A couple of quick thoughts on Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse

The following was originally a comment on Facebook, but I did my thing and went on way too long, so I’m posting it here, as well.

Traffic in Woodstock, GA. Photo by William Brawley via Flickr.

Ok, here’s what I see (and I’m not actually THERE at the moment, so I’m having to go by reports, so if I’ve gotten anything terribly wrong, let me know). They knew the storm was coming, but it was forecast to hit well south of the city. Atlanta was supposed to get a dusting of snow at worst–something that gums things up a bit, but isn’t a catastrophe. Nonetheless, the city proper had its salt trucks and plows ready (a combined fleet of about 70, I’m told), but because of the massive traffic jam, they couldn’t be effectively deployed to clear the roads.

And the massive traffic jam is actually where this story should really start. In the face of a winter storm that wasn’t even forecast to have too much of an effect on the city and its north suburbs, schools, governments, and most businesses took a calculated risk to operate as usual. But then, the snow started falling fast and heavy WAY further north than expected, and everyone had the same idea/reaction at once: “Oh shit, lets send everyone home before the roads get too bad.” Which, ironically, made the roads worse than any ice, rain, or snow possibly could.

How could this have been prevented? It’s difficult to say with certainty exactly when everyone realized that Atlanta was going to get much more ice and snow than originally predicted, but I’ve seen school cancelled and places close for even the *threat* of snow that never actually came. I know that when that happens there’s always a little embarrassment and there is a cost to that, as well, but this is certainly one of those cases where shutting things down in advance of the storm hitting would have been the wise thing to do. But hindsight being what it is, let’s just say, ok, it wasn’t done, so how could what happened have been managed better?

For one, some kind of plan in place for a staggered send-home schedule for inclement weather would be a wise move to prevent the gridlock that occurred. This does put some people on the road once conditions have become more hazardous, but it would keep traffic moving and prevent 30-minute commutes turning into 13-hour odysseys that end not at home but at a pop-up warming shelter in a Home Depot. (I do have to say, good on some businesses making the best of having stranded employees and opening their doors to keep everyone warm.) I’m not certain how this staggered schedule should function or what the best way to set it up to make it both efficient and fair, but we’ve got time before the next snowpocalypse to hammer something out.

Procrastinator? Gamer? Want to get things done? HabitRPG may change your life.

 

Screenshot of HabitRPG’s item inventory and market

HabitRPG is a web-based productivity tool that takes on the guise of an online role-playing game. You gain experience and gold by ticking off items on your to-do list, building good habits, busting bad habits, and more or less making yourself a better person. You take damage when you leave daily tasks undone, and you can reward yourself with either self-created rewards or new equipment for your character, which helps you defend against your own non-productivity as well as against bosses in quests. Yes, I said quests. HabitRPG’s party system allows you to join with friends or strangers into a party, which makes you eligible to do quests. The party and quest system creates a sort of group accountability, as when on a quest, one group member’s failure to complete items on his or her daily task list deals damage to the entire party.

HabitRPG has most of the things your standard RPG offers: parties, guilds, quests, items, pets, mounts, classes, drops…It takes the reward system of a game and applies it to something in real life that will help you grow as a person, in your career, or just be a little better about getting things done.

I’ve only started playing this week, so I’m still feeling out a lot of the game mechanics. But the to-do list system it provides, as well as those familiar XP and HP bars are enough to help me stay on track much better than I have in ages. Read the rest of this entry »

A Christmas memory from a playlist: Happy 21st birthday, little brother

It’s happened a lot in the past several days. I’ve been listening to a lot of music. As the songs pass, I inevitably have a strong memory associated with a few. Meeting new friends. Childhood memories from a schoolbus. Unrequited love. High school. College parties.

This is a fun one, even though the beginning of the story might not seem so.

When I was seven, Christmas of 1992, I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real. It wasn’t through any sort of intentional revelation on the part of my parents. It was more of a circumstance. My mom was pregnant, and according to the doctors, my little brother was due on Christmas day. As I learned later, according to the original ultrasounds, he was due a week earlier, but because the local doctors were apparently used to seeing goliath babies, they pushed the predicted due date back. Truly, when my brother was born, I remember my mom telling me he was the smallest full-term baby in the whole nursery. And really, he wasn’t that small. Seven pounds and (I think) four ounces, he was only a little smaller than I was when I was born, and I was (literally) a poster child for the hospital I was born at…I had an exceptionally round head for a newborn.

When my brother was born, my biggest concern was ruining my singular perfect attendance record at school. I’d never gone the first half of a school year without getting sick and missing a day of school, and the birth of my baby brother be damned, I wasn’t about to, especially since it was so very close to Christmas break.

My mom went into labor the morning of December 18, very early, and off the whole family went to the hospital. I don’t remember anything of my three-year-old sister’s experience of this event, even though she was there. I don’t even know if she remembers anything about it. Perhaps I should ask her the next time I see her. Read the rest of this entry »

Much Ado About the National Debt

Credit: Stephen D. Melkisethian

With today’s news that the United States’ national debt has topped $17 trillion, there is and certainly will continue to be much pontificating, finger pointing, and armchair policy advising over the issue. I’m all for some good policy discourse, but the the trouble is that, much like almost any political squabble that reaches the masses, the loudest voices are also missing some crucial details and facts. This is not meant to be an indictment–I have a fancy piece of paper that cost me a lot of time and money that says I’m supposed to be an expert about things like this, and even I can’t keep track of all of the pertinent facts and details about how exactly the national debt works. But what I DO know is that it doesn’t quite work how the pundits (or even the straight news folks) say it does.

The following is meant to be a primer on what makes up the national debt, who holds the debt, and how things that should be internal budgeting issues wind up having global ramifications. Whole sections of libraries are taken up with various treatments and analyses of the national debt. That said, that is clearly more detail and depth than I am capable of going into in a blog post, so a lot of things here will be oversimplified and a lot of details will be left out. The good news is that, unless you have a background in public policy, economics, or political science, you probably won’t notice or care. To my professional colleagues: I apologize for some of the liberties I’m about to take. To anyone who wants a slightly more complete (though still totally understandable) treatment of things, Just Facts has a pretty nice national debt overview, complete with charts. Read the rest of this entry »

A word about college football as social education

The moment the goalpost came down after Georgia Tech defeated No. 4 Virginia Tech in 2009.

Can I have an opinion here for a second?

If you go to a school where football is traditionally an important thing, and you don’t make any kind of attempt to understand it, go to a game, or enjoy it, you are completely and totally shortchanging yourself of an important part of your social education. Why? Because you never know when knowing just a little bit about football or your team could be just the little bit of small talk you need to get your foot in the door with someone who could offer you an opportunity or friendship of a lifetime.

If you honestly just can’t get into it, fine. But at least give it a shot. And if you really don’t like it, don’t act like a smug, superior asshole about going to a “football school” and not giving a damn about the football team. It seriously doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. In fact, it’s just another display of pride of ignorance, and if you consider yourself at all to be an intelligent person, you should abhor that above all else.

I’ll admit, I really could have not given even half a damn about football when I started school at Georgia Tech. And in case you didn’t know, Georgia Tech is, among many other things, a “football school.” They’ve won national championships. They have the oldest football field in the NCAA. They hold the record for the most lopsided football victory ever. And that’s just scratching the surface. I skipped the home opener my freshman year, and to this day, I regret it. Georgia Tech upset Auburn 17-3, and the student section brought down the north endzone goalpost. I watched the game on TV from a friend’s dorm room. That Monday, I picked up my student ticket vouchers for the rest of the season. With the exception of the home games played on Labor Day weekend (Dragon Con, you know), I did not miss a single home game while I was a student after that. I did, finally, see the north endzone goalpost come down again in person when GT upset No. 4 Virginia Tech in 2009. I have so many wonderful memories from that game, and others, that I will never forget.

Why the change? At the time, it was mostly because everyone in my dorm was so amped up over the win, and I didn’t want to miss out on that kind of excitement. Later, I realized how much of a cultural touchstone football could be, and how talking about the most recent games really did open doors for me socially and professionally. I learned the game; I learned how the BCS worked; I developed an opinion on how the BCS didn’t actually work…

In short, what I’m trying to say here is, don’t just make the assumption that you want nothing to do with football when you’re in college (or even when you’re in high school if it’s a strong part of your school’s heritage). At some point, without fail, someone will, upon learning where you went to school, ask you about your opinion about how the football team is doing. If you honestly and truly do not enjoy the game, then fine. You can tell them, “I don’t really like football.” Nothing is for everyone. And even if you’ve given it an honest shot and still don’t like it, remember that doesn’t make you any better (or worse) than the people who do. But don’t be that person who thinks or acts like they’re too good to even attempt to understand it or enjoy it. Because the right answer is never, “I don’t care about football.”