August has come, and the money for my speeding ticket is due soon. The Kansas City Police Department was out in force in the months of June and July. The result, in my driving behavior is that I don't drive any more than 5 or 6 over the posted limit anymore. I suppose that should have been obvious before, but in two and a half years of residence here, It had always seemed like a bit of a free-for-all. Well, the party's over. I will drive like a normal person now.
I have been working a bit with the background code, as I always seem to have to when a month transition occurs after I've made significant changes. I still have a couple things to work out, but it should be okay now.
We spent this weekend mostly just sitting around, and making minor improvements to the abode, which we plan on leaving as soon as possible. The running now is between New Quality Hill apartments, downtown, and Union Hill Place, about 6 blocks away. They are both fabulous places, but we are currently leaning more toward New Quality Hill, as they are cheaper on every account, have more bars and restaurants within walking distance, and are closer to the highway. I am just looking forward to getting out of here, though I reserve no excitement for the physical act of moving. Moving grates on my soul.
Headline News, late at night, is a veritable bonanza of hot women. Rudi, Kara, and Erica make the wee hours much more tolerable at work. I need to find a working Rudi page for my links.
I am in night 3 of 4 of my last week before a couple of long trips take place. This weekend, I am heading to Iowa City for fun, beer, and Fingers Live. As well, I will hang out with some good friends from college. Just after I get back from that, I'll be going to work for two nights, to leave the second night for Texas, and QuakeCon. only a few weeks after that, I will leave town again for Boston, to visit with Carl.
I bought a new desk over last weekend, and set it up in the opposite corner of the bedroom, and about it I set vesuvius and my old monitor, and made it a nice linux desktop machine. When I get a free weekend, which isn't any time very soon, I'll get MythTV working, and all your requests for Simpsons and Seinfeld episodes will be for valid files, but I still won't give them up. I will also record episodes of Spongebob. Hilarity will ensue.
Oh, by the way, I am 25 now. Yay for lower insurance, if I didn't have any tickets.
The trip to Iowa City was a lot of fun. On Friday, Alex and I drove in from Des Moines, and got a call from Kris:
"My car just died. I think I ran out of gas."
"Is the car running," Alex asked.
"You moron. The car still has gas in it if it's still running."
After we called a tow for Kris, which he apparently was unable to do on his own, we went to Steve and Renae's house in Coralville, and then on to a place in Iowa City called Fitzpatrick's Brewing Company. They had very tasty beer, and spicy hamburgers. I then proceeded to drink way too much, and subject myself to an all-day hangover on Saturday.
We met my Aunt and Uncle at mass on Saturday afternoon, and I bade my friends a good evening, as I left with my relatives for dinner. They gave me some codeine-fortified pain reliever, and my hangover was gone in about 15 minutes. We adjourned to the TV room, watched North By Northwest, and I fell heavily to sleep.
The next morning, we had brunch, and I renewed my distaste for canteloupe. Alex and I left Iowa City after a sodden meal with my hung-over friends, and arrived in Des Moines with plenty of time to spare, for me to get back to KC before sunset.
Sunday night, I met up with Alex(a different one), Louis, Brian, and Geoff, who was in town for the weekend, at a bar where Geoff's sister works. I made the mistake of mentioning that my birthday had been only two days earlier, and they bought me a shot of Goldschlager, ignorant of my pleas of, "But it's Sunday!"
Two days until Texas.
I am excitedly waiting for the whistle to blow, so I can get off work and leave for Texas. We get to leave early today, because Elaine isn't here. Everyone likes the mornings when she isn't here. I have only to drive home, get Brian and some of my things, drive to Grandview and pick up Louis, and leave for Texas. My next update will be from the fabulous Adams Mark Hotel and Convention Center in Sunny Dallas.
Well, with a little proxy/port trickery, I've managed to get logged into my machine at home. I'd like to thank misters Johnson and Myers for their generous help and enduring coolness. May they have many promiscuous days to come.
Quakecon is awesome. The internet connection here is abyssmally pathetic, as one might imagine any connection split between 2000 people might be. Brian, Louis, and I have all disabled windows networking in an attempt to keep would be leeches and hackers out of our vulnerable windows systems, in favor of WASTE. Bless WASTE. We have all done some volunteering, some drinking, some gaming, and some looking around. The vendor area is amazing. AMD has a very impressive setup, comlete with pretty girls for everyone to look at. Many others are there, including some new game free-plays, but the most noticeable missing hand is Apple. Unfortunately they aren't here, because I was just itching to take a G5 for a test drive.
Day 1 has been great, and I'll not be posting pictures, because of the problems with bandwidth. It'd take hours to get just one picture uploaded, so it'll all have to wait until I get back to KC.
Day 2 has been a bit more laid back than day 1. We spent most of today sitting on our laurels(that's our funny word for our "asses"). I have greatly enjoyed myself, and have gotten to some gaming that would normally cause me to crap myself with excitement and nerves. Madness, often.
Brian saw Carmack's speech, and he assures me that it was as dry as I figured it was when I decided not to go. The connection in and out of here has been shaky as best, which has pretty nastily hampered connectivity to my machine, and for Brian and Louis to get to theirs. Nevertheless, day 2 has rocked.
Last night, some moron kids set up a "Dance Dance Revolution" console(a very very japanese game involving crazy music and stepping in an orderly manner), and have since been polluting the air with the noise and affinity for such a moronic pursuit. It's exceedingly stupid, as many japanese things are, and at the same time, is inexplicably enthralling.
More to come.
Quakecon was awesome, and some time here, I'll get some pictures up. The apartment is something of a horrible wreck, since I got back, and I need to commit an hour or two to getting back in a presentable state. Dallas disappointed me, with its utter lack of local beer options. The only regional beer that could be found in any kind of consistent supply was Spoetzl's Shiner Bock. Otherwise, it was basically Budmillcoors.
I have finished my Quakecon pictures for your pleasure. Enjoy.
I just read this open letter from Eric Raymond to SCO president Darl McBride, regarding a very very important case that is in progress now, that hasn't been even mentioned on any nontechnical news outlet. SCO basically thinks that there is copyright-infringing code embedded into the source code of the Linux operating system. Naturally, when the maintainers of Linux heard this, they asked to be informed which code was infringing, and on what ground, so it could be removed and replaced.
But SCO never had any intention, it seems, to allow the Linux developers to play ball, and so had a strategy of attack and litigate mapped out in advance. They have since claimed that all users of Linux owe SCO a licensing fee of no less than $600 per computer with Linux installed. Both IBM and Redhat have files countersuits for defamation, and now SCO is calling "foul," claiming that they are now victims of abuse, as their website has been disabled by a distributed denial-of-service(and is still inaccessible at the time this is being written).
I wasted my weekend playing games, so I had no idea that such a worthy pursuit as a DDOS against SCO was going on. I wish I had known, so i could have thrown a couple of failed http requests their way. I hope they all get chlamydia.
Those of you out there that insist on using Internet Explorer, despite the fact that it is slow, dangerous, and ignorant of web technologies, have a look at this little add-on. Besides having a search prompt for google all the time, it'll also block popups, which are a popular feature of Internet Explorer. Have a look, and then upgrade to a real web browser.
Unbelievable. While some window managers try to slightly emulate the functionality of the familiar, but weak interface of Micrososft Windows, xpde goes a few steps further. They have created a registry, and have even recreated the windows explorer file manager, as well as they could. Just pathetic.
Besides this, I would also like to state my full support for the fight against software patents in Europe, which will be voted on, on September 1st. The decision could cripple the world of computing forever.
I have decided that it's about time I write something useful again, especially now that you, the reader or two can comment on it.
A Grave Problem, and a Fitting Solution
A lot of people have been talking in recent years about how cities, as they age, begin to lose their lustre. Nobody really seems to be able to put their finger on why this happens, but we've all seen the symptoms: Companies leave town, often taking moneyed employees with them, property values decrease, basic civil services lose funding, school districts slide further and further to abyssmal levels, transit services slide, as people begin more and more to view it as an unjustified expensive entitlement for the poor, and not a valuable tool for the whole city. Stores close and employers shed employees or disappear, themselves. Unemployment grows, along with crime, making once-vital neighborhoods dangerous after dark. It's a whole cycle that magnifies all the problems, the despair, the poverty, and the crime, as it progresses. We have seen it, and still see it, in every major city in America.
Meanwhile, in nearby suburbs, everything is new, shiny, and on the surface, as it should be. School districts are excellent, people have disposable income, employment is high, crime is low. People grow up and live their lives in these places, with a future in mind, and every resource available to them to aid in that pursuit. Yet this incredible contrast to the condition in the city isn't a surprising thing to these wealthy and middle-class people, nor is it to the impoverished urban population. Why? The city used to be just as successful as the suburbs now are if not moreso. It also used to be a lot more crowded. It would seem that the bliss of the city moved to the suburbs, but nobody seems to be particularly surprised about this.
Nevertheless, it is abnormal that prosperity emerges somewhere, seemingly at the expense of another place. It is generally accepted that wealth is created by commerce, and not simply rearranged, but in terms of geographic economics, prosperity does seem to have a trend, developed in recent years, of passing over an area, like a crowd doing the wave at an NFL game.
This simply doesn't make economic sense, or so it would seem. First off, despite what Michael Douglas will tell you, money is not simply rearranged. People don't necessarily become wealthy because someone became poor. If this was true, then mankind never would have gotten out of the stone age. Yet we have. Wealth is created by new and existing business. Prosperity is not a sin, and there is enough for everybody.
Secondly, cities have maintained their beauty and attraction for thousands of years. Constantinople was a thriving, wealthy city from its founding by the Greeks in about 600 BC(then called Byzantium) , for almost two thousand years up until it was sacked and looted(at the time, it was probably the wealthiest city in the world) in 1204 AD, at the hands of the marauding crusaders. London endured as the proclaimed greatest city in the world for hundreds of years, and endures still, though a lot of the problems mentioned above trouble it now. The foundation, bliss, and abrupt abandonment of cities seems to be an American trait that is catching on all over the world.
In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, many referred to it as "The Great White Flight," when millions of wealthy American city-dwellers forsook their urban homes for green lawns, driveways, and freeway commutes. There are many occurrences upon which this relatively sudden change in American life can be pegged. Some say the GI Bill lured people to the suburbs, and others pin it on the adoption of "car culture." I tend to think it's the latter, but that matter is not the focus of this writeup. I mention it because it very suddenly happened, and it has never really stopped.
For whatever reason, American life has moved to the suburbs, and there is a general feeling of leeryness and even fear, in the suburbs, in regard to the city, and the idea of living there to raise a family, as so many people did in years past. I, myself, moved to the interior of Kansas City when I first moved to the area in February of 2001, because I had been so impressed with the urban looks of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco in the years leading up to moving here. I have been working for a major telecommunications company that is headquartered in the suburbs of Kansas City, and have, in turn, worked primarily with suburb-dwellers, and have been met with joking remarks of "do the bars you go to require bullet-proof vests?" and serious questions like, "Do you feel safe where you live?" and "How often do you hear gunshots?"
There is a great misunderstanding of cities, among people raised apart from them. It isn't their fault- it's the general opinion I had too, until I had actually experienced urban life and how wonderful it can be. When any group is sundered from any experience, they become ignorant of it. Unfortunately, it's divisions like this that keep a lot of progress from occurring. Once again, that is neither here nor there. My point here is that suburban dwellers are generally not very receptive to the idea of both living and working in the city.
With all of this said, I propose a way to revitalize our cities, create prosperity, restore the bliss they once enjoyed, and surpass it. It does not have to involve grassroots efforts or political campaigns. It doesn't require suffering on the part of some for the sake of others. It doesn't require sacrificing anything for the sake of anything else. In fact, that, in my opinion, is where a lot of the American city's problems come from. That deferred to a later paragraph, the proposal I put forward involves making a radical change to how the city collects revenue for itself.
A man with whom I have very little in common, Ralph Nader, is quoted in several places as saying something I find brilliant, and makes sobering sense. Here, I elaborate on it:
Taxes on productivity have a negative effect on the productivity upon which they rely.
In other words, they are counterproductive, self-defeating, and hence, dangerous. Nader said that it would be more productive to tax things that we don't like. Tax pollution. Tax inefficiency. In this case, tax land. Throughout urban places(and suburban, too), inefficient use of land, versus its value, is rampant. If you look at an urban neighborhood full of what could be accurately described as "blight," you will see a lot of buildings in poor condition, empty storefronts, condemned and squalid housing, and even empty land. Despite their derelict appearance, the properties on this land are all owned by someone. An empty warehouse or slum apartment building has an owner, who has no reason to improve their property, because they are trapped. They are trapped by the current system of taxation.
The current system of taxation is based on property value, and takes its name from that. Property tax is computed, based on the assessed value of a given property, be it a house, warehouse, office building, apartment building, restaurant, bar, parking lot, or vacant lot.(For a full list of property types to which property tax is applicable, consult your local authorities.) If a property gets a high appraisal, a tax rate is assigned, based on that value. If the same property, in the following year, suffers from hail damage, and a helicopter crashes into it, it gets a lower assessment, and a lower tax rate is assigned.
This system discourages people from making their property as valuable as it can be, because high value = high taxes. In fact, it actually causes people to make their properties worth as little as possible, to accrue a lower assessment, and pay lower taxes. Because of this, the city doesn't get all the money that they could get, and the community suffers from blight and poorly-funded public services. The group that this system hurts the most, however, is the poor, the people who don't have extra money to spend on taxes.
In fact, home ownership is more often than not, not even an option, and they wind up renting a home that someone else owns. The owner has no reason to improve the house/apartment building, because that means higher taxes, which would simply be passed on to the residents in the form of higher rent, that they can't afford anyway. This is how property tax encourages blight, slum landlords, and vacant business space, homelessness, and even crime, to exist.
In a land tax scheme, the owners of these properties would no longer pay taxes that were bound to the value of the property, but rather the value of the land the property occupies. Free from the, "improvement equals higher taxes" mindset, they can improve their property without penalty. In fact, this system encourages them to do so, and make the property valuable. The only impact is positive.
The impact is especially evident with businesses. Businesses have a pronounced obligation, not only to be valuable, but to be productive. The more productive they are, the more their previously taxed property is worth, and in turn, the more capable they are of paying taxes on the land they occupy. Businesses, under a land tax scheme, have a unique opportunity to physically expand and improve their property, without incurring additional tax liability.
This all fosters efficient use of land, and in doing so, removes urban blight, and replaces it with vitality. In addition, when businesses are free to expand and improve without penalty, they are more capable of employing people, who employed, would be more capable of paying rent or mortgage payments, and just generally participating in the economic process. The cycle of prosperity continues and escalates from there.
Certainly, there are areas where improvement wouldn't be immediate. However, at no point would the system degrade conditions. It's like a one-speed bike: you can pedal forward, and you can coast, but you can't pedal backwards. It's just, it's successful, it allows the natural economic process to take place, and it will save the American city.