Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In which I feel the urge to write a bad poem about a current news story...

On the contretemps over the Oxford Professorship of Poetry.

An unusual academic event; the press looks for a handle.
Trading in gossip; electioneering run amok; a scandal.
One is out for [alleged] impropriety.
The other resigns for the good of society.
I myself feel a distinct lack of piety.
The post is open again.
I nominate Gervase Fen.

Re-use, fix... if you have an in-home service plan

A few weeks ago, the screen on the Dell notebook I am currently typing on went a little crazy (wavy lines) and then blank. (A computer's version of a migraine?) I panicked. Then I turned on my wife's computer, went on-line, and followed the suggestion of someone on some website to plug the computer into an external monitor. I dragged the monitor from our old desktop to my desk, plugged in the computer and all seemed well, or at least, I could stop panicking because it clearly wasn't my hard drive dying.

Of course, I still had no screen. I was too busy then, in the middle of the semester, to deal with it, so I just worked on the external monitor for a few days until--out of the blue--the screen came back. So when it died again last week, I didn't panic. Instead I hooked up the trusty CRT and fiddled with the screen a little. And it came back soon enough. But when the screen did cut out again a day later, I did call Dell.

First pleasant surprise: I was on hold for about 5 minutes and the first human I spoke to could handle the whole call.

Second pleasant surprise: I figured that I would be told that the cost of fixing all this on a two-year-old laptop would be more than the cost of a new computer.

But I had forgotten that I had an extended in-home service plan. Today, my daughter and I watched a man take apart the entire computer at our dining room table, install a new motherboard and a new screen, and unscrew and screw about 6000 tiny screws in the process. Toward the end of this, he turned to me and said, I guess you have an extended service plan, huh? Yep, I said. Yes, he said, because if you didn't, this would be costing you somewhere around a $1000 for parts and labor.

Given that a new notebook costs somewhere around half of that, nobody without the service plan is going to repair the old computer. My guess is that Dell makes a good deal of money off the service plans. And I know that these service plans are usually a bad idea. But I have to say that I liked having the problem fixed without having to transfer all of my files to a new computer. Plus it was interesting to see the inside of the computer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

New Urbanism meet Old Suburbanism

In keeping with my late May tradition on this blog (see here for 2005 and here for 2007), I offer a few comments on urban planning and design.

I live not far from a new housing development called Summerset that bills itself as a "new traditional neighborhood." It's being built on a former slag heap, on the southern edge of Squirrel Hill, an old traditional neighborhood here in the East End of Pittsburgh. At the moment, it's accessible through only one entrance which is a short drive but a longish walk from the main routes through the neighborhood. One bus route runs into the development. The plan is to build out the main road of the development, Parkview Blvd, to a larger road, Brown's Hill Road, which has more bus routes, and is a short walk from shopping at the Waterfront (across the river in Homestead) and shopping in Greenfield, an adjoining neighborhood.

In addition, a new shopping complex, called Walnut Place, has recently been built at the future intersection of Brown's Hill Rd and Parkview Blvd and just a few yards from Old Brown's Hill Road where there is a larger senior-citizen housing complex. And construction work will begin soon on pedestrian and road improvements on Brown's Hill Road. See here for the Post-Gazette story.

Residents of Summerset will soon be able to walk out Parkview Blvd to Brown's Hill Road, catch a bus or walk into a Dunkin Donuts, a hair place, an IHOP, a fitness center, etc. Likewise, residents of southern part of Squirrel Hill and some parts of Greenfield will be able to walk down the hill to the same stores. And the more active seniors on Old Brown's Hill Road will be able to walk a short distance to those same stores and restaurants.

So far so good, right?

I decided the other day to take the short walk down the hill and see the new development and the pre-improvement streetscape. And I noticed one thing that disturbed: so far there is no clear pedestrian access to the Walnut Place shopping center from Brown's Hill Road. The only clear way in to both sides of the center is on an access road into the parking lots with no sidewalks. Now maybe, just maybe, the next phase of the plan will include pedestrian access from the adjoining streets--Brown's Hill Rd, Parkview Blvd, and Saline St (behind the complex). But I saw no evidence of this and the landscaping didn't give any indication that this is on tap.

In other words, residents of the "new traditional neighborhood" and the old traditional neighborhoods nearby will be able to walk to a traditional suburban shopping center and will have to walk through shrubbery or on a parking lot access road to approach the new stores and restaurants.