~ Archive for Uncategorized ~

Longfellow Bridge reopens


The Longfellow Bridge that joins Boston and Cambridge has reopened. The number of car travel lanes has been permanently reduced from 4 to 3 as part of the renovation.

In “Cost to renovate Longfellow Bridge compared to its construction cost” (2013), I wrote that the project would be done in 2016 and cost $260 million, roughly 4X the original cost of $65 million (2013 dollars).

In “Longfellow Bridge repairs will now take about as long as the original construction” (2015) I gave an updated completion time.

The bridge is not quite finished, but it is open, and the cost to repair came in at roughly $300 million, about 4.6X the cost to build. See “Longfellow Bridge Reopens After $300 Million Reconstruction Project” (NECN).


Start a veterinary dental operation in Cancun or Costa Rica?


The Adventures in Vet Bills saga that I started in “Healthy American dog runs up a larger health care bill than a slightly sick Mexican” continues…

After nearly four years of life, Mindy the Crippler needed her teeth cleaned. It cost $2,000. I don’t think that the clinic here in exurban Boston is overpriced because there was a two-month waiting list to get in.

Anesthesia, including necessary prior bloodwork, was nearly $1,000.

The specialist vet said “Be sure to bring her back every year.” If we did that, not only would the poor golden retriever have to spend a full day in the hospital once per year, but our spending on vet care would be roughly 3X what it is now.

Humans in San Diego who don’t have dental insurance will go across the border to get their dental care in Mexico. A Boston friend rejected a car-sized quote for dental procedures and had U.S.-trained professors of dentistry do the work in Costa Rica while he enjoyed a vacation. Why can’t dogs travel to Cancun or Tamarindo in January and enjoy the beach with one day off for canine dentistry?

Jet stick pusher technology comes to the light helicopter world


Any engineer that has ever gone through helicopter training has wondered “Why doesn’t the collective lower itself after the engine quits?” (see “Teaching Autorotations” for an introduction to why this is important; see also Wikipedia) A typical turbojet-powered aircraft, e.g., Boeing 737 or business jet, resists pilot attempts to stall the machine via a stick pusher. If the airplane is going too slowly, roughly 150 lbs. of force are applied in the nose-down direction to ensure that airspeed is maintained (high-performance airplanes are not easy to recovery from a stall/spin). If rotor speed, and therefore airspeed of the spinning wing, is falling there is one sensible flight control action that is almost always helpful: lower the collective.

Somehow I missed that it actually can be done automatically. The Helitrak Collective Pull Down (follow the link for a bunch of videos) seems to have been available for about 1.5 years for about $15,000 in an R44. Some excerpts:

The low rotor RPM warning signal triggers the device to pull the collective down in less than half a second, eliminating pilot recognition and reaction times. … ultimately, can anyone put a price on the life of a pilot and passengers?

According to the Flight Safety Foundation, pilots take, on average, 2-3 seconds to recognize that a problem is occurring and then another 4-6 seconds to react.

A system that also pulled the cyclic back a little would be yet better, but it would be nice to see this on every helicopter!

Supreme Court Rules Against Gay Couple


Front-page NYT headline: “Supreme Court Rules Against Gay Couple in Cake Case, 7-2”.

But the story says that the case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In other words, the happy now-married couple is not part of the litigation so the ruling could not have been either for or against them.

It didn’t come down as Harvey Silverglate had predicted (see “The Colorado baker case at the Supreme Court”), but seems to have hinged on the Supreme Court justices reading the minds of the state bureaucrats who punished the baker:

“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

So is the NYT headline accurate? Did the 7 justices rule against the potential cake customers or against the bureaucrats on a state commission?

Another way to look at this is that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of litigation. Instead of a bright-line rule that would enable everyone to know in advance how a cake situation should be resolved, they suggest a more elaborate process for litigating cake-related disputes. The process has to include judges who, if they are hostile to religious believers, keep this hostility secret and find a neutral-sounding way to stick it to the haters.


Should Republicans run only black women for Congress and Senate?


Given the strength of the #MeToo movement and identity politics in general, would it make sense for the Republican Party to run only black women for Congress and Senate positions? In a country with more than 40 million African Americans it surely can’t be tough to find a few hundred black women with conservative political points of view (e.g., see Carol Swain in this video). At that point, Democrats could no longer take easy shots regarding white male dinosaurs making decisions that will affect members of other identity groups.

Why not just put in a bright line rule: If you don’t identify as a black woman, you can’t be supported by the Republican Party?

Readers: What do you think? Would the Republicans get more votes if they had an all-African American, all-female slate? Democrats like to say that Republicans are racist (when they’re not busy being sexist and stupid), but how many Republicans would vote for a white male Democrat who promises higher taxes and more government regulation?

[Disclosure: I’m a small-L libertarian and don’t have a dog in this fight.]


  • “Voters favor women who will fight harassment, poll finds” (Boston Globe): Female candidates who pledge to fight sexual harassment can win increased support from their base, while candidates who question the relevance of the #MeToo movement raise doubts in voters’ minds about their own qualifications … In hypothetical matchups where neither candidate mentioned sexual harassment, the Democratic woman beat a Republican man, and the Republican woman lost to a Democratic man. In each case, there was a 10-point gap. … The Republican woman who pledged to fight sexual harassment beat a Democratic male opponent 42 percent to 41 percent.

Taller people more likely to suffer from cracked phone screens?


Business question: Should you locate your next “tall clothing” store next to a phone repair shop?

Fortunately for those of us who want to do autorotations in a helicopter, the potential energy of an object goes up linearly with height. This may be unfortunate, however, for phone ownership by the tall.

The chance of a phone screen breaking seems to be highly non-linear as a function of energy or height. A phone will never break when dropped from a height of 1 inch, for example, but it will always shatter if dropped from a height of 1 mile. What if there is Silicon Valley-style hockey-stick growth in the chance of breakage starting right about 5′ above the ground. We should then expect people who are 6′ tall to have quite a few more cracked screens (phones dropped from ear height) than do people who are 5′ tall.

Readers: What do you think? Is there likely a correlation? Should Verizon and Apple try not to sell insurance to anyone tall who shows up in a store? Charge higher rates for customers identifying as “men” (taller on average)?

Why it costs more than $500 per square foot to build a school in Massachusetts


The best-performing elementary schools in Massachusetts were built between 1955 and 1959 and are small. Our town runs what is ranked as a second-tier K-8 school and it happens to be fairly large on a space/student basis. The current school has some portions dating to 1948, but mostly it was built and/or extensively renovated in 1994. Based on these data of top performance in 60-year-old buildings the most politically involved folks in our town have decided to bulldoze the current school and rebuild a same-size school in the same place (they couldn’t find anywhere else on the 71-acre campus to create a school for 660 kids so students will be in trailers for three years).

[Data source: niche.com. The #1 school is Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington, built in 1955. It is only 59,853 square feet for 423 students so it seems unlikely to contain the “hub spaces” that our proposed 150,000+ square foot school will have. #2 on the list is a school in Wellesley… built in 1957. #3 is a school in Newton, built in 1959 with 39,000 square feet for 428 students.]

The town still needs to vote to approve the $100 million in borrowing (will put us right up against the state’s statutory limit based on property value). Here’s a committee member’s attempt to sell town residents:

If you can build a new luxury home for around $300/sq ft., why
does it cost over $500/sq ft to build a school?

The main differences between our project and a single family residential project are as follows:

– Prevailing wage requirements — As a public construction project, no matter which option we select we will be subject to the Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law which establishes minimum wage rates for works on public construction projects. In addition to the hourly wage, payments by employers to health and welfare plans, pension plans and supplemental unemployment benefit plans under collective bargaining agreements or understanding between organized labor and employers are also included in the established wage. This equates to labor costs that are likely 2 to 3 times that which you might see on a typical single-family residential project. For example, according to the Department of Labor Standards the prevailing wage for laborers working on a public project in [Happy Valley] in 2020 will be entitled to an hourly rate of approximately $77 whereas a laborer working on a single-family residence is likely earning somewhere in the $20 range. Prevailing wages for electricians, masons, and plumbers are projected to be in the $110+ per hour range come 2020 when we are anticipating construction of the school project will start.

– Filed sub trades — Massachusetts General Laws require what is known as the “filed sub-bid” system for selecting certain subcontractors on public building construction projects. There are 16 trades under the filed sub bid laws including masonry, certain types of flooring, fire protection, plumbing, mechanical and electrical. The Law requires that contractors submit construction bids in two phases. First, filed subcontractors must submit their bids to the Awarding Authority, which will compile a list of all sub-bids received. The Awarding Authority will send the list to all interested construction managers. Construction managers will then need to submit their bid including any filed sub-bidders that will be used on the work. This reduces the control the construction mangers have on who they can hire therefore requiring additional supervision and coordination.

– Finally, there is the differentiation of work. Work that a builder might self-perform on a home project is likely to be broken down between sometimes two or three separate trades on a public project where organized labor rules the day. The benefits of this approach include clean and safe work sites but at a cost.

Like day traders, these folks see a rising market as a reason to jump in and buy now…

construction costs and more recently material costs have been skyrocketing over the past six years and are anticipated to continue to rise in the foreseeable future, at least out until 2020. In terms of the prevailing wages that I mentioned above, based on a review of the wages carried in the 2012 report and a comparison with the DLS wages that have been set for the coming years, we are looking at an increase across the board of 36%, with some trades such as plumbers and electricians experiencing prevailing wage increases of 50% or greater over the eight-year period from 2012 to 2020.

Given these costs of building I would think that the U.S. would have to get poorer on a per-capita basis as the population grows.

Comparison: The Essex-class aircraft carriers of World War II were originally budgeted at $40 million, roughly $600 million in 2018 dollars if you start inflating from January 1943. That’s $174,014 for each of the 3,448 people on board, e.g., the Intrepid. If our town’s school comes in at its $100 million original budget and the 544 actual current students move in, it will be $183,823 per student. This is slightly rigged by the failure to include teachers and bureaucrats in the school building analysis, but certainly it seems as though inflation in government-built infrastructure has been so severe since World War II that what we used to pay for a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier is now a reasonable ballpark estimate for a school.


Can Americans without health insurance get all of the care they need in Canada?


“‘There’s a Perception That Canada Is Being Invaded’: Justin Trudeau’s government has started rejecting more refugee claims from migrants who cross the U.S.-Canada border on foot.” (Atlantic)

Canada has built a reputation for warmly embracing Syrians. But most of the newcomers are from elsewhere. At first, it was mostly Haitians in the U.S. who made the journey. Some said they were spooked by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and worried about losing the temporary residence status they’d been given in the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake in their native country. In recent months, Nigerians have become the most frequent border crossers. Many get visitor visas to come to the U.S., then take a bus or taxi to upstate New York, where they walk north into Quebec—straight into the arms of Canadian border guards waiting to arrest them.

The migrants are typically detained for a few hours and then bussed to an emergency shelter in Montreal, where they stay and work on their asylum applications. While they wait for their cases to be adjudicated, they can access healthcare and send their children to public school for free, just like any Canadian.

Could this be the solution to our country’s healthcare funding issues? Americans who need an expensive procedure walk across the border, ask for asylum, and then get admitted to a hospital in Montreal.


Americans debate the gender ID of people who are good at something useless


“54 students are in the National Geographic Bee finals. Just 4 are girls.” (NBC News) is interesting.

First, let’s consider the cisgender-normative prejudice. How can the journalist and editors say “4 are girls”. Unless we assume that people are imprisoned in their biological genders, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “4 currently identify as girls”? Or “4 identified as girls at the time we interviewed them”?

Leaving this hostility to transgender folk aside, the article is rich in detail regarding what Americans are willing to debate:

Fifty-four geography-loving fourth-to-eighth-graders have earned a spot in the televised, rapid-fire contest — winners of local competitions from each U.S. state and territory — but just four of them are girls. The gender gap has persisted since the competition started in 1989; of the 29 winners, only two have been girls.

The National Geographic Bee’s gender imbalance puzzles teachers, parents and students. Some say that the tournament is fair but that educators need to actively foster geographic curiosity in girls, while others think the National Geographic Society is in violation of Title IX and needs to overhaul the bee’s design to promote better results for girls.

To win this year’s New York and New Mexico State Bees, respectively, students had to know that Georgetown is the chief port city in Guyana, and that Europe’s longest ice bridge connects the island of Hiiumaa to the mainland of Estonia.

Estonia is interesting (see Estonia: Tough campaign stop for Bernie Sanders), but most Americans would visit in the summer and there be unable to use this ice road. Guyana? Google says the annual GDP is roughly $3.4 billion. That’s 1/100th the GDP of a mid-sized city in China (chart). It is supposedly a great country for bird-watching and rainforest-lovers, but Guyana last made the U.S. news in the Jim Jones era.

In the recent posting about whether open offices are bad for women, a Facebook friend commented

Journalism in 2018: Pick a situation or practice. Say that women (or minorities) are disproportionately affected. Collect thunderous applause.

This NBC article supports that with the twist that the skill described, geographic knowledge, is almost completely useless in the Internet age.

Readers: In the Google Maps and Wikipedia age, what is the value of obscure geographical knowledge?

EU General Data Protection Regulation and the 1990s Web


In a spectacular example of off-topic commenting, Buf E. asked “about the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations. How would the GDPR have affected you as an entrepreneur starting a pioneering social network?” in response to “Captain Tammie is the anti-Sully”.

The GDPR (Wikipedia; 88-page PDF) certainly would seem to preclude the running of a site such as the original photo.net (described in Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing). It would have been too time-consuming to read all of the regulations and figure out how to comply. A “data protection officer” would be too expensive for a site that was started without the intention of collecting revenue. Being forced to delete stuff on user request would have been extremely burdensome for moderators and the site operator (we tried never to delete anything on photo.net if there were comments on it because then there would be cascading deletion of other users’ work).

On the other hand, the EU did not promulgate this regulation during the Great Age of Web and Internet Expansion. They promulgated it today when the trend is for 99 percent of page views to be Facebook and Google. Starting an online community in hopes of it catching on seems unrealistic when users are glued to Facebook (the way that slot machine gamblers are!).

I haven’t studied the GDPR in detail, but I don’t think it would be fair to blame the bureaucrats for making the Internet services market highly concentrated. Measured by revenue, the market was already highly concentrated as the GDPR went into effect.

Readers who are more informed: Does this make a practical difference?

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