Detroit Chemical Plant Explosion

The blogosphere is way behind the MSM in reporting the explosions at the Detroit chemical plant. The location is not that far from DTW airport.

My first thought was of Detroit’s Bhopal (well, mostly steel, but still some chemicals), Zug Island. It’s the year 2005, and there is even a musical group of relative notoriety named after the island now, but still I can’t find any web photographs that even come close to capturing the feeling of that place. The guy at DetroitYes is the undisputed best at capturing the soul of Detroit, and Dante’s Inferno is an apt comparison, but even his picture does the place no justice. Perhaps Zug Island is best left an allegory, kept hidden in our hearts but never given life in our representations.

Defending Alaska

Omar has been slamming Alaska Airlines over on his blog, joined by Dvorak. I have been guilty of slamming particular airlines on this blog, and will spend lots of money to avoid flying United or Northwest, so I think he has every right to do this. But I want to counter his criticism of Alaska and try to defend them a little bit.

First, he is talking only about flights out of SFO (the same mistake Dvorak makes), which is a hub controlled by a competitor airline, United. United had the worst on-time record in the world for some time, and I have twice had UA pay for Alaska tickets for me when they screwed up so bad they could not get me home on the scheduled day. These were UA out of SFO; Alaska has never missed planes this badly for me anywhere. I don’t want to bother looking up stats for other airlines out of SFO, but I dont think Alaska is unique in this regard. UA completely dominates the SFO to Seattle route, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that they are finally learning how to be on time for this route. It also wouldn’t surprise me to find that Alaska does worse on this route (in terms of profit as well as timeliness) than on other routes.

On the other hand, when flying out of Seattle to places other than SFO, I have found Alaska to be much better than UA or American (although they are operated by NWA on some routes, and I have had typical bad NWA experiences on these flights).

So I think it’s really unfair to be slamming an airline about performance on one route; especially at a hub controlled by a competitor. I wrote off UA and NWA only after repeated gross problems including at their own hubs. If Omar and Dvorak want to say, “don’t fly Alaska to SFO”, then that’s fair (and I might agree, but for air-miles, since I no longer need red carpet club). But not everyone in the world is concerned about the SEA-SFO route, and for people who fly elsewhere (especially out of Seattle), it would be rotten advice to direct them to UA, NWA, or even AA. Alaska is simply better. Take the complaints in context.

Seattle Accent

There is apparently a debate about whether the Northwest has its own accent. It’s surprising that there is even a debate. If you talk to anyone who grew up in this area; especially the non-urban outskirts, you can immediately tell — and the accent is definitely different from California and Canada.

I think the reason that some people have trouble believing that there is a local accent is because there are so few actual locals in the Northwest. Most people in the Northwest have been here less than five years. And many of the people who were raised here (since childhood is when accents most strongly form) were raised by parents who weren’t from the Northwest. Most of the people I work with on a daily basis are from outside the U.S., and certainly aren’t “locals”. Most UW professors I know are not from the area, and don’t have deep roots with the “locals”. Seattle is the typical modern port town; most of the people you meet will not be sporting a local accent.

But when you meet someone born and bred by locals, you hear it in their voices. Ever since moving here, I’ve been interested by the accent, in part because there shouldn’t be one, and in part because I’ve noticed that it’s strongest in women (as the study shows) and particular groups of residents. I theorize that accent is as much an outgrowth of cultural self-identification as geography (how else to explain that people in Vancouver B.C. sound more like people in Toronto than like people in Seattle?). Does this mean that women who move to Seattle are more likely to self-identify with a particular clique or culture?

Decibel Festival

Now that Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival (DEMF/Movement) is officially in trouble, the local Detroit scene is struggling, and three generations of Detroit talent have moved to Europe; there is no reason not to try having our own ?Northwest Electronic Music Festival? here in Seattle. Next Saturday, the first annual Decibel Festival hosts some of the best Detroit DJs ever, as well as lots of local talent playing house, funk, and techno.

Of course, I’m a bit skeptical about the ?death of Detroit electronic?, since the size of the music was never measured by club attendance or articles in Metro Times (or attendance at ?Movement? for that matter). And when DJs like Magda claim that they are staying in Europe because it’s too much of a hassle having police shut down parties in Detroit, I have to wonder if they even remember where they came from. But if all of this is an excuse for bringing Twonz to Seattle, that’s great. Supposedly the venue on Capitol Hill holds a lot of people, so it should be really good.

Paxahau has DJ sets from most of the Detroit DJs if you want to listen online and get a feel for the styles. One of my favorites from outside Detroit or Northwest is Dylan Drazen, who has hundreds of hours of DJ sets from live appearences over the past 4 years online for download to your iPod.

China Traffic Deaths

[Marginal Revolution] Every day, 300 people die in traffic accidents in China. While this is the highest rate of traffic deaths in the world, it is remarkably low when all things are considered. Admittedly, the traffic in China is horrendous, and nobody pays attention to traffic signals; but that is not really the issue. You see, in China it is quite common for pedestrians to be on the freeways. I have seen literally hundreds of instances of old ladies standing in the midst if traffic with their bicycles, having conversations. Nobody wears reflective clothing, bicycles do not have lights or reflectors. And old ladies holding conference in the middle of the road are the least of the road hazards you have to worry about. These are things that westerners are not expecting to find in the road. Mark my words: if westerners are permitted to rent cars during the 2008 Olympics, the carnage will be terrible. I’m dead serious; there is no way that westerners will be able to avoid running over people accidentally. My mother-in-law, who is from Beijing, is a perfect example of why this is the case. She wanted to take a stroll on the freeway here, and we had to explain that she would get run over. She was very indignant. ?Why are Americans so mean? Doesn’t the freeway belong to everyone?? We had to explain that the drivers who would run her over would probably be very nice people; they simply would not be expecting to find an old Chinese woman standing in the middle of the road. With our fast food and cellphones, we are less adept at swerving around the pedestrians.

Seattle Snowed In

We flew into Seattletwo nights ago, and found that everything had been blanketed with snow. For the first time since moving to Seattle, I had to get out and shovel the driveway before I could get the car to the garage. The snowy weather has continued through today, and is supposed to get worse through Sunday. This is really unheard of; it snows maybe two days per year here, and never stays cold long enough to keep ice patches around for days. The ironic part is that I wasreturningfrom 9 days in Michigan, where there was plenty of snow in time for Christmas, and where I drove about 2000 miles on snowy and slushy roads, but never had any problems. The difference is that Seattle doesn’t prepare for this kind of weather, and many stretches of road are never salted. And the roads in Seattle tend to be very hilly and curved, so it’s pretty dangerous. My car is made for snow, but I’ve slid a number of times already. No salt or plowing seems to have been done on the Microsoft Campus, and there is ice everywhere. Given that, I suppose it’s a good thing that the place is deserted today (more than one would expect from OOF messages and Friday-after-New Year factor). Judging from the weather forecasts, the extra absences may continue through next monday and tuesday.

Tips for SkyTrain at Newark Airport

Many people have horror stories about riding the SkyTrain at Newark Airport. It has a tendency to get stuck between stations, or to lock customers in and shuttle them around endlessly like cows in a claustrophobic boxcar. Here are my tips:

  • The attendants can’t really help you. They can radio ahead to have the software (Polsoft v1.0) on the trains rebooted, but that doesn’t help.
  • The driver can’t help you.
  • The emergency call buttons don’t work. Even when the train is operating smoothly, nobody is going to answer when you push that button. Try it.
  • However, you CAN help yourself. Each train car has two enclosed brake activators near the bottom of the seats. Simply break the plastic cover and pull the brake. When this happens, the train will be unable to move any further, and the doors of the train car can easily be pulled open. The doors at the station can easily be open by pushing the lever handle and pulling. Then you can be on your way.
  • When the train is mechanically prevented from moving forward, putting an abrupt end to the driver’s joyride, he will probably run away as fast as possible, like a guilty dog who has just peed on your shoe. The attendants similarly stay as far away as possible from any human contact. It won’t matter, though, because you’ll be too busy accepting accolades from your grateful fellow passengers to pay attention to the driver and attendants.