Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Yesterday was the vernal equinox, but it wasn't the "first day of spring"

I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. The equinoxes and solstices that supposedly mark "the first day" of a given season are astronomical events which have little to do with meteorological conditions on the ground. Real meteorologists agree with me:
Meteorologists group seasons into months: March 1-May 31 for spring, June 1-August 31 for summer, September 1-November 30 for fall, and December 1-February 28 for winter. These groups make it simpler for meteorologists to describe the seasons. Not only are they easier to remember, they also correlate with temperatures for the seasons. The coldest months of the year in the northern hemisphere are typically December, January and February. The warmest months, on the other hand, are June, July and August. The graph below shows a comparison of the seasons, along with average temperatures during each season.
                                                                       source: NWS Kansas City
Spring in Houston started weeks ago - other than that one deep freeze in January, we really didn't even have a winter - and I can assure you that Houston's hellish summer will begin well before the summer solstice occurs in late June.

So please, folks, quit saying that the equinoxes or solstices mark "the first day" of a given season. Because  - unless you're an astronomer - they don't.

Swamplot finally discovered Denton's "Little Houston" neighborhood

Took 'em long enough.
THE FASTEST way to Westheimer Rd., if you happen to be wandering north looking for it in the 76210 ZIP code, is a left off of Heights Blvd. and an immediate right off Gessner Dr. Lauren Meyers captured some scenes this weekend around the Summit Oaks subdivision on the south side of Denton, TX, which has a whole section of streets sharing names with major Houston roadway (with a few bizarro-world tweaks here and there, like Chimney Rock Dr. and an only-1-L Hilcroft Ave.)
The Summit Oaks (as opposed, perhaps, to the Compaq Center Oaks or Lakewood Church Oaks?) subdivision off of FM 2181/Teasley Road in south Denton (outlined in red in the Google Earth screenshot below) was platted in the late 1990s. All of its streets have Houston street names, even if some of them were misspelled. Needless to say, as a native Houstonian I thought it was rather humorous.

The Swamplot article intimates that the street names may have been inspired by the presence of a Houston Street in Denton State School, immediately to the subdivision's east. If I recall correctly however, the reason for the street names as much simpler: the developer was based in Houston and needed some street names that weren't already taken by other subdivisions in the rapidly-growing city. 

I was not the case manager for this particular development, although I do recall an attempt to convince the Summit Oaks developer and the developer of the subdivision directly to the north to create a roadway or pedestrian connection between Weslayan and Hollow Ridge, so that people (especially children) could get between the two neighborhoods without having to go all the way out on Teasley. They declined to make the connection because it wasn't required at the time; Denton's development code would later be updated to require such connectivity. 

                                                                                                                                                          Google Earth


Fifteen years after I left the City of Denton, I'm still chuckling at the above screenshot. Not because of the names of the streets in Summit Oaks, but rather because of the property below it, at the southwest corner of Teasley and Ryan Road, circled in light blue.

Not long after I was hired at the City of Denton, I was assigned a case regarding a piece of property at the corner of Teasley and Lillian Miller, just to the north of the area shown on the above map. A developer wanted to put a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery store on that property. The councilmember for that part of Denton at the time (who was the socialite housewife of a local physican) was outraged. She did not want a Wal-Mart anything in the upscale neighborhoods she represented, so she rallied up her (equally elitist) constituents in opposition. People showed up to public meetings and P&Z meetings en masse, their NIMBY-fueled anger directed at staffers such as myself (even though we had no control over the brand of the store to be located there) just as much as at the developer. Faced with such tremendous opposition, the developer backed down and the property eventually became a CVS pharmacy.

A short time later, another developer approached the city about placing a Tom Thumb (the Dallas-Fort Worth equivalent of Randalls) on the piece of property circled in the map above. The same councilmember who was livid about the Wal-Mart proposal was ecstatic about this one, and helped to push the rezoning and platting of the property through the city's review and approval process (I was, once again, case manager) in hopes of bringing the high-end grocer to her area. It was only after the zoning and platting was completed that the developer discovered that, thanks to the city's byzantine liquor laws, beer and wine would not be permitted to be sold on that site. Tom Thumb backed out. (See my post about this from many years ago for more explanation.)

The land sat vacant, the councilmember got voted off council, I left the City of Denton, and a few years later local voters regularized Denton's liquor laws. The grocery store originally planned for the property was finally developed, as the photo above indicates.

But it isn't a Tom Thumb. It's...

Yeah, you guessed it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Eshima Ohashi Bridge

Although it’s a clickbait staple, i.e. “THE TERRIFYING JAPANESE BRIDGE YOU DON’T WANT TO CROSS!” - the Eshima Ohashi Bridge in Japan is not quite as terrifying as it looks. Most of the “terrifying” pictures of the bridge are taken from a distance using telephoto lenses that, due to perspective compression, tend to eggagerate its height and slope. The bridge's actual grades are 6.1% on one side and 5.1% on the other - you'll encounter steeper grades on mountain highways.

That being said, you're never going to get me to ride a bicycle up and down the damn thing, especially since there is not a protected bike lane on the bridge and so heavy trucks pass within a few feet of you. 

Society's bigotry against night owls

I wrote about this a couple of years ago, but here's another excellent article on what it's like to live with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder and, in the process, endure society's bias against night owls:
Both environmental and genetic factors have been linked to these offset circadian rhythms, so people with delayed sleep can’t fully control when their bodies get tired, or when they’re ready to get up.  
This doesn’t stop articles, schedules, or well-intentioned friends from insisting we’d be better off if we just made ourselves go to bed “at a normal time.” 
Night owls remain a misunderstood, maligned minority. We defy the conventional wisdom, missing out on the proverbial worm and whatever instincts make early risers “healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Researchers estimate that about one in 10 adolescents go through a period of delayed sleep, but just a fraction of 1 percent still have the condition into adulthood. 
Because so many teens and college kids naturally stay up late and sleep in longer, people associate that pattern with immaturity and childishness. Staying up until the wee hours is something you’re expected to grow out of; adulting means you embrace your 6 am wakeup with joy. (For bonus grown-up points, you complain that you can’t make it to midnight, even on New Year’s Eve.) 
Those of us still hours from our alarms when others have completed their morning routines know we’re getting the figurative side-eye for staying in bed. I sense a bit of rise-and-shine smugness from the friend who posts a list of the things she got done before 9 am or even the countless articles on how to become a morning person. We’re all expected to conform to the early bird schedule; Real Simple and Women’s Health aren’t doling out tips on how to stay up later.
Society's bias towards early risers - and the pressure it puts on night owls to conform to a "normal" schedule even though they might not be biologically predispositioned to do so - is, quite frankly, a form of bigotry. I'd like to believe that we night owls are finally beginning to find our voices - after all, science seems to have our backs - but the false perception that late risers are lazier or less effective than early birds will require continual challenge.
For all the knocks against night owls, we remain regarded as more creative, impulsive, and strategic thinkers. There’s something to the caricature of the artist, inventor, or writer staying up chasing their ideas. Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated documentary director, said working late is part of his process: “I’m a night owl, and luckily my profession supports that. The best ideas come to me in the dead of night. My friends know I’m up, so they can call at three in the morning. Just don’t call me at, like, 8.” 
I get it. I feel most clear-headed, productive, and energized in the evenings, free to work as long as I’d like. If you’ve ever gone to work in an empty office — on a weekend or holiday or a day when everybody else was on vacation — that’s what working after midnight feels like. There are no meetings, no places to be, no disruptions. It’s eerily quiet, just you and your thoughts. 
The more we give night people the freedom to lean into their after-dark rhythms, I believe the more we’ll continue to see the benefits of flexible schedules, as employee satisfaction and efficiency thrive.
I don't know if I have DSPD, but I have always been a night owl. Right now it's well after 11 pm, and after I finish this blog entry I have a few other tasks to do before I finally crawl into bed. This is how it is for me virtually every night: I feel especially energetic and productive during these late hours. I'm not the least bit sleepy, and if I tried to go to bed right now I'd simply toss and turn and stare at the ceiling for a couple of hours. This is who I am, this is how I live, and at 43 years of age I'm not going to change.

Early birds are free to rise at 5:30 am; they are even allowed to feel superior for doing so. But they're not allowed to think of us night owls as a lazy degenerates simply because we don't conform to their schedules.

17 Reasons Why You Should Not Attend the University of Houston

I'm usually not a fan of clickbait listicles such as these, but this one made me smile.

Especially #9. Go Coogs!

(One quibble about #14, though: I'm not sure I'd call the squirrels on the University of Houston campus "friendly." "Aggressive," "fearless," and "demanding" are better terms...)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Drone taxis

Coming this summer to... where else?
There’s been lots of talk in recent years about self-driving cars. Now, it appears as if self-flying passenger drones are next -- and they could flying in one major city as soon as this July. 
That’s according to a plan revealed Monday in Dubai, where the head of the Dubai Roads and Transportation Authority said it wants to develop passenger-carrying drones as a way to move people around the United Arab Emirates’ biggest city. Officials said flights could begin in July, though few other details were offered.
The Associated Press reports the drone type being pursued for Dubai’s passenger service is the Chinese-made EHang 184, “an egg-shaped craft with four legs sticking out, each with two small propellers.”
The drone, which can travel about 30 miles on a single battery charge, would be completely automated. Passengers would select a destination on a touch screen in front of the seat; the drone’s flight would be monitored remotely from a control room staffed with Dubai RTA personnel and the passenger would have no control over the drone.

That sounds a bit scary, but according to the co-founder of EHang the drone will have software that calculates the most optimal route for the passenger and avoids collisions with other drones. It will also have back-up systems to take over in the case of any primary system failures. Truth be told, these drone taxis might end up being safer than Dubai’s regular taxis!

One problem with the drones (aside from the cost of the fare, which is likely to be substantial) is that they can only carry a person weighing up to 220 pounds. Which means that my fat ass is going to have to lose some weight before I can get in one.

My (landlord's) pretty azeleas

I can't take credit for them because they were here when I moved in, and they might not be as pretty as the ones in my parents neighborhood, but the azaleas in front of my house are putting on a decent enough show:

Usually they don't bloom until March or even April, but thanks to the warm excuse for a winter we've just had, they've decided to make an early appearance.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017 UH Cougar football schedule released

The 2017 University of Houston Cougar football schedule has been released:

     Sat Sep 02     at Texas-San Antonio (San Antonio)
     Sat Sep 10     at Arizona (Tucson)
     Sat Sep 16     Rice
     Sat Sep 23     Texas Tech
     Sat Sep 30     at Temple (Philadelphia)
     Sat Oct 07     SMU
     Sat Oct 14     at Tulsa (Tulsa)
     Thu Oct 19    Memphis
     Sat Oct 28     East Carolina
     Sat Nov 04    at South Florida (Tampa)
     Sat Nov 11    (off)
     Sat Nov 18    at Tulane (New Orleans)
     Fri Nov 24     Navy

There's a rumor that the Labor Day weekend game against UTSA at the Alamodome could be moved from Saturday to Sunday or even Monday if the networks so decide; if that happens I'll update this post accordingly.

Structurally, this is a decent schedule. It features two "Power 5" schools, crosstown rival Rice, only two non-Saturday games (it looks like a game on Black Friday is becoming a tradition) and has the three teams the Cougars lost to last season - SMU, Memphis and Navy - at home. My only gripes are the fact that the Coogs start the season with back-to-back road games, and don't get a bye week until very late in the season. This is also the first time in a few seasons that the Cougars don't have seven home games.

Given last season's relative disappointment as well as the fact that the Cougars have a completely new coaching staff and are losing a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, this schedule might present some difficulty on the field. Arizona and Texas Tech are not elite Power Five teams but will nevertheless be challenges. UTSA beat the Coogs the last time the two teams played. Conference road games against Temple, Tulsa and South Florida will be tough, and even schools like Rice and Tulane are going to give the Cougars their best shot.

Win or lose, I'm going to make the best of it. Roadies to UTSA in San Antonio and Tulane in New Orleans are already on my calendar. I'd also like to make the trip to Tucson to see the Arizona game - my cousin and his family live there so I'd have a place to stay - if I can get the finances to work.

The soft tyranny of Donald Trump

Andrew Sullivan, who's back to (semi-) blogging after a two-year hiatus, ponders it:
With someone like this barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you. 
One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.
I understand what Sullivan is sensing, because I'm beginning to see it in my own life. I check the news websites several times a day just to read his latest tweet or to see what his administration's latest ridiculous pronouncement or action is. I see that the majority of the posts of my Facebook feed are political in nature. I watch every new episode of Saturday Night Live just to see Alec Baldwin's latest takedown of him (Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer has me in tears, by the way). And all anybody wants to talk about at the bar or at the Super Bowl party is Donald Fucking Trump.

It's relentless. It's discomforting. And it's only been three weeks.