I’m For Raising Local Gas Taxes

The Seattle Times reports today that Seattle-area Democrats are looking to raise area gas taxes by 15 cents over the next twelve years. This is a great idea, because not only does it fund repairs of two of the region’s major transportation arterials, but it also has an interesting possible side effect: as gas taxes go up, people will begin to look for cheaper alternatives.

In a word, hybrid cars.

But the problem is that the phase-in time is too slow. If we raise gas taxes that slowly, we run the risk of having funding cut off by people who don’t understand the reasoning behind the project now. In addition, it spurs complacency. The true problem in the world today is that people do not realize the true costs of the things we buy. In a consumerist society, we are not encouraged to understand real cost versus projected cost — projected cost being what we think the object is actually worth, versus the real cost of production and environmental impacts. This ties in closely to the debate over opening ANWR — opponents (like me) say that opening ANWR will damage a precious national wildlife refuge while only yeilding an oil supply equivalent to about three years. The proponents of such a plan argue that we don’t know what the yield will be because no oil exploration has been done. Both sides ignore some rather devastating cultural impact for local tribes who would be directly affected because their way of life keeps them in ANWR most days out of the year. The invasion of oil companies would be a drastic cultural impact for them and completely change their way of life.

Granted, this situation is nothing like ANWR, since there is little chance of this being construed as a bad proposal. It fixes transportation problems before they occur (sort of), rather than the DOT’s current pattern of “try to fix the problem that we should have designed for five years ago, only to attain five years later what we should have attained today”. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is already problematic, but it isn’t quite dead yet — everyone in the Seattle area knows it needs replacement. This gives us money to act on that.

Here’s hoping this doesn’t go to the myopic voters of Washington State.

Edit (1:19PM): In an odd coincidence, the Alaskan governor has written a position piece in the Seattle Times about ANWR drilling.

700M Initialization Ct’d

This morning, I got up, ran Synaptic (apt graphical package manager) to update the system, then tried once again to get onboard wireless working. As it turns out, I had forgotten to add the new laptop’s MAC address to the wireless MAC list, so the router was prohibiting the connection. Figures — you always miss the obvious. After tweaking the network scripts to get the key right, the connection works.

Up to this point, I’ve been following a lot of the instructions provided here, since this is a pretty good set. For safety to make sure that DVDs would play, I ran

ln -s /dev/cdrom /dev/dvd

Just to make sure the link existed. To verify DVD functionality, I popped in my copy of The Reduced Shakespeare Company and started xine. Changing the configuration’s experience level to “Master of the Known Universe”, I started the player, then accessed the volume control and turned off the muting on the PCM line. Sound works, video works. I also managed to get CRT out working using this driver, then wrote a little shell script resident in the driver’s directory so all I have to do is type crt on and crt off.

Going into Applications > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts, I set the volume mute, volume down, and volume up buttons to their appropriate Fn+F5, Fn+F6, and Fn+F7 key combinations, respectively.

After that, I transferred all my settings over from autumn to this computer. I’m now using this computer as the primary for all my work and holding on to autumn for a while until I’m certain I don’t need anything else off of her. The 700M has a much lower resolution than I’m used to, but hopefully that will do me some good in terms of eye strain. It’s also cool to be able to carry it around.

I did have to install the mozilla-j2re package to get some Java applications to cooperate with me, but that’s been the only major tweak required (not even really a major tweak). Other than that, it’s functioning very, very well.

Dell Inspiron 700M System Initialization

My new laptop arrived a few minutes ago (5:41PM, according to UPS tracking, after being loaded at 5:20AM — poor baby…).

And the assimilation process begins…

Step 1: boot from System Rescue CD and run the command run_qtparted. Autodetect the mouse (option 1), then select the hard drive. Delete all the existing Windows partitions, then split the drive in half by specifying 50% of the unallocated space. Two partitions are created — one is ext3 for the Linux filesystem and one is FAT32 for the Windows reinstall. This left about 8MB free at the end of the drive for me — no issue, since I don’t even use 10GB regularly, much less 30. Commit the changes, exit, and reboot.

Install order matters here — because I want to use Fedora Core 3’s boot loader (GRUB), I’m installing Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 first. This takes a while, even with a 1.6GHz processor, though I did fully format the FAT32 partition to an NTFS partition (I started at 6:10PM and ended the install at 7:15 or so.) I then started the Fedora Core 3 install.

My hard disk now has a partition layout as follows:

/dev/hda1 (Mount point /, ext3, 27588MB)
/dev/hda2 (NTFS, 28608MB)
/dev/hda3 (swap space for FC3, 1028MB)

I enabled the firewall software and configured it for web server access, then disabled SELinux. Selecting package groups, I chose:

X Window System (no changes from default)
Gnome Desktop Environment (default minus at-spi, gnopernicus, gok)
Editors (default selections)
Graphical Internet (firefox, gaim, gftp, thunderbird only)
Text-based Internet (lynx only)
Office/Productivity (default minus openoffice.org-i18n, planner)
Sound and Video (plus xcdroast)
Graphics (no changes from default)
Web Server (minus httpd-manual, webalizer, plus php-mysql)
MySQL Database (no changes from default)
Development Tools (no changes from default)
X Software Development (no changes from default)
Printing Support (no changes from default)

After formatting and installing, a reboot. I finished the install around 8PM. I set up my own FC3 account, then immediately switched into console. Logging in as root, I changed the init level to 3 to shut down X. I then modified the X configuration to match this xorg.conf, which was generated from another Inspiron 700M.

From there, I type init 5 and get back into X.

Now, I follow the Yum installation instructions posted here, then:

yum -y install libdvdcss
yum -y install xine xine-lib xine-lib-devel
yum -y install apt
yum -y install synaptic
yum -y install fortune fortune-bofh-excuses fortune-hitchhiker fortune-tao
yum -y install totem-xine

The wireless still isn’t functioning, and it’s time for bed, so more tackling this tomorrow.

25th Anniversary of Mt. St. Helens

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning of volcanic activity at Mount St. Helens. Yesterday, March 27th, marked the beginning of a series of explosions on the mountain that led up to the May 18th eruption and devastation of the landscape in that area. The USGS has an interesting timeline of events (the link points to the timeline of events for March 22-28, 1980).

It is strangely appropriate that Mount St. Helens is active again today, marking her own 25th anniversary with another round of rebuilding eruptions.

The local NBC affiliate, KING 5, has an article on this as well.

A Night of Improv

Once again this year, the cast of Whose Line is it Anyway? comes to Olympia, and once again, Amanda and me have tickets to see the show. It’s on June 3rd at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts (entitled “A Night of Improv“). They have already added a second show time at 9:30PM because of the popularity of this event, but we’re attending the 7:00 showing.

It should be just as fun as last year.

Back in Oly

We have returned to Olympia for the start of Spring Quarter. Tomorrow afternoon, we have matinee tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch, then the day after that, classes begin. I’ll be going on campus to get my student card validated, though I may have to wait to register, as I don’t have the appropriate information to do so yet. Oh, well.

Prius Test Drive

Finally, after about a year of lusting after the Prius, I got to go down to Toyota of Kirkland and take a rather long test drive (about an hour). The car was a black 2005 with package 6 (every option known to man), which includes driver/front passenger seat-mounted side and front/rear curtain airbags, smart key system, security alarm, HomeLink garage door opener, GPS navigation, JBL premium AM/FM cassette/6-disc in-dash CD changer w/(9) speakers, vehicle skid control, fog lamps, and HID headlamps. This particular car also had a 5-piece carpet floor/trunk mat set, cargo net, and first aid kit.

If I only liked the car before, I really, really like it now. It drove flawlessly — no losses in power, very responsive to the pedal, and the control placement is ideal to ensure that eyes are kept on the road. It’s a very comfortable car, though there are some odd points, mostly in the way of visibility. Looking out the back of the car from the driver’s side seat, there’s a crossbar that divides the rear window into two window components — the angle of the rearview mirror or the angle of the window made the lower half appear tinted, which was a little disorienting, since the window itself isn’t tempted. There are also two very strange blind spots on either side of the rear window, which means that it’s not all that easy to see when backing up. This can be compensated for by being extra aware when backing. The car also has this cool little beep that goes off when you’re in reverse so that you know you’re in reverse. Now if only they would make an audio signal by default when your turn signal’s been on too long.

Admittedly, you don’t need GPS navigation in a car unless you have an annoying habit of getting lost, but it’s still a cool little feature. I glanced at it a couple of times when I was driving and it was fairly accurate — not perfect, necessarily, based on my knowledge of the area, but pretty good. Buttons on the steering wheel allows for control of interior temperature, the Bluetooth hook-in to the cell phone, and the audio system. It even has a trigger for voice activation, which is apparently wired into the navigation system in addition to the phone system. Thus, you can activate the voice feature, then say something like “Show me Chinese places” and it should, theoretically, show the nearest Chinese eatery. We didn’t test this, though.

It’s very, very hard to tell that the car’s on if it’s sitting still with the air conditioning and everything else off. This is probably the most impressive thing about it — I can actually hear conversations on the highway. In normal cars, this isn’t possible at all, and is quite nice for me. Cabin noise is minimal for the most part when the car is actually running. I didn’t have a single problem hearing both Amanda and my mother in the back seat when they were talking. I could probably rattle on all day about the drive, but it took us all over the place and (obviously, by requirement) showed off the major features.

The sales consultant also walked us through the package lists — I’m either looking at package 4 or package 6, with additional accessories (probably the exact accessories list that was on the car I drove today).

If you ever get a chance to drive a 2004 or 2005 Prius, do it — it’s a great experience, even if you don’t end up liking the car in the end. It’s surprisingly luxurious for a car of its size, and I quite enjoyed the experience.

A Letter to the U.S. Supeme Court

To Justices Rehnquist, Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsberg, and Breyer:

Regarding the case of Terri Schiavo: thank you. Thank you for not trying to set a national precedence on how to handle our own deaths. Thank you for not taking an already painful and complicated case and trying to render it within our limited understanding of what death means to others. Thank you for deciding that, in cases like these, you have no voice in whether people live or die. Most of all, thank you for realizing that the priorities of the nation are better assigned to other cases.

I am not trying to say that the Schiavo case is not important, or that those issues don’t touch the inner reaches of what it means to be human in a modern world. It is simply my personal belief that such issues are not the purview of the highest court in the nation. Your recognition of this fact upholds my faith in the national courts.

Thank you for your work.

New Dell Laptop

I decided, due to the problems with autumn’s hinges and the fact that autumn is over three and a half years old (I’ve had her since August 29, 2001), that it was time to get a replacement laptop. I settled on a Dell Inspiron 700M, which is a nice little lightweight laptop unit. I’m going lightweight to save my back some strain when carrying the unit around; I’m also hoping to take my laptop on campus a bit more often than I currently do (whether I will or not has yet to be settled).

Specifications are:

  • Processor: Intel� Pentium� M Processor 725 (1.60GHz/400MHz FSB)
  • Display: 12.1-in WXGA (1280×800)
  • Memory: 512MB DDR SDRAM (1 DIMM)
  • Hard Drive: 60GB
  • Operating System: Windows XP Professional
  • Network Cards: Integrated LAN; Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 Internal Wireless (802.11 b/g, 54Mbps)
  • Modem: Internal 56K Modem
  • CD/DVD-ROM: 24X CD Burner/DVD Combo Drive
  • Primary Battery: 65 WHr 8-cell Lithium Ion Primary Battery

The new laptop will be backed by a 4 year limited warranty with at-home service (plus nights and weekends), as well as CompleteCare Accidental Damage Service. Better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion, and the likelihood is that this new system will last about as long as autumn did.

More than likely, since it’s a 60GB drive, I’ll immediately be installing Fedora Core 3 on half of it and Windows XP Professional on the other half, giving both 30GB of space. I continue to use a dual boot for cases when I need to check displays of web pages in Windows, or when i want to use Windows applications and ensure that they run well without worrying too much about emulation.

So what happens to autumn? I will likely be recycling her through Dell, along with all the component parts that I can fit in the return box. I already have enough computer parts to get rid of, so if I can save myself the hassle, I will.