Version 24.1
Posted March 22, 2015, 9:14 p.m.
The 'Slow Down' Sign

The ‘Slow Down’ Sign

In August of last year, the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) started a patronizing ‘slow down’ campaign intended to get people to stop speeding through neighborhoods. In and of itself, I’m fine with low speed limits on residential streets, and I’m fine with tough enforcement of those low speed limits. I am not, however, okay with setting residential-style low speed limits on major arterial thoroughfares.

Not long after FCPD launched their campaign, yellow signs (like the one to the right) started cropping up all over the place . . . and on all kinds of roads, not just on residential streets. Some major thoroughfares have speed limits set far below the road’s 85th percentile speed, which is the ‘proper’ limit recommended by most traffic engineers, and this patronizing yellow sign has started cropping up on them too. One glaring example is Braddock Road heading west from Route 28. It has an absurdly low 35 mile-per-hour limit, despite being a major thoroughfare that could easily and safely accommodate 45 or higher . . . and now it has lots of yellow signs in people’s yards.

Braddock is indeed lined with houses, but you can’t move into a house on a major suburban-to-rural thoroughfare and expect that everybody will start treating that thoroughfare like it’s a cul-de-sac. That’s not how it works. If you move into a house that abuts a major arterial road, then fast moving traffic is just something you are going to have to deal with. If you didn’t like the idea of living on a major thoroughfare, well, maybe you should have moved to one of the cul-de-sacs around the corner instead.

When it comes to speed, people tend not to look beyond the headlines. They hear about crashes where ‘excessive speed was a factor,’ or cases where a child ran out into a road and was seriously hurt or even killed. But we seem to forget that those ‘excessive speed’ accidents involve people going 60 in a 25, or 80 in a 55. Most drivers are not so reckless; those that are will ignore the speed limits no matter what they are. We also forget that the best way for a child to avoid getting hit by a car is not to slow down everybody on the road, but to teach the child how to look both ways before crossing, and to supervise them properly. And don’t forget that our ‘standard’ speed limits (25 residential, 35 feeder, 45 arterial, 55 highway) were set in the 1950’s and 60’s . . . when stopping distances were much longer and cars were much less maneuverable. A modern vehicle can come to a stop from 60 faster than many 1950’s cars could stop from 30. And a crash at 70 is more survivable today than a crash at 50 was just a few short decades ago, thanks to incredible improvements in automotive safety. Maybe it is time to reevaluate our standards.

And why does it matter? Because badly set speed limits have real world costs. They are difficult to quantify in the way that we can quantify traffic deaths or ‘speed related’ accidents, but they are no less real. How many people drive Braddock Road in a day? Probably thousands. And if we can save thousands of people even five minutes in their day, we have made a small but real improvement to their quality of life. And appropriate speed limits also reduce speed disparity (the difference in speed between the ‘goody two shoes’ driving at the limit and people like me who drive at the highest safe speed for the road and the conditions) . . . and reducing speed disparity has been shown to significantly reduce accidents, road rage, traffic tie-ups, and driver stress. Michigan learned this when they began requiring that speed limits in the state be set on the basis of sound traffic engineering rather than revenue concerns; the limits went up, and accidents and tie-ups went down.

So, with all of this in mind, I designed my own sign in a similar style to the one that Fairfax County has been producing. Let me know what you think. . . . Read More…

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Posted in Printables
Posted March 20, 2015, 2:26 p.m.

As is often the case when I have these little ‘unplanned hiatuses’ on Off on a Tangent, I’ve been accumulating random photos that have just been aching to be posted. Many of them have seen the light of day on Facebook, but none have been featured here yet. Oh well.

So as I start to get back into a swing of things (especially now that the No-Nonsense Weather update is out the door) I took some time to go through and pick out some random photos for your enjoyment. More substantive posts are in-progress too, so stay tuned! Read More…

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Posted in Life, Photos
Posted March 18, 2015, 3:02 p.m.
NNW 0.8 Precip Map

NNW 0.8 Precip Map

No-Nonsense Weather—the weather web application I launched back in August—has been updated to a new 0.8 beta. The big new features are support for international weather locations, an improved precipitation map system, support for nautical miles and knots, and a ton of bug-fixes from the 0.7 series.

I soft-launched 0.8.0 last week and have been finding and fixing any showstopper bugs. Right now we’re at 0.8.2 and things are working pretty smoothly. There are some performance issues with the non-U.S. precipitation maps, and noticeable slow-downs when the U.S. National Weather Service and/or OpenWeatherMap.org are having performance issues. I try to get around that with caching, but the benefits of that only come to pass if lots of people start using the site. I will continue making improvements in this area as I go forward, and the 0.9 series (whenever I get around to starting it) will add more weather sources so we have good fall-backs when performance issues happen.

Now, No-Nonsense Weather is still a beta. It still has some known issues, and probably a bunch of unknown issues too. Please don’t rely on it as your sole source of weather information (yet). But I hope you will give it a try and continue to provide feedback and bug reports. You can use the ‘feedback’ link on the site itself to send your comments and bug reports, and if you’re technically inclined you can log in to the Intersanity bug tracker and file them into the system yourself.

You can find No-Nonsense Weather at https://www.no-nonsense-weather.com/.

Posted February 8, 2015, 9:02 p.m.

For the last few years now, the automotive industry has been on a roll. Most of the new car introductions have looked great, and one by one the ugliest cars in the market have been discontinued. For 2015, there has been a true bloodbath of ugly cars. Four cars that were on last year’s list have been put to a well-deserved death: Honda Insight, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, and Nissan Cube. And none of the new or redesigned models for 2015 are really ugly enough to make the list.

As such, the four ‘new additions’ at the bottom of the list are cars that have been around for one or more model years, but were edged out in previous lists by uglier (but now-discontinued) cars. The fact that the ‘average ugliness’ across the list is much less than in previous years should be seen as a commentary on the positive direction of modern auto design.

The criteria for inclusion is the same it has always been. I don’t include models that aren’t sold in the United States. I don’t include models that sell in low volume (and volume is defined completely subjectively based on how many I see on the highways in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area). I don’t include exotic, military, or special-purpose vehicles—so no super-cars, tanks, or postal trucks. I also don’t include vehicles reserved exclusively for the commercial market, such as the truly horrific Ram Promaster.

This list is entirely my personal opinion. I encourage your comments—whether they be nominations of ugly cars I may have missed, or impassioned defenses of the ones I didn’t. And if you own one of the cars on this list, well, don’t take it personally. Read More…

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Posted in Articles, Products
Posted February 5, 2015, 12:11 p.m.
NNW International

NNW International

Part of why I have been relatively inactive here on Off on a Tangent lately is that I am continuing to devote a good amount of my free time toward developing No-Nonsense Weather. The live version right now is still 0.7.4, but I am hard at work on developing the next big beta: 0.8.0.

In addition to bug-fixes and performance improvements, and support for nautical miles and knots if you prefer them for distance and speed measurements, I am planning two really big feature enhancements for the 0.8.0 beta:

First, No-Nonsense Weather will support international locations (the 0.7.x series only supports U.S. locations). Severe weather watches and warnings will still be U.S.-only, but you’ll be able to get current conditions and a seven-day forecast for pretty much any location in the world. This is feature-complete and working in my testing instance (see screenshot), but I am still working on some performance issues. It turns out that searching a MySQL database of practically every named location in the world takes much longer than searching practically every named location in the United States. I have it optimized to the point where many world-wide location searches are even faster than U.S. searches were in the previous version, but I’m still having performance issues in some cases that I need to resolve before I can roll out a release. In the end though, I expect location finding to be much faster in 0.8.0 than it is today, no matter where you are.

The second big new feature is that I am making major improvements to the weather radar view. Right now, I just grab the appropriate U.S. National Weather Service radar image and pop it into the No-Nonsense Weather interface . . . but this is not particularly flexible. I am going to make it much nicer and easier to use in 0.8.0. You’ll be able to pan around and zoom in and out like you do in Google Maps and other similar services. At the moment I am planning to offer radar world-wide (well, in places that have weather radar, at least) . . . but fair warning, I might reduce the scope to just the U.S. depending on how big a project this ends up being. I’ve just started working on it, so I don’t have a good idea of how much time it will take just yet. If the 0.8.0 radar feature ends up being U.S. only, I’ll still come back (probably in 0.9.0) with world-wide support.

If you have used No-Nonsense Weather and experienced any bugs or problems with the current version, please either submit a bug or use the feedback feature on the site itself. I might have already fixed it in my 0.8.0 development efforts, but if not, there’s still time for me to get fixes in before the next release!

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Posted in Life, Software

About Scott Bradford

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.