Archive for the ‘soapbox’ Category

a day in the juror holding pen [liveblog]

Have you wondered what it’s like to be called to jury service? I got a summons last month and today’s the big day. While I obviously won’t be able to tell you about any case that I get assigned to, I don’t think there’s any prohibition on describing the waiting. Liveblog after the jump!


Requiem For A Newspaper, Part I: There’s nothing more we can do

96 hours have now passed since Hearst gave the P-I 60 days to live. And as I’m one to think, I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting what is happening and trying to piece together what is to come. We once had two strong regional papers, and now both of them could be extinct altogether by the end of the year.

I decided to start parsing together my thoughts into a post, but 1100 words into it I realized how huge and unwieldly it was becoming, so I’m breaking it down into smaller chunks for the sake of my sanity (and yours as well).

a decision on what to do about the viaduct will never arrive

Last year, the legislature told Gregoire and Nickels to choose an option for what to do about the crumbling viaduct by the end of 2008. Guess what tomorrow is and guess who hasn’t made up their minds. Here’s the “dog ate my homework”, asking for an extension into 2009:

“As a result of the continued overwhelming response and input on replacement options from stakeholders, we have asked our respective transportation teams to continue their review. Once this information is in hand, and working closely together, a final recommendation will be made to the state Legislature in January,” their statement said. [times]

A lot of people are clinging to high-throughput and everyone thinks elevated highways are ugly; so my guess is that they’ll hold out until someone finds a pile of money hidden under city hall to pay for a tunnel or wait for another earthquake to come around and finish the job that Nisqually started.

Predicting The Weather

Space Needle

Forecasting the weather in Seattle can be a tough job. The National Weather Service (used by King5,, and other local weather experts) only had a 75% accuracy rating last year, whereas Forecast Watch (which tracks statistical accuracy of weather forecasts all over the country) has an 80% accuracy rate, still not completely reliable when you consider that 1 out of every 5 forecasts is inaccurate.

Weather Prediction Accuracy

Weather Prediction Accuracy

Most of the time, that inaccuracy doesn’t affect the general population much. Forecasters might say it will rain when it doesn’t, or predict warmer temperatures but instead we find cooler temperatures. Occasionally though, a weather situation will be predicted and the more unusual the prediction is, the higher we tend to set our expectations, and the more disappointed we will be when those initial predictions do not become reality.

Yesterday in the blogsophere, I saw post after post from people who were disappointed and in some cases, angry. “The Weather People Need to be Punched in the Neck“, “F**k you, Seattle & KCM“, “Seattle weather forecasters…. YOU’RE FIRED!!!“, and “Seattle schools can suck it!”. The last post was one man’s rant about the Seattle School District’s decision to close school for the day. The decision to close public schools based on weather predictions is one choice I am glad I do not have to make.

School officials’ caution dates back to a 1990 snowstorm that dumped several inches of unexpected snow, paralyzing the city and forcing 1,200 children to spend the night in their classrooms. Since then, the state’s largest school district and its suburban neighbors close as a precaution when snow threatens. (source)

Last winter, BCC received negative feedback after deciding to keep campus open despite predictions for an icy morning. I made the choice to stay home that day because it was not safe for me to walk to my bus stop, and many others made the same choice. BCC responded with a letter detailing the way the decision is made to close campus and what stuck in my mind after all this time was the note that officials have to make a choice between 2am and 5am whether to close schools based on current weather conditions and predictions. As cited above, weather prediction is only about 80% accurate at best. When weather forecasters predict the same scenario for days preceding a big storm that may cripple the region, combined with past experiences of not taking action in time, I can’t blame school district officials for declaring school closures before the storm actually strikes. If the school district had made the opposite decision and the storm did hit the greater Seattle area as predicted, many more people would have been upset that the schools hadn’t been closed as a precaution. Officials just can’t win in this situation.


The main reason that the snow did not come yesterday as expected was the so-called Olympic Rain Shadow. The mountains are similar to a boulder in a stream, splitting the flow of water and creating a calm spot just behind the boulder. Bad analogy, I know, but with Seattle’s geographical features, it’s one reason why the storm split, dumping snow on the greater Puget Sound region and not the main Seattle area. This is explained in a new book from UW professor of atmospheric sciences Cliff Mass regarding Pacific Northwest weather:

It explains how, perhaps 25 times a year, an air mass is split by the Olympic Mountains, then reconnects over Puget Sound somewhere between north Seattle and Everett in what is called the Puget Sound convergence zone, an area that can then be rainy even though the sun shines brightly just 15 miles to the south. It tells how the coastal mountains in Washington and Oregon create a “rain shadow,” wringing a great deal of moisture from Pacific storm systems on the west side of the mountains so substantially less moisture is left for areas east of the mountains. And it dispels the myth that the Seattle area is one of the rainiest places in the country, comparing Seattle’s annual rainfall of 37 inches with the averages of 47 inches in New York City and 56 inches in Miami. (source)

The Seattle region is not equipped to handle harsh winter conditions. We have less than 30 snowplows, many of which cannot access neighborhood streets due to street parking or abandoned vehicles. Metro does have chains for it’s fleet, but some of the hills in Seattle are just too steep or narrow to navigate during times of snow or ice. You can read more at this SDOT website, which includes detailed numbers of equipment, employees, and snowplow/deicing routes. We could spend more taxpayer dollars on building a better infrastructure that can handle this adverse weather, but honestly we only use it a few days a year, so it would be a waste of funds in my opinion. People here are not used to handling such conditions, so the snark from East Coast transplants who have cities used to dealing with these conditions is not appreciated either. Yes, Minnesota can handle 2 feet of snow without closing public schools, but Seattle cannot, for the very reasons I just listed above.

Aurora was -empty-

All in all, getting angry because the weather forecasters were wrong is honestly a waste of energy. Getting angry at the school district for not closing campuses is also unfair. We get what we get, we have no control over the weather, and we can only plan ahead for what may happen. Personally, I was glad that we did not have snow and ice yesterday, as it allowed me the chance to travel to my doctor for a post-surgery visit. With the snow today, all I can do is look at it through my window and wish I had chosen to have surgery another time. Traveling through the snow in crutches is definitely against the wishes of my doctor.

The War Between Cars and Bicycles Continues

Bike Ride

Last week, the Seattle Times printed an opinion piece by James F. Vesely titled Impose license fee on King County cyclists. Vesely attempts to argue that it is long past the time which cyclists should be licensed and should have to start paying for the amenities “given” to them by gas-tax-paying drivers. This opinion piece is a work of extreme bias founded on misconceptions, and, in my opinion, only further divides the two camps, causing more harm than good. (more…)

Memo to the tech folks at the Stranger

When you moved the Slog to sometime on Tuesday or Wednesday, you busted the Atom feed more than a few of us were using on Google Reader. So, you know, you might want to fix it. Or restore the link tags that allow Firefox to pick up the location of the Slog’s RSS and Atom feeds. And yeesh, Scriptaculous AND Prototype? Do you need both JavaScript libraries? Heck, throw in jQuery while you’re at it. I mean, send us a few hundred kilobytes of JavaScript before we see one post.

On second thought… I’ve been in a good mood for the last couple of days. Coorelation doesn’t equal causation and all, but maybe you should leave it all your corrections be until the weekend is over, just to be sure.

D’abord la fermeture, puis le déluge

So how did Mayor Nickels’ shiny-happy Capitol Hill street closure go today? Lots of people biking, playing frisbee, talking about how wonderful and green we can be?

Yeah, that idea was all wet.

Maybe this is a good idea. But towing cars, then turning around and ending the closure hours early because it’s tipping down rain?

Here’s hoping the city checks the weather report before they fire up the tow trucks on Rainier next week and on Alki in two weeks.

Why does the City Council hate blogging?

That’s the only conclusion I can come to upon reading their new rules governing city council members blogging.

Yes, they’re less restrictive than what was rumored at yesterday, but still, they read like some antsy lawyers got in the same room with the group of IT guys up there who’ve never been near the Web (and probably wish it was all written in Java so they could understand it.)

Here’s a gem:

Links to external content should open in a new window: Hyperlinks to external content should open a new tab, or “spawned” browser window. Visitors should be advised that pop-up blockers may interfere with this action.

First off, “spawned” windows? What do these people think this is, Team Fortress 2? Secondly, there are considerable arguments against popping open new windows every time you click on an external link. Most notably, everyone using Firefox (roughly 1/3 of all users) is running a pop-up blocker by default. And thirdly, do they think us readers are stupid and can’t tell the difference between a city website and, oh, a local newspaper?

Here’s another beauty:

To ensure that information is secure, access is easily available, and personal information is protected, avoid referencing or linking to sites that:
ii. Require subscription or registration. When this is done, label these links “registration required”.

Yes, please avoid linking to the New York Times, city council member. But maybe council members are a little new at this computer thing. I’m sure Jean Godden will figure out those pesky punch cards in no time, though!

iii. Attempt to install malware on a visitor’s computer.

Wait, council members have to be told to note sites require registration because they don’t have experience with this, but now you’re expecting them to know what malware is, much less figure out which sites are carrying that payload?

Somewhere in the thousands in taxes, parking fees, and forthcoming bag fees, is any of it set aside for virus protection software? You know, the kind that keeps sites from installing malware on city computers???

x. Include content that would be identified as inappropriate to be linked to a City site by the Office of Ethics and Elections.

And they would know that… how? By the presence of malware? Registration? Link shorteners?

If the problem, in the end, is making sure council members are blogging appropriately, why doesn’t the city host blogs for them? What, you think it’s going to cost them money? WordPress, ExpressionEngine, and the open source version of Movable Type are free. All you need is a database — oh look, MySQL is free! — and space on the servers they probably already have. Oh, and some people up there who know how to create websites, people with web design, web development, and web production experience. (Hint to the city’s IT department: None of these skills require Java, and no, you can’t create a web page in Java, and please try not to.)

I mean, what’s it going to take, City Hall? A couple thousand, at the very most? That’s what the city probably drops on wining and dining corporate muckymucks at Canlis in a month. And think about it — if you actually used a real platform, you could have comments, from local citizens, talking about what’s in the post. Constituents could actually try to engage and interact with blogging city employees and council members.

This is what open, transparent democracy looks like. Having council members like Burgess and Harrell and Clark blog — and interact with their readers through commenting — means more access to government.

And all you have to do is grab some people who know how to blog and get them to help you. Let’s start with getting actual bloggers to help you rewrite these rules so they are usable and sensible. I’m sure if you looked really hard you might find some local bloggers in Seattle. Check your punch cards, Ms. Godden.

KOMO thinks it’s 1986

Worst local news commercial ever?


I don’t what’s worse, that KOMO thought this was a good idea or that Jenni Hogan agreed to it.

Women’s Shelter in Trouble

The Elizabeth Gregory Home, a shelter with 11 beds for women in transition, needs to raise approximately $30,000 over the next two or three days. Donations have dropped off significantly, decreasing from an average of $200-300 down to $100 this year. The reserves that the shelter had were used last year, and they are basically out of money.

The shelter needs to give notice to their landlord on Monday if they cannot raise the needed funds and the women at the shelter would be turned away at the end of the month. In addition to the 11 beds, the shelter also provides food, laundry, Internet, and case worker services to up to 150 women each month.

You can read the complete Seattle Times article here, but if you can help, here is their contact information.

Elizabeth Gregory Home
P.O. Box 45310
Seattle, WA 98145

Note: I suggest calling them, even if you are planning to mail in a donation so that they know what they have to count on by Monday.

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