Just The Pass, Ma’am

A colleague stopped at my office on her way into work a couple weeks ago to report a wonderfully exciting new discovery on the Green Line: MBTA police implementing the very policy I’ve advocated since our fair city first introduced the CharlieCard.

The MBTA police, operating undercover, will watch people board at the rear doors, then show their badges and ask to scan everyone’s CharlieCards. Those with valid monthly passes quietly return to their books and newspapers.  Those with only stored-value cards (or no cards at all) get citations.

Although I haven’t seen any news reports on the subject, anecdotal reports from my coworkers and websites suggest the first citation is about $15.  For a second offense, the penalty jumps to $100 or $125.

I wholeheartedly approve!

I carry a valid pass, so I’m entitled to board any MBTA vehicle at any time.  I’ll happily prove that fact to an inspector whenever I’m asked.  Thus, let me board efficiently at any door.  Catching only a few people trying to exploit the leeway granted me and my fellow honest commuters can compensate for any lost fare revenue.

Famous Photographs

I stumbled upon a site called World’s Famous Photos, which starts out just enthralling and slowly becomes agonizingly depressing.

You might first get drawn to some particularly iconic historical photographs, like Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima or “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square.  You might peek in on the lighter fare like the cover of Abbey Road or V-J Day in Times Square.

But in the end you won’t be able to avoid the September 11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the wars, famines, fires, protests, and genocides that a century of photography has recorded and that now sit arrayed before you on your computer screen just waiting to be absorbed.

I’m Alive!

I visited my new doctor for a routine physical exam last week.  It’s a nice, modern office, with a computerized records system, complete with my lab appointments and lab results.  Glancing at the top of my own chart as my doctor reviewed my records, I noticed this field in bold lettering at the top:

Patient Status: Alive

Phew.  I was worried.


I’m reading an absolutely fascinating book called Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, analyzing what makes traffic happen, and what’s happening in our brains when we try to drive.

You may be wondering how it is that humans can even do things like drive cars or fly planes, moving at speeds well beyond that ever experienced in our evolutionary history.  … The short answer is that we cheat.  We make the driving environment as simple as possible, with smooth, wide roads marked by enormous signs and white lines that are purposely placed far apart to trick us into thinking we are not moving as fast as we are.  It is a toddler’s view of the world, a landscape of outsized, brightly colored objects and flashing lights, with harnesses and safety barriers that protect us as we exceed our own underdeveloped capabilities.

It’s got bits of civil engineering, bits of psychology, and reams of experimental evidence that all make me wish I were back on a highway just to see it all in action.

I guess I’ll just settle for reading a book about mass transit while sitting comfortably on the train in the morning.


Congratulations, Vermont, in legalizing same-sex marriages, in spite of a senseless veto from Governor Jim Douglas.  During the campaign to legalize “civil unions” back in 2000, those opposed to the new law ran the “Take Back Vermont” campaign, which inspired those in favor to proclaim, “Take Vermont Forward.”  Forward indeed!  Vermont has become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through an act of legislation, instead of a judicial mandate.

A colleague joked at lunch today:

I was totally against it [same-sex marriage] until I heard it was optional.

But seriously, folks.  The Boston Globe ran an Associated Press story on the matter today, quoting Governor Douglas on why he vetoed the bill:

“What really disappoints me is that we have spent some time on an issue during which another thousand Vermonters have lost their jobs,” the governor said Tuesday. “We need to turn out attention to balancing a budget without raising taxes, growing the economy, putting more people to work.”

First, wouldn’t the legislature have resumed its economy-related activities faster if you hadn’t made them first override your useless veto (by 23 votes to 5)?

More importantly, the United States spends billions of dollars on weddings every year, averaging $20,000 for a single ceremony and upwards of $80 billion nationwide.  That money goes into wildly diverse markets and often to local businesses.  Services (florists, caterers, musicians, photographers), jewelers (for rings), real estate owners (for both the ceremony and reception spaces), other property renters (for furniture, tents, dishes), printers (for announcements, invitations, place cards, et cetera), and even the travel industry (for both honeymoon travel and for out-of-town family attending the ceremony) — not to mention the wedding industry’s own internal services like gown designers and formalwear renters — get enormous payouts every time two people get married.

Maybe some governors would rather Massachusetts get all that economy-boosting glory, eh?

Cheat Codes

When I first learned to program in Microsoft’s QBASIC language, one of the first things I did was add a cheat code to the Nibbles game that would let my snake could pass through walls.

Sophie, at age three, prefers the Mickey Mouse game to Nibbles, but her instincts are the same.  One of her games asks her to find all the shapes in a cartoon scene.  First, find all the squares!  Windows, sidewalk squares, fences, and even a suspiciously square tree are all valid choices.  Each one she clicks gets a colorful outline and some praise from Minnie Mouse.

She’s learned, however, that pressing the “I” key offers a “Hint” by outlining one of the shapes not yet found.  So how does she play now?  The moment she’s asked to find squares, she just holds “I” until they’re all highlighted and the game is over!

What I want to know most is: how did she figure that out in the first place?