Wasting Money On Poorly Timed Traffic Lights

The first electric traffic light was installed around 1920 in response to numerous accidents as the automobile picked up in popularity. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of traffic lights installed as well as a lot more intricate technology.
In the 1990’s, the county where I live began implementing a new type of traffic control system. At most major intersections, they began installing cameras or pavement sensors to detect traffic. The purpose is to adjust the timing on traffic lights based on traffic at the intersections. It is designed to adjust traffic during high volume times, as well as to avoid people sitting at intersections where there is no traffic, yet wasting gas because of a red light.
For the most part, the statistics show that these systems have helped relieve congestion versus a standard traffic light system that changes on fixed intervals. I can see the benefit at times, though there have been some frustrating areas.
One thing that drives me nuts is how the system deals with gaps in traffic. The system is designed to sense a gap in traffic, and change the light if there is traffic waiting to go the other way. In theory this makes sense, but I think it can be improved. Right now, the system detects gaps via cameras placed near the intersection, and it can sense the number of cars at or near. That’s great most of the time, but I wish that they would take it one step further and place sensors further away from the lights. This way, the system would know what’s coming.
I’ll illustrate why I think this could be an improvement. There have been times where a gap is created because of someone driving a little slow, or someone who pulls out of a side street or business, and hasn’t gotten up to full speed. The sensors see only the break and change the light, but as a result, a whole line of traffic gets stopped. I think that if the system had knowledge of what’s further back, it may be able to allow more traffic through at a time. The system could anticipate as well as react.
The other thing I wish they would do is consider reducing the number of lights in operation during non-rush hour times. Obviously, lights at major intersections need to run all the time, but it’s the other lights that drive me nuts. The lights around subdivisions or shopping centers are the two most common types.
I can understand having many of these lights operate during high traffic times, but how many times have you been stopped at a light that could easily be a blinking yellow for 16 hours per day? I know some might say I’m being impatient, but I see that it’s a waste of money if people have to spend time idling and burning gas unnecessarily.
Hopefully the technology for these ’smart’ traffic light system improves and saves time and money for drivers.

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It’s Official: The Internet Is Killing The Print Newspaper

The Detroit area will soon be the first major city in the United States without a major newspaper that does home delivery seven days a week. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced that home delivery will be cut to three days per week beginning in spring of 2009. The reason: Rapidly and continual subscriber cancellations because more and more people read the paper online.
So, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, you will have two options. You will either need to purchase one at full price at retail outlets that sell the paper, or you will have to subscribe to the ‘full’ online edition. Both papers have web sites that are free, but they are heavy on advertising and don’t contain the full amount of articles.
This announcement hit our city hard, and was another blow that didn’t help spirits with everything going in in the automotive market.
The logic used by upper management was that this was happening one way or another, and they predict that it will follow in other major markets. Rather than continue to lay writers and staff off, they felt that this would let a majority of workers at the paper keep their jobs.
What they neglected to mention was all the people who work at the presses who will lose their jobs eventually, as well as the people who make a living delivering home newspapers. When I was a kid, it was junior high and high school kids that had the job of delivering papers (my best friend had a route that I helped with), but now it’s pretty much adults that have the responsibility. These people will obviously be hit hard, and a good portion of them will be left scrambling.
I do agree that it seems to be a sign of the times that print media is dying. I also think, though, that the quality of media is somewhat on the decline, and that has something to do with it as well. I don’t see the investigative articles that I once did. The sports writers are very ‘vanilla’. I subscribe to the Sunday paper, and I used to be able to spend an entire morning with a cup of coffee and the paper. Now, I’m done in an hour or so.
I think that newspapers need to go back to their roots in terms of content, but need to adopt to the new times. It’ll be interesting to see how this works and if any other papers in the country follow suit.

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When Is A Kid’s Birthday Party Too Much?

Yesterday, there was a birthday party for a kid who lives in the first house by the neighborhood entrance. It was impossible not to notice, and it made me wonder, when is a kid’s party too much?
I noticed a lot of unloading and setup being done on Friday, when I pulled into the neighborhood after work. The location of the house made it a lot more noticeable. The next morning, a giant tent was being erected which covered most of the driveway. I’d estimate the dimensions at 40×20. Tables were being unloaded which covered the driveway.
The next day (Sunday) was obviously party day. There were table linens going on the tables, the sort which you would normally find at a wedding. There were giant inflatable toys being set up in the backyard, the kind which kids can actually go into and jump around. There was a valet service which was preparing to park cars for guests.
Later on, the party was in full swing. I swear, we weren’t spying, it was just impossible not to pass this house when pulling in or out of the neighborhood. Cars were lined up on both sides of the street, making for a dangerous game of chicken if one car was leaving and another was entering. The guests had arrived, and the gift tables (yes, plural) had piles of gifts so high you couldn’t actually see the guests. The caterers were off to one side getting the food ready.
I’ve seen the kids in this house, and I don’t think they’re old. My wife even speculated that this could be a first birthday party. I hope that wasn’t the case. At least, if there was a party that big, I’d hope that it would be for a kid that would at least be able to remember it. Even so, I have never seen such an event for a child of ANY age.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for celebrating birthdays. I had parties at my house growing up until I was a teenager. Family and friends were invited and it was a good time. But, the tables were set up in the basement and on the backyard patio. We played on the lawn with whatever toys were brought over or found in the garage. My mom did all the cooking with the possible exception of a cake being bought from a bakery. People parked their own cars.
And the thing about it, is that I had a great time. I didn’t need any more than that. I wonder if the parents are doing it for the kid or if it’s for themselves.
I also think this could be teaching the kid some bad personal finance lessons, which could hurt later in life. For example:

  • He/she might expect such a party every year. Or better. What if the parents can’t afford it one year? What about when the kid gets too old to get two tables worth of gifts? I think this could set the stage for feelings of entitlement, which is never a good lesson to teach children.
  • He/she might learn the lesson that spending money equals happiness. The parents were trying to create a happy time, but if you have to go overboard to do so, that could become the standard. This could create that mindset, and if it’s plugged in at a young age, that could lead to trouble.
  • It can create a pattern of jealousy. Assuming that friends of the birthday celebrant were invited, there could be feelings of jealousy, and that the things that go along with that generally only get stronger as one grows up.

I’m not trying to be a party pooper. I think kids birthday parties are great, and look forward to throwing them for my kids should we be blessed to have kids in the future. I really do think, though, that there are better ways to celebrate that might not teach your kids the wrong things about celebrating at an early age:

  • Backyard or basement parties
  • Pool parties
  • Pizza parties
  • Sporting event parties

These are fun, and plus I think kids enjoy them!

So, when is a kid’s birthday party too much?

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