Version 24.1
Last Updated April 14, 2015, 12:34 p.m.

Leo Thornton, 22, from Lincolnwood, Illinois, committed suicide on the lower west terrace of the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, April 11, resulting in a lockdown at the Capitol itself and the nearby Capitol Visitor Center. A witness who observed the incident from the Capitol steps reported that a man entered the terrace and then, without warning, shot himself in the head. The man had been carrying a protest sign, as well as a backpack and wheeled suitcase. The backpack and suitcase were handled by a bomb disposal team and determined to be harmless. Nobody else was injured.

Capitol Police lifted the lockdown around 4:00 p.m., but the west terrace remained closed during the investigation. There is no apparent link to terrorism.

Thornton was reported missing by his family on Saturday morning after he failed to return home from work the night before. According to Lincolnwood Deputy Police Chief John Walsh, Thornton suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. It is unclear at this time how Thornton got to Washington, DC, from Illinois. He traveled between Friday afternoon and mid-day on Saturday, but there were no travel-related charges on his credit cards and investigators have not announced finding any car that Thornton may have used.

Reports state that Thornton’s protest sign said, “Tax the 1%.” This is likely in reference to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement’s false claims that the top one percent of American wage earners pay less federal tax than the remaining ninety-nine percent. In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, the top one percent of wage earning households paid twenty-four percent of all federal taxes though they made only fifteen percent of all national income. On average, the top one percent pay about thirty percent of their income to federal taxes, a higher rate than any other income group (Congressional Budget Office).

Originally posted on Saturday, April 11, 2015.
Updated with new information on Monday, April 14, 2015.

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Posted in Briefly, Reports
Last Updated April 1, 2015, 11:23 p.m.

For April Fools Day 2015, Off on a Tangent held a one-day only going out of business sale, with price reductions up to 80%! Of course I don’t sell anything here, so the purported products were my articles, sidebar widgets, the site header and footer, and so on. And of course I didn’t actually go out of business, since I’m not really in business anyway.

Click to see how it looked!

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/.

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.