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May 27 at 12:12pm

Organizing CDs & DVDs

I can’t quite get used to a world where everything is digital. I still live in the physical world.  I even still buy CDs!  And I like to watch DVDs — they are on my TV, the picture is sharp, the access is immediate.  Why settle for less?  We don’t yet live in the perfect world of downloads, so we are burdened with physical excess. 

But I also live in NYC — which means one thing I don’t have is space.  And I have over 4000 CDs and probably half as many DVDs.  So what can I do so I don’t have to look at all those ugly jewelboxes and the like?  My GOOD IDEA here is far from perfect.
Nonetheless, it was a happy day when I threw all that plastic away and cleared out the shelves.  I have filed all of my discs into three ring binders with removable pages, sorting them by genre and then alphabetical within that.  It was a long time-consuming project and requires considerable updating to this day.  The binders remain too cumbersome.  But it’s an improvement from the clutter and eye-sore.  I can’t understand why discs continue to come in those plastic cases.
I do have most of my music digitized now and on various hard drives, but if there was a fire, I think I would take the binders over the drives.  Go figure.
The binders I use are available here.  Let me know if there is anything better out there.

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May 27 at 9:52am

How To Stop Traffic Jams

I have never been good at waiting in line.  Put me in a car stuck in traffic, and you will quickly learn why I live in NYC where you can keep your drive time to an absolute minimum.  Traffic is definitely one of the rings in my vision of hell.

I was quite pleased to find out that traffic jams are curable.  Up until now, I had envisioned the only solution to be a giant robotic claw from out of space that would just pick up the problem vehicles and move them to the side of the road or maybe another highway altogether.
This GOOD IDEA came via Clive Thompson, who keeps an interesting blog at: http://www.collisiondetection.net
Awhile back he wrote about traffic jams and their solution, even providing some good video footage of experiments.  They are kid of beautiful.  Clive Thompson writes:
This is fascinating to watch: A team of Japanese researchers have created “shockwave traffic jams” that replicate the dynamics of real-world highways.
For 15 years, researchers have known that traffic jams can emerge out of the blue. All it takes is for one driver to momentarily slow down, at which point the person behind him hits the brakes, forcing the person behind him to hit the brakes even harder, and so on, and so on. One teensy butterfly flaps its wings, and pretty soon the whole damn interstate’s a mess. If you’re in a helicopter, you can watch the “shockwave” of slowed-down cars propagate backwards through traffic like a wave through water. Physicists have long produced eerily accurate computer models that replicate this phenomenon precisely. But because it’s pretty hard to commandeer an entire highway for the purposes of research, no one has ever replicated the phenomenon in a real-world experiment.

Until now! The Japanese team got a cluster of vehicles to drive in a circle. As theNew Scientist reports, here’s what happened:

They asked drivers to cruise steadily at 30 kilometres per hour, and at first the traffic moved freely. But small fluctuations soon appeared in distances between cars, breaking down the free flow, until finally a cluster of several vehicles was forced to stop completely for a moment.

That cluster spread backwards through the traffic like a shockwave. Every time a vehicle at the front of the cluster was able to escape at up to 40 km/h, another vehicle joined the back of the jam.

The shockwave jam travelled backwards through the ring of vehicles at roughly 20 km/h, which is the same as the speed of the shockwave jams observed on roads in real life, says lead researcher Yuki Sugiyama, a physicist in the department of complex systems at Nagoya University.

“Although the emerging jam in our experiment is small, its behaviour is not different from large ones on highways,” he told New Scientist.

Check out the video of the experiment. Towards the end, the shockwave becomes deliciously mobile — you can really see it moving backwards.

This also puts me in mind of William Beatty, the electrical engineer who — while stuck in traffic in 1998 – figured out a way to hack traffic jams and erase them.Basically, when he was stuck in a jam, he’d slow down until he had a really large amount of space between him and the car in front of him. Then he moved forward in at very slow, uniform speed, so that he no longer stopped and started. Sure enough, the wave stopped at him: Everyone behind him began driving at a uniform 35 mph. “By driving at the average speed of the traffic around me, my car had been ‘eating’ the traffic waves,” he wrote. The only problem, of course, is that he himself was stuck traveling at the average speed of the wave in front of him, which — at 35 mph — is pretty pokey.

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May 26 at 11:30pm


One of the promises of our time is that we will find out faster what some of those things that just maybe might make our lives a little bit better are.  There’s no shortage of recommendations out there from all kinds of sources, whether we want them or not.  Sorting them out, weighing them, mixing them in is one of our challenges. 

When I find some sort of trick that brings a new level of organization to my life, or some big concept that helps me get a new perspective on things, the dream of a better world seems a little more real.  
This blog is dedicated to the simple idea that can bring change.  It’s also dedicated to the complex thought that changes an entire perspective.  Mostly, I hope it can be about the collective effort, the belief that if we share what we know, we can all learn a little bit faster.
This site is also a reflection of the condition of the overworked yet ambitious (and only ambitious for more of the better) contemporary being.  There’s so much that I want to do, and what feels like so little time to do it in. This then is the first step toward bringing something into focus; the faith, the hope, that by putting it out there, a discussion can take hold.  
I hope to post a good idea a week.  I am going to aim to keep the blog alive for one year.  With a little help, maybe more can be done.

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