Low Flo

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Fall’s accelerating activity both weather and otherwise has slowed my ‘blog flow. It hasn’t been all work and no play as E. and I stretched our 7 year record of being the last out at the Exchange Pool.

Don’t worry, I have plenty to say on Carolina North, UNC’s Leadership group (of which I recently wrote), the beginning of Council’s new season, Town Manager Stancil’s start, the coming election (you remember that, right?), etc.

Flo is developing East of us and has the potential, as Kirk over at The Cape Fear Mercury observes, of joining “those F, G and H names seem to really nail NC—Floyd, Gloria, Hazel, Hugo, and Fran…”.

Quick orthogonal observation: GoogleEarth is evolving into the new ‘net browser. Geographic visualization is intuitive – and folks are leveraging the heck out of our proclivity to absorb positional data. Mapping is key to local activism – I welcome further improvements.

What Price Downtown? The Mayor Responds.

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Last week, the Chapel Hill News published a column I wrote (What Price Downtown) on the Chapel Hill’s downtown development project.

Today, Mayor Foy responds in a column titled Town prodeeds cautiously on downtown redevelopment.

Prodeeds, interesting typo ;-).

Before commenting on his response, I’d like to highlight an error in my column that the Mayor pointed out:

Will Raymond implied that the town had spent $4 million on the project. That figure is incorrect; the total cost to the town so far is $600,000.

Absolutely correct. Here’s what I said in my column:

Investing $4 million to date in the effort, the project is nearing the public hearing phase. Clear cut and excavated, my beautiful public space will vanish under the private heel of a looming “soft modernistic” behemoth. Rising nine stories, this disproportionate edifice will distort Franklin Street’s current village-like scale.

In an effort to excise a few words (if you’ve read anything I’ve written you know I can go on a bit) to get below the 750 word CHN limit (a limit I maybe should consider on this ‘blog), I completely torqued the sentence.

What I originally meant was, we’ve spent about $500K (the Mayor says $600K) on the process and we’ll have to belly up another “real” $500K. That, with the “kickback” of the $7.9M 99-year lease value on the properties, adds to $8.4 million in future commitments, $9M total. The $500K for digging a hole in lot #5 is already under dispute.

This is based on the recent town 2005-2006 2nd Quarter Report.

In the proposed Memorandum of Understanding, the developer will pay the Town $7.9 million ($4.75 million for Lot 5 site and $3.15 million for the Wallace Deck site) to lease Town-owned property for 99 years. The Town will pay the developer a fixed amount of $7.9 million for the construction of the Lot 5 parking garage and other Town-owned improvements. The Town also will pay $500,000 to support parking for affordable housing units.

Quite embarrassing. I will, if allowed, make a correction in my next column.

Now, on to the Mayor’s response.

This newspaper recently published letters and a column in which citizens expressed concerns about what has been called the Ram project, a proposal to build multi-story
residential/commercial developments at two town-owned sites in downtown Chapel Hill. I would like to address those concerns, give a general overview of the project, and clear up some inaccuracies.

The Town Council has focused on downtown as a priority because, although it’s good now, we know it can be better. We therefore engaged in a deliberate and thorough planning process for the downtown initiative (located at two sites: Parking Lot 5 and the Wallace Deck).

Plans for private downtown development are already moving quickly, with proposed Greenbridge’s ( 180K/sq. ft., 109 condos, $300K-$400K), Shortbread Lofts ( 165 units, 50 reserved as affordable) and the just completed Rosemary Village (38 condos, $350K-$700K). Do we need to convert citizen-owned assets into privately-held condos before we see the effect these planned buildouts will have on the housing market?

This planning began about five years ago and included citizen workshops, design work sessions, and public meetings. Last year, the council began working with a private developer, Ram Development Company, to bring the plans to fruition. In a July 30 column (“What price downtown?”), Will Raymond implied that the town had spent $4 million on the project. That figure is incorrect; the total cost to the town so far is $600,000.

Aside from cost, however, is the issue of whether the development project should be pursued at all. The Town Council is working on this project because we believe it will enhance downtown as the center of our community. We know that downtowns that have a mix of uses and people who live there are more vibrant than those that don’t. And we also know that a dynamic downtown — with people living, working, and relaxing — leads to a safe downtown.

Unfortunately, the plans for boutique shopping and luxury condos don’t really add to the “mix of uses” we need downtown. The privately-sponsored developments will provide housing and we already have plenty of empty commercial space downtown. Worse, the current proposal doesn’t incorporate an “anchoring” tenant, like a grocery store, that the surrounding community can “center” on. Without a kid-friendly plaza, a strong commitment to retain maximum public use, lot #5 lacks a strong focusing element.

But back to the finances. The council has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Ram, which outlines the basic terms and conditions of the proposed development agreement. Under the memorandum, the town’s cash contribution to the development would be $500,000, which would support the cost of parking for the affordable housing within the development. This amount is the limit of the town’s exposure, in a development that is expected to cost more than $80 million.

However, recent news reports are correct in stating that construction costs have risen so quickly that Ram is not now confident that it can develop the project as first envisioned. That means that the financing issue might have to be revisited and revised. But contrary to the assertions raised in a July 23 letter to the editor (“Town has bad record for paying off builders”), the Town Council has not authorized or encumbered any local property tax revenue for the construction of the development.

Additionally, the letter writer, Ole R. Holsti, criticized the town for its management of school construction and a bridge replacement. The town is not involved in any way with school construction, and the town properly managed the bridge replacement. In fact, the town has an excellent record in its stewardship of public funds.

Mr. Holsti picked some poor targets for criticism but he was on to something when he said “The first step in shaking this reputation is to let Ram Development understand that not an additional penny of tax funds will be forthcoming.” The Mayor did not respond to my concern the TIF (tax incremental funding) has come back into play. Debt issued under TIFs is, in the end, secured by the citizenry. We are exposed to significant liabilities.

The council continues to work on the downtown development. We look forward to hearing citizens’ thoughts as we proceed with the discussions this fall. We are fortunate in Chapel Hill to have citizens who are interested and involved in the business of the town, and who hold us to the highest standards. I hope and expect that people will pay attention to the council’s efforts for downtown, and will work with us toward what is best for the community.

I’m glad the Mayor looks forward to input from the tax-paying public. I wish he had addressed the issues of scale – a 9 story beast , the eroding reasons – filling the gap in downtown residential and commercial development, lack of public utility, etc. I raised in my column.

Hot Spot U.S.A: Apparently Boone, NC

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Following Mark K.’s lead in succumbing to some mid-Summer zaniness….

It appears Appalachian State University, located up in the North Carolina mountains [MAP], is also HOT! HOT! HOT!

Click to watch.

On a more serious note, what fearful impulse lead ASU to add a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) link to the bottom of each of their web pages? Students are even directed to ASU’s designated DMCA enforcement agent to report on their fellow students violations:

Appalachian State University has designated an agent to receive notification of alleged copyright infringement.

Judith Walker
Academic Computing Services
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC, 28608
828-262-6272

email: dmca@appstate.edu

There must be an interesting [1] backstory [2] here for an academic institution to knuckle under to an act that the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes thus:

In practice, the anti-circumvention provisions have been used to stifle a wide array of legitimate activities, rather than to stop copyright infringement. As a result, the DMCA has developed into a serious threat to several important public policy priorities:

The DMCA Chills Free Expression and Scientific Research.
Experience with section 1201 demonstrates that it is being used to stifle free speech and scientific research. The lawsuit against 2600 magazine, threats against Princeton Professor Edward Felten’s team of researchers, and prosecution of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov have chilled the legitimate activities of journalists, publishers, scientists, students, programmers, and members of the public.

The DMCA Jeopardizes Fair Use.
By banning all acts of circumvention, and all technologies and tools that can be used for circumvention, the DMCA grants to copyright owners the power to unilaterally eliminate the public’s fair use rights. Already, the movie industry’s use of encryption on DVDs has curtailed consumers’ ability to make legitimate, personal-use copies of movies they have purchased.

The DMCA Impedes Competition and Innovation.
Rather than focusing on pirates, many copyright owners have wielded the DMCA to hinder their legitimate competitors. For example, the DMCA has been used to block aftermarket competition in laser printer toner cartridges, garage door openers, and computer maintenance services. Similarly, Apple invoked the DMCA to chill RealNetworks’ efforts to sell music downloads to iPod owners.

The DMCA Interferes with Computer Intrusion Laws.
Further, the DMCA has been misused as a general-purpose prohibition on computer network access which, unlike most computer intrusion statutes, lacks any financial harm threshold. As a result, a disgruntled employer has used the DMCA against a former contractor for simply connecting to the company’s computer system through a VPN.

Unintended Consequences: Seven Years Under the DMCA

ASU, that’s not so hot, hot, hot…

Hot Spot U.S.A.

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

With tomorrow’s temperatures forecasted to be above 100 degrees, Chapel Hill is going to be one very hot spot.

As if centrally scripted, local news folks, punching up the drama of the weather story, have been issuing dire warnings not of the “real” heat but of the “felt” heat. “Think it’s going to be hot tomorrow? With the heat index, that 100 degrees will feel like a thousand!” Etc. Ad nauseum.

For the last 35 years, I’ve always assumed the “heat index” was a bit of a bugaboo – a pseudo-science calculation surfing the collective American conscience with little or no factual underpinnings.

Well, turns out there is a calculation:

HI = -42.379 + 2.04901523T + 10.1433127R – 0.22475541TR – 6.83783×10 -3 T 2 – 5.481717×10 -2 R 2 + 1.22874×10 -3 T 2R + 8.5282×10 -4 TR 2 – 1.99×10 -6 T 2 R 2

where

T = ambient dry bulb temperature degrees Fahrenheit
R = relative humidity
The equation is only useful for temperatures 80 degrees or higher, and relative humidities 40% or greater.
NOAA National Weather Service chart of Heat Index
That looks rather ad-hoc to this curious science guy, so I delved a bit deeper and found this commonly cited article [PDF] explaining the genesis of the equation.

Now that summer has spread its oppressive ridge over most of the Southern Region, NWS phones are ringing off their hooks with questions about the Heat Index. Many questions regard the actual equationused in calculating the Heat Index. Some callers are satisfied with the response that it is extremely complicated. Some are satisfied with the nomogram (see Attachment 1). But there are a few who will settle for nothing less than the equation itself. No true equation for the Heat Index exists. Heat Index values are derived from a collection of equations that comprise a model. This Technical Attachment presents an equation that approximates the Heat Index and, thus, should satisfy the latter group of callers.

The Heat Index (or apparent temperature) is the result of extensive biometeorological studies. The parameters involved in its calculation are shown below (from Steadman, 1979). Each of these parameters can be described by an equation but they are given assumed magnitudes (in parentheses) in order to simplify the model.

  • Vapor pressure. Ambient vapor pressure of the atmosphere. (1.6 kPa)
  • Dimensions of a human. Determines the skin’s surface area. (5′ 7″ tall, 147 pounds
  • Effective radiation area of skin. A ratio that depends upon skin surface area. (0.80)
  • Significant diameter of a human. Based on the body’s volume and density. (15.3 cm)
  • Clothing cover. Long trousers and short-sleeved shirt is assumed. (84% coverage)
  • Core temperature. Internal body temperature. (98.6°F)
  • Core vapor pressure. Depends upon body’s core temperature and salinity. (5.65 kPa)
  • Surface temperatures and vapor pressures of skin and clothing. Affects heat transfer from the skin’s surface either by radiation or convection. These values are determined by an iterative process.
  • Activity. Determines metabolic output. (180 W m-2 of skin area for the model person walking outdoors at a speed of 3.1 mph)
  • Effective wind speed. Vector sum of the body’s movement and an average wind speed. Angle between vectors influences convection from skin surface (below). (5 kts)
  • Clothing resistance to heat transfer. The magnitude of this value is based on the assumption that the clothing is 20% fiber and 80% air.
  • Clothing resistance to moisture transfer. Since clothing is mostly air, pure vapor diffusion is used here.
  • Radiation from the surface of the skin. Actually, a radiative heat-transfer coefficient determined from previous studies.
  • Convection from the surface of the skin. A convection coefficient also determined from previous studies. Influenced by kinematic viscosity of air and angle of wind.
  • Sweating rate. Assumes that sweat is uniform and not dripping from the body.

From Rothfusz, L. P., 1990:The heat index equation (or, more than you ever wanted to know about heat index). NWS Southern Region Technical Attachment, SR/SSD 90-23, Fort Worth, TX.

So, to be as accurate as possible, tomorrow, if you’re 5’7″ 147 pounds, wearing long trousers and a short-sleeved shirt made of %80 air, have an average human diameter (unlike my 46″ waist), plan only to walk 3.1 MPH and sweat uniformally, it’ll feel like a bazillion degrees.

Trebek: Robocop, not Terminator

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Also, from our July 19 column: we regret the insinuation that Mr. Alex Trebek is a robot, and has been since 2004. Mr. Trebek’s robotic frame does still contain some organic parts, many harvested from patriotic Canadian schoolchildren, so this technically makes him a “cyborg,” not a “robot.” Ken-Jennings.com regrets the error.

Version 2.0 suggestions.

“The List” Part 2: From Whole Cloth

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.

“The Trial”, Kafka

Stumbled upon this troubling account from Denver’s ABC 7:

You could be on a secret government database or watch list for simply taking a picture on an airplane. Some federal air marshals say they’re reporting your actions to meet a quota, even though some top officials deny it.

San Jose Costa Rica
Outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica

“Innocent passengers are being entered into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft … and they did nothing wrong,” said one federal air marshal.

(more…)

“The List”

Monday, July 24th, 2006

From the Boston Globe

The federal government has inflated the “No Fly List” to 200,000 names. But the list has nabbed more members of Congress than it has terrorists. US Senator Edward M. Kennedy and US Representative John Lewis have been inconvenienced by it, and anyone named David Nelson is likely to face a major interrogation each time he flies. Federal officials make it very difficult to correct the list, thus tormenting citizens who are guilty of nothing more than having a name resembling a name suspected sometime by some government official.

That’s the “No Fly” list. The “reach into ones pants” or “feel up ones bra” list is much, much bigger – an expansive and encompassing list – mutable based on secret recipes that seem to vary by airline.

And it’s a bit more than an inconvenience if you are on the wrong side of a SSSS ticket designation and draw a TSA agent who fondles your genitalia.

Ruby and Brian sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

“First comes love, then comes marriage“, then comes what in that Web 2.0 carriage?

Two of our strongest local blogging activists, Ruby and Brian are tying the knot today (forever memorable because it’s also my wifes b’day).

Congratulations and fondest good luck on what promises to be a sweltering July 22nd.

Madcap Laughs

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett died July 7th (as announced today). Syd’s influence on Brit rock was comparable to the Beach Boys’ Wilson’s (whose Pet Sounds often appears neck-n-neck with “Madcap Laughs” in lists of influential albums) on the US scene.

My copy of “Madcap” is sorted into a special sub-section of my album collection along with other unusual standouts of the 60’s/70’s Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Gong,Henry Cow, et. al.

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