More Design Goodness From the Sponge

Design*Sponge ran a DIY content, and the winner of the furniture category was Nike Tretiak, a student. While his entry (a chair made of wood and cardboard boxes was cool), even cooler were some of the items on his web site. The dove tail stool is awesome, buth asthetically and seemingly functionally. The runner up was just as cool, by Anna Nicholson, a set of shelves that are so simple and unassuming. The only thing I don’t like about them are the brackets that hold the angles together. Some wood screws between the beams would make it cleaner, but the brackets do help the edges seem rounded on the interior. Very awesome stuff. I wonder if any of it’s for sale?

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Thoughtless Acts by Jane Fulton Suri

I came across the book Thoughtless Acts by Jane Fulton Suri while browsing the Chronicle Books location at the Metreon. The book covers how we unknowingly interact with the spaces around us to create form, definition and structure out of structureless spaces. It’s a collection of pictures that show the various interactions. One great example that was in the book was a picture of two people walking down the street holding a cup of coffee in a Starbucks style cup. One had a heat sleve and the other diddn’t. The the former case, the subject of the picture was holding the cup straight on with four fingers wrapped around the cylinder and thumb opposing. In the latter, the subject had four fingers on the lid and the thumb holding the base of the cup. It’s a good example of our interaction with objects that is caused by the object’s properties. Another example from the book was someone filling up gas in their car and had a cup on the roof of the car, creating a temporary surface in order to fulfil the task at hand (filling gas). The book is full of interesting examples of things such as this.

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Life Back to Normal

It’s been a helter skelter week and things are back to normal now. Last week my mom was visiting and I took a couple days off to show her the city. We did the usual touristy things like the cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square and rode the F Market line. The weekend before we attended a family friend’s wedding in the east bay. My mom left on Friday and Ami, who had been in Denver for the week, returned that Thursday. On Friday, Derek, Steven, Allen, Jeff, Ami and I went to Suede and had a good doing the club thing. Saturday was a pretty low key day, spent walking around downtown and Union Square and ended with watching Million Dollar Baby at the Metreon. Sunday was the usual, cleaning up around the house, checking out open houses (nothing interesting) and the like.

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Save Amtrak

The Bush budget is full of cuts in some areas (urban housing) and growth in others (defense). One directly targeted service of the federal goverment is Amtrak. Via Tobin:

February 17, 2005



U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has proposed no funding for
Amtrak in the 2006 Federal budget. While the Mineta plan suggests the
Bush Administration might provide some sort of 50/50 matching funds for
track maintenance, it explicitly rules out any operating support. The
states would have to fund any actual trains. This means there would be
no intercity train service in the United States, since there is little
chance the states can find funding to resume even a skeletal local

Amtrak received total operating and capital support of $1.2 billion in
2004. By contrast, total U.S. highway spending in 2001 was $133
billion, of which over 40% was not recovered from gas taxes. This
highway figure continues to grow each year. No passenger rail service
or highway system anywhere in the world runs at a profit. Mr. Mineta
claims we “subsidize” Amtrak and “invest” in highways. The truth is we
invest in both. When has anyone of us received a dividend check from
our interstate highways?

Rail Travel Center has sold Amtrak travel and tours since 1982. We have
a unique perspective to evaluate the myths that surround Amtrak. The
truth about Amtrak is very different than that presented by Secretary
Mineta. The following is our analysis of the realities ignored by the
Administration in its effort to bankrupt Amtrak and shift all support
for passenger service directly to the states.

Amtrak’s national network carried over 25,000,000 passengers in 2004,
an all-time record. The long-distance trains produced the majority of
Amtrak’s passenger miles, 2.7 billion, compared to the Northeast
Corridor’s 1.7 billion. (A passenger-mile is one passenger traveling
one mile.) The national network is vital. Passengers must be able to
connect between trains to travel from one point to another, but Mr.
Mineta’s plan assures that, at best, only a few isolated local commuter
services would survive. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Republican) of
Texas is correct that Amtrak must be national or it will be nothing!

Greyhound has canceled thousands of miles of rural bus lines, and the
Mineta budget compounds the problem by proposing to eliminate Federal
subsidies for air service to many smaller airports. Increasingly,
Amtrak is the only option in hundreds of cities!

Mineta speaks of “running trains nobody rides between cities nobody
wants to travel between”. This betrays his ignorance of how trains
work. For example, Amtrak’s EMPIRE BUILDER takes passengers not only
between Seattle and Chicago, but serves many cities and towns enroute.
This train stops at 38 other stations, including major centers like
Spokane and Minneapolis and what Mineta views as “nowhere” communities
like Wolf Point, MT, Glacier National Park, and Wenatchee, WA. This
train “nobody rides” carried 437,200 passengers in FY 2004. Most riders
traveled between the almost totally Amtrak-dependent small towns along
the route. There is no parallel bus service for 932 miles from Spokane,
WA to Minot, ND, a truth cynically ignored by Mineta, but very
important to towns whose only reliable link to the outside world is
this vital, well-used train!

The real truth about Amtrak is that due to lack of Federal capital
support, it lacks the equipment to meet the demand which already
exists. As a tour operator, we have to reserve on long-distance trains
a full eleven months before departure to assure space for a group.
Sources in Amtrak’s reservations staff advise us they turn away half
the requests they receive for sleeper space because of a lack of

The Mineta plan is fundamentally flawed because it tries to shift the
burden of funding Amtrak to the states.  A route like the EMPIRE
BUILDER is the perfect example of the futility of the Mineta plan. This
train serves eight states, all of which would have to agree on a
formula to split costs, in addition to appropriating operating money
which they do not have.  If one state refused, the service would be
broken at that state border. Under the Mineta plan, there will be no
interstate rail services anywhere. We have a federal government in the
United States to address issues that cross state lines, and Amtrak is a
classic example. The ultimate truth about Amtrak is that it is
remarkably well-used, vital to the real America of small towns and
inland cities, and needs national support!

Carl H. Fowler

About the author: Carl Fowler is Vice-President/General Manager of Rail
Travel Center. He has worked full-time promoting travel on Amtrak and
other railways since November 1982. Mr. Fowler served for over a decade
on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Railroad
Passengers and was a member of Amtrak’s Travel Agency Computer Advisory
Committee. He has addressed the National Press Club on Amtrak and train
travel and has ridden over 350,000 miles by train. Rail Travel Center
is located in Putney, Vermont. Its web site is

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Too Much Sugar at Work

Every time a new employee comes on board at Hotmail, we bribe people to come meet them by placing 4 or 5 boxes of Krispy Kreme donughts outside their office. More so, pretty much every day a dev seems to buy a box or two of Krispy Kreme’s and sits in the dev hall way. In the cabinets of the kitchen are single-serve boxes of cereal (sugary good stuff, like frosted mini-wheets and the like), not to mention the refridgerators of free soda. It’s dangerous.

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April European Vacation

It’s settled, I’m going back to Europe in April. I depart for Paris on Wednesday, April 13th, arriving on Thursday. On Saturday, I head to Amsterdam to meet Ami. Monday we go to Krakow, Poland until Wednesday and depart back to the states the following Saturday (April 23rd). It’s a solid vacation for me. I got Ami’s ticket on my frequent flier miles and was able to apply a denied boarding voucher to my ticket, so in total our tickets cost $500.

I’m looking to do some of my favorite things in Paris, like hanging out on the Ile, eating ice cream at Bertillon, getting mint strawberry jams, and of course, my sister’s apartment on Quai d’Anjou, getting frustrated at Chatlet, and visiting all the museums I’ve missed in the last few trips. Hopefully some clubbing with my sister and friends and of course good food and treats.

I’m not quite certain what I want to do in Amsterdam, obviously checking out the Van Gough and Rembrandt museums, walking the streets to explore the city. If any body has suggestions on the city, let me know. Partying will obviously be part of it since I’ve heard Amsterdam has a great night life. Krakow should be really interesting, I loved Estonia when I was there and I’ve read really good things about Krakow (it’s the new Warsaw). We’ll be making a trip out to Auschwitz and more than anything I’m looking forward to listening to my iPod, guide book and camera in hand and checking the city out, much as I did in Tallinn.

Anyway, badass. Down with work, up with vacation.

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We Knew There Was Evil to be Had

Even the most benevolent and favorite of our publically traded companies, Google, has a streak of evil (he states in the article that you should be able to buy the world’s information or something like that). This whole thing has started over them offering to host Wikipedia, the free open source, for free. In any case, it’s not like my employer is any less evil.

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Discount Airlines Out of The Netherlands

I’m making a trip to Europe in the spring, and finding cheap transport between countries is a lot harder than one would think. The usual suspects of RyanAir and easyJet don’t hit enought of  the countries, but if you’re ever going through the airports you’ll find a gillion airlines that you’ve never head of. In any case, I found this great resource for what low cost carriers fly out of Amsterdam.

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I’ve been reading design*sponge a lot recently. It’s written by this girl in Brookyln about designs and designers from all over the world and has fantastic objects, such as housewares, art, objects and the like.

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