Sunday, June 20, 2010

A lesson from today's fire

Note: I'll proofread this and fix the tenses tomorrow. I get up at before sunrise, so this is quite late for me.


As I came back from my hike today, about 2 1/2 hours ago, I noticed that I was hearing a lot of sirens, more than I had ever heard before. Far more. Not being in the Fire Department, nor seeing any flames coming out of my building, I decided not to think about it for the moment, and went in to do my shopping.

A few minutes later, I found myself in the very short checkout line, listening to somebody talking about what was happening, and noticing that I was now hearing more sirens, not fewer. Not a good sign. I asked what was happening. The lady I was talking with said that smoke was pouring out of all of the subway grates from downtown and northward. This raised two possibilities, either of which would have been plausible.

1. The rumors were greatly exaggerated, the fire being nowhere close to being as large as people thought it was, and the city then responded with the level of fiscal restraint we've come to expect out it.

2. The rumors were not exaggerated.

Possibility one turned out to be correct, but I wouldn't know that until a few minutes ago. I'm visiting a member of my family, right now, and being in a mad rush to catch the train out to his place, I had to wait until I got out here before I could go online. That need for speed made possibility two much more interesting. Think about it, and you'll see why.

Go into the subway, when it's open again, and look around. What materials do you see? A lot of concrete, not quite as much steel, tile along the ceiling in some of the refurbished stops ... materials that aren't very flammable. There are those funny, stubby little half ties that could probably burn, especially since the ground under the tracks looks like it might have a few decades worth of oil dripping accumulated on it, but that's something one would expect to see as the fuel for a small fire, not something that stretched as far as some people were claiming it did, or would just such a massive and expensive response on the part of the fire department. What could produce that much fire and smoke, in such a relatively nonflammable environment. I could only think of one possibility offhand.

If somebody had firebombed the El while it was underground, the walls of the tunnel would have channeled the blast and the heat, allowing both to travel further. Certainly, such things have happened in allied countries in the not so distant past, as the people in Madrid know all to well. If this was the case, I thought, skipping the train ride today might not be a bad idea. Remember 911? Hitting multiple targets in rapid succession is somebody's style.

"A remote possibility", I think to myself, but as returning from the dead seems to be quite difficult, at the time I'm thinking that I might want to make a reasonable effort to be sure that the worst has not occured. If I find out that it has, I'll know to stay home and wait until everything calms down. Surely, I'm thinking, finding out whether or not it had happened shouldn't be too difficult. We're talking about the primary public transportation route right under our feet; if the place had turned into a crematorium, I'm thinking that the city or at least somebody in the city probably would notice that, so there should be no mystery on that point, right?

As I walk down the street toward the bus, I pass a Chicago police officer who has blocked off one lane on State Street, not really a good sign, especially on a day when the Cubs are playing, and the city wants to do what it can to keep traffic flowing smoothly. The lane she has her patrol car obstructing is the southbound lane, roughly in the direction of where trouble would be in a worst case scenario. I and somebody else ask her why State Street is being blocked off and what's going on.

She has no idea. Great.

So, I call ahead, and ask the family member to please check Google news, searching under "Chicago" and "Subway", which got me nowhere, because said family member stubbornly refused to understand the request, doing a Google web search under "Chicago", "Subway" and "News". But, he asked, since I didn't know one way or another, wouldn't it be a better idea for me to stay at my place until we cleared this up?

Well, no, actually it wouldn't, I tried to explain to him - if I ran away from every potential threat I encountered, in the absence of reliable information, I wouldn't be able to get through my day. This is the nature of life in a major city. One sees a certain number of things that might not be right, one does one's best to get timely information so one can make an informed choice, and then one muddles one's way though the calculated risks one ends up with. Plus, I thought to myself, everybody I've talked to, today, knows nothing, doesn't seem to be on the way to knowing anything, and seems immensely comfortable with this in a very self-satisfied kind of way, so when is the confusion going to end, anyway? Might as well keep going, which worked out fine.

But I was left with a few observations:

1. The fire department really over did it. 19 injuries, and then need more trucks for that, than can arrive during the half hour it took for me to buy and wolf down my dinner before departure? No, I wasn't there, but it does seem like a severe waste of the taxpayers' money. I also wonder what would have happened if a much larger and more serious blaze had broken out elsewhere, when so many of the city's engines were in that one place. Overkill doesn't just come at the expense of our budget, it comes at the expense of our safety.

2. The family member, who I'll leave unnamed, really needs to work on his listening skills. I mean, a lot. But then, I suppose I knew that.

3. If there ever is a terrorist incident in Chicago, we will not be ready for it, and the city needs to do something about that, today. The police are the front line people for dealing with the public during an emergency - a small one in this case (19 injured), but they're not always going to be small. If they don't have enough information to intelligently answer the question "is it a good idea to go this way, and why is the street blocked off", then during a real crisis, a lot of us are going to end up stumbling into places where we shouldn't be at the time.

How hard can it be, to just tell the beat officers, in general terms, what is happening? Even in the far less threatening situation that we did have, putting that knowledge in the officer's hands wouldn't have meant our knowing that visiting anywhere near Water Tower Place wouldn't have been our best choice at the moment. Which given our proximity to that location would have been useful information, information that could keep some of my neighbors from unintentionally stumbling into the way of people who have work to do.

3. Mentally, the people I ran into didn't seem to know what era they were in, expressing absolute assurance that a terrorist incident couldn't possibly happen here. Guys ... do you remember the little incident that began the Afghan war? You know, the one we're still in? Pair of really big office towers in New York, pair of airplanes slamming into them ... ring any bells? The Madrid subway bombings were only six years ago and ... oohh, looky, looky ... they came as coordinated attacks.

So, mentally, the people I encountered didn't even seem prepared for the concept, which would be an amazingly poor tribute to their judgement were we living in a safe place, but we are not. We never have been. Chicago's reputation for violence is not undeserved. One grows up with the idea that one peers around the corner ever so slightly before crossing an alley so one doesn't get grabbed at night, of taking the pedestrian bridge (with its long lines of sight) instead of the viaduct when in doubt - of travelling with one's eyes wide open, alert to what trouble might arise so that one can get out of its way, quickly, because if you wait until trouble arises before you look, it's too late. So, the idiocy that I witnessed today, on this point, was really quite mystifying. It was like running into a group of people from Alaska, who couldn't understand the notion of hypothermia.

We're talking about people living in a city that, not so long ago, was the murder capital of the United States, having more murders per year than New York. Note what I just said. Not more murders per capita. More murders period than a city that, at 8 million people, has well over twice our population and a fairly bad reputation of its own. So, where does this "gosh, you mean people could be mean" stuff come from?

4. At my earliest opportunity, as finances allow, I need to get myself a blackberry, so if the moment does come, I might be able to check with somebody who has a clue, and access to real information.

Mentally, at no point was I assigning the worst case scenario (the second) anything other than a very low probability, but walking in without looking when things are looking a little off is a very bad habit to get into, not good for one's longevity.

I'm going with lesson 4 as being the important one. Certainly, it's by far the easiest one to act on.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

So I need to start playing more country?

Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in with? (pics)
created with
You scored as Serenity (Firefly)

You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Moya (Farscape)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Heart of Gold (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Some more photomanipulation

Another piece, one that I'll play around with a little more, from my gallery space on DeviantArt. Let's call this one of the gifts of poverty. Maybe.

Image links to DeviantArt page.What I would really like, among so many other things many of which I would like even more, is access to a darkroom, but I can't afford that, so I have to rely on Osco, which means assembly line service. For example, I brought in a shot I took along Broadway of a neo-baroque building whose ornamentation was brought out by the shadows cast by the setting sun and they developed it as if I had shot it at noon, "compensating" by lightening the image until they had washed almost all of the color out of it. One might imagine that the sight of a clearly shining street lamp in the picture would have tipped off the developer that this image had obviously been shot later in the day, but she was probably too rushed to notice. The image was ruined.

Further, as is so often the case, my handicap gets in the way. I can't drive, which means that even if I could afford a tripod, I would have trouble taking it everywhere I went - try carrying even a small object in your hands for a few miles and see how heavy it gets. You'll be surprised. This becomes a nuisance, because low light conditions are common in Chicago. That doesn't always keep me from getting a shot - if one finds something to brace oneself against, sometimes one can steady oneself enough to compensate for long exposures - but again, a lot of blurring occurs. These factors have left me with a wealth of ruined pictures which I'm loath to just throw out.

But the good news is that with the scanner comes an earlier release of Photoshop, and what would have been wasted shots proved, very often, to be a good starting point for image manipulation. Had I the money for my own darkroom, if I had motorized transportation to help me get around - then I'd probably have had lots and lots of nice, clean, crisp, well developed shots and no urge to repair them with software that in some ways, proved unsatisfactory, leading me in simple frustration to acknowledge the unreality of the whole process in the final result, pushing the images in the direction of surrealism or outright abstraction. Had I a little more money, I suppose that I might have gotten a later, better release, ... and so it goes.

Not that I wouldn't rather be gainfully employed, of course, but it is always a pleasant surprise when one is blessed by one's bad luck.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Pincushion of the week

I started an add-on to my previous post with the words "On an unrelated note, let's ponder with wonder and amazement the fact that this managed to become a featured video on Youtube. Slow week, boys?", thinking that there was too little going on to justify devoting an entire post to this. How wrong I was, but this certainly isn't the first time I've underestimated my fellow man's capacity for just sheer, gratuitously coarse insanity. A young girl who claims to be 18 (I'm skeptical about that) posts a video to Youtube stating something that would have been a platitude when I was her current age, talking about the importance of not just believing what one is told. She does seem to take herself terminally seriously, but remember yourself at that age. Probably, you were doing a little of that yourself. What I hope you weren't doing was responding to a provocation that mild with wishes that somebody would be killed or threats of rape, accompanied by graphic sexual suggestions directed toward somebody who either is a minor or was one in the recent past.

While I initially teased her a little, I found myself regretting my decision to do so very quickly. I've seen online mobs like hers in action before, and I can definitely understand her anger. Here's her post:

And you knew there was going to be a sequel, right? Hope you enjoy the word "f**k", because she uses it a lot. Not that I don't sympathize as she talks about the idiocy of netizens, but she did bring a little of this on herself.

Maybe. She's 18, isn't she? Meaning that she came of age during the "self esteem based education" era? Hmmm, maybe there's a context in that which I haven't been picking up on. What you're seeing is a repost of a followup video which AngryLittleGirI deleted, though the comments for her video are still up. I definitely am not supportive of the title this other user attached to the repost, and will be asking for permission to repost this one myself, with a far more respectful blurb attached.

For those craving more of her writing, rumor holds that this is her blog and here is her YouTube profile, for those who wish to enjoy a little more postadolescent bitterness. Either way, have fun, preferably with aspirin bottle in hand. But Jessica, that's OK. This is normal for those your age.

One can say much the same about reading many of the replies she has received, at least as far as the aspirin goes (in its hatred, the response went well beyond what would be understandable at any age), but at least one case (this video by HippyOrGTFO the teasing stayed good spirited instead of descending into the gutter and at least one of them (this one by Lehrane, strictly speaking a response to one of the responses) seemed genuinely sweet.

But then there were those that were genuinely psychotic, like this one by somebody named Joyce. You can actually watch this depraved little girl express a hope that the target of her misplaced rage will kill herself, merely for having expressed opinions that she didn't like and having called a group of trolls on Youtube "retards" for no better reason that the fact that they were acting like retards. Truth hurts, Joyce?

If I seem a little slow to comment in YouTube in the future, this is why. This was like returning to the bad old days of Usenet. I like the fact that Google is not as eager to shoot first and ask questions later as some providers, but there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing, even when the good thing is tolerance. Somebody who posts a threat that he will stalk, rape and kill a poster not only is not entitled to state that in the forum of his choice, he isn't even entitled to be outside of a prison cell at that point where, one might well hope, he might gain a little added perspective on the crime of rape. Somebody being piled up on does not need to be teased at such a moment, because one can count on that moment to have driven away her sense of humor. What Google has done is create a kind of Usenet in a can, back in the days when the vileness of Usenet was fresh and young, and psychiatric outpatients of all descriptions were still excited about it.

I've had that experience, in fact I think that most of us did, because it's a big part of where political correctness came from, and wasn't that a magical experience to go through? I don't think I need to have that experience again. I've posted rebuttals in a few places because I remember the experience of having been the one ganged up on, and nobody should have to face that unsupported, if only because nobody should ever be left wondering if the whole world has gone insane. If anybody actually reads this blog and they'd like to do something decent, do a search, find the videos where this girl is being attacked and give her some backup, because she doesn't deserve what she has been getting. But beyond that, if Google is going to let the comments section of Youtube turn into a cesspool, I think that they should be taught that eventually nobody but a piece of s**t is going to want to swim there.

IF I ever post to Youtube, I will always do so with comments disabled and will shun the discussions, aside from offering support to those deserving it during this sort of drama, and not even that very often. Trolls gain more attention and power than they would otherwise enjoy because there is content that others would enjoy reading, enticing them to come look. The paradox of a troll dominated forum, then, is that if the trolls win, they lose, because soon after they drive off all of the sane posters, they will run out of readership. One enters such a discussion to reaffirm the values of civil society and leave a needed reminder that they are being breached as wakeup call to those being lulled into acceptance of what they are seeing, but then one departs, having implicitly reminded others that they ought to do so as well. This is the victory one seeks in such a place. Idiots are as free-willed as anybody else; you can't force them to be anything other than what they are, so you have to accept that they will be in the majority where they have gathered when you depart, but you can help make the virtual territory they hold onto become worthless.

That's how you win.

Addendum, August 14,17. In case you were wondering how somebody was holding up, this is the harassee's response to the drama. She seems to be in good spirits.

Though not too good to break a hippy's heart. Jessica, how could you? We see the man scarfing down a tub of what I can only hope is Ben and Jerry's, drowning his sorrows in lactose ... sorry, I just have to log off now ... it's so sad. What does "emo" mean?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Yes, but is she Jewish?

What?! Mom would have wanted me to ask. Video found on Metacafe, from Joey and

The Laundry Girl, Never Forget Her ! - Funny bloopers are a click away

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Express, Dennis Quaid, and a friendly suggestion

In case you didn't already know, Dennis Quaid is in a movie currently being shot on the Near North Side of Chicago. The name of the movie is "The Express". Judging from the cars used in the shooting, it seems to be a period piece set some time around 1960. I only know this much because I ran into the crew as they were shooting. Mr.Quaid wasn't around at the time, as far as I knew.

Let me set the time and place for you, and you'll see where the friendly suggestion is coming from. It's a bit past five in the afternoon on a bright, warm Wednesday afternoon - yes, about two days ago. Not hot, just warm, warm enough that the girls are dressed lightly and the boys of all ages are enjoying the scenery, as boys are prone to do until the day they drop. I'm walking along North Avenue, on the north side of the street. People are now getting out of work, and as the nice weather is a novelty, they are doing as much walking as they can. The street I happen to be walking down is a major thoroughfare, passing through the most densely populated section of the third largest city in the United States, a neighborhood thick with highrises, having about as many people per square mile as Manhattan. Get the picture, yet? Let me flesh it out a little more, then. Along the north side of the street, which narrows from four lanes to two as it crosses Clark, the street is forested, deep green branches bending low, providing welcome shade in abundance to those who wish they had remembered to bring sunglasses when they headed out in the morning, and obstructed lines of sight for the rest of us, especially when the sidewalk is packed, as it is bound to be on a day like today, not that those of us present mind - with one exception.

As I walk eastward, headed toward the underpass to the lakefront, somewhere near State I start to see trailers, a camera pointed toward Clark Street and those of us coming from the West, an empty stretch of sidewalk in front of it with no visible signs of action - and a very testy looking woman. A pedestrian who had been approaching looks at the camera, points across the street, asking her "should I ...?", nodding to one side to quickly indicate a simple question: "would you like me to cross the street, to get out of the camera shot somebody's setting up or has set up or ... because the one thing that has been absent throughout? The crew didn't think to make any effort to block off the sidewalk. The way we all found out was that we walked along and ... surprise! ... there they were. Glaring at us as if we had no business going toward the Lake on a sunny day, on a public sidewalk.

A swift and courteous question from an apparent local who was trying to be cooperative with a visitor to the city was greeted with an uncivil tone, from somebody who seemed to imagine that she was in the middle of a studio back lot and we were trespassers. I could say something about the wisdom of wearing out one's welcome in a friendly place by treating the local people as if they were intruders, and I suppose that I just did, but let us focus more narrowly on the practicality of this woman's approach and what passed for managerial judgment on her part. At the very heart of a major city, at rush hour on a bright day, she and her team assume that nobody is going to walk down the shady side of the street. What could they possibly be thinking about?

Obviously, if one is shooting a film set in the mid 20th century, one doesn't want to have somebody walking past with an ipod; the illusion will be broken, and those passing understood that. By and large, they wished to be cooperative, but being cooperative does not mean being psychic, it does not mean being able to see through crowds or a dense canopy of leaves. It means being willing to act on the information one has in order to try to avoid causing another unnecessary inconvenience, and when that other decides not to give one the information one needs to act in as timely a manner as the other wishes, whose fault is that? How difficult would it have been, for the crew to merely post a sign at the end of the block stating "film shooting in progress, please use other sidewalk"? Or to use those little sawhorses used by .... oh, practically every other film company to have ever shot on the Near North side, to block off the sidewalk? But, with precious daylight burning on a day which was soon to be followed by gray overcast, as the bills mounted, this team decided that what it really needed to do to get that sidewalk clear was be abrupt with the locals as they wandered in, unwarned, in a column, one by one. Coming home by foot on rush hour.

Good plan. I can't imagine why it didn't work. Smiley courtesy of All the same, next time, they might want to consider just blocking off the sidewalk and maybe even trying to not irritate the friendly locals in whose home they are guests, if only as a change of pace.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Bringing bad things to light

G-d save us from those so desperately eager to save us from ourselves:

TORONTO, ONTARIO Ontario is considering becoming the first province in Canada to follow Australia's lead in banning old-fashioned, energy-sucking light bulbs, Environment Minister Laurel Broten said as the province draws up a plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

Conservative Leader John Tory and environmental groups are urging the government to ban incandescent bulbs in favour of energy-efficient ones, saying it's the push people need to save electricity and a move that would eliminate much of the province's dependence on coal-fired power plants.

"There are a lot of great ideas out there and that's one of them," Broten said. "Everything is on the table." --> (more here)

A halfway decent definition of liberty is that desirable state we attain when everything is not on the table. Otherwise, we spend all of our lives fighting over those many things that are on the table, because there is no decision that one can make for oneself that some busybody won't try to interfere in. This is not to say that the government should never deny the individual freedom of choice, just that the government ought to be so greatly reluctant to do so, that it won't in the absence of a disturbingly compelling reason to act.

What that reason might be in this case is anybody's guess. Consider where Ontario is located. Considering the fact that I hear from people who think that Chicago is located somewhere near Kentucky, maybe I'd better give a map.

If you're from California, this is a map of a country called Canada.

Yes, that Minneapolis, Minnesota you're seeing well to the south of Ontario, which you can see generally lies to the north of the generally frosty American Midwest, with Hudson Bay, an inlet of the Arctic to its North. One might go out on a limb and guess the beach weather there might not be optimally warm, most of the time, and one would be right, as one can see by looking these month mean temperatures for Toronto, and then noticing how far Ontario reaches to the north of that city. One might be safe, then, in concluding that Bob and Doug MacKenzie do not live in a tropical paradise, and in fact probably have the heat on most of the time.

Guess what happens to the energy "wasted" by an incandescent light bulb? This is the issue that gets glossed over by advocates of this kind of intrusive legislation, who tend to act like the energy that an incandescent light bulb fails to turn into visible light just vanishes into nowhere. Obviously, it can't do any such thing, because one would have to circumvent basic physical conservation laws, as in the laws of Physics themselves, to accomplish this undesirable goal. Where, then, does the missing energy go?

The vast bulk of it becomes heat, which helps to keep warm the space it is heating, reducing the need for heating feul. Outside of the summer months, and mainly during the day even at that, that energy isn't going to waste at all, and the clueless consumer who so badly needs to be micromanaged for his own good turns out to be not so clueless after all. Go further south, into a place like Chicago, and you'll find that our year still isn't wall-to-wall toastiness, either, and so even down in balmy Illinois, most of the waste energy is being put to good use, even without any deliberate attempt being made.

A Northern Ontarian goes grocery shopping

We're left with a proposed law which our activist friends are trying to spread from place to place, rather unconcerned with the fact that there is no clear rationale for promoting it, and a very clear rationale for opposing it. The problem with passing a law or otherwise imposing decisions upon the individual from above, is that individuals are very different from each other and while they can and likely will factor those individual differences of their own into the purchasing decisions they make, the law isn't very good at doing that, itself.

For some people, fluorescent lighting is as good as any other, and they are free to maybe save a little money by buying the new fluourescent bulbs - if, indeed, they do save money. For others of us, though, that light can be intensely unpleasant. Some can see its flickering, others find its decidedly unnatural mix of colors unsettling, and these factors can greatly reduce the mental focus and comfort of those so affected. Certainly, I've found that they affect mine, and one can easily find others who will say the same. Pass that law where we live, and we are denied the freedom to rationally act by making a very small added expenditure of our own money during a relatively brief time of the year. Very brief, indeed, because during the day during the summer, one tends to either be working or outside, not at home either way, and so we're facing the possibility of sustaining a real loss in productivity and quality of life in order to force us to engage in what may well be nonexistent savings, based on the theory that individual people are so stupid that they can't manage to decide to save money on their own, unless they are forced to do so at gunpoint.

People acting in a free market are certainly capable of acting stupidly, which is why when their stupidity affects others on a large scale lassez faire may not prove to be a valid nonresponse on the part of government, but the assumption of this argument is something very different. The assumption is not that we may have lone individuals who may make irrational use of their disproportionate amount of personal power to work mischief on the undeserving, but that on the whole, the customer can not be trusted to make the simple decision to avoid wasting his own money, that he has to be babysat and forced to make the right decision for his own good, by people who, in reality, don't live inside his skin, don't see out his eyes, and really aren't qualified to decide for him what that right decision is. If my decision to make that purchase is something that an administrator must decide on, as he elects whether or not to allow a variance on an ordinance, and I tell him that I find myself feeling very, very sleepy under those lights, he can only guess as to whether or not I'm telling the truth, but I know, which is why one leaves things like this up to the market. How many people do you know of who don't want to save money, and how much extra energy will likely be consumed by those whimsical few? Where is the disproportionate impact of the few that requires intervention on behalf of the relatively many?

Electricity, after all, isn't free, and unlike some well-to-do person owning his own company, very few of us have money to burn. But Big Brother knows best, right? What's next, I wonder? Maybe a law mandating the proper way in which we may tie our shoelaces.