Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The election, in a nutshell

Undecided voters?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
I'd say that pretty much sums it up...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Congratulations Rays

Nice job - you guys earned it.  It's nice to have a real rival besides the Yankees.  The kid Longoria seems a little bit on the cocky side, but on the other hand a lot of folks say that about our second baseman.

At least now I don't have to stay up late to watch games, and maybe the duckboats'll get a little rest.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Improving transportation in Massachusetts

First of all: I live here. I really like it here. I make a good living. And I don't enjoy paying taxes that much.

OK. Now that that's out of the way, I think it's past due time to raise our taxes here. Which one, you ask? Well, our transportation infrastructure is falling apart. And tolls are high on our roads with (the Mass. Pike including the harbor tunnels and the Tobin Bridge) further increases scheduled. This combination isn't good. Also, the current toll structure is unfair as heck - cars traveling between east-west pay a distance-based toll (the Turnpike), and people traveling from my North Shore pay tolls on the Tobin Bridge and to use the harbor tunnels. However, the entire southeast portion of the state doesn't deal with tolls, nor do people in the northwest suburbs. All of I-93 is toll-free. Yet those people are heavy road users, too - the Big Dig took I-93 and put it underground, and the biggest project over the last 10 years or so as the Dig wound down was the widening of Route 3 to New Hampshire. We've also been rebuilding the I-95/128 sections around Canton and Westwood for a long time. These are expensive projects, and yet those road users pay nothing.

My solution? Well, the gas tax here has been fixed at approximately 21 cents per gallon since 1991. One of the lower gas taxes in the US. In 2006 (the last year for which I have data), that resulted in $674.6 million in revenue. The Turnpike Authority generated about $257 million in the same year from tolls (they also got money from leasing rights-of-way and their concessions). I couldn't find toll data from Massport for the Tobin Bridge, but I'd assume it's well under half of the total Pike toll revenue. Let's say $75 million just for giggles (probably high).

That gives us about $350 million total being brought in by tolls statewide.

Now for the science...

My solution: raise the gas tax by at least 20¢. 25¢ would be OK as well. That doubles the revenue in total to somewhere in the $1.35 billion range - about $300 million more than a high estimate of total toll revenue. Now here's where the good part comes. In the legislation enabling the tax hike, after a 6-month window all tolls would be eliminated. Future increases in gas taxes would be automatic and indexed to inflation - and all the revenue from this would be dedicated to highway maintenance and transportation (the MBTA and regional bus services).

So you will have more money available to dedicate to highway and bridge maintenance for starters. You can also divert some money to the MBTA to expand and improve service. The six-month crossover produces a temporary bump in revenue beyond that - which can go to fund some of the more pressing infrastructure needs in the state.

Another advantage of the gas tax is that it's a true user tax. The more gas you use, the higher the taxes you pay. And the reason you'd be using more gas is either you drive a lot (which increases wear on the roads) or you have a very inefficient vehicle (increasing wear on the environment). A higher tax is an incentive to use less of the taxed item. In this case, gas.

One other point - even with double the gas tax our gas prices would be lower than many other states. Connecticut prices are routinely around 30¢ more than Massachusetts prices. Maine is similar much of the time. By comparative standards, this is a pain-free way to deal with our infrastructure issues.

I'm going to start pushing hard to try and get this done on a legislative level. Who knows if I'll have any luck, but I do know folks to at least get it on someone's agenda.

And it would affect me - I pay the gas bill for all my employees. But I still think it's a fairer way to fund our transportation systems.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rating the new portables

Disclaimer: I haven't gotten my hands on one of the new MacBooks or MacBook Pros yet. I may not have time to for a while yet. This take is based entirely on published specs and reviews, along with the announcement info.

First - the price-reduced MacBook (plastic) for $999. It's simply a re-pricing of yesterday's $1099 model, but breaking the psychological $1000 barrier is important. This holds the line short-term until the first serious price cut on the new MacBook models.

Second - the new MacBook. I love that we've picked up some Pro features, like the multitouch trackpad and discrete VRAM. I also like the speed and the fact that it uses the same high-end chipset as the Pro. My one quibble is that Apple has eliminated the FireWire port (goodbye, Target Disk mode) without giving any sort of reasonable substitute. USB takes care of virtually every serious need but migration and troubleshooting are a lot harder without the FireWire port. And that also dictates that despite the greatly improved specs, there will be no use of this at all in the DV marketplace. Pity. Otherwise excellent.

Third - new MacBook Pro. The 17" model is essentially dead (it did not get changed at all - no redesign), so we'll skip it. The new specs are truly splendid. Still 4GB RAM supported (that won't change in laptops for a while yet), but cache is improved, bus speed is faster, they now use DDR3 RAM, bigger drives are standard, and coolest (though the software limits the coolness at the moment) is the fact that you can run on either the lower-power integrated graphics or the swank-ass dedicated GPU. Real neat. I also like that we don't have latch mechanisms anymore, and easy access to the hard drive (along with the DVD slot moving to the side).

This space efficiency comes at the cost of the FireWire 400 port (there's still a FireWire 800 port, but I'm wondering if the clock is ticking for the interface), and DVI has been replaced by DisplayPort. That has great long-term potential but right now it means you'll need a dongle to use pretty much anything but about 5 TVs and the new Apple Cinema Display 24" that ships in November (which also dumps FireWire, but adds a MagSafe plug so no more having to buy a separate adapter for work - yay!).

I like the new look of both, too. Pretty spiffy. I miss matte displays but I don't hate glossy the way some do. Personal taste.

Fourth, and finally, the MacBook Air. Meh. It got the new chipset (good - it should improve speed and battery life a little), DisplayPort (OK), and a bigger hard drive (120GB is usable, and the new 128GB SSD option is even better, if pricey). Still the same clock speeds, and still only 2GB of RAM.

Maybe the next update will give it some love (speeds of 2GHZ or more, and 4GB RAM installed, along with either a wired Ethernet port or another USB port). By then the HD should be up to 160 or maybe even 240GB.

I don't expect to own one of these new MacBook Pros anytime real soon (unless I either have an older machine die or hire someone else), but the good news for me is that if/when I do at least I'll be able to use my Apple discount. Makes it a little more palatable. I will be installing quite a few of them in the next few weeks, though - they are a truly nice ride...

Quick sports talk

First of all - the reasons the Sox will win this series and ultimately the World Series: Very good, tested starting pitching. 1-5 in the batting order. Very strong defense. Papelbon.

Why they'll lose: Too many injuries. No Mike Lowell (instead of Lowell/Youkilis you have Youk/Kotsay). They probably won't be pitching Lester again unless we get to 7 games. Beckett isn't Beckett this year (he must be hurt still). Mike Timlin is on the roster.

The good news: Even if they don't win this one, we've got two of the last four already. Not too shabby (and the only multiple winner so far this decade). The Yankees are in utter disarray. The way the Sox farm system has been working, reinforcements are arriving every year. They should remain competitive. To get in the playoffs 5 out of the last 6 years and win two titles is pretty special. To win 3 (this year if they do) would be amazing. The playoff streaks Atlanta and the Yankees had were on another level, but neither team has won this decade.

Football - with Brady down, the Patriots aren't going to win the Super Bowl this year, though they still well may be a playoff team. But the more important thing is that there is absolutely no powerhouse team this year. Period. There's a bunch of decent teams, each with serious flaws that are one bad player performance away from getting blown out. The Patriot philosophy of developing a good solid middle class of interchangable players seems to be getting adopted league-wide, and as a result the pickings are thinner. So pretty much no team (except maybe the Raiders) is truly horrible, but no team is really that good. 4 more weeks and we should know who will contecd but right now even the unbeaten Titans have issues.

In racing, did Carl Edwards just have a lousy week or what?

Monday, October 06, 2008


Jon Lester is the freakin' MAN! Wow. And the bullpen almost blew it, but held on enough to get the win. Onto Tampa!