Thursday, January 15, 2009

Madison windchills in -30 range all day

-30 Windchill
Just one of those days -- the temperature went down to -20 (F) last night, and with light winds, the windchill was in the -30 range. It's warming up today -- all the way to -7 -- but the wind is also expected to rise. The net effect is that the windchill will be around -30 all day. Good day to stay in and work at home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The weight of time

The Weight of Time
Also kind of the way this winter makes me feel -- although, unlike the barn and the tobacco shed, I'll be fine once it warms up a bit and the sun comes back.

Does Madison's windchill warning expire Friday noon, or does it continue until midnight?

Here is a current Wind Chill Warning for Home (Madison, WI) until 12:00pm, Fri., Jan 16, 2009, from your local National Weather Service office. -- Weather Alert Email
So what time is that, exactly? Noon? Midnight? And for that matter, which midnight -- the one that begins the day, or the one that ends it? Fortunately, from other internal evidence in the weather alert, it's clear that they mean noon, and that it will start warming up a bit Friday afternoon.

The mystery of what 12:00 a.m and p.m actually mean is not so easily resolved. It's a matter of conventions built on top of an oxymoron, and so it's not surprising the conventions vary all over the world and according to which style manual one uses. All the problems go away with a 24-hour clock, but like the metric system, that seems to be too logical for most of us English-speakers, and so we saddle ourselves with these antique Latin a.m. (ante meridiem, before noon) and p.m. (post meridiem, after noon) conventions.

That's what gives rise to that interesting oxymoron -- noon expressed as either 12:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. Since noon is by definition 12:00, it can't be either before itself or after itself. Wikipedia has an interesting article on this thorny topic, and they quote the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
To avoid confusion, the correct designation for twelve o'clock is 12 noon or 12 midnight. Alternatively, the twenty-four-hour-clock system may be used. The abbreviation a.m. stands for ante-meridiem (before the Sun has crossed the line) and p.m. for post-meridiem (after the Sun has crossed the line). At 12 noon the Sun is at its highest point in the sky and directly over the meridian. It is therefore neither "ante-" nor "post-".
As the article and a handy accompanying chart make clear, about the only emerging worldwide standard is that of digital clocks and watches set to the 12-hour display. They all roll over to "p.m." at 12:00 noon. (As the one in the photo did, indicated by the microscopic "P" on the far right above the seconds.)

Amusingly, and not surprisingly, the Feds are no more consistent than anyone else. For the National Weather Service, 12:00 p.m. is noon. For the Government Printing Office, 12:00 p.m. is the following midnight. But at least the Weather Service, high-tech organization that it is, is on the side of the digital convention.

The Overture Center Board's losing crapshoot and what to do about it

Overture Center for the Arts
I took this photo in the Overture Center for the Arts in December before the holidays but didn't post it then. It didn't seem very festive, in fact a bit gloomy, despite the lobby's tower of holiday lights in the background. Now, the encroaching darkness, the ceiling pressing down as if burdened by a mountain of debt, and the solitary figure at the box office all seem to hint at the growing financial distress of Madison's lavish arts center on State Street. Even the lights are starting to seem like a waterfall of money being thrown away, pouring into a hole in the ground like a shower of coins.

I remember scratching my head several years ago when I read about the Overture board's all too imaginative refinancing scheme. As nearly as I could tell, it consisted of mortgaging the Overture Center and using the proceeds to invest in the stock market in hopes of earning enough to pay off the mortgage and also endow a fund for operating expenses. Or something like that. I remember thinking at the time that this could only work in a perfect, alternative universe of high investment returns and zero risk -- sort of like what Bernard Madoff was promising, come to think of it.)

Imagine a homeowner who borrows money on his house with the intention of taking it to Ho-Chunk Casino and winning enough to both pay off the mortgage and, say, send his kids to college. The inevitable failure of this plan and the ensuing bankruptcy would be greeted by contempt and ridicule. Yet, for some reason, when the Overture Development Corporation's cockamamie investment plan collapsed, they seemed to expect sympathy, instead of ridicule. In fact, they suggested city officials ought to pony up $12 million for them to pay off the mortgage and avoid bankruptcy. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz opposed the suggestion, rightly so.

Still, something has to be done if we don't want a white elephant on State Street that remains perpetually dark, a blight on the downtown. Here's my modest proposal: The three banks that hold the loans are hardly innocent victims. They presumably thought this was a perfectly legitimate thing to do with Jerry Frautschi's gift to the city. They also are part of an industry that has received the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history, aimed at helping them get out from under the bad assets they hold. Well, this is just another bad asset. Surely there enough in those billions for a bit to trickle down to Madison, Wisconsin, and let them write off the Overture Center loan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wind Chill: -20. Speed Limit: 5mph.

Wind Chill: -20. Speed Limit: 5mph.
The bitter cold that moved in last night wreaked havoc with the morning commute. With the temperature around 0, and the wind chill around -20, the packed snow and ice became treacherous, and even that roads that looked clear had slippery patches. Numerous accidents and slide-offs tangled area roads. Incoming traffic on the beltline slowed to a crawl.

Comment moderation shut off again

I hate comment moderation on blogs. Recently I was plagued by a rash of comment spammers ("Hi, I just started reading your blog and absolutely love it. I'll come back often. Keep up the good work -- Debbie, www.BuyMy").

I thought I'd be clever and only moderate comments that came in after two days from the date of the post, which seems to be the pattern for Debbie and her ilk. Trouble is, in addition to stopping Debbie, this also cast some legitimate comments into comment limbo. I thought they'd show up in my email the same as unmoderated comments but they didn't. Instead, they piled up unattended under an "Awaiting Moderation" tab that this occasional blogger didn't even see until today.

They've been liberated, and I've turned off the comment moderation again, in hopes that Debbie has been permanently discouraged. (I can always dream, right?) I really appreciate your comments. Sorry about the disruption.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Madison Public Library's striking new Sequoya branch now open Sunday afternoons

This is the two-story hearth room in the striking new Sequoya branch of the Madison Public Library (there's a smaller, more intimate reading area on the other side of the fireplace). The branch, located in a new building and expanded from 12,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet, opened in November and had its ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony December 8.

Madison Public Library's Striking New Sequoya BranchNow, thanks to a grant from the Madison Pubic Library Foundation, the branch will be open Sunday afternoons, 1:00-5:00 p.m., through the end of April. I dropped in this afternoon and used the occasion to get a new library card and also to look around the space, notable for its exposed structural components and green design elements.

One of the most notable: The extensive use of Kirei Board, an environmentally friendly wood substitute made from reclaimed sorghum (fireplace wall, boards above the "Ask Here" desk, and other spaces throughout the library). There's also a greywater system that collects water from the roof for toilet flushing, the storage tank of which is visibly tucked in between some bookshelves near the entrance. The lead architect was Joe Huberty of Engberg Anderson.

The Sunday hours, as well as the branch's expanded number of free internet access stations, are coming at a good time. The State Journal reported recently that library usage is increasing in Madison and elsewhere with the downturn in the economy. Partly, it's that people are buying less of their reading material and taking more out of the library. But the computers are another draw, since people need computers to apply for jobs, and there are still many people without computer access.