Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Rainbow Houses of South Peoria

As I survey the architecture of South Peoria, I've been collecting rainbow-colored houses. Purple was the hardest! These are all in the one square mile or so bounded by Western, Laramie, Lincoln, and Krause, comprising two old streetcar neighborhoods laid out along the Garden and Lincoln lines. You can read more about my project surveying the architecture and history of the neighborhood here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I read 60,000 pages of books in 2015

Actually, 64,439 pages across 175 books. I set this relatively arbitrary goal because I wanted to make some headway on both my physical and virtual "to-read" piles, and 5,000 pages a month seemed reasonable: it's about 10 fat novels, or about a novel every 3 days, which is about how fast I read when I'm in a reading mood. I chose pages rather than books as my marker because I didn't want to incentivize myself to knock off lots of skinny, easy books at the expense of the big fat ones that haunt my to-read pile. Of course, sustaining that speed across an entire year was much harder than I thought it would be; after about three-months of high-intensity reading, my brain would want a break to go watch bad TV for a while, but I had to keep chugging along to keep up the pace. I also didn't stop to consider that a lot of what I wanted to read didn't read nearly as quickly as a comfortable novel; working through "Team of Rivals," "Pioneer Girl," "Alexander Hamilton," and "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" in particular left me more mentally exhausted than I've been since the rigors of graduate school. But exhausted in a good way!

Of the 175 books, 50 were non-fiction, 4 were poetry, and 121 were fiction (vastly disproportionately tilted towards SFF -- 68 SFF novels, more than half my fictional total). This was the year my reading toppled almost entirely into e-books; 150 of the books I read were on my kindle, with only 25 in hard copy. When I first began reading on a kindle, I found it harder to retain what I read, but that problem has faded and I seem to have gained kindle-specific reading skills the more I use it. I also tried to firmly restrict my re-reading habits (I'm a dire re-reader) because the point of 2015 was to read down my to-read pile, but even so I re-read 25 novels -- childhood favorites like the Little House books or Anne of Green Gables; and SFF comfort reading from Bujold, Eddings, and Pierce. I might try to break down my male vs. female authors later on, but I forgot to keep track as I was reading and it seems like a lot to look up now. Regardless, I read a lot of women.

I can't really make a list of the "best" books I read or my "favorite" ones, but I've put together lists of the books that most delighted me and most disappointed me -- in other words, books that were better than I'd anticipated them being, and books that were worse than I'd expected. And below that, behind the jump, you can see the whole messy list, loosely divided into genres.

Most Delightful (in no particular order)
Motel of the Mysteries - A children's book about how experts don't know nearly as much as they think they do, featuring the archaeological exploration of a 70s-era motel? YES PLEASE.
Ten Cents a Dance - A little YA historical fiction novel about taxi dancers in Chicago. I'm not sure where I stumbled across it, probably a Kindle Daily Deal, but it was charming and I loved it.
Fangirl - Where has Rainbow Rowell been all my life??? This is just so lovely.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - Mind blown into a hundred thousand pieces. The sequels weren't as powerful as the first one, but the first one was one of the best pieces of SFF I've read in a long time. Fantastic.
Team of Rivals - There's a reason everybody read it, and you should too.
Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years - I seriously could not put this down. It's about the importance of string, spinning, weaving, etc., to human culture, and why this is so under-recognized in archaeology and history (string decays). It's also tangentially about why diversity is so important; until women began entering archaeology, male archaeologists often didn't know what they were looking at when they did happen across fiber work or fiber art, because men in western culture don't sew. You don't know what you don't know; diversity helps us at least recognize those gaps that hegemonic thought can't even see!
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation - The next time you're feeling depressed about climate change, this is the book to read. It's about the life of Plenty Coups, the Crow chief who helped his people survive the coming of the white man. It is not cheerful, but it is intensely hopeful.
Citizen - If you haven't read this, you've missed one of the most important books of 2015.
I, Claudius - An older classic, but so hugely entertaining! Compulsively readable.
The Wake - Haunting, terrifying, deep, weird, strange ... a tough book (written in a fake Old English dialect), but worth the effort.
The Dinner - Months later this is still haunting me and I still want to argue with people about it.
Americanah - The best novel I read in 2015, hands down. Just made me so happy.
The Martian - XKCD got me to read it by saying it was the "nerds making air filters" scene in Apollo 13 expanded out to an entire novel/movie. That's my favorite scene! Totally worth it.
The Goblin Emperor - When I first read it, I was like, "Oh, that was nice." Now I can't wait to go back and read it again, and I wish it were longer.
Alexander Hamilton - How DOES a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? Now I know.
Fire Season - Really charming memoir of a man who works as a fire spotter in the GIla Wilderness.
Spillover - I love reading terrifying books about zoonotic diseases, I can't help it, and this was a good one. I now know everything that wants to kill you.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - It changed my life, so sue me. I HAVE EMPTY DRAWERS NOW.

Most Disappointing (in no particular order)
Un Lun Dun - I like China Mieville, but this was just tedious, even for a children's book.
The Lost Prince - Flatly ridiculous. I can't imagine I would have enjoyed it even as a child; the protagonist had a serious case of massive stupidity and terminal genre blindness.
Banner of the Damned - I like Sherwood Smith, but in this one she gives in to all her worst habits and it was wildly inadequately edited. Nice world-building, terrible story.
The Time of the Dark - Saw it raved about in several places; was just meh.
Saplings - For Noel Streatfield, this was SUPER-DARK. I was depressed for days.
Brideshead Revisited - This was so obviously a convert's book, and just sort-of embarrassing in its shallow exposition of issues of faith to arrive at the author's predetermined outcome. Reading it gave me terrible fremdscham.
Hild - Great setting; meh plot. Relies too much on the fact that there will be sequels; doesn't provide a strong emotional through-line. It wants to be a sort of fictional biography, and as such doesn't feel too obligated to provide a narrative structure. It's good, but it was disappointing compared to how good I expected it to be.
Condominium - This book is terribawesome and I totally recommend it as a hate-read. This is the flap copy: "He's in finance, she works at a hipster small press, yet both are indie-rock East Village veterans who aren't above snorting a little heroin on the weekends. But when they decide to take the logical next step and buy a condo in one of the glass-and-steel skyscrapers now dotting the waterfront of Williamsburg, their lives start to fall apart." It's more entertaining than that makes it sound, but it's pretty hilarrible.
Dead Key - flatly awful. Not even worth a hate-read.
Wreckage - The entire plot hinges on a wildly incorrect understanding of the law, and therefore makes no sense.
Burned Bridges of Ward Nebraska - Everyone in this book is terrible and you root for no one.
Monuments Men - It's hard to even say what was so bad about this book: the writing is weak, it tries to end every chapter on a pithy cliffhanger that never works, the author makes it impossible to follow his large and shifting cast of characters, he sets things up as about-to-be-momentous and then they disappear with no explanation. It was such a disappointment for a book on a topic so naturally interesting to me.
Garlic & Sapphires - Like virtually all food memoirs, about 1/3 too long. Also kinda mean.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Streetcars and Neighborhood Design

Note: This is the first in what will be a series of essays about South Peoria's history, development, and present conditions. These essays may be updated as my research becomes more complete. All essays are linked to an index page for easier browsing. Project homepage.

South Peoria was developed as a streetcar neighborhood, building out along the Lincoln and Garden lines. We'll take a look at the general characteristics of Midwestern streetcar suburbs (or neighborhoods), and we'll compare a typical Peoria streetcar neighborhood (South Peoria) to a typical postwar neighborhood in central Peoria and a typical suburban-style subdivision in far north Peoria.

Streetcars, first drawn by horses but later (and primarily) electric, ran out from the city center into newly-developed residential areas. These streetcar neighborhoods were characterized by rectangular plots, often quite long and thin, which packed a maximum number of house frontages along the streetcar line itself. There are relatively frequent cross streets connecting the blocks, trying to ensure that all houses are within a 5 to 10 minute walk to the streetcar. (Often, the houses along the streetcar's road were larger and more expensive, while those tucked into back streets were smaller and shoddier, but this can be difficult to eyeball in South Peoria because the houses on the street car road are packed so tightly and their extra volume runs towards the back of the lot and is hidden by their neighbors.) To keep houses closer together and easier for pedestrians, garages are almost always behind the house, typically facing an alley, and they are almost always detached. This was the law in Peoria until the development of more modern fire safety standards for homes and more modern cars that were less likely to carbon monoxide poison people if the garage was attached. (I want to say that city code changed to permit attached garages in all new construction around 1960. You can actually see the change occur in some post-war neighborhoods where the houses built closer to 1950 have detached houses and then the next block over, completed closer to 1960, the houses all have attached garages.)

Streetcars work exceedingly well in the flat topography of the Midwest (significant hills require cable cars, like San Francisco's), and in many Midwestern cities became the primary mode of transportation for people of all classes.

One of the most characteristic features of streetcar neighborhoods is small commercial establishments on corners where cross streets cross the streetcar's street. These are typically flush or nearly flush with the sidewalk, and if there is any parking, it's behind the building. These commercial buildings were often originally built with the idea that the proprietor would live above or behind the shop. The most typical uses were small mom & pop groceries, where you could pick up a few items on the way home, and neighborhood taverns. Let's look at a couple of characteristic Peoria neighborhoods. This is part of the South Peoria neighborhood that I've been documenting. Grey buildings are housing; yellow are outbuildings (mostly garages); red buildings are commercial; and blue are non-profit (mostly schools and churches). You can see the mix of red commercial buildings in the primarily residential neighborhoods, as well as a smattering of small churches and larger school buildings.

South Peoria: Residential with "corner stores" and many churches.

In this map, I've traced in red a major 4-lane arterial road, Western Avenue, that marks the neighborhood boundary and features larger commercial establishments. In green, Garden Street, which had one of the two neighborhood streetcar routes; you can see the small red commercial buildings -- former corner stores, taverns, small garages -- studding the streetcar's route and providing services to the houses along there. In yellow, Starr Street, a slightly larger vehicular route (but not a streetcar route) that provided through access to the neighborhood and is also marked with many commercial buildings.

Red corner businesses along the green Garden Street former streetcar line.

By comparison, here's a neighborhood in Central Peoria, just south of War Memorial Drive (the neighborhood is called “North Florence” and sits just southeast of War Memorial and Sheridan). This is a post-war suburb, and you can see that there's barely any commercial activity – on the northwest is a tiny, hard-to-access strip mall with a cellular store and a dry cleaner; on the southeast is a former drive-through bank that's now a State Farm Insurance (Randy Begole, good dude), that's also inaccessible from the neighborhood. There are a handful of religious buildings, all surrounded by seas of parking. (Top left: Disused synagogue that has had several failed redevelopment attempts. Below that, Apostolic Christian Church. Top center: St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. Top right, First Covenant, a small evangelical church.) It's a very pleasant neighborhood for walking – you see lots of people out walking dogs or walking for fitness -- but there's not anywhere to walk to. This is typical of neighborhoods developed after zoning codes were introduced, separating commercial uses from residential and removing small-scale neighborhood commerce like ice cream shops and corner groceries.

Postwar neighborhood of North Florence, zoned residential. There are no commercial establishments to walk to.
Here's a neighborhood in North Peoria (still within the City of Peoria), a fancy and exclusive neighborhood with large, expensive houses on sprawling lots, that is exclusively for cars. Here, the street grid has been abandoned, and many of the streets don't even have sidewalks. It's difficult to walk within the neighborhood, which is designed for cars rather than people. There is no commercial development at all within the neighborhood – the few red buildings face a busy arterial road (Knoxville) and cannot be accessed from the neighborhood. You must get in the car and drive to them (you cannot safely walk around; there's no shoulder and no sidewalk on that part of Knoxville). There are a lot of children in this part of town, but they can't walk to each others' houses, because the high-speed car-oriented sidewalk-lacking roads are too dangerous for kids on foot. (Even worse, restrictive covenants make all the front yards super-boring and the streets are hot and unshaded.) It's kind-of a hellscape, which is why you rarely see people outdoors in this neighborhood; they stay inside their pleasant houses or drive their cars even within the neighborhood itself. There's nothing to do in this neighborhood; there's no there there.

North Peoria neighborhood: no grid, not safe on foot, nowhere to go.

Further Reading:

National Park Service, An Overview of Suburbanization in the United States, 1830 to 1960

In Praise of Streetcar Suburbs (they're adaptable, efficient, and multi-modal)

Why Streetcar Neighborhoods Work Well ( link; report for Salisbury NC with recommendations for future development as part of 2020 planning)
Summary: Streetcar suburbs feature development density, multimodal transit capabilities, and gridiron blocks that make for liveable, adaptable neighborhoods. They also feature pleasant pedestrian streetscapes with sidewalks everywhere and many mature trees. Setbacks are modest and porches ubiquitous; garages are deprioritized to alleys, along with trash pickup and (sometimes) utility services. Modern, low-density, car-centric suburbs are considerably more expensive to supply with roads, utility services, police and fire coverage, mail delivery, and public transit. (Greater property taxes levied on more expensive homes in diffuse, suburban-type developments does not cover the greater cost those homes extract from city services, which I'll talk about in future posts dealing with utilities.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sometimes Experts Are the Worst Explainers

Dad goes to jury duty. I attempt to explain jury duty to my 6- and 4-year-old:

I. Anglo-American Theories of Truth vs. Continental Theories of Truth and Its Implications for Common and Civil Law Systems with Specific Reference to Juries
II. Important Civic Duties and Why They Matter to Democracy
III. The Difference between Sixth and Seventh Amendment Rights to a Jury
IV. "Okay So What If You Were a Robber ..."
V. Where Jury Rosters Come From and How Local Government Administers Them and Why This Is a County Function Not a City Function
VI. A Brief History of the Development of Twelve-Man Juries with Digressions into Early Medieval Danish Invasions of England
VII. Stop Hitting Your Brother, I Said Robber not Assaulter
VIII. Citizen Juries as a Check on the Coercive Power of the State
IX. Empirical Research on the Effectiveness of Juries from the Arizona Jury Project
X. Why It Is Okay for Mommy to Be Judge and Jury but not the Government
XI. Look There Is A Thing Called Jury Duty and Daddy Is at It as Is His Civic Duty
XII. I Feel Like This Conversation Was a Bad Idea, Do You Want to Go to Costco?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Dance with Dragons (ASoIaF, spoilers)

It makes me nervous that Dany thinks of Missandei last when mentally listing people who might betray her.

Three-eyed crow = some Night Watch guy with the sight. At first I thought it might be Benjen but the three-eyed crow probably has to be a lot older so I am off that prediction.

“Are you quite certain that Daenerys will make good her brother’s promises?” -- is this speaking of a different brother? Which brother? Rhaegar or Vanerys or someone else?

Varys -- “he taught them to read as well” --  like Dany freeing the slaves? Will this make Varys more loyal to Dany?

8% -- Gray death! I knew there'd be a plague!

“The worst part was knowing that nightfall would bring no relief. Up in the high meadows north of Lord Yronwood’s estates, the air was always crisp and cool after dark, no matter how hot the day had been. Not here. In Volantis, the nights were almost as hot as the days.” I FEEL YOUR PAIN MERCHANT’S MAN. THIS IS WHY I LEFT NORTH CAROLINA.

Quentyn is going to die, he is totally incidental to this plot.

In the story the elephant driver prods the elephant with his heels -- no, in reality, they use big honkin' hooks, and it is not cool. And also we need to stop elephant habitat destruction and probably they should not be kept in zoos only really big nature preserves so they can walk a lot.

Nerd Interlocuting: Speaking of tendentious complaining ... I am slightly bothered that all the hot women in Game of Thrones are SLIM and that Cersei is spending lots and lots of time working on being slim and tightly-corseted [Erin: And high breasted.] It's not fucking 1870 you dumbass [Erin: Yeah, it seems like there should be buxom wenches, if nothing else.] Exactly! curves! child-bearing hips! well-fed chubby cheeks! especially since he DOES spend a lot of time on the quality and quantity of the food of the rich vs. the hunger of the poor. Cersei should be a chubbo [Erin: Yeah, that's a good point. Does he comment on Sansa having the equivalent of baby fat? And then slimming out?] I think so, yeah [Erin: I hope Sansa wins.] me too

GRRM: "Stretch marks that could only have come from childbirth" -- NO YOU DUMMY stretch marks are from PREGNANCY! Another symptom of being too famous to be edited.

30% - Not really buying young Griff as Rhaegar’s kid

Benjen Stark isn't permanently lost ... He seems obviously key to some future plot point.

The Mountain isn't dead because the skull is not definitive. People in this novel suffer from terrible genre blindness. If you don't see someone die AND BE BURNED in a character POV chapter, THEY ARE NOT DEAD. Don't believe it when you just get shipped the skull.

This book much better than the last one. Also cannibals are a totally good place to hide if you're Rickon.

40% -- Tyrion is on his way to serve Dany and probably to save Meereen

I refuse to let Jon be Azor Ahai. I quit this book if he is.

(GRRM describes Melisandre as breaking her fast - put a pin in this until slightly below.)

Waaaaaaay too much Ramsey Bolton.

So I assumed the horn that wakes the sleepers was magic to wake up dead warriors to fight for good, I guess because there's something like this in The Hobbit? It only just occurred to me now that it means literally that a horn is waking up sleeping warriors in the castles or whatever and that is supposed to be our first thought, and the magical meaning is supposed to be a surprise. So, prediction, some magic horn will wake "sleepers" (i.e., dead people) to fight for humanity against the Others.

Well Reek definitely rhymes with a lot of things. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with Martinique.

Apparently this is the book where random eligible heirs start popping up. They are all boring.

68% -- Uh ... It took me until midway thru the escape to figure out Able was Mance. Doh.

Hahahaha hello MOUNTAIN. This makes me think the Hound isn't dead for real either. They will have to face off. Symmetry!

One of the problems with book 4 and 5 is the lack of plot line in individual books. Book 1 had a really strong individual plot line (Eddard's story) that carried the book through and also connected to the larger saga; that has faded over the series.

I love the Braavosi battlefield banker. I totally buy this. Bankers do anything to protect their investments. I love it.

Bored of slave Tyrion. We don't need a billion chapters to make the point.

80% ... Interest flagging. Liked this book a lot better than the last one but let's ... finish ... up.

GRRM says that Theon gets up from sleeping and "breaks his fast." He makes a point earlier about Melisandre getting up in the morning and the squire asks if she wants to "break her fast." This is 100% petty and pedantic, so feel free to skip ahead, but to me this is another sign of getting too big to be edited. The "fast" that is being broken in the word "breakfast" is the midnight-until-Mass fast that Catholics were obligated to observe until the Second Vatican Council, because you can't mix Jesus in with regular food in your stomach acid. Just sleeping overnight is NOT A FAST, and it is sort-of weird and throws me out of the narrative when people in the book solicitously act like not eating while sleeping was a massive hardship. I know it's just a fake-medievalism meant to serve the mood of the story, but this is why editors are important.

100% and Done -- This one was a sad book. And didn’t have enough plot. Poor Ser Kevan.

Jon Snow is obviously not dead. Maybe wildlings save him?

Cersei won’t die at the trial. Margaery probably won’t, but I suppose maybe. Upon reflection, I am actually slightly so-so on this now ... I thought the trial would be in Book 5, but with it being pushed to Book 6, maybe Cersei will die, especially if it drags out through half the book. But, I will predict, Cersei survives the trial. Jamie has to kill her later on.

Not convinced Stannis is dead.

Varys, give up, there’s enough dead people. Varys stabbing people at the end is just depressing, things are unstable enough. Be better at your job and you won't have to stab quite so many people!

I feel like GRRM has put off showing us magic or religion or The Others for too long. He's managed to foist off a really long historical fiction epic on SFF nerds as a fantasy epic by promising magic that never shows up!

Okay, so, Mirri Maz Dur -- Dany’s womb just quickened again when she PLOT-CENTRALLY MENSTRUATED (It was not actually clear to me in the story if she had been menstruating all along or just suddenly re-menstruated, but obviously it mattered to the story ... or maybe miscarried). Quentyn is the sun, who "rose" in Westeros and "set" in Essos. The great grass sea is growing dry for winter … mountains blow in the wind -- volcanic ash? Maybe a volcano erupts next book? Obviously Drogo is not coming back (BURNED IN POV CHARACTER CHAPTER!) so it must be some Drogo-lite or Drogo-junior or something.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Feast for Crows, Part II (ASoIaF, Spoilers)

Discussion after first part:

This Dorne shit is borrrrrrring. So far it could have all been rolled up in people at Kings Landing chatting about things. Yeah, we get it, the country is falling apart. Also, Westeros is not the size of South America. Just no. [Kathryn: No, He is bad at scale.] No pre-modern state can rule that much territory. It's like Britain or maybe double-Britain. [Yeah, maaaaaaybe China.] Yeah.

ALSO apparently the messenger ravens fly BOTH WAYS. That is not how birds work. I keep having to remind myself to suspend my disbelief about that and decide the maesters have secret bird powers. [Clearly these are magic birds or something.] Yeah, that is why only the maesters can tend them.

Okay, so, I agree with Jon Snow that Sam should by now have quit being craven. But also, it would be okay if maye like ONE OR TWO THINGS had happened in Sam's entire childhood that weren't horrible, terrifying, or abusive.

Also, virtually all of Westeros's problems are caused by child abuse.

Picking up at 30%:

Okay Noho Dimittis, nice fakey Latin name. Nunc dimittis is "now you dismiss [your servant]" from Luke and used in many Masses; Noho Dimittis is probably he who can't be dismissed/gotten rid of.

Oh I totally forgot winter is coming until Jaime told the guy in the Riverlands to plant and hope for one last harvest. Should be more urgency, no?

Hahahha mad points ... Hanged, Ami. Your father was not a tapestry. That is one of my favorite useless language facts.

Also props for the Quiet Isle being Mont San Michel.

This book jumping around in time and perspectives is very confusing. I doubt the Onion Knight is dead.

Oh hello Gendry, tuning up at what I'm pretty sure is same inn where I declared Bob Newhart was the innkeeper, having a weird dream. It's odd how on a continent the size of South America everyone turns up in the same 3 places.

I could loosely buy Gendry as a love affair for Brienne but I still think she's Jaime's arc.

76% argh I'm so bored I have to go read something else [Read half of the last of the Call the Midwife books and, dude, I am still totally clenched up, it is harder core than anything in these books!]

I'm kind-of ready to be done with GoT, or at least this book which is getting EXCRUCIATING. NOBODY IS DOING ANYTHING. EVERYONE IS JUST TALKING [Kathryn: This one is by far and away the weakest of the five] It has been going on so long that I am starting to forget that I like to read. I took a break to go more Call the Midwife and I was like OH RIGHT THIS IS WHAT INTERESTING IS LIKE. And every time ANYTHING happens he immediately ends the chapter and cuts away to another talking part


Oh, hi, Mya Stone is apparently one of Robert's bastards hanging out with Sansa, BAM PREDICTION ... she is the oldest one, right?

Brienne is not dead and neither is Pod. This ENTIRE SUBPLOT is achingly pointless if they are and I will go buy this volume in paperback (instead of e-book) specifically to throw it across the room if I just read all of that looooooooong subplot to no good end.

Jaime and Cersei will leave the world together but not at the trial by combat. Margaery won't die yet either.

No man will take Riverrun from Emmon ... So a woman will

Arya will lose herself to the faceless whatsits but Nymeria will recall her to herself

Back to the geography problem: Dorne is dry and hot and somewhere down near the equator, and yet obviously Cornwell, so he mentions in passing that Dornish yew bows are second only to goldenwood but I don't think yews near the equator make for good longbows, I think the cold and wet slow growing conditions do it.

Seriously nothing happened in this whole entire book, the next one had better be better. Like there was no plot arc and hardly anything from the characters we started with.