Archive for August, 2008

Sun 17 Aug 2008 2:43 pm   //   Posted in: In the news

Old vs. New

I watched yesterday’s presidential candidate forum with interest. Obama and McCain took questions from the Rev. Rick Warren about their beliefs. Here’s what I heard:

  • Obama: Christ’s love compels us to help those less fortunate.
  • McCain: With God’s help, we must defeat evil.

Fascinating! We have a New Testament candidate and an Old Testament candidate!

Reading between the lines, Obama’s message is that he’ll use our government to build things and help the poor and the sick. McCain’s message is that we’ve got to keep killing those bastards who attacked us seven years ago!

That’s my takeaway. I have a hunch most swing voters won’t hear those messages. They’ll hear: Obama is pro-choice, Obama will raise taxes, better vote for the other guy. Never mind that fighting a war not only destroys human life, it inevitably means higher taxes.

Finally, I’ve noticed that Rick Warren seems like a genuinely good man who is in love with himself. He’s ripe for a John-Edwardsian scandal!

Sat 16 Aug 2008 9:23 pm   //   Posted in: Bicycles, New York is different, Transit

Biking the Vanderbilt Parkway

Welcome to part II of my occasional series, “Weird stuff the Vanderbilts built.” (Previously: Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.)

Today I rode my bike to the abandoned Long Island Motor Parkway. It was built by William Vanderbilt II to connect Queens to Long Island; the first segment opened in 1908. (Hey, that was 100 years ago!) The Motor Parkway operated as a toll road until 1938, when it was unable to compete with the free parkway that Robert Moses built. As soon as it closed, Moses turned it into a bike path. And so it remains today, an overgrown strip of blacktop two lanes wide. It looks like any rails-to-trails bike path, though the hills leading up to the overpasses are steeper than a typical railroad grade. I was surprised by how narrow it is; the parkway was only two lanes wide.

The Parkway was one of the first roads to use elevated bridges (grade separation) to create an express highway. Some refer to it as the country’s “first superhighway,” but the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as a divided highway, has a stronger claim that title.

It never fails to amaze me how much abandoned infrastructure there is in Brooklyn and Queens. As I was riding today, I crossed at least three disused railroad rights-of-way. One is the impressive tunnel and open-cut track that runs beneath the elevated L train south of Broadway Junction. The next was the overgrown right-of-way that runs through Forest Park (identifiably by the abandoned utility poles that run beside where the track was). And finally there was the Central Railroad of Long Island Creedmore Branch, which ran through what is now Kissena Park. It operated from 1872 to 1879 – barely six years!

More info:
NYC Parks Vanderbilt Motor Parkway sign. Long Island Motor Parkway page.
Forgotten New York Kissena Park page.

Fri 15 Aug 2008 3:51 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data, Technology


1. What caused Netflix to crash?

2. Bigfoot: Real?

Thu 14 Aug 2008 6:42 pm   //   Posted in: In the news

Important photo-related story

This subject should be getting more attention (said the guy who wrote the story, humbly):

Bill Would End Ban on Photos of Returning Military Dead

Thu 14 Aug 2008 7:59 am   //   Posted in: In the news

Pool shark

Can you imagine? You’ve trained most of your life to become an Olympic swimmer. Finally you’ve made it! You’re in Beijing and you’re swimming at your absolute best! Friends and family cheer you on!

And against whom are you competing? Michael Phelps! So not fair!!

Tue 12 Aug 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Mixes, Music

6 songs that have improved since the 80s

These songs were totally cheeseball on Lite FM radio in the 80s. But for reasons unclear, they now sound pretty great. Time has been good to this music. Or I’m turning into my parents.

  1. John Parr – “St. Elmos Fire (Man in Motion)”
  2. Howard Jones – “No One is to Blame”
  3. When in Rome – “The Promise”
  4. Corey Hart – “Never Surrender”
  5. Mike and the Mechanics – “All I Need is a Miracle”
  6. Steve Winwood – “Higher Love”

Sun 10 Aug 2008 7:24 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Transit

Touring the abandoned Brooklyn railroad tunnel

“The world’s very first subway opened in London, England, on the Saturday afternoon of January 10, 1863.” – from A Century of Subways by Brian J. Cudahy.

Not to brag, but Brooklyn had a subway in 1844. Most people have forgotten about it, but I went underground and saw it today.

Atlantic Avenue Railroad Tunnel

Below Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn lies a forgotten, man-made cavern perhaps half a mile long, wide enough for two steam trains.

Bob Diamond, one of our city’s most irrepressible transit geeks, was so captivated by stories about the tunnel as a young man that he set out on a quest to find it. He rediscovered it and brought it to the public’s attention in the early 1980s. Today he runs the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association and leads occasional tours of his discovery. Jeremy and I, along with perhaps 150 other local curiosity seekers, joined him for a tour this afternoon.

The expedition begins by climbing into an open manhole, descending a ladder, and ducking through a narrow tunnel. A few steps away is a person-sized hole chiseled into a brick wall. Crawl through the hole and suddenly you’re in a massive chamber. A string of light bulbs provides just enough light to asses the vastness of this cavern as it recedes into the distance. Diamond leads the group, telling the story of the railroad’s folly. His life has been intertwined with the tunnel for over 25 years, and he speaks with the joy of someone proud to share his obsession with others. Along the tour, several actors in period costume put on a sketch based on the history of the railroad.

The Long Island Railroad, under the direction of Cornelius Vanderbilt, constructed the tunnel to transport people and goods from ferries along the Brooklyn waterfront to points East. (Remember, this was before the Brooklyn Bridge, and way before the Northeast Corridor.) LIRR trains from Brooklyn continued to a ferry that crossed Long Island Sound to Boston. The tunnel was a key link in this chain. Up to 40 feet below the street grade, it was built in just seven months. “The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent,” Walt Whitman wrote of the ride when he was editor of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. “How beautiful look earth and heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom!”

In 1861, as the LIRR terminus moved from downtown Brooklyn up to Long Island City, the tunnel was sealed at both ends and reported demolished. The Atlantic Avenue right-of-way was turned over to local trolley companies, to the benefit of developer Edwin Clark Litchfield, who was building a new neighborhood called Park Slope.

Today, Diamond calls the ghost tunnel “a monument to New York political corruption.”

We know a lot about the tunnel thanks to Diamond’s research, but some mysteries remain. Rumor says that a locomotive – possible two – was abandoned in the tunnel and buried beneath the street. Diamond thinks he knows where it is, but has no means to dig it out. A documentary film company that is working on a movie about the tunnel is trying to raise enough money to uncover the locomotive.

Sat 9 Aug 2008 8:17 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

Running errands in Brooklyn

Today I went shopping at the most anarchic Target in America, the one on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I wanted one of these:

Broom and dustpan photo

Shopping in our disastrous Target requires patience, compromise, and a willingness to be surprised. And surprised I was when I saw a man wearing a T-shirt that said “Welcome to America – Now speak English!

Whoa. I never thought I’d see anyone in Brooklyn wear that shirt. The shirt bothers me because it’s worn by those who can’t stand the idea of new people hanging around their town. It’s meant to be cruel. Of course new immigrants ought to learn English, but they have plenty of incentives to do so already. Putting it on a T-shirt seems kind of random, kind of obsessive. To quote the Big Lebowski: You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.

Most of all, it’s a pretty weird shirt to wear to the Brooklyn Target. All the Target signage is in English and Spanish, many customers and store employees are immigrants, and business is conducted in whatever language works. It’s an international community and nobody expects otherwise. (The Target mall sits around the block from, I kid you not, a Halal Chinese restaurant.)

The man in the “speak English” shirt was talking on a cell phone. As I approached him, I could hear clearly that he wasn’t speaking English. He was speaking what sounded like an Eastern European language. All of the sudden the shirt took on a whole new meaning. Either the guy couldn’t read what it said, or he read it as a joke and applied it to himself! Either way, I love it!

By the way, the Atlantic Avenue Target, which is always out of whatever I’m looking for, didn’t have any of these in stock:

Broom and dustpan photo

Instead, I bought one for $1.99 from one of those Spanish discount stores on Fifth Avenue.

Sat 9 Aug 2008 11:35 am   //   Posted in: Technology

Be ready for a troll attack

It has taken me a week to get around to reading Mattathias Schwartz’s Times Magazine story about the brutal, online mischief-makers known as trolls. It’s worth a few minutes of time. It gets especially good around page 5:

“In 1981, [Internet pioneer Jon Postel] formulated what’s known as Postel’s Law: ‘Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.’ Originally intended to foster ‘interoperability,’ the ability of multiple computer systems to understand one another, Postel’s Law is now recognized as having wider applications. To build a robust global network with no central authority, engineers were encouraged to write code that could ‘speak’ as clearly as possible yet ‘listen’ to the widest possible range of other speakers, including those who do not conform perfectly to the rules of the road. The human equivalent of this robustness is a combination of eloquence and tolerance — the spirit of good conversation. Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others.”

Fri 8 Aug 2008 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Technology

A series of pipes

I spent some time last night and this morning messing around with Pipes, a totally freakin’ brilliant Yahoo! service that lets you pull data from pretty much any online source, process it, and output it. This isn’t for everyone. But Pipes takes what used to be very hard programming tasks and makes them accessible to anybody. Basically, if you’ve totally mastered RSS feeds – if you pwn Google Reader – then it’s time to check out Pipes.

I used it to create something relatively simple: PDN’s Ultimate RSS Feed of Olympic Photo Blogs. But I can see a lot more possiblities with this tool.