And you live where?

Most of us can identify our city or town easily enough, but closer-in definitions elude some of us: “Yeah, but what neighborhood?” And why is it called that, anyway?

The Seattle-based Annie E. Casey Foundation has been examining the impact of neighborhood designations through its Making Connections initiative, aimed at fostering lasting changes in 10 U.S. cities over a 10-year period. Claudia J. Coulton, a professor at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University who’s been part of the project, says understanding the challenges associated with resident involvement necessitated a serious look at neighborhood identity.

Researchers, for a report Coulton co-authored, asked residents in the 10 participating cities to name their particular neighborhood and then draw a map of it. The study revealed a striking disconnect between residents’ definitions of their neighborhoods versus official boundaries. Altogether close to 70 percent of those surveyed provided a name for their neighborhood, but only 25 percent of them provided the right one.

The survey respondents also consistently misidentified the size of their neighborhoods to be drastically smaller than their formal boundaries. While residents drew, on average, 0.35 square-mile maps of their neighborhoods, the typical neighborhood area was 2.2 square miles.

The executive summary of that report suggests that the development of neighborhood identity generally does not proceed from the top down:

Local experts confirmed that the resident-defined neighborhoods revealed through this method were understandable based on a variety of historical, physical, and organizational factors. Moreover, they concluded that the spaces and names that showed resident consensus had already been serving or could serve in the future as the basis for resident-engagement efforts. The findings from this analysis suggest that the adoption of externally imposed or arbitrary neighborhood boundaries may be problematic for community initiatives. The lack of fit with place as experienced by residents is apt to be a barrier to authentic resident engagement. If successful community work requires collective action, then arbitrary neighborhood units are unlikely to bring together residents who share the common purpose that comes from identification with a place and a sense of its possibilities.

We are perhaps fortunate in Oklahoma City in that we have an active Neighborhood Alliance to provide support for neighborhoods looking to improve their visibility or viability. My own neighborhood is defined by city ordinance, but that ordinance was sought by actual residents, petitioning for recognition (and zoning) as an Urban Conservation District. (The UCD was set up in 2003, just before I moved in; real-estate agents were already using it as a selling point.)

The level of “resident engagement” varies across town. I suspect it’s a bit higher in the northwest quadrant, where most of the special residential-zoning districts (UCD or Historic) are located.

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The lead-off man

It is seldom wise to deny LeeAnn anything — her wrath is implacable and her methods are inscrutable — but I have to beg off for one-twelfth of this meme of hers, on the basis that the first post of every year (since 2007, anyway) has been devoted to the worst post titles of the previous year, so there’s no January entry. That said:

  • February: The trouble with those little candy hearts is that there’s no room to print DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH.
  • March: Remember when City Council elections were non-partisan?
  • April: This assumes, arguendo, that (1) there will be a “now” five years from now and that (2) I will be around to see it.
  • May: The kinks, and not the ones who were the Village Green Preservation Society either.¹
  • June: Before you ask: no, I’m not praying for the end of time.
  • July: Hadn’t heard from her since November, and it’s not like she’s learned any new songs since then, but I suppose there’s something to be said for consistency.
  • August: I’ve been working all week on a plan to raise the national snark ceiling.
  • September: Actually, it’s been several decades since I was a minor, but these things still cheese me off.
  • October: Presumably you’ve read the book review; now here’s what it didn’t say.
  • November: Well, not technically, but hey, I’m not gonna complain.¹
  • December: In the proper Carlinian sense, you may be sure.¹

¹ Not technically a sentence.

(Similar project here.)

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They could have just put a bird on us

But the Portland Trail Blazers had somewhat higher aspirations for the evening, and their visit to the ‘Peake resulted in the second straight loss for the Thunder, 103-93.

Not everyone was happy with the officiating, including radio guy Matt Pinto, and Scott Brooks, who drew a technical after reacting to a call. Still, the serious damage was done, not so much by the zebras, but by LaMarcus Aldridge, always a thorn in OKC’s side, who rolled up 30 points tonight. (Four other Blazers landed in double figures.) It was pretty even through the first half, the Thunder taking a two-point lead into the locker room, but after that, Portland cranked it up in classic Thunder style: lots of foul shots and tough second-half defense.

Thabo Sefolosha was scratched for the evening, giving James Harden a start at the two. The Beard led all OKC scorers with 23, though it took him 40 minutes to get there. Russell Westbrook is back to being sparkly — he had 22 — but Kevin Durant was unusually bucket-resistant, putting up 26 shots, only eight of which went. And the remaining bench players could manage only 14 points between them.

Meanwhile, the Blazers got to the foul line 36 times (that you can attribute to the officials, maybe), dropping in 29. (OKC was 16 of 21.) Portland also did sterling glass work, outrebounding the Thunder 46-40. The worst part, of course, is losing to a Northwest Division rival, which may loom large toward the end of the season.

But that comes later. Right now, or two days from now anyway, there’s that three-day weekend with three games. A chastened Scott Brooks will of course point out that you have to play them one at a time.

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Dew diligence

This seems rather cut and dried:

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth on Dec. 14 continued a case management conference until PepsiCo’s motion to dismiss is heard in a lawsuit claiming a mouse was found in a can of Mountain Dew.

The defendant is granted 28 days or until Jan. 11 to answer or otherwise plead the plaintiff’s second amended complaint.

Until you get to this part:

Pepsi denies [Ronald] Ball’s claims, and has moved to dismiss the case.

In support of that move, Pepsi cited expert testimony that the mouse would have dissolved in the soda had it been in the can from the time of its bottling until the day the plaintiff drank it.

Got that, Ron? At worst, you would have had a 12-ounce can of presweetened mouse juice. Very thick mouse juice. With caffeine.

(Via Gizmodo.)

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Let us all percolate together

I am indebted to Terence Tao for this highly comprehensible Executive Summary:

When one heats an iron bar magnet above a certain special temperature — the Curie temperature — the iron bar will cease to be magnetised; when one cools the bar again below this temperature, the bar can once again spontaneously magnetise in the presence of an external magnetic field. This phenomenon is still not perfectly understood; for instance, it is difficult to predict the Curie temperature precisely from the fundamental laws of physics, although one can at least prove that this temperature exists. However, Chayes, McKellar, and Winn have shown that for a certain simplified model for magnetism (known as the Ashkin-Teller model), the Curie temperature is equal to the critical temperature below which percolation can occur; this means that even when the bar is unmagnetised, enough of the iron atoms in the bar spin in the same direction that they can create a connected path from one end of the bar to another. Percolation in the Ashkin-Teller model is not fully understood either, but it is a simpler phenomenon to deal with than spontaneous magnetisation, and so this result represents an advance in our understanding of how the latter phenomenon works.

The advantage of the Ashkin-Teller model is that its one-dimensional nature makes it possible to solve exactly, even if its correspondence to reality is occasionally a trifle askew.

The Chayes-McKellar-Winn paper is available in PDF form from McKellar’s Web site, and this is the McKellar in question:

Danica McKellar circa 2009

I do not claim to understand all the mathematics involved. I am delighted, however, that she does: by now Danica McKellar might be better known for her several math books than for playing Winnie Cooper in the not-quite-forgotten TV series The Wonder Years. (She’s thirty-seven years old today.)

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But is it hard to steer?

Sammy Hagar, we’ve found you a girlfriend:

A BMW driver is threatening to sue her local council claiming plans for a blanket 20mph speed limit will damage its powerful engine.

Diane Greenwood, 47, says her £25,000 car struggles to cope in fourth gear at such low speeds and she will be forced to drive around in third, putting extra strain on the engine and creating more pollution.

It is the usual policy of this site to side with the leadfooted female, but maybe not this time. If it’s struggling in fourth, it’s lugging, and it will do less of that in third. At 20 mph, in fact, you might as well be in second.

(For those who care: A Eurospec 320d — they won’t send us one — churns out 181 hp and 280 lb/ft of torque, unless she spent the extra few quid for the EfficientDynamics Edition, which seems doubtful.)

Besides, Diane, you need to get out of town more often:

Wider support for 20mph zones is understood to be a condition agreed by the Lib Dems in return for backing an increase in the motorway speed limit to 80mph.

Which, if nothing else, shows the advantage of the parliamentary system: our own liberal Democrats usually offer nothing in trade for their loony ideas.

(Via Fark.)

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I, domestic

There are two things you can always count on with contemporary (which is to say “within the last few decades”) bedsheets: the fitted sheet wears out long before the flat sheet, and the flat sheet is easier to fold.

As a rule, I rotate through two or three sets of sheets, and toss the worst when I buy new ones. Unfortunately for this scheme, I was on the best set Sunday night, and apparently I thrashed enough to turn the Known Weak Spot in the fitted sheet into a major rip. (It was loud enough to wake me up, even.)

Fortunately, my criteria are not complex — no polyester, no microfiber, ~300 thread count — so snagging (whoops!) a new set proved to be relatively uncomplicated. (I am distrustful of packages claiming four-digit thread counts.) I went for a gold color this time, which will clash more with the comforter, so I have less of an excuse to put off replacing the comforter, which is starting to show Known Weak Spots on its own.

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The old men down the road

You had to figure that Dallas wasn’t going to keep losing to Oklahoma City indefinitely, and the Mavs defended their home court with something resembling vigor tonight, handing those young upstarts from Up North their first setback of the season, 100-87.

Thunder shooting was poor at 40.8 percent, and Thunder shooting from three-point range was ghastly at 26.3. (It didn’t help that Daequan Cook, who was unwell Saturday, was inactive tonight.) Turnovers were down, for once, but there’s something askew on any night where Kendrick Perkins outshoots Kevin Durant from the stripe. (Perk hit five of six, KD four of seven.) And the OKC bench was held to 25 points, all of them by guards James Harden and Eric Maynor, while the Dallas reserves contributed 47.

Obligatory Dirk reference: Yes, Dirk was there. Twenty-six points’ worth. He wasn’t too great with the long ball — one of five — but then he didn’t have to be. I have nightmares of Nowitzki aged a hundred and six, still hitting from 18 feet out, and I suspect fans of about 29 NBA teams do likewise.

The Trail Blazers come to town tomorrow, followed by two days off, and then a back-to-back-to-back: against Houston, against Houston again at their place, and then back home against San Antonio. The foreshortened season makes these things necessary; we can only hope that the players can make them bearable.

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Reclaiming a little bit of street

Does this sound at all familar?

Most streets were multilane one-way thoroughfares, and many curbs had sacrificed their parallel parking for additional travel lanes. Bicycle facilities were nonexistent, and traffic sped too fast for bikes to share the road — or for pedestrians to feel comfortable on sidewalks — as oversized lanes encouraged highway speeds. Street trees were in short supply, and most intersections had overlong turning lanes, further discomfiting pedestrians.

Yep. Downtown Oklahoma City, prior to Project 180, which is now being trimmed back a bit due to cost overruns. (For an overview, see Planning, the magazine of the American Planning Association, May/June ’11; the Jeff Speck article excerpted here is available as a PDF.)

The cost issues suggest that smaller-scale makeovers might be in order, and Nancy Friedman’s Word of the Week seems to have arrived at precisely the right time:

Parklet: A small city park created by replacing one or two parking spaces, or an unused bus stop, with a platform on which planters and other amenities are installed. The parklet is publicly sanctioned but constructed and maintained with private funds.

If your reaction is “What? Give up parking spaces?” you should know that the birthplace of the parklet, San Francisco, is legendarily short of parking, but they’re going ahead with the concept, with the proviso that these little intrusions into the asphalt are still considered experimental:

Technically temporary, they’re designed to slip through city bureaucracy. Permits last one year, at which point the parklet is reevaluated at a public hearing. “It’s representative of a new kind of city planning: full-scale prototypes and iterative, changeable design,” says Matthew Passmore of the firm Rebar, which has designed and built three parklets so far.

And if there’s one concept we’re trying to learn in downtown OKC, it’s how to work variations on the “standard” urban themes. A parklet or two will elicit smiles from our growing number of pedestrians, and will probably annoy a couple of people who have to walk another whole quarter of a block to park. Were I in the Urban Redevelopment division, I think I’d like those odds.

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Heavy chart action

Television news requires visuals whenever possible, and so Norwegian news program Dagsrevyen opened up a story about new research in optical treatment with a suitable graphic.

Or maybe not so suitable:

Screen shot from Dagsrevyen December 2011

An editor for the news series told Norwegian paper VG:

“We retrieved the picture from one of our image agencies and took it without taking a closer look. If we’d seen what it said we wouldn’t have used it.”

If you can’t read below line 5 (P W N 3 D), here’s what follows:

  1. U R A N 0 0 B
  2. L M A O R O T F
  3. K T H X B Y E :P

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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Debtholes

Last fall, I took a rhetorical shot at “all these third-party debt weasels who buy written-off accounts at pennies on the dollar and then robocall everyone in the Western Hemisphere in an effort to find someone stupid enough to pay them.”

Will Truman, far more patient than I, describes his own experience with such:

The message goes something like “This call is for Jane Jones. If this is not Jane Jones, please hang up now. This involves debt collection and if you are not Jane Jones and you do not hang up, you are guilty of violating federal confidentiality laws.”

Of course, my answering machine doesn’t hang up. So, it’s a felon. I guess I am, too, since I have listened to the message all the way through. Oddly, there’s nothing after the stern warning that tells me anything that I didn’t already know from before the warning except for the name of the debt collection agency and the 1-800 number to call in order to pay up. But you know, that would actually be a helpful thing to tell me before the warning, if only so that I can call them back and let them know that Jane Jones can no longer be reached at this number. If I call back, though, they will know that I listened longer than I should have (and that my answering machine and I are both felons).

Jane Jones, of course, was not available for comment.

The catch here, as you may have already discerned, is that if you don’t pick up, they’re not going to assume that Jane Jones isn’t here; they’re going to keep the little autodialer running just as long as they can until someone is insane enough to say “I will pay.” It is, I believe, in our best interest to let these people continue to run up enormous toll charges, thereby reducing their return on their dubious “investment.”

I figure that if I actually owe someone money, they can by God send me a proper bill. If they can’t, screw ‘em.

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Quick and non-dirty

“Less is more,” said Mies, though hardly anyone seemed to believe him.

Jane Pratt apparently believed him. The old Jane magazine had a feature called “Makeunder,” as opposed to the ubiquitous makeover: replace the overdone face with something minimal and fresher-looking. And now we’re seeing the Makeunder on xojane.com, very much in the same spirit.

The subject of the most recent Makeunder is Sammy “Sweetheart” Giancola of Jersey Shore, who says it takes her two hours to prep, preen, and otherwise primp. Total time for the Makeunder: five minutes flat. Apparently Mies was right after all.

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Strange search-engine queries (309)

Another year, which means another bunch of Mondays, which means this series goes on and on. And on.

“amc” “pacer” “clock radio”:  Nice to see that one of these ancient goldfish bowls is finding a new life on a night stand.

car has transmission problem. can i drivr on freeway:  For about ten, maybe fifteen feet. Suggestion: sell it and buy an AMC Pacer.

deadpool filthy rotted “schroeder” mike seth:  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I figure that if he’s already filthy and rotted, I’m thinking that he’s ineligible for the current dead pool.

i feel like im losing my social skills:  Is this the same guy who’s asked this three times before? In that case, the answer is Yes.

people keep stealing my pens:  You wouldn’t have this problem if you had some social skills.

“second life” “meghan’s” shemales:  So that’s where all your Linden dollars are going.

grease pick up blogs:  Conversely, blogs can and do pick up grease.

HAS BEANS:  And, if he has a blog, grease to fry them in.

girl in bra in jail:  The fetishists are getting ever more specific.

zooey deschanel bun in the oven:  For now, she remains bunless, so to speak.

what is lesley gore’s bra size:  It’s her undies, and she’ll talk if she wants to.

michele bachmann legs:  By now you should have already seen this picture:

Michele Bachmann sitting quietly

(Via The Bachmann Cometh.)

a visual i didn’t need:  Geez, you should have told me that before I posted the picture.

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Overlord of the flies

One of the inherent difficulties in politics as we know it is that one man’s boon is another man’s boondoggle, that “roads to nowhere” might actually go somewhere, possibly even somewhere worth going.

Set the controls for the spring of 2008, and here’s what we find:

A conservative fiscal watchdog group recently gave Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena [CA], the “French Kiss Off Award” for sending $211,000 to France to study an agricultural pest.

The mock honor came from Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which publishes an annual compendium of what the group considers pork barrel legislation.

Thompson defended his earmark:

“The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” he said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”

And in olive-growing portions of California, Bactrocera oleae is indeed a threat:

From what I’m hearing around the Valley, this past Fall’s crop was particularly hard hit. Ours certainly was. We didn’t have a large crop as it was, since our trees seem to be on an every other year boom and bust cycle. One year we’ll have just enough olives for brining for our own use, the next year we’ll be hauling bin after bin down to the Community Press. Still, what we had this year — apparently every single olive on every single tree — was crawling with Olive Fruit Fly larvae.

Still, they hit on a solution that didn’t require a government grant:

Seems the one thing these little critters like better than olives is torula yeast. Don’t look for this in your local health food store. One article calls it “a questionable taste additive”. Apparently, it’s put in cheaper processed foods and dog chow to enhance the flavor. Although, having smelled it, I’m not sure who would find it palatable unless you like a gamey, meaty, yeasty flavor.

But, as I said, the Olive Fruit Fly loves it. And if you buy a load of $15 ball traps and bait them with the pellets, you can wipe out most, if not all of your invading flies. Or you can save the $15 per tree for the traps and do what John did. Collect as many old plastic water bottles as you can find, punch holes in them, drop in a torula yeast tablet apiece and string one from each of your olive trees.

A wholly admirable, and mostly organic — and I suppose you could recycle those old plastic water bottles — solution to a difficult problem. Whether the USDA, in Paris or otherwise, would have figured this out, I couldn’t tell you; on the other hand, just because a given research project sounds amusing doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious.

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A whole Lada car

This unassuming little notchback is the latest offering from Russia’s AvtoVaz:

2012 Lada Granta

Renault owns a quarter of AvtoVaz, but the Lada Granta shows little or no Frenchmobile influence. To save a few rubles, the Granta was spun off the smaller Kalina platform, so you’ll find little of the latest and putatively greatest technology: the sole engine offered at first is a 1.6-liter SOHC four with about 80 hp, stirred by a five-speed manual. (On the way: a 1.4L DOHC four with 90 hp. Still no automatics.)

Left Lane News reports on pricing and options:

Granta buyers will be able to choose between two trim levels. The first is called “standard” and carries a base price of $7,500, $400 more than Lada was shooting for when it was developing the car. For that price the Granta has to settle with black plastic bumpers, steel wheels and roll up windows.

The second trim is called “classic” and is much better equipped. For $8,500, customers get luxury features such as power steering, electric windows, ABS, a stereo, and power door locks. A GPS system, side curtain airbags and ESP are on the options list.

AvtoVaz hopes to sell 100,000 of these little boxes a year, and reportedly already has orders for 20,000. No word on any export versions, though there’s obviously no way they’d come to the States, and Lada has mostly withdrawn from the Canadian market.

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It’s all yours

I’m declaring an open thread to start out the year. Do your — well, not “worst” exactly, but you know what I mean.

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