This is a mostly friends-only journal. I very occasionally make public posts. Most of these have turned out to be political; I think this is because I see politics as something that should be inherently public, and often is.

This entry may be the only entry to allow comments from people I haven't friended. All comments here all screened.

Election time!

I've written up my election choices before, and enjoyed doing so. Even though it's probably too late to help most people at this point, I'll write them up again. Collapse )

This entry (and comments) are public!

Paul's Guide to Iceland

As y'all know, jmboyles and I recently went to Iceland (and other places). Two (unrelated) people who are headed there have asked us for travel advice, so here's a generic travel advice writeup. The two folks we know who are actually headed there are also getting more tailored advice, but I wanted to do this regardless. Collapse )

Job posting: managing partnerships with MFIs, enabling peer-to-peer loans

Vittana is a small startup working with MFIs to bring student loans to the developing world. At the moment, they have way more people willing to lend than they have students, which they get through MFIs. They desperately need to hire someone to manage their partnerships with MFIs in Latin America and Asia.

I met their CEO several months ago. I was impressed then, and continue to be impressed by their progress.

If you're interested, check out the job listing and more information about Vittana.


I ordered a Kindle after they stopped shipping the Kindle 1, and it was upgraded to the Kindle 2 and shipped out on launch day. Because I also recently caved and signed up for Amazon Prime, it showed up Wednesday of launch week, and I think I had trouble connecting to Whispernet because of the number of coworkers who also had a Kindle 2 show up that day, and those who upgraded from Kindle 1 then proceeded to transfer their entire digital library to their new device.

I like it. A lot. It's close enough to as good as a book for reading that, with the small form factor and sufficiently-large device storage, and automatic delivery of content, I think it's a clear win. I'm already agonizing over what to do with my current library of books, since I often reread things. I think I'll end up re-buying the 50% of books I like best and am likely to reread more often so I can have them to reread while traveling.


Those of you registered to vote in King County should have a mail-in ballot somewhere for a special election to elect a Director of Elections, unless you already mailed it in. Please mail it in tomorrow.

I don't have my usual analysis of the candidates. It's a strange election, with 7 candidates and no primary/runoff system, so we just have one chance to get it right.

Instead, I'll just point out that the Times, P-I, and Stranger all endorse Sherril Huff. If the three of them can actually agree on something, that's good enough for me.

[public] Trains!

There's been lots of discussion on my friends' list recently about trains.

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At any rate, I wish rail improvements were happening faster, but I also sort of understand why. There's a lot of broken infrastructure, and a lot of studies and construction needed to deal with that. The timing sucks, because freight rail traffic is also increasing (in both train length and number of trains, I think), so BNSF is more reluctant to let passenger traffic use their rails more unless someone funds expanding rail capacity. For most of the way from Portland to Vancouver, BC, that's WSDOT's funding of Amtrak Cascades, with some help in the Puget Sound area from Sound Transit's funding of Sounder, many of which are jointly funded since they benefit both.

Some of the projects are adding crossovers (Tenino), adding/lengthening sidings, or a second/third mainline track (Kelso) to provide more opportunities for trains to pass each other. Doing that often means that more trains will block roads that cross the tracks, sometimes standing still, and people get grumpy about that, so there are lawsuits (Mt. Vernon) and/or bridges (Vancouver) to build. Also, rail corridors are popular places to put utilities like long-haul fiber-optic cables; relocating them 20 feet over to make room for more tracks isn't cheap and takes lots of coordination.

A lot of those needs are subtle. As far as I can tell, the track work around Seattle's King Street Station (mostly to the south) served two main purposes; it moved the freight mainline to no longer split the station and the passenger-train maintenance/holding yard one block south (freight trains now travel east of both), and it converted a lot of those connecting switches to be centrally managed, automatic switches. Since this included the two Sounder station platforms, Sounder trains no longer have to go through several hand-operated switches, requiring a time-consuming safety process, to get from the station to either the entrance to the maintenance/holding yard or the mainline tracks headed north or south. The Amtrak Cascades platforms haven't been converted, but the connection between them and the centrally-managed segments has been simplified; hopefully, that'll get finished in the 2009-2011 budget cycle. Upgrading safety equipment and crossing signals and straightening out sharp track curves are also important; the current short-term goal seems to be to get as many segments as possible to meet the 79-mph standards (though some like the Ballard Bridge will need upgrades just to get to 40 mph), while the long-term plan calls for some segments to be upgraded for 110-mph service.

Ironically, WSDOT is also funding improving freight rail stuff, but most of that money seems to be going towards building/improving connections to ports and industrial centers; little else has been done by them or anyone else to this entire rail corridor since 1917 except to improve signaling systems. I don't know whether that's a significant driver to BNSF's traffic; maybe that that's pretty insignificant to them, and most of their traffic is longstanding connections and/or goods that are trucked to/from a rail switching yard to be whisked away to a different part of the country.

I don't know if we'll ever reach the goal that was originally envisioned for 2023; that requires some expensive new track for 110-mph operation. However, I have high hopes for their "midpoint" goal that they originally thought could be done by 2008. We're one of five federally-designated future high-capacity rail corridors (not counting the Acela corridor that's already running), although I haven't seen indications that that's translated into significant funding yet. WSDOT and BNSF have a legal agreement that sets out the framework for doing all of these projects, minimizing the remaining bureaucracy required for each individual project. Finally, we're starting to make progress. Several of these projects are underway, including one or two expensive ones. Lots more have funding for their design phase. Hopefully, all of this forward progress will build momentum that'll help get the other pieces done too.

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[public] Orbitz 3, Expedia 9

(out of 10)

Yesterday, I went online to reserve flights and hotel for jmboyles and I for the holidays. The experience was quite enlightening, and has left me with a definite preference for travel websites. Collapse )

At the end of it all, while Orbitz gets points because their rep was quite willing to help make things right after the craziness I experienced trying to use their website, Expedia avoided the craziness; their processing flow had what I consider the right way of handling things; they largely hid the internal problems from me and used a mechanism to make things right smoothly enough that I might never have noticed something was wrong if I weren't really paying attention.

[public] decTOP Ubuntu upgrade

I upgraded Ubuntu on my decTOP, the server that I got when tithonium bought a set of four to get the 4-pack discount.

It was only slightly interesting. Collapse )

I don't actually recommend new decTOPs at this point, except for people really like the ruggedized case or really care about it being as cheap as possible, primarily because the decTOP has only USB1 and no builtin Ethernet, though it does come with a USB-Ethernet dongle. Newer options are out there that have the nice low-power characteristic and actually have USB2 and Ethernet built in. I'll try to edit this entry soonish with one I've heard of (which, sadly doesn't have complete Linux drivers yet).