Fiction L
A Fake Internet Presence,
since 1994

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What if raising fuel prices kill flying?

Generally, I've felt that raising fuel prices are mostly a good thing. The higher price makes fuel closer in cost to the actual environmental cost, which does more for decreasing usage than any international agreement on greenhouse gases. There are downsides, of course, in terms of cost pressure on those least able to absorb it, or even food problems... though those may be more due to stupid government subsidies for idiotic things like corn-based ethanol.

But in the back of my mind, there has been one big fear of high fuel prices: the end of air travel. No one likes flying on commercial airlines, but people do love what air travel does give them: far flung vacations, trips back home for the holidays, trips far from home for the holidays, face to face business meetings, Amazon prime and other next-day shipping.... The New Republic has an article on The End of Aviation, which discusses this very possibility. The author seems to think that greenhouse/carbon taxes are more likely to harm airlines than fuel prices, but anything like this is such a radical change to our way of life that who knows how it would actually shake out. If kerosene based fuels are really the only way to economically fly, would jets be the last thing we'd spend our "limited" fuel on? If we do succeed in creating cheap alternative energy, and use that for the majority of our transportation and other needs, would that actually cause the price of oil to drop as our need for it dried up? I'm sure that think tanks and policy houses can create scenarios and studies of whether these are possible.... I'm generally an optimist, usually in the "ingenuity" and "technology" category mentioned at the end of the article, so I'm not too worried about it happening.

I will say this, there is a very big opening for some real video conferencing solutions.

Photo tagging conundrum

So, there's a couple standards for tagging photos, IPTC and XMP. The benefits of the standards is that many photo sites and software support them. They work by storing the data in the photo (usually jpeg/exif). This is good, because then the data is stored with the photo, they can't get separated.

But... it violates one of the other precepts I like to have, which is don't modify the photo. Manipulating a photo file may break something, may lose existing data, make the photo not compatible with some software, etc. It also make the synchronization problem harder, by which I mean I have multiple computers, with my photos spread out amoung them. My wife and I routinely both upload the pictures from our phones, cameras, etc to our computers, and I try to maintain a central repository of our photos, backups, etc. Some of this is based on the photos keeping the same names, but names collide with multiple cameras from the same company, reseting camera counters, etc. The other thing that stays the same is the file size/checksum. Changing data in the file makes that more challenging, it means I have to do checksums or fingerprints based on the actual image data, and not the raw file data.

I could do a compromise, I could keep an archive of "original" files, and then have a separate or connected archive of "modified" files, that would allow me to keep the write once data, and the "updated" stuff, but that does double disk space... which is cheap, I guess, but our photo data is over 30GB now, its already getting a bit big for having a full copy on our everyday laptops... though maybe that's just an excuse to upgrade.

I need a better solution to the synchronization problem anyways...

SF's fantastic food scene, but...

Yes, the food here in San Francisco is really good, but I have a complaint. San Francisco is also known for sourdough bread, and I'm sick of it. I don't really like it, I don't know why its so famous, I just don't get it. I go to a good restaurant in SF... and they serve sourdough bread.

Closing Market St. to Cars

Apparently, Supervisor Chris Daly, whom I rarely agree with, has proposed closing Market St. to cars. Its somewhat odd that his proposal is to do so all the way to Octavia. I would have though Van Ness was the obvious choice, or even 10th St. Blocking off the section that turns onto Franklin seems like a bad idea.

I've mentioned this to friends in the past, mostly because there is almost never a good reason to drive on that part of Market St. Its two lanes in each direction, you can't turn left anywhere, and the interior lane is supposed to be for Muni only, and the right lane is often blocked by people attempting to turn right... who are held up by pedestrians. And then there are the delivery trucks/vans, and the cabs, which can block part of the right lane (or just pull up onto the sidewalk, even more fun).

I figure most of the cars on that section of Market are tourists or other people who just don't know any better, and then they're stuck on it, unable to get off.

Of course, closing it down presents problems, probably the largest is with deliveries to businesses along Market. I wonder if you could solve most of the problems just with signage, ie "No turns except Muni/Cabs/Deliveries" or somesuch. That would be helpful to those who don't know any better, though they'll probably just go WTF? It wouldn't allow you to transform the street, however... imagine turning it into just a single lane in each direction for Muni, for example.

Anyways, here's hoping that whatever comes out of this isn't a really bad idea... I'm guessing there's an 80% chance that nothing comes of this, and a 20% chance that something bad comes of this, that's about how politics in SF goes...

Finally, url support for Putty

I was downloading putty while using my Mom's laptop, and of course just did a Google search for it. I wondered if other types of putty made the first page of search results, so I scanned down the page... and stumbled upon Putty Tray, a weirdly named fork of the putty code base, named after a feature where you can minimize putty to the icon tray in windows... but it also finally supports hyperlinkikng of URLs. This has been a feature of various xterms and clones for years that I've come to depend on, especially since I use a console mail client. I use it often in gnome-terminal, but often have fun cutting and pasting urls in putty, especially multi-line ones. Its been on the wishlist for putty for years, marked as tricky and oddly behind adding scripting support. In any case, my first url click worked great, I might just be updating all of my putty installations to putty tray.

Oh, and there's only one non-putty ssh client related link on the first page of search results, for Putty World. This could be because I prefer putty the ssh client (I search for the download link probably a dozen times a year at least) and the "personalization"... but usually its from a new computer without being logged in, so maybe not. It could also be because the URL for putty is so non-memorable.. if it was just or something, I'd never search for it.

Has BS jumped the shark?

I'm a pretty big fan of Penn &s; Teller's Bullshit on Showtime. I don't always agree with them, sometimes they even change my mind. Sometimes, I think they're rather dickish to those representing the opposite viewpoint... ok, often, that's kind of the point. Sometimes, they seem to go too far. I'm just making my way through season 5... and the episode Nukes, Hybrids &s; Lesbians... it didn't even seem like they were trying. The "lesbians" angle was just silly and pointless. The nukes part.. sure, nuclear power has been given the shaft in the US... but the hybrids segment? Ugh.

Current hybrid cars are amoung the most fuel efficient cars available, but a good diesel can generally do as well or better. They do cost more to make, and they often won't make back that cost in fuel savings. They involve more parts, and some eco-challenged materials like batteries. The batteries themselves are expensive and need to be replaced more often than similarly priced parts of the car. All of these are good reasons to think that hybrids are not the answer to the oil supply and global warming problems.

Instead, we get a Prius raced against a Corvette in the 0-60, and a packing challenge which makes it "clear" that a Prius can't handle a family of four for a driving vacation. A Prius is a compact car. Comparing its acceleration against other compact cars would be more reasonable. A Toyota Matrix, which is somewhat similar in size, has a 0-60 time of 9.5s, which is a full second faster than the Prius... but that's only about 10% faster. It only gets 26/32 MPG though, compares to the Prius 48/45 MPG. 80% better fuel economy for a 10% hit. I saw a review of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid where they actually "drag raced" against the non-hybrid version, and they both had almost identical times. This review shows the Toyota Camry hybrid with a 0-60 time of 8.6s, better than the 4 cylinder Camry (10.3s), slower than the V-6 Camry XLE (6.5s). Still, in an acceptable range.

As for the family of four vacation... its a compact car. In the US, a family of four has two cars: if they need to fit for vacation, it'd probably be the other one. Or they could rent something bigger. The chart here shows an average annual hybrid gas savings in the $500-$600 range, which would pay for a $75 rental for a week. Of course, then you won't make up the extra cost of the hybrid.

They do cost more, of course. Edmunds has an article on how long it takes the extra cost of a hybrid to break even. For a hybrid Toyota Camry (my personal choice if I was in the market for a sedan), its only 1.6 years at 15k miles per year (that's probably a little higher than average, so maybe 2 years). For other cars... 7, 12, 16 or even 69 years. Granted, the 69 year Lexus LS sedan is one of the "performance" hybrids, the point of the hybrid is better performance, not fuel efficiency.

So, unless you're an early adopter, or buying one of the cars at the top of the list, you're probably better off choosing a better mileage non-hybrid, smaller cars/suvs like the Civic, Golf, or even Rav-4.

speaking of video conversion

Now that I'm using a Mac Mini and FrontRow as my media center, there was one last thing I'd love to be able to do. I wrote a quick script to automate some backups of data off my Tivo, and it would be great to be able to play them from FrontRow. With tivodecode, you can quickly convert the .tivo files to an MPEG2 stream... but one that Quicktime can't play, even with the MPEG2 plugin. My efforts to convert them to a format that Quicktime can handle met with the same annoyance as with the DVDs, lots of time and effort, and all for crappy results. Maybe ffmpeg just does a crappy job of encoding, after all the conversion to iPod portable quality mpeg4's by the Tivo Desktop software was pretty decent.

Initial DVD rip complete

9 months and nearly 3TB later, I've finished ripping my DVD movie collection. For storage, I used 2 Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ (it would probably have fit on 1 4TB unit, which is about 3TB after RAID, but it wasn't out yet when I started). For ripping, I used Slysoft's AnyDVD. My desktop box happened to come with both a DVD and HD-DVD drive, so I could rip two discs at once. I just used the built-in "Copy DVD to Drive" function for one drive, and Vista's file explorer to copy the other. Some discs needed to be ripped by "Copy" to work, and it has the nice property of stripping the "no forward" and other DVD annoyances, but it was slower than the simple copy. I initially tried a couple others, but AnyDVD was the best and worth the money. There were still about 4 movies that wouldn't copy, a fairly random selection (not the biggest blockbusters, or even the newest discs).

I had initially figured I would convert the discs to H.264. I spent a lot of time playing around with settings for HandBrake, trying to get a "good" conversion. Basically, video conversion sucks. The setting options are amazingly complicated, and greatly effect how long the encoding takes... but the output almost always looks like crap. Another consideration is that a lot depends on the quality of the player. I found that VLC usually did a good job, even on "ipod quality" videos up-rezed to HD. On the other hand, the Quicktime players in both the AppleTV and MacOS were pretty crappy. I eventually settled on a "hi-res ipod" level that at least would be portable... but neglected to test it. I let my linux box churn for about 3 weeks converting around 100 DVDs, and would up with files playable by my AppleTV, but not by the ipod. I think newer HandBrake versions have an easy setting that should work, but I haven't decided to burn the processing time yet. I just decided to keep the DVDs online instead.

I haven't decided whether I'm going to rip all of my wife's TV show DVDs or not. A lot of space, and I'm not sure we'd ever watch them a second time...

A pet peeve: asking for my zip code

I hate web properties which ask for my zip code before showing me what I'm looking for. Big offenders here are the cell phone companies, the cable companies (Comcast at least), and the various car websites.

Cell phones and cable might be at least partially specific to zip code, though Sprint (which prompted this rant) has always claimed to have a Nationwide network that I would assume is pretty uniform. Perhaps their rate plans aren't exactly the same across the country? Why don't these companies just use geo-ip data? Its available, it might not be as accurate all the time, but I'm betting a bunch of people just flat out lie when prompted anyways (90210 anyone?).

But the biggest offenders are the various car research sites that all want your zip code so they can try and shove you into a specific dealer. Yes, I'm sure you get a lot of money for lead generation, but I don't want to give you my zip code.

These types of sites lead to a more generic class of problems with sites: when its easier to find information on a specific site by doing a site based search on Google then by navigating/searching on the specific site. If this is the case, you're failing the #1 point of the web: if you said marketing and making money, you've failed. Its finding information, the point of your site is information, you make your site easy to use, contain useful information, and make it easy to find that information, and boom, you have users ... which is the biggest step towards monetization.

Or maybe I'm mis-using these car sites, perhaps they exist more form comparison shopping of cars by "exact" value, and comparison shopping deals for one car from multiple places.. but I'm always using them for information way before I care about the price. They should be helping me investigate cars, and when I've made my decision on which car I want, then maybe I'll be interested in finding the best deal on that car. Forcing me up-front to think about actually buying isn't going to help.

Oh, and on a semi-related rant, why is it that Car websites make it so hard to investigate the interior of their cars? Its easier for me to go to a local Automall and take in all of the available cars in a class then to try and one-by-one figure out what the interior space is like visually online.

The rise of the colonies

Poor brits, first Ford bought Jaguar and Land Rover, now they're going to India's Tata Motors. Or should the be the "passing" of the colonies from the old to the new or somesuch?

Too bad for the Ford execs, back to buying Lincolns I guess.

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