Posts tagged ‘architecture’

A Great Day in Manhattan for $20

I had a great day on Friday in Manhattan for the price of a $20 subway pass.  I did a lot of wandering around and people-watching, but here are three great free activities:

1.  Central Park.  Probably the greatest urban park in the world.  It is gorgeous, and everyone overlooks it.  If you have never strolled the Ramble, you will not believe you are in the middle of Manhattan.

2.  Walk the high-line park.  Another fabulous piece of landscape architecture, an old elevated rail line running north from about 14th street (just a bit south of the Chelsea Market) along the West Side that has been turned into a park and an amazing escape.  You can stroll the waterfront and urban New York without encountering a single car.  It is also incredibly quiet.  And train-lovers will appreciate that the architects kept a lot of the complex track-work as part of the landscape, almost like industrial art.

3.  Walk the Brooklyn Bridge.   I don't know that there is any similar experience anywhere else.  Something New Yorkers and tourists have enjoyed for over a hundred years.

I couldn't stay until magic hour but the view was still tremendous.

In the evening, I did whip out the wallet again and took my daughter to Ellen's Stardust Diner, near 51st and Broadway.  Total tourist trap.  Terrible food.  But an absolute blast every time.  All the waiters are out-of-work Broadway singers and they take turns singing show tunes for the restaurant as they serve.  We have walked out smiling and feeling good every time we have gone.

 

Creepy

If there is anything creepier than weird children's art on the walls of an abandoned mental institution, I am not sure what it is.  From here. (for those who like urban architecture, urban archeology, and/or New York, this is a great site).

The 1099 Landmine

The Senate will take a vote today to repeal the hugely onerous 1099 provision from the Obamacare legislation.   Good news, though Obama is opposed to the repeal as he feels (probably correctly) that it will open the floodgates to further repeals and amendments.  Which is pretty disingenuous, as one of the soothing memes he handed out when the legislation was being rushed through Congress was that there was plenty of time to amend and fix its rough edges.  How he needs to decide if he was lying about that, as Congress addresses a rough edge that had nothing to do with health care but created a huge and largely useless burden on businesses.  I know that this provision would really kneecap my business.

Meanwhile, small businesses are staring in horror toward 2013, when the 1099 mandate will hit more than 30 million of them. Currently businesses only have to tell the IRS the value of services they purchase from vendors and the like. Under the new rules, they'll have to report the value of goods and merchandise they purchase as well, adding vast accounting and paperwork costs.

Think about a midsized trucking company. The back office would have to collect hundreds of thousands of receipts from every gas station where its drivers filled up and figure out where it spent more than $600 that year. Then it would also need to match those payments to the stations' corporate parents.

Most Democrats now claim they were blindsided and didn't understand the implications of the 1099 provision"”which is typical of the slapdash, destructive way the bill was written and passed. As the critics claimed, most Members had no idea what they were voting on.

Democrats are trying to water down this repeal:

Yesterday the White House endorsed a competing proposal from Florida Democrat Bill Nelson that would increase the 1099 threshold to $5,000 and exempt businesses with fewer than 25 workers. Yet this is little more than a rearguard action in favor of the status quo; the Nelson amendment leaves the basic architecture unchanged while making the problem more complex.

Businesses would still have to track all purchases, not knowing in advance which contractors will exceed $5,000 at the end of the year. It also creates a marginal barrier to job creation"”for a smaller firm, hiring a 26th employee would be extremely costly. The Nelson amendment also includes new taxes on domestic oil production, as every Democratic bill now seems to do.

This analysis is dead on -- our company generally cannot predict exactly how much we will purchase from a specific vendor in a year, so we would still have to collect tax ID's from every single vendor, not knowing which would cross the hurdle.

I Love New York, Just Not Enought to Live There

I am endlessly fascinated by the architecture and infrastructure of Manhattan.  I am probably one of the few non-locals who owns this book, as well as others in the series.  I highly recommend the Scouting New York blog for those of you who love the hardware of Gotham more than its software.  This post is a good index to many of his best features.

Coyote Blog First Ever Roundup Post

I don't really do news roundup posts, because losts of other folks do them better.  But there were a few things I wanted to blog on today and just don't have time, and rather than lose them, here they are briefly:

  1. Twitter seems to be the data mining tool of the future.  I have seen a number of dynamic maps and graphs of late using Twitter data.  The NY Times has as good of an example as any with this dynamic map showing twitter content by city and time during the SuperbowlFlowing Data has a bunch more.   Just remember the rules before you data mine:   Cool, trendy application run by hip Internet guys  -- data mining OK.  Bad evil credit card company trying to make billion dollar credit decisions -- data mining not OK.
  2. This is one of the first times I have seen an Internet contest like this go on for so long without a  winner.  Twelve structures, you just need to say which is a church and which is not.
  3. There has always been a certain cognitive dissonance between a) media portrayals of employment at Wal-Mart as equivilent to a new ring in Dant's inferno and b) the reality of lines hundreds of persons long for just a few job openings at Wal-Mart.  Charles Platt was curious about this too, and so set out to work at Wal-Mart to see what it was like.

HT:  Maggie's Farm for the second two.

Regulation and Incumbents

One of the most prevelent misconceptions about the political economy is the assumption that business universally opposes government licensing and regulation.  Often this misconception manifests itself as someone making a statement like, "Even [name of large competitor in the industry to be regulated] supports the proposed regulation so what are you libertarians complaining about."

In fact, regulation tends to protect incumbents at the expense of new entrants or new business models.  Large competitors can pass on the costs of regulation to customers, but new entrants have substantial investments to make just to build the systems and knowledge for compliance.  Perhaps worse, regulation like licensing tends to lock in current business models, by making current business practices part and parcel of becoming licensed.

For these reasons, I am excited by the book In Restraint of Trade by Butler Shaffer:

This extremely important study by Butler Shaffer--professor of law
and economist--will change the way you think of the relationship
between the state and business. It makes a deep inquiry into the
attitudes of business leaders toward competition during the years 1918
through 1938 to see how those attitudes were translated into proposals
for controlling competition, through political machinery under the
direction of trade associations.

What he finds is a business sector not only hostile to free markets
but aggressively in favor of restrictions that would protect their
interests. This, he finds, is the very source of the origins and
development of the regulatory state.

The author chooses this period because it was a time when the entire
relationship between American business and the federal government
underwent dramatic upheaval. It was in this time that business forged a
consensus about the scope and intensity of competition behavior that
they would tolerate. This began to exhibit a disposition favoring
collectivist authority over one another via government-backed
enforcement agencies.

Free and unrestrained competition required more of them than they
were willing to tolerate. It required constant innovation, a fight
against falling prices, a continued effort to seek out new markets, and
the willingness to subject their bottom line to consumer preferences
for lower prices and better products. They saw the vibrancy of free
enterprise as a threat to their firms and well being, so they used
anti-business sentiment in politics to hamper the market in ways that
would benefit them....

If you ever thought that the struggle for free enterprise was about
business versus government, this study, which is written in exciting
prose and beautiful English, will change the way you understand the
essential struggle. The evidence is vast that big business cooperated
closely with big government in building the essential architecture of
the mixed economy.

What A Great Line

A friend of Megan McArdle calls the Boston city hall "a poured concrete Vogon love poem.  What a great line, and entirely appropriate of a hideous example of public architecture.  But I would have singled out a different Boston structure, the Peabody Terrace Apartments at Harvard.

Since this is the last time I may be hitting the theme of Vogon poetry for a while, I laughed the other day on a course on the Roman emperers when the professor said that Nero would force the upper class to attend his musical and poetry performances, and that some invitees where known to fake death to try to escape.

All Businesses Allowed, Except Those That Are Proven Successes With Customers

Via Hit and Run:

The Palm Beach Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to block "formula restaurants" from opening in the island town.

The ban, which was first proposed in 2006, applies to restaurants with
three or more units and similar trade names, standardized and limited
menus, uniforms, architecture, and decor. The measure will go before
voters this spring.

In other words, if your business has proven itself to be successful with customers and attempts to bring this proven success formula to our town - forget it.

The post digs in further, and finds the real problem to be that the Palm Beach Town Council is afraid of the "riff raff" that might come with certain plebeian chains.  Which reminds me of Lexington's opposition to the Boston Red Line being extended into their town.  Ostensibly, they were opposed to it on fiscal grounds, but that is a joke in a town that has never opposed a government program ever on fiscal grounds.  In fact, they were afraid of the "riff raff" the metro might bring to town, but the more-liberal-than-thou residents could never admit that in public.

Long Time in Coming

Just about everything in the PC architecture has been upgraded -- much better microprocessors, more elaborate OS's, more memory, a much higher bandwidth bus architecture, etc.  However, one bit of 1980's era design still sits at the heart of the computer - the BIOS.  Sure, manufacturers have agreed to some extensions (particularly plug and play) and motherboard makers add in extensions of their own (e.g. for overclocking) but the basic BIOS architecture and functionality, which sits underneath the OS and gets things started when you flip the "on" switch, is basically unchanged. 

A few years ago, Intel proposed a replacement, but ironically only Apple has picked up on the BIOS replacement called EFI.  Now, it appears, at least one leading motherboard manufacturer for PC's is putting a toe in the water:

The specification allows for a considerable change in what can be implemented
at this very low level.

EFI is a specification that defines a software interface between an operating
system and platform firmware. EFI is intended as a significantly improved
replacement of the old legacy BIOS firmware interface used by modern PCs....

Graphical menus, standard mouse point-and-click operations,
pre-operating-system application support such as web browsers, mail applications
and media players, will all feature heavily within EFI.

Remembering East Berlin, With a Thought about Health Care

I remember in about 1978 going on a bus tour into East Berlin through checkpoint Charlie.  It is hard to describe to my kids what a creepy experience this was.  The state-run tour was clearly run by the propaganda ministry, and they really pulled out all the stops to convince you that life was great in the East.  The interesting part is that all this propaganda failed miserably.  No matter what streets they took you down, you couldn't help but notice the stark contrast in prosperity between East and West.  East Berlin was full of buildings in 1978 that still had not been rebuilt from WWII bomb damage  (this actually might have been a plus, since much of West Berlin was rebuilt in that hideous 50's European public architecture).

The most amazing statement was when the tour guide bragged, "And over 70% of everyone in the city has running water."  It was just so clueless and pathetic, to be so out of touch that what Westerners considered a statistic indicating poverty was hailed as one they thought indicated wealth.

I was reminded of this story when I read the British NHS response to an article that over 70,000 Britons a year travel abroad for health care.  Their response was:

A Department of Health official said the number of patients seeking
treatment abroad was a tiny fraction of the 13 million treated on the
NHS each year.

Waiting times had fallen. Almost half of patients
were treated within 18 weeks of seeing a GP. Most people who had
hospital care did not contract infections.

I had exactly the same response as I did to the East Berlin tour guide.  Half within 18 weeks?!  That's PATHETIC.  Again, what we Americans know to be awful service is being bragged about as a sign of excellence. 

The really creepy part, though, is that America is the last place on Earth that people understand that a medical system can do much better than 18 weeks.  But we are likely to elect a President in the next election whose goal is to bring our system down to the level of the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, someday our grandkids may not know any better.

Streaming Music, Plus A Blogger Vanity Toy

I wanted to stream digital music from my main computer in my home office to my main stereo system in the den.  After some research, I chose version 3 of Squeezebox from Slim Devices.  They have taken an open architecture approach that I like, and have a proven history of steadily improving their product.  Most true audiophiles I sought advice from use this device (this is an audio-only device, no video or jpegs streamed).  I am currently converting my entire CD collection to lossless FLAC format audio files using EAC, which seems to be the audiophile favorite for ripping (and it is free).  FLAC compression seems to result in albums 250-450 meg, meaning my 400 CD's will need about 140 gig, which I have available.  I will ditch most of my mp3 files, saving only a subset for iPod rotation.  New mpg files, or whatever rules in the future, can be made directly from the FLAC.

The box itself is small and well-designed.  Setup was a breeze, once I fixed a setting on my firewall.  Now I can point my remote at this box and scroll easily through my music collection (along with a number of Internet radio stations).  No flipping through CD's or yelling at the kids for not alphabetizing them right.  You can browse or search by title, artist, or album.

In addition to controlling it with a remote, I can control it with any computer on the network.  Right now, I choose songs on a laptop in the kitchen, which sends music from the computer in the office to the amp and speakers in the den.  Awesome.  Their web site says that you can also browse your music and choose what's playing from a web enabled PDA, but I have not tried it yet.

Here is the blogger vanity part:  In addition to an array of other screensavers, you can have the device connect to any online RSS feed and scroll the contents marquee-style across the screen.  All day I have had my blog feed scrolling across the device, interspersed with NY Times and ESPN headlines.

More Observations from Paris

  • I got tripped up today by my American expectations.  The hotel had this little breakfast buffet in the lobby.  It had some coffee and juice and a few croissants.  It was not nearly as nice as the free breakfast at a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express, but it was still a quick and easy way to eat and get out the door.  OOOPPSS.  My wife and I got hit with a bill for 52 euros, or over $65, because we grabbed some coffee and pastries off the buffet.  Bummer.
  • Service is a strange thing here.  I try fairly hard to submerge my ugly-American impatient tendencies.  I know to expect that meals will be paced much slower here, and have come to enjoy that pace, at least on vacation.  Shopping, though, is another story.  I still just want to get the stuff I want, pay for it, and go.  I have made the following observations about French service:  When you have a service person's attention, they will serve you for as long as you need, chatting about the product and about your life, for hours if necessary.  The problem is, that they will do this even if 10 other people are waiting to be served.  The lines here are awful, and you have to wait in them for everything.  Women in the US complain about bathroom lines at sporting events, but the women's rooms here have lines all the time, everywhere.  Even my wife the europhile is getting fed up with 45 minute transaction times
  • We chose to blow it out one night, and have a top notch French meal at a top restaurant.  We ended up spending a ridiculous sum, more than half the people in the world make in a year, for one meal.  It would embarrass me to spend so much consistently (heck it embarasses me this once), especially since there are equally fine meals out there for 1/4 or less the price.  Also, we were actually nervous for the first 20 minutes - is that nuts?  But there is nothing in the world that can make an American like me who knows the McDonald's value meal numbers by heart nervous like a great French restaurant.  We eventually got into the spirit of the once in a lifetime experience, enough that we were laughing pretty loud about the little fried goldfish we got for appetizers.
  • By the way, condolences for the French and the Olympics.  Paris would make a fine venue.  The only real mar in the city's beauty is that it has a real trash and dog poop problem on the streets (no scoop laws here, at least none that anyone enforces) so an Aolympics might help them clean it all up.  Maybe they need a few years of Mayor Giuliani?  Really, it is a beautiful city - did I mention that?  Perhaps the most beautiful city in Europe even before WWII, and certainly the most beautiful after given that it was spared most of the bombing and fighting other great cities faced (not too mention the horrendous 1950's architecture they were rebuilt with.  I mean, my god, look at Berlin.  It was rebuilt during the most horrid period in modern architecture).
  • More later on hotels and restaurants you might visit if you come here,
    plus I will just have to post a scan of our restaurant bill from tonight