Posts in: dmv

One of the better DC landscapes I’ve seen. And by a Serbian artist, no less. The painting hangs in the Residence of Serbia’s Ambassador to the United States, which just opened, and looks like it’ll be a nice venue for exhibits and gatherings.

A pop art painting of the Washington, DC skyline.

Janice Kai Chen at the Washington Post on pigeons versus the internet:

At certain data volumes and distances, the pigeon is a quicker option for large swaths of rural America, where internet speeds can lag far behind the national average.

And not just rural America. As I write this from the nation’s capital, reports 24 Mbps up. Federal agencies should bring back pigeons for sending large files back and forth.

The problem of optimization and scale

They are converting a modern office building into condos a few blocks down from my apartment, and by the looks of it they may as well have torn everything down and built it anew. I hope they will do that will all the brutalist federal garbage downtown, the FBI building first. Meanwhile, the late 19th-early 20th century townhouses scattered around DC have been switching seamlessly from commercial to residential and back for a hundred years now for little to no cost.

Optimization and scale: they work great, until they don’t. Just ask a salaried physician working for a conglomerate in the medical-industial complex, a large-scale operation which is being optimized to death (sadly not its own, but that of its component parts — patients and health care workers alike). All those large reptiles and mammals are extinct for a reason.

We discussed the problem of scale at the first RWRI I attended back in August 2020, the Beirut explosion still fresh in everyone’s mind. Less than a year later, a big ship blocked the Suez channel, as if to reinforce the message. I expect Nassim Taleb’s next book will have a chapter or three on the problem, even if “scale” doesn’t make it into the title.

What goes for biology, architecture, and logistics also goes for industry, and if there is one hyper-optimized massive-scale operation around, it’s Apple’s iPhone production. If and when its production chain comes toppling down, it will not be a black or a gray swan event, it will be snow-white, which is why I suspect (or, as an iPhone user, hope) they have contingencies.

And in practicing what I preach, I have slowly been transitioning away from GTD levels of hyper-productivity and into a 40,000 weeks mindset. Whether this is a sign of wisdom, experience, or just plain old age, well, who is to say? Why not all three?

In Washington DC Subway Memory Game you have to guess the names of as many DC Metro stations as you can. There are no extra points for guessing the location, though I would happily pay for that in-app purchase. After seven years of staring at those ceilings while commuting to Bethesda one would think I would be most familiar with the red line, and one would be correct — I had 23 of 27. My worst was the orange: 7 of 26, and two of those were overlaps with other lines.

If you liked the previously mentioned Secrets of… videos and station layout maps, this one is well worth checking out. (↬r/washingtondc, whose users of course had some rather uncharitable comments about bugginess of a free game made by an enthusiast. Never change, DC!)

Gorgeous weather in DC today. Even the sky was smiling.

Photo of the sky with a rainbow arc shaped like a smile.

So if not daily world news, what then? Well, Axios Local is a good option for DC, and has daily newsletter for more than two dozen other cities. StreetSense is a DC-only enterprise, and more relevant for me than whatever this is from The Washington Post. If the Council does start handing out vouchers to support local news, I know where mine will be going.

A 17-minute video on the Secrets of the DC Metro Red Line? Yes, please! There are some Blue and Green line secrets, all from Andy On Track, whose channel if well worth subscribing to — if only to get advance notice on the DC Metro’s remaining 3 lines. (ᔥr/washingtondc)

Promoting legislative reversal

When I last wrote about crime in D.C a man was murdered while watching a soccer game right next to my kids' elementary school. This was back in July. Since then, the murders increased even more in August and decreased to (still high!) 2022 levels in September. Then a congressman got carjacked in front of his apartment building and the news media were all over it.

I mentioned in passing how you can trace a direct line from bad decisions to even worse consequences. While there has been movement to correct some of the more egregious mistakes, I haven’t seen even a suggestion of a meaor suaculpa from a council member. Until now!

When the stakes are lower, such as lets say public transit fare evasion, there is more space for assigning responsibility. The press release announcing the new legislation and the history behind the reversal is as good of an example of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences and externalities as I’ve seen. You could, of course, trace the same well-intentioned path from calls for justice to murders on the soccer field, but that would of course not be so politically palatable.

All of this has reminded me of medical reversals and the unfortunately-titled (but good!) book about ending it. This is why it is unfortunate: medical reversal is when something that is standard medical practice despite lacking evidence of benefit goes out of fashion once data, usually from a randomized controlled trial, show it doesn’t work. Now, ending reversal could mean two things: that you keep doing the thing despite the new evidence, or that you never start doing the thing to begin with. The authors meant the latter, where my common-sense interpretation is the former. People do dumb stuff. We should promote their reversal. Now, “legislative reversal” and “legal reversal” are terms already reserved for when an appeals court overturns a lower court’s decision, so what should we call “medical reversal” for written law? There are plenty of examples: from customs enshrined in old legislation than is then abolished (like traditional medicine disappearing with evidence showing it doesn’t work) to seemingly progressive legislation which is in reality a fountain of unintended consequences becoming quickly reversed.

Whatever the name, the consequences are at least more definitive than with medical reversals, which are rarely full — people still insert intra-aortic balloon pumps and perform kypholasties, I hear — and outside of a full FDA withdrawal of approval never have as clear of a demarcation line as written law. And we shoud strive to promote it, not end it.

In contrast to Boston’s, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC is an unqualified success.

Washington DC, October 2020.

Photo of the white granit MLK memorial in Washington DC set against the black night time sky.

Flora and fauna, locked in an embrace at Dumbarton Oaks Gardens (not to be confused with the park, library, or museum, all within a stone’s throw).

Photo of a bee pollinating a red flower.