• Kevin Drum at Mother Jones doesn’t like California’s high-speed rail plan, and he is extremely skeptical of absurd ridership projections: “We are rapidly exiting the realm of rose-colored glasses and entering the realm of pure fantasy here.”

    But keep your chins up, flyover friends: the fact that a high-speed rail line between densely-populated major world cities like SF and LA is a bad idea that will never avoid hemorrhaging money surely isn’t any reason to throw out the dream of a Madison-Milwaukee rail corridor.


Logistics regressions

May 23rd, 2012  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

We were rear-ended at a stop light a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, no one was hurt and our car appears to have escaped major damage, but our hitch-mounted bike rack was totaled in the impact. The other driver’s insurance company offered to reimburse us for the cost of a new rack as advertised on Since Amazon’s price was nontrivially cheaper than what we’d paid for the original rack at a local bike shop last year, we ordered the replacement instead of purchasing it locally.

When the new rack arrived, it had two shipping labels on it: the first was for shipment from Amazon’s warehouse in Plainfield, IN to my house in Madison, WI. The second indicated that it had previously shipped from Saris headquarters (where it was assembled) to Amazon’s warehouse in Plainfield, IN, perhaps on-demand. Readers based in Madison probably see where this is going, since they know that Saris headquarters is less than three miles from my house; in fact, we share a ZIP code.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of the perils of hub-based routing.

Sports fandom

February 7th, 2011  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Ilya Somin argues that sports fandom is no less ridiculous than vicarious identification with fictional characters, but that you should still probably hate the Yankees. This isn’t news to thoughtful sports fans, of course, but I’m often baffled why emotional responses to sports and other more-or-less lowbrow entertainments are often regarded as somehow unacceptable by the same people who find weeping over the specifics of literature, opera, art cinema, or other imaginary diversions completely praiseworthy. (Speaking of imaginary diversions, I’d argue that it’s much less ridiculous to care about the state of the Premier League table or the fate of Maurice Levy than it is to get all worked up over real-world election results.)

In a similar vein, I’ve recently realized that my permanent addresses throughout my entire life, when ordered by time, strictly increase in the noisomeness of the local pro sports fan base: St. Paul until toddlerhood; Alameda County, CA for the 1980s; the D.C. metro area in the early 1990s; the Philadelphia metro area for summers in college; and finally, southern Wisconsin. As you might imagine, I’m wholly unsettled by this pattern’s implications for my family’s future mobility. Although we love Madison and have no desire to leave, if we were to move again, we’d have to settle in Chicago, North Jersey, or perhaps next door to columnist Bill Simmons.


Cars on State

May 8th, 2010  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

We went to the annual “Cars on State” event downtown today. There were a lot of great cars there, including quite a bit of classic American muscle, a DeLorean, a wood-paneled Town and Country, and a surprising number of 40-50 year old British sports cars. It was gray and a little wet, but we had a good time and I took a few photos, some of which are below. (Click on any picture for a precise location and to see larger sizes.)


Gray and drizzly

Town and Country

    Train bridge (Madison, WI)

    Monona Bay (Madison, WI).


This is why I’m old

March 26th, 2010  |  Tags: , ,  |  1 Comment

Near the end of Tuesday morning’s commute, I saw two teenage girls in the grass bordering the bike path, trying in vain to light a large ceramic pipe. I was briefly amused, both by their semi-competent attempt at youthful rebellion and by their spectacularly awful choice of venue. As I rode past them, the girls looked up, saw me, and immediately hit the dirt while shooting looks of sheer horror as if they’d just seen a DEA agent or perhaps a minotaur.

I seem to recall a time when people appearing to casually commit misdemeanors in broad daylight could notice me without instantly panicking. Apparently, that time has ended.


January 30th, 2010  |  Tags: , ,  |  5 Comments

The Lucas Oil Stabilizer

(Click for more photos.)

Against the nagging whine of our better judgement, Andrea and I took Thomas to a monster truck show last night. If you would have told me in 1995 that I would be taking my son to see monster trucks in 2010, I first would have been disappointed that I wasn’t due to be holed up writing aphorisms in a room full of Gauloises and fountain pens. Immediately thereafter, though, I would have laughed to the point of nausea, called you a submoron, and then gone back to feeling superior in that way that becomes largely impossible after one has children, real property, or a job with responsibilities.


The first thing to understand about the monster truck show is that, at least in small venues like the Alliant Energy Center Coliseum in Madison, it is essentially a rodeo with about 50% less abject nationalism and about 85% less action. (There is even a “motorsports clown” to serve as the target of meanspirited and woefully kid–unfriendly japery at the hands of the announcer. I wish I were making this up.) You will, in essence, be watching the same six monster trucks crush and jump over the same row of five cars for about three hours. If that sounds thrilling then you should bear in mind that, unlike the majestic animals of the rodeo, monster trucks have to be backed in to their parking spaces.

I estimate that I spent approximately 75 minutes watching drivers realign their vehicles before backing in to their spaces, which — when one considers the clowning, intermission, breaks for cannon- and slingshot-based t-shirt distribution, and an underwhelming side attraction involving tepid stunts on sportbikes performed by the sort of “bros” who might aspire to appear in spray deodorant ads — leaves precious little time for car smashing, wheelies, &c. The actual repetitive car–smashing and jumping action was performed under the conceit of nominally different “events” whose results were ostensibly decided by audience applause levels, although I had the impression that the whole proceedings were at least as fixed as the 2010 NFC Championship Game.

Mechanical Mischief

However, while Andrea and I were practically crippled with boredom after the first few minutes, Thomas was attentive and delighted for the duration of the event — and getting to see near-comic levels of childlike glee absolutely made the experience for us. I might even be willing to go again some day. Really, who would have guessed that a young boy would love seeing large trucks perform the same stunts over and over again?1 I was shocked.

1 Except for (1) the myriad publishers who have made “repetitive actions involving large trucks” into a completely saturated yet lucrative children’s video genre and (2) anyone who has ever observed young children playing with or watching trucks, that is.


July 7th, 2009  |  Tags: ,  |  2 Comments

Macaw, originally uploaded by willbenton.

This post is a test of flickr’s upload-to-blog feature. The image itself is of a macaw from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison; it is notable for (probably) being the photo that convinced me not to sell my venerable 135/2.8.


January 26th, 2009  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment


Madison Mustangs

June 24th, 2008  |  Tags: ,  |  2 Comments


My father and I went to see the Madison Mustangs host the West Allis Predators this weekend. Both teams are members of the IFL, a Milwaukee-based semipro league; admission was $6 and included a meet-and-greet with Ron Dayne. (I saw Mr. Dayne but did not chat with him.) You can see some of my photos from the event if you’d like; a brief review follows.

The game wasn’t particularly competitive — West Allis got shellacked, with their only score coming on an interception return — and the technical quality of play roughly compared to a small-college game. Some series were thick with penalties, to the point where the drive time was overwhelmingly dominated by officials congregating and re-spotting the ball rather than by huddling and play execution; some special-teams plays in particular saw the FieldTurf transformed into a silk tulip patch. Finally, the stadium’s use of incidental music seemed more accidental — too-long silences followed by pastiche-like, sub-phrase snippets of pop song hooks, with the end result being that it was never clear that the sound board was operated deliberately.

These are quite minor complaints, though, and almost irrelevant. The important question is: is it worth going? I can’t really say “yes” emphatically enough. The game was a whole lot of fun. The players approach the game with the sort of palpable zeal you can only rarely detect in pro sports; I didn’t see anyone taking plays off. The playcalling schemes are in general rather less complex than in pro or college ball, but the coaches seem far more willing to resort to trickery. In Saturday’s game, for example, I saw a fake extra point pass successfully converted and — even more impressively — a fake punt run attempted with about 22 yards to go. (The latter wasn’t successful, but the punter came close enough to make it exciting.) The crowd (over 1,000, I’d guess) was enthusiastic and the overall experience seemed kid-friendly (if your kid has a later bedtime than mine); there were a lot of kids in attendance. I’ll definitely go to another Mustangs home game.


March 21st, 2007  |  Tags: , ,  |  2 Comments

One of the least-heralded benefits of my fine city — at least, the parts of it that I walk through when heading to or from teaching or the office — is that, whenever it rains, there are ducks everywhere, just hanging out. This is an advantage of being surrounded by lakes that I suspect no one ever considers. I’d have to be in a pretty sour mood before a duck failed to cheer me.