Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scenes from the Real America

Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas... two weeks on the road and then back to Minnesota. Here are a few things seen along the road.

I think these first two were from Illinois:

The red Solo cup may seem like it's just a cup to those of us in the fake America, but in the real America is a symbol of.... something.

Defiance of all the chardonnay-sippers, I think.

Hobby Lobby supplies rolling along the road in southern Illinois or maybe Missouri.

A gigantic Amoco sign in Saint Louis.

This photo from Nashville, a few blocks from the Vanderbilt University campus, looks kind of meaningless, but here's what it shows: That's a seven-lane city street. On the far side is a way-too-long block with a hotel in the middle (the building that's lit by the setting sun). On either side of the hotel, there's construction and the sidewalk is completely closed. Note the crosswalk leading to the closed sidewalk. There is absolutely no legal way to get to that hotel on foot.

Way to make a city for cars instead of people, Nashville!

Hungry pigeons in Nashville.

They don't call it the Bible Belt for nothing. In addition to this one denying evolution, there were lots of billboards about abortion. Though I'm not sure there are more than in Minnesota, they clearly had a more religious message.

While clearly, Asheville (North Carolina) knows its place in Real America.

I did get to see my first Krispy Kreme shop, though, and smell the hot donuts coming off the conveyor belt. People order them by the dozen. When we ordered two donuts they had a hard time believing it was just. Two. Donuts. (Seen in Chattanooga.)

What trip across northern Alabama would be complete without a stop in Scottsboro?

The town of Corinth, Mississippi, in the northwest corner of the state, had some nice ghost signs, including this one for a drink I've never heard of. I especially like the phrase "at founts."

Monday, July 21, 2014

What a Waste

An incredible visualization of the waste that is the automobile:

Just 2.6 percent of a car's life is spent driving. In a way that's good, since it means less fuel use and carbon put into the atmosphere. But the resources that went into making the car are largely wasted, not to mention the money we car owners spend on the vehicle, insurance, and space to put it. Clearly an argument for car-sharing, if not mass transit.

The graphic on the right is even more eye-opening, if that's possible. Only a tiny part of the energy created by the engine is used to move the car (person in the car) forward. Like the national electric grid, much of the energy is lost before it ever can be used.

And yet we drive and drive and can't think of a better way to carry out the lives we've built.

I just returned from a two-week driving trip. It's hard to imagine how it could have been done without a car, and so my mind focuses on that and doesn't think of all the ways life would be different if our whole environment wasn't built around personally owned transportation. Our not-so-smart monkey brains fall for confirmation bias and all the other ways we're wired wrong.


Posted by Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner for the city of Toronto. Via Richard Florida. The graphic is from a McKinsey report called The Recipe for Tenfold Resource Productivity Improvement.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thermostat of My Dreams

You know how people say, "It's not rocket science"? After years of working in commercial buildings where the temperature is either too hot or too cold, I became fond of saying, "HVAC* is rocket science." It must be, since it never seems to be done correctly.

While traveling recently, though, I saw one element of HVAC that's finally being done right. Here's one of the hotel thermostats I had to use:

Note how simple it is. You press the red up arrow to make it warmer, the blue down arrow to make it colder. You can turn the fan off and on. You can change it to Celsius if you are so inclined. And you can turn it off all together.

That's it. I love this thing in a hotel setting, where users will have no time or interest in becoming familiar with the interface and have no need to program it for temperature changes during the day and evening.


* Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Microwaved Kale

I keep hearing how great kale chips are, so I tried to make some last year during kale season (which lasts for about six months around my house). Scorched leaves is what I got. Next time, I thought, I'll watch the timing more carefully.

The season is approaching again and I just saw this in a friend's Facebook post. Sounds like it's worth a try:

Microwaved Kale

  • Wash and dry the kale leaves. 
  • Remove the large stems and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. 
  • Toss with a small amount of oil and seasonings. 
  • Arrange on a microwave-safe plate. 
  • Microwave for 3 minutes. 
  • If not crispy enough, microwave for 30 seconds more.
This sounds a lot easier than heating up the oven, and the chance of incinernating the kale should be a lot less. I'll try it as soon as the kale becomes plentiful and post the results.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Visit to the International Crane Foundation

After more than a dozen trips to Wisconsin Dells, I've finally visited one of its best attractions. I can't say it's the best, since it's an apples-and-oranges comparison with Dr. Evermore's Forevertron and other sculptures, but the International Crane Foundation is a place I'll want to return to again.

The rules when you visit are simple: Don't imitate the birds' sounds back to them. Don't copy them if they dance. Don't speak to them or try to engage them. If you do, they may try to attack through the fences that enclose them, and damage their bills.

A wattled crane, native to sub-Saharan Africa.

The birds -- the largest representation of cranes from around the world all in one place -- are located in a restored prairie full of flowering native plants and tall grasses that were just hitting their summer stride when I visited.

Yellow coneflower and blue vervain in full bloom.

The foundation isn't just a zoo for cranes. They've managed to restore the whooping crane to the wilds of Wisconsin and work with people around the world in areas where the different species come from to preserve habitat without ignoring economic development for the people.

A native Wisconsin whooping crane as it walks through a wetland area.

A bumblebee visits a white prairie clover plant.

A 6-week-old hooded crane (left), Native to southeastern Siberia and northern China, with its mother.

A gray-crowned crane, native to central Africa. We got to see them do a dance.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Grave of Mother Jones

A quick, surprise stop along the way during a recent trip: Mount Olive, Illinois, site of the grave and memorial to Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).

It's at the edge of a cemetery full of graves with Eastern European names, mostly miners.

The monument is to her as well as "her boys," union miners who died in a gun battle with thugs hired by the mine owners.

Mother Jones surrounded by her boys. She didn't die in Illinois, but had requested to buried with the miners.

Union members leave their cards behind at the site.

And a bulletin board holds union information and stickers from various locals.

On the back of the bulletin board, this bit of truth: "right to work" means right work for less.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Muffler Man and Friends

If you're ever driving down I-55 in Illinois on the way to Saint Louis, plan to stop in Livingston at Pink Elephant Antiques. You can get off at either the Livingston exit or the one south of it if you miss the first one.

We couldn't get there until the store (located inside a former school) had closed for the day, but the big fiberglass figures outside made it worth it anyway.

The ice cream stand (what Robert Venturi would call a duck) was open, and appeared to be pretty popular. Their featured flavor was peach.

A big skinny guy with an ice cream cone competes jauntily with a tiny elephant.

The eponymous pink elephant, given scale by a semi-trailer.

Somehow, the M has been lost.

Fiberglass gingerbread guys lying discarded but still happy in the field.

Muffler man (repurposed to promote Harley Davidson) towers over all, including a green flying saucer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More on the Lowest Difficulty Setting

John Scalzi recently posted an update on his straight-white-male-is-the-lowest-difficulty-setting post. In the latest, he calls attention to a recent Johns Hopkins study:

A 25-year study followed the experience of nearly 800 children in Baltimore, from first grade into adulthood. Half their families were low income, many with parents who had not finished high school; 40% of those low-income kids were white.

A couple of relevant points from the article:
Looking at where these children started in life and where they ended up, the study results are troubling but clear: At 28, hardly any of the children from a disadvantaged background, black or white, had finished college.

But even without the benefit of a college degree, whites, and white men especially, had vastly better employment outcomes. At every age, the white men experienced shorter spells of unemployment, were more likely to be working full-time and earned more.
[T]he consequences have been especially dire for African-Americans. As young adults, African-American men had fared much worse than whites in the job market, even though they and their white counterparts had about the same levels of education and the whites reported higher rates of marijuana and heavy drug use and binge drinking…

Indeed, throughout the course of our study, it was clear that African- Americans face greater barriers to employment. Having an arrest record or failing to complete high school were less consequential for white men than for African-American men: 84% of whites without a high school degree were employed at 22; among African Americans, just 40% were.
And this is the point of the lowest difficulty setting metaphor. It isn’t that folks who are straight, and white, and male, can’t or don’t find themselves on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder. They can and do, and there’s no doubt that it sucks. But even then, they can catch some breaks that others — in this particular study, black men — don’t (or don’t catch as often).

Which is to say: Even as much as your life blows, straight white dude, the black dude in exactly the same situation is likely to have it worse. And not because of anything he (or you) did. Just because it’s the way things are.
That part about the effect of having an arrest record shouldn't go unnoticed. Remember, employers have been shown to prefer white felons over black applicants with no arrest record. So imagine the differential effect when a black person has a conviction.

Here's the write-up (from CNN) by the studies' authors.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bags of Cash Are a Bad Deal, Tennessee

The scammers at Arthur Middleton Capitol Holdings and the World Reserve Monetary Exchange are at it again. This may be the closest thing to a bald-faced lie I've seen from them to date:

Yes, the headline says "Bags of Cash Go to Residents in 92 TN Counties." The italic text below that says the bags are "loaded" with "real U.S. Gov't issued money" and all you have to do is cover a $99 Vault Bag fee. Within a time limit of three days, of course. Act now!

Ninety-nine dollars for a Vault Bag fee (plus shipping and handling). How much money is in these bags? They seem to be bulging with bills, based on the photo at the top of the ad that shows an armed and serious Toronto Mayor Doug Ford.

Well, if you read the fine print, you get eight $2 bills and three $1 bills. That's $19 of face value for your $99 payment.

Some of the bills are uncut, which the WRME likes to pretend makes them more valuable, and a few others have a red seal or a blue seal. Seems unlikely to be worth anything like the $80 difference in cost, and the ad copy obscures this with the usual hand-waving about how "there's no telling how much just one of these rarely seen bills could be worth some day..."

The small disclaimer at the bottom of the page makes it clear WRME is implies no such statement of fact, of course.

That's all bad enough, but the illustration of various denominations at lower right is the biggest misdirection of all. It shows a sheet of four $50 bills, plus sheets of $5, $10, and $20 bills and a single $100 bill.

None of these are included in the "vault packs" because they aren't marked with a white star. Above the images, the ad says "All 11 U.S. Gov't issued notes with white stars are in each Vault Bag." And then it says "But only residents who beat the deadline are getting every single U.S. note shown below by covering the additional claim fee within the next 3 days."

That last sentence is completely unclear to me. Are they saying that paying an additional fee (beyond $99, plus shipping and handling) will get you the uncut $50s and other larger bills shown, which would have a face value of over $400? If so, how much is that "additional claim fee"? The ad doesn't say.

Or do the words "every single U.S note shown below" still mean only the ones with the white stars, and the additional claim fee refers to the same $99 fee? In my opinion, they want it to be unclear, so that people think they will get all the bills shown.

My advice to anyone who reads this ad is to buy nothing and to complain to your local paper about the fact that they ran it in the first place.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Scenes from the New South

On the road in Tennessee and western North Carolina. First an old sign in Nashville:

You can judge the scale of these beautiful letters by comparing them to the shirts hanging in the window below.

Everywhere, we saw these beautiful blooming shrubs. They kind of had the gestalt of a lilac from a distance, but in the wrong colors:

Soon I remembered: It's a crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica. Up close, the blossoms don't look much like lilacs.

Now a few humorous signs. The Bs on this one have lost their belts:

While the black logo on the brown shield of this one could pass for Elvis's hair:

Oh, right, it's a bear. Maybe it's supposed to be one of those figure/ground illusions.

We had lunch at a Waffle House. As a northerner, I have only a vague awareness that there has been controversy about race-based discrimination in the past. This sign lists the company's policies banning discrimination and harassment:

Aside from the usual "we do not discriminate" language, it also specifically says

  • We DO NOT ask Customers to prepay for dine-in meals.
    We DO NOT allow abusive, obscene or offensive clothing, comments, jokes or behavior.
    We DO NOT automatically add a gratuity to dine-in checks. 
The Smoky Mountain area is rife with colorful road and street names, but this was probably the best one:

Finally, in Asheville's downtown, the choice between recycling and disposal is very clear:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Harrison Mayes Has a Message for You

I knew I wanted to check out the Museum of Appalachia if it worked out during my Southern trip this summer, and we managed to squeeze it in. Located about 20 miles north of Knoxville, Tennessee, it has a good collection of folk art (especially quilts, whittling and carving, and basket-weaving). The focus is on a series of buildings, most moved to the site, that show how life was lived over the years. There are several cabins of different sizes -- including one that belonged to Samuel Clemens's family when he was very young -- barns, gardens, and various out-buildings.

I expected all of that, but I didn't know about Harrison Mayes. As a young miner in 1918, Mayes was almost killed in an accident. Praying for recovery, he promised God he would be a loyal servant for the rest of his life if he lived.

For Mayes, that service took the form of proselytizing through signage.

Over time, he put signs in 44 states and had plans for signs in other countries and even on the moon.

Mayes believed in one humankind, as this sign shows. (He probably thought the one language was English and the one nation the U.S., but still.) The "one church" was clearly Christian, but he attended Catholic as well as Protestant churches, visiting black congregations and white ones.

Mayes never drove a car. He called this his Sunday bike because he rode it to church (and in parades).

A nice clear message, I must admit. Note the part of the other sign at right where it directs his successors to "erect on planet Jupiter, 1990."

Finally, a model (made by Mayes's son) of the house they lived in. It gave his usual message to passing airplanes.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Coexist, Matey

A friend commented a while ago, while traveling through Wisconsin, that every car he saw with a "coexist" bumper sticker had a Minnesota license plate.

I've been driving in Tennessee and wanted to give evidence that this is not always the case:

It's hard to see, but the sticker above the license plate says "Yes, I am a pirate."

An unusual combination.