Critical Section

Archive: May 18, 2003

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Carfree Cities

Sunday,  05/18/03  09:25 AM

CarFree city - detail of a lobe
CarCity has a clover layout (top) with "nodes" on each lobe (right)
CarFree city - the clover layout

Had enough of cars?  Perhaps you would like to live in a city without them?  Consider Carfree Cities, a wonderfully detailed site which designs a city for 1,000,000 people completely without cars, using Venice as an example.  In addition to not having roads for vehicle traffic, the city also exemplifies other features which make cities pleasant: curved streets, large squares, arcades, framing gates, waterways and bridges, variation in elevation, monuments, etc.  There is also consideration of objections, such as congestion (lack of roads increases density) and noise ("the invention of electronic music has taxed the ability of people to live in close proximity to each other"), and practical considerations like commercial shipping.  [via slashdot ]  Really, really cool - and here I've been spending time worrying about making traffic more efficient :)


Anything Points

Sunday,  05/18/03  10:15 AM

CNet reports eBay has a new program which allows consumers to trade frequent flyer miles and other loyalty credit for dollars stored in a PayPal account.  The Anything Points program looks really cool, right?  Especially since people have stopped flying as much, what with the economy and the Iraqi war and SARS...

I was really excited when I first read about it, but a closer look reveals it isn't a great deal.  The exchange rate for frequent flyer miles is 1.38 miles / point, and points are worth $.01, so this is $.0072 / mile.  (10,000 miles are worth $72.)  Frequent flyer miles are generally considered to have a value between $.02 and $.03 when used for flying, so this is a big discount.  Furthermore, exchanging points requires that you join a program at which has an annual fee of $20.  I currently have about 60,000 miles at American Airlines; if I exchange them and pay the annual fee, I net $410.  But if I fly to the East Coast and use these miles to upgrade from coach to business, they'll be worth $1,200.  Not a good deal at all!

Note: I really, really hate it when people have a service and bury the fee.  I had to get all the way through two different sign-ups (one for eBay, one for before the $20 fee was revealed, and even then it was obviously de-emphasized.  This makes no sense to me, and is actually very un-eBay-like.  People are going to find out, and when they do they're going to be upset.  Why not just say it: this service costs $20/year?  It is what it is.


iTrip Report

Sunday,  05/18/03  11:31 AM

The iTripA while back you might recall I was excited about the iTrip, an FM transmitter for the iPod.  Well, I just got mine.  The bottom line: it is really cool, and it works well for what it is - but don't buy one.

The iTrip is a really nice product - attractive, simple, and works exactly as advertised.  The packaging is cool - very Apple-like, gray and white box, fancy form-fitting plastic, etc. - and the documentation is simple and well-written.  It has really good usability, like the fact you don't have to turn it on or off, you just plug it in.  The deep blue "transmitting" LED is cool, too.  (Not shown in the picture - must have been added later...)

The problem is that the iTrip is exactly what it says - an FM transmitter.  I don't know how often you compare sound quality between FM radio and CDs (or MP3s), but there is a big difference.  I did comparison testing between FM transmission and a wired connection to my stereo, and it just isn't close.  The extra hassle of plugging in a cable is well worth it for the additional sound quality.

The real reason I wanted an iTrip - other than the "cool gadget factor" - was to use it in my car.  I have an 11-year old car with a killer stereo (Nakamichi), and it doesn't have any way to plug in an MP3 player.  So I use one of those cassette adapters - a device which plugs into the cassette deck and connects external players by pretending to be a cassette.  The adapter works surprisingly well, but the cassette interface is analog so there is degradation compared to, say, a CD.  Plus you have the wire floating around.  So I was hoping with the iTrip I could do away with the adapter.  Unfortunately the sound quality of the FM transmission is way worse than the cassette adapter.  The lack of clear highs and lows was particularly apparent.  The situation in a car is worse than a building, because the FM antenna is outside (in my case, next to the rear trunk).  I actually had to hold my iPod in the air to get the best sound - not good.  Also, the iTrip depends on choosing a radio frequency which is empty, with no station broadcasting.  In a building you can experiment and find one.  In a car as you drive around you pick up different stations, and they interfere.  In North Los Angeles there are basically no frequencies which are completely unused.

So here's the bottom line:  Once you get over being impressed that it works, you'll discover that it doesn't work well enough to be useful.

[ Update: Griffin Technology, the company behind the iTrip, took mine back with no questions asked.  So if you think you might like an iTrip - check it out, you can always return it. ]


Sunday,  05/18/03  11:08 PM

The Aerocar
The Aerocar

Following up on Carfree cities, here's an interesting article about flying cars (another approach to improve transportation).  There are a number of practical reasons why flying cars haven't "happened", but who cares about that; I want one!

L.T.Smash comments on the recent terror attacks in Riyadh and Casablanca: "These attacks show that the terrorists are on the ropes.  They're getting stupid and desperate."  Interesting point of view...  L.T. is not only authoritative because he's a reserve officer stationed in Kuwait, he's also thoughtful...

Is Pinch a Cinch?  Mickey Kaus in Slate discusses the success of welfare reform.  "If all the 1996 welfare reform did was take non-working single mothers on welfare and turn them into working single-mothers with exactly the same incomes, it would be a huge success."  Recommended reading...

Are you a Tivo fanatic like I am?  Then you need to read Tivo Hacks :)

The NYTimes reports that Napster, the brand bought out of bankruptcy by Roxio, is going to buy Pressplay, the online music service from Universal and Sony.  Pressplay has been a disaster so far, but no wonder; $10/month for streaming and downloading only (no burning, no MP3 player support), and $18/month adds 10 "portable" downloads per month.  And they only have music from Universal and Sony.  Well, maybe Roxio can do something good with it...  Apple has certainly shown the way.

[ Update: CNet has this story, too. ]

Remember the great "should Google index blogs" discussion?  Well, it continues...  Microdoc News notes What Google Leaves Out, an interesting analysis of which 30% of the [estimated] 10B web pages Google indexes.

Scoble suggests Google could improve its index by getting rid of bloggers who "aren't authoritative".  Yeah, so who decides?  Well, we do, by linking blogs we like and trust!  That's how the web works, and that's why Google's approach to indexing - 'you are what other people say you are' - is so powerful.  This follows his earlier observation that Google is getting pressure from advertisers to de-emphasize weblogs.

Dave writes It you want to be in Google, you gotta be on the Web.  Seems obvious, but this is why a lot of "authoritative" sources don't rate highly on Google.  Many newspapers' online archives are limited to a short period of time, like a week or a month.  How silly is that?  Meanwhile bloggers pretty much leave everything they ever wrote up "forever".

Ed Cone blogs some great suggestions for journalists with weblogs.  Actually they are good for any blogger...

Dan Gilmor writes about OhMyNews, a popular South Korean online news service which employs citizen-reporters.  "Over 15,000 have contributed articles."  Kind of like The Command Post on steroids.  It looks like a nice site - lots of pictures, nicely laid out - but unfortunately I can't read Korean.  [ via Boing Boing ]


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