, they were left with bland food. No problem, they added plenty of flavors to help fool us into liking the "fake" food. Even "natural" food suffers from the same problems. Agriculture has engineered crops for yield rather than taste or nutrition. Fields are covered with fertilizer that makes plants grow fast. They have little time for defenses, thus they are covered with pesticides. This kills off the pest predators also, requiring more pesticides. 

Meat has suffered from similar problems. Livestock are fed grains that are cheap rather than nutritious. This "food" needs to be flavored to get the animals to appropriate consume it. The animals quickly put on weight, but the nutritional value and taste of the meat is lacking. (Argentine grass-fed beef tasted so much better than the feed-lot American beef.) There are also the externalities. Animal waste is great fertilizer on farms, but hazardous waste on a feedlot.

The explores the decline in nutrition in modern food with a goal towards advocating no-till "natural" agricultural processes. Many of today's crops don't work as well in organic, no-till farming because they have been bred specifically for high-fertilizer, conventional farming. Breeding for taste and more natural conditions can produce more nutritious, better tasting produce with yields almost as high as bland conventional ones. We are only beginning to better understand the nutritional benefits. (Nutritional studies remain hard because there are so many different people and different interrelated nutrients.) 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Crossing the ship canal on bicycle


Crossing the Ship Canal is a necessity in order to get from North Seattle to downtown.

From the west to east, here are the options:

1. BNSF railroad bridge 

- You can take a sounder train. The catch is that there are no stop between King Street Station (at the south end of Downtown) and Edmonds. There is space to bring your bike onboard.

  • Bike, Pedestrian: on transit
  • Transit: Sounder train is fast and scenic, but doesn't run often or to many places

2. The locks.

 The "orphan" section of the Burke Gilman trail goes right to the northern entrance. There are also many quiet Ballard streets. Then you need to walk your bike through. Due to locks being locks, there is almost always a path open. (Though you may find yourself walking back another way just as it changes.)   

On the north end, you can cross Commodore way to a wooden bike bridge over the railroad tracks into Magnolia. (This can be a little steep and slippery when wet.) Commodore way is a pretty lightly traveled street with ample blackberry picking opportunities in the summer. From there, 27th to Fort Street bridge over the tracks takes you to the Gillman cycle track. Keep going on 20th, then take the turn off onto the dead-end section of 20th to get to the Eliot Bay trail. This will continue down to the sculpture gardens and the water front. 

This is the best option looking for a quiet, low-traffic way to get across the ship canal, especially if coming from downtown.

One key limitation is that it is subject to closure. (It is typically open 7am-9pm, but may shut down for days for maintenance)

  • Bike: Slow and easy, but requires walking
  • Pedestrian: slow and easy
  • Transit: N/A

3. Ballard Bridge

This is a long bridge at 15th Ave NW. It is the worst way to get across the ship canal, but it is in a convenient location for central Ballard access. Typically, cyclists will ride on the sidewalk on the "right" side. However, it is not uncommon to see a cyclists traveling the opposite way (especially if they are coming from a destination on that side.) The bridge has a long viaduct from the north that connects to a draw bridge. At times during the summer the bridge has been stuck in the up position. 

The sidewalk is not wide. It can fit one cyclist comfortably. When passing another cyclist or pedestrian, one will often move over to the side to help let the other person pass. (Don't by the person in headphones slowing people from behind.)

You can also ride your bike across the bridge itself, rather than use the sidewalk. The grating does not make for the nicest ride, but it is doable. It is a commitment, I've biked across comfortable at midday. It is a big commitment that I would not advise any time there is traffic. 

The most common way to access the bridge from the north is coming down Ballard Avenue from the west. When the street end, turn right and head up the sidewalk on the right side of the bridge. (It is pretty much in the middle of the street.) From the east, it is common to make a left turn from Leary. Go on the far right by the bus stop and just continue south to get to the bridge sidewalk.

I have also accessed the bridge from 15th Ave NW. Typically, I'll stay to the far right around 50th and go down to Leary and get on the sidewalk there. 

If I am feeling really bold, I'll ride down 15th Ave NW, then move over to go on the bridge over Leary. There is no sidewalk on this bridge and no easy way to get to the sidewalk over the main Ballard bridge. You are committed to biking the street the whole way over the Ballard bridge. The advantage of this is that you have a potential long stretch of no lights. The disadvantage is that you have to ride with traffic and deal with a few relatively high speed right side merges. It is not for the faint at heart, but it can be very fast.

If you do the sidewalk route, you can continue until you get to Emerson. There, there is is a cutout to the left that lets you get on 15th. The trickiest part about this is right turning cars (some of which actual use their signals.) Best bet is to wait until there is enough of a gap for you to get past the intersection before a car would turn right. (There is enough space for you to go next to a car going straight.) The cars merging onto 15th from Emerson seem to be much less of an issue.

Riding on 15th/Elliott is fairly nice if you like riding on busy roads. There is a wide bus lane that allows bikes. I've found myself more likely to be stuck behind a bus than to be blocking the progress of a bus. (Though I do like to move off to an empty sidewalk to let a bus pass me.) I typically take the Dravus underpass, though taking the Dravus exit and getting back on is a more comfortable option. 15th is a pretty nice route through uptown and downtown. Another option is to exit at Dravus and go over the railroad tracks and turn left to go down the Elliot Bay trail. Galer provides additional access, but the bridge is a little bit more painful.

If you are not into the whole riding with heavy traffic thing, you can go over the Ballard bridge and continue as it goes down Emerson. When you get to the bottom of the Emerson ramp, you can turn right to backtrack and go under the bridge and swing back around to the sidewalk on the left side, this trail will meet up with the Gilman Ave W Cycletrack that can take you to the Elliott Bay trail.  (I'll admit I am more likely to just keep going straight down Emerson and riding with traffic before turning left on Gillman. This is partially out of habit, because this is what you had to do before the cycletrack was there. It also feels bad to turn around.)

Going back north, things are not quite so easy. You can take the Emerson path under the Ballard bridge, then go up to Nickerson and follow it around to get on the bridge sidewalk going North. (There is a little bike shortcut, so you don't have to stick with traffic the whole way, but there is not much of bike space on that section of Nickerson.) You could also just go up the Emerson ramp and ride on the "left side" sidewalk heading north.

I would more commonly just ride on 15th. I was more likely to take the Dravus exit if I were headed north than south. (It is an easier merge.) But the fastest way is to stick with 15th. If there is heavy traffic, you could probably bike over the bridge at car speed - but you could bike over the sidewalk at faster than car speed. (I've seen buses exit at Leary, stop for the red light and bus stop and still end up in front of cars that were behind them.)

  • Bike: fast and advanced with some easier options; not pleasant
  • Pedestrian: A long unpleasant walk
  • Transit: Frequent all day D line service with other express bus service

4. Fremont Bridge

The Fremont bridge is probably the most used ship canal crossing. It is also the lowest bridge and most likely to be raised. The ship canal trail/Westlake bike path connect to the south side, while the Burke Gilman connects to the north. Most cyclists use the sidewalks to ride across. However, it is common to see cyclists on the bridge grating itself (especially after the bridge has recently been lowered.) It can get crowded with many pedestrians and cyclists. 

A common way to access the bridge from the north is via Fremont Ave N. Just continue down Fremont and ride across the bridge. From the Burke Gillman, you will typically veer off to the 34th street bike path to connect to the bridge at Fremont. (You could also walk up the stairs to the bridge directly from the Burke Gilman, but that is best done while not carrying a bike.)

After crossing, you can continue straight to go on the Dexter bike lane that will continue to downtown. You can also cross left on the near-side crosswalk to go down the Westlake bike path. Turning right at Florentia and right on 3rd is another way down to the Westlake bike path (via ship canal trail). Taking a right turn on the path will take you under the Fremont bridge on a bumpy road that connects the two trails.

From the south, the Westlake Bike Path leads you directly to the right side sidewalk. You can also continue down Dexter and cross Westlake to directly access the trail. After crossing, you can join a large group of cyclists slogging up the Fremont hill, or you can head off in either direction down the Burke Gilman.

  • Pedestrians: Join everyone else for a saunter across the bridge
  • Bicyclists: It is crowded, but a nice connection
  • Transit: A few local buses go over the bridge 

5. Aurora Bridge

This is the bridge sidewalk that I am least likely to see used. But, it is also one of the better commute bridges. The sidewalks are a little wider than Ballard and the bridge feels shorter. It is also the only "fixed" bridge that you can bike across. I have smirked when I look down from the Aurora bridge to see the Fremont bridge up.

You can ride on the bridge itself, but I would not recommend it. The lanes are narrow and metro buses routinely take up 2 lanes. I would love to see the bridge restriped to have two lanes in each direction and a bike lane. I have biked across the bridge deck when traffic was really low. (Uh, 2AM). It is much easier to manage headed north, due to the downhill slope. 

From north, you can access from Aurora Ave N. (Another secret route - there is a pretty wide bus/bike lane for most of the street. Most of the bus stops have arrival signs helping you to know when a bus will be coming. Even when parking is allowed, the lane is wide enough to allow plenty of bike space. Heading north, the new Green Lake cycle path took out what was a comfortable shoulder, but you can slip on to the path if need be.)

If you are cycling south down Aurora, you can access the bridge to the right, as Fremont Way merges on to Aurora. There is something resembling a crosswalk there, but your mileage may vary. You will need to lift your bike over the curb to get to the bridge before the railing blocks the way.

I like to use Aurora as the "lazy" alternative to the Fremont bridge. Instead of continuing down Fremont, I'll take a left at Fremont Way (near 39th). Then jump on the sidewalk near the bus stop to continue on the Aurora bridge sidewalk. There is now a curb cut at Raye street making it easy to get off. Watch for cars turning right and cross the street, continue on the Aurora should for a short bit and take the first exit (Dexter Way) which leads you to the top of Dexter hill. This lets you avoid the down and up of Fremont/Dexter along with the potential of the bridge going up.

If you are really into speed, just continue down Aurora. Just keep going to the right as if going to the tunnel. A bicycles must exit sign will let you exit right after you have crossed Mercer. This will bring you to 6th close to MoPop.  (This can be a fine to see on maps with all the spaghetti of multi-layered roads in the area.) You have now managed to get from the ship canal past Mercer without a single traffic light. You can feel like a car. 

Alas, WSDOT has made a mess of the northbound route. Aurora used to be a great way to avoid Mercer going north. However, they have made the tunnel merge on the right and even signed it as no bikes. (Though people have conveniently etched out the sign.) The right lane has more cars merging in, is uphill and allows general traffic. It is just not as great.

From the south, a common way to access the Aurora bridge is from 6th Ave (often from Dexter). Get on the bridge around Canlis. There are also ways to access from the Queen Anne side, as well as jumping on other places. (There is also a decent sidewalk for most of the stretch.) 

After crossing the Aurora bridge heading north, continuing on Aurora can be a pain. The road itself is nice. However, you need to jump off a pretty high curb and cross the Bridge Way exit ramp to get there. (There is a crosswalk. Good luck.) Once you do that, you have an uphill slog followed by a fast downhill. 

As another option, you can continue down the sidewalk and pick another way up. I like going up the wide Woodland Park Ave. You can also go under the Aurora Bridge and up to Fremont. (You have manage to avoid a good chunk of the climb.)

  • Transit: Daily service (complete with entertainment) on the E line. Many other buses.
  • Bike: Avoid hills! Fast and more advanced, mut missing some connections
  • Pedestrian: Long, noisy walk with great views

6. I-5 Bridge

Uggh. This one goes nice and straight and "flattens" some of the hills. Yet bikes are prohibited. The least they can do is turn the express lanes into a bike path.

  • Bike: on transit
  • Pedestrian: on transit
  • Transit: Some Sound Transit express busses, but those are dying away

7. University Bridge

The U-bridge is the one bridge with separate bike lanes and sidewalks. Access can be a little annoying. From the south, it is typically accessed via Eastlake. You just need to slog through a lot of lights. Maybe protected bike lanes will be coming soon? Cross the bridge and you can exit to go to University of Washington campus. Or you can continue up 11th. There is a "paint only" bike lane next to parking. It is also uphill with a lot of lights. There are also other options, including a greenway on 12th. There is also access to the Burke Gilman, but I seem to get lost every time I try.

I like to access via Fuhrman so that I can avoid the mess on Eastlake. However, I often do it wrong and end up going down some crazy steep hills. (There is one I keep manage to hit that is just an ugly combination of steepness and bad pavement that I end up walking my bike.) When I do it right, I end up on Boyer and then just cruise on over.

From the north, Roosevelt heads straight down. It has a nice protected bike lane. However, there are a lot of driveways and whatnot, making it a challenge. On the other side, you get Eastlake. You can also try to follow the signs to loop along next to Lake Union. (They can be a little sketchy. I've found myself trying to figure out which way to go out of an alley) 

  • Pedestrian: Sidewalk without bikes!
  • Bike: Bikelane without pedestrians
  • Transit: some local busses

8. Mountlake Bridge

This feels like the shortest bridge and has a lot of pedestrian traffic.  There is a little bit of neighborhood between the bridge and 520. The streets are really beat up. You can go through the neighborhood to get to the 520 trail. Depending on the state of construction you may be able to go on a trail under the freeway or have to deal with a nasty intersection to get the Arboretum. 

On the north side, you can quickly connect to the light rail station and over to the Burke Gilman trail. Southwest of the bridge, you can connect through a park that has a path under the freeway.

The University Bridge will do a better job of getting you downtown. However, there are plenty of greenways and places to explore. You are likely to find a steep hill on a connection from the bridge to downtown.

  • Pedestrian: Go for a walk from campus
  • Bike: Access to the eastside
  • Transit: Many buses connecting to light rail

9. Link Light-rail tunnel

The light rail has space for bikes. From Westlake to Roosevelt, the stations are all greatly situated with plenty of two-way walkable traffic. Then the light rail starts running next to the freeway at Northgate. It quickly pivots from "reasonable means of transit" to "lets get buses off the freeway"
  • Bike, Pedestrian: N/A
  • Transit: You won't see much underground, but it is fast.

10. All the way around

Rather than take a bridge, you could go all the way around lake washington. You still may end up going over a few bridges, but you avoid the ship canal bridge. You could head up the Burke Gilman near the UW campus. It turns into the Sammamish River Trail. You could exit at Juanita and hug Lake Washington. Or you could continue to Waynita (who named these?) It is a little more confusing of an exit (through a park), but less hilly. Continue down through downtown Kirkland, and then meet up with the 520 bridge. Cross it and you are south of the ship canal.

You can also continue on the trail until you reach downtown Redmond and then meet up with the 520 trail. It is supposedly "All trail". However, the 520 trail will often exit and have you slog through slow intersections. (And there is a part where it is on street for a while without very well signed street connections.

If you really want to go far, you could go all the way around Lake Washington. There is some signage and some trails. The part through Bellevue can be a bit confusing. The section of Renton at the bottom of Lake Washington takes you near a Boeing facility with just about every airline represented. But be careful not to hit some dead ends there.

11. Ferry

Now we are getting into the theoretical. You can take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry from Edmonds to Kingston. Then take the fast ferry from Kingston to Seattle. Total time is around two hours. (It could be a little faster with the right connection). Getting to Kingston costs around $10, while the ferry from Kingston is around $2. (Fares on both ferries are primarily charged when going to Kingston.) The Edmonds-Kingston ferry runs all day, while the fast ferry is primarily during rush hour. You could also bike from Kingston to Bainbridge and catch the all-day Bainbridge ferry. (Google maps shows it as about an hour and a half. Not sure how nice of a route that is.)

  • Transit: ferry - a little more options than the train
  • Bike: on transit
  • pedestrian: on transit

12. Personal watercraft

As you go down 3rd Ave NW, you can see 3rd Ave W continue on. Old maps show plenty of streets going through what is now the ship canal. You can look up old street names to determine what the streets are in this map. Nye street is the current Phinney. Section street is now 3rd Ave NW. Both chugged along across what is now the ship canal. The ship canal is not that wide. While it doesn't look like thee is easy access right at 3rd NW, it does look like you can get to the water just a little bit west down the Burke Gilman. Why not use a watercraft to continue across? To be fully self-contained, you could strap an inflatable paddleboard to the back of your bike, then somehow balance the bike on the paddleboard as you go across. Or just go for an Amphibious cycle

  • Transit: none
  • Bike: amphibious? Or perhaps carry a paddleboard
  • Carry some sort of watercraft

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Wild Robot Escapes

The Wild Robot has been "fixed" and sent out to work as a farm robot. However, she has a secret. Her memories of living in the wild with her adoptive gosling son are still present and she wants to go back. On the farm, she works hard to complete her tasks and help the farmer after the death of his wife. She also tells plenty of stories about the "wild robot" to the children. She would like to escape to live on her island, but doesn't want to abandon the farm.

She continues to use her "speaking to animals" skills. She helps chase off wolves. She also talks with the cows and other animals. She further tells various geese about her son. One day she has an exciting reunion with the son. The kids overhear and help plan for her escape from the farm. There are a few close calls as she moves away. However, she scares some people in the city and gets brought to the robot factory. She makes a show of destroying her, but in actuality, she transports her brain to a new body and brings her back to the island where she lives happily ever after.

Is this a parable of race relations with the end goal of sending the former slaves back to Liberia? Or perhaps it is just exploring a future of how robots will live with humans. The robots in the story are clearly second class citizens. However, they have become more and more engrained in the daily lives of humans. People need the robots. As the robots are becoming more sentient, should we start expanding the rights that we give them? Do we allow them to make mistakes? There are plenty of ethical and societal implications.

A Memory Called Empire

A memory called empire is ruined by the profanity. It does not fit will with the characters' language and distracts from the narrative. The story is primarily a futuristic political intrigue with a few science fiction elements. One small community wants to prevent the larger empire from annexing them. A representative is sent to replace the previous one. However, there is a succession crisis going on with the big empire. They are all caught in it. The small group has this ability to "store" memories to give a form of endless life. There is also romance and various alliances with the various people involved in succession crisis. (It has hard to keep them straight with the "name-number" format of names.)

Friday, November 11, 2022

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids

How much of what parent's tell kids is actually true? Ken Jennings sought to find out the truth behind many things he had heard parents say. Some things are blatantly false with a difficult time finding any truthiness. Most things have some bit of truth to them, but don't really matter today. (Outside-latching refrigerators and radiation-emitting TVs have been out of production for half a century.) Sometimes the grain of truth was actually used for war propaganda. (Carrots do have Vitamin A. A total absence of vitamin A can lead to vision problems. However, almost nobody suffers from this today. Carrots benefitting vision was spread as British propaganda to lead the Nazis away from the path of radar.) There are also things that really are true. The book is a good "fact checker" for passed down parental wisdom.

Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them: A Cosmic Quest from Zero to Infinity

The key phrase in the title is "Where to Find Them". This is not just a theoretical math book, but a book of math with a focus of real application. We can find minutely small numbers as we drill down to the smallest building blocks that make up matter. We can also go to huge numbers as we add all those up or start exploring the immense reaches of the universe and different parallel ones. (The "multiverse of madness" comes to mind.) There are also very large numbers like googol, googol-plex and Graham's number. (I still have trouble getting my mind wrapped around Knuth's multiple-uparrow notation. It is just "really big") There is ample discussion of the scientists that came to important conclusions. (It seems almost fitting that some would go mad contemplating infinity.) Sometimes it is the "untrained" mathematicians that have come up with great insights.  

Saturday, November 05, 2022

What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

The title says it all. This books presents serious answers to plenty of absurd questions. What if the earth were a giant eyeball? What if it rained gumdrops and lemon drops? How about a lava lamp made of lava? These and many other questions are answered with science as well as humor, complete with illustrations. In the process, you slyly get a better understanding of Newtonian and relativistic physics as well as many other bits of science. Most of the questions are answered with a few pages of detail. There are many "quick sections" where questions are presented without detailed answers. It is tough to decide whether I should feel guilty for escapism or happy that I learned a lot.